Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things My Parents Taught Me

This post was supposed to go up, like, two weeks ago, but shit got busy and I didn't finish it in time. Whaddaya' gonna do? As a loving tribute to my mom and dad, here are some of the things they might not even be aware that they taught me.

It's never too late

I was born less than a year after my parents got married, and at nineteen and twenty, they were young parents. Needless to say, there was a lot of the big, wide world they hadn't seen or experienced yet.

My mom decided to go get her nursing degree when my brothers and I were very young. It took several years of juggling schedules, getting creative with finances, and sacrificing time and comfort from both of my parents, but when I was eleven I watched my mother walk down an aisle in a white cap and gown and receive her degree. That never left me.

Over the past decade or so college has become much less of a "young person's" game and has become more accessible to learners from all walks of life. I did two years of college right out of high school, dropped out, started a family, and then realized when I was twenty-five that I wanted that for myself, too. The image of my mom sitting cross-legged on the couch, poring over thick tomes and notebooks was always at the edge of my thoughts, pushing me when I felt like it was just too damned hard, when I was tired and my daughter was sick and my husband was stuck working overtime again and the babysitter had an emergency and I had every reason to just quit again. And in May 2011, I earned my bachelor's degree and I walked down an aisle in a black gown with my then eight year-old daughter watching me, just as I watched my mother almost twenty years before.

My college graduation, nineteen years after my mother's. And yes, there is a sizable bun in that oven. I did not hit the Chipotle on my way in.

Give stew

You know how elementary schools have those canned food drives around the holidays? I remember going to my dad to ask him for canned goods for one of those and him going through the cabinet with me. I was grabbing peas and corn and whatever, but he stopped me and handed me a few cans of Dinty Moore beef stew. He told me that while the vegetables were great and all that, a family couldn't make a meal out of a can of corn alone. If there weren't many cans to go around, it made more sense to give out cans of stew because it could feed a family a meal. I can't tell you why that stuck with me, but every time I participate in a food drive, I make a conscious effort to build meals or give stew because that just made so much sense to me.

Leave toilet paper

We moved several times when I was a kid and my parents always made sure to leave a roll of toilet paper for the next residents. They pointed out to me that when you move it's easy to forget things like t.p. when you're trying to make sure you have all your boxes and furniture. Ever since I've always made putting a fresh roll of toilet paper out the last thing I do before I leave a home for the last time.

No "and" in alphabet

My persnickety dad found the "y AND z" part of the alphabet very irritating and he taught me to sing the song without the "and". His point was that "and" is not a letter, and while you could argue that "and" is just pulling the list of letters together, I developed the habit of leaving it out and I still do to this day.

How to accept a gift

My mom and dad would have beaten my ass raw if I had ever reacted to a gift, no matter how shitty or thoughtless or unappreciated, with anything less than absolute grace and gratitude. Seriously. Ass beating. 

I carry that with me and have instilled that same fear in my own daughter. We don't spank, but if she ever reacted like a spoiled brat to a gift the temptation to have her pick a switch might be more than I could resist.

Bear genuinely loves this gift, but she could TOTALLY fake it if she didn't.

To think for myself

My parents were pretty open minded about any church or religion I wanted to explore. We didn't attend church as a family, but through a variety of friends and church vans I was able to explore many different philosophies. All were within the Christian realm, but that religious fluidity made me a far more critical thinker when I became an adult. I took and enjoyed a few religion and philosophy classes and I feel like my ability to explore and question information and to think about it critically is in large part due to my parents' willingness to let me do just that as a child. I wasn't presented with a lot of absolutes when I was young, and I'm grateful for that. It gave me flexibility and a certain amount of open-mindedness.

No lavish praise 

My parents, and my dad in particular, were not big on the over-the-top praise. I'm not saying they didn't commend me on a job well done; only that I wasn't given the Da Vinci treatment over every drawing of an elephant or branded the next Einstein because I aced a spelling test.  My dad was very reserved in his praise, usually offering a nod and a, "Very good," before turning his attention elsewhere. You might think this sounds cold, but I think it makes sense. I'm not saying I don't have a deep-seeded desire to please my parents and have them approve of my decisions/accomplishments/ideas. I do, as I think most people do. But I know where I stand with my parents. If my dad compliments my work or idea or whatever, I know he means it. I never have to wonder if he's "just saying that" to make me feel good about myself.

I know that's a lot of talking, but it's an introspective time of year and I've had my parents on my mind a lot. It's important to understand where we come from, in both a nature and nurture sense. I am very much like both of my parents, and I'm proud of that.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Handmade Christmas Gifts

Anyone who knows me at all understands the depth of my kraft inkompetence. It's laughable, actually, how ridiculously untalented I am in all things crafty. I have tried and failed at many crafty endeavors, in no small part because of my incredible impatience and deep-seeded need for instant gratification.

So it was obvious to me that I should totally hand-make some of our Christmas gifts this year.

I'll give you a minute to pull yourself together.

I can't post all of my plans because some of them are for people who read this crap. That's not to say I'll actually end up giving those people the gifts I attempt to make, as they may well be colossal failures (the gifts, not the people). But I can talk about some of the things I'm making for the kids, which also may or may not fail spectacularly (again, the gifts; not the kids).

