Monday, June 29, 2009


My other blog is still there. Staring at me. Daring me to get over my Growing Up MK writer's block. I've had a thousand thoughts rolling around in my scattered brain but just haven't gotten the words right. But then it dawned on me that the best way to get over this is to just get the words down whether they're right or not. It also occurred to me that I needn't write this thing in order; that was a hang-up too, trying to be all chronological about the facts of my former life.

Which brings us to Chapter 36, a number I pulled randomly from the air. Yes, I've updated Growing Up MK. And what brought Chapter 36's subject to mind were the events of this past weekend. Every year there are any number of ICA reunions in any corner of the world (ICA = Ivory Coast Academy, my boarding school in Africa). Mark and I have hosted a couple of them at least.

This weekend was my brother-in-law's turn to host. And I called it the Old Folks' reunion only because he graduated 7 years before me, so the people who attended this reunion were the "big kids" to me when I was in school. I have to admit, I had a few fleeting moments of timidity before meeting everyone again. I mean, I was little Kathleen Macomber with the bowl cut back then.

I didn't need to worry, though. We had a great time. It was fun making new friends at a point in my life when 7 years doesn't mean quite so much difference. We had dinner at my brother-in-law's Friday night and then had the gang over here Saturday night. Yesterday we all enjoyed lunch at a Lebanese restaurant which features a schwarma that tastes just like the ones we used to get in Bouake.

Interestingly, Murphy's Law struck because a realtor wanted to bring someone by during the time when our house was full on Saturday. The conversation went something like this:

Realtor: I have a couple who would like to see your house between 3 and 5 tomorrow.

Us: Well, we're going to have about 40 people here then. But if your clients are comfortable with it, we are totally comfortable with them coming in, looking around, and even partaking in some barbecue.

Apparently, they weren't comfortable with it. Bummer, but oh well. Who passes on free barbecue anyway?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Head Count

Do you remember that feeling on 9/11, that urge to gather all of your loved ones under your wing and kind of do a head count? It's almost the end of the week, and that's what I'm feeling. TravelDaddy just landed and will be home as soon as traffic allows, and I'm ready to go pick up my two campers tomorrow and bring them home to join the family.

Not that we haven't had a good week this week. I've really enjoyed my time with my littlest ones, and I think Jacob especially has particularly enjoyed his position as Man of the House. Today we did Chick-fil-A and then hit the mall for the much anticipated mini-golf game under the ultraviolet lights. Jacob and Audrey carefully and excitedly selected today's wardrobe last night, ensuring that much of their outfits were white so they would glow in the golf room. They weren't disappointed. They glowed like little golfing aliens, and I even treated them to glow necklaces to complete their ensembles.

I'm mourning the death of my little camera that fit so well in my purse. I had to have a picture of my glowing children, though, so my phone had to do. I can tell, even in this blurry, dark photo, that I would have loved to better see the expression on Audrey's face. Check out her pose:

They had a fabulous time golfing and completed all 36 holes. Audrey used her club as a metal broom and swept each ball into the hole with record above-par sweeps. And Jacob fared quite well, even winning a hole-in-one on one of the glowing greens. Throughout the course, Audrey insisted on confirming with me that we would, at some point, return to this golf course, so apparently she really enjoyed it.

I know Michael and Alex will experience just a tinge of jealousy when they hear about our golfing adventure, but then again, they will have many tales of their own with which to regale us. It will be good to have them home, and I'll take them, clean underwear or not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Braggin' Rights (and You Capture - Summer)


It must be tough on a little guy to have your best bud gone for a week. 'Course he'd never admit that he misses his brother, but I have my suspicions. When we got home Monday after my trip to camp and Jacob and Audrey's visit with their uncle, Jacob sat on the couch and did...nothing. Just sat there. He appeared to be a little lost without his sidekick.

Although he didn't seem upset that the older two got to go to camp while he remained behind, I'm sure Alex's incessant talking for the last two weeks about last year's camp escapades has made him feel a bit left out. So I felt it my duty this week to give him some experiences that would afford him some bragging rights when his siblings return.

Not that we've headed to Disney World or anything, but we have had a fun day today. We began at a park with his friend Jack. The heat was pretty oppressive, however, so we soon headed to Jack's house for the second part of our day: pizza, pool, and poultry. Not poultry for eatin', but new baby chicks that were awfully fun to look at and hold (if you could catch one AND get by the quick beak of a protective mama chicken!). Some other friends joined us at Jack's house, and the kids had a grand time in the pool.

On the way home, I felt it necessary on such a hot day to pick up some popsicles. I heard no disagreement from my charges, and they got to enjoy them when we got home--even though they spoiled their dinner. Tomorrow we head to the mall to enjoy some glow-in-the-dark mini-golf. All of the kids have been begging to do this, so I know there will definitely be some bragging going on when everyone returns home.

Curriculum Round-Up

DeeDee over at Fiddledeedee rolled out her 2009-10 curriculum as well as some great organizational tips. I thought I would participate in her Curriculum Round-up even though I already did some curriculum rambling a few weeks back. That was mainly a look back over the year, though; now, with the year ended, it's time to look forward.

