Monday, May 25, 2009

Benjamin's three!

As usual, I'm a little late about posting, but ...

Benjamin turned three on May 11!

Here he is, first thing in the morning, holding up his ... excavator ...? that his grandparents sent him in the mail.

He had wanted a "monster truck cake," so Robert helped the girls decorate this; using Benjamin's own toys when he wasn't looking.

Outside on our front porch later in the day, opening more gifts.

Rebecca had changed into these "party clothes," which I thought was a very Rebecca-like thing to do. This is a nice shot of Robert with his two youngest children.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My [rather cynical] review of the Hannah Montana movie

Several years ago, I remember telling somebody that I enjoyed watching Barney with my kids, simply because -- to paraphrase The Grateful Dead -- "A friend of Rebecca's is a friend of mine."

It was in this same spirit that I went to go see the Hannah Montana movie with my two daughters and niece earlier this week. Rachael dressed up in her HM costume, complete with wig. I gobbled up plenty of popcorn and numbed myself to the fact that a tub of popcorn and two drinks cost $14. It was fun. I enjoyed it. Really.

However, I am only human, and I do still have a few working brain cells, so here are the many thoughts that were actually going through my mind during the movie:

* It is impossible for me to get past the fact that nobody realizes that Miley is Hannah. Maybe I could buy it if Hannah had a different accent, or wore some sort of distinct makeup, like a female sort of KISS member. Maybe glasses could even go it -- after all, it worked for Clark Kent. But Hannah sounds exactly the same as Miley, and other than snazzy clothes and a blond wig, she looks exactly the same as Miley. At the very least, you'd think people would constantly say to her, "Wow, you know, you remind me a lot of Hannah Montana."

* In one scene, Miley gets on stage in front of a bunch of Hannah Montana fans and leads everybody in a song. Amazing how nobody notices that she sings exactly like their favorite star, Hannah Montana.

* Does Miley Cyrus write her own songs? I'm just asking. Actually, I wouldn't expect her to. After all, Ricky Martin didn't write "Livin La Vida Loca." Heck, someone else wrote songs for Elvis. But then why did people give The Monkees such a hard time for not writing most of their songs?

* Emily Osmont (who plays Lilly) is just gorgeous. Of course, I am probably partial to her, since I liked her big brother, Hayley Joel, so much.

* I agree with a movie review I had read earlier, which basically said, "The biggest mistake the movie makes is having Taylor Swift sing a song. The comparison in their singing ability is not flattering to the movie's star." Yes, that's correct. It was striking.

* Doesn't anybody wonder where Hannah Montana is when she's not onstage? If she is, in fact, the most popular teen in the whole world, how come Tiger Beat magazine has no spreads about her family, her friends, her hobbies? Don't her fans ever google her name, trying to find out how she became a star, where she grew up, how she got her start?

* I recently saw an interview with Rita Moreno who said The Electric Company cast would be on the set for about ten hours a day. After that, at least one of them would have to stop at the recording studio on the way home, then have to go home and practice lip-synching to the song they had just recorded. Performers are hard workers. So the idea that anyone -- hidden identity or not -- can hang around school and their friends all day, and then just show up for their Superstar performance, really rubs me the wrong way.

Ah ... thank you. I feel better now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nostalgia (and photos!) of 1986-1987

I took this picture on December 30, 1986, when I was 17 years old:

I recently have been chatting with one of the boys in this picture, thanks to Facebook. I've heard
a vicious rumor that he is no longer a boy, but rather a forty year old man with a wife and child, but in my mind he will always be the teenage boy that I knew.

Talking with him has been Really Neat for me, and hopefully at least A Little Neat for him. It
made me think about a lot of things, so I dug out these pictures, which made me think about them even more.

My senior year in high school always felt like a single and isolated event, rather than being connected to the rest of my teenage years. My first year in high school was spent somewhere else -- Pittsburgh -- and then we moved. Strange as it may sound, I spent the next two years just struggling to adjust, and it wasn't until senior year that I had -- or had even met -- this group of friends.

In a way, that makes that time period and those friends more special, because it was so fleeting.
We had fun together for a year, then all went off our separate ways.

I look at these pictures and remember so much: The party at Maureen's house where we
watched The Sure Thing and all belted out Rod Stewart's "Infatuation." Stopping at Dunkin Donuts on our way to go take the AP English test, and laughing when we realized we had started to drive away with the box of Munchkins on top of our car. Watching Ferris Beuller's Day Off at Vicki's house and thinking it was the greatest movie ever. Feeling like the whole day was ruined when the boy I liked wasn't in Calculus class that day. Going to Six Flags with three of my girlfriends on the day of prom because none of us had dates.

I could go on and on.

