A Basket of Tricks

Thursday, January 28, 2010

This is my basket of newness. New stuff, new skills, a new adventure. It's become uncovered since my recent purge and I'm very excited to get into it. I'm excited, which gives me some degree of motivation, but my perfectionist tendencies are slowing me down a bit.

Last Spring, while on a field trip with the local homeschoolers, I bought a pound of pygora fleece. It was very dirty, so over the summer, I made a project out of washing a measly pound of fiber. It was a huge ordeal because the smell of this fleece was enough to knock you over and I really didn't want it in my washing machine. I really didn't think it could be salvaged. I definitely learned a thing or two throughout the process. I'm left with a trimmed (or 'skirted' for you fiber-type people), less smelly, definitely usable chunk of fiber.

Accompanying my fleecy fiber are a cheap pair of slicker brushes that I will use to card the fleece when I work up enough gumption to do so. I was so impressed with the success Miranda and her kids enjoyed throughout their Fiber Adventures, that I am very encouraged to have a go at my own Adventure. I serendipitously came across the spinning book at my library's used book sale. Hopefully with the very informative, pre-Internet book, Ravelry, YouTube and Google, I'll be able to make do. Just this week I was able to get my hands on a drop spindle with which to complete the final step of processing my pygora. Happily, the spindle came with a couple of ounces of prepared fiber that I can learn with. Pygora spins up into a beautiful, silky yarn, but it doesn't do so easily. Or so I read.

While in the yarn shop handling spindles, a skein of yarn leaped off the shelf and landed in my shopping bag. I hear that's a risk you take when shopping in a yarn shop. It's a hand-dyed wool/angora/nylon blend called 'Rainbow' by Infiknit from their One Of A Kind line. I'm excited to see what it becomes.

I'm so glad I was able to dig through the clutter to unearth a small basket of potential. It's so much easier to keep your eye on the goal when there are only carefully chosen elements in your basket. I think there are a few areas of my life that could use a little de-cluttering and re-focusing. One thing at a time, though. This is a great place to start.


Baby Gift

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

For a couple who started on their journey to parenthood with nothing but the bun in the oven, my new niece is remarkably well equipped.

Four baby showers will do that.

As the baby 'necessities' began piling up a few months ago, I began to wonder what a thoughtful, lasting Welcome To The World baby gift we could give.

The kids and I decided to give a book basket. Whenever we were out shopping, I would buy a book or two. We each selected some of our favourite stories to include. A colourful bin - useful for containing all sorts of things - and a pile of books later and we have a baby gift ready to be delivered. In our county, there is a volunteer book service that delivers a free Golden Book per month to any child until they turn six. I was careful to include the registration form in a stamped envelope. Our gift was well received when we visited earlier this evening. The Boy Child was invited to give a tour of the books we'd chosen. This gave him something to do since he insists on not holding the baby.
New Baby Girl arrived a week ago and has been spending her time listening to Mozart's complete works as well as giving her dad a run for his money on the opposite side of a Scrabble board. She seems to be getting her days and nights sorted out. Her and her mom are working on the feeding thing. She's trying out this bathing thing and ventured out today, well bundled, for her first Walk.

The funniest thing I've seen in a long time is my brother prancing across the room on tip-toe to give New Baby Girl kisses. I hear he needed a lesson on correct disposal methods of soiled baby items. He was caught taking a receiving blanket to the garbage when a diaper leaked and needed to be redirected to the laundry room. That was the funniest thing I've heard in a long time.

Our visit with the new family of three was uneventful and relaxing. Apparently we were helpful: The Girl Child and I took turns holding the sleeping New Baby Girl while new-mom and new-dad ate dinner.

I somehow managed to return home one child short. My brother offered to take The Boy Child with him to his basketball game. I think it's suddenly a lot less work to take his 10-year old nephew on an outing than it is his 10-day old daughter.


Today Was A Dentist Day

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today was Dentist Day. On a Dentist Day, I usually get dressed in my Mother Guilt and gear up for a busy day and a lighter wallet.

