Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Home for People Who do Stuff



As part of my upcoming Year of Simplicity and Poverty, I am thinking a lot about how that relates to my home and posessions. Everywhere I look on the internet, on Pinterest and on Facebook there are articles telling me how to declutter, complete with pictures of magazine homes with everything perfectly in order. I read these and spend the next week driving everyone in my family nuts. We are going to simplify. Minimalism! Thats what we need, or a new system. Something that will finally tame the chaos. If I can just get rid of enough stuff, everything will be OK.
Jerusalem Workshop Nell Howard

The problem is that this never, ever works, and after a decade of parenthood, I'm starting to think it just never will. A lot of those houses you see in magazines aren't made for people who do things. They are made for people who visit their houses on evenings and weekends, not people who live and work there full time. There are nine people living in this house and all of us are doers. We cook, we build, we create, we draw, we write, we read, we play music, we explore, we pray, we serve, we tinker, we learn; in short, we really live in this house. This is not just a house, it's a workshop, a gathering place, a school and a studio.

Ultimately, that is a good thing. It's what I've always wanted my home to be, a place where love and creativity reign. I want to raise saints and scholars and craftsmen, people who put their heart and soul into their life and work. People who see their life and their vocation as one and the same, and who use the gifts they have been given for the benefit of the world, as a sweet smelling offering to the God who gave them those gifts.


Atelier d'un luthier Anthony V

Climb a mountain. Look into the bottom of a pond, or a forest. there is order there, but it isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, tame. It's alive. I want my home to be a reflection of that. I want my home to be a place that is teeming with beauty, truth and goodness. In a lot of ways, it already is. I need to look at it like a gardener looks at their garden. Where do I need to prune to make space for the things that nourish us? What do I need to let grow? How can I make a fertile soil? What needs to be watered? What needs to be brought out into the sun, and how can I create shelter from the cold? How can all of these things, growing independently and doing what they were made to do, work together to create a place of beauty?


.Office de tourisme
Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to recieve from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. 
Pears and grapes still life cbransto
It seems to me that those words apply to so much more than food. How can I look on all of the gifts I have been given, physical, spiritual and personal, and use them for the purposes for which they were intended, or give them away with an attitude of gratitude and abundance? That, is the question. That is definitely going to involve some decluttering. It is definitely going to involve some bins, and some traditional organization. It's also going to invovle some letting go of expectations created from years of reading Better Homes and Gardens and embracing some of the mess of real life. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I am once again joining in the Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real link party from Like Mother, Like Daughter.


{Pretty}


A few of us have been dreadfully sick this week, myself included, and my sweet, adorable husband has taken such amazing care of us. The man made me fresh squeezed orange juice, brought me hot tea and hot water bottles and, for last night's dinner, some chicken pho. I haven't been especially hungry, but this was just exactly what I needed, hot, brothy, a little spicy (with the addition of some hot sauce) and chock full of good things. He is all kinds of wonderful.

{Happy}




On Valentine's Day, before we all got hit with the bug, an elderly neighbour lady invited the big girls to a tea party at her house. They decorated Valentine cookies and ate strawberry sundaes. Mrs. Anderson is amazing. She has a level of refinement and class that you don't see a lot of anymore, and she has passed it on to her daughters and granddaughters. She has hosted the occasional tea party before and it's always a white-napkins-and-silver-tea-service affair with amazing homemade cakes, cookies and sandwiches, grapes in a silver grape server with silver grape scissors and the good china. She's an excellent example of what I love about my neighborhood. I love living in the kind of place where these kinds of intergenerational friendships flourish. I was lucky enough to have that as a kid, and it has been a gift of immesurable value. She also makes a mean sugar cookie. Normally cookies are nothing but a vehicle for frosting to me, but these were something to write home about. Very buttery and flavourful. I will have to get her recipe.

While the girls were at their party and the babies were napping, I had some one-on-one time with James making banana pudding for our Valentine's Day dessert. I love these times. He can be kind of a monkey, like any three year old boy, but when it's just the two of us I get to see his sweet side and hear what's going on in his perpetual-motion-machine of a brain, most of which involves dinosaurs and Captain America.


{Funny}


Speaking of dinosaurs... "It's just like the Jurassic Period, but with rainbow spaghetti instead of sand." - James Griffith. I think this was one of his favourite activities ever. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of walking away from it to check the laundry. Then, in a misguided attempt to help me clean it up, one of the big girls broke out the vacuum cleaner. This is the sort of thing you don't think about before you have kids. You don't imagine yourself one day, far in the future, picking rainbow spaghetti out of a vacuum cleaner. Luckily these kinds of things, while not amusing in the moment, can be pretty funny in the retelling.

{Real}

 
This is not all the same picture. It is not even the bulk of the series. Preschoolers and toddlers have apparently been embarking on a photo project, Pictures of the Top of my Head, while their mother was distracted. It has a Warhol-esque feel to it, don't you think? 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Time Management System- Part Two, the Homeschool Chart

I have tried about a million systems of organizing my homeschool lessons and until I came up with this, nothing actually stuck. I am not really a big fan of rigid schedules. I have babies and toddlers and I have never been functional at 2:00PM of any afternoon in my 34 years of life. My life has a lot of variables to work around. Still, I don't want school to fall through the cracks, so something had to be done to keep us more or less on track. This little baby has been helping a lot.

