Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's for dinner?

I love to experiment and try new recipes, but with a busy life and 3 kids, I can no longer wing it at dinner time. I have an excel spreadsheet with my 3 week rotations. The three week rotation is a chore rotation for the kids. Each child has a particular chore for a week. They swap jobs on Sundays. The first rotation is finished. I've used it for 15 weeks and loved it. I am ready for variety though and am starting another 3 week rotation. My hope is to compile 4 of these so I can adjust the menu seasonally to take advantage of fresh produce and lower prices. I have found that I spend less money on groceries if I stick with my menu. It is generic enough I don't get too bored, but specific enough I can make sure I have the ingredients on hand for the week's meals. The second 3 week rotation is a work in progress. I'm not too excited with it at the moment so please feel free to leave comments and suggestions. I'd like to add in a cooking night per week per child and my older kids want to start making a family lunch a few times a week. Ideally they'll plan and prepare that meal.

For some reason I can't figure out how to post an excel spreadsheet to my blog, anyone know how to do this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


When we moved from Phoenix, AZ to Portland, OR my husband and I gave ourselves a challenge. Let's see how little we really needed. We packed what we could into the back of our CRV. Every nook and cranny was filled to the brim. Each child brought a small rubbermaid storage tote filled with their favorite items. We pretended we were very spoiled pioneers following our own Oregon Trail. We had all the modern amenities, but we didn't have much space and we had to be selective about what we took and what we would leave behind. We did not bring a TV, but we do watch a movie on our computer each weekend. We assumed we would use the library for our little readers.

O, almost 3yo- filled his box with train tracks, trains, building blocks, alphabet blocks, and tools.

F 5 3/4yo-chose to bring his car collection- mostly corvettes, his paper airplane book, and a few stuffed animals.

Z 7 3/4yo- Brought a few books, her scriptures, her small American Girl dolls, her Groovy Girls, her beading supplies, stuffed animals, and a sewing kit.

The children have shared so nicely with each other, played with all their toys, and cleaned them up on a regular basis. I think sometimes when I buy a toy for my children , I imagine it will make my child smarter or buy me some free time. What this experiment has shown me is we don't need much to provide a rich learning environment for our children and our attention is much more important than the latest video game or newest solar system kit ( or fill in the toy name blank). My children have struggled learning to leave me alone, when I need a break or to get something finished quickly. Here, without the extra stimulation of our home in Phoenix, they are learning to play with each other and to respect my boundaries and house rules.

We regularly send the kids to the park behind our apartment- I can see it directly below my 2nd floor balcony. They love the freedom, the independence, and most importantly the responsibility to look after each other. Each child has gained confidence and learned compassion and empathy for each other. Does this mean they never fight- no, they are learning how to get out of the fights better and how to be loyal friends. It was tough for me to let go and ato trust them, but they have exceeded my expectations and are a source of great pleasure.

If you look closely you can see the little park in the bottom left hand corner of the picture.

B and I packed the bare minimum of clothing with very different stratagies. I assumed we'd take lots of pictures and selected more presentable outfits. B, ever the pragmatist, brought mostly what he would leave behind. Almost worn out? Pack it! Hate that shirt? Bring it- I'll leave it in OR. We brought our cast iron skillet and no other kitchen supplies. I brought my sewing machines and he brought very few personal belongings. I shipped two boxes of school books to my friend. Our car looked like it would explode if we put one more thing in there! (We are getting a rack and cargo box for the trip back to Phoenix). We assumed we could furnish our apartment mostly with 2nd hand items! The thrift stores out here are awesome! We had a friend lend us a couch and we bought a laptop and printer out here. Since we will take the electronics home with us, I'm not including it in our overall spending. We furnished our apartment- for about $1000. That paid for pans, dishes, storage containers, cooking utensils, stereo, table and chairs, coffee table, stereo table, dresser, 3 kid mattresses (new), 1 king size mattress set, vacuum cleaner, some clothes for the family, and 2 air conditioners. None of the items are made out of particle board (yuck!). I am amazed at how well we did and the kids learned some valuable lessons on budgeting and what you can buy used and what should be purchased new.