For Bear:

Magnetic paper dolls

I found the idea for this on Pinterest and decided to adapt it for my kids. I wanted something we could keep in the car for them to play with.

Bear is super into The Hunger Games, but I guess licensing has been pretty restricted and I couldn't find any sticker or coloring books to work with. Luckily I found these cute paper dolls on Etsy and they're perfect!

Bear's Hunger Games magnetic paper dolls

The additional costumes for Gale, Katniss, and Peeta

For Bug:

Magnetic cars and animals

For Bug's version of the magnet board I bought a sticker book from Michael's. The book came with several pages of "scenes" to play on, so I ripped one out and stuck magnets on the back of it, too. I used different magnets on Bug's figures than I did on everything else and they don't stick quite as nicely, though I can tip it up and they don't fall off. So...good enough. Lesson learned.

Pardon the glare. I am a truly terrible photographer.

Felt board

I love felt boards, especially for itty-bitties. At first I tried stapling my piece of felt to a piece of cardboard and putting it in an 8X10 frame, but the stapled showed and the frame had sharp corners and it was basically a huge failure. So I pulled it apart and used craft glue to attach the felt to a canvas board and it worked much better.

I also used my huge box of cookie cutters to make shapes for Bug to play with. Cute, right?

The felt board and some of the shapes I made for Bug
                The inside of the bag I ACTUALLY SEWED BY HAND for Bug to store his felt shapes in. I glued a plastic bag inside so the pieces wouldn't stick.

I still have to attach some Velcro to the bag flap so it will close, but it's not bad for a terrible crafter!
I like these gifts because we can update the figures as the kids' interests change. As Bug gets older I can add smaller pieces or things with smaller magnets, like magnetic fridge letters. Bear is getting a tin of magnetic poetry for Christmas that she can use on her board, too.

The cutting took quite a bit of time, but I started working on it in September and just did a little at a time. I definitely recommend planning ahead for these projects.

I haven't made the covers for the magnet boards yet, but my mother-in-law is going to help me with that in the next few weeks. I have all the materials; I just have to physically make them. Instead of "paper dolls," I'm going to put their names on their covers.

Are you doing anything hand made for anyone this year?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things I Never Thought I'd Say

For the past few months I've been slowly compiling a list of the ridiculous crap that comes out of my mouth due to my position as Mother. This list does not include the intentionally ridiculous stuff that I say. This is all 100%, Grade-A, first reaction phrasing. See if you can guess to whom each item was spoken.

Yeah, my kids are in a teepee. What?
"Could you please stop eating Mommy's breastpump?"

"We do not hit Mommy with our flashlight!"

"You HAVE to sit still! I'm trying to pick dog hair off your testicles!"

"Well, no, go ahead and wash the poop off your hand first."

"Get your spell book off the table, please."

"No, please don't put your pizza on my leg." 

"Honey, why do you make me have to get up and...parent you?"

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend, breastpumps, testicles, poop and all. ;)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Favorite Things

As anyone who regularly reads this drivel knows, our family has been focusing on simplifying and living with less this past year. That said, we thoroughly enjoy our material possessions, and have been thrilled with how much more joy we get from them now that we don't have so many other things cluttering up our home.

Over the next month, I'm going to put up posts with lists of each of our favorite things (mine, Husband's, Bear's, and Bug's). If I had a real blog or more than one reader or was Oprah, I'd be giving this shit away or something. But since this crap-fest is low-key, you'll just have to settle for reading about it.

So here are some of my favorite things, in no particular order:

My Kindle

I've already touted the joys of the e-reader, but a "favorite things" post wouldn't be complete without mentioning it. I just love being able to toss it (um, gently) in my bag and head out to the doctor's office or Bear's extracurriculars or wherever and have as many books as I could want right at my fingertips.

My laptop

*sigh* A Christmas gift from my best friend last year, my laptop has changed my life. I can write or play stupid Facebook games anywhere in my house. I can catch up on my favorite blogs while nursing Bug to sleep. I can keep all of my stuff filed the way I like it without Husband's and Bear's stuff cramping my style or Bear's Dorito-fingers dusting up my keyboard. If one of my keys is sticking it's because of MY Dorito dust, damn it!

My grey sweater

I am ROCKING that sweater. Yeah...
I got it for $4.99 at the Gap Outlet and I wear it almost every day. It's warm, cozy, and comfortable. It's flattering, but roomy enough to wrap around Bear in a hug when she gets cold in the frozen foods aisle or to provide some privacy (for my comfort, not that of strangers) when I'm nursing in public. Best five bucks I ever spent.

Thin & Crispy Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips

I LOVE salt & vinegar chips, and there are very few brands that I don't like. These are really tasty AND they're less than a dollar a bag. As far as flavor, these are middle of the road, which is good enough for me, considering I can kill a bag in a day. I try not to, of course, but you know...sometimes a girl needs a bag of chips.

OPI nail polish in "Bubblebath"

I'm not high-maintenance, less out of choice than out of necessity. I'd call myself mid-maintenance at this stage of my life. But I am very particular about my hands and nails. I like them well-kept and neutral and when I'm "between" manicures, I get very antsy and twitchy.

