Saturday, May 30, 2009

Home improvement: the driveway

Just in case anyone wondered, we also like big trucks around here... ;)

This week we had the old, beat up, barely-there blacktop dug out of our driveway...

This was the view out of the boys' window...

It was a four-day process to go from the old blacktop to a new, crisp and clean, concrete driveway...

We loved watching the whole thing, even though we were woken up quite a bit earlier than usual all week. I didn't get photos of the cement-mixer because I forgot to charge my camera battery, and I was still in my pjs when they finished anyhow.

Stay tuned to see new grass and plantings along the side of the house! I've been waiting 10 years to be able to plant roses here!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Fiber Arts Friday: Stitchin' Boys

Who says boys can't enjoy the fine art of stitchery?

Last week my older two were both inspired to pick up their knitting, and start new projects, after their friend across the street finished crocheting his first blanket.

I love seeing my boys knit. I love that it gives Eldest something to do in the wee morning hours when the rest of us would prefer to be asleep still!

This week, I got out a little surprise -- embroidery hoops, thread, and some burlap. Inspired by Soulemama and her awesome book, "The Creative Family," I thought this would be an even easier project, at least to start.

It's like drawing with thread! For several years, my oldest son's preferred art medium has been Legos. He has a personal aversion to most writing or drawing utensils.

But needles are cool.

For more Fiber Arts Fridays, visit Alpaca Farm Girl.

Friday, May 22, 2009

On our own and making plans...

"For I know the plans I have for you" --this is the Lord's declaration-- "plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
--Jeremiah 29:11
Scott left soon after dinner tonight for a long-awaited weekend away to practice his favorite hobby, so the boys and I are on our own for the next two days.

It's okay. In only one week, he'll be finished with school, and we'll have all summer together. This was an emotionally difficult year for him, so instead of taking on summer school, he decided to stay home. I know we're really blessed to say so, but the extra cash is just not worth the time and stress this year.

Even as I'm wilting with our recent heat wave, I am SO looking forward to the summer! It will be so lovely, just to have time to be together as a family, reading, playing, swimming, going camping, and getting projects done around the house.

This week I've been reading and praying, making lists and planning, gathering books and supplies, trying to prioritize and be realistic about what we can do. There are so many possibilities! I know summer's going to fly by, and I want to make the most of every moment.

And, of course, I want to share them with you. But tonight, I need to get some sleep. My vitamins are definitely helping -- praise God! -- but I'm still human, and these boys take energy. :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gratituesday: Unschooling Reading

After four months of avoiding our late fees at the library, we finally headed back to the land of abundant knowledge two weeks ago. I love, love, love that I can check out our library system's offerings online, request the books I want, and have them waiting for me at the front desk.

I realized after we got home that I was a bit self-centered in my book collecting. Where are all the books for the kids?! Maybe it's because I'm still getting used to the idea that my boys are turning into readers!

I was a pretty confident unschooler when we started this homeschooling journey. It helped that UberDad and I were both early readers. We figured it out before starting school, so why couldn't our kids learn to read without school?

At the same time, I didn't expect that they'd be early readers just because we were. For one thing, my parents didn't have money for a lot of toys, but we went to the library frequently. And my mother was fond of flashcards. We didn't have a television until I'd already read the "Little House" series.

I didn't want television around here either, but that turned out to be hopeless. Let's just say I'm still working on my boundary issues -- and my mother's incredibly generous. Plus Eldest is a visual/auditory learner who soaks up everything he can learn from cable. Despite my own love for learning via text on a page, I don't believe it's the only way to learn.

And despite the fact that our tv sees plenty of use, our kids are also surrounded by books at home, and have spent a fair amount of time in bookstores and the library, and of course, being read to.

I knew it was only a matter of time before they'd begin reading on their own. If I'd been worried or in a hurry, we would have spent less time on field trips and at the park, and more time on the couch. But I wasn't -- and my boys like to get out and DO.

Not that I never wondered if I should be doing more. I know people who swear by using 100 Easy Lessons. (I borrowed it once, and got through two lessons before we were all bored.) And ZooPhonics sounds so fun and creative! (But you can buy a lot of books for $400.)

But when I prayed about it, I always got the same answer:
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this(.)
--Psalm 37:5
So I stuck with just answering their questions, and reading to them as often as our schedule allowed. I buy plenty of books, but no programs.

It has been a fascinating journey to watch. Eldest has been blessed with an incredible memory, and he prefers to memorize what words look like, using context, phonics (or just asking me) to figure them out first. He reads with beautiful inflection, but he's not crazy about sounding out longer words himself. He remembers faster from hearing me say it.

Middlest uses mostly phonics, and isn't intimidated by larger words. He reads more slowly because he's not sight-reading as much -- and because he wants to read harder books, not the "easy-to-read" stuff.

After reading a couple Dr. Suess books with help in March, he decided he wanted to read "The Tale of Despereaux." A friend gave him a copy for Christmas, and he wanted to read it himself.