I see these pictures and have an almost aching desire to jump inside them,
like the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins -- or the "skidoo" on Blue's Clues.
I look at them and remember how exuberant and carefree and silly and bubbling with excitement we all were.

I wish I could go back and visit them. Visit that.

I don't think I would say my life was better back then. It isn't that. But today I have a mortgage and endless amounts of laundry. My husband just got a pay cut and our health insurance premiums are about to go up -- again. I have watched one of my children be literally on the brink of death, unable to move, for almost three straight weeks. I've spent days myself in a bed in ICU, unable to even use the bathroom, while various other people took care of my children for me.

And yes, I wish I could go back, for just a few hours ... to the times when we laughed and shrieked continually about Nothing in Particular, when we decorated ourselves with long streams of toilet paper and danced outside in the dark at my birthday party, and when I spent the night at Adrienne's house and babbled endlessly over trying to decide who I liked more, Bryan or Scott.

I haven't seen, or even heard from, most of the people in these photos for well over a decade. I wish they could somehow read this post -- to know I'm thinking of them, to know all the nice memories I have about them 22 years later.

I guess I'd like to tell them Thank You.
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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rachael's Party at the American Girl Bistro

I just realized that while I posted these pictures from before the party, I never posted pictures from the party itself.

Rachael had her 8th birthday at the "American Girl Bistro" in town. Basically, you get an appetizer and entree for each girl, and they provide goody bags as well as a cake.

It was very fun, and I would recommend it. The food was very good, and we even had leftovers to take home.

Here's Rachael with Alea, her friend from dance class.

Rebecca made friends with Gracie, which was nice because Rebecca has
the "Jan Brady Syndrome" and often has a hard time in social settings.

Rebecca was dressed as Kit, so she was excited that Gracie had a Kit doll.

Here's a nice group shot.

After the party, we all looked around the store some, then me and my girls
went downstairs to the mall food court. Abigail's family had dinner and all three girls
rode the carousel a few times. For some odd reason, they were able to ride it a few times for free.
(It is normally something like two dollars!)

As they circled around on the Carousel, the girls kept waving their arms toward us and yelling excitedly,
"It's FREE!"

Yes, you can tell they're my daughters, huh?
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Monday, May 4, 2009

And the MOTH schedule keeps ticking ...

Well, it was another productive day with our Managers of their Homes schedule. Rachael said this was "the best Monday ever!"

I cleaned out two dresser drawers. Each girl had a private music lesson with me, we did Five in a Row, math, spelling and phonics, and Rachael read out loud to me. The kitchen is clean. Laundry was done and put away. In a few minutes the girls and I will watch the first part of Anne of Green Gables while I cross-stitch.

We did lose some time at around 2:30 when I was getting sidetracked trying to figure out what to make for dinner ... which is interesting, because in the book it even suggests having a weekly menu which stays the same (at least parts of it) so you don't waste energy making decisions about it.

The nice thing is that it doesn't bother me to get behind a little, because we're doing so well otherwise.

I still haven't opened Managers of their Chores yet ... maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

So, HOW did you do it all?? (More on MOTH)

I'm flattered; a few people asked me how I managed to get so much done in one day using a schedule I created after reading Managers of Their Homes.

The two points I found most helpful were:
1) Stopping after a set time, even if everyone seems happy and things are going well.
2) "Assigning" kids a place and activity for a set amount of time.

For example, here's what parts of my day on Friday looked like (not exactly in this order), and yes, I used a timer for much of it:

30 minutes -- Rebecca has "piano lesson" with me in the living room while Rachael plays with little brother Benjamin in Benjamin's room

30 minutes -- Becca and Ben watch Blue's Clues on downstairs TV while I give Rachael her "piano lesson"

30 minutes - Girls play together in playroom, Benjamin naps, and I nap on couch

30 minutes -- Girls continue to play in playroom, Benjamin continues to nap, and I run around trying to see how much housework I can do in 30 minutes

30 minutes -- Becca and Benjamin play together in Benjamin's room while I work alone with Rachael

30 minutes -- Becca plays with stickers alone in her room, Rachael works independently at the kitchen table, and I do puzzles with Benjamin in his room

See how much got done in less than three hours?

Here were some of my previous objections to a schedule like this:

How horrible for the kids! Don't they get any freedom? How would you like to be ordered around all day? How will they ever learn to make decisions if every minute is decided for them?
Actually, the kids seemed to like it a lot. I'm sure Benjamin loved getting so much one-on-one time. Rachael was very excited when I told her that she would get "play time with Benjamin" every day from now on. Rebecca has been wanting piano lessons with me for a while now and finally got it. In other words, the schedule includes many things they love, so of why would they object to a day filled with those things?

Moving things about like that kept things fresh. The kids weren't restless or complaining about being hungry or tired. They didn't fight much at all. They weren't asking when things would be over, or asking about other things they could go do.