I've been using Bubblebath on them for probably five years and I've never gotten sick of it. And since I do my own nails rather than drop $30 on a manicure every week, I need something forgiving. It's the perfect neutral pink.

My Crock Pot

Given to me brand new by my best friend (noticing a theme here?) because she'd gotten two for her wedding, I have used this thing regularly for almost ten years. I use it to make the chili and soups I love, and also for those days when Bear has an evening activity and we'll be coming home starving. I just start something early in the day and the knowledge that a hot meal is waiting for us keeps us from stopping for fast food. If you do not have a slow-cooker, I highly recommend it. And if you care less about being "green" than you do about convenience, you can even use liners in it to cut down on the cleaning.

Words With Friends

I will dominate you. And I will do so by attempting every conceivable letter combination that gets me to a triple word tile until I discover that 'ptzomls' is a word, especially if that 'z' lands on a triple letter square. My vocabulary is not so much cultivated as it is mostly made up. I play ugly.

Coconut oil

Pinterest introduced me to the joy of coconut oil. It's moisturizing, you can cook with it (though maybe use separate jars for body and cooking, 'cause eeeeewwww), you can make other beauty products (including diaper rash cream), and it's awesome. Husband even uses it in his feet and he loves it, too. You can find a terrific (but by no means comprehensive) list of possible uses for it HERE and you can get a jar on Vitacost for a great price.

This is of course NOT a comprehensive list. At this point in my life, these are some of the things that make me happy for various reasons. What are some of your favorite things?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Contentedness

So it's possible that at times I may be a tiny bit...negative. Pessimistic. Grouchy. Malcontent. Humbuggish. And my favorite: curmudgeonly. It's true. It takes very little to send me into an emo death-spiral of "life's not fair!" whining and moaning. I have been known to cry because I discovered before 9 a.m. that not only were we out of coffee, but that someone had not replaced the toilet paper roll! WTF, people!? Are you trying to DESTROY ME!?

I get to spend my life with these people. Hard to be a miser.
Look, I own it. It's not a great quality. I'm working hard on it, but I'll never completely be a chipper, content person. It's not how I'm built. But it all goes back to the idea of Progress, Not Perfection.

Oddly, despite my somewhat grumpy nature, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Mostly because I LOVE all those once-a-year foods and getting together with family. But also because it's a swift reminder to me to CHEER THE EFF UP and stop whining about my wonderful, beautiful life. I think we all need that now and then.

I'm not going to do a Ten Things I'm Thankful For post. Instead, give this Martina McBride song a listen. My favorite line:

"...I've come to know
That the world won't change
Just 'cause I complain...

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Favorite Homeschool Weapons

Cookie Cutters

I got this big ass box of plastic cookie cutters from Michael's for...I don't remember. Something not too bad, considering how much use we get out of them. They're great for cookies (duh), salt dough shapes, tracing, and occupying certain toddlers.

The Public Library

Our awesome library has saved us so much money. We get almost all of our books for just about everything there, plus we use the online videos and take advantage of the many classes and activities they offer (for free!). Some days we plan our library trip during nap time and Bug will sleep in his stroller while Bear and I sit and read in the peace and quiet.

Bear/Katniss at the library's Halloween party

Learnin' some horticulture at KCPL's Homeschoolers' Club

Pressin' the horticulture

Family Education

I love this website. They have tons of free printables, activites, and articles. I reference it a lot.

Time 4 Learning

Math was the one subject area I was somewhat concerned about teaching. Not because I don't understand elementary-level math, but because math was always my academic Achilles' Heel and it always took me a bit longer than (seemingly) everyone else to grasp the concepts.  We tried Life of Fred at first, but Bear really didn't like it at all. So I signed her up for T4L. We use the math every day that we do school, but for my $20 per month we have access to ALL of the subjects, and all of the curriculum for one grade below and above her. That makes it easy to tailor our lessons for her specific needs (which is sort of the point of homeschool). I also plan to use some of the social studies and possibly even science lessons this year. She enjoys the "Playground" section, as well as Time 4 Art. For one child it's very affordable and it works out great for us.

Crayola Washable paints

Adding some color to our fizzy paint
We do a lot of art projects because art is one of Bear's favorite things. She prefers science projects that double as arts and crafts, as well as doing something creative while we listen to an audiobook. Washable paints make it all a lot less harrowing. She has some acrylic paints and she's getting a very nice set for Christmas (shhh!), but for every day stuff, we stick with the washables. They come right out of our brushes, wipe up easily, and can be mixed with other mediums for various projects. The downside is that they also wash off of projects easily, and they tend to remove each other, so painting a color over another presents a problem. Still, they really work great for us for most things.


If you're not familiar with Playaways, check your library. They're wonderful. They're basically audiobooks, but instead of a CD (or ten), it's a single, battery-operated unit. Bear has listened to most of the Goosebumps Horrorland books on Playaway, and she loves to take them up in our front tree or listen while she works on a cross stitch project. Bonus? They require headphones, which means they're great for boring car trips or those times when you just need some peace and quiet.

They also make Playaway videos. We've gotten several of those from the library. They don't require headphones, but that's okay because they're really interesting. Bear watched/listened to the Greek Mythology Playways about ten times each before we had to return them.

