Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Babysitting rules for parents

I have three children who are old enough to babysit and it's been interesting to be on this end of it... the parent of a babysitter, that is.  Some of my children babysit a lot.  M. in particular has several families (both friends and relations) whom she enjoys babysitting for and with whom the whole thing works out well.  (I just want to assure those families, the ones my children sit for repeatedly, that this is not about them.)  But, there are others.  Families who were given M.'s name by someone else, whom she has sat for once, and whom, she has announced will not sit for again.  There are various reasons for this, and you might be surprised to know that is often has very little to do with the children, and nearly all to do with the behavior of the parents.

So you have found a babysitter that you really like and who your children really like and would love to keep that babysitter returning, here are some guidelines to make that possible.

  1. Do not fight with your spouse in front of the babysitter.  This would seem obvious, but evidently it needs to be said.
  2. Be home at the time you say you will.  I understand that sometimes being late is unavoidable, but if that is the case, call the sitter as soon as you realize you will be late and let the sitter know.  And apologize!  It might not hurt to remember that your babysitter is my child and I'm waiting up as well.
  3. Give the sitter a working phone number.  Because when you're two hours late and the sitter is concerned, having a non-functioning phone number does not encourage the sitter.
  4. Be realistic about what time the sitter should arrive at your house, or if you are having the sitter come early so that you can get dressed, be clear about what your expectations are.  Otherwise, it is a waste of the sitter's time to sit around for an hour and a half when you're still home.
  5. Do NOT tell a friend they can stop by the house while you are gone, unless the friend is known to the sitter as well.  At least my child is well-trained and that friend will not be let in the house if my child is there alone.
  6. If you have pets, ask a new sitter if she is comfortable (or allergic) to your cat or dog.  More than once M. has arrived at a home to be greeted by a huge dog.  She's OK with that, but what if your new sitter was afraid of large dogs or severely allergic to your cat?
  7. And my friend reminded me of another one that is important to add... it's just safer for all involved to be above suspicion.  The wife should always drive a female babysitter home.  Why invite trouble?

Monday, May 30, 2011

And then there were 12

For the next week we are a family of 12, along with one dog.  A young friend of ours (we'll call her EM) and her dog, Will, are staying for the week while her parents are away.  Everyone is most excited.  K. is especially excited because he loves Will-the-dog and every time K. sees him, he invites Will to come over and play.  Having Will stay the week is his wildest dream come true.

So, now I will return to our crazy-busy Memorial Day.  It's all fun stuff... especially the part where P19 returns home from Uganda... but there's just a lot of fun stuff all on the same day.

I hope you all have an enjoyable Memorial Day, and I offer a huge thank you to all the service people and their families who sacrifice so much for all of us.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


(Raising Homemakers readers.  I had horrible trouble with the Linky and have sent you to the wrong page... Here is Rules for Babysitters.  Sorry for the inconvencience!)

G. and L. saw P. playing with her American Girl dolls the other day and were just a little bit fascinated.  Understandably, P. did not want them to play, so A. found some large baby dolls for them.  The little girls played happily for much of the morning taking care of their babies... hugging them, changing them, reading to them...

Here's L.:

And G.:

And reading to the babies... you'll notice that L. is looking a little bare.  I'll be glad when this phase is over.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Grown-up game night

You know I'm all for families doing things together and we enjoy playing games, but sometimes it's fun to get together with other adults and have fun without the company of our many children.  (And since the combined child total is 23 between us and the two other families we often do things with, that's a lot of company.)  Tonight is one of those evenings.  We start at a slightly later time to make it easier to have dinner and help get small people off to bed and meet at whichever house is easiest. 

The games have varied... we've played many different board and card games... but it's always fun.  It's a great way to visit, relax, and laugh.  (Sometimes the resident children complain that we are a little too loud.)  And it really is grown-ups only.  We don't really want small people hanging around the edges.  I see it as another way that we are making growing up look appealing.  As adults we do get to do things that children don't... and they are fun and enjoyable.  And this fun is not rated PG-13 or higher.  I almost hesitate to use the word 'adult' because it has taken on connotations of inappropriateness, as if the only difference between being a child and being an adult is the level of perversity involved.

And we make treats for ourselves.  I'll be making Hot Artichoke Dip.  Do you want the recipe?  It's really yummy, but something that should only be indulged in once in a while.

Hot Artichoke Dip

1-13.5 oz can artichoke hearts, drained
1 C shredded Parmesan cheese
1-8oz cream cheese
1/2 C mayonnaise
Garlic salt to taste

Chop artichokes finely.  Add other ingredients and mix well.  Spread in ungreased baking dish.  Bake at 400 degrees for ~15 minutes, until browned and bubbly around the edges.

A double recipe fits a 9x13 pan, which is how I usually make it.  I serve it with pita wedges, though you could use just about anything that will scoop up dip.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kon Tiki unit study

First let's get a little business out of the way.  The winner of the giveaway is Amber.  Amber, I've sent you an email... if you send me your address, I'll send out your prize.  Congratulations!

Now, on to the topic of the day.  As, J. keeps telling me, what is obvious to one person is not necessarily obvious to another.  Sometimes I don't write about things because it seems a bit silly to write about something everyone knows, but I have to remember that not everyone has access to the inside of my head (thank goodness!).  With this in mind, it occurs to me that some of you might have been intrigued about the study we did related to the book, Kon-Tiki, and might want to do something similar, but don't know where to begin and perhaps a list of activities would be useful.

It is a rough list, in no particular order, and we didn't even do everything on the list.  (If we did everything I thought up for every unit study we did, we would never be able to move on to another topic.)  Pick and choose based on your interests, abilities and ages of your children, and other constraints.