 Each school kid has their own column of pockets, divided up by subject; Badge Work, Math, Grammar and Spelling (both of which include writing assignments) with a pocket at the bottom for completed work. James just has one pocket for preschool activites. The pockets are made out of envelopes I cut in half and stapled to the board. At the beginning of the week I put all of the week's assignments in their envelopes and they work on them during school time. If they want to keep working, and sometimes they do, and get it all done in a few days, good for them. They are done with school for the week. On the right side of the chart I have extra curricular activites, group activites, field trips and fun outings so they can see at a glance what our week looks like. It's not shown in this picture, but I have a simple dry erase calendar above this chart that shows us our month at a glance. It's simple, it's easy and it helps them work independently.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Time Management -Part One, the Chore Chart

I've been playing around lately with different ideas for time management. It took me until I was very nearly 30 years old to be any good at managing my own time, much less the time of five children ages 9 months to 9 years. I'll be honest. In the past I have been pretty hit-or-miss with charts. I'm not always good at remembering to update them, but I decided to give it a try, now that I have some children old enough to keep me honest. So, as I always do when I need ideas, I combed Pinterest and Google until I found a few systems I could meld together to make something workable for us. This is our Communication Station, with the chore/reward chart below and note boards above.

I found these chore cards on the Confessions of a Homeschooler blog. Her chore system, by the way, is pretty awesome, but I wanted to work in some stuff that we had been doing for a long time (dividing the house into zones and a few other things) and I didn't think I was going to find a pocket chart that would meet my needs. Instead I decided to use these book rings, dividing tasks (chores, school work, self care and prayer time) into Morning Activities and Afternoon/Evening Activities. Each kid is assigned a colour. These are James' chore cards. I like to start toddlers and early preschoolers out with self-care chores, moving, as they get older, into care-of-my-own-stuff chores, then care-of-family-stuff chores and finally, care-of-others chores. James has to get dressed, brush his teeth, make his bed and read a book with mom in the morning. In the afternoon he does a school activity and helps to set and clear the table. The girls' schedule is more variable, but it always begins with self-care, bed making, Zone chores (they trade kitchen/dining room and living room/family room weekly), followed by school work of some sort. They wear the book ring on a string around their neck to prevent them from getting lost.

Daily, drama-free completion of tasks on the list earn them a ticket. Tickets can be cashed in at our once a week Movie Night. Admittance is 3 tickets, snacks are 1 ticket and drinks other than water are another. Movie Night is a much anticipated event.

Best Bee-havior awards (it is killing me to write that without a u, I just want you to know that), are awarded by a parent (or grandparent) when we feel they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. These are redeemable for bigger rewards, like money or a treat.

These are the bad-boys of the chore chart. My go-to disciplinary action is usually chores, but I am awful at coming up with chores for them to do on the spot that will actually be of use to me. Enter the IOU. This baby goes on the ring of older children who are in need of a disciplinary action. They entitle me to one chore of my choosing, performed when I actually need it done. This, I will tell you, is how I keep up with my laundry.

Overall, the system works pretty well. The kids like using it, so it actually gets used, and I am comfortable with this reward system as not being overly bribe-y, if that is a word, which it probably isn't.
 

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I have decided, after enjoying Leila's Pretty, Happy, Funny and Real Link-up party on Like Mother, Like Daughter for a while, that it's time to start participating.


Pretty

 
 
Zach took me to a Knight's of Columbus Valentine's Day dinner on Tuesday and they let the ladies take the flowers from the table. James likes to bring them to me. "I picked you a flower mommy. You should wear it in your hair because you are so beautiful!" He's a charmer, that one. Except when he's not. He is three afterall.
 
Happy

Speaking of the Jamie-Monster, this is my Valentine's Day present from him. It's a house for my dinosaurs. Isn't that thoughtful? Since I don't actually have dinosaurs, he lent me some of his. Even a few of the dead ones. Heart of gold, I tell you.

Funny



I let Captain Mayhem and Admiral Chaos play with some shaving foam and glow sticks in the bath. I was not entirely prepared for what followed. Why I didn't see this coming? I have no idea. Still, if this kind of madness is going to happen, the bathtub is the best place for it. 10 minutes later, the boys and the tub were clean and all was right with the world.