You can find our curriculum choices for 2009-10 here. I thought I would address the topic of organization, though, since DeeDee did. I have a similar plan to hers in that I want to encourage independence. Homeschool translation: make less work for me. I'm not as fancy as DeeDee with her pink crates and cool drawer system, however. I just have one box, a file box. Each kid has his/her own folder in said box. Each folder contains assignments for the day as well as an assignment sheet which can be checked upon completion of said assignments.

I divvy my schedule up into "sessions" and "stations". In the mornings, we have rotating stations. I meet independently with one child while the others are in Reading Corner, working on the computer (Spanish, reading, typing), or doing another assigned educational activity. Then we switch. I began this system the latter half of this past school year, and it's worked out well.

We will start a little mini-summer session of school during the month of July because, like DeeDee says, a lot of that information leaks right out of their little heads if you don't keep up the review. Our mini-session will last for 3 weeks, we'll have one week off, and then we'll recommence for real the first Monday in August.

The year-round schooling works for me too, though I'm not as organized as DeeDee with my calendar. I wish I could plan 9 weeks on, 2 weeks off, but we find that Life too often happens and gets in the way, so with attendance, we usually just play it by ear. One of the great things about homeschooling, though, is the flexibility it affords to take off for a family vacation when the mood strikes. And when it's off-season, so you have the place to yourself. Or to just take a mental health day off. For me, of course. Yes, the flexibility is a beautiful thing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Everything Homeschool

Every year at this time, I have friends--sometimes even mere acquaintances--ask me questions about homeschooling. Not that I'm some expert or anything; I guess people just know I love to talk, especially on topics about which I am passionate. Over the years, I have gone from trying to compile lists of resources for each individual "asker" to finally coming up with a Word file of resources I've entitled "Homeschooling Info."

It crossed my mind, though, that instead of emailing this almost static document to anyone who asks, I could just create a website that would include any and all topics Homeschool that I could think of. So...drumroll please...I present to you the Homeschool Bulletin Board. I hope it will be a helpful resource for rookie and seasoned homeschoolers alike; I know homeschooling can be as daunting a task for both groups and all those in between.

I invite you to take a look and pass on the link. Knowing that it is a new site, there is still much information to be posted, and I know it will be a work in progress because the World of Homeschool is WIDE out there, my friends.

Monday, June 22, 2009


It's a quiet night here tonight, a little lonely actually. My family is scattered in three different directions: 1 traveling husband, 2 kids at camp, and the other two here with me. We started out all together this morning and went our separate ways at noon. I volunteered to be a camp driver today and got assigned 5 boys, including Michael. I thought the boys would provide me with a wild ride and possibly a headache, but they were all quite mellow. It was fun to get to go to camp because all year I've heard about camp from Alex, and gaining the visual perspective to all of the tales adds a bit more depth. Here are some sites from Camp Woodlands:
The lake with 2 100ft. slides (not pictured), 2 diving boards, a swing, a bridge, and the famous Blob (the red, white, and blue thing). Beautiful mountain backdrop too!

I tried to get a sweet sibling picture, but neither of them were feeling the love enough to come close to each other. We told both of them to watch out for each other at camp; we'll see if they even acknowledge knowing each other!

The boys and girls were so funny...the boys were piling their suitcases in the room and running out to play; the girls, on the other hand, were making their beds, placing their toiletries in the bathroom, and lining their stuffed animals up neatly on their beds.

Being able to see the camp also made it a little easier to leave, knowing I can better visualize what Alex and Michael are doing this week. And it was less difficult to leave Alex this year because she's completely familiar with the camp and therefore completely at ease. Plus she's Alex, responsible Alex. I was a bit hesitant leaving Michael, however. He is the youngest from our church group, although I'm sure he'll make friends with boys from other church groups. He just seemed so small and young. I hated to leave him, although he did not share in my apprehension at all; he was all smiles and energy.

Meanwhile, back at home, or thereabouts, the other two spent the afternoon with their uncle after their daddy flew out. They are a quiet pair--not usually quiet, but with the dynamics of the family interrupted, it's a different story. After a very quiet dinner, they enjoyed making their own ice cream sundaes, which turned out to be more chocolate sauce and sprinkles than ice cream. And then a quiet request for me to move the living room couches together to form a bed. The request was granted, and now the two are quietly chatting out the in the living room. Yep, there are perks to sending your siblings off to camp.

I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about having just the two of them all week. They are so accustomed to having the other two to play with. And I am so accustomed to them having the other two to play with, I thought that it would be more difficult just having two. And it might be, we'll see. But I think it's good for them to be on their own this week, and it's great for me to get to spend time with just them without sibling shadows. They are awfully cute out there telling stories to each other!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

There is a Better Weigh

I know you have all been on the edge of your office work chair wondering if I've stuck with the milling and bread-making thing. I have to report that, since receiving my mill and big, giant mixer back at the end of January, I have faithfully made bread every week or so in order to keep this family well-stocked in sandwiches and toast. In fact, several weeks ago, a friend of mine and her family as well as my brother-in-law were here for dinner. I made my bread once my friend got here in the hopes of luring her into the world of milling and bread-making (it worked, by the way).

