Monday, September 29, 2014

The ups and downs...

This morning I read the legend of Finn MacCoul to my sons, and Seth turned to me and said, "I want to make my own story like the legends and myths you're reading me. Can I?" So I took him to the computer, and I typed up his story. (It showed the little boy that he is, and that he's taking in the structures of the stories we're reading, so it was great all around.) I separated it out into different pages for him to illustrate, and I printed it out.

In the meantime, Evan was whining that I'm not giving him enough attention. He told me that I spend "all the time with Seth and not even 20 seconds with him". Cue new worries about not giving him enough attention. (This adds to my other new worry about whether or not his math curriculum is too advanced for him, blah.)

Ben arrived back from his time with grandparents, and I read to him. He proceeded to pee all over the couch. Evan was now crying because he wanted Seth to draw something for him, and Seth was sternly telling him that he was doing his copy work and couldn't. So Evan wanted attention, but I'm having to clean up the couch and change Ben's clothes and my clothes. Evan was sent to time out, and I was muttering under my breath about having too many children to educate.

Got the morning back on track by sitting with Evan and praising him for his drawing efforts. Tried to remember the blog post I'd read recently about whining being a cry for help and a worry that they can't do what they really want to. Watched him smile big and dig into drawing more things to show me.

My days seem so often to be such a big mix of blessing and cursing. One minute I'm riding high on something great I'm seeing from them, and another minute I feel like I'm an unfit mother. Gah!


Saturday, September 27, 2014

What we do...



“I think that we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”
– the film Chocolat


I read this quote on "The Art of Simple" blog this week, and for some reason it stuck with me, so I went back and looked again. I think the reason I took notice is because I spend too much time lately thinking about all the things that I don't do.

Our homeschool co-op has just started, and we're doing a study called "The Best Yes" during our R&R hour. This was the first week doing that, and we had to go around the small group circle and talk about how we felt our time was generally scheduled right now. At this point, I feel like we have a pretty good balance with planned activities and calm days at home to school and create and play. We've got Scouts and now tae kwon do on Monday and Tuesday nights, and M-T-W are free of activities during the day other than school and play. Thursday and Friday are out of the house in the mornings for Community Bible Study and homeschool co-op.

I feel like we're in a pretty good place over all right now, but as I was talking in small group, I realized I do live too much with the worry that I'm not doing enough, not balancing enough, not creating the best education for my children, etc.

The freedom to homeschool is a double edged sword. We choose this so that we won't be pushed around by too many external pressures from a traditional school environment. BUT we often trade that external pressure for internal pressure. We have the freedom to create an individualized education for the children in our families, but what do we do with that? Sometimes all the things we could be doing crowd our minds. It's easy to think about those things instead of what we're actually doing and doing well.

I need to be more like that little guy up there. Evan and I had some one on one time this summer while my wonderful in-laws took the other boys. On two of those mornings, we picked out Lego kits to make together. Evan is my Lego obsessed boy, and he is so good at building and creating with all kinds of materials. At this point, he's populating his own Star Wars alternative universe called "Air Wars."

And he's not worried about what he's not doing. He's not focused on all the different galaxies he could be creating if he had the time. Instead, he's sitting the kitchen table with his latest intergalactic vehicle and calmly saying, "I'm a genius." (No worries about low self esteem over here right now. :)

I want to be a little more like him, smiling with satisfaction at what is before me.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Taking them places….



They look so serene in this picture, don't they? The reason I took this picture was because this isn't usually my view, and I captured it to remember that it is this from time to time. :)

Yesterday, I was at a park playdate for local homeschoolers. Plenty of kids and moms were there, toddlers to middle schoolers, and the moms stood around chatting while the kids played in the trees, on the playground, in the big field across from the playground, etc.

The playdate lasted until 3, and I'm sure that some families probably stayed that long. Me? I was very ready to go at 1:30.

Here's the reason why: I spend my whole time at these kinds of events wondering when I'm going to lose at least one of my children.

I can't trust any of them not to get lost. My oldest has no desire to get lost, but because he has very little  natural sense of direction, and because he isn't that aware of his surroundings, it's very easy for him to get lost even yards from where I am and start crying, get worried, etc.

Ditto for my second born, but he's even less aware than my first, and he's also passive aggressive. If he doesn't want to come with us, he doesn't. He dawdles until he's very far behind. Because he has little awareness of his surroundings, he can also get lost easily even if he doesn't choose to.

My youngest has the most awareness of where he is, but he simply doesn't care at this point if he gets lost. He runs off for fun. He's only 3.