Real


Lent is upon us and I made it through Ash Wednesday. We read the gospel reading in the morning, the one about not looking dismal while you fast. I tried to do that and failed. In the Win column, we made this crown of thorns after learning about the idea from my friend Molly. Everytime one of us makes a sacrifice, we remove a thorn from the crown. I was mightily pleased at the number of thorns the kids removed. It made for a nice day. I'd ask someone to do something and, when you could see they were tempted to say, "not me!" one of them would step up to the plate and do the task without griping, quietly pulling a thorn from the crown. This is what I love about Lent. As hard as the sacrifices can be, when we really step up our game and make a run at virtue, the fruits abound.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Homeschool Badges -First Aid



Our Second Badge is nearly completed! The girls wanted to learn First Aid. The requirements for this badge were to learn what to do, at a kid appropriate level, for:


-Burns
-Bleeding
-Seizures
-Broken bones
-Asthma attacks
-Choking in infants
-Choking in children
-Choking in adults

CPR will be it's own separate badge. We found a site from the UK Red Cross that had a good set of videos and games that taught first, how to prevent accidents, and second, how to treat them when they happen. We did have to make sure they understood that in the U.S. they have to call 911 instead of 999, but they got that point pretty quickly and now, should they ever randomly be in the UK and have to call for Emergency Services, they will know the number. :)

To earn this badge they had to watch the videos and, on a separate occasion, to make sure the information had sunk in, pass a test in which a sibling pretended to need assistance with each of the injuries or incidents and they had to accurately assess what was happening to the patient and treat them. Then they had to make a video of their own using iMovie to explain how to care for a victim of one of these conditions, in their case, they filmed their treatment of a minor burn Cheyenne got in the kitchen. Finally, and this is the part we haven't finished, they have to research what kinds of materials go into a first aid kit and what each item is used for. When they have completed that, they will be done, and we will be on to the Detective Science badge. I am really looking forward to that one.


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Lenten Lunchbox


I know, I know. Lunch isn't really the first thing you think of when contemplating the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but meal planning around restrictions can be a tough thing to do. With that in mind, at the request of a friend, I have compiled a list of some meatless, kid friendly lunchbox meal ideas that might help you get through this beautiful season of sacrifice and preparation. I have tried to include some nut-free and gluten-free options, too, for those of you with further restrictions.


Sandwiches and sandwich-like:
-Peanut butter (or sunflower butter or almond butter, you know, the usual suspects) banana roll-ups. Spread peanut butter on a tortilla and roll a banana up inside.
-Banana dogs. Put a banana in a hot dog bun. Add pbj as "condiments."
-Bagel and cream cheese. Put the cream cheese on the side to avoid sogginess.
-Sandwich Skewers. Cheese, bread pieces and veggies on a skewer. Serve with dip. For a mini version use toothpicks for skewers.
-Tuna salad (can be fun in a pita or a lettuce wrap)
-Egg salad (ditto)
- Cheddar apple sandwiches on baguette
-Veggie wraps with a cream cheese spread (roasted garlic and cheddar, garden veggie or herb cream cheese spread and your choice of veggies)
-Falafel and pita
-Cold veggie pizza (roll out crescent dough in a sheet, bake and cool. Spread with ranch dressing and top with cold, chopped veggies and shredded cheddar or colby cheese)
-Pita with hummus or baba ganoush

Hot Meals in a thermal food storage container

-Vegetarian chili with chips and cheddar on the side. Good with a cornbread muffin too.
-Macaroni and cheese
-Potato soup
-Tortellini vegetable soup
-Italian tomato bread soup
-Tomato soup with popcorn on the side
-Minestrone
-Lentil soup
-Pasta with alfredo sauce
-Pasta tossed with sauteed tomatoes, italian herbs and black olives (this is good cold as well)
-Egg drop soup
-Veggie pho (Vietnamese noodle soup)

Cold Noodle/rice/dumpling options
-Noodles with peanut sauce and veggies
-Cheese tortellini
-Cheese ravioli
-Pierogis
-Veggie fried rice
-Potstickers
-Veggie or shrimp summer rolls (OK, I know these seem a little putsy, but they really aren't that hard to make) with peanut sauce.
-Rice molds with soy sauce
-California rolls
-Soba noodle salad with veggies
-Italian pasta salad with Italian dressing, chunks of mozarella, grape tomatoes and black olives
-Tuna pasta salad with mayonaise, chunks of cheddar cheese and peas



Snack options: (Combine several and you have yourself a meal)

-Fruit and cheese skewers (pictured above)
-Hard boiled eggs
-Celery with peanut butter and raisins or cream cheese and black olives
-Whole grain crackers
-String cheese
-Yogurt (Greek yogurt has more protein)
-Build it yourself yogurt parfaits with yougurt, fruit and granola in separate containers
-Fruit and walnut salad with yogurt for dipping (think McDonald's, but homemade)
-Cheeses of the World (we did this once for about a month, trying different cheeses from different countries. It keeps the cheese + bread combo fresh.) So many options! Brie, Gouda, Manchego, Paneer, Queso Fresco.... the list goes on)
-Breads of the world. Rye krisp, naan, pita, pumpernickel, caraway rye, tortillas, baguette...
-Veggies and dip
-Soft pretzels (traditional for Lent)
-Muffins (blueberry, peanut butter and jelly, corn muffins, ginger peach, banana walnut, etc.)
-Apple slices with peanut butter
-Dried fruits
-Trail mix

Obviously, not all of these ideas will work for all kids, but it's a starting place. I hope it helps!