  • The first is a bit obvious, but read the book, Kon Tiki.  If you have younger children and the adult book seems as though it would be too much, there is also a children's book, Kon Tiki and I, written by Erik Hesselberg.  It is a sketch book and contains wonderful line drawings from the trip as well as shorter descriptions of what happened. (Literature, science, geography)
  • Map work.  You can either draw your own or label blank maps with Peru, South America, Pacific Ocean, the larger Polynesian Islands, various currents, and the path the Kon-Tiki took.  You could also label Norway and Sweden, the homes of the crew.  (Geography)
  • Make a 3-D map of Peru showing the different types of altitude and landscape.  (Geography, science)
  • Look at pictures of the stone statues on Easter Island.  You could have your children draw pictures of them or carve them out of soap.  (History, art)
  • Study how a sextant works and is used.  As a related topic, you could do a brief study of the eye to discover why so many sailors went blind from using a sextant.  (Science)
  • Learn about nautical miles verses miles we use on land.  (Geography, math)
  • Make a model of the Kon-Tiki raft using balsa wood.  (Art, reinforcing literature)
  • Study the different species of sea animals encountered by the crew.  The ones we did were:
    • Dolphin fish (Mahi Mahi)
    • Pilot fish
    • Pelagic crab
    • Petrels
    • Octopus
    • Sea Turtle
    • Flying fish
    • Frigate birds
    • Porpoises and dolphins
    • Jelly fish
    • Gempylus
    • Shark
    • Remora
    • Whale shark
    • Plankton (Science)
  • Learn about atolls and the life cycle of a volcano.  You could also add some volcano activities here.  We didn't since we had done that recently, but some things we did were:  watch videos of erupting volcanoes; labelled a map with active volcanoes and the 'Ring of Fire'; made taffy because the consistency was similar to lava's; make a model of a volcano. (Science, geography)
  • If you're in Chicago, the Field Museum has a wonderful permanent exhibit on the Pacific Islands. (Science, geography)
  • Make a life-size raft in the back yard and let the children re-enact scenes from the book.  You could use chalk to outline the size and then scrounge large cardboard boxes to construct the hut and masts. (Reinforcing literature)
  • Learn how a short-wave radio works and if there is interest, see about building one of your own. (Science)
  • Study waves and how they move.  (Science)
  • Learn about coral reefs.  This would be a fun thing to make a diorama of. (Science, art)
  • Listen to Polynesian music and watch traditional hula dances (Art, geography)
  • Learn about the history of the Polynesian Islands (History)
  • Watch the documentary about the Kon-Tiki voyage which was filmed by Thor Heyerdahl on the trip. (History, science)
  • Watch documentaries on the open ocean, coral reefs, and sea mammals (science)
  • Prepare and eat fish and coconuts (Reinforcing literature, science)
  • Grow a sweet potato plant from a sweet potato (Science)
  • If you have access to a pond, it would be fun to construct your own raft.  (Science)
  • Make a model of how the centerboards help with steering... this is explained in the book.  (Science)
  • Try sprouting coconuts (science)
  • Have each student keep a sketchbook and journal of their own activities for a month.  (Literature, art)  [And as I'm thinking about this, it would also make sense to move from here into a study of the Louis and Clark Expedition, with the connector being explorers/scientists who kept journals and sketchbooks of their journey.  You could even read excerpts from the journals.  But, I'm getting off topic... we're heading further across the Pacific to Australia.]
There, that should keep you busy.  Don't feel you would need to do the entire list, nor feel constrained by the list if you come up with other ideas.  I always try to have a way for my children to keep a record of what they've learned.  To keep it interesting, I vary the method from study to study.  Sometimes we do lap books or I use hard-back blank books which we fill-up.  You could do a large poster or as we did for Kon-Tiki make mini-books.

Have fun!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rejoicing texts

(For the Sew, Mama, Sew! giveaway, go here.)

"The -- what?"  The Rev. Paul Ford's eyes left the leaf and gazed wonderingly into Pollyanna's merry little face.

"Well that's what father used to call 'em,"  she laughed.  "Of course the Bible didn't name 'em that.  But it's all those that began 'Be glad in the Lord,' or 'Rejoice greatly,' or 'Shout for joy,' and all that, you know -- such a lot of 'em.  Once, when father felt specially bad, he counted 'em.  There were eight hundred of 'em."

"Eight hundred!"

"Yes -- that told you to rejoice and be glad, you know; that's why father named 'em the 'rejoicing texts.'"

"And so your father--liked those 'rejoicing texts,'" he murmured.

"Oh, yes," nodded Pollyanna, emphatically.  "He said he felt better right away, that first day he thought to count 'em.  He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it -- some.  And father felt ashamed that he hadn't done it more.  After that, they got to be such a comfort to him, you know, when things went wrong; when the Ladies' Aiders got to fight -- I mean, when they didn't agree about something," corrected Pollyanna, hastily.  "Why, it was those texts, too, father said, that made him think of the game -- he began with me on the crutches -- but he said 'twas the rejoicing texts that started him on it." 

--from Pollyanna

Our home study has been resubmitted to the state for approval.  Please pray.  Hard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Silly girls... or maybe it's more accurately silly outfit

(For the Sew, Mama, Sew! giveaway post, go here.)

We are often blessed with hand-me-downs from friends.  In this last batch was a little cheerleader's outfit.  Now, if you know me in real life, you know I'm not the cheerleader type or the sports associated with cheerleaders, so I find it a little amusing that I'm sharing these pictures.

