Sunday, November 30, 2008

Do ya think we look alike?

Here's a picture of me and my oldest daughter, Rachael, taken over Thanksgiving.

Maybe it's just me, but to me we look so alike it's almost freaky. Anyone else think so?

It is a Good Thing, to look like Rachael.
Posted by Picasa

Oh! Rob's Costume!

This photo ended up in a different batch and I just found it now.

This is Robert! (and Becca)

Apparently he made this costume when he was a teenager and updated it somewhat this year. He's not home right now, so I can't ask for any more details.

It was a total hit. When he got off work and joined the rest of us, who had already started TOT, a murmur swept the crowd ... "Who is that?"

A neighbor that we met while TOT (who we did not know) nicknamed him, "Freakishly Tall Dude."
Posted by Picasa

National Blog Posting Month

If you want to sound hip, it's called:


I've decided to participate -- if I sent in my html code correctly, ha!

The idea is to post every day during the month of December.

Here's the link.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Official Position of a Little Boy Playing

Robert took these pictures of Benjamin a month or two again. The truck was free -- Robert got the kit at Home Depot on Craft Day.

This is what position Benjamin spends most of the day in. I think it's a boy thing.

Posted by Picasa

Every now and then I do something Smart

Today, as always, we did our Thanksgiving Weekend Tradition, which looks like this:

We get all the Christmas ornaments, decorations, and tree (yes, I've never had a Real Tree in my life) down from the attic, and set it all up while we listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas CD. Although not part of the Official Tradition, it's a good idea to put some Thanksgiving leftovers in the oven while we do it, and then when we get hungry we stop and eat.

Here's the part about me being Smart:

On Christmas 2006, Santa (with the help of my friend Julie) brought us the Leap Frog Phonics Railroad, set up around the tree on Christmas morning. When we packed up all the Christmas stuff weeks later, I packed up the train set with all the Christmas stuff in the attic so we only break it out when we take down the tree.

Clever, huh?

This is the first year Benjamin was old enough to really be aware of it, and of course he assumed the Official Position of a Little Boy Playing and stayed there for quite a while.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Today's Great Experiment

A few weeks ago I saw an Oprah show about "A wake-up call to slow down" -- especially for mothers. To make the point, they featured a women who, one morning, forgot that her one year was in the car when she drove to work one day in August, and found the child dead in the car several hours later.

A Zen Master (whatever that is) was on and said that multi-tasking is a fallacy. Everybody thinks it's so great to multi-task, this Zen Master said, but in reality there is no such thing. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time, period. So when it feels like you're multi-tasking, all you're really doing is quickly bouncing around from one "one thing at a time" to another "one thing at a time."


I thought about this a lot.

It occured to me that a lot of times, around here, I feel very frantic, and snap at the kids, because I feel like there are a hundred things going on here at once. I feel like I can never focus on anything, and I hate that. I always chalked it up to having three young kids and wanting to get a lot done, and to some extent that is probably true. But I began to wonder if I was contributing to the problem a lot myself.

I have a terrible habit of constantly getting on the computer, all in the name of multi-tasking. (And, admittedly, some amount of laziness.)

Mostly it stems from thinking, "Oh, okay, the kids don't need me right now, let me run really quickly and do something while I have the chance, and since someone will probably need me any second I can't get engrossed in anything important so let me quickly check my e-mail, at least I can do that."

This might be fine, and have some truth to it, if I did it once or twice a day for less than five minutes, but that's never what happens.

Anyway, today I vowed to do an experiment of sorts.

The Experiment:
After checking my messages briefly at breakfast time, I would not get on the computer again, for any reason, until after 3:00 pm (when Benjamin naps and the girls have "room time.")

I told myself that if I thought of something important I needed to post or write to someone about, I would jot a note about it on the refrigerator so I wouldn't forget. (This did not happen, by the way.)

