Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Questions About the Year Ahead

(I kind of feel like Mister Man here on Christmas morning--time to pause in my building to assess what to do and what needs to be cleaned up.)

I want to run.

Not away.

I want to run for exercise, for joy, for satisfaction, for setting a good example, for strength, for energy, for reaching a goal.

If I sign up for a local half marathon before tomorrow night, I get the early-bird discount.  The race isn't until October.  I asked Sir Walter Scott if he wanted to join me--to make it something we can do together.  He hemmed and hawed a bit.  He wants to run, but he has the same question I do.

My older girls want to run, too.

How can we do it?

That's one of my questions for the year ahead.

My other questions are:

How do I re-structure our days so that I don't always feel like a pressure-cooker about to explode?

How do Sir Walter Scott and I get to the temple more often?

How do I make time for individual children?

What will we read?

What will school look like?  (I feel a strong need for change.)

Soccer or not?  If not, what will take its place?

How will I cope with meals?  (Thinking about freezer cooking again)

I'm thinking and praying and studying.

I'm trusting the answers will come.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Merry Christmas!)

We had school for the big girls on Monday and Tuesday in order to finish up our history unit--we briefly covered the Peloponnesian wars and Alexander the Great's life.

We made gingerbread cookies.

We played outside in the mild air (now it is cold, but it wasn't earlier this week).

I ran too many errands.

Ladybug and I had a PCIT training session.

We played Spirograph.

We finished Winnie the Pooh and started Owls in the Family.  I cannot say enough good about Owls in the Family--even the teens are laughing aloud at this one.  And I have to add that this is the first time we've ever finished reading Winnie the Pooh aloud because the kids have always made me stop before.  Something was right this time, and everyone from 4 to 15 was enamored of the adventures of Pooh in their written form.

We finished Wonder and began The Screwtape Letters as well.  Both books are treasures.  Wonder affected us all with a sense of joy and love for our fellow man.  The Screwtape Letters is keeping us on our toes and inspiring us to think hard about our actions.

We put on our at home Nativity play.

We read about the Savior's birth, life, death, and resurrection.

We decorated the Christmas tree.

We gave presents.

We ate treats.

We performed and recorded small acts of kindness--we put them in a gift box for Jesus.

It was a week of both the profound and the mundane, and it was a week of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Week, Briefly (#18)

I just uploaded and edited all of this past week's pictures.  There's not one photo of anything school related!

We had preschool Monday-Thursday this week.  We danced to the Hallelujah Chorus, finished learning how to fingerspell the alphabet, began learning the song "I am Like a Star" and began making "All About Me" books.

The plan had been to learn "Little Jesus" and do a small nativity craft, but one morning during personal prayer the idea was clearly manifest that my preschoolers needed books about themselves to begin their personal histories.  Ladybug has been asking questions--even trying to make up a past for herself--and though I can't get answers for her (tied up in confidential state records), I can help her document her history starting right now.

We drew pictures of ourselves, took photos of ourselves, weighed and measured ourselves, drew pictures of our family, documented our favorite colors, foods, and activities, and talked about how each of us is a beloved Child of God with individual gifts and talents.

It will take us another week to finish the books, and I think they will be treasures when they are done.

We continued singing "Picture a Christmas" and continued working on "The Fourth Article of Faith," too.

The 2 PreK kids, Mister Man and Ladybug, very much enjoyed finishing working on /p/ and beginning "C" (/k/).  We're still using and various youtube phonics videos for fun each day, and then we work on letter formation, sight words ("see" and "look" this week), and do some sound sorting activities.  We're keeping it quite simple and joyful.

Ladybug has begun to identify sounds as she looks at books, and she's terribly, terribly proud of herself.

We had a crisis with Ladybug when she wanted to write the names of our whole family.  I printed out a sheet with all of our names in large font that she could trace and/or imitate.  She hit her waterloo about 3 names into the sheet.  I tried to first offer encouragement and then, when I could see it wasn't working, give her an out but she fell apart when she couldn't make her letters look like the printed ones.

Her sense of failure was heartbreaking.  The only thing I could do was hold her in my arms as she cried and then teach her the magic of "yet."

"You can't do it yet, but someday you will be able to."
"You don't know how yet, but someday you will."
You aren't a good writer yet, but you're learning each day."

(Thank you, thank you, dear blogger whose name I have forgotten, for teaching me this concept a few months ago, so that I would have it available when I needed it this week!)

Just yesterday Ladybug looked at me with stars in her eyes as she told me how she couldn't write our family names yet, but she was trying and learning.