As I separated my dough into 6 loaves, both my friend and brother-in-law asked me why I don't use a scale to ensure each loaf's equality. I laughed in a slightly mocking manner. I mean, we all know I'm a little bit anal retentive about just a few things, but my slightly uneven bread loaves have never bothered me. Of course, since that day, it has bothered me just a little each time I've made bread. But not enough to force the purchase of a food scale.

That is, until the other day. Friday I tried my hand at French bread, and I discovered that I really stink at eyeballing things. I ended up with one, beautiful, just right loaf; one medium OK loaf; and one puny, little pitiful loaf (hey, where's Goldilocks?). The good thing is, despite how they looked, the loaves were delicious. I'm adding a scale to my Wish List, though, before I attempt French bread again. If anyone has any recommendations...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Clean Underwear

Camp is next week, and I'll be losing two of my babies, one of them for the first time. As the resident Camp Expert, Alex has captured Michael's attention and helped build his anticipation with tales of ziplines, water slides, camp pranks, any-time-of-day snacks, and late nights.

The other day at lunch, she recounted a tale the camp speaker told last year about his first experience at camp when he was in third grade. Apparently, like any other well-intentioned mother, this man's mother sent him to his first camp with enough clean underwear for each day he was gone (maybe, if she is like me, even a couple of extra pair). He told of his return home and of his mother's dismay when she discovered he had brought home all of his underwear...clean (and, no, like any normal third grader--or person, for that matter--he did not spend his camp days doing laundry).

The boys found this story hysterical, if only for the mere fact that it contained the word "underwear" therein. And I could see past Michael's sparkly eyes right into his thoughts which were processing a few thousand a moment. "Michael," I said, "you very well may not shower while you're at camp," (I can only assume that the majority of the smelly campers who returned to our church last year did not shower) "but please, please at least change your underwear every day."

He just grinned at me. And since that lunchtime tale, I've heard much whispered discussion about the Underwear Story. I'm crossing my laundry detergent-stained fingers that the boy will commit some crime of hygiene against his normal predilection and actually change his britches a couple of times.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anti-climactic but DONE all the same...Day 180

Last day of school today. And it began early, too early for me anyway. I've not been feeling well the last few days, and thus the kids have grown quite accustomed to Mom allowing the morning hours to saunter by while she lies in bed in a Nyquil-induced stupor. In fact, yesterday around 8:15, Alex gently woke me up, gestured toward the glass beside my bed, asked if I needed any ice, and then informed me that she would put breakfast on the table and ensure everyone began their schoolwork. One might wonder who the parental unit is around here.

I decided that, sick or not, since today is Day 180 around here, we should celebrate somehow. I opted for a breakfast celebration; the kids love coffeecake. Unfortunately, the preparation of said coffeecake means I have to get up at the crack of Leave-Me-Alone-And-Let-Me-Go-Back-To-Sleep. Which was especially tough after a rough night. In order to avoid the drug-induced stupor, I opted out of the Nyquil last night and instead pumped my body full of pseudoephedrine and dextromethorphan. Which, without the aid of antihistamine, has quite the opposite effect on me as Nyquil.

After a little TV and lots of tossing and turning, I had just done my last countdown after glancing at the clock: OK, if I can just fall asleep now, I can still get 4 hours of sleep and was beginning to drift off when the storm started. And this was a bad one, one that chased one kid into my bed. One isn't bad; I expected at least two. There was a good hour where it seemed like daylight outside because the frequency of lightening was so great.

Then of course since there was a kid in my bed, once I did fall asleep, my internal alarm clock woke me up a good half hour before the crack of Leave-Me-Alone-And-Let-Me-Go-Back-To-Sleep so the real alarm would not wake him up. Because, intrinsically, I'm a considerate mom like that.

And after the celebratory coffeecake, it was business as usual: reading, math, phonics, handwriting. After which I announced to each of them that school is over and that they are now in the 4th grade, 3rd grade, 2nd grade, and, well, 4-year-old grade. I also informed them that they would have now until July 1 with no school at all. And that Summer School would commence on July 1. Because I don't want to spend our first month of the new school year reviewing. Therefore, I am going to plan a little mini-summer unit to review math facts, the presidents, states and capitals, and reading. In addition, we're going to complete a unit study on nutrition which I obtained from Bread Beckers.

So, with little fanfare, it is out with the 2008-2009 school year and in with the
2009 1/2 session before we officially welcome the 2009-2010 school year.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Big Brother is Watching

I know, I know...some would say I'm selling out. But...I decided to see what all of this commotion is about Google Adsense. So I "monetized" my blog. Not that I have that many readers. And not that any of my readers are the type to click on ads, but...well, why not?

And it's actually turned out to be quite an interesting, albeit scary, experiment. It took literally seconds to monetize my blog, and the ads appeared instantaneously. I wondered why they were all ads that pertained to cleaning. I mean, I consider my blog to be mostly about homeschooling and family life. But then I remembered that my last two posts have been about getting the house clean and ready to show. Big Brother is watching, folks!