The Results:
In a way it was difficult. There were about 6-7 times where I had to make a conscious effort not to get on the computer. The most noticeable time was went I went downstairs to transfer the laundry. The computer is in the room next to the laundry, and I always had the feeling of, "Well, while I'm down here, I'd better check if there's any messages."

Here's what I accomplished before 3:00 pm today, and I didn't even wake up until after 8:00 am:
* Baked two batches of cookies
* Made a carrot souffle to take on Thanksgiving trip
* Cleaned out and vacuumed mini-van
* Did two loads of laundry (although not all of it was completely put away)
* Helped the girls wrap gifts they made and package cookies to bring on Thanksgiving trip
* Read a chapter of Pippi Longstocking to the girls
* Made a few "business" phone calls
* Brought the trash out to the curb and got (and processed!) the mail
* Ironed about ten fuse bead ornaments the girls had made yesterday

What's even better than the list of things I accomplished is the fact that I had a really nice, calm day. I hardly ever felt like I was pulled in different directions. I didn't snap at the kids.

I am torn between feeling happy about this, and feeling ashamed. Even though I think this makes a very interesting post, I'm embarrassed to write about it.

What could be more obvious, really? Don't do two things at once. Focus on your kids when you're with your kids. Leave out non-essentials like cruising the Internet twenty times a day.

We're going out of town tomorrow, but I would like to continue this experiment, one day at a time, when we get back. I will write about it again next week. That will help me keep motivated.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Our Daily Goals (usually)

I've started settling into a list of goals that we accomplish each day, Homeschool-Wise. It's sort of like a template that I drop things into.

It's nice because it allows for a lot of flexibility, yet I'm not starting from scratch every day to figure out what to do. Also, it makes me feel less stressed, because the key point is that we get it done; not when we get it done, or in what order.

** Here is my Great List of Daily Goals: **

For Rachael, age 7:
1) Two or three pages in Explode the Code (a phonics workbook)

2) I dictate two sentences from Explode the Code for Rachael to write into a journal. (It seems like a good idea to write the same words you're learning to read.)

3) One or two pages in a math workbook. For example, today Rachael did one where you add two-digit numbers in boxes, then color the boxes different colors depending on what the sums are.

4) Rachael reads out loud to me. Right now she is reading two stories a day, twice each, for one of the Nora Gaydos readers. Probably in a month or two we'll progress to something else, although I'm not sure what.

For both girls together (Rachael, age 7, and Rebecca, age 5):
1) Play at least one math game

2) Play at least one phonics/reading game

3) Read a book from our current HSS or FIAR unit and do at least one activity with it

4) Read at least one chapter out loud to them (right now we are working through the Little House books)

On Friday we actually got all eight things done, but that is somewhat rare. For example, on Wednesdays we all go to a Bible Study, so we might do two or three things from the list after we get home. If we're short on time, we might skip the math and just play a phonics game, or vice-versa.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some Monkees trivia that everybody already knows

Remember that Seinfeld episode where they're talking about someone who was a Civil War buff?

George: I'd love to be a buff. How do you get to be a buff?

Jerry: Well ... Biff wants to be a buff! I think sleeping less than twelve hours a day might help.

Well, I guess you could call me a Monkees Buff.

The girls, especially Rachael, are just getting to the age where they can start to appreciate it. We were listening to some of the Greatest Hits (ie, not their best songs) in the car yesterday, and it made my mind think about all the Monkees Enjoyment I've had over the years.

Here's some trivia that might be fun if you know very little about the Monkees, or just if you've forgotten this stuf because you actually have a life. Maybe tomorrow I'll post more hard-core stuff. Please note that I'm not cut-and-pasting or looking this stuff up. It's all in my head.

Monkees Trivia That Everybody Already Knows:

1. Michael's Nesmith's mother, Bette Nesmith, invented Liquid Paper, and he inherited the fortune. (Yes, I know, literally everybody knows this, but I wanted to start small.)

2. Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees on one of their tours. (Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz enjoyed hearing him at the Monterey Pop Festival.) He understandably got tired of fans chanting, "We want Davy!" while he was playing, so eventually one night he gave everybody the finger, walked offstage, and quit the tour.

3. David Bowie changed his name (his real name is David Jones) to avoid confusion with Davy.

4. People have been saying for years that Charles Manson auditioned for the Monkees, but this is not true. I think Snopes even has something about that.

5. Stephen Stills, however, did audition. The word is that he was turned down "because he had bad teeth," but it's debatable whether that was actually the reason. He was the one who told his buddy Peter Tork about the auditions.

6. Yes, the Monkees made a movie, called "Head," in 1968. It was Terri Garr's first movie role, and also Annette Funicello was also in it. Jack Nicholson helped write and produce it. It is a very dark, strange, and surreal film. If you ever have the chance to rent it, do not show it to your kids, especially if they are Monkees fans, thinking that it will be fun and cute for them. It's more like Pink Floyd's The Wall than it is like a Monkees episode.

7. Michael Nesmith played for Linda Ronstadt's band and wrote the song "Different Drum." (Well, I guess not everybody knows that one.)

8. Neil Diamond wrote three Monkees songs, including I'm a Believer. (No, it was not originally written for Shrek.)

9. Carole King wrote at least four Monkees songs, with her then-husband Gerry Goffin. The most popular was Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Oh how I love Trader Joe's ...

I remember saying, months ago, that every time I went to a social gathering (which is not too terrible often!) people always end up talking about their favorite thing at Trader Joe's.

I just went there this morning with Rebecca and Benjamin (Rachael was at a friend's house). Each kid had their own kiddie shopping cart, which was, uh, interesting. But, actually, Rebecca is quite helpful and even put several groceries away without my asking her to.

Here are just a few things I got that are Good:

1) Pumpkin Bread Mix and Pumpkin Butter (sold separately) -- I made this for company a couple weeks ago and it was completely scarfed up.

2) Chocolate Decadence cereal -- yes, that's right, a healthy chocolate cereal. It is yum!

3) Any of their frozen pizzas are good, and reasonably priced. We get the plain cheese ones just because that's the only kind the other people in my family will eat.

4) Dried Strawberries -- The only problem with these is that my kids will all gobble up about $7 worth of them in less than 10 hours.

5) Frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken -- which I've already mentioned before, if you are a faithful reader

I didn't buy them today, but their chocolate croissants are really good, too.

Mmm, in fact I'm getting hungry just typing this ....

Monday, November 17, 2008

I never buy my kids clothes!

Most of you who know me know that I am Cheap Cheap Cheap.

Actually, I probably shouldn't say that. It makes me sound like a jerk. I would hopefully never screw over someone to save a buck.

But let's just say I get very excited when I can find a deal.

Maybe you could call me a Tightwad?

Anyway, one thing that makes me deliriously happy is that I almost never buy clothes for my children. I have two women that give me hand-me-downs that make up about 80% of my kids' wardrobes, then about 15% (or more) of their remaining clothes are random hand-me-downs and gifts.

I have three kids, all younger than eight. In the past three years I have bought less than ten articles of kids' clothing, total. One of them was a premie outfit for Benjam just because he was too big to fit into any of the baby clothes we had. I also bought a few bathing suits.

And yes, we do use hand-me-downs for socks and underwear and shoes too.

There are many reasons why this is great:

1) The obvious one is money. To illustrate my opening sentence, one time when we got a few bags of hand-me-downs for the girls, I actually did rough calculations in my head of how much all of it would have cost if bought new. Since it was a lot of Carter's and other good brands, the total came to a few hundred. Even if I bought everything at consignment sales, three years of clothes for three kids would cost quite a bit.

2) Shopping for clothes is not a "fun sport" for me, and I certainly have no desire to drag three kids to stores every season, or line up a babysitter every time Benjamin needs a new size.