Living Room

Kitchen & Dining area

Kids room

My room

I have come to appreciate and enjoy simplicity. I think I am going to purge even more stuff from our home in AZ when we return in October/November. I love our experiment and so far it has had so many benefits for our family.

Life is good

Today I walked to the eye doctor with my three kids in tow. I can't believe how much I love living near Portland, Oregon. The kids behaved well for the hour and a half we were at the doctor's office and afterward we went out to lunch and walked home. I didn't have to yell at the kids or beg them to stop harrassing each other. I love how accessible the shops and doctors' offices are and how I can leave my car parked for a few days and not drive anywhere if I don't want to. If I do want to go somewhere, I only have to drive 15 min-30 minutes to see some spectacular scenerey, nature preserve, or go into Portland. The best part though is it is only 70 degrees today- in the middle of June. For those of you not from Phoenix, you will probably not understand my love affair with a cool summer. I feel a vibrance, an energy, and a love of life I've not felt in a long time. I love how cool it is here.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Z & O enjoy the library
D, F, O, & Z enjoy the beautiful flowers at the Rhodedendron Garden in Portland, OR

When we moved from Phoenix to Portland, I felt so uptight and stressed out. I was totally burnt out. Between homeschooling, the move, my volunteer work, and purging the house of excess stuff- I had taken on more than I could handle alone. I guess I'm still learning how to ask for help. As we drove through California, visiting with old friends, I began to relax and find myself again. You know the person you want to be, the one that you lose the minute you start irrationally yelling at you kids- when their bickering is about to send you over the cliff of insanity. Oh wait, we don't yell at our children.....(most of the time). So I've rediscovered that person and I love how as we drove north and far away from the heat I just unwound. I'd almost say I'm pretty mellow these days. The most amazing part about finding my mellow side again is that my kids are unwinding and less defensive with each other. I really should have paid attention to my little mood barometers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Birthday Mayhem Part 2

For F's 5th bday we celebrated early by visiting Prescott for a classic Corvette show. He had no idea. As we walked down the street he saw one, then two, then three Corvettes. He began shaking with excitement and glee as he noticed Covettes lining both sides and the middle of a 3 downtown streets. He was thrilled with his early present. The pictures say it all.

Hmm. What's that I see?

How does that work?

B and my favorite. I like the old Stingrays too. We are not really Corvette-philes, but F has taught us to appreciate them.

Now, let me tell you about my car....

F's favorite (aside from the Stingrays). He liked the way it opened up.

He thought this one looked like Ramon, from Cars.

Lunch at a nearby diner


B & O

D & O

F & O

On Oct 4th, we had a very simple friend party at a nearby park. Z & F each had a small group of friends come. They played happily on the equipment and splashed in the spray pad. This party was by far the easiest and most laid back party we've had yet for Z & F. O even enjoyed himself.

As I look back over the last almost 8 years, I am so thankful and happy with how blessed my life has been. My children are amazing. They have taught me lessons, I would never learned without them. I have a compassionate and loving husband, who encourages me to be my best. I have supportive and caring friends. The past 8 years have not always been easy, especially with all the moves we've made, but I have always been blessed at each point along the way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Birthday Mayhem! Part 1

(My apologies in advance, I can't quite figure out the formatting issue I am having today, so keep on scrolling down to see the post! )

September and October are usually busy, exhausting months due to Z & F's birthday's-8 days apart. This year to take the sugar encrusted edge off the festivities and avoid the tears, we decided to try something new. We wanted to make the family celebration a big deal and the friend party- low key. For Z, she loves to read, loves nature, and butterflies. In celebration of her 7th birthday, we went to San Pedro Riparian Preserve to watch a humming bird survey. They catch, weigh, measure, band, and inspect humming birds. Then they let the visitors release the hummingbirds.

Z got to adopt a humming bird, she named Zoe and released it.

F also had a turn.

O was terrified the bird would use its long beak to hurt him and kept chanting "Ow, Owws, bug makes ow owws." He was super curious.