Today was no different. We had an early lunch and drove the hour to the pediatric dentist in the next big town to the west. The nice thing about going to the city is that there is plenty of opportunity for big, shiny carrots to dangle in front of my mostly miserable offspring.

The poor things are miserable because in the dental DNA department (the source of my Mother Guilt), they got the short end of the stick. For every cleaning they've ever had, there is usually a more serious problem to fix, patch or pull. This particular visit involved trying to rebuild a molar for The Boy and three extractions for The Girl.

Before even approaching the dentist's office today, we hit the toy store. This carrot was to distract The Boy Child so that he did not become too anxious before his appointment. He returned a duplicated Christmas gift and received a store credit which turned his logical, number crunching brain to money matters. Nothing was bought, but the discussion from the toy store to the dentist's chair encompassed all matters related to saving allowance, finding online product reviews and creating calendar checkpoints leading up to the potential purchase day.

He was not a happy camper when he assumed the position in the examination chair. It's the needles that set him off. Well, it's the idea of the needles, really. Once the nitrous oxide is flowing and the topical numbing agent has been applied, the needles are a piece of cake. He always stops the dentist to tell her that it was not nearly as bad as he thought it was going to be. Clear sailing for the rest of the appointment. The Boy and his brittle, weak enamel are patched up for another few months. The Boy returned to the waiting room where he immediately began organizing the office's meager Lego supply.

I had the job of taking The Girl to the examination room. By the hand. She felt it her duty to pretend a dramatic display of dental angst. Even though she's very near to being taller than me, she still needs to let everyone know that her miserable 12-year old life is all my fault. The Girl handles her stress and anxiety more quietly than her brother. Sarcasm and dramatics are popular tools of hers. But very soon the nitrous oxide was flowing again and the needles were tolerated with only a wee bit of toe curling. A bit of elbow grease on the part of the dentist and The Girl was three teeth lighter. For some unexplained reason, these primary teeth were hanging in there for the long haul.

The Girl was quite concerned, but not about the gaping spaces in her smile. She wanted her proverbial carrot. Still dozey from the gas, she wanted to make sure we were able to get to the book store before we left for home. She was so concerned, in fact, that the dentist had to set the timer so that she would keep her groggy butt parked until she was cleared for take-off.

I won't even get into how drugged I felt after the appointments when my funds were frozen and extracted. Please send your sympathies to zehnplus@gmail.com...

Soon I found myself in the book store with two drooly, slurring kids, one of who was very clearly not herself. Normally quite animated in the book store, The Girl was wandering around like the walking wounded. She couldn't find one appealing thing for me to buy for her. A clear sign that she should rest. One Universe book later, picked out by The Boy, we were on our way.

The kids were such troopers today. I'm proud of the way they handled themselves. As stressed out and anxious as they were, they were steady and brave when the going got tough. They were good company, considerate travellers and mature conversationalists. All the sibling 'issues' I see in a regular day disappeared and resurfaced as kind words and empathy for each other. (I suppose misery really does love company?!) At the end of the day, I am reminded of how great my kids are.

I am also reminded that they are not stupid. I'm off to do something about the three teeth under my 12-year old's pillow. Did I mention how much today is costing me??!


What Mess Is This?!

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's funny how I've acquired such a pile of knitting supplies. It seems you mention to one person that you've taken up a bit of knitting and things start showing up on your doorstep.

The most memorable of my acquisitions was gifted to me by a retiring knitter. It bridged the crochet-to-knitting gap for me as I hadn't really become a knitter yet. A large supply of needles landed on my doorstep one day. Upon inspection I discovered I had many long needles in many sizes, double pointed needles - long and short - also in the most popular sizes, and a full compliment of circular needles.

Along with the needles came a big lot of yarn. I learned very quickly that knitters tend to be particular about the yarn they prefer. 100% acrylic all the time is not my preference. Being a new knitter, I wasn't sure what my preference was, but it certainly wasn't this. After a few years of sitting in my basement with the odd experiment inflicted upon it, much of this yarn was destined to the local Red Cross knitters.