I have noticed Big Brother's presence on Facebook as well. Mostly my sidebar ads on FB are about homeschooling. Ever since I mentioned feeling very old after a game of volleyball, lo and behold, I began to get ads about volleyball.

It will be interesting to see what ads show up after this post about ads. And if you see any ads of interest, feel free to click!

Another Follow-Up

My fun blog friend Crossview commented on Posted Memo with a little bit of incredulity: "Wow! You go through this every time you have a prospective buyer? That has got to get old!"

Truth is, when you only have 4 showings of your house in a year, these showings make a great excuse for much needed thorough house cleanings anyway. I do clean my house more often than 4 times a year, but perhaps not with as much fervor as with an impending showing. And there is much, much more I do besides cleaning.

For example, when we initially put up that For Sale sign over a year ago, we did a major packing up of clutter...things that we wanted to keep but didn't really need lying around. Like all of our CDs. Thankfully, we have adapted well to iPod life, so there is still music in this home, although at Christmas I had to go digging through boxes and boxes of CDs to find where I had tossed all of the Christmas tunes.

Then there is the scale. I packed it up. Don't know where. I've looked. Can't find it. We bought a new one.

Then there are the items we do use on a daily basis but that I don't want out because these items throw off the whole look for the prospective home buyers. For example, the ugliest toaster oven in the world resides on our kitchen counter right next to a stainless steel utensil holder with cracks all through it. I toss both items in the back of my car before a showing. Along with lots of other things: the organizer thingy that holds junk mail, the basket that catches all of the toys that make their way downstairs during the day, the basket that holds the cat toys, the dish drainer thing, and--when I remember it--the cat box.

Then there are all of the items I stuff in cupboards like the toothbrush holders and soap dispensers.

And the things I stuff under the bed like all of the computers lying around.

See...Crossview actually had no idea exactly how an anal retentive person like me prepares for a house showing. I guess I should be thankful it has only happened 4 times this year.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In Following Up...

On "Posted Memo":
Turns out it wasn't the forgotten cat box that scared away our prospective buyers. In fact, it is likely that, as little time as they spent here, they did not even make it to the laundry room where the cat box is or up to the boys' room, which sports our new Indoor Water Slide. Nope. These people live in Mid-Town and are looking for a vacation home. Very hoity-toity of them, isn't it? Apparently not hoity-toity enough, though; our home is too big for "just a vacation home".

On "If [they] only had a brain...":
I'll never forget how exciting it was in our first home the day we had our living room furniture delivered. It was brand new and delivered right to our home, not a hand-me-down set from my brother-in-law or a thrift store find. Brand new. And delivered right to our home. It was a very light cream color with a shade darker cream color geometric patterns woven through the fabric. It was comfy and served us well. It even stayed its same light cream color.

Until we had children at which point it became a burp cloth for spit-up, a napkin for messy fingers, a Kleenex for snotty noses, and a Welcome Mat for dirty little feet.

When we sold our house (in 6 weeks, I might add!), we added to our To-Do List "Call Thrift-Store-That-Makes-House-Calls to come pick up dirty, ugly living room set". We didn't know how else to get rid of it and maybe our junk would be someone else's treasure, right? Apparently so because the lovely engaged couple (whose father bought the house for his son and "starter wife"--another story) who bought our house asked if they could buy the living room set. We gladly threw it in FOR FREE as part of the deal.

One thing I hated about that living room set once we had children--mobile children--is that all of the cushions came off. And they were always off because despite all of the money we spent on toys, the cushions were always much more entertaining. Since I spent most of the last 3 years of life in our house pregnant, bending down to pick up cushions became a great source of contention for me. I vowed my next couch would have cushions that even Superman could not separate from the couch.

But, alas, we could not find a couch with attached cushions that didn't also have a floral pattern. I don't do floral patterns. No offense. Floral patterns are pretty in other people's houses, they really are. Just not in mine; chalk it up to my missing "girly" gene. So we justified the purchase of a couch whose cushions can be flung in all directions with a single fling with the assumption that now that our children are older, they will not find such joy in playing with the cushions.

We couldn't have been more wrong. (Yes, I know you could have told me that.) Anyway, my post about my boys losing their brains did not elicit all of the sympathy I had hoped, all of the sympathy I, in fact, needed in order to continue wallowing in my pool of Woe Is Me. No, instead everyone applauded by boys for their ingenuity. And, in fact, some of you laughed with at me. Not that I'm going to mention any names, mind you. (ahem, Arby)

But I get it. I'm an overreactor. I really am. I know it, and I try to be less overreactive, but it's hard for a control freak to overcome. Yesterday, however, when the boys--despite the fact that we've told them a million, kazillion times not to play with the cushions--began a game with the cushions, I let them carry on. At Sunday School, they often watch a video which features a kids' TV game show called "Gunk." In it, kids dive into goo for correct answers to questions. So the boys created their own version of "Gunk". They made up questions along with answer cards and buried the answer cards under a mountain of cushions. When asked a question, the contestant "dove" under all the cushions to retrieve the answer. The one question I overheard was: How many men were crucified along with Jesus? 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4?