For family school with the older girls we worked on history lessons about the Greeks.  We had a few exceptionally joyful (at least for me) discussions about the value of women and the value of education.  Their assigned essay was a personal response to Russell M. Nelson's conference talk, "A Plea to My Sisters."

We only managed to get to one Chemistry lesson this week--on the states of matter.

We finished our annual read aloud of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever; reading the end still made me cry.

I just love that book!

Other activities included Brother's weekly therapy appointment, daily PCIT practice for Mom and Dad with Ladybug, a well-child checkup and a passel of immunizations for Little Sister, an eye exam for Little Princess, a dermatology appointment for Nature Angel, Rose Red's final exam and class session for her dual enrollment class, a WIC recertification appointment for Little Sister, Belle's riding class, church youth night, and a failed attempt at having a visit with Jaybird (the older brother we are not adopting).

Oh, and we went to the zoo for our Friday outing.

Here is a picture or two just for fun:

We made gingerbread houses (with graham crackers) last Sunday.

Nature Angel has gotten rather good at back bends!  Playing gymnastics has been all the rage this week.

Our new Bilibo toys are awesome!!!  This is Brother carefully balancing.

And the sisters laugh together . . . a lot.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Week, Briefly (#17)

Monday was a typical day for us, therapy for Brother in the morning, school for the rest of us.

Blanket time was dancing to The Nutcracker Suite, but Ladybug was grouchy, Brother and Little Brother were hyper, and Mister Man tripped and fell over Baymax, so we called it quits early.

PreK was enjoyable as we watched videos about the letter F and its sound.  Ladybug has beautiful handwriting for a 5 year old!  We sorted pictures with /f/ and /t/ sounds, practiced writing, and learned about "the" as a sight word.

Family school was about the Babylonian captivity of the Jews--specifically focusing on Daniel and his ability to stay the course in spite of troubles in the world around him.  

In Chemistry we discussed the concept of density.  We examined a couple of toy balls--one was a ball pit kind of ball and the other was the same size but made for bouncing.  In our comparison of the two balls we were able to learn the formula for finding density.

Sir Walter Scott and I had our first PCIT (Parent Child Interaction Therapy) lesson with Ladybug's therapy team.  They were both kind and encouraging.  We dropped a bunch of our kids off at the park across the street from the school so they could play while we were in class.  Rose Red watched sleeping littles at home.  Win-win-win.

We have daily homework for this class--5 minutes each of "special time" per day with Ladybug to practice the skills presented in class.

For preschool we finished learning Picture a Christmas and finally put Baby Jesus in the manger in the nativity scenes we made.  The kids were very proud to hang their work on the wall as a Christmas decoration for the season.

For PreK we focused a lot on the sight word "the."  The kids completed a "the" word search and poke page.  We also used our Ff coloring books and a set of word strips to form the phrases in the coloring book.  They were quite proud of their ability to find the words and pictures and read them.

 For our family school we studied Cyrus the great and debated what it is that makes a good leader.  We also got to see how many versions of one man's life can be written--each one considered historical "fact"--each one completely different from another.  We examined the purposes behind the stories for what might be the truth in history because the fact were too contradictory.

In chemistry we discussed and played around a bit with the concept of buoyancy.  The girls were especially fascinated to watch rubbing alcohol first penetrate a layer of oil to mix with a layer of water then rise one drop at a time through the oil to float above it.

In the afternoon our parent educator came over to see the completed "invisible" string activity she'd left for us to do the last time she'd been over.  It was a couple of larger hearts (Mom and Dad) sewn together with strings and attached to 12 smaller hearts (the kids) with their strings.  On each child's heart we wrote something they feel they are good at and then copied them to both Dad's heart and Mom's heart to show how each child is not only attached to us by love but written in our hearts forever.  The parent educator loved it.  She told us she has a team building activity she'd like to conduct with the whole family when she comes in January.  Her next December visit will just be to check in and talk.

In the evening we saw our 4 oldest off to the teen homeschool holiday party, and I took Nature Angel to the church to make pine cone ornaments for Activity Day.   It was more than a small challenge to care for the 7 littles 6-and-under that I was left alone with that night.

Wednesday morning began with Little Sister sneezing great quantities of gross snot out of her nose--another cold. :(  I also took Brother to a doctor's appointment because he's tired all of the time.  It turns out he has a history of low iron (no one told us this!).  He's been prescribed a multivitamin with iron.  He also had blood drawn for further tests; we'll know more next week.