Just this past weekend, I finally weeded my knitting needles. I've kept a set of crochet hooks, and one set of each size in the long, double-pointed and circular knitting needle styles. I also pared my stash (see...I'm a knitter now because I'm using all the right lingo). It was brutal. I am left with a small shopping bag of carefully selected fiber.

Ready to be re-gifted to other aspiring knitters is a collection of needles and yarn - a large garbage bag full of it. It is in my basement, waiting patiently for said knitters to turn up.

Hopefully they will not turn up in my basement. Hopefully, some might turn up at a local meeting of knitters. Since there is not such a group in my area, I began to think about what it would take to organize such a group. I said as much to my sister, who spoke to her friend, who also has a friend. Sister also said something to her mother-in-law who, as it turns out, also has a friend. I mentioned something to my mom, who, wouldn't you know it, has a friend. All of these people are interested in a semi-regular knitting gathering.

My sister and I are working toward organizing a free meeting location and a schedule. I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of people we're going to pull out of the woodwork. I'm sure I can 'gift' knitting newbies with a set of needles and a ball of yarn. That would be welcoming, no? I think it would be only fitting that I help others in their acquisition of knitting supplies since others were so generous to me.


Winds of Change for The Boy Child

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Boy Child came to me last week and made a very valid point. He hates math and history. They're boring and too much work. It makes the whole school day awful, waiting for those nasty subjects to be finished with, only to have to do it all over again tomorrow.

Ouch. Over the summer I had carefully considered our subjects and acquired the materials. I had carefully considered our calendar. Then I carefully broke down our materials into daily work that could be fit comfortably over the course of our calendar. Good plan, right? Lots of room for days off and flexibility. Easily encompasses the kids' request of 'Please don't make us do catching up on our work this year, Mom'. Yet still lots of stuff to get through. Mr. A like to see us doing stuff in our day.

The Boy's point quickly reminded me that I had no backup: no Plan B, no alternate exit. I needed a detour and I needed one now...well, for Thursday, the complaint being heard at Wednesday's bedtime. Knowing me, if I thought about this problem too long, I would turn it into a perfectionist's nightmare requiring me to re-plan 36 weeks of schoolwork complete with re-vamped resources and new paperwork. And wouldn't that stall our momentum?

So I thought the best course of action would be to take inventory. I can't change the materials, but I can change the method of delivery if I want. The Girl, who participates in the history work, is not opposed to the work once she gets going on it. In fact, she's doing a good job. So, modifications required for The Boy, but not necessarily The Girl.

The Boy Child is working his way through Saxon 5/4 this year. I chose the Saxon program based on my own math insecurities and my lack of regular-use-of-all-things-mathish as well as for the painfully detailed explanations they provide for every step of every concept. The Boy, being fairly math minded and very quick on learning concepts, only does half the daily questions in the problem set. Even numbered problems on even numbered lessons and odd numbered problems on odd numbered lessons gives him regular and thorough practice. Test Days are popular because there is no lesson that day, just the 20-question test. There are several parts to a Saxon Math lesson. Each day, The Boy reads a lesson and does the questions presented to practice the new concept. There is the problem set of questions that I mentioned above. There is also a daily fact practice page that takes 2 to 5 minutes to do, depending on how motivated The Boy is. As long as test scores stay in the excellent range (my expectation) The Boy Child may retain responsibility for the amount of time and effort he puts into the reading and practice of the lessons (his effort). I also cut off fact practice at 5 minutes, whether he has completed the page or not.

Due to his Math Blues, the Boy Child has spent increasing amounts of time being inefficient in his math studies. He hovers his pencil over the math fact page, usually 40 - 100 questions of one operation (+, -, x, /), looking for the '5 facts' or the ones that will be '0' or any with a '3' in the fact. A painfully slow method which sees him completing only 1/3 of the facts which makes him frustrated because I stop him after 5 minutes of this silliness and he never finishes a page so therefore it is too hard, too much writing, too boooorrrring.