G. and L. happened to see the outfit and were immediately entranced and had to put it on.  L. has become a clothes-remover extraordinaire (with G. not far behind) and can completely remove her garments in a matter of seconds.  (They do this over and over and over throughout the day.)  So when I say they "had" to put it on, I mean I turned my head and they were down to their diapers.  (These are also the girls who hold up clothes and announce, "Pretty!  Pretty!" or "Cute!  Cute!", so I shouldn't be surprised.)  Only one cheerleader outfit, so they had to take turns.

Here's G. (And I apologize for the picture-quality.  I seem to have become incapable of taking non-blurry pictures recently.):

And L.:

What makes it even funnier is that the cheerleader outfit is for the school where J. teaches and M. will be attending.  So for all you Vikings fans out there... here's my tiny bit of school spirit.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Making bias tape... otherwise known as the Sew, Mama, Sew! Giveaway

(Sorry, the contest is now closed.... though you're welcome to leave a comment if you like.)

It's Sew, Mama, Sew Giveaway time again. 

I love bias tape.  It is so useful and so easy to use... finishing edges... finishing seams...  And while the pre-packaged stuff has it's place and I use it often, I really like to have patterned bias tape as well.  Enter one of my favorite little tools: the bias tape maker.  This one make 3/4 inch bias tape and I will be giving one away at the end of this post. 

But first, I thought some of you might like to see what it does if you've never used one before. I don't have a rotary cutter, nice cutting mats, or even a proper cutting table (I cut-out things on my floor), so if I can do this, so can you.  Here is my admittedly quirky method.

Step 1:  Lay out the fabric and fold a corner over to find the bias.  The woven threads should be at right angles to the part you turned up.

Step 2:  Using a ruler and some sort of marking instrument (I use tailor's chalk), start drawing lines about 1 1/4 inches wide.  (The tape maker is for 3/4 inch tape, doubled that is 1 1/2 inches, but this is too thick so I subtract a quarter inch.)  Keep drawing lines until you have as many strips as you need.  Being careful to keep your fabric doubled, cut on the lines you've drawn.

Now you should have a big pile of bias strips.

Step 3:  Now you sew the strips together.  Take two and with right sides together, match-up the ends of two strips at right angles.  (I cut my strips to make them square on the ends because it's easier for me to see how the strips fit together.)  Sew corner to corner... I've drawn a line showing where the stitching line is.

Step 4:  After you've sewn all the strips together, trim the seams.

When you open the seam to the right side, you'll see you have a long strip.

Step 5:  Press the seams open.

Step 6:  Take your bias tape maker and turn it upside down (the colored plastic part is the top) and slide the end of your bias strip into the slot right side up.  I use my seam ripper to push the fabric through to the end.

Turn is over and pull the fabric all the way through and then begin to press the folds into place.  This goes pretty quickly;  pulling the tool with your left hand while pressing with your right.

I usually go over the bias tape once more with an iron just to be sure it is set, then you can either use it right away or wrap it on a piece of cardboard to save for a later day.

And now to the giveaway (finally... I know):  I will be giving away one 3/4 inch bias tape maker, two patterned bias tapes (the aqua print is ~3 yards and the yellow is 5+ yards) and...

Two fat quarters so you can make your own bias tape right away.  I've found one fat quarter will make at least 3 yards of bias tape.

How to win?  Simple.  Just leave a comment AND an email address.  I don't even have a special question to ask... just say hi or tell me what you use bias tape for or your favorite method for fitting patterns (my particular obsession at the moment) or whatever pops into your head.  The giveaway will be open until the end of the 25th, I'll randomly draw the winner on the 26th and let you know who won.  I'll ship to the US and Canada.

I'll stop rambling now so you can get on your way to the next blog and see what's being given away there.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I just don't get it.  When did having a large family and enjoying raising children become morally suspect?  At least that the way it seems sometimes, especially when we are questioned by people in charge of things as to why we want to adopt again... really.  And because we are seemingly bizarre enough to enjoy children, all of our responses seem suspect.  It becomes somewhat trying to answer the same questions over again because our first answers were deemed unacceptable.  I'm sorry if we don't live down to some people's expectations, and that the reality is we are actually functioning, well-adjusted people.

At least we are currently well-adjusted.  As we go through this process of trying to bring H. home, outside pressures seem to be conspiring to change that.  I realize this may not be entirely clear to some of my readers, but I'm afraid to be more explicit on a public blog.  The ways of politics in our state cause me to be very cautious about what I say until our dossier is safely logged-in and working its way through another country's system.

This post may help to clarify a bit... or not.  The whole thing with our home study is very much vexing me at the moment.  If smaller families didn't sail through the process without a second glance, it probably wouldn't bother me so much. 

I am not feeling serene or fearless right now.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fun food

To my children's way of thinking, fun food is anything where they get to choose toppings/flavors or where they get to eat with their fingers or (even better) both.  Perhaps this is why a new dinner I fixed the other night was such a surprise hit.  I wasn't sure about it myself.  It was a new recipe and I wasn't sure that anyone would like it or that it would be filling enough to count as dinner.  But it turned out to be such a hit that I will share it with you.

This is my take on a recipe from the MOMYS cookbook (that's not a misspelling -- it's the acronym for a Yahoo group:  Mothers of Many Young Siblings) and for the most part, it's just cooked black beans.  But it was good (and fun), so here's the recipe:

Black Beans with Tortilla Chips

(I doubled this and it fed my family)

1 bag (1 LB) dried black beans
1 onion, chopped
1 can diced green chilies
2 C grated cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Sliced black olives
Tortilla chips

Start early in the afternoon.  Fill a large pot with the dried beans and chopped onions, cover (by a good couple of inches) with water.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a low simmer.  Cook for 3 to 4 hours, stirring every so often, and adding water as needed.  (Use a good heavy pot so that the beans are less likely to burn on the bottom.  I ended up using the lowest setting my stove would go to after a while.)  That's it... dinners done, except for fixing your toppings.

