Friday, July 14, 2017

Easy Polymer Pastry Pendants

Yes, this entire project started with a pun.
A few weeks ago my kid's Sunday School teacher had them all making stuffed donuts out of socks.
Why donuts, you ask? Because the Bible tells us "Donut be anxious about anything..."
Goofy, to be sure, but it stuck in all of our minds. My middle girl, Grace (age 6) definitely struggles with anxiety. She's the one who has nightmares, is scared of shadows in her room, stays awake worrying about random things, and gets really uptight about anything she might not excel at. (In other words, she is most definitely her mother's daughter!) So this week I decided to make Philippians 4:6-7 our family memory verse.

To help drive it home, we made donut pendants from my huge stash of polymer clay. As hoped, it was easy enough that the kids could make their own, and we made a bakery-full!  Grace is eager to give them to all her friends at church this coming Sunday.

I hesitate to classify this particular project as "quick and dirty" because there are quite a few steps involved over and above the fun part of making the clay pastry. Also, the "dirty" part is more literal than in most of my crafts: polymer clay can be difficult to get off of your hands, and you definitely don't want it in your carpet. That said, it is still far less than complicated, so don't let it spook you!

Here's what you'll need: 

1) Polymer clay* in several colors: base, frosting, and hopefully some sprinkles.
2) Clear nail polish, or a purpose-made sealer from the craft store.
3) (optional) Cord or ribbon to make necklaces, and findings of choice


1) Dedicated cookie sheet (get one from the Dollar Tree), or tinfoil to line the one you use for cooking
2) Oven
3) Purpose-made clay tools with cutting and poking ends, or pencil and a toothpicks (which work just as well.)


  1. After protecting your work space with a tray or plastic, soften a grape-sized lump of clay in the donut color between your palms. Once pliable, shape into a sphere, then gently and slightly flatten between your thumb and forefinger. 
  2. Using a sharpened pencil or clay tool, very gently poke a hole in the center of your flattened ball, just until you barely break through the other side. Turn your donut over and poke again from the opposite side. Work your donut around the pencil until the hole is smooth and centered. 
  3. Now, soften a much smaller portion of clay in your frosting color, and flatten it into a thin pancake just slightly wider than your donut. Don't try and make it perfect: you want your frosting to look natural.  (Hint: If you're using a very light color, clean your hands - maybe with a diaper wipe - before switching.) 
  4. Just like on your donut, poke a hole in your frosting, working from both sides. Position your frosting on your donut and smooth down with your fingers. 
  5. Believe it or not, sprinkles are the hardest part! A few tips:
    * Use a harder variety of clay, like Fimo, to avoid smearing and stretching.
    * Take the amount you need, cut it in half, and then cut it in half again.
    * Glass seed beads could be a reasonable substitute - don't use plastic!
    * Pre-making a bunch of sprinkles and baking them (for no more than 5 minutes) would be a great strategy if you're going to make a bakery-full of donuts. You can use them more like "real" sprinkles this way. 
  6. Time for baking! Preheat to 275 F, then bake on a foil lined sheet for 15 minutes.
    Do Not over-bake! Burned polymer clay is Noxious! (Don't ask me how I know this...) 
  7. Allow to cool fully, then paint with clear nail polish or commercial sealer. Aside from making it shiny, it'll help keep the sprinkles attached. 
  8. String on cord or ribbon, attaching fasteners or the like as desired. 
  9. Package and give to all your friends! 

* Polymer clay comes in several brands and styles. I've used most of them, and while you can make this project successfully with any, there's no denying that they are different.

Your cheapest options are original Sculpey, with the Michael's store brand coming in even slightly under that. Both of these clays are super soft: they're ready to go straight out of the package. On the flip side, sometimes they are too soft and sticky for fine details. They also tend to bake up with more of a matte, even chalky finish. Durability is less than more expensive brands.

On the more expensive end is Original Fimo, a much harder clay that takes a lot of working to get pliable enough to shape. It will be a challenge for littler kids, and you can expect crumbs all over the work surface - not to mention the floor! On the plus side, it bakes up with much shinier finish, and is considerably more durable.

In between is everything else. Fimo has a variety called "Fimo Soft," and Sculpey has a variety called "Primo." Both of these middle-of-the-road options worked well for this project (see photo above.) If you are mixing and matching, use a softer option for the frosting, and a harder one for sprinkles and donuts.

