Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yesterday: Crafts with mamas, pictures of Robert

It's like he gets sweeter every day. He laughs and smiles a lot and will have little baby conversations with us. He enjoys lying on the floor watching the ceiling fan, and lately he's been letting us get a decent amount of sleep at night. I do nurse him several times but we don't have to actually get up with him until 5 or 6. (Of course when I say we I mean Jordan. Thanks honey!)

Yesterday I hosted a "Hippie Handicrafts" playdate (Megan thought of the name). I set up a craft area with a rainbow of felted wool and a bunch of scissors and a hot glue gun, plus brownies and coffee. We sat around the table and made gnomes and pocket babies while our children socialized in the living room. It was great! I meant to take a picture of all our gnomes together, but I forgot! Here is the pocket baby I made for Suzi.

Hippie Handicrafts is going to be a regular thing, every other week with a different craft each time. It has the added benefit of helping me keep my house clean.

Also, Hobby Lobby has unfinished wood on sale (40% off!) so last night we went shopping and when we got home I made this.

I enjoy making dolls about 300 times more when they have wooden heads. It takes away the part of the process that stresses me out and adds a nice weight and smooth texture to the doll too. I want to make more!

I think I'm going to let the girls run around the backyard a little while before it gets too hot. It's going to be a good day, I can tell.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Home(school) improvement: Routine, plus pictures of Robert

I can't believe I haven't posted pictures of Robert in so long! I've taken them, I really have, but I just didn't think to post them until Tanya pointed it out in the comments a couple of posts ago. So here they are, my favorites from the past few weeks.

Glad I got these on here!

And now here is the routine I'm hoping to use once we start homeschooling. I think I'm going to start trying it now (except for the main lesson part, which we aren't doing yet). It always seems like so much trouble to stick to a routine, but really, it can't be any worse than what we're doing now. The girls are fighting so much I feel like a referee half the time. A routine could only help. So here it is.

Wake up and get dressed, before the kids if possible (Between 6:00 and 7:00)
Play time
Circle/read books
Play outside
Main lesson (for an hour, tops)
Play time

Main lesson (continued, for an hour, tops)
Outside time
Play time/movie (3:30 or 4:00)

I didn't put times on all these, as you might have noticed. It was tempting, but I've tried that before and it only puts pressure on me to start or stop doing something before we're ready. We have playdates and things too, and while most of these things can still happen on those days, the timeline will be totally blown. Jordan always leaves for work about 7:45 and comes home at 5:00, so our day runs from about 8-5. That doesn't change.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Upcycled wool mustache

I'd been thinking for a while that upcycled wool would make a pretty nice mustache. Today I tried it and I was right! I used an old wool coat I bought at the Goodwill clearance center, but it would work with a tightly felted sweater, too.

I cut out a classic mustache shape and tied a loop on either side to go around the ears of the wearer. If you make the loops too small it'll look like you have cat whiskers in addition to a mustache. Suzi's needs to be loosened a bit but she was ready to wear it. Right now she is sitting on the couch watching a movie, wearing her mustache. Actually, she may never take it off again! Boy was that a cheap toy!

I bought a small green Vera Bradley bag at a thrift store and I'm going to make her a master of disguise kit. I'll put a few different styles of mustaches/beards in it, and some accessories like hats and glasses. And maybe a bubble pipe. What else can I put in it? She won't want girly stuff. I meant to do it for her birthday but just got too busy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Turning aggravating blankets into a custom slipcover

My parents gave us their old love seat. It was comfortable and gave us extra seating. Unfortunately it didn't match with the rest of our living room. It was also such a light color that it was bound to look disgusting in no time. Three little kids and all.

We decided to buy a couple of tan blankets to throw over it, but that didn't work either. The kids would jump all over the love seat and the blankets would slip and bunch, so we were constantly having to adjust them. Putting them on was like making a bed. So aggravating!

Today I decided to do something about it.

I started by taking one blanket and lining the hemmed edge up along the floor. I did this on all the bottom edges of the cover. That way there was nothing to hem! I cut enough to cover the seat and the lower front of the love seat.

Then I cut a piece for the part you lean back against when you sit down.

Then I cut a piece for the back and one piece for each of the arm rest fronts.

I pinned right sides together and sewed together these two pieces to meet in the crack of the love seat.