Z also made friends with a caterpillar. She wanted to take it home.

We took a day trip to Sierra Vista to see the birds and stopped to visit a friend in Suarhita along the way. It is a town just south of Tucson. I hadn't seen K in around 15 years! We grew up in KS and MO. I was surprised to find out she was practically in our back yard! Now, she has 4 amazing children, and I have 3 awesome kids. We had a wonderful visit. She makes the most amazing bread and welcomed us into her home with a slice of bread and open arms.

After visiting the bird preserve, we stopped at Mag Pies pizza in Tucson on the way home. YUMM! It was a cool, clear night, we ate in their fenced in patio and O could run and play while we waited for our pizzas. It was such a relief to leave Pheonix behind and go somewhere a tiny bit cooler.
We returned home tired and happy from our trip. We drove around 400 miles round trip and have lovely memories of our day. Z said this was the best birthday present. Happy Birthday, sweet girl!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Homeschool 101

I've been pretty busy and it seems like whenever I want to work on my blog there is a kid sneaking into the office in the middle of the night or B is using our computer.

Ok, so this is a long one, but after a month and questions from friends I thought I'd share some of my homeschooling information.

We are homeschooling Z and F right now and so far I am enjoying the experience. I am not using a specific curriculum this year, but I have done a lot of reading about the educational process for Z's grade level and for F, I remember the activities they did at the parent cooperative preschools we attended in California and Oregon. A friend of mine in California who homeschooled her 3 girls, recommended that I not purchase curriculum the first year. Instead, she said to borrow it, use the library, or piece it together. The benefit is that we are not out a lot of money and that we will learn through trial and error, what works for us. Here are the books I have read and I am currently using.

Raising Lifelong Learners by Lucy Calkins and ?

Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic: Implications of Piagets Theory.... by Constance Kammi and ?

The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise

The Story of The World by Susan Wise Bauer?---we use this for history

First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise----we use this for grammar

Brain Quest work books from Costco-----just in case I miss something


Z already reads, so reading is whatever book she desires to work on

What your (whatever grade child) needs to know, Ed Hirsch?

Girl Scout handbooks

I have a little morning circle time where we read a few scriptures, sing silly songs, introduce counting in German, and read a fun novel.

Roald Dahl

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Charlotte's Web

Nate the Great

Junie B Jones

American Girls series

these are books and authors that we enjoy reading aloud- for this age group There are many more, but for the sake of time they will wait for another day.

Trisha Kuffner has great books on activities to do w/ various age groups and are in the play based learning school of thought.

How to talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk is an excellent book to read too.

There are so many curricula and homeschool philosophies out there on the market. What I did, so I would not be confused, was to figure out how kids learn and what is age/developmentally appropriate. Then I started to research the pros/cons of homeschooling and pick the brains of my friends who have done it through high school and those that are juggling young children. After all this, I tackled the educational philosophies of homeschoolers- so I would know what books would be appropriate and so I could analyze the various curriculum available. I attended a homeschool conference- to learn how to do it, what resources and support networks were available, and to see the curriculum in the exhibit hall. I'll give you a brief rundown of what I've learned, but if you are planning to homeschool you will want to do something similar so you can tailor it to your family. I also have my time (7 years combined between F & Z) with the parent co-op preschools to draw on plus my time volunteering in the public schools.

If you want to attend a parent cooperative preschool, here is some info. These are a marriage of homeschooling and public schools that I love. Pick a school that focuses on play-based learning- no worksheets, drills, or overly structured schedules. Look for a rich language development environment- pretend play, story telling, various ways to express ideas, art, emphasis on social conflict resolution skills that empower the child, etc. Most of these kids will go on to public schools, but it will give you experience/practice at these skills and exposure to a broad spectrum of age appropriate behaviors and expectations.