These are some of the things that get us through each week. Also, wine. Lots of wine. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pinterest in Real Life: Buckeye Brownies

I live in Northern Kentucky, which is the best place in the world to live anywhere in the history of places. Here we get to be both Southerners and Midwesterners, Kentuckians and Ohioans (due to our proximity to Cincinnati). We have traditions and customs that come from both sides of the river and it makes our little notch on the Ohio River a really unique, special place to call home.

One of the things we greedily take from our neighbors to the north are Buckeye candies. If you've never had a Buckeye, then you are wrong and should hate yourself. You should also remedy this problem immediately. Unless you have a nut allergy, in which case, please do not take the above advice and end up in anaphylactic shock and sue me because I nearly killed you. 'Cause there's peanut butter involved here. You've been warned.

Anyway, I came across a recipe for something called Buckeye Brownies on Pinterest a few weeks ago. Chocolate? Peanut Butter? Brownies? I'm in. I'm ALL in.

The recipe is really simple and I had everything on hand, so I went for it. I just made a pan of boxed-mix brownies, let it cool while we ran errands, and then whipped up my peanut butter and chocolate for the topping.

And I will say this—they are good. The chewiness of the brownie is a nice contrast against the creaminess of the peanut butter and chocolate topping. The problem? The peanut butter comes right off the brownie. I mean, it doesn't stick at ALL.  You have to hold the pieces together to eat it as one dessert, so I've ended up with a bunch of plain brownies and what looks like choco-peanut butter fudge.

What a Buckeye Brownie SHOULD look like...

...and what it actually looks like after it fails at life.

I don't think I'll make this again with the brownies. I think I WILL make the peanut butter and chocolate again and instead of rolling it up, I'll just make a two-layer fudge. That's how I've been eating it, and it's really good. Maybe I'll even do chocolate on the bottom and the top. Buckeye Fudge, I'll call it. Yeah...that's the ticket.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween at Casa Jen

Halloween is not one of my favorite holidays, mostly because I don't like people knocking on my door. I especially hate it when those people want something from me. But because I have children, I have to suck it up and smile as I contribute to the nation's obesity and dental hygiene crises. So I grudgingly dumped our overpriced bags of chocolate-covered, edible feelings into a plastic bowl and flipped on the porch light. It was rainy and cold, so rather than sit in the driveway with an ice-cold beer like I usually do, I hunkered down with my laptop on the couch.

Except that people in my neighborhood either somehow know about my disdain for solicitors (could it be the "No Solicitors" sign on my door?), or they are very, very stupid. My "No Solicitors" sign is very small, so it cannot be read from the sidewalk. But you know what can be seen from the sidewalk? The porch light, the pumpkins on the stoop, and the light pouring out from between the WIDE OPEN living room curtains.

And yet, families passed by my well-lit and clearly occupied house without even glancing up. It was baffling. I watched group after group skip right on by. Finally, when I heard a father tell his kids as they headed up my driveway that, "They're not home!", I opened the door and asked what I was doing wrong. The father looked confused, shocked, even, to see me.


So I went down to the computer and made a huge "WE HAVE CANDY" sign, which I posted in the front window. Traffic picked up.

Anyway, during all this stOOpidness, Husband was walking around with Bear and Bug. We did NOT have a bucket for Bug because I think collecting candy "for the baby" is really stupid and annoying and I refuse to do it. If you are legitimately giving your fourteen month-old Starburst, punch yourself in the face. If you're collecting for yourself in the name of your young toddler, also punch yourself in the face.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Whatever. The kids looked adorable. Husband brought Bug back to me after just our street and then took Bear through the entire subdivision, hitting every house. We decided that we're going to let Bear pick out a certain amount of candy and then "sell" us the rest in exchange for extra technology time. Then we'll donate (most of) it.

Here are the kiddos in costume.

Katniss and Haymitch

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Occupying a Toddler

This is Bug, roaming.
There are countless blog posts on the interwebs about keeping younger kids out'cher biz-nass while trying to learn an older young'n*, so this isn't exactly ground-breaking information. In our case, the toddler is of the very young variety, so there are certain suggestions that just won't work yet because he puts all of the activities in his mouth. So anyway, here are some things that have worked for us so far, and some things I'm thinking of trying out.

Letting him roam

Frankly, as eye-rollingly simplistic as this is, it's generally the most effective. We don't have a designated learning space in our tiny house, so anything that requires writing or art is done at the kitchen table, books are read on the living room couch, and math is done on the computer in the family room. So our most effective Bug repellent is to just let him run around and play in the living room and kitchen, a storage bench full of toys at his fingertips.


That's our dog. Now Ella is a ninety pound Lab/Dob mix, so we don't actually put our 30 lbs > son down to play with her directly. She's not intentionally aggressive with us; she's just huge and young, so she's playful and could very easily accidentally hurt him. What he LOVES to do, though, is to sit by the back door and watch her in the back yard. Sometimes she'll come up to the window and they'll check each other out. She also has a crate in the living room, the big, open wire kind where she can see everything. She usually sleeps with the door open these days, but if we shut it then Ella and Bug like to check each other out. Until he starts trying to share his toys with her, of course.

That Thin Mint never knew what hit it...

