Three Things

1. School Has Begun

First Day PixParadoxically, this has given me more knitting time. Homeschooling four different grades, plus teaching preschool and toddler wrangling and caring for a newborn, requires a pretty tight schedule if I am going to have any free time for my hobbies (and it does help with keeping me sane). Then there is the fact that everyone loves school. We have so much fun doing crafts, learning to read, studying exciting events in history, and conducting science experiments. It is exhausting but oh, so satisfying. (For those who would ask, our schooling is a blend of unschooling where we can, Charlotte Mason because it is fun and interesting (amblesideonline.org specifically), with Making Math Meaningful and Hooked on