A creative game and totally not worth overreacting.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Posted Memo

Dear Prospective Homebuyer,

My guess is that you do not have children. If you did, then you would better appreciate all of the hours it took to get this place clean just for your visit today! And if you had a better appreciation of that fact, perhaps you could have extended a little courtesy to us by staying a few minutes longer than the 8 you spent speeding through our home. A few more minutes would have at least given us the impression that you were lingering over a couple of rooms with comments like, "Can't you just imagine our furniture in here?" or "Wow! Our Tuscan painting would look fantastic on that wall."

You see, hope is a positive thing. And even false hope can sure lift the spirits of two people who would very much like to be done selling the house. Hope--even false hope--is a better feeling than a Well, there are two days of our lives we can't get back feeling.

So what exactly made you dash through our house at breakneck speed? Were you turned off by the homemade cookies I left for you? I notice you didn't take any? It could very well have been the cat's litterbox. I fastidiously removed all traces of the feline--including the cat herself--but, alas, those last minute things I'm supposed to grab on the way out the door...Did you not enjoy The Incredibles enough to just try out the comfy theater seating? Or perhaps, as with everyone else, it was the absence of a basement. In which case you shouldn't have bothered us in the first place because our listing notes "No basement".

Whatever it was, we can still expect a miracle because we know God could make this house appealing to you even if the roof was missing, a fact you very well could have missed in your haste (if that was the case, of course; there IS a roof over the house!). And on the plus side, now the house is clean, which is good because we're expecting 50+ guests here in a couple of weeks. See? There's another thing you're missing out on: our house is great for entertaining. We've had 80 people here before.

Well, if you choose to come back, perhaps WE will choose NOT to spy on you. And by not spying on you, you can walk away whenever you want leaving us with that false hope found in not knowing how long you lingered over our home.

Respectfully (mostly anyway),

Saturday, June 13, 2009

If [they] only had a brain...

I hope this is a phase. Someone please tell me this is a phase. My boys have officially lost their brains, and their loss of brain matter is causing me loss of patience. Two days in a row they have exhibited incredible lack of common sense.

Yesterday I found them sprinkling sand from the crabs' terrarium around the house because they were fascinated by how it sifted through the hole at the top of a pen cap. (And keep in mind that we have a house showing tomorrow, so I'm trying to get the housed cleaned up.) We had the following exchange, although my voice may not have been quiiite as calm and soft-spoken as I sound in type:

Me: When we had sand in the playground pit, what did we make you do before you came back in the house?

The Boys: Wash the sand off of our feet and legs.

Me: Why?

The Boys: Because you didn't want sand in the house.

Me: Giving them The Look.

Then today...we've been trying to cut down on the tattling, but we're glad Alex decided to let us in the boys' current escapades. Seems they had so enjoyed converting the outside playground slide yesterday into a water slide using the hose that they decided to recreate that inside. The boys' bunk bed has a slide attached to the ladder, and they were pouring cups of water down the slide for the re-creation.

I would share the exchange word-for-word, but we were speechless. I mean, what do you say? I think I came up with, "Do you EVER see Mommy and Daddy spraying the hose on the carpet???" (The anwer was "No.")

All this time I've been worried about teaching the kids their times tables, World History, and how to use commas properly when the class in which I need to enroll these boys is Common Sense 101.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cool Cat Cara

It didn't work out with the puppy, and the tadpoles didn't survive our absence to Kentucky. But I think we scored gold with this cat. Her name is Carabella, or Cara for short, although neither Mark nor I can ever remember her name short or not. We campaigned to change it when we got her, but the kids wouldn't hear of it, so Cara it is.

Cara was a freebie from Craigslist. Well, free except for the gas it took for the 3-hour round trip to pick her up. She's a torti Siamese, a beauty. Our trip home was cause to give me second thoughts--she clawed her way out of the cardboard carrier and shed another cat in the car as she wandered around begging for freedom.

And her first night here was certainly cause to give me third thoughts. We decided to keep her locked up in our room so she would not get lost in the house and forget where her kitty potty was. Apparently, she's nocturnal because she kept us up just about the entire night pacing circles--up on the bed, over our heads, down to the foot of the bed, off the bed, up on the bed, over our heads...

The next night we moved her to the guest quarters, and we had a much better night. Since then, she has had a chance to explore the house and is feeling very at home now. Home enough to have caught a little skink for us somewhere in the house while we were out today.

Gifts aside, what's really endeared her to us is her love of the game Fetch. We think she's part dog, which works out well since we'd really prefer a dog but don't want the responsibility of a pooch. The other day, Mark was sitting on the bed, and Cara jumped up, plopped her little green mouse beside him, and waited expectantly. Mark threw it for her. She bounded down, retrieved the mouse, brought it back to Mark, and the game of Fetch was born. The funny thing is that she prefers to play with Mark; although he won't admit it, I think she's growing on him.