Next I put what I had so far back on the love seat and pinned the arm rest fronts on. Pinning while the pieces were on the love seat was clearly the way to go. I could tell just where I wanted to sew, pin it, and then take it up to the sewing machine.

I flipped the back part up over the rest, pinned right sides together and took that upstairs to sew it. Then I put it back on and looked at what I had so far.

I knew the next thing would be the tricky part. Armrests. Curves and corners coming together! To make sure I didn't screw up my limited supply of fabric, I pinned some before I started cutting.

I pinned and cut and pinned and cut and pinned, until I had all of it coming together. I wasn't always able to pin right sides together, so I just pinned it the best I could and straightened the rest out once I got to it on the machine. I cut a little extra to tuck down into this area. I think I'll call it the armpit.

Once I had sewn all this part together, I was not at all sure it was going to work. It seemed like a jumbled mess at the sewing machine and I only knew what to do with it all because of the pins. So I brought it back downstairs, pulled it onto the love seat, and...

Yes! Yes! Yes!!!

Then I did the other side, which was a little easier the second time around. Done! That is so much better.

Ivey and Suzi came home from Grandma and Grandpa's house and right away Ivey tried out the new cover by jumping on it with her shoes. It still does wrinkle and bunch, but it's a lot easier to pull it back into place now! My mom was impressed. She said I have some Mammie in me (her grandmother). As a child my mom would point out a dress she liked in the store, and Mammie would sketch it off and sew it for her when they got home. I can't currently do that, as much as I would love to. I do have some hope though, because Mammie was a grandmother when she did that and I am only 27 (well, next month I will be). I've got time to develop my skills.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Home(school) improvement: End of week 4, start of 5

I am just not that on top of things lately. Maybe this week will be a little better. Even though I didn't post a follow-up for week 4 on Friday, I do have photos to prove that I'm working on it!

We left our sandbox open and it rained, and I thought that would be fun (and messy!) to play in. It didn't disappoint. The girls made their own little beach and danced on it. Wet sand does feel nice. This occupied them for about an hour and then it was bath time!

On Saturday we took a church trip up to a camp in the mountains and had a lot of fun. Jordan took Suzi (and a couple of other kids) out in a canoe...

And we ran in circles and generally got dirty and had a good time.

I've been irritable lately and backsliding into yelling. Ugh. I hate it and I am still working on it.

So, this week?

Establish a daily rhythm. Eat together at the table, get up early to fix breakfast, offer alternating opportunities for expansion/contraction. Improve environment so materials are more accessible.

1) Getting up early is going to be tough with Robert. It's like even if I do get up early I might not be able to get much done. Right now I usually sleep as long as I can and Jordan takes the baby after I've been nursing him on and off all night. Maybe this week I'll try to get to bed a little earlier and see if I can be up by 6:30 to make breakfast and get prepared for the day. Maybe if I work on establishing a daily rhythm for myself, it'll be easier to do it for my kids.

2) The dining room table could use a good cleaning.

3) I need to straighten up our toys, as I think some of them are mixed up and out of place. There are some expansion/contraction opportunities there that might be going to waste.

4) One thing holding me back is the difficulty of finding a good balance of having materials readily available to the kids, but also holding back enough so they don't turn the house into a disaster area and waste things. I could put a ream of paper on their table and 20 minutes later each page would be scribbled on and tossed in the floor. Any ideas on how to handle this?

5) I definitely need to add several clean-ups into our daily schedule, and learn how to keep my cool when the kids decide they don't want to help me. I know for a fact that yelling and guilt will not help!

6) Sigh. I guess I should write out a schedule. Actually, I already have one somewhere (that we haven't used) so I'll probably start with that. Maybe I'll post it in a day or two. Writing a schedule is fun, but sticking to one is hard!

We'll see how it goes...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Jordan on Father's Day

Thanks once again to Jenn for this photo and the next two

Dear Jordan,

You never, in three pregnancies, missed a prenatal appointment I asked you to go to with me. Which was most of them, especially for the first two. You also never complained about going to any Blessingway, maternity clothes shopping trip, or on a grocery store run for ice cream, lemons or brownie mix. You just went with a smile on your face. Even during missed sporting events.

I saw, and still remember, the look in your eyes as I tried to push Suzi out in the hospital.

You never questioned whether I really needed a homebirth the second time, because of the cost, because it required such a huge leap of faith out of our comfort zone. Never wavered in your support. When other people said things that stressed me out, you defended our choice to them.