So the other moms stay and chat and have a good time, and I am constantly scanning my surroundings for all three, and usually none of them are together. Yesterday, I felt sorry for myself. A lot.

I was telling David about how I felt last night, and I started ranting about how even one of them not getting lost easily would be huge. There's a trip to an orchard planned for next week with a group I could join up with, and there are moms of many and moms of many littles going. But taking my three to a big place with lots of trees that look alike right now? That sounds like my worst nightmare.

I know it'll get better for me one day, but right now, life with these three children still has specific limitations that it feels like other moms that are in a similar situation don't have. I get angry about that sometimes. I just want it to get easier, dang it!

David agreed with my assessment, and as further proof, he lost Seth this morning when he took all three out biking on a greenway trail. Seth hadn't noticed where they'd stopped for a minute to look at something or something like that, and he got left behind. He asked a jogger for help. In the meantime, David had to ask a family to stay with Evan so he could bike back and look for him. Just hearing about it made my blood pressure go up.

Gah! Anyway, this has been bothering me, so I blogged it out. There. Maybe now I'll feel better. :)




Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tea Time Tuesday/Thursday...


Tea Time doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, y'all. :) (I stole a line from the Nester, in case you didn't notice.)

I started reading more to the boys during their afternoon snack time over the summer, so when I saw someone talking about have "Tea Time" on a Charlotte Mason Facebook page, it seemed like that would be an easy and fun fit for us. I had a tea party with them two years ago when we "rowed" a book about Russia, and they loved it, so why not try it again?

This afternoon I decided spur of the moment to have special Tea Time. (Dinner tonight isn't going to require a lot of dishes. These sorts of things factor into my energy conservation equation.) I pulled out a bright tablecloth I bought ages ago at a yard sale and threw it on the table. I pulled out the Raspberry Zinger tea in the pantry. (Nice and purple and fun looking for little boys.) I got out the box of sugar cubes we used last year to make a pyramid. Still good! :)

I'd been on the hunt for a cheap teapot or a tea kettle most of the summer. Every tea kettle I saw at the thrift stores I visit was rusted or ugly or too small or something. But last week, I scored a nice Copco stainless steel kettle for $4! (I get far too much pleasure out of waiting it out and of not paying retail, but everyone needs a hobby.)

I pulled up a recipe for Scotch Teas that someone had posted, and I got them in the oven pretty quickly. And then I called the boys down. Evan said, "What's that wonderful smell?" Brown sugar and butter do smell pretty wonderful, don't they?

We got the kettle boiling, and I called them over to look when it started to whistle. They were fascinated. I set out cups and saucers, a little cup of sugar cubes, and tea bags. They loved dunking their own tea. Everyone wanted more cookies (nope, just one), and I let them have two cups of tea apiece. (Next time I need to have a cup of ice cubes out for cooling down the tea after they've made it.)

I pulled out our current read aloud, and they sipped quietly. I told them we'd be having special tea time every week, and I got a huge smile out of Seth for that. Evan just wanted a guarantee that he'd be getting more of those cookies. (I'm freezing the rest for future tea times.) They helped me clear the table, and we were done.

This was such a small thing that cost so little, but I can tell it made them feel cared for. I'm looking forward to many more Tea Times with my handsome young men.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Science, take 1...

Still totally in love with "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School"! I may learn how to make chicken that isn't dry finally! But I'm finished with that, and though I'm looking through all the sticky tabbed pages often, I'm moving on to tell you about science for the year.

This year we're following the recommendations from "the Well Trained Mind" to do Earth Science and Astronomy. I bought the Apologia Astronomy book as our spine for Astronomy, but we're starting with Earth Science. So here's how I'm doing that...

The other day, I went through that section in our wonderful local library, and I pulled out books that I thought looked interesting in a variety of subjects. I've got books on volcanos, earthquakes, landslides, climates, floods, caves, rocks, gems, and minerals. I put them in the science book box, and then I got a few earth science related experiment books. After I looked through those, I came up with a clear winner in that category, and I sticky tabbed the experiments I want to use from it.

This book is "How the Earth Works: 60 Fun Activities for Exploring Volcanoes, Fossils, Earthquakes, and More." Tomorrow we're going to cut into a hard boiled egg and use it to talk about the earth's mantle, crust, and core. Then maybe we'll try and eat the egg. ;) I'm going to let them color and put on the wall the photocopy I made from the book of the layers of the earth.