I also asked the doctor about his cognitive development, and she asked him a few questions that he answered perfectly.  She looked at me and told me he is fine.  I didn't argue because Brother was right in the room with us, but her questions didn't even begin to address his issues which I'm beginning to wonder how to get someone to believe me he has.  He tests great, but there's something not right with our boy that I can't put my finger on. 

We had to adjust our day a little bit, but as we had no other appointments on the calendar, we were able to finish a full day of school.

The preschoolers made apple turnovers out of canned biscuit dough and apples that I'd cut and lightly sweetened.  It was quite a challenge for them to flatten the dough without making holes in it--good manual dexterity practice.  It was quite a treat for them to see them come out of the oven and share them with the whole family!

I had planned to let the PreK duo make letters out of playdough, but it was such a lovely day (more like October than December) that I got out the sidewalk chalk and we made Fs and pictures of words that start with F until I had to go back inside to take care of babies.

Our family school lesson was about the Greek Gods.  My Percy Jackson loving older girls enjoyed this lesson, and Nature Angel and Little Princess were entranced because it was quite new to them.  Nature Angel found our Usborne Greek Mythology book and spent time reading on her own.

Chemistry lesson 10 was a worksheet lesson on the physical vs. chemical properties of matter.

In the evening, after dinner and before Dad left for work, we had our annual Christmas lighting ceremony.  We popped popcorn, made hot chocolate, put on hoodies (last year we were in boots, coats, hats and mittens), and counted down the turning on of the lights.  It was quite fun, and the littles were captivated.  We sang and danced and munched until we could sing, dance and munch no more.  Rose Red even played Christmas carols on the piano for us which we could hear outside because it was warm enough to leave the front door open.

Thursday we raced through school because we had our adoption license quarterly review in the early afternoon.

The preschoolers played with peppermint playdough that I'd made early in the morning in both white and red colors.

The PreK set watched various videos on Starfall and Youtube about the letter P.  Then I handed them P and p outlines and a set of watercolor paints each so they could paint.

We reviewed Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations for our Family school.

We skipped chemistry.

We passed our review.

Rose Red had communications class that night, so she feverishly worked on her final speech.  Then we raced together to pick up her new glasses and get her to class.  I nearly cried with relief when a friend offered to give Rose Red a ride home.  I'm so thankful for her kind service.

We finished our read-aloud Betsy-Tacy (for the 4th time as a family--it just has perfect appeal for each of my little girls when they reach 5 or 6, and the older girls can't help listening in).

Friday we headed out into the wide, wonderful world for our outing day.  We arrived at the Hoofed Native Animal Enclosure only to find that the predicted temps of 60+ degrees were not in effect at 10:30 am.  We looked at the elk for about 37 seconds then climbed back in the van.  Fortunately a 1.5 mile hiking trail was 200 yards down the road, so we stopped and took a nature walk.  It was sheltered in the woods, so we actually got quite warm and enjoyed our morning very much.  The true highlight was reaching the lake and finding shells to collect and admire.

In the afternoon I ran errands while the kids alternated between quiet play and outdoor play once the temperature reached its promised high.

Ladybug hates change.  Even our weekly routine of 4 days of school with one outing day bothers her.  She was surly and withdrawn and finally threw a monster tantrum in the evening.  I won't just do school every single day, skipping outings to make her happy, so we had a little talk--actually I talked--about having to do what we don't want to do sometimes.  I don't know how much good it did.  At least we ended in a hug.

Baymax is starting to walk!  Just a few steps here and there, but it's really happening! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Book Review: My Pantry by Alice Waters

I'm a cookbook junkie; I can't resist a good cookbook.  I borrow them from the library.  I purchase them.  I read them for pleasure--sitting in the rocking chair while I nurse my baby.  I study them when I menu-plan.  I pore over them while I consider alternative diets.  I give them away when I have too many to fit on my shelves.

Then I buy more.

So, when I found out I could join Blogging for Books and have nearly unlimited access to brand-new cookbooks, something in my brain shivered with pleasure, and I signed on.

I've long been fascinated by Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse story, and I love a well-stocked pantry, so it was with delight that I opened the box containing my first cookbook to review.

But I was disappointed.

I'm an instinctive cook.  I don't need recipes for much other than inspiration and the specifics for a good pie crust.  What I look for in a cookbook is inspiration.  It doesn't matter whether there are luscious photos, charming essays, or statistical information.  What matters is the answer to this question:  Does the cookbook make me long for time in the kitchen?

If yes, then it's a keeper.