And here's a fun fact for anyone who stuck with me this long: 20+ year old Fimo Still Works! Really! I assumed I would be replacing my ancient stash a few colors at a time - I mean, I was buying this stuff as a teen when $2.50 per block still felt really steep. But it still softens up and bakes just as nice as when it was new. Fimo: The eternal substance! :)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quick n' Dirty Peanut Lime sauce, aka "Kung Foo Chicken"

I have long since lost track of the food blog where I initially found this recipe, or at least a version thereof. We've been using it off and on for at least 8 or 10 years, and I think it's worth sharing.
My husband likes to call it "Kung Foo Chicken" for some reason, but it's really just a basic peanut lime sauce with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen that takes Very little fuss to get right.

Peanut Lime Sauce
(Serves about 6)
1 C peanut butter (natural is best, may be smooth or crunchy.)
1/2 C lime juice
1/2 C water
1 heaping Tbsp of minced garlic, or to taste
1 T of soy sauce, or to taste
1 t of sriracha or Tabasco sauce, or to taste

Whisk all ingredients together.
Hint: if you  place the lime juice and water in a 2 C Pyrex measuring cup, it's pretty easy to measure the peanut butter into the same container: just watch for the liquid to hit the 2 C line.

Serve over about 1 lb of spaghetti noodles, or ~4 packages of ramen (discarding the flavor packs, of course.)  Or get fancy with proper Asian noodles - we never do, but I'm sure it'd be great!

Add diced, cooked chicken, shrimp, or the protein of your choice.
I pan-fried my protein with a little lime and soy sauce just to enhance the flavor a bit.

As for veggies, green onions are great, as is cilantro, shredded carrots, or lightly cooked broccoli. Garnish with chopped peanuts or sesame if desired.
Pick your favorites, and get creative.

This is easy and quick to feed to a crowd as it can be doubled easily. Similarly, cut it in half for a small family.

Parables for Pre-Schoolers: Using Story to Sooth and Teach

"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent..." 

It happens with depressing regularity. Everything is going along smoothly. Maybe not perfect, but OK. They're dressed, they're clean(ish), they're about to be fed, and - BAM - you're dealing with a tantrum. Maybe she wanted nuggets instead of PB&J.  Maybe she didn't want to wait in the other room until you were done working with an older sibling for school. Maybe she didn't want to wear the pants you picked out. Maybe it's the classic "my plate is the wrong color" melt-down. You try to calm her down, to offer compromises without caving into her terrorism, but it's not working. The emotions are out of control, and there's nothing to do but plop her in her room with the door shut until she works through it.

The tricky part for me is what to do next. After I've got my own calm back and it's time to "re-integrate," my inclination is to lecture, explain in minute detail what the child did wrong, ask for them to acknowledge their fault, and then expect her to please Get Over It so we can move on with our day.

Since this almost never works, I've come to rely on another technique that I stumbled into when my oldest (now days from his 8th birthday) was a toddler: story telling.
Instead of explaining to a still-sobbing pre-schooler "Lucy, you're up here because you threw a big tantrum when you got an orange plate instead of a purple one," I ask her if she wants a story about Magnus, Anna, and Ida, the trio of monsters I invented for James when he was little. Sometimes she'll say "yes," and sometimes she'll ask for one about Poppy the Rabbit instead.
This afternoon was a "Poppy" day.
My little "Bunny"

So I jumped in.
"Most of the time, Poppy is an obeying bunny rabbit. But sometimes, Poppy is a disobeying bunny rabbit instead. Usually, Poppy is very good at 'getting what she gets, and not throwing a fit,' but sometimes that fit starts before she even knows what's happening.
Well, one day Poppy was really excited for her favorite lunch of carrots. Mommy made everyone a plate: she made one for Boppy, and Floppy, and Moppy, and finally she gave one to Poppy. But this time, Mommy did something Terrible. Instead of giving the purple plate to Poppy, she gave it to Moppy! And Poppy was MAD. Before she even knew it, she was crying and crying. Because Moppy wouldn't give her the purple plate!
Mommy tried to help Poppy calm down. She reminded her "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!" Then she asked her to take some deep breaths to calm down. She even counted down from five to give Poppy a chance to get quiet. But when the counting was done, Poppy was still angry and she still wasn't willing to eat her lunch on the ugly orange plate.
Mommy told her, "I'm sorry Poppy, but you will need to go to your room to calm down. When you're ready to eat your lunch without fussing about your plate, you may come back." Then Mommy took Poppy by the hand and lead her to her room.
But Poppy was still angry. As soon as Mommy left, she threw open her door and stomped into the hallway. "I don't want to stay in my room, and I don't Want the Orange Plate!" she shouted.
Mommy came back to Poppy's room. "I'm sorry, sweetie, but I am going to have to lock your door, because you didn't chose to follow my instructions."
Now Poppy was Really mad, and she shouted and kicked for what felt like Hours (but was really only a few minutes) until Mommy and the other Rabbits finished their lunches. Then Mommy came back to Poppy's room.
She hugged her and held her. Then she asked Poppy to look around her room with her and find things some orange things that made Poppy happy. They found a book, and a toy, and a stuffed animal, all with pretty orange colors. Finally, she asked if Poppy was ready to eat lunch with no more fussing.
Poppy was. In fact, Poppy was happy to eat lunch on her pretty orange plate.
When Poppy was really calm, she thought back and realized that when she made good decisions, Mommy always gave her more choices. But when she made bad, disobedient choices, she started losing choices like having her door open and unlocked. 
Well, the next day, guess what? Mommy made a mistake again. This time Poppy got a blue plate. Poppy wanted to throw a fit, but then she remembered: good choices mean I get more choices! So she made sure she didn't cry or fuss, and Mommy was so happy with her! In fact, Mommy made sure to ask Poppy what color cup she wanted her carrot juice in!"
By the time we got to the part about Poppy finding orange things that made her happy, Lucy was ready to participate. And by the time we were done with the story, Lucy was ready to eat her own lunch on the orange plate.