I try not to plow Bug with food just to keep him quiet too often, but if Bear and I are working on something and we need to make sure he's not under foot (or if he is doing the thing where he grabs library books out of my hands and tries to put his own, personal stamp on them), there is nothing that keeps him happier than his booster seat and a few Ritz crackers.

Letting him destroy

This is not my favorite, because it's a short-term solution which creates work for me that I may or may not get to later in the day. But sometimes the best way to keep my Bug happy so I can help Bear multiply 2-digit numbers is to let him get into that drawer or play with that item which is normally forbidden. I don't mean I'm letting him drag out the cleaning supplies and chaw down on the dishwasher tables, of course. But I'll probably let him drag out all the plastic food storage containers and throw them all over the kitchen, even though it means Imma hafta wash them. Again. 

Now that my Bug is a bit older I want to make him a few sensory bins. He's still putting things in his mouth pretty regularly, so I'll probably do a few "edible" bins. Dry oatmeal, Cheerios, things like that with some containers and whatnot. The textures are nice and if he sticks them in his mouth, no biggie. 

We also got him his first paints and brushes and stuff for Christmas (all toddler-size), so in a few months he'll be able to join in with us more. He loves his homemade fingerpaints and I think he'll really like painting with mom and sis.

When all else fails, we just take a break. There are some days when life is too hectic or Bug is too needy and all the things will just have to wait. Or we'll just shove cookies down his gullet. And if things get really desperate? The cage!

Baby is not actually inside cage. Do not call DCFS. Not for this, anyway. Maybe the cookie thing.

 I'd like my Mother of the Year award now.

*Mixing up my speech patterns in the same sentence. Ohhhhhhh, yeah...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Glimpse into Our Day

Fizzy Sidewalk Paint
As a (new) homeschooling family, one of the things we learned very early on was that there really is no "typical" day. I go into each week with a plan and a bag full of materials, but what each day looks like can vary greatly.

But in the interest of keeping our loved ones "in the loop," here's my best rundown of what a day in our home(school) might look like:

Wake up when Bug gets me up. This could be 7:30 or, on some fantastic, rare mornings, 9:30 or 10:00.

Make coffee, feed Bug, drink coffee/eat breakfast, let Bug run off his morning energy while I play Words With Friends and attempt to get my brain going.

If Bug and I got up early, this might be about the time that Bear comes downstairs. If we slept in, she may have already been up for a bit and had breakfast.

Homemade GAK
After everyone has eaten and puttered around, we begin our lessons. On a typical day, this includes: journaling with a prompt (three days a week); math activities on Time 4 Learning; one page of D'Nealian handwriting practice; some reading and an activity based on whatever we're studying at the time (right now it's our home state of Kentucky); a few chapters of whatever book we're reading (we're listening to The Witches audiobook right now); and possibly some sort of artistic or scientific activity to go with the story, though not always.

Bug watching his sister climb our front tree
If we finish lessons in the morning/early afternoon (we usually do), we have lunch, clean up, do whatever chores or errands are on the list for the day, and enjoy our free time. When Husband gets home, we have dinner.

Of course, then there are those days when someone is sick or we have a field trip or something planned and the day looks nothing like that. That happens about once per week, usually because of a playdate or homeschool activity at the library or something.

So for those of you who are interested—that's our day, in a nutshell! We usually finish up all of our "school" stuff in just a couple of hours and then we enjoy the rest of our day. Unless one of us is being an a-hole, in which case we just grumble and grunt a lot. That happens, too, and a-hole duty seems to rotate.

Today it's me. :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homemade Edible Fingerpaints = WIN

Last week I was feeling kind of ick and bored, so I decided I wanted to clean out the cabinet under the sink. You know—the one with all the cleaning supplies and poisons and whatnot. I realized I'd need something to keep Bug busy and out of the RAID while I cleaned, so I decided to try this recipe for homemade edible fingerpaints that I'd had pinned for awhile.

The recipe is really easy and it doesn't take long, but if you want to use it as a distraction while you do other things, I recommend making it ahead of time. There is boiling water involved, so you have to let it cool a bit before you hand it over. Also, if you're going to mix in color (and why wouldn't you?) you have to have time to do that, too. So while it wasn't the perfect solution for my last-minute cleaning needs, it still did the trick by the time I got it done.

It's sort of pudding-y. Imagine the sensory bliss of slipping your fingers around in that.

That alone is worth the clean-up.
Anyway, he LOVED it. His whole little face lit up when I started plopping bright-colored globs of gooey paint on his booster tray and he wasted no time getting his hands (and face...and chest...and hair...and the floor...and the walls...) dirty. At first he sort of just poked his finger in, but as soon as he felt the smooth, warm paint, he smiled like I'd handed him...smooth, warm paint. Which I had. So it made total sense.
He's so pleased with himself. :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ten Years

Tomorrow is Husband's and my tenth anniversary. In that ten years we've had two perfect (for us) children, bought and lived in our first home, gotten our educations, dreamed big, watched loved ones come and go, and somehow managed to stick it out against what statistics would have you thinking.

It's been a hell of a decade. I can't wait to start and weather the next one with him on my side.