I bought a couple of $2 laminated placemats at the homeschool conference this year, and they're up on our wall now. They are "Rocks and Minerals" and "The Solar System." After I put them up, Seth spent some time studying them. This year, I'm also planning to have them memorize the different kinds of rocks and the planets in order, and those two things made it into our memory binder.

Oh, and the spine I'm using for earth science is the DK Eye Wonder Earth book. Of all the reference books available at our library, it was the best, and the library had many books to cover the different topics presented in it.

When we read a science book, I'm pulling out a sheet of blank paper and a pen, and I'm labeling the top with the title of the book or books, and then I ask them what they learned/what was interesting about the book. I copy down what they say, and sometimes I have them draw a picture on the paper to go with it. Then I hole punch it and put it in that section of our Wonder book. I'll take pictures of our experiments and hopefully figure out how to make collages to print out and put in the book, too.

Yesterday wasn't the greatest first day of school. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth and complaints about having to put up Legos. Today was MUCH better! Ben wanted to participate in a lot and didn't cause trouble. He's going to know the continents at age 3. Seth had a good attitude about the increased table work that he'll be having this year, and I made a point to smile and let words of praise fall easily from my lips. ;)

To top it off, Papa (my daddy) came through on his way back from the beach and took us out to lunch at Chick Fil A, so they each got kids meals AND chocolate milk. I got a clean kitchen before rest time. Score!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

low and slow cooking….

My copy of "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" came in through interlibrary loan, and that plus tonight's dinner got me thinking about what I've learned lately about low and slow cooking. I'm not talking about the crock pot. That is good for some things, but I'm noticed that it tends to dry my meat out unless there are plenty of moist things in the pot with the meat, ie. soups or stews.

About a year ago, I tried Cooking Light's Beef Daube Provencal recipe, and I fell in love. It made the stew beef that I usually dry out through stove top cooking turn into something that would melt in your mouth. I realized it had to be the process and not the recipe itself, so I tried applying the same cooking method to my usual beef stew recipe. It transformed it.

Here's the method. Get out a dutch oven, some sort of oven proof pot with a lid that you can use on the stove top and then put in the oven. (Mine is a cheapo stainless steel pot with a lid that I got with a set when we got married.) Put your beef into the pot, bring it to a boil, put in whatever else you're using to flavor like onions, broth, spices, potatoes, etc., and then put a lid on it and throw it in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Tonight I applied the same idea using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. (Hat tip to my sister-in-law, Terri, for the recipe.)  I didn't follow her brining step or make sauce at the end, and I made only 4 chicken drumsticks, rubbed with the seasoning, and then put into a foil packet. Once again, 2 1/2- 3 hours on 300 degrees. The last step of broiling it for a couple of minutes made a great crust to finish. I'm not sure I like the rub that much, but that doesn't seem to be the main component to success with this method. Next time, I may just douse the drumsticks liberally with salt and pepper and maybe a little onion and garlic powder and call it a day.

So, low and slow in the oven. Now that it's getting cooler in these parts, I'll probably be using this technique multiple times a week. Hmm, wonder if it would work on marinated boneless skinless chicken breasts? I think I'll try and find out. :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My version of one dish chicken, potatoes, and green beans...

Ok, so there's this dish that floats around Pinterest. It involves chicken breasts, cut up potatoes, and green beans. The whole thing is smothered in Italian dressing and baked together.

I decided to make my own version with spices and my own marinade, and I am glad to report that it got rave reviews from the family I delivered it to. That inspired me to make it again for another family that just had a baby. Maybe I'll even make it for us one of these days. ;) Anyway, try it and let me know what you think if you like it.

One Dish Chicken, Potatoes, and Green Beans

3 chicken breast, cut into large pieces
4-5 red skinned potatoes, cut into chunks
a couple of cups of frozen green beans
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Penzeys Italian Herb Mix (or other blend of your choice)
thinly sliced butter pats

Seasoning:
1 t. crushed rosemary
1 t. basil
1 t. garlic powder
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. fennel seeds
a dash of dried onion flakes

Marinate the chicken breasts in a mix of half olive oil and roughly half balsamic vinegar with some italian herbs generously shaken in there. I usually marinate for a whole day, and I don't think I've used more than 1/4 c. of each liquid.

Then cut up the chicken (maybe 3 parts per breast?), and lay down the center of a greased 9x13 dish. Put the chopped potatoes down one side and the green beans down the other side. Combine the seasoning mixture in a small dish and then sprinkle it on top of everything in the pan. Cut up a few pats of butter and put on top.