So, we started reading it together, one paragraph at a time because that was enough for him. He needed a lot of help, but in just TWO PAGES — over the span of a week, his reading improved significantly. All that exposure to bigger words built up his phonics skills and gave him great confidence. It’s not the only thing we’re reading, so I can see how much better he’s getting at the easy stuff.

Last week, while I was horizontal on the couch, the boys took turns reading aloud to me and to each other. Eldest was so excited to be able to read his favorite Captain Underpants books himself.

"Reading is my new very favorite thing to do!" he said to me one afternoon.

And my heart leapt.

It works! It really works! I haven't messed up my children's chance to learn to read! I haven't missed any "window of opportunity."

They've also escaped being labeled "learning disabled" because they preferred to play outside than sit still and listen to lessons at age five. They've learned without pressure, in their own way, and in their own time.

And they can still be bibliophiles like their parents! For this, I am truly grateful.

Herbology: Carnivorous plants

I've got some catching up to do after my postlessness of the last two weeks! Before the flu knocked me out again, we did a little studying of carnivorous plants.

My oldest, despite his love for all things that creep, crawl or fly, no matter how disgusting, decided a few weeks ago that he really wanted a few bug-eating plants. He was holding onto birthday money until we could find the right thing.

Terrariums for growing carnivorous plants from seed are easy to find, but haven't received great reviews on Amazon. It could take up to 6 months to get results. Maybe next year. First time around I wanted instant gratification, not a big bowl of dirt taking up room in the fridge for two months.

We're fortunate to have a nursery specializing in carnivorous plants in California, but I thought we should wait and see what we could find in town, and save on shipping.

I called around to our local nurseries, and only The Home Depot was expecting to have any carnivorous plants in soon. While we waited, we watched videos like this one. After a week, the Depot finally had the venus fly trap and pitcher plant in the photo above. Then we picked up a couple books on carnivorous plants at the library.

Did you know that Venus Fly Traps are native to the U.S., specifically the Carolina coast and a small area of Florida? And that wild-growing fly traps are endangered? Certain pitcher plants (Darlingtonia) are native to moist areas of California and Oregon. But don't go stomping through the wetlands to find them!

This is what Eldest has to say about carnivorous plants:

"Using a sticky goo that looks like a sweet treat for any insect, a fly will land on the plant, find out that it is very sticky, and it will struggle to get out, only stepping on more sticky hairs. As the plant starts to roll up, the fly is being crushed inside, and the plant releases a liquid that will turn the fly into soup that the plant will drink a few days later.

The venus fly trap uses a sweet smell that will attract flies to its mouth. After the fly trips on two hairs inside the trap, the plant will immediately close up, the fly inside. After a few days, the oils will be released, turning the insect into soup. In about a week, the insect will be digested by the plant. Then it will open again for the next meal."

Sadly, our two tiny carnivorous plants will probably not do much to control the flies that love our chicken coop.

Find answers to all your carnivorous questions here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

C is for changes...

B is for Before...

A is for After...

N is for New spaces...

D is for a Desk of his own...

G is for new Games...

I is for Inventions...

S is for Staple art...

T is for lost tooth...

A is for alphabet cards...

G is for Growing Up.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Only with God's help

Moreover -- let us also be full of joy now! Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.
--Romans 5:3 (AMP)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spring Cleaning: Part One

Look! It's a miracle! There's no laundry on the Laundry Sofa!

Oh, wait. That was Saturday, after five straight days of laundry washing, folding, sorting and putting away. Don't look now... there's another load about to land!!

I was so inspired by Stephanie's spring cleaning post in March. But I couldn't go there yet. This weekend I felt it was finally Time. The garden is getting along. Outside commitments are getting fewer. And the clutter and grime were starting to drive me crazy. We've had a couple dust storms recently, and our drafty house lets all the dirt in. Blech!

Plus Simple Mom is having a Spring Cleaning Party at her blog. She makes it sound so FUN! But I can't commit to anyone else's schedule. I just have to make my list, and find the time as I go.

So, here's the list (I did all the cobweb vacuuming first, because I borrowed my mom's vacuum cleaner.) ...
Boys' room:
Declutter big boys' clothes and organize dresser.
Vacuum cobwebs from windows.
Clean windowsills.
Pick up all toys from floor, and sweep.
Clean ceiling fan blades.
Clear off dresser and dust bookshelves.
Clean window glass.
Wash blinds in bathtub.
Declutter closet.
Clean under trundle bed.

Living room:
Vacuum cobwebs from ceiling and windows.
Vacuum dead bugs behind curtains. (How did they get there?!)
Purge magazines.
Dust bookshelves and other furniture.
Dust picture frames.
Clean ceiling fan blades.
Wash curtains.
Vacuum couches.

Dining room:
Vacuum cobwebs from ceiling and windows.
Clean ceiling fan blades.
Wash blinds in bathtub.
Dust bookshelves.
Declutter and dust computer desk.

Declutter cabinets and counters. (Is it cheating because I did this a month ago?)
Clean kitchen window.

Main bathroom:
Clean toilet.
Clean mirror and sink.
Vacuum cobwebs on ceiling and window.
Declutter medicine cabinet.
Wash window blinds.
Scrub shower.