She gets along with all of us, however, even the kids. Of course the kids love her right back. Perhaps my favorite thing about her is that her kitty potty doesn't smell. Strange but true. I might write a letter to Tidy Cats and credit them for it; maybe I'd get some kick-backs. Or at least a coupon for my next litter purchase.

Apparently red-eye fix doesn't work on a cat. Her blue eyes really are pretty, not creepy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Breaking In a New System

The house was abuzz today, abuzz with the sounds of vacuuming, of bottles spritzing, drawers slamming, and rags swish-swishing away layers of dust. No, we weren't getting ready for a party, although we are pulling double-duty tomorrow in the entertaining department with one family coming mid-morning and staying through lunch and another family coming mid-afternoon and staying through dinner. No, we're just breaking in a new chore system courtesy of America's Cheapest Family.

I've tried so many systems, and they have all broken down for one reason or another. I say broken down rather than failed because I'm sure, had I possessed a little sticktuitiveness, any one of them could have worked successfully. I know that, while it is the kids' responsibility to pull their weight around here, habits take awhile to form, and therefore it will take some prodding and reminders on my part until the children have made their chores a habit.

Like I said, I got this new idea from the Economides, America's cheapest family, and I tweaked it to fit our family. It took quite a bit of preparation, so I'm that much more motivated to make it work. The whole premise behind the system is to teach children real-world applications about earning money. They fill out a time card daily, and they can earn as much or as little as they put into their chores.

This is how I created the system for our family:
1. First I created one poster called "Chores". Then I thought of everything I do everyday, chores-wise right down to the nasty nitty-gritty of cleaning toilets. I then made little 1"x1" cards for each chore which have on them the name and a fun clipart of the chore. I adhered those velcro circle thingys to each card and the joining circle thingy to the poster.

2. I then created a poster with 4 parts for each child: "Chores", "Done", "Bonus", and a time card slot. I affixed velcro thingys on these posters as well (the side of the circle thingy that joins with the velcro on the little cards; you will therefore use more of one side of the velcro thingys than the that?)

3. Finally, I made time cards for each child where they could record their points and bonus points everyday and then total them at the bottom. That total is then multiplied by their rate, which gives them the total dollar amount they should receive for their allowance.

And here's how it works:
1. Every night I place on each child's chart in the "Chores" box the chores he/she must do the next day.

2. The next day, the children theoretically do said chores and move each little card over to "Done" as each chore is complete.

3. Then, theoretically, the children are so responsible and so inspired to do their part for the family that they take a look at the Chore poster to see what chores have not been assigned (organizing a closet or cleaning a toilet, for example). They take the unassigned chores of their choice, complete them, and then place the little card on the "Bonus" section of their poster.

4. At the end of the day, we total the chores on the time cards. They receive 1 point for each chore completed and 2 points for each Bonus chore completed.

So, here are a couple of problems I ran into today:
1. First, I had to figure out what rate to pay each child. My initial thought was to pay each child 1 cent per year of age, but when I began totalling up potential earnings, I realized our children's chores might total right out of our budget. So I assigned $.06 to my oldest, $.05 to the next, $.04 to the youngest boy, and $.02 to the Princess. (I don't think we have to worry about her earning much, though. Yesterday I asked her to clean her room. She gave me a questioning look like, "Are you talkin' to ME?" I instructed her again, and she looked at me with such an offended look that I would even begin to suggest that she should clean anything.) Naturally, just like in the real world, they are eligible for raises for particularly extraordinary work.

2. I slept in a little today. OK, so I slept in a lot today. When I finally did get up, Michael had already cleaned his bathroom and was almost done with Audrey's room. I had told the kids that if one of their siblings did not complete a chore, that chore could be "stolen" and completed by someone else for bonus points (hey, it's dog eat dog out there in the real world!). Michael, without giving his poor little sister the benefit of the doubt, had already decided that she was not going to complete that task and had "stolen" it from her. I fixed this by telling the kids that they must wait until late afternoon to complete others' outstanding chores.

3. Jacob vacuumed the upstairs today for bonus points, and tonight I heard him and Alex plotting about who would vacuum tomorrow. As much as I love a really, really clean house, I've never in my life vacuumed EVERYDAY. I told them they need to approve bonus jobs with me before taking them to task.

So, in theory, it seems like an effective system that teaches so many lessons in responsibility, math, diligence, and initiative. There was an overabundance of those 4 things oozing out of our home today. We'll see how tomorrow goes...and the next 20 days since the experts say it takes 21 days for a habit to form.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shhhh....Testing in Progress

My husband is constantly telling me how much my oldest daughter is like me. (I'll let you decide for yourselves if that's a good thing or not.) While it's kind of fun having a mini-me a not-so-mini-mini-me (she comes up to my shoulders and shares my shoes and socks, for cryin' out loud!) walking around here, there are of course areas in which the two of us clash because we are so much alike. Apparently, according to my husband, one of those areas is the one in which we know everything. Ie: we are know-it-alls. He says it endears us to him. I say she drives me nuts because of it.

It goes something like this...