Now, I'm not sure about the baking part. I haven't baked it myself yet. The idea is that it will all come out cooked at the same time. Try 350 degrees for 1 hour, checking the potatoes and chicken especially for doneness.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The week before we start school...


From one of my Wednesdays with One Kid that my in-laws gave us all this summer. I took Seth to the rainforest exhibit at the science museum downtown. He loved it. 

I didn't have a plan today. I'm avoiding all museums and fun places because it's the last week day before public schools start, and I'm assuming that every parent in the local area will be trying to squeeze in one last bit of summer fun. :) I should've just started the summer school I've been doing with Seth some this month, but I read books and took out the kinetic sand instead, and after Ben decided he'd rather destroy his brother's castle than play, I pulled out a short Netflix Lego movie. I need to regroup after this. :) 

But I'm excited because I recently unearthed the Cycle 2 Classical Conversations CD that my sister-in-law gave me sometime last year. Now, listening to the whole thing makes my shoulders tense. BUT, there are some good history sentences on there that we can sing as we're doing SOTW 2. I found them online and copied and pasted them into a Word document. Something to add to the memory binder I plan to pull together this coming week! 

I also downloaded a World Book This Day in History app onto the iPad. I think that will be fun to pull out during Morning Time some days. Hey, look kids! The Bubonic Plague killed 1,000 people on this day in history! ;) 

I also decided to break down and buy the full version of MacPhun's Art Puzzles app. We used the free version some last year during Morning Time, and they loved it. They got to study the details of Starry Night while we put together the simplest version of the virtual puzzle while listening to soothing classical background music.

I've also decided that I am excited about adding "A Child's Introduction to Art" for our art study. I wanted to study some art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and this book takes famous works and artists in mostly chronological order. I ordered a set of Monet prints for Charlotte Mason style picture study, but I plan to use this book to supplement as we go along. 

Now to just figure out what poetry and Bible memory I want for us! And what geography and science facts to memorize, if any. I need to make that a matter of prayer. Honestly, I need to pray more over all the school choices I make, but that becomes even more clear when I have lots of choose from and a short amount of time during Morning Time each day. What to choose! There are soooo many good things! 

The Lego men may be quitting on me soon. Gotta run! Happy homeschooling school year planning to any of you who are still doing it, too! 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

summer wednesday….


Little man checking out his bowling shoes while the older two talk about their scores…

It's been a great few days. I find that I often think that when everyone has been in a good mood and no one is sick, and it's just icing on the cake if we get to do fun things. 

Monday afternoon, we went to our local kid's free bowling, and then we picked up Chick Fil A on the way to a local park. They spent some time playing and then discovered a grassy hill to roll down. They called it  "parachuting" for some reason. 

Yesterday we went to Marbles, the local children's museum. They played happily, buzzing like bees from farm play to the pirate ship to the train table, etc. and around and around again. I drove us home to their excited chatter in the backseat about their favorite things to play with.

Today I took us off to the downtown science museum. Evan really wanted to see the dinosaurs, though he acted a little intimidated like always when we got up close to them. We went to the morning "Meet the Animals." I love that program. It's such fun hands on science. They got to pet a baby alligator, some sort of African lizard, and a rabbit, while they learned about how each animal is adapted to where they live and what they do. The lady who does it asks lots of questions and does a wonderful job with making it interactive.

I'd packed a picnic lunch, and we stopped at a little playground nearby. I sat under the big, shady trees and watched them dig in the sand. Seth told me that he was being respectful of Ben and including him, and that Ben wasn't destroying his sand boat like usual. :) 

Our summer days are winding down. I had so much energy for planning this coming school year right after the homeschool conference in May, but now I'm a little stalled out. Maybe it's that I don't want to dive in again. Or maybe it's that I mostly know what we're doing this year, and it feels mostly familiar and not crazy complicated to pull together. I'm not somebody who writes down detailed schedules for each day. I know what books we're using, and when we finish a lesson, we move on the next. ;) 

Tuesday or Thursday Tea is on the agenda as something new for this year. (I figure that a day that starts with a "T" will help me remember to do it. :) I'm hunting for a teapot or tea kettle that I can use for that. I'm planning to put out a special snack after rest time, let the boys pick their own tea bags to use, have a little bowl of sugar cubes out, etc. I'm going to light a candle and make it a special time. I plan to put things in this time that I haven't gotten to earlier in the week. We may do picture study and read poetry during this time. It's a very Charlotte Mason idea that I've seen tossed around on the CM Facebook feed, and I'm excited about it. 