Now, my kids are not idiots. They know that their troubles are being given nearly unmodified to Poppy or one of the Monster kids. But somehow it works anyway. That one level of remove seems to give them the distance they need to consider their situation with new eyes and less defensiveness.

Admittedly, it works better with my four-year-old than my eight-year-old, but even he occasionally gets a Magnus story to help him through a tough experience.

"But I'm not CREATIVE enough to make up a story on the fly," you protest.
Don't be intimidated. You're not trying to be the next Caldecot Medal winner; you just want to give your kid a new perspective with a story. If you want to change a few detail, feel free, but mostly you can (and should) stick to the facts.

Still seem kinda scary? Here are the basic steps:

1) Invent a character or characters to represent your child and anyone else involved in the real life events. Not feeling super creative? Chose a favorite stuffy or doll. Or, you can always punt and use a character from a favorite show.
2) Tell a story about this character having exactly the same problem as your child, reacting in exactly the same ways, and experiencing the very same consequences.
(Sidebar: This may be time for rather more honesty than you'd like, especially if you happen to have reacted with less calm and composure than you wish. Feel free to mention that the "Mommy" in your story felt badly about having lost her temper and apologized to the child in the story. Maybe you need some distance too?)
3) When your story arrives at the current moment, make sure that your character models the response that you hope for your child.
4) As a postscript, consider retelling a portion of the story set sometime in the future in which a similar situation takes place. This time, however, the character remembers his or her lesson and responds in the mature, reasoned fashion you're trying to develop in your child.

If your kids are anything like mine, you may find this a very useful tool to tuck away in your box for when lecturing just isn't cutting it!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Quick n' Dirty Coffee Filter Flowers

Hello, all. It's time for a new quick n' dirty tutorial: Coffee Filter Flowers!

These are a great bang for your buck. Super cheap, really easy, nearly fool-proof, and suitable for displaying in actual grown-up inhabited rooms.

Here's what you need:

* Basket style coffee filters (3 per flower)
* Pipe cleaners, green or brown
* Pencil
* Scissors

And here's how it's done

1) Flatten your stack of coffee filters. Then fold in half, half again, and once more so that your circle is divided into eights.

2) Place your filters on the table with the point down. With a pencil, draw an arc from one corner, down to the center of the paper, and then arc back up to the opposite corner. Don't obsess over this: "good enough" is very nearly as good as "perfect." Also, after you have made a few flowers, you may not find it necessary to draw this guideline any more!

3) Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut along your line, making sure to keep just under it so that it will not show on your finished flower.

4) Open up your paper and admire the pretty petals you've cut.

5) Rotate your circles so the petals are slightly offset. Keeping them aligned, take your pipe cleaner and poke a hole in the exact center of the filters from the bottom side. Push it through about half an inch, and curl the end a bit to make it hard for the flower to slip off.

6) This last bit seems like it might be tricky, but you'll be surprised how easy it really is. Gently crumple your circles into a flower shape, twisting them together fairly tightly at the stem end. Use your fingers to fluff out the petals.

7) Finally, bend the pipe cleaner up and wrap it tightly around the bottom of your flower to bind it in place.

That's it! You've made a coffee filter flower!
Now, make a dozen more and display them in a pretty vase - or a mason jar!