My experiences from these schools are part of the filter I use to evaluate educational materials. Developmentally, up until age 8 research shows (I don't have specific studies on hand, but could find some if you would like) that children learn and retain knowledge best through play. Around age 8, play supplements learning and eventually becomes secondary to learning by the teenage years. So I look for activities that are fun and reinforce what we are learning in our lessons. For example- we are learning about nouns and Z is bored out of her skull with them, but it is necessary to know what kinds of nouns are out there. I've been making up mad libs to reinforce which kinds of nouns are out there. We use art to illustrate poems she is memorizing. We could act out or pretend to be characters in a book to learn about history or a specific topic. Since Z loves to read I have her read Magic School Bus books for science or a nature walk and journal time for observation and recording skills. Cooking projects for math and sequence lessons. For F we encourage him to use scissors, modeling play dough to tell stories, take a writers walk. He loves cars. We use them to introduce reading, letters, classification, and sorting skills. We also have memberships to several museums, the zoo, the botanical gardens, and the YMCA. We go to the library story time once a week.

***Here is an important piece of advice: Keep your schedule and curriculum simple! Try to get organized before you begin homeschooling, because life is about to get busy! Watch your pennies it is way too easy to spend money, especially during difficult times. Give yourself a few years to feel completely comfortable.***

Pro/Con of homeschooling that I considered before I decided to homeschool the kids:

Pros- socialization, time w/ kids, flexibility, less hectic schedules, museums, you teach your values, family closeness, life experiences, consistent education, foster a love of learning.... and much more.

Cons/worries- mom burnout, juggling requirements on your time, changing my expectations for school memories, finding time to prepare lessons, isolation for you- you need to find other moms and kids for support, managing a balance between social activities and academics. Unclear boundaries with children, discipline issues, and power struggles (general parenting issues).

For my friends considering homeschooling:

Know why you are doing it- lots of well intentioned people will say-good for you, I could never do it. I don't have the patience to teach my child. What about socialization? This one is asked in many ways- are your kids enrolled in outside activities? etc be prepared with a simple pleasant or funny answer. Mine is: I get my kids when they are crabby at the end of the day, no matter what. Now I have them when they are fun and pleasant and I have good memories to go w/ the difficult ones. We have the opportunity to go on field trips, museums, and attend classes we never had before. We are having so much fun! or I simply say we move frequently and this will give consistency to their education. If someone is interested, I could go more in depth on the social reasons that influenced my decision to homeschool, political, economic, cultural, character development, and so on. Honestly though, most people don't care, want to know, or hear these reasons and I don't feel the need to make my friends uncomfortable or defensive, by questioning their parenting choices.

What many people don't realize is that if you are an involved parent, then most of parenting is homeschooling. For me, it was a relief to figure this out and appreciate how teaching my children is a natural progression of the nurturing and teaching I did w/ my kids as babies. It's not as though babies fall out of the sky without a way to learn about their world. We can teach our children and we do- whether intentional or unintentional.

Know what your state law requires you to do and turn in.

Interview your friends, contact friends that were homeschooled themselves and question them about their experience, read, find a local homeschool association.

Simple intro to homeschooling philosophies (I am sure I will leave many out, I seem to have done a mental flush of unnecessary information, since this summer. Blame it on the triple digit, AZ heat!):

1. unschooling- a laisez faire approach to education. totally child directed. Pro- the child leads and the parent follows it is the ultimate in learning through play/experience (appealing)

2. Charlotte Mason-uses short lessons, lots of nature walks, observation, copy work, and developmentally appropriate materials.

3. Classical or trivium-(see the well trained mind) a program that repeats subjects every few years with increasing depth. The belief is that children go through 3 stages: grammar-up to age 8 kids are like sponges, need to be exposed to many subjects in an orderly fashion. this is a time for exposure to topics. logic : 8-12 or 14 kids are beginning to understand reason and debate and this is the second round of exposure to material. The final stage, rhetoric, is in the teen years where kids can understand and craft arguments and learn the material for the third time in depth.

4. Unit studies- teach math, science, reading, etc through a single topic- ie. Egypt, music, art, farm visit.

5. Better late than never- delay education until child is ready, usually 8-10 years old.

6. Living Books- uses great literature to teach and provoke discussion.

7. Text books/ Computers- more like school.

8. Montessori

Most people use a combination of approaches depending on their children. I have really enjoyed the few books I have read that come from teachers at Columbia Teacher's College.