Well, I'd better run. I'm cutting up some fresh green pepper and SC peaches for dinner with warmed up taco meat from the freezer. (I do a lot of cut up fresh veggies and fruit for sides in the summer.) And then it's off to the pool for an evening family swim. Ah, summer… I'm gonna miss you. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

Feeling priceless...


I knew something was up when I came down every morning for breakfast, and I'd find something like this picture above. I'd open the cabinet for cereal bowls, and a packet of our old love letters to each other would fall on me. And they were in chronological order. Each day, I'd get a new packet with a letter on top. So you can't blame a girl for being a little suspicious, but I just figured he'd planned a special date night or something.

Nope. I came home from a girl's night out on Thursday to a husband who informed me that he'd packed up the kids, and I needed to pack for myself because we were leaving for a surprise getaway the next day. It'd been a hard week, y'all. Between potty training Ben and some sort of low grade intestinal bug that has gone through the family, I admit that I was most excited when he first told me about the prospect of not having to make it through Friday with the boys. I didn't care where we were going! :)

We dropped off the boys at my parents' house, and we kept driving west. He finally admitted we were on our way to Asheville. There were roses arranged by my mother hiding in the back of the van that he took out when we got to our hotel.


He had dinner reservations at the Biltmore Inn. The view from our window of the mountain vista was amazing, and the food was excellent. But that wasn't all he had planned. As we were finishing up dinner, he started talking about how much he wanted me to understand that I was priceless to him. I wasn't just priceless to him because of what I did every day but because of what I meant to him just for me.


Then this wonderful man pulled out a letter. By the time I got to the end of it, I had figured out what he was up to. I burst into tears and said, "But you don't have to do this! I am happy with my ring. I really am!" He pulled out the most gorgeous diamond solitaire that I've ever seen. By the time he finished reciting our wedding vows from memory, I'm pretty sure that the other two women within earshot were also tearing up.

There was more to the weekend than that. We went to the Biltmore, and we attempted a hot air balloon ride (that got cancelled twice), and I spent some very welcome time in the giant hotel tub with a book. I heard about all the trouble and thought and prayer and time that it took for him to make the decision to do this for me and pull it together. He went to so much trouble and expense. And he did it in such a way that I wouldn't be able to talk him out of it because I didn't feel worthy of the gift.

All of this got me thinking about how I view marriage and even how I view my relationship with God. The Bible uses marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his church. We are His bride.

This verse came to mind this weekend:

"The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but he will rejoice over you with singing."- Zephaniah 3:16-18

There were years during infertility when I felt like God was in the middle of giving me a crash course in tough love. I figured that He figured that I needed some serious work on my character, and so the best thing He could do for me was make it hard and unpleasant so I could grow. During that time, my brother gently rebuked me once. He said, "But Ellen, don't assume that God only wants to give you hard things. He is a GOOD God."

I feel like I still take that attitude with life, even though those years are behind us. It's hard for me to sometimes accept that God rejoices over me. He wants to give me good things. Flawed me. Me that yells at my kids and doesn't fold the laundry enough and is far more selfish than I'd like. And it's not like he doesn't know that about me. He's known me for years, you know. So if He knows me that well, doesn't He know that I barely deserve a crust from His table and not the lavish blessings I've been given?

I feel the same way sometimes about my marriage. David is so good to me. So, so good. And he tells me often how much he loves me. I want to believe it, but there's a part of me that says to myself, "Yeah, I know he loves me, but I sure don't know why. Hasn't he figured out how flawed I am yet? I've given him ample time to see it."

But here's the thing. We've been married for 13 years. The rose colored glasses are off. He HAS seen me at my very best and at my ugly worst. This isn't like when we were dating, and he didn't know all this yet. And yet he chooses me anyway. He chooses to treat me as priceless anyway. He chose to give me a lavish gift because he wanted to make a powerful point about how much he values me.

I need to let him rejoice over me. This weekend, I did. And I realized all this because it was a little hard for me to let him. But if I hadn't let him, I would've stolen his joy. Is that how God feels when He wants to take delight in me, and I say, "I don't know how I feel about this. You know that I don't deserve it."?

Anyway, Cinderella is back on potty patrol, but she's still on cloud nine (despite the poop she's scrubbed off the porch today). And she's going to let herself stay there however long it takes to come down. Not because she deserves it but because she is loved anyway. A lot. By her husband and her God. And that's amazing.