Um, this photo is more than two years old. But I love it. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Moving/House Building Update

We've been so wrapped up in all the new stuff we have going on that we haven't gone out and looked at potential building sites in months. BIL started a new job last spring, Husband has been in school and was (finally!) moved to first shift, and the kids and I have been homeschooling and re-adapting to Bug's random schedule changes every few weeks.

Kids are exhausting, y'all.

But that doesn't mean we're not still on course! Husband and I have been slowly but surely ticking things off our list to prepare the house for sale this spring, including finally putting up some closet doors in our bedroom. We had those nasty, cheap-ass, sliding track doors when we moved in. They were all messed up and ugly, so we just took them down and threw them away...and then never replaced them. Until now!

Before (pardon our mess)

And after! I even got off my lazy ass and painted them!

We still need to put trim up, but that's the easy part. And it's so nice to be able to close them off and not see all the storage and clutter when I'm trying to eat Cheez-Its and watch my stories. Plus, you know, buyers like doors. Doors = good for resale.

Of course, there've been a few setbacks, too...

*sigh* Oops...Bear may have opened the in-glass shades a bit too enthusiastically...

Anyway, we still have a pretty long list of projects to finish, but we're getting there. I'm hoping we can get out and start looking at land again very soon. We're still on track to list the house in April, so...crunch time!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pinterest in Real Life: Pineapple Cloud Cake

While I'm typically a fan of "from-scratch" baking*, I do try to keep a few boxes of various cake mixes and brownie mixes and things on hand for those times when I need something easy to make in a hurry. I know there are recipes out there for homemade mixes, but I haven't bothered with that yet. One of these days.

Anyway, I digress. Pineapple Cloud Cake is one of those recipes that calls for a boxed cake mix and I decided to give it a whirl. We have dinner with my inlaws one night a week and I like to test out new dessert recipes on them, so I thought this super quick, super easy, super tidy recipe would be a good choice. If you can even call it a recipe. It barely makes the cut, as it only requires two ingredients.

You couldn't even spring for Dole? Cheapass...

Just plop 'em in there and stir!

I usually don't buy canned fruit because the whole "acid/aluminum can/chemical" thing freaks me out, but then, I eat a lot of crap that is probably slowly giving me the diseases, so once in awhile is not going to hurt anything.

Anyway—it's pretty good! When you mix it up it's all fizzy and light, and it has a nice texture when it's done. I baked it for 33 minutes and it was perfect. We served it with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.


Plop some Cool Whip and a cherry on there and you've got dessert!

It's not a new favorite or anything, but I might try to keep stuff on hand in case I need to whip something together quickly.

*If you say you didn't roll your eyes when you read that, you're lying. I re-read it, rolled my eyes, put my pinkie up, and mocked myself. And then I left it as-is, because that shit is funny.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Simplifying Mornings

 "I have really bad breath in the morning."

Small Talking
I fully admit that I am 100% stealing this post topic from Andrea at one of my favorite blogs, Simple Organized Living. I started to leave a comment on her post, but then I realized it was going to be a blog-length comment and decided it was better to run over here and talk about it.

Now that Bug is a full-fledged toddler (complete with walking and stair-climbing capabilities) and Bear is schooling at home, it's imperative that our mornings be as simple and streamlined as possible. Here are a few things that keep our mornings running smoothly:

1.) Husband installed the baby gates

I know that sounds obvious, but we live in a tri-level and have two (short) flights of stairs. Most of mine and Bug's morning is spent on the main floor, in the kitchen and living room, so he has access to both sets. We started using the baby gates just in the nick of time. The one going to the top floor is just a pop-in, but the gate to the basement had to be hung. Having those gates up makes my morning far less hectic and terrifying.

2.) I clean up after dinner

Again—DUH. But I mean, I really try to make sure the main living areas are as tidy as possible before I go to bed so that when I get up, I'm not faced with an automatic to-do list. I can enjoy my coffee in a neat, relaxing space. It's really made a difference in my mood.

I also try to pre-pack Husband's lunches as I put dinner away. He usually takes leftovers for lunch, so I frequently put his portions into containers he can just grab and toss into his lunchbox in the morning before he heads out the door. He has to be out the door by 6:30, so I'm not up to help him get ready. And as much of a morning person as I am, I am NOT getting my ass up at 6:00 to pack lunches and give kisses. Hell to the NO. 

3.) I prep the coffee maker the night before

I don't have a fancy, programmable coffee maker like the one Andrea talks about in her blog post. I have a $10 Mr. Coffee from WalMart, which works perfectly and I'm very happy with, but which does not have its own alarm clock. So when I've finished the after-dinner clean-up, I fill the reservoir and put in my grounds so that all I have to do in the morning is hit the button. By the time I strap Bug into his highchair and feed him and let the dog out, my coffee is ready for me. I hate when I forget to do this because then I'm measuring grounds all blurry-eyed and I inevitably spill some and it's all a big clusterf***. No one likes a big clusterf***.

4.) I choose simple breakfasts

homemade cinnamon roll cake (recipe)
Once in awhile I do like to do the whole bacon-eggs-pancakes thing for my family, but most mornings Bear will have cereal (which she preps herself) and Bug and I have fruit or muffins or something equally simple. Sometimes I'll make a cinnamon roll cake and we'll have that for breakfast for a few days, with fruit on the side. It's not fancy and it's probably too much sugar, but Bug throws most of it on the floor, anyway, so it's not too big of a nutritional deal.