3) I am maybe more wasteful than I should be in some areas -- for example, we use paper plates and cups at times, and I don't re-use baggies. This kind of makes up for it in my mind.

4) The clothes are more special when we know the people who had them before us.

When it's time to "change out the closets," usually due to weather, we haul the stuff we need down from the attic and pack up the old stuff.

Then, I do something kind of fun: because we are lucky enough to get so much great used stuff, I segregate them into piles: pants, shirts, dresses, jackets, etc. Then I tell the girls to "come into the store and go shopping." I might tell them to pick out five pairs of pants each, etc. What they don't pick, I pass on to someone else.

I know at some point we won't be able to do this as much when the kids get older. But for now, it is a byooooo-tiful thing!

I am just loving HomeSchool Share!

Some of you know that we used to be unschoolers, but now we're not. I don't want to belabor those details of how or why things changed, except to say that what we did then was good for Then, and what we're doing now is good for Now.

I would like to think, however, that we've stepped just a few steps to the right of unschooling, instead of doing something wildly different. And one thing that has really really helped has been a website called Homeschool Share.

I used to dislike the idea of unit studies for two reasons:

1) I heard people who tried it said that it was a lot of work. And this seems easy to believe. For example, if I wanted to do a unit on whales, I'd have to do a lot of research to get books, videos, think of activities, and for that matter, learn more about whales myself.

2) It seemed awfully contrived. For example, I read about someone doing a unit study curriculum called KONOS and the unit was on Attentiveness. So first they studied the biology of the eyes, because you need to use your eyes to be attentive, and then they studied some famous person (I forget who) who was attentive, and so on. Okay ... but that connection seems so tenuous, why even bother? Why not just study eyes?

Anyway, we are moving more and more into unit studies ourselves, thanks to Ami and the other folks at HSS. And the more I get into it, the more I really really like it.

The two things that make it really great is that:

1) There is so much to choose from. You can never do all the units listed there, even if you have several children. There is a ton of variety and flexibility. Oh, and I should mention that there are many many lapbooks, if you're into that. (We are, but we're taking a brief break from them at the moment.)

2) All the work is done for you. For example, a couple weeks ago we finished this unit on chocolate. We made bar graphs of M&Ms, watched an on-line tour of a chocolate factory, drew pictures of cacoa trees, colored maps of where cacoa trees grow, read about the rainforest, etc.

Did I come up with all this stuff myself? Heck, no!! It was all right there. Some of it I modified very slightly. Much of it I left out, because there was more than enough.

Then we started doing "book units." If any of you are familiar with a curriculum called Five in a Row, it's based on that concept: You read a picture book once every day for a week, then have a different lesson afterwards. The original FIAR idea (although I'm sure some people modify it) is, LA one day, math the next day, etc.

For example, we did HSS's week-long unit about the book Popcorn at the Palace. After reading it on Monday, we made a story disc and put it on our wall map on Illinois, where the main character lived. We talked about pioneers and the state of Illinois.

Another day we read the story, then talked about how their trip took "three weeks." How many days is that? We made a chart of seven times tables and used a hundred chart to figure it out. (Yes, I do realize that is still a bit contrived, but it seems to work.)

One thing I like about this idea, which I discovered by reading an article by Jane Claire Lambert, the author of FIAR, is that every day, just reading the book again is a review of the previous day's "lesson."

For example, the second day while we read Popcorn at the Palace, my girls might have been thinking, "Oh yeah, Illinois. I remember where that was on the map. It's sometimes called the Corn State, or Prarie State." (Of course, it's just as possible that they were thinking about their favorite Hannah Montana episode, or what piece of Halloween candy they would like to eat later that day, but you get the point.)

For someone like me, who has always loved BooksBooksBooksBooksBooks, it's a very nice fit. The idea is that kids will really enjoy the books you do a unit on, because you read them so often and explore so many details about them. I hope that proves to be true. We have always read tons, but before we just read Whatever, and we read it and that was it. And that was fun too. But I like the idea of doing something with some of the things we read, and hopefully making it more memorable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another story about looking old

Nicole (who is so funny and clever she should start her own blog) wrote a funny comment here that made me think of something else:

A couple months ago I was getting my hair done. Now my hairdresser graduated from high school the same year my husband did, so that makes him about 42 years old.