To serve, scoop some of the black beans in a bowl, allow people to add toppings, and use the tortilla chips to scoop up the black beans and enjoy.  See, it doesn't seem like much, but it was filling and tasted good.  We also had a green salad along with it.

(And did I mention cheap?  I did the math and even with it doubled, it came out to about 80 cents per person.  Not my most frugal meal, but not going to break the bank, either.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What do I see when I look out my window?

Falling shingles, from all the men on my roof with what look like pitchforks digging away.  Yes, we are having our roof redone.  It has four (yes, you read that right) layers of shingles on it, so they have to tear it off before they can begin to put the new shingles on.  I'm sure the neighborhood is breathing a collective sigh of relief that we are finally doing something about the state of the exterior of our house.  It is step one in a long process of making some hard decisions about this house.  Since a house with a leaking 4-layer roof is a liability, it is being fixed first.

While the boys are finding it somewhat interesting to watch from the inside, as the weather gets nicer (as they promise it will), I see many trips to the park since no one can play outside while they are working.  It could be a long two to three weeks.  But I'm glad it is getting repaired... and it will be done early in the summer... and then we can work on fixing the water damage inside...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book help

I know I am the one always recommending book to you, but this time I need you to suggest books to me.  I have been a bit undecided about what we were going to study next and have been taking the time to do some catch-up on regular school work.  But I think I have a plan.  It makes sense to continue with our geography theme and move from the Pacific Ocean and islands on across to Australia.  We've never really studied that continent before and I see a whole host of opportunities, but I need a book or books.  It works really well for us to base our studies off of what we are reading, either fiction or non-fiction, but I need titles!

So, what books do you know of that are 1) appropriate for many ages, 2) have to do with Australia (either past or present) and 3) are good reads?  That's not too tall an order is it?  I know I have quite a few Australian readers of this blog... what would you recommend?  What parts of Australia do you think are important to learn about?  In my experience, Australia is a continent much ignored in our part of the world unless we happen to learning about kangaroos or koala bears.

We're ready to begin!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


We live in a world where we have to make choices all the time.  There are the small ones such as which brand of pasta to buy all the way up to the big, life-changing choices.  And it is a fact of life that seems to be growing instead of retreating.  Take children's activities, for instance.  Over the course of my 18 years of parenting, it seems every year there are more and more options of classes and activities for which to sign children up.   On the face of it, this doesn't seem to be a bad thing.  Many of the opportunities available to our children are really good things.  It's just that there are so many of them and it is so easy to start to think that because the option exists, that one is a bad parent for not giving our children every learning experience possible.  The plethora of options quickly becomes a burden and creates a lifestyle in which very few people feel good about the choices they have made.

If you choose to participate in as many classes as possible, family life quickly degenerates.  If the family spends all their time running hither and thither... dropping off, picking up, classes, rehearsals, practices... there is little time to spend eating together, creating memories together, and making a pleasant and welcoming home.  Conversely, it is very easy for the parents who do not sign up for every class or sport under the sun feel guilty that they are somehow cheating their children and possibly ruining their life. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.  Just as with other decisions in life, we don't have to make everything that is available a viable option.  If families would discuss what their values are and think carefully about their ultimate goal is as far as their children are concerned, I believe it would become significantly easier to choose outside activities that fit into the family's life well, are not overwhelming, and without guilt.

How does this happen?  First, the parents need to discuss how they would like their family to be.  For us, family dinners are very important.  As a matter of course, we do not agree to do things which conflict with dinner time.  Even if those things seem very good or even if it is something our child would really like.  We believe that eating together is far better for our children and the life of our family than any activity which would be put in its place.  Since we have made that decision and since we know the reasons behind it, it is very easy for us to just say no to activities which would conflict with it.  Our children are aware of our beliefs and except for brief and occasional bouts of disappointment, it has never been an issue.  The same goes for things which happen on Sunday.  In our town, AYSO soccer plays all its games on Sunday and after a couple of years, we decided this didn't work for our family.  Sunday was not a day of rest and worship if we were preoccupied with soccer games.  (Especially if these games were scheduled during church!)  If it happens on Sunday, we just say no.  The decision is made for us and we don't really have to think about it.

We have other parameters we use.  Our ultimate purpose in raising our children is to raise them to be adults who love God and who want to serve him.  With that in mind, it becomes easier to make choices about activities, especially if there are conflicting activities.  How does our participation fit in with our goals?  Does it fit?  Is one better then the other?  We also limit our participation.  Children need to have time to play, sit, think, learn to occupy themselves.  If we commit to too much, this can't happen.  When you know your schedule is as full as you like it, just say no to something else.  And if you can remember why you are saying no... because you believe that to not be involved in something (even if it's good) is because you are choosing better, you can keep the guilt at bay.

Lastly, there are some basic logistical factors which can help with making choices.  Before agreeing to to anything, I try to look at the calendar and double-check that we can be available for all of it.  Too often, I have seen (or experienced as someone running a program) children who are overly committed and suddenly they find that they can't make a key class, performance, game, or rehearsal because another activity has something at the same time.  You can't do it all, even if some try.  Isn't it better to completely participate in a class or activity than to give partial participation to a lot of classes?