This one didn't do it.  It was all set up to be charming and inspiring, but it missed the mark.

The mini essays are almost inspiring, but not quite.
The recipes are almost tempting, but not quite.

I left it out on my kitchen island where I could study it at my leisure . . . so could my kids.  I thought that we'd each choose a recipe to test and then we'd have a two-for-one homeschool/book review experience.  It was a no go.  We all looked again and again, but walked away uninspired. 

I do currently have a glass bowl full of apple cores and peelings and sugar water in an effort to make my own apple vinegar using the My Pantry recipe.  I do have some organic orange peels in my freezer awaiting the time when I've collected enough peels to let Super Star candy them using the My Pantry recipe.

But it's kind of out of obligation to my Blogging for Books commitment.

The book wasn't a total loss for me, though.  My favorite part of My Pantry is the list of recommended cookbooks at the end.  It is chock full of a list of truly inspiring cookbooks--many of which I either own, have owned, or would like to own.

So now I have a list to take to the library for a good cookbook fix.

FTC Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Week, Briefly (#16)

It was a good week for school.

For preschool we danced to the Nutcracker Suite on Monday.

Tuesday-Thursday we worked on learning the words to "Picture a Christmas," and we worked on a stable craft to go with it (though by printing and coloring other nativity characters we were able to make our craft a bit more complete).  We should be able to finish the song and craft on Monday.

We've also continued to learn to fingerspell with ASL--we're up to "m" now.

December is our month to learn the 4th Article of Faith, so we've been singing it once a day and reviewing one previously  learned Article of Faith as well.

This week we formed a PreK class for Mister Man and Ladybug.  We're reviewing/learning all of the letter sounds along with a few sight words via Easy-Peasy and Reading the Alphabet.  We've done /t/ with sight word "a," and we've started /f/ and sight word "the."  So far it has been really joyful for them both . . . and for me!
sight word "a" poke pages
"T"s of all sizes
Making "T" with their bodies.
 For the rest of the kids' school we've gathered for LDS Family School to complete history lessons 22-24.  They've focused on right/wrong choices within the framework of lessons about Assyria, Babylon, and the tribes of Israel.

We made clay name seals using cuneiform to prepare for learning about Shamshi-Adad.  Later we talked about what kind of leader we'd actually give our seal of approval.

The very oldest girls completed Chemistry lessons 5-7 about volume, mass vs weight, and the Law of Conservation of Mass.

Homemade balance
Homemade spring scale
 On Wednesday Santa made an early delivery of a zoo pass for the family!  We made sure school ended by lunch time on Thursday so we could spend the afternoon there.

Best. Present. Ever.

It's always somebody's naptime!


It was so great that we went again on Friday.  But not until after we attended a fabulous puppet show about the Nativity.  Some of the puppets were 10 feet tall!  The show was held in a local historic cathedral and had live musicians.  Some of our homeschool friends were in the cast--as character voices or as puppeteers.  It was marvelous.

(I only had to take Baymax out once when he cried--all of the rest of the kids were great!  This was a huge relief because taking 12 kids to a professional theater production made me very nervous.)

Brother and Ladybug had their weekly therapy appointments.  Ladybug's appointments now include me as a student to learn/review some parenting techniques.  She and I were placed in front of a 2-way mirror with two therapists watching us and taking notes about my parenting skills.  They gave me instructions via an earpiece.  It was intimidating, but they were kind.  Nonetheless, my heart beats faster just thinking about this week's appointment(s).

Pixie is so close to finishing her Personal Progress that I think she'll have her medallion by her 14th birthday.  I brought home a pattern and some fabric for her to make newborn hats as part of a church service project--that ought to get her even one step closer.

Rose Red took a test and gave another speech for her dual enrollment class.  She continues to do very well in this class.  Sir Walter Scott and I need to be more diligent in giving her driving lessons, though.  I don't think she got a single one this week.

But she did finally get taken for an eye exam (along with Belle and Super Star).  Rose Red needs glasses!   And not just reading glasses--all of the time glasses!  I'm wondering how long she's needed them, and trying not to beat myself too hard for putting off this exam so long.  I hope she finds the glasses to be a blessing!

We committed to keeping Christmas very simple this year out of deference to our new littles who cannot stand much stimulation.  We're going to be keeping regular routines for as long as we can.  Our nod to December this week was attending The Nativity on Friday and the church Christmas party on Saturday night.  I think we will nod once again in the week to come by putting up our lights and having our annual lighting ceremony, but that's it.

It's not only keeping the littles happy, it's keeping me happy, too!