You attended childbirth class with me faithfully. Three different pregnancies, three different classes, hours and hours of education. And for the last one you even read me my Hypnobabies scripts without the first giggle, serious as could be.

You helped me make belly casts. Offered to paint my toenails. Told me you like the way I look with a baby in the belly.

You gracefully stayed quiet and out of the way when you sensed that was what I needed during my birthing time. Focused on me and did whatever I asked. Heat packs, rolling pins, counter pressure, just a quiet presence. You respected the process.

I loved watching you hold our babies for the first time. I held them first and you never rushed me for your turn. With Suzi it was nervously perched in a hard hospital chair. The second time was lying in bed cuddling Ivey with your shirt off. And then by the third baby, it was in the water with me and you were an old pro. It is amazing watching you fall in love with your babies, and grow wiser and stronger as a father and as a person. You are such a strong, solid presence in our children's lives.

The day after the last two births you were in the kitchen encapsulating a placenta and telling me not to worry, it wasn't gross.

You mastered the Moby Wrap and Ergo and even wear our lavender wrap without complaining.

Of course, there's also all the getting up early with the baby, and watching the kids so I can have a break, and taking them with you to the store during the first days after the baby was born and far, far beyond.

You put me and our children before yourself. You're always there for us. No wonder everybody loves you. No wonder I want more children. It couldn't be any more amazing, thanks to you.

I love you so much. Thanks for everything.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Home(school) improvement week 4: Expansion and contraction

Understanding the principles of expansion and contraction has helped me better understand my children and live more peacefully with them. I've even learned a little more about myself and the way I feel and act. Here's my personal understanding of this topic after reading about it in The Heart of Learning and observing it in my life.

Expansion - open-ended activity for the sake of exploration and relaxation, with no goal in mind

sandbox play
water play
wire maze
playing/talking to other children
nature walk
miscellaneous outdoor time
playing dress-up
"free play" in general

Contraction - focusing attention and effort with a certain outcome in mind

reading books
sitting and doing a lesson, once we start this in the fall
helping me cook something
helping with chores such as picking up toys
singing songs

It's a little confusing because one activity might be either expansion or contraction depending on how you handle it. Say to a child "build me a mermaid out of this play-doh" and that's contraction. Just squishing it into random shapes and feeling it in your hands would be expansion.

I think I am on the right track but correct me if I'm wrong. For some reason when I first read about these two principles, I envisioned alternating equally between the two. I soon noticed, after paying attention to how we experience expansion and contraction every day, that it's different for everyone. Suzi needs mostly expansion. She loves playing in the sandbox, in the yard, and with open-ended toys inside. Right now she is playing with a wire bead maze and singing a song about what the beads are doing. Today has been a pretty good day, we are more than halfway through it, and there might have been 30 minutes total of contraction activities so far. Suzi and I worked on a puzzle for about ten minutes and later we read books together. Because Ivey is not even two yet, about 15 minutes a day of contraction is all I can really expect. It usually happens while we read. When she gets tired of focusing, she wanders off or flips through a different book on her own while I read to Suzi.

Usually I can tell when we need to change from expansion to contraction because the girls have become irritable and have begun to fight over little things. Another sign is when Suzi says "I don't know what to do." This is probably the equivalent of boredom, and directing her to another expansion activity usually does not help. When this happens, I stop what I am doing if possible and spend some time with them. We sing songs together or read some books. (With Suzi, I sometimes start a craft or other activity with a goal, but Ivey is still too little for most of this.) They seem to enjoy having something to focus on and when we are done they are ready to move on with renewed interest to another expansion activity.

It's obvious when they have become too contracted and need to change to an expansion activity. Ivey will usually move herself to a new activity easily and there is no need to think about it. Suzi begins to get frustrated with what she is doing. Frequently she says she doesn't want to do it anymore and moves on. Simple! From what I've seen, the friction comes when an adult tries to keep a child in contraction for longer than they can comfortably stay. I have observed this while trying to let my kids help me in the kitchen. Here, stir this! Pour that! Wait for my instructions. Okay, cut this fruit. Now throw it in the bowl, and... Wait a minute, where are you going? The child just can't focus as long as an adult. I recently changed the way I treat my children in the kitchen. They can help and learn, but it needs to be 5% contraction and 95% expansion. Here, Suzi and Ivey "help" by playing freely with bits of ingredients on the counter as I bake Robert's birthday cake--and we all had so much fun. After reading about expansion and contraction, I can see why this approach worked better.