I am 39 years old.

As I was sitting in the chair getting my hair done, another hair dresser who works there walked up and said to my guy, "Oh, how fun! You're doing your mom's hair for her!"

Now, really ...

Many of you know I have some Darned Good Reasons for feeling horrible about how I look recently, and I surely did not need that.

My hairdresser assured me that his mother was another fair-skinned redhead, and that the other person just wasn't looking at me closely.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Who is homeschooling -- Or -- Do I look old enough to be a grandmother?

Several months ago I was in Barnes and Noble with Rachael and ended up buying a book for her; I can't even remember what. I very rarely buy things at bookstores anymore because I either use Amazon or the library.

At the register I said suddenly, "Oh! My daughter homeschools. Is there some sort of discount or something we get?"

The woman gave the discount, and then started explaining that my daughter needed to come in some time and fill out an Educator Card or something. She added, "You could use it too, if you continue to buy books for your granddaughter."

Now, I was 38 at the time, and I certainly hope -- although lately I am not sure -- that I don't look old enough to have a school-age grandchild.

When I told my own mother this story, she said, "Well, you said it wrong. You're the adult. You're the one who homeschools, not Rachael."

I never like it, though, when I hear women say, "I homeschool my children" or even things like "I taught my children how to read."

Yes, you're probably thinking this is very strange of me to be splitting hairs like this, and that I should get up and go do something useful, and that with posts like these I'll certainly never be nominated for any blog awards ..... but to me there is something arrogant-sounding about saying it that way.

I don't "homeschool Rachael." It's not something I do to her. She is the one who homeschools. She is the one who is learning. She is the one who is homeschooling as opposed to attending school.

Yes, I know: Shut up and go get a life. I think I'll go eat a cookie now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Halloween pictures, finally

Hm, maybe the reason I'm not getting nominated for any Blog Awards is because it takes me two weeks to get our Halloween pictures posted. Ya think?

Anyway, here's my three Beans. Rebecca is a Barbie Princess, Rachael is Hannah Montana, and Benjamin is Tigger. I don't think he has the slightest idea who Tigger is. It was Rebecca's costume three years ago.

Every year we have a Very Cool Tradition of getting together at a neighbor's house around the corner, having pizza, and then going trick-or-treating together. One of the things I like about it is that we rarely see many of the neighbors, so it's nice to always count on at least this one time every year when we know we will see everybody.

Rachael took this picture of the adults who wore costumes. That's me in the Dorothy outfit. Rebecca let me borrow Woofie!
Posted by Picasa

Me and Woofie

Rebecca wanted to take a picture of me and Woofie, and here it is.

I need to change my profile picture one of these days. I love that picture, but it is, um, quite old, and I need something more recent. I don't think this one is quite good enough, although as some of you know, I look a less disgusting these days then I was for quite a while.

I'll keep working on it. I'm sure Rebecca would love to take more pictures of me.
Posted by Picasa

The Myth of "Me Time"?

I was reading on a homeschool forum a discussion about an article from a magazine called The Old Schoolhouse called "The Me-Time Myth."

I don't get that magazine and haven't read the article, but I've always thought the concept of "Me Time" is interesting. I've heard at least one female speaker say that it was a selfish concept. Most people seem to think it's necessary. But how much? What is too much? At what point, if ever, does it become selfish? Is a weekend away from young children too much? How about a week? Is there something wrong with a woman who wants lots of Me Time?

I've never heard anyone else address this, but to me the whole fact that it's called "Me Time" is perhaps central to these types of questions.

I mean, think about it. If my husband wants to go in the basement and watch Star Trek, or go out with a guy friend, or even run an errand alone, he doesn't announce, "I need some Me Time! I haven't had enough Me Time lately! I deserve some Me Time!"