Oh, so white flowers are getting a bit boring? 
One of the major advantages of coffee filters are how easy they are to dye.
At this point the project gets a little less quick, and rather more dirty. It's still not a major time investment, but you do have to let your filters dry out in the hot sun for a couple of hours, or overnight if you're stuck indoors.

Before you start, make sure your work surface is protected, and that you have a safe spot to dry your filters after dying.

You have all sorts of options for dye, but the absolute cheapest is Kool-Aid. That's right: those little packets that go 10 for a dollar at the grocery store are mostly food coloring!

My favorite way to dye is to mix about 1/3 of a packet of Kool-Aid in about 1/4 cup of water in a small, tall bowl or a drinking glass. (This Kool-Aid was orange, and as an added benefit the yellow and red separate out a bit as it creeps up the filter.)
Take a stack of 6-8 filters and very roughly fold into quarters. Place the point in the dye and allow it to creep up for several minutes. Carefully remove it, allow the drips to fall back into the dye dish, and spread the filters out on a cookie sheet to dry (or hang on your clothes line if weather permits!)
Alternately, dip the wide end of the filters into the dye to make a flower with the edges rather than the center of the petals colored.

You can also use a wide, shallow bowl for dye and entirely submerge a stack of flattened filters.
Finally, you can even use felt tip markers to color the centers or edges of a filter, and then drip or spray a little water to make the colors run and spread.

Other options for dye include standard food coloring, or even brewed tea or coffee.

Just remember to let the filters dry Entirely before using them to create a bouquet!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Diva Challenge 304: Waybop - and Shrinky Dinks!

I was glad to see Waybop featured in this week's Diva Challenge. I was immediately drawn to this tangle when I first saw it a couple of weeks ago. You get a lot of bang for your buck, with a surprisingly simple set of steps yielding a complicated, cool-looking image.
The one thing I haven't figured out is how to make it play nicely with other tangles. I've tried a few auras, or gems in the middle of the shapes, etc, but I'm not finding it easy or instinctive on how to flow it together with other patterns. (Unlike most of you other Diva Challenge participants, I see! I am getting lots of fun ideas!)

That in mind I decided not to even try today. Instead, as I also needed to occupy my girls, I pulled out my little stock of hoarded #6 plastic takeout containers and made Shrinky Dinks!
I let Waybop play all alone on mine, with just a few jewel and seed shapes to fill in the empty space.

 Before shrinking. Image is 2 - 2.5 inches in diameter.
After shrinking. Colors are darker and more vivid. Item is about 1.25 inches in diameter - just bigger than a quarter.

For anyone who is interested in recycled Shrinky Dink projects, it is simplicity itself. Just be absolutely sure that your plastic is marked with a #6 in the recycling logo.
I like to draw the outline on one side of the plastic with a Sharpie or (better yet) a Sakura Identipen. I then flip it over and color (again with Sharpies) on the other side so there's no fear of muddling or smearing the black line.
Then you cut your image out, punch a hole if desired, and put it in the oven at 325 F for 2-3 minutes. It will curl up at first and then flatten out. Watch carefully and take it out when it goes back to flat.
That's all there is to it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Typlical Homeschool Day

I Just wrote a "week in the life" post a few days back, but I didn't really go into detail on how school itself has been working lately. Yesterday one of the mothers at dance class asked me how long I usually spend on school each day and my off-the-cuff answer was 90 minutes. I think that may be underestimating things a bit, actually, so I'm going to give a try at documenting what we actually do on our "normal" days.

School starts promptly at 9 am. In my dream world, that is. :)
Maybe I should start back a little earlier.
The alarm goes off at 7:45. I usually make it downstairs a couple of minutes after 8 where I quickly make a sandwich for David to take to work when he leaves at 8:15. The kids have usually already begun serving themselves breakfast by that time, but somehow actually eating seems to linger past 8:30 if not longer.  I serve myself something which I eat while simultaneously doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen (I work better in the morning, so usually about 1/2 the dinner work is left over.) We listen to the news, the kids disappear (without cleaning up their places 90% of the time), and I'm usually starting to think about my first cup of coffee when I notice it's after 9.  I decide it's time to get going, but there's always something - whether it's starting a load of laundry, chivying reluctant pre-schoolers into their clothes, or persuading an older child to do a chore - that intervenes, and in point of fact it's rarely before 9:30 - 9:45 when we start.