Alex: Mom, did you know that the chartreuse dart frog of the Amazon has 5 legs and a 20-inch long tongue? It catches infrared 3-winged flies with that tongue.

Mom: Yeah, whatever, Alex. I'm sure you don't know what you're talking about.

Me: (Google chartreuse dart frog and infrared 3-winged flies). OK, Alex, I guess you're right. (And, by the way, I know I often tell you to Google stuff; don't Google that nonsense!)

Mark and I often call her Cliff Claven because of her propensity for storing trivial knowledge. Surprisingly, she doesn't get that reference, but since it only goes to show how old we are...

This week Alex is getting to show off some of her vast knowledge on the Iowa Test. I snuck a peek at it prior to our testing week (just to see, not to teach from; I am ethical!) and realized that there was no reason for her not to ace the test. I found very few questions I thought would even be difficult for her. That is, if you don't factor in her carelessness.

You see, part of our know-it-all'ness is that we are not patient with directions and being told how to do something. Because we know the best way to do something already. (Hey, isn't that supposed to be a man trait?) I knew this would be her one and only pitfall--not listening to how to approach the questions, not reading each question and the possible answers thoroughly.

Overall, despite her often rushed attitude to just get through it without paying close attention to detail, she has done well. She has indeed missed some due to her carelessness, however, and I have to make a huge effort not to hang over her shoulder, thus resisting the urge to say, "Come on, Alex, read that more carefully!" Surprisingly unlike me is that the test on which she has made the most mistakes is the punctuation test. I would lament the fact that perhaps she did not pick up my annoying proofreading/editing/correcting-you-whether-you-asked-or-not gene, but I know this too can be attributed to her carelessness. Next year we'll use Critical Thinking Co.'s Editor in Chief to work more on attention to detail in punctuation.

Before we think about next year, however, we do have 4 more days of this school year to go. And one more day of testing. I know Alex is anxious to be done with it. Wii have had some fun, though, taking testing breaks. I found a new Wii game I really like, and Alex loves to play it with me. I've been eyeing that rock band game you can get for Wii, and I may even write to Santa about it. We have a game that is like a micro version of it...there is the band, but you still use the nunchuks instead of actual faux instruments. There is also dancing. I enjoy the dancing, although the only dancing I'm good at is watching So You Think You Can Dance. Alex always creams me in the dancing game, even though she possesses about as little rhythm as I do.

But the instruments game is my game. I've always wanted to learn to play the drums. In fact, one of the reasons I had children was in the hopes that one of them would want to learn the drums, and I could learn through them. Well, not really. This game has drums, and I rock at it. So our testing days go something like this: One 1/2 hour test, play the dancing game. One 1/2 hour test and a 25 minute test thrown in for good measure, play the band game. Then play the dancing game again. One 15 minute test, play the band game and the dancing game followed by the band game.

Score one for homeschooling: I'm pretty sure real schoolchildren didn't get to play dancing and band games between tests this year.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Week's Worth of Numbers

Crossview commented on a previous post that I deserved a medal. Although the merits of any type of award are certainly debatable, I'm here to collect. I made it through...

--5 days of enthusiastic, energetic, screaming children...and witnessed 8 of them give their hearts to Jesus,

--3 hours in the car to pick up a free cat from a Craigs List poster...and, because it was close by, had the opportunity to visit Bread Beckers, which is the place from which I purchase my wheat,

--1 sleepless night with a new kitty pacing around the room...and realized that she is actually a very easy-going cat...when she's sleeping elsewhere,

--5 nights preceded by a vow to be in bed before midnight...and right now am "fiddling"--as my better half calls it--right into another late night...but I get to sleep in tomorrow,

--30+ unexpected guests at my house Wednesday night for a party that was supposed to be Not Here...and had a wonderful time catching up with old friends,

--5 mornings of alarm clock awakenings, followed by an ever-increasing number of hits on the snooze...and gained a better appreciation for people who hold real jobs or wake up every morning to take their children to real school.

A lot of hard work this week but a rewarding one. And about that waking up every morning? Well, with a resident princess, the implications are that somewhere there lurks a queen. Um, that would be me. And this queen doesn't do mornings. Thank goodness my mornings that begin with the incessant beep of an alarm clock are few and far between.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Successful Failure

I suspect every teenager does it; in fact, I'm sure I started as a pre-teen. I'm referring, of course, to that mental file we make called "What I Will Never Do As a Parent." I'm sure my kids have already started theirs.

I was a picky eater growing up, but my parents were of the thought that if they forced me to gag raw, slimy tomatoes and mushy avocado down enough times, I would grow fond of them. Consequently, number one on my mental list was I will not force my children to eat food they do not like.

The people who ran my boarding school were of the same thought as my parents. I remember sitting at lunch faced with a "dessert plate" which contained slices of papaya and wedges of lemon to squeeze on to the papaya. I opted for a wedge of lemon because, surely if I had let a piece of papaya touch my lips, I know I would have lost my lunch. The oatmeal was the worst. It sat in the bottom of the bowl, a sad, lumpy, cold pile of gray mush. No one liked it. Stevie Pittman didn't like it either, but at least he didn't gag when he tried to eat it, so I paid him my allowance every week to eat mine on the three days it was served to us. I still to this day cannot eat oatmeal; even the smell of American oatmeal triggers a gag reflex.