No. He just says, "I'm going to go watch Star Trek," or maybe, "Is it a problem if I go out with Mike tomorrow evening?"

I know, you could argue it's different for a man. But is it? He works at least 40 hours a week, sometimes much more than that, plus another few hours in transportation time. He sometimes picks up something at the store on the way home. So he could just as easily announce, when he gets home, that he's "ready for Me time now!" But not only does he never say that, but it would sound absurd if he did.

Anyway, I guess my point is that maybe it's better for we women to think more like men in that area. Maybe it would better for our own mind-set, and even for those around us, if we just said, "You know, I'd really like to go to the scrapbooking get-together this Saturday," and then made plans to have it happen, instead of demanding and whining about "Me Time" and how much we need or get, or should get.

Maybe it would be smarter to say, even just to ourselves, "I need to be alone and quiet for a little while" instead of saying, "I need some Me Time!"

I don't know. It seemed like an interesting thought to me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Camera-Woman Rebecca

Rebecca took off with my camera (with my permission) and I found these photos in it a few days later.
I thought they were pretty good, especially for a five year old:

This is Julie, Rachael's American Girl doll.

And this is Mia, Rebecca's American Girl doll.

This is a pumpkin that a neighbor gave Benjamin for Halloween.

This is Rebecca's best friend, Woofie.
Posted by Picasa

Waaah, I'm such a nobody!!

I just found out that the Homeschool Blog Award Nominees have been announced here.

Now, I didn't even remotely think I would be nominated.

But somehow seeing that these many many women bloggers have a following enough to be nominated for an award ... well, it was discouraging.

You see, ever since I was nine, I was sure I going to write a book. Well, I'm not dead yet, I guess it still might happen. But to think I'm not even in the running for having a well-liked blog ... well, come on! Get your freaking act together, Jennifer!

I wonder how much is marketing and how much is content? What I mean, do the nominees have a following simply because they are so good, or is it mainly because they've somehow gotten the word out?

Either way, I've got some improving to do around here. I'm sure posting more than three times a month would be a good start ....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cleaning out the fridge with The Smiths

I just completely cleaned out our fridge again.

I must really live a sad and dull life, because I always really enjoy doing that. My guess is that it doesn't take too terribly long and actually has a productive and finished quality, whereas picking up the living room and doing the laundry does not.

I have no idea why, but for some reason the whole time I was working, I was singing a song by The Smiths ... yeah, hey, anyone else remember them? It was some song off The Queen is Dead, I think:

And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us,
To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die ...

Come to think of it, a few days ago (and I also have no idea why) I was singing something from Louder Than Bombs:

Don't blame the sweet and tender hooligan, hooligan,
Because he'll never never never never never never do it again,
Oh, not until the next time!

Oh yeah, you gotta love those Smiths lyrics ...

And a clean fridge.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Successful Meal #5

Wow, this was a really good one! And it was actually a real dinner, and not a breakfast meal. :)

My MIL gave me a terrific cookbook several years ago called
America's Best-Loved Community Recipes

For those of you who have been reading about my "successful meals," that's where I got the macaroni and cheese recipe. It's also where I got the recipe for my "famous noodle kugel," which I always bring to potlucks.

One thing that makes the cookbook fantastic is that it has a full-page photo for every recipe.

Anyway, tonight I made Dixie Baked Chicken and Yams. Basically, here's the recipe:

1) Peel and slice sweet potatoes and put in bottom of baking dish. Pour melted butter over them.

2) Dip pieces of bone-in chicken in an egg and water mixture, then in a plate of breadcrumbs. Lay chicken pieces over sweet potatoes slices, then pour more melted butter over it. Bake at 350 for an hour.


Yum yum yum.

And what's better, everybody seemed to like it, even my somewhat anti-chicken husband (who doesn't usually eat with us during the week, but did tonight).