I realize this is walking into some tricky territory and that some people become angry at the thought that they can't do everything.  But since it's true, isn't it better to teach our children how to make good choices as to how they fill their time and to model good decision-making practices?  I personally find it freeing to know I can't do everything and so don't have to try.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A bunch of blurry pictures

I have no idea why these first two pictures came out so blurry (and I didn't take the third one), but these were my best effort to get pictures of G. and L. in the dresses I made them.  A long time ago, I resigned myself to never winning an award for "Best Photography" on the blog. 

I tried to get them to stand next to each other, but they would have none of it.


One of the weekend activities for A. and P. was a hike with some friends through an area forest preserve.  This was a particularly swampy, wet trail and both girls came home soaked to above their knees.  They loved it!  I am particularly amused by this picture. If you click on it you will be able to see the expressions on everyone's faces... the water was cold.

P. in the pink stripes and A. in the green stripes

And I think I have figured out my sewing problem that I whined wrote about on Saturday, so if you're bored to tears by my constant blathering about sewing, I give you permission to move on to another blog at this point.  But if you are dying of curiosity to know what went wrong, read on.

I found what I think my solution is at the blog, Vintage Girl, and the post where she writes about choosing a pattern size.  It seems that I really was cutting out too large a size based on using the wrong measurements. Also, I need to be more careful about looking at how much ease is added in to the pattern and measure the pattern pieces to be sure they are going to fit me like I expect them to.  With the dress I gave up on, the picture on the cover appears to have very little ease, but when I did the math and realized that pattern had over four inches of ease added it's no wonder that it seemed far baggier than I was expecting.  After I finish the bunch of children's sewing projects on my list, I think I will be up to trying to sew something for myself.  But this time, I'll measure the pattern pieces and make a muslin just to be sure it fits before cutting into the real fabric.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I am something of a perfectionist.  And while it is certainly a character flaw that I am continually working against, it also makes for some odd learning patterns.  You see, I don't really like to practice things.  I like to learn about them, think about them, do everything I can except the actual task until I feel I can do it sufficiently well.  I didn't talk until I was three, but then spoke in complete sentences.  I don't think I said a word in my freshman French class because I wasn't quite sure how to pronounce things or how they fit together, but went on and did well in French through all four years of college.  Starting out as a piano major in college doesn't really fit that pattern, because all it is is practice, but then I didn't stay a performance major because of my dislike of practicing.  It has been an issue all of my life.

Consequently, when something I'm doing doesn't work out well the first time, well... let's just say it's difficult for me to handle it gracefully.  Take last night for instance.  I have several sewing projects which I started for myself, one of them being a dress I began three years ago.  It has sat that long because first I was pregnant with G. and L. and then was nursing for two summers.  Because I couldn't wear it, there was little motivation to work on it.  I pulled it out a couple of days ago and decided now was the time.  One reason I had put it aside was that I had nearly finished it, but discovered it wasn't fitting right, so ripped out a bunch of seams with the intention of trying to make it fit.  And there is sat.

And sat.  But I was feeling confident yesterday I could fix it.  I had just had quite a few sewing successes and had done a lot of reading about fit and alterations.  I just knew I could do it.  And I did fix the initial problem.  (For the curious, I am very short waisted, but did not take that into account when I cut the dress out.  The bust darts were somewhere down around the bottom of my rib cage when I put the dress on.)  But after all the work of resizing facings and such, I put the dress on again... and hated it.  I didn't like the way the fabric looked on me; the back was way too big; it was too tight across the top.  So I took it off and flung it aside decided it wasn't worth anymore effort since I would probably never choose to wear it.

I am now frustrated.  I can make children's clothing, but have had only a very few successes with making things for myself.  I measure myself, match it to the pattern measurements, begin to sew the dress and it inevitably is too big.  (And I'm even cheating with the measurements a bit and picking a size that I should barely fit.)  I had more success when I didn't measure, picked the size I thought I was and went blindly forth.  Is it possible to make oneself dresses without a dress form... you know, the model that you can put the dress on and then adjust the fit?  It must be because I'm pretty sure not a lot of people have these, yet make clothes for themselves.  I just wish I knew what I was doing wrong!  Because I'm not really a trial-and-error-let's-experiment-until-we-get-it-right kind of person and I'm feeling little motivation to try again at the moment.

So, help me out here.  Do you make clothes for yourself?  Are you successful?  Is there something special you do?  I'd rather be able to figure this out for myself and avoid taking a class (for time and money reasons), but I don't think I'm going to work on it today.  I think I'll do other things and stew about it for a bit longer.  Because that's a nice, pleasant thing to do on a dreary, cold, and wet May Saturday, huh?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Homeschool planning

With the ICHE convention coming up in less than a month, I've been doing some tentative planning as to what we will be working on next school year so I have an idea of what to look for in the vendor hall.  There is a huge emphasis here on the word tentative.  Other than covering the basics (math, English, and writing), what we focus on in a school year is often dictated by the whim of the moment.  I realize that doesn't sound overly academic, does it?  But we do end up covering a wide variety of subjects and in the course of learning about them, we manage to hit science, geography, history, art, and music.  As my children get older, I have them be a bit more focused, but they still have enough freedom in their schedule to follow their interests.

With that as an introduction, here is what I'm thinking about:

For everyone, our history co-op will be up and running again next fall.  After our year's break, all the mothers involved are feeling ready to go back to Ancient Egypt for the third time.  Everyone in my family will be working on this time period next year.  I have been happy with the Truth Quest History guides for the modern periods which we have been working on this past year, so will probably get the guide for the ancients and use that for P., A., and B.

B. will be a junior and will continue with VideoText math, having done algebra 1 and 2, he will be moving on to geometry.  I also want to find him a botany curriculum.  Gardening is turning into a serious interest, so it would be nice to make the most of it.  B.'s other interest is World War II, so I expect he will continue his in-depth reading in that period.