The first subject on our list is Bible. This is the only thing we do all together. We're making some, but not exhaustive, use of Danika Cooley's "Bible Roadtrip" curriculum and are set to finish up the Pentateuch this week.  Mostly we read a chapter or two out loud, or sometimes we let the narrator on my "YouVersion" software read it, and I give a little commentary and ask some leading questions. We also have been watching the "What's in the Bible" DVDs when we can get them, as well as the (much  more advanced) videos from "The Bible Project" available on YouTube. The kids will watch anything with eagerness and they're perfectly happy listening to the Bible straight out too, as long as they are allowed to color or do some other quiet activity. (James usually asks for "one more chapter" so he can finish whatever he's coloring!)
What we're not doing is craft projects, lap books, notebooks, or anything else that (a) takes prep and planning on my part, and (b) requires a lot of interaction and cooperation from the kids.
In my defense, this is a considered decision based in large part on knowing James will fight, with tooth and nail, anything that has writing involved. Grace often will too, depending on how its introduced. It's not worth the fuss to me, and I've mostly given up even feeling guilty about it.
As to the crafts, well, they do plenty of crafts at Sunday School and more - of their own choosing - at home. We don't need the extra fuss. Really. Just keep telling yourself that...

We do work on memorizing a Bible verse together each week. Sometimes we'll tackle a longer passage over a couple of weeks; other times we'll take a break with something short and simple. When possible they coordinate with what we're reading in Bible Roadtrip, but I'm not above picking out verses that relate to a current family struggle. (Proverbs 15:1 is this week's!)

Once Bible is complete (say, around 10:15) we usually go on to spelling. As mentioned in my previous post both James and Grace are doing Level B of Spelling-U-See; Grace is on week 9 and James is somewhere in the 20's. Right now neither of them like it, and I can usually expect a fight, most frequently from Gracie. The funny thing is that neither is actually struggling with it. It's not hard, it's just not exciting, James doesn't want to "chunk" (highlight various vowel and consonant combinations) the same passage each day, and Grace doesn't want to copy out her fragment and then have me correct her backwards "Bs" and "Gs" when she spells words from dictation. (note to self: stop doing this and add handwriting back in as a separate subject?)
The most reliable strategy I have to get us through is to promise that the entire ordeal will take no more than 10 minutes, and set a timer to back myself up. We almost always finish well before it sounds, but it seems to do the trick as often as not.

A side note on simultaneous schooling:
In an ideal world I would have James working on Math while Grace works on Spelling, and Grace work on Handwriting or whatever while James does Spelling, etc, etc. In real life it rarely works out. I try, but something always gets dropped. The copy-work is done and James disappeared before Grace writes her first spelling word. Grace needs help on her math before I can start with James on his spelling; Lucy is determined to "serve tea" or something else ridiculously distracting and needs to be re-directed before either can get started. Etc. The worst of it is, usually James gets my attention first up and Grace disappears. Then 50% of the time we don't get to her reading or math (neither, actually, today, come to think of it) at all because we get hungry and cranky and after lunch I'm not good for anything. Or we have places to go, or Something. It's a good thing that her age group doesn't actually Need a ton of instructional time, because she isn't always getting it.
There are some things I could be doing better in the planning department - for instance, having the James' entire set of assignments written out on the board so he can do the independent ones without referring to me, or having a less spur-of-the-moment plan for Lucy. Hopefully I'll improve in this area before it starts to really cause problems.

Then on to math. It's usually left to last for both kids, but when I am hoping to cover a new concept with James we try to put it in front.
He is working through a "Spectrum" 3rd grade book. It is Common Core aligned, which I consider neutral-to-negative, but as a rule I use it to tell me what to teach, not how to teach it, which ameliorates the downsides of CC. In any case, I picked it up at the craft store of all places for probably less than $10 after my coupon, and it's doing the job.
I'm giving it a partial rest for a while, though, because it's come to my attention that despite his ability to work through the simple division problems in the current chapter, he really needs review and re-focus on the basics of showing his work. Because he Can do a lot of things in his head with decent accuracy it's been easy to let this slide, but he is Adamant that he ought never to have to write anything down, and it increasingly clear that he doesn't actually understand How to set up his problems using the appropriate symbols, alignment, etc. This manifests as anger and resistance which drains everyone's energy in no time at all.
Case in point: after reading a review of a disturbing study that found only 18% of American adults were able to do a problem in which they computed the cost of carpeting a rectangular room - using a calculator! - I decided to work through just such a problem with him today. It's well within his conceptual abilities. But writing on his paper "9 x 108" was enough to drive him to distraction.
We made it, but it took most of my instructional energy for the morning.