5.) We do our mornings at home

Unless we have plans to meet friends or a time-sensitive errand that MUST be run in the morning, I try to keep morning time at home. I don't sleep well if I know I have a ton of stuff to do in the morning, even if I've planned everything very well. And Bear and I are much more likely to butt heads and argue if we're rushing around. That's not to say we don't do things in the mornings sometimes, like meet up at the park or whatever, but for the most part I try to schedule things for after Bug's nap so that we can relax in the morning.

Those are some of the things that work for me (and us) to keep our mornings running smoothly. How do you keep from losing your shit before the coffee (or tea, or soda, or whatever) kicks in?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Process of Planning Our Homeschool Curriculum

"X-Y-L-O-C-A-R-P. Xylocarp."

When Husband and I first decided last spring that we were going to homeschool Bear, the sheer amount of information available was overwhelming. I searched. I bookmarked. I libraried. I read, and re-read, and decided, and un-decided, and re-decided. I investigated boxed curriculums and checked out reviews. I read about unschooling. I read about deschooling. I read about Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, online school...I read and researched until my brain hurt. And then, slowly, a picture of what our year might look like began to emerge. Here's how it's worked for us so far:

I researched state laws

Kentucky is pretty homeschool-friendly and the legal requirements are minimal. Basically we just have to let the school district know about our intentions to homeschool and to make sure we cover  what the state considers essential (reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, math, and civics).

I researched standards

I don't really care if Bear is learning all the same historical facts or doing the same science experiments as her peers, but because we work best with some structure, I knew I wanted her on the same page, at least. So I did some digging and built an overview of the general topics that are frequently covered in 4th grade. Once I knew what topics we should try to hit on, I made a list to reference when tailoring lessons for Bear.

I asked Bear what she wanted to learn about

She LOVES tornadoes (source)

This was a big one for me. If you've ever gone on a Wikipedia bender (you know, where you casually look up one quick fact and before you know it you've become the foremost expert on the history of Saturday Night Live and King George I?), then you know why. When you're interested and engaged in a topic, you want to keep going with it, uncovering new information and soaking it in. While it makes sense to garner a general knowledge of world history, science, literature, etc., it makes even more sense to latch on to whatever engages you and dig in deep.

For example, I remember learning quite a bit about ancient Mesopotamia in high school. I retain that it reminded me of mashed potatoes. And it was, like, over there somewhere. A long time ago. That's enough for me to "get" the reference during The Daily Show and move on with my life. But ask me about, oh, I don't know—women's artistic gymnastics. NOW we have a topic I can talk about in depth.

Most people are like that. Bear will be, too. She needs enough general knowledge to function in polite society, and to be able to dive in as deeply as she wants when something really interests her.

I put it all on a big, fat list

And then, once I had it all in one spot, I began choosing what we'd do this year. I made a second list of the stuff we definitely wanted to cover in some capacity and then color-coded the items according to what time of year we'd hit on them: fall, winter, spring, or year-round.

The nice thing about the second list is that I have some direction and a nice overview. The nice thing about the FIRST list is that we can pull from it if we need to (or want to) and add to our year. The plan is not incredibly detailed. The stuff that's being studied now or in the near future is more solid, with books checked out, journal prompts chosen, and some activities planned. And I have a few ideas for the stuff that comes later, but I don't focus too much on that.

I found activities and books I wanted to use 

...and either bookmarked, saved, printed, or put them on hold at the library. Not for the full year, obviously. Just for the first 4-6 weeks of stuff, for the most part.

I took a deep breath and gave myself permission to throw it all out the window at a moment's notice

Flexibility is key!
Because flexibility is one of the single most important elements of homeschooling for us, and I don't want to forget that. If we decide that Ancient Greece sounds so awesome and I plan three weeks of amazing Greek lessons only to find out four days in that we're bored to tears...we can walk away (another reason I'm not letting myself plan too far ahead and in too much detail).

So that's sort of how I began plotting out our homeschool plan. Honestly, we're in week five and it's already changed and evolved several times. I anticipate this trend will continue. I think a flexible plan has been my best friend in all this. Bear is doing well, and I've begun to learn on a deeper level how she learns and works best. That's been really cool for me.

Now if I could just figure out how to keep Bug from grabbing books out of our hands and trying to eat our pencils...

Friday, September 14, 2012

What I've Learned in My First Four Weeks as a Homeschool Mom

"But I wanted things to move faster. So I followed my instincts."

She learns best by doing
Four weeks into our homeschool adventure both Bear and I have already learned so much. Actually, I've probably learned more than she has, but don't tell her that. 'K?

In no particular order, here are a few of the things that have become evident to me so far (and this is by NO means a comprehensive list):

Bear does not respond well to rote work

Okay, so I knew this already from years of helping her with her homework, but it was really driven home when I tried to implement some of it. She just shuts down and we both end up frustrated and nothing is really learned. However...