We have agreed on the following arrangement:
  • The Boy will continue to read the lesson.

  • The Boy will verbally complete a practice question or two.

  • The Boy will continue to do half of the daily problem set.

  • The Boy will use flash cards (x, /) instead of any written fact practice pages.

World History
We are working our way thorough the third book and activities of Story Of The World (early Modern Times) this year. A typical week's work will include reading a chapter in two or three different sittings, verbal review questions, a narrated summary paragraph, a map activity, a related reading in our Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History and one other activity (Internet links from the UILE or something out of the SOTW Activity Guide).

The Boy likes the readings. He likes the maps. The activities he likes, too, as long as there are not too many arts & crafty type things. Usually though, they are science-y type things or boyish stuff...like the day we burned the (cardboard) streets of London down in our driveway. That was popular.

The sticking point in our World History studies are the narrative paragraphs. After we read a section, we review using the questions in the Activity Guide. I don't have the kids do this to prove they were paying attention, but to practice composition. Through question and answer, the kids practice composing a sentence. Just one. It doesn't even have to be a good sentence, just a half-decent one. I'm happy with one or two relevant nouns. So really, it's a Language Arts exercise. After Q & A, the next task is to compose a summary paragraph. Nothing fancy, just beginning-middle-end. The Girl Child is getting pretty good at this. She has worked her way up to a page of single-spaced writing which is quite interesting and entertaining to listen to when she reads it back.

I'm not too sure what The Boy is finding frustrating. He composes with coaching and I scribe. We chatted about this and I tried to explain that the more we did this, the easier the exercise becomes. He agreed to try to be patient and I agreed to stick more strictly to the 'Beginning-Middle-End' requirement. We'll revisit in a couple of weeks.

Canadian History
Our Canadian history studies this year take us through a chronological timeline from the first discovery to Nunavut, our newest territory, being created. We're up to the fall of New France. Which touches on New England's independence and explains why most of us Canuk's are speaking English instead of French. It was all decided by a battle that started after breakfast and was finished in time for lunch.

We're following Courage & Conquest. It's a great outline. You can make it very in depth or just skim the surface if you'd rather. You can rely on the historical literature suggestions or focus on the non-fiction reading suggestions.

Each week I introduce our chapter with a quick overview from Courage & Conquest. I've been great about signing out this week's suggested reading when I was at the library last week. Clever, organized, on-the-ball homeschooling Mom, am I not? So we read. I admit I've been a little non-fiction heavy in my choices. The kids weren't nearly as excited about Champlain's journal as I thought they would be. We are watching our way through the highly recommended and very well done Canada: A People's History.

The Boy says all of this is boring. So I have suggested we scale back on the non-fiction. Instead we will focus on read alouds from well-written historical fiction selections. This means about an hour a day, minimum, of me reading out loud. Only one day per week will I get out the non-fiction. The DVD selections will be optional for The Boy. He has agreed to give stories with a female protagonist a good chance before declaring them unworthy and unacceptable, even if it means he has to 'distract' himself with marble-run building, Lego or XBox360.

* * *

The Boy has been pulling out the colourful Saxon multiplication/division flash cards on his own to practice. And he is reviewing many more facts than I would ask him to. We completed our first narrative paragraph of the New Year today. He tried very hard to remember relevant points from our reading and I tried to give him sentence starters and other composition suggestions. He apologized for such a 'painful process' and I hugged him and told him 'Not at all!' He made an effort, I tried to be helpful in the way that he needed and it was all over in 20 minutes. We are reading from the Dear Canada series. It is a book about the Fille du Roi. Even though the story is about a girl, Hélène d'Onge, it is enjoyable enough that we managed two readings today.

Our mutually agreed upon changes seem to be working. I can tell because the bedtime complaining is almost nill. We shall see if these changes will carry us through the remainder of our school year, or if we have to change it up again.