Meanwhile, a minor miracle was taking place on the other side of the table. Grace was teaching Lucy to write her name! Lucy knows how to spell and recognize it, and she's been writing the "L" accurately for some time, but has not been willing to work on the other letters. Not that I've exactly pushed: she's not yet 4! But this morning she was working away at tracing it by following the dots that Grace made for her, and both of them were enjoying themselves. When they tired of that activity, Grace asked for the alphabet flash cards and began teaching them to Lucy. Here I had to briefly intervene so as not to let her drive her pupil nuts, but they both played happily with some game or other they'd devised using the cards through the entire 30+ minutes I worked with James on his math.

Math for Grace has been a little more haphazard. At first I was happy to work through the 1st grade A Beka book with her, but it got to be downright tedious. She does not read well enough to follow the directions on her own, so I always have to be sitting with her while she works. And the problems are terribly repetitious. So we've abandoned it for the time being. Instead we're using "Comic Book Math" from Thinking Tree, which hides some good fundamental concepts inside pages filled with doodles you can color when you finish the problems. Right now she's working on "Magic Squares:" sets of four problems using the same three numbers, for instance {4,5,9} - so the kid fills out "4+5=9," "5+4=9," "9-5=4," "9-4=5"
Somehow this remains an elusive concept for Grace, but she's getting a little better at it.
And then there's Life of Fred. I have a love/hate relationship with these books. I want them to work, because they're great fun, completely lack "drill and kill," and introduce ridiculously advanced concepts (orthogonality, sets, and prime numbers, just for starters!) at the 1st grade level. But I've concluded that even for my advanced student, drill-and-kill has a necessary place in our lives. So we're using Fred for supplementation, mostly for Grace.

Finally, on to reading. James has little or no assigned reading at this time because he willingly and voraciously reads comics and easy chapter books, usually right before bed or in the car. I don't want to kill that by making it "work." I am starting to introduce book reports, or at least book Journals, to him. Mostly that happens during our true 1:1 time at McDonald's on the weekend.
Grace is not yet a fluent reader. She is making it through level 1 readers, mostly, but is easily overwhelmed even by a more complicated Dr. Seuss book. She's bored, however, by the little A Beka stories, and I can't really blame her as they're not much more than Dick and Jane in (slightly more) modern clothes. It's Hard to write something worth reading when restricting yourself to four and five letter words. Our real favorites right now are the "We Both Read" books at the library. The left hand page is for the parent; the right hand page is part of the story, but written at the child's level. It really works at getting the kid engaged in a non-idiotic (sort of!) story without overwhelming them.
We're also working through the A Beka phonics flashcards. These are able to engage her where the stories do not, and it's mostly because she is always permitted one word from each card to act out. When we actually pull these out, she has a lot of fun with them and will tear through 1/2 a dozen before running out of steam.
Usually this reading happens - if at all - informally and after the regular school day ends at lunchtime.

And that is the end of the formal school day.
Lunch is often a little late - 12 or 12:30 instead of 11:30 which is what our stomachs might prefer - but it does mark the end of the instructional time. So that makes it somewhere between 2 hours and 3 at worst case, which at least 50% of that time being "down" for any given student.

You'll notice: no formal science, history, econ, health, or etc. I assume some of that is going to come eventually.
For now I am happy to class the "Little House," "Great Brain," and "Rush Revere" books we read together in the evenings as our "history curriculum." We've done a few cool science lessons with our co-op, and hopefully we'll do more this spring and summer. Obviously we're always talking, discussing, and explaining things from current events to bits of theology to economics to important battles of WWII. (That would be David, not me!) The rest... there's plenty of time. I don't want to bury the kids or myself.

Things have gotten quite a bit easier this school year as I've successfully established expectations with James. But "easier" has not yet become anything like "easy" (see math and spelling discussions above!) And ironically things have become harder with Grace who uses such different techniques to avoid work or express her frustration that I haven't yet figured out how to successfully combat them.
I'm trying to (a) not push and (b) remain not guilty about not pushing, teaching Latin, and working on massive unit studies. And also to remember that the academics are Not the most important thing I'll be teaching them. We may not be able to do a unit study and a lap book on "diligence," "compassion," "kindness," "respect," "obedience," or etc. But we are teaching them, like it or not. The academics are just a framework.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

One of those Weeks (in the Life)

James has "The Empire Strikes Back" on the TV. Grace is watching "Masha" on the other laptop. David has Lucy at Costco. And I am completely amped up on the caffeine from my "decaf" McDonald's coffee. Probably can't sit still long enough to craft anything, so I'm going to give a try to a "week in the life" post.