A., going into 8 grade, is also using VideoText math and having finished the pre-algebra portion will be heading into the regular algebra 1 section.  She has been doing a variety of things for science (she did  studies on the microscope, famous scientists, basic chemistry, and is now working on a botany study this past year) and I imagine that she will continue in that same vein for 8th grade as well.  When she is a freshman, we will start to do more formal science.

P. (entering 6th), TM and D. (both entering 3rd) will all continue with Rod and Staff English and math.  They are the main participants in our unit studies.  Since I base most of our studies around whatever chapter book we are reading, I will be on the lookout for interesting chapter books that I may not know about.

K., who is 5, but not quite developmentally ready for kindergarten, will continue doing preschool activities and learning readiness.  "Learning readiness" sound so important, doesn't it?  Really, it means he is going to continue to do a lot of playing and join in our unit studies as he is able.

G. and L., who will be two, well, we'll mainly be trying to keep them out of trouble and read them a lot of stories.

That list leaves out two people:  M. will be off at her first year of college and H. will be coming home at some point during the school year (God willing).  M. is going to be fine at college and I'm excited to hear about everything she does.  H. will be in the midst of having to figure out a new family, a new language, a new culture, and most likely more than a few doctor's appointments .  I think we will not be worrying too much about formal academics.

In theory, I shouldn't have to spend too much money in the vendor hall, right?  Go ahead and chuckle... I am.
If you are here visitin from Kelly's Korner... welcome!  You'll find more information about us and homeschooling in the tabs up on top.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Be careful what you ask for

(Depending on your view of the reality of the spiritual realm, you may want to skip this post and come back later when I go back to posting cute little girl pictures.)

So, remember when I mentioned that I wanted to cultivate the traits of fearlessness and serenity?  Well, as I mentioned before, the trouble with wanting to develop new character traits is that they need to be practiced.  And, silly me, when I thought of the word 'fearless', I thought about it in terms of caring what other people thought about me.  But, I forgot that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12, ESV)  When confronted with this, the mere opinions of others seems like a somewhat frivolous concern.  I guess that's step 1, isn't it?

You know the aphorism that tells you to "Be the kind of woman that when her feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, 'Oh no, she's up!"?  Well, I've always liked it, the trouble is, it doesn't tell the whole story.  You see, I don't think that the devil merely stops at that, rolls over, and gives up.  I think that it means she has drawn attention to herself and instead of the powers of darkness giving up, the real battle has just begun.

Over the past few years, the more we, as a family, have desired to follow God and made decisions based on what He desires and not necessarily what is easy or acceptable, we have experienced more and more push-back.  But, nothing like what we have experienced since we said yes to adopting H.  Any one event or feeling or occurance would not cause us to think twice.  Stuff happens.  It's the build-up, the so-called coincidences, the oppression (for me) whenever we try to work on adoption-related stuff.  It starts to seem odd.  You find yourself using the words 'uncanny' and 'odd coincidence' one too many times.  Whether you are prone to thinking in these terms or not, you start to think there are other forces at work.  Forces that don't seem entirely friendly.  You start to see yourself as a warrior in a battle that you hadn't really realized you entered.  The command to pray without ceasing stops being a nice ideal to live up to and instead becomes a lifeline and a matter of survival.

This might sound a bit over-the-top to some of you... and five years ago I might have agreed.  But too much has happened since then.  Sure everything could be given some type of natural explanation, but at some point it all becomes too much and even the dimmest of us (I'm referring to myself here, not one of you) start to begin thinking in other terms.  It seems that when you begin to wake-up to the Holy side of the spiritual world, you must begin to contend in a real way with evil side as well.  To be fearless takes on a whole new meaning.  In that light, I think I should finish with the Ephesians passage:

"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication."  (Eph. 6:13-18 ESV)

God does not leave us defenseless and we fight in a battle that is already won.  We may be in the middle of the story, but we can flip ahead and read the last page.  We know how it ends... and the Good Guy wins.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Glad Game

If you've ever read the book, Pollyanna, you will know immediately what this post is about.  We have been reading this book as our lunchtime read aloud, and I think I have mentioned before how much I love it.  I know some people think it a bit saccharine which I think is due to the above mentioned Glad Game.  I don't think I will spoil the story by sharing with you what the game is about.  Pollyanna grew up with her missionary preacher father in the western states at the turn of the century.  They were very poor and depended heavily on missionary barrels for much of what they had.  The Glad Game began when Pollyanna was once hoping that a doll would arrive in the barrel, but instead found a pair of crutches.  Her father suggested that they play a game where they would think of a reason to be glad about the crutches.  Pollyanna couldn't think why she should be glad she had crutches instead of a doll, so her father suggested she could be glad that she didn't need the crutches and could run and walk without trouble.  As they played the game it became a habit... a habit of looking for the good in any situation.

This positive outlook on life, certainly not shared by any of the other characters in the book, is what gives Pollyanna the girl her charm.  Even the most dour of individuals in the story cannot continue in their unhappiness in the face of Pollyanna's joy.  And it's not that Pollyanna is a perfect child, she experiences sadness and disappointment and dismay, it's just that in the end, habit wins out and joy returns.

I love that this is such a wonderful example of Biblical instructions.  We are to be thankful in everything, we are to love our neighbor (even the crotchety, curmudgeonly ones), and we are to count all as joy.  Not easy instructions, but ones that with practice will become easier.  They are habits to be encouraged.