Mini marshmallows go well with vocabulary and spelling

And Bear has NO problem hollering out definitions when there's a mini marshmallow on the line. I still have her write out her own flashcards and look up the definitions herself, but she finds that far less tedious when she knows she's going to get to munch on puffs of sugar for her efforts. Once in awhile, anyway. ;)

Learning does not have to take eight hours a day

We;re generally done in about an hour, total. This freaked me out a little at first, but then I reminded myself that I'm working with one kid, at her own pace, according to her attention span and learning style. And another reason not to worry is that I've seen firsthand how learning does not stop when the "schooling" does. We may pack up our notebooks and log off the computer, but...

Evidence of learning does not require a written exam

Again, I knew this (I think we all do), but seeing it firsthand is incredibly rewarding. For our first unit, we read The School Story. It's about two 6th grade girls who scheme to get a book published. It's really cute and it's a great way to learn a bit about the publishing industry on a kid's level. We took our vocab from the story, did a few journal entries based on what we were learning, and even did an art project to design a cover for the protagonist's book. That was all fine and good, but I really saw the lightbulbs going off for Bear when she began "playing" the book. She adopted a pseudonym (like in the book) and began writing her own novel. She'd also sit in her room and play out the story. She's always done this with books and movies she loves, and I believe that for her, that's where the real learning takes place. When she can take what she's heard or seen and process it into play, she's "getting" it. It was so, so awesome to see, and I'm so happy that I get to be the one watching that happen now.

It's okay to make up missed or abandoned lessons on Saturday...or not at all

Sometimes our days get away from us due to unforeseen plans, trips to the library or grocery store, or just life. But with just one child to work with, it's very easy to make it up on Saturday, or decide something (like a day of journaling) is okay to skip this time. It's not like learning isn't taking place when we're not sitting at the table, so I don't feel like Bear is getting behind if we have to put off fractions for a few days. Again, that's one of the rewards of homeschool—working at our own pace. And setting it.

Reading together is my favorite part of school

I think compiling our reading list was my favorite part of the planning process, and reading together is definitely my favorite part of our learning. We love a lot of the same types of books, and I'm really excited to tackle some classics together, especially those that I've never read myself. And Bear is a really great reader, so even if Bug is being a little clingy and my arms are occupied, we can still enjoy the story together.

I'm really, really glad I didn't drop hundreds of dollars on curriculum

So. Much. FREE STUFF. There are fantastic websites out there for just about anything you could want, and even entire lesson plans you can use or adapt. Sure, piecemealing a curriculum takes a lot more planning that purchasing one that's ready to go, but it also allows us to study whatever we're interested in in more depth. And then there's the public library, which takes me to the point that...

We might have the best library in the country

Kenton County is consistently ranked in the top libraries in Kentucky, but seriously—what a resource. In addition to the fantastic collection of books, they have curriculum packs (Bear grabbed a massive duffel bag brimming with fraction activities), a website that leads to a plethora of incredible other sites, and a staff that is not only capable, but ready and willing, to assist in any way possible. They have programs specifically for homeschool families (last week Bear made a geode from an eggshell and got to open her own real geode, too—for free), and plenty of programs for all ages.

Seriously. I am in love with our library. I feel so, so lucky to live where I do.

Kids really do learn more when they give a crap about the subject matter

I loved seeing the light go on in my little budding meteorologist's eyes when I told her we were going to be doing a weather unit. She eagerly watched the DK Eyewitness Weather DVD (which we got from the awesome library), not even losing interest during the drier parts. She eagerly looked up the difference between cirrus and nimbostratus clouds. And she's very excited to build our rain gauge and begin our weather journals this week.

It's okay to change the plan if it's not working

We started out with a math program I was really excited about it, but Bear was bored to tears and found it FAR too easy. So I pulled up Time 4 Learning, an online curriculum program. When I showed it to her, she got very excited and exclaimed that they'd used it sometime at school for fun computer time and that she loved it. SCORE. It's $20 a month, but you get everything (not just the math) for that price. So we have access to all the lessons across a variety of topics, which will be great when we have one of those inevitable weeks where I've been too busy or flustered to chart a decent plan or when we feel like we're not quite hitting a subject adequately. I don't want to use T4L as our primary curriculum (I like planning our school around Bear's interests rather than a set plan), but it's a terrific supplement and well worth the money since she enjoys it. 

I cannot imagine taking on the challenge of educating twenty-five children at once

I feel great about my ability and my decision to educate my child. My hat is still off to the teachers who report to our schools day in and day out, pulling out all the creative stops they can muster to educate dozens of children in a system that not only gives them little to work with, but that actually works against them. That's dedication. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just Today, Don't Be an Asshole

"I know it's wrong to skip class, but Janis said we were friends. And I was in no position to pass up friends."

It's National Don't-Be-A-Dick-To-Your-Fellow-Man/Woman Day. While you're out enjoying the stunning, reminiscent weather, let that lady with the minivan full of kids merge in front of you, even if she has a bumper sticker that makes it clear she's voting for the other guy. Pay for that college kid's coffee so he can get through class without falling asleep and afford lunch today, too. Shut off the tv after dinner and toss a frisbee with your dog and kids. And if you see a cop, firefighter, soldier, or any other serviceman or woman out today—give them a holler. Hell, buy their coffee, too.

Just don't be a dick. This one day, be okay with people being rude or lines being long because it's actually fine and your life is still beautiful.

That's all I got. After eleven years, I have no poignancy left. Have a breathtaking day. :)