Sunday 1/29:
Lucy has a bit of a cough, which fills me with dread regarding the rest of the week / month. But she doesn't seem to feel too yucky, so we ignore it for now. (Isn't it fascinating, though, that the more a toddler is likely to cough or sneeze, the closer to the food table she seems to stand?!) I have snacks to bring to church (Costco muffins, mmm!) , as well as my standard duties on the laptop.
We hang around a little longer than usual after church, but the girls especially still don't want to leave. Eventually we get them into the car and head home where I grab an extended nap. A smaller crew joins us for spaghetti and meatballs: only 8 or 9 including us. (We've had up to 14 recently, but the Selixes and a couple others couldn't make it this time.)  Regrettably, James starts fighting with his sisters during dinner and doesn't take it well when banished to his room. He has a classic, full on, totally out of control meltdown which puts a real pall on things. Really wish we could help him get a handle on his temper.

Monday 1/30:
Lucy's cough is getting worse but she still acts mostly normal. No outside activities on our schedule for the day, so we get to focus on school: we're in Numbers in "Bible Roadtrip," James and Grace are both doing "Spelling U See," James has copy work and some practice in division / multiplication, Grace has math out of one of several books depending on our collective mood, and reading from a similar number of books or from her A Beka phonics cards. School has gotten Much easier this year since Lucy is nearly always willing to work on coloring, puzzles, pattern blocks, or Perler beads for much of the instructional time.
At 11 or so, Dan, Angela D and two of her daughters (ages 3 and 6 months) come over to work on brainstorming a new logo for City's Edge. (Angela is a graphic designer.) While we're working James builds a fancy new fort from the Fort Magic kit, while the girls (rather to his disgust) mostly do "girl stuff." After lunch I help finish the fort in between laundry and whatnot. The kids are in a very creative mood and wisely don't interfere, much!

The bigger two also do a little outside play despite the chill: the whole neighborhood is working on a giant chalk "Sim City" in the cul-de-sac. This occupied them for hours over the weekend and James is eager to continue developing it.
Eventually I get a little nap. Sadly when the neighborhood kids James' chief "frenemy" Tate (age 10) arrives home from school he inexplicably goes absolutely crazy on James. No-one knows why, but he's suddenly persona non grata. It gets so bad that after the third or fourth incident I finally - against my better judgement - go out and confront the kid. I keep it short, but ask him to please at least Ignore James while he's outside playing. For reasons I cannot begin to explain this works, and everyone becomes buddy-buddy for the rest of the afternoon. I am mystified, but pleased.
And this gives me time to put together some sort of dinner for the rest of the family before heading off to the "PC Women's Group" at Beth's. Love this group of ladies!

Tuesday 1/31: Lucy's cough is still worse, and I feel a little guilty about going to dance class. But I can't stay home without also skipping Grace's class as well as James' speech. Eventually I decide to go for it. I also splurge (at $3/head) on "open gym" at the dance studio, and James especially loves trying to climb the rope and devise obstacle courses for himself. Amar, the guy who runs the front desk, tries to give James a little instruction but isn't too successful. Still, he makes it a few feet up!

I feel a little better about the sick kid when I notice at least one other little girl with at least as bad of a cough. :)
We make it through the day, but I need a nap when we get home, and the kids - especially Lucy - conspire to deny me one. I find myself positively bad tempered and amuse myself writing rants on Facebook about my kids' exceedingly small Venn diagram of acceptable dinner foods. So many mothers declare themselves in the same boat that I do end up feeling oddly better - especially when there are no serious melt-downs over the baked potatoes, salad, and chili I serve. Not that they actually Ate it, but they don't scream and fuss either.

James passed his Orange Belt test on Saturday, so he needs to join the Orange-to-Green class for the first time this evening which makes us hurry dinner rather more than we'd prefer to get him there at 5:50. D and I have also decided to go ahead and let Grace take Taekwondo for at least a while, and this is her first class. She is over the moon. Despite the blatant violation of my declared "one activity per child" rule, I'm copacetic because I get to stay home with Lucy, who can usually be persuaded into an extended bath and early-ish bedtime. I even have time for a little Zentangle and Yoga from Fit2B. Which gives me time for ranting (thankfully just to Beth rather than a larger audience) on FB regarding the reactions to the declared YM split. :)

Wednesday 2/1: Lucy still worse, but Mom decides to come over anyway, given that she's already been exposed by Maddy and Shiloh. We eat at Burger King for once, and out of a sense of social responsibility I occupy Lucy with my phone rather than letting her play in the playground. She really isn't feeling very well today, which becomes increasingly clear after Mom leaves around 3. She Willingly goes to bed early, if that's any clue! I'm still fine, which shocks me. Maybe all that honey-and-turmeric magic mixture is working?! Grace and James are really very compassionate and Grace is talking about wanting to get something for her (out of her own funds) from Dollar Tree to help her feel better. This inspires me to make and package a tiny needle-felted "Phillip" frog - my new craft. :) David and I make it out for a "Pokewalk," which I prepare for by dressing in full cold-weather gear. The wind is picking up, and it's Cold!