I am seriously counting my lucky stars tonight as I wrap up this blog. I can't help but suspect how lost The Boy would be if he was a child in the school system. He doesn't like to write, read, cut, draw, colour, create, be near girls, sit still or regurgitate facts. I am thankful for so many things tonight. But, that's another blog. ☺

Mrs. A


It's Wednesday...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We're chugging along with our week. Books have been read aloud and noone is starving. I've been making an effort to get less coffee and sugar and more sleep. More effort is required.

The Girl Child is in fine form this week. We are experiencing the fallout of every emotion known to man. Generally, by the end of the day, she's thoughtful and apologetic. Ah, puberty.

Monday found us at the local sledding hill and outdoor rink with a few other homeschoolers. Good times. The Boy Child dressed in goalie gear and played between the pipes. He didn't do very well considering most of those playing were adults. But, noone minded - even The Boy himself - and everyone had a good time.

Monday night things got crazy. I made three dinners. There was the one for us before The Boy's regular Monday night hockey game. There was the dish and dessert for my extended family's impromptu pot-luck family dinner which I was very clear that I wouldn't be able to attend. But since I'm part of that mixed up dysfunctional conglomeration, I sent food and The Girl Child as a delegate. And, of course, we had to eat a proper dinner after hockey. That evening, Mr. A and I had a long conversation about effectively saying 'no' to my family. Doing so may involve a pre-recorded message on my answering machine and a neon sign on my door.

To celebrate my new-found and, as yet, unpracticed assertiveness, my brothers and I attended a late night hockey game my brother-in-law was playing. Along for the ride was my very pregnant sister-in-law, married to one of the brothers. We're trying many things to goad her into labour. It's not working. Good times were had by all. The coffee and Bailey's helped.

Tuesday saw school work interrupted by one of the aforementioned brothers. This particular brother has been overseas for a year and his four-week visit home is drawing to an end. He'll be taking off for another year abroad at the end of the week. We're happy to interrupt schoolwork for him. We enjoyed a rousing round of G-rated Skattergories and he entertained us with stories of his high school antics (food fights and unsupervised 'gatherings' and such).

Today is Wednesday. We're halfway there, says The Boy Child. I'm not sure what is waiting for us at the end of the week, but apparently it's anticipated. On the docket today is some schoolwork. As well, we're hoping to get a new little person welcomed to the world before a certain uncle has to depart. It's not looking good. There's been some talk of peering in my sister-in-law's windows and scaring the daylights out of her to get labour started but I'm trying to downplay such antics. Things do get a little crazy - yet entertaining - when my brothers get together.


Schedule Woes

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mrs. A doing her best to keep her stick on the ice.

Why oh why do routine and the regular scheduling of daily events elude me?!

Seriously! How hard can it be to do the same things every day without stress and disaster?!

Monday was great - but I had three weeks of holiday time to psych myself up for it. I guess I forgot to include the rest of the week in my visualization exercises.

Tuesday morning was when things started to fall apart. Things stayed relatively dismal until Thursday morning when I felt a glimmer of hope that the weekend was coming. By Friday morning I was dragging again, trying to catch up with my week. Then I recalled the "More"bucks Tall Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha Non-Fat No-Whip I was going to get on my way to the library. Some perking up happened. Things were looking up until The Boy Child and The Girl Child had an ugly sibling moment while playing outside at the end of the day.

Mr. A rescued my sorry self from the depths of The Pit of Parenting Despair by means of a last-minute babysitter and a date at a fancy restaurant. We proceeded to blow all $110 we had in gift certificates in one meal. I had wine, appetizers, an amazing pasta concoction (truffle and cheese and mushroom sauce) and cappuccino. I even brought a dessert home for the babysitter. It was lovely. Somehow though, I don't think Mr. A's employer would reward an unproductive week - including many Must-Do's left undone - by sending him out to dinner to drown his sorrows in a bottle of Dienhard Reisling.

So, what is the problem here? Priorities? Standards? Motivation? Adult ADD?