I think it goes without saying that I have a few issues. And I think it goes without saying that I had good intentions adding I will not force my children to eat food they do not like to my mental list.

However. Now I'm actually a parent. And while I still share great empathy with my picky children's food aversions, I have this strange desire to see them grow up healthy. I know it's partially my fault. My oldest would eat ANYTHING until one day at the ripe age of 18 months, she decided she DIDN'T want to eat anything. And, rather than still placing her old faves in front of her, I pulled from my mental file and did what came naturally: "Oh, you don't like that anymore? Well, you don't have to eat it."

So now here we are eight years later. She is by far the pickiest of the bunch. Her willingness to try new things has improved, but there still isn't a vegetable or fruit she'll touch with a 10-foot pole. Until tonight. Only she doesn't know it.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, I purchased this book called Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry's wife). I have been poring over this book since I purchased it, plotting my best deception. The strategy behind each recipe is to hide veggie and fruit purees in kid-friendly recipes (think avocado puree in brownies, cauliflower puree in scrambled eggs). Of course, the book has its critics. Some say you shouldn't hide fruits and veggies because then when the kids become adults they will turn their noses up at strawberries, carrots, and broccoli. You know what? My children already do that. I decided I'm going to deal with today and deal with my grown up kids when they're grown up. The goal right now is to get them to grown-up. And in as healthy a fashion as possible.

So tonight I finally stopped my plotting and decided to dive in. In the interest of being honest, I suppose I should divulge a little secret to all of you people who have this false impression that I'm some sort of Super Mom: I don't cook. I don't like to cook. I like to bake, but unfortunately, man does not live by cake and cookies alone. When TravelDaddy is home, he does all the cooking; he loves it, by the way, and is right up there with Emeril and Bobby Flay. He often even overcooks so we'll have leftovers while he's gone. And, really, I do some cooking while he's gone, but I always stick to what I know: spaghetti, tacos, and waffles for dinner, that kind of stuff.

Anyway, the recipe I chose for tonight was for chicken nuggets. And, just to make it seem like McDonald's around here, I made french fries: regular for the kids, sweet potato fries for me (and for them to try). (All we needed for the full McDonald's experience was a cheap toy and bad service.) Unfortunately and in my opinion, the nuggets were disastrous. According to the recipe, I was to dip the chicken in a mixture of raw egg and spinach puree. I was then to dip them in the bread/flax mixture, thus HIDING the spinach. The bread mixture (which was homemade bread and fresh ground flax: score 1 for healthy!) did not hide a thing. So I muttered a few unsavory words in my head but continued the cooking, all the while mentally (my brain is busy, I tell ya!) reviewing the contents of the pantry and fridge to decide what I'd feed the kids once they got a look of the green nuggets.

Everything was finally cooked an hour later than we usually eat dinner. Because my non-cooking cooking takes a lot of time. Thankfully, the later hour meant there was little light in the kitchen, and I decided not to turn the lights on at all. I fake cheerfully set their plates in front of them and was, of course, met by "What is that green stuff?" And here is where I told a little white lie. Just a tiny one, which I know, according to what I've been preaching to my VBS kids all week is just as bad as a big one. But, really, it couldn't be helped; the health of my precious children is at stake. "Oh, that green stuff," I said dismissively, "that's just spice. It makes the chicken taste better. Like salt. Salt's a spice. You guys love salt."

And the verdict? Well...I was finally able to convince Jacob to eat one piece. But the others? They wolfed it down, especially Alex who claimed it was "delicious" and kept getting up to get more. I wonder what she'd say if I told her? I don't plan to, of course, because that would raise high suspicions about all future dishes...and tonight I plan to make peanut butter and banana muffins with cauliflower puree. Shhhhh!!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Well, that's one way to get it done

Starting VBS 12 hours after returning from an almost week-long trip and 7 hours in the car didn't help. But, then, neither did the acquisition of a cat who kept us up her entire first night with us. And, of course, the million, kazillion daily chores that still must get done don't help either. Without pin-pointing the exact cause, the thing is I'm still not even unpacked yet from the trip. And I always unpack within the first couple of hours of returning home.

This afternoon after VBS was going to be a leisurely afternoon of going grocery shopping (although with 4 kids, that is NEVER leisurely) and then beginning the unpacking before heading to a friend's neighborhood pool for an Over the Hill birthday party for another friend (got that?).

But...turns out that our friend's neighborhood pool is closed until tomorrow.

So...the party has moved to here!

Which leisurely (or not so leisurely as the case may be) trip to the grocery store, which means either fast food or Dig-Through-the-Fridge-and-Pantry for your lunch after VBS tomorrow.

And...a speedy unpacking and clean up of this mess I call my home. At least I'm not trying to get ready to show the house in a couple of hours.

Although...potential buyers are most certainly welcome!