Once we start doing homeschool lessons, I will be careful not to overdo contraction activities with Suzi. A few minutes to an hour of focused effort a day for lessons is enough. I will also try to work her expansion/contraction cycles to our advantage by waiting until a time when she is naturally coming back into contraction to start lessons. This usually occurs mid-morning after outdoor play time, and again a couple of hours after lunch.

I've been working on this already without really focusing. I've greatly increased the girls' outdoor time and can see now when it might be beneficial to offer a directed, structured activity. There are still a couple of things I'd like to accomplish this week and beyond, and they are:

1) Compile a list of good expansion and contraction activities, and collect the materials for some of them. I would love to have a closet dedicated to these things with a list of activities taped to the inside of the door. That is my vision. But, alas, we have no free closets. Perhaps someday we will live in a bigger place. Please leave a comment with your ideas and the activities your family enjoys!

2) Continue on in my quest to become unafraid of messes. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, check out this post by Megan. I need to be more like her!

3) And then I need to think of some (somewhat controlled) ways to make messes. Messes are excellent expansion opportunities!

4) I was going to read more about expansion and contraction, but there is surprisingly little online about it and that's where I do most of my reading. I think I'll re-read that part of The Heart of Learning while considering what I've observed with the kids.

Update coming Friday!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Home(school) improvement week 3: Update on feeding the family

Cakes by Suzi. Very delicious.

I'll have to make this fast. The girls are in bed and it's Jenny and Jordy time. I'll go through this point-by-point.

1) Plan. I decided to have millet pilaf (again, from this post) for lunch Wednesday since we had plenty of squash in the fridge. I'd made it once before. I'd been meaning to do something with rye for Thursday, and didn't want to bake bread, so I decided to try out this rye borscht recipe I found.

2) Shop. I did this Wednesday morning, and it went great! A lady stopped to compliment my Maya Wrap ring sling and ask about my children. A man gave red balloons to the girls. Ivey rode happily in the cart while Suzi walked and helped pick up what we needed, and I taught her how to look for a good deal. I even bought chicken breasts, and I think that's the first time I've ever bought (raw) meat all by myself. The hardest part was getting the kids and groceries all into the house when we got home. I let the girls help me carry stuff. Ivey dragged the bag with the chicken in it until the plastic on the inner packaging wore through, but it was okay because we used it that night. I think I will do the grocery shopping with the kids most of the time from now on, because it saves family time with Jordan and expedites dinner prep.

3) Cook dinner as a family. Um. This one is hardest. Right now it could be dangerous for the girls to really help. Boiling water and sharp knives, you know? I am cool with letting my children help as long as it's safe.

See? Totally cool.

And here they are helping their Grandma snap green beans, which she then helped us can. The bean prep is fine, but once you get to the canning part? That is a prime example of something that just does not lend itself to being accomplished with three children around! It got done but we spent the whole time shooing them out of the kitchen when they really wanted to help!

So what I need to work on is creating real work for the girls to do alongside me that is also safe. So here's what I think I'm going to do. I'm going to clean my counter off really well, let the girls sit across from me while I'm in the kitchen, and give them veggies to cut with butter knives (whatever I'm working with at the time). This would've been great to do while Jordan and I prepared borscht. Also, I should have foreseen how long all those vegetables would take to chop and done that ahead of time, before Jordan got home, and refrigerated them in bowls until it was time to start boiling the soup. So I still need to work on planning a little, don't I?

But we did make the borscht, and it took forever, but it made a HUGE stock pot of soup. We put all this in the freezer and had enough in the fridge to eat leftovers tonight besides. So now we can pull our borscht out on Rye Thursdays until it runs out, and then I have some ideas for improvements. Jordan would like meat added, for one. Lesson learned: Any recipe that calls for an entire head of cabbage is going to make a heck of a lot of food! Duh.

Anyway. I would love to have a little child-sized section of our kitchen (I saw this on a Montessori blog, but I can't find it now, sorry!) but that won't work for us. We have a dog who would love to clean off a low table of food, and besides, our kitchen is too small. We do have a nice big counter though, so I think I'll take advantage of that.

Clearly, I have plenty to work on when I go through this point for the second time. But I do think I improved, considering how behind I was to begin with!

Monday: #4 - Expansion and contraction. Work to better understand these concepts and discover new ways to offer both experiences when needed.