Master bedroom:
Wash all blankets and sheets.
Dryel woolens and put away.
Pick up around bed and under dressers.
Vacuum cobwebs on ceiling and window.
Sort littlest boy's clothes and donate.
Purge unnecessary cloth diapers.
Clear dressers and dust.
Clean ceiling fan blades.
Wash window blinds.

Side room:
Declutter s'more.
Sweep and mop.

Second bathroom:
Take pity on Uberdad and clean it.

Wow. When I look at that list, I realize how much we accomplished in two days! (Uberdad helped remove clutter from the house. And the boys picked up their toys and put away laundry. Thanks, guys! I love you!)

I'm already halfway there. I can do this.

But first, we have a field trip tomorrow. All work and no play makes miserable chil'ens! (Today we did no extra cleaning. Just lots of stories and cookie baking. They deserved it!)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Have you had your Vitamin D today?

Well, I saw my doc again yesterday, and guess what?! I'm not going to need any fancy meds to fix me up!

Turns out my thyroid numbers were a little wonky, like he suspected. But not because my thyroid wasn't doing its job.

My vitamin D level was low, which was messing with other things. (My T4free was high and my T3free was low, if you have any idea what that means.) Doc said it was a conversion problem related to the vitamin D deficiency.

So, I'm popping some pills for a while. But it's not permanent, and only the vitamin D is a prescription.

I remember hearing Dr. Oz talk about vitamin D on Oprah a while back. And he's not the only one. I figured I was okay, since I've spent more time in the sun during my last year of gardening than I did the previous five.

But after 8 years of pregnancy and breastfeeding, I'm not caught up yet. I burn really easily, so I'm usually covered or using sunscreen.

And I found this fascinating (from The Miracle of Vitamin D):
"The ultraviolet wavelength that stimulates our bodies to produce vitamin D is UV-B. It is sometimes called the "burning ray" because it is the primary cause of sunburn (erythema)...

The reason it is difficult to get adequate vitamin D from sunlight is that while UV-A is present throughout the day, the amount of UV-B present has to do with the angle of the sun's rays. Thus, UV-B is present only during midday hours at higher latitudes, and only with significant intensity in temperate or tropical latitudes. Only 5 percent of the UV-B light range goes through glass and it does not penetrate clouds, smog or fog.

Sun exposure at higher latitudes before 10 am or after 2 pm will cause burning from UV-A before it will supply adequate vitamin D from UV-B."
That means it's really difficult to get enough vitamin D from 30 minutes of watering my vegetables while wearing longsleeves and/or sunscreen.

I also don't eat much on this list except the eggs and butter. Though I'm happy to see pork fat on there... Now if only our organic CSA would start offering grass-fed bacon!

When I'm finished with my prescription, I may try the dreaded cod liver oil. In the meantime, I'm following doctor's orders. (I know, that's so unlike me.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Last week was a basic spaghetti and breakfast-for-dinner kind of week. Nothing fancy. (Unless you count my kale, sausage and rice soup, which miraculously got my two older boys to eat their greens. Littlest and his daddy were harder to convince.)

So this week, I've got some cooking to catch up on. I roasted a chicken tonight, so I can restock my stock. And I'm looking forward to trying some new tricks out of Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious" cookbook.

Now, it's not my style to lie to my children about what's in their food. My older two are foodies, anyway, so it doesn't work on them.

Tonight I threw in some turnips from our csa box along with the usual potatoes to roast. They looked the same on the plate, but when Eldest bit into one, he noticed the difference. "This potato doesn't taste right!" "You probably got a turnip," I answered. "Oh! Well, okay, if it's a turnip, I like it. It wasn't very good as a potato."

However, Littlest is too young to have opinions about what goes into a dish. He judges based on the look of things. If it looks like it contains a flour product and/or cheese, he'll probably eat it. If not, good luck. (He does like cooked carrots and broccoli, in small portions.)

And, to be honest, he probably gets his pickiness from his mother.

So Jessica's idea of adding pureed vegetables to kids' favorite dishes sounds brilliant to me! Who wouldn't eat spinach in the form of a brownie?! Remember my chocolate beet muffins? MMMMM!

We'll see if my energy holds up to my puree-ing ambitions...

MONDAY (skate day)
Eggs & toast
Pizza at the skating rink
Chicken noodle soup w/root veggie puree (Deceptively Delicious)

Sweet potato pancakes
Lasagna w/sweet potato and cauliflower puree (D.D.)
Brownies (D.D.)

WEDNESDAY (field trip)
Oatmeal or cereal
Fried tilapia, asparagus and German potato salad (w/dill)

THURSDAY (garden, Bible study night)
Frittata w/swiss chard and bacon
Tacos w/sweet potato (D.D.)

FRIDAY (bake)
Soda bread w/strawberry jam
Spaghetti w/sausage and carrots

Hamburgers w/cauliflower and carrot puree

We'll be eating snap peas fresh from the garden all week, too! We just discovered they were ready this afternoon! And I have a big box of strawberries that I might have to turn into jam this week... yum!

Go find more menus plans at Organizing Junkie!
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