I need a plan. The plan cannot include the implementation of any new 'tools'. Anything requiring more of my attention or more organization or more list making is banned. I don't need a household management binder or an email every twenty minutes or cue cards in a box. I need a good kick in the a$$. Perhaps regular performance evaluations would be a good idea. Don't tell Mr. A I said that.

Wish me luck with the upcoming week. I will do better to keep my stick on the ice. I will strive to keep people fed, clothed, cleaned, educated and safe from piles of clutter. I will strive to do so in a complaint-free, drama-free, un-martyr-ish fashion. Perhaps the first of my 12-in-12 should be A Peaceful Routine At Home.


Happy New Year! (and some Link Love)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How's that for a creative, attention grabbing title? Weak, I know. But really, I hope you had a good New Year's celebration as quiet or as feisty-spicy as it may or may not have been. I hope you're looking forward to seeing how 2010 pans out. By the way, are you a 'twenty-ten' kind of person or are you more in the 'two thousand ten' camp? Mrs. A. needs to know because I keep waffling.

The New Year and I have a Love-Hate relationship. I love beginnings: clean slates, starting lines, fresh starts. I hate the stick-with-it-ness that I inevitably and predictably procrastinate my way out of. Therefore, there is a noticeable lack of resolution proclamation around here. The disappointment is just not worth it. I do, however, have a few ideas percolating in the background...but nothing I'm willing to lay claim to just yet.

This New Year has started off on a positive note for me. There are new beginnings happening in the bedroom. Real actual furniture has been purchased. That's it, just furniture. This may not be very exciting for most folk, but I'm over the moon. One of the pitfalls of starting a family before establishing a household is the persistent lingering of the college bachelor pad homestead: practical before pretty and pieced together before planned. But no more - Mr. A and I will soon have a proper grown-up bedroom. In our search for a proper dresser, Mr. A and I found ourselves purchasing a complete bedroom set. More economical in the long run. Next month will see us purchase proper mattresses so we can replace the outdated, hand-me-down waterbed I've been sleeping in these last ten years. To distract me from the wait, Mr. A. purchased me paint. I LOVE to paint! So I am now the proud owner of a half-painted bedroom half-furnished with real furniture. (If the novelty of staring at my half-bedroom wears off, I'll paint the downstairs trim until the mattresses are ordered.)

I'm also excited about our New Year homeschooling plans. The last few evenings I've had our books out, getting organized for this coming week, Week #14/36 of our homeschooling year. Happily, I don't have a lot to do due to the work I did planning things out in the fall. New additions to our work arrived under the Christmas tree thanks to my supportive and overly generous mother-in-law. The Girl Child has a new art program Artistic Pursuits. She'll also be taking art classes with a local artist who is highly skilled in graphic design and technical illustration. As part of my thrown-together-in-desperation science curriculum, we'll be reading our way through Galileo for Kids: His Life and Ideas. The Boy Child is keen to use our telescope so hopefully the calendar I bought Skywatchers 2010 will be a daily reminder to do so. Although I am excited to resume our daily bookwork, I can't say that the kids are. I've been visualizing the appropriate parenting methods - patience and clear communication of expectations - that I will employ to deal with any slugishness or resistance. I should have a good week in me before I have to resort to bribery.

I figured that a New Year requires a little virtual closet cleaning as well. I've pared down my blogroll reading list. My goal is to spend no more than an hour poking through cyberspace on my daily blog-crawl and related side-clicks. I do love my blog reading. Good writing, ideas, inspiration and even a bit of entertainment all available with a couple of clicks. I'm such an instant gratification kind of girl. So here's what's holding my attention lately. Peruse at your leisure:

I hope you'll forward any favourite haunts my way. After all, I'm a quick reader. As long as everyone doesn't get all ambitious by blogging every day, I should be able to keep up.

I'm off to rest up for an early start tomorrow. I find it best to return to a regular schedule after holidays by scheduling early morning guests..my dad should be popping by around 8am. Hopefully I'll be dressed and have the dog walked by then. It's always good to have Monday morning ambitions.

♥Mrs. A.


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