And as far as not making decisions for themselves, they still got plenty of choices. I didn't tell Rachael exactly what she must do with Benjamin. I didn't tell the girls what they had to do while they were in the playroom for an entire hour. Becca and Ben got to choose which TV show they would watch.

That sounds so stressful and exhausting, scrambling around and constantly trying to get stuff done every minutes of your life. Isn't rest important? What about those special moments that you can't plan for? Who wants to rush through lunch knowing you only two minutes left before you have to rush off to the next thing?
I scheduled a 30-minute nap for myself, and was able to actually take it because I didn't feel the need to pop up and try to get something done at that time, which is what often happens when try to nap.
If lunch (or anything else) is rushed, just adjust the schedule to give yourself more time.
I felt like we had more special moments this way, because I wasn't trying to do 2-3 things at once, and I wasn't getting annoyed at the kids and feeling like they were keeping me from getting things done.

Another thing that was mentioned in the book: If the schedule gets disrupted or you just want to take a break from part of it, it's no big deal because you know how productive the rest of the day has already been.

In a way, I feel bad writing such a glowing review for a system I've only been using for about two days. Maybe in a week, or a month, we will just hate it. Maybe I will discover things about it that are real problems. We'll see.

If you are intrigued by the idea, but not ready to shell out $25 just yet, feel free to ask me more questions about it, and I'll try to answer them.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The apocalyse must be near -- I'm doing MOTH!

If you're not familiar with Managers of Their Homes, it is a Christian book written and published by the Maxwell family, who had seven or eight children and homeschooled them all.

It is about ... SCHEDULING, yes in capital letters and boldfaced, because I'd heard that the SCHEDULING they talk about is so intense and constant that their home sounds like the military.

So I figured it wasn't for me. Back then I was an unschooler, for heaven's sake!

Still, I was intrigued ... I always feel like I could use more help in getting my act together. Also, as you know, I'm always interested in What's Out There, because even if I hate it, it gives me something to think about (and, often to blog about).

But the library didn't have it, and I asked around to borrow it and couldn't find a copy ... and I really didn't want to spend $25 for a book that would probably make me say, "Oh my gosh, no WAY are we doing that! Are they crazy?"

But recently I heard about it again on a FIAR message board, and decided to finally suck it up and order the thing.


I got it a few days ago, and already the difference has been amazing. Just amazing.

I haven't even gotten to the point where you make the full-blown color schedule and hang it up. I I probably should, and it will probably help if I do.

Here is a list of what we did today before 4:00 pm:

* I washed Benjamin's sheets and put them back on his bed, and did another load of laundry besides -- and put it away!

* I gave both Rachael and Rebecca a private "piano lesson"

* I sat with on the floor with Benjamin, alone, and did several puzzles with him for almost a half an hour

* I finally helped Rachael set up a great birthday present she got, which was a scrapbooking kit with yarn and simple sewing machine. We learned how to thread and use the machine together.

* I brought the trash can back from the curb, got the mail -- and processed it! -- and filed some papers that had been piling up on my desk

* I read two books to the girls, and two books to Benjamin

* I researched and printed off some components for the lapbook we're doing next week

* I helped the girls finish up the FIAR notebook they were doing this week

* Rachael and I had a spelling lesson together, and she read a story out loud to me

* Rachael read the chapter book she's working on, did two phonics pages and two math pages, and we spent time doing some math together with the blocks

* Rebecca did three math pages, much of it with me

* Both girls made some "sticker scenes" from Oriental Trading, which we had forgotten we even had in the house

* The dishwasher was unloaded first thing this morning, and all of today's dirty dishes are in it

* Becca and Benjamin watched Blue's Clues together

* And I took a 30-minute nap, undisturbed

Now, that may not impress you, but it certainly impresses me! And by the way, I did not wake up particularly early -- 8:00 am.

And I still have time to blog before dinner!

The two other things that are impressive are:

1) I think the kids really liked it. They got to spend time alone with me, and they got to do many things that they really enjoy that we don't normally get to. I asked Rachael how she enjoyed the day following a schedule, and she said, "I love it!"

2) Perhaps best of all, the day felt so smooth and relaxed, and I was felt less tense and wasn't snapping at the kids as much. I didn't feel frustrated because I wasn't getting anything done. I didn't feel exhausted with nothing to show for it. Things didn't feel chaotic.

What was really interesting to me was that, with this scheduling idea, the computer didn't even become an issue. I didn't have to "keep myself from getting on it" like I talked about here. We were so busy doing interesting things that I had no desire to go read blogs and message boards or get on Facebook.

I'm hoping to write another post in a few days, both as an update and more detailed explanation of the book and why it seems to work.