You know what I love most?  I love that I have heard my children and myself using that phrase, "I would think you would be glad that..."  It is one that Pollyanna uses often, and it seems it is a bit contagious.  So, thanks to a joy-filled little girl in an old chapter book, we are all getting a little better at finding the things we should be thankful for.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Busy, busy, terribly busy

Whenever I hear the word 'busy' I immediately have the words to the Veggie Tales song in my head:

Archibald (Mayor): I'm busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You've no idea what I have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.
Larry: Oh, I see.

Archibald and Doctor: We're busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You've no idea what we have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.

'Cause we're busy, busy, frightfully busy
More than a bumblebee, more than an ant.
Busy, busy, horribly busy
We'd love to help, but we can't!

This is on my mind because of something that happens all the time.  Whenever someone hears I have nine children or already knows and is just making small talk, one comment is inevitably, "Oh you must be so busy!"  The speaker is always surprised when I reply, that no, I'm not really that busy.  The comment doesn't annoy me (bemused would be more accurate), but it has got me to thinking.

What do we mean when we say that we're busy?  Busy can mean that we keep ourselves occupied; that we don't spend inordinate amounts of time lounging around doing nothing, or it can mean that we are oppressed by our schedules of outside commitments that leave us little time at home.  While I am good at keeping myself occupied and don't lounge around much (though on sunny, warm days, I have been known to do just that), but I do try to ruthlessly limit outside commitments so that I can concentrate on making a home for my family.  I have learned that nothing makes me feel more stressed and barely holding it together than to have to be in and out of the house on errands or at appointments all the time.  I enjoy being at home.  I enjoy having the time to do the things required to make a home a welcoming and enjoyable place.  I enjoy having time to spend with my children and other people.  I don't get bored and enjoy the slightly slower pace of life.

What baffles me is that being busy has somehow become a badge of honor.  Many women (and men) like to complain about being busy.  But sometimes that complaint rings a little false to me and I wonder if the person doesn't like it so much, why don't they do something differently.  Would the world end if one less class or sport was signed-up for?  Or one less obligation agreed to?  Or one less committee joined?  (Gasp!  I realize this is near to sacrilege in some churches.)  And if a person does these things because they enjoy them, then why complain?  Wouldn't it be better to be truthful and say that one is looking forward to doing something, or excited about it, instead of a false weariness as if it is 'not done' to express enjoyment?

Of course jettisoning commitments and obligations means that there will suddenly be free time.  What does one do with that?  Our society almost seems to say that free, unscheduled time is wrong.  That it means we are not being productive (whatever that means) and thus not valuable.  Those with free time are looked down upon because obviously, they are not important enough, or worthwhile enough, to be busy.  Busyness is a status symbol.

Well, just like the fancy car and exotic vacations, it is a status symbol I can quite happily live without.  I like having the time to spend talking with my children.  I like to have time to get the household tasks done and still be able to engage in activities I enjoy.  And I really like having the freedom of schedule so that if a friend calls unexpectedly and needs to talk, I can say without hesitation to come on over.  I have time to spend with the people I care about and offer help and hospitality to those in need.

I am occupied in interesting and important things, but I am certainly not busy.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Little girls' Mother's Day dresses

Here's what I've been busy finishing up today:

Twirly dresses for G. and L. to wear tomorrow.  I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out.  My mom sent me the pattern and I was able to use fabric out of my stash for most of them.  The blue knit fabric is left over from a project M. made in her first sewing class, the floral print is from a huge piece of fabric I found at a thrift store, and that just left the little bit of green knit that I had to purchase.  Only having to buy a 1/2 yard of fabric makes for some inexpensive dresses.

I thought the bodices would look a bit plain, so I decided to try out my new skills with my embroidery unit for my machine.  (I recently had a lesson which helped answer a lot of questions I had.)  I had a file for these flowers already on my computer and used thread to match.  If you look closely, you'll notice that I even flipped the image so the dresses are mirror images of each other.  Just because I can.

The only thing I have left to do tonight are the hems.  But take a look at these huge circle skirts:

It's going to take a while to work my way around each of them.  And I'll be doing them on the sewing machine... no way am I doing them by hand.

But really what I want to say is Happy Mother's Day to my mom, who along with my Dad, is really ultimately responsible for all this sewing loveliness, being the major suppliers of machines (and other things) for my sewing habit.

I love you.

And not just because you give me wonderful presents.

I'll try to get a picture of G. and L. actually wearing the dresses since I know that's what you really want to see.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Adoption non-update

The trouble with blogging about an adoption in the paperchasing phase is that there is nothing to write about.  It involves periods of insane business as I try to collect all the necessary paperwork as quickly as possible followed by incredibly long periods where nothing happens and over which I have no control.  I am kept so busy most of the time that I have not been spending inordinate amounts of time worrying about it, but it is always in the back of my mind.

Well, I've decided that we need some forward movement.  Would you all please join in praying with me for these specific things:

1.  That our home study be finished and that our agency approves it.
2.  That the woman in charge of approving home studies for DCFS is compelled to approve it quickly.
3.  That the INS moves quickly in granting us our immigration approval.

These are the three steps which have to happen before the dossier can be submitted and over which I have no control.  I will be starting to collect the rest of the dossier documents in the coming week so those are ready the second we receive INS approval.  (That I do have some control over and I am confident that I can collect these without a lot of bother.  Boy, I hope that confidence isn't misplaced!)

And lastly if you would continue to keep H. in your prayers... that God would prepare her to join our family and that He would provide comfort and healing to her.  It is probably good that she will not be informed of the adoption until we have travel approval because it is too difficult for a child to understand a long, drawn-out wait.  Our children at home have enough difficulty understanding it.  K. is so cute.  He likes to point to the pictures of H. we have around the house and announce, "That's H.  She is my new sister!"  The little girls are starting to recognize her picture as well, though they have yet to say her name.

And here's a new picture to share with you.  (Because of her age and country, I am leery of posting very many, but I think it is helpful to see who you are praying for every now and then.)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Back to the knee surgeon

A while back M. had knee surgery to remove some loose cartilage which had been scraped off the back of her knee that was floating around.  While the surgery was successful in removing the cartilage and that M. could walk around again without randomly occurring pain, the knee has never been quite right.  So, this morning we went to see another knee specialist.

Her knee issues turn out to be a two-part problem... well, maybe three.  The first is that she probably tore the very thin ligament which stabilizes the knee cap when she had the initial injury.  Second, she has very loose kneecaps, which causes more instability.  (I am now obsessed with kneecap mobility and am going around to the various family members and wiggling their kneecaps.  According to the surgeon, most people can only move the kneecap about a centimeter, but so far M., B. and I (meaning me, E... not some new family member named I. that you don't know about) can all move our kneecaps much more than that.)  And third, M.'s kneecap sits higher on her knee than most people and some of the problem is that her kneecap doesn't always slide over the kneecap in the groove it's supposed to.

All that adds up to having another MRI done in the next few days and most likely scheduling more knee surgery.  The surgeon is going to stabilize the knee by creating new, stronger tendons so the kneecap can't move around as much.  It is out-patient and will be able to walk, but has several months of recovery involved before she will be 100% mobile again.

At least she wasn't planning on going on a physically strenuous mission trip out of the country this summer.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


You may have noticed that last night we had fried okra as part of our dinner.  This is a dish I grew up with and love.  (My paternal grandmother was from Louisiana and so my father grew up with it and my mother continued to fix it for him after they were married.)  J. calls it an acquired taste, but has also grown to appreciate it... especially since I continue to put it on the menu.  (You know, one of the perks of being the one who makes the weekly menus is that I choose the things I like.  This can be disappointing for some members of my family because the likelihood of having anything with mushrooms is very slim.  The rejoicing is great when I do buy a box of them.)  Our children have mixed opinions on okra.  M. loves it and will eat it in any form, even raw.  Most of the rest enjoy it the way I prepare it.  And A. will make a valiant attempt to get herself invited to someone else's house for dinner when she sees it on the menu.  (M. and A. are flipped in their like/dislike of creamed spinach, so it evens out.) 

There is great curiosity as to where G. and L. will fall on the spectrum of okra enjoyment.  (It's not a genetic-thing, either.  TM loves it and K. sort-of tolerates it.)  In an effort to lure them over to her side, M. was encouraging G. and L. to eat little bites of the raw okra she was chopping.  A. then comes in and sits down with the little girls to read them a story, when she suddenly shouts, "Ugh! They smell like okra.  What have you been giving them?"  We were amused.

But it really is very good and you should try it if you never have.  While I call it fried okra because I grew up calling it fried okra, it's more accurately sauteed okra.  Here's how I fix it:

"Fried" Okra

Wash and trim ends off of desired amount of okra.  (I fix ~3lbs and never have leftovers, but that's probably just us.)  Chop into small circles and mix with cornmeal (to coat) and a little salt and pepper.  Heat some olive oil in a frying pan.  When the oil is hot, add okra.  Saute, stirring constantly, until the okra turns bright green and starts to brown a bit.  Serve immediately. 

That's it... very easy and very yummy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Kon-Tiki rafts

Yesterday we made models of the Kon-Tiki raft used by Thor Heyerdahl to float across the Pacific.  This turned out to be one of those homeschool craft projects that ends up working really well.  Everyone enjoyed it; everyone was thoroughly engrossed and worked diligently for a good portion of the afternoon; and everyone came up with unique, well planned out projects. 

To begin, I gave each person one long stick of balsa wood ("Balsa wood?!  Real balsa wood?  Is this just what they used on the raft?  This is so cool!"), a thin, flat piece of balsa wood, yarn, felt, and construction paper.  I then left them to construct their rafts, with the usual admonitions of "they will all look different", "there is no right way to do this", "it's not a competition", and "it will not turn out perfectly", of course.

The crafters at work:

P.'s raft:

TM's raft:

Those of drawing of palm branches on the roof of the cabin.

If you look carefully inside the cabin you will see the box that the short-wave radio was set-up on.

D.'s raft:

A.'s raft:

That's the rubber raft being towed behind the balsa raft.

The underside showing the centerboards used for stabilization and steering and the seaweed that grew on the bottom of the raft.

My only disappointment is that no one wanted to make the small pelagic crab that lived on board the raft and whom the men named Johannes.  Did you know that 'pelagic' means open sea?  Thus the pelagic crab is one that lives its life on the open sea and eats plankton that collects on the hairs on its legs.

Monday, May 02, 2011

From the Pacific to turn of the (last) century Vermont

"Pollyanna cried out in dismay.

'Oh, but Aunt Polly, Aunt Polly, you haven't left me any time at all just to -- to live.'

'To live, child!  What do you mean? As if you weren't living all the time!'

'Oh, of course I'd be breathing all the time I was doing those things, Aunt Polly, but I wouldn't be living.  You breathe all the time you're asleep, but you aren't living.  I mean living -- doing the things you want to do:  playing outdoors, reading (to myself, of course), climbing hills, talking to Mr. Tom in the garden, and Nancy, and finding out all about the houses and the people and everything everywhere all through the perfectly lovely streets I came through yesterday.  That's what I call living, Aunt Polly.  Just breathing isn't living!'"

From Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter... our newest lunchtime read aloud.  A book which, in my opinion, gets an undeserved bad rap.
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