Thursday 2/2: Lucy is feeling a bit better, and is very amused by her tiny frog, but he predictably disappears before two hours go by. He turns up a time or two in coming days, but as of this writing Saturday afternoon is MIA again. Oh well.
No outside activities again today, so we make it through school (Grace manages to resist Most subjects again, and it is increasingly clear that She is now coming down with Lucy's cold) and then finally get in our weekly trip to the library. James is devouring more than 1/2 a dozen books a week, especially Tin Tin and Jr. comic books. I am having a little more trouble keeping him in chapter books that I think are even vaguely worthwhile (EVERYTHING seems to be about magic users lately!), but I select a handful of "Boxcar Children" mysteries and a few other series openers to try him on. He wasn't too excited about "A Wrinkle in Time" after the first chapter, and it just gets worse when I try to persuade him. Indirection and feigned indifference is the only way. :}
Somehow we all have energy for a quick stop at the craft store (new needle felting tool at 50% off!) and a longer stop at WinCo, which I'm now managing to visit only every 4-6 weeks. Getting the kids a smoothie to split before we start shopping helps a lot, though!
Both big kids go to Taekwondo, but Lucy is much less persuadable to an early bed. Yup, definitely feeling better!
The weather shifts from "unpleasant" to "miserable" overnight. Wind, rain, and near-freezing temps.

Friday 2/3: Thankfully our side of town doesn't get much ice on the ground, but the cars are coated with a nice, thick layer. I'm especially glad we have another day with no outside activities (co-op is on alternate Fridays), because Grace is obviously under the weather now.
This doesn't stop her from helping James with an big "layout" or "scene" in the box room. They're theoretically making this for Lucy and the toy "Phillip" - everyone is trying to be extra nice to her while she's sick - but I think they get a lot more play time with it than she does. Still, it's a very nice thought.

Not a lot of school gets done by Grace: she is super sensitive to anything "hard," mistakes made, etc. I have to remind myself routinely that pushing her is largely pointless, and she's only supposed to be in Kindergarten. At least we finish up Deuteronomy in Bible Roadtrip. James successfully completes a Scratch project and its variations (we have a book from the library to follow), which I do a bit of crafting on a needle felting project. Grace would like to help, but stabbing things with sharp needles isn't something I really want her to do much of. :)
Once again the kids decide to fight during my "nap," but eventually they stabilize and I get a longer bit of down-time than usual. I drag myself up, and allow myself to be persuaded to begin movie time about 20 minutes early. "Home" is still going when David arrives around 4:45, and Grace is getting ever grumpier. We decide to go to Subway so as to avoid public play-places, etc, at Cedar Mills. This pleases Grace and sends Lucy into a tantrum. She ends up picking Everything out of her sandwich and then complaining that the bread is spicy. I am remarkably unsympathetic. Such a relaxing way to spend the evening. :}
Back home the kids get a little play time, and then we wind down with a chapter from "Farmer Boy," which has been my favorite of the "Little House" books on this re-reading. Lucy remains cranky because I won't read her a book or two in her own bedroom, and manages to keep herself awake fussing for a Long time. Arrgh. I ignore her while working on a couple of updates for the Kenneys at, then watch an episode of White Rabbit while working on the felting project. Grace doesn't sleep well, even with humidifier and honey-turmeric.

Saturday 2/4: Everyone sleeps in, except maybe Lucy. I finally get out the door with James to go to McDonald's around 9:45. There we work on a book report, a little spelling, and some consumer math which unfortunately points out that he needs a lot more practice both on multiplication and story problems. I wish he could be patient with himself and me when working on such things: it takes most of my energy and time just to get him to do what I've asked instead of letting him do it "his way."
We get home around 12:30, and find Grace miserable, lethargic, and mildly feverish.  Everyone is So excited for the Super Bowl party tomorrow: I really hope and pray she improves in the next 24 hours.
And now we're to where I started. A pretty normal week, but well worth remembering nevertheless.