Curriculum for us this year and then what I am thinking about for next year:

Language arts: First Language Lessons -this is simple, uses materials I have at home, and geared toward homeschoolers.

Raising Lifelong Learners has great ideas on writing and reading

Read along Handbook by Jim Trelease

Reading: Classic children's literature to read aloud, books on CD from the library w/ corresponding book, and whatever the kids check out and desire to read.

Early readers for F- Bob books, Dr. Seuss, scriptures, anything with corvettes in it, environmental literature-signs etc

Math: Young Children reinvent Arithmetic- uses games to teach and retain mathematical skills, cooking, Brain Quest workbook (has other subjects as well) from Costco, story problems, grocery shopping trips.

Science: Through literature, observational skills through field trips. Cooking and other kitchen experiments.

Social Studies: Story of the world- nomadic through ancient times. Tells the story of history in several time chunks. You can also purchase an activity guide too. Kids enjoy it.

Girl Scouts- gs meetings and at home use handbook for fun and simple activities

PE: we are in several YMCA classes. I work out once or twice a week during the kids' classes, swimming, and park outings.

Next year: I am probably going to purchase several curricula and am pondering my options.

For Math: Singapore Math- uses lots of story problems and has a strong emphasis on logic and reason skills. (often people will get Horizon math or Saxon Math, but after reading the book by Constance Kammii, I am hesitant to go w/ a total drill/memorization method). I have seen playful learning work well for math at the preschools so I am trying to find a good balance. F loves workbooks so he'll get more game time to work on logic and reason skills.

For everything else I am considering a living books approach because I want the kids to read great books and use them as a venue for discussion and introducing other subjects. One company I have found that has an interesting curriculum is sonlight. It does not seem over the top and focuses on great books- already picked out, lesson guides, and activity books included. It would be adaptable to my desire for the kids to also learn through play.

I don't know for certain if that is what I am going to do yet. I am also interested in Charlotte Mason.

I plan to supplement this with my current- Monday-museums and Friday-friend/fieldtrip days. We will go to the library once a week during story time. PE will be the same. This is all a work in progress. I'll keep you posted what I end up doing.

In the next few postings I'll include pictures from the kids' family b-day celebration and presents. We are trying something new this year.

Monday, August 4, 2008

True Love

I have an amazing husband. He tries to come off as gruff and cynical, but I know he has a heart of gold. He is a complicated man.

On Sunday, my husband was sick, so he stayed home from church with our youngest. They were supposed to be napping.

Instead, he surprised me with a clean house.

Downstairs swept and mopped, no small feat, it is about 1300 sq ft+ of tile.

Dishes done.

Kitchen counters clean and clear.

Trash by the door to be taken out.

Living room picked up.

Playroom/Schoolroom picked up.

Clothes and dirty rags in dirty laundry bins.

Load of laundry in washer and one in the dryer.

12 loads of clean laundry sorted and almost put away.

Boys' room clean.

Shoes gathered and placed in the shoe bin.

He does this because he knows it makes me happy and calm to tame our chaotic house. I am a very fortunate woman.
You may be thinking, "Don't get used to this," but this is not an isolated event.

He is building builtins for the boy's bedroom, even after swearing he would never build another built in again, ever.

He does goofy things like ride the kids' bikes when they are learning to ride and swinging on a swing with the older kids.

I admire his energy, his determination, and his sense of humor.
He takes the kids swimming almost every day.
He becomes more handsome with each passing year

He is thoughtful.

He cares deeply about me and what I think.

He supports me and all my fanciful daydreams.

He loves me unconditionally.

He does all this because he wants to see me smile and my eyes sparkle.

I am a fortunate woman. I have what I always believed a marriage should be. A partnership, unconditional love, a dear friend, an equal, and a companion. He keeps me grounded with love and the same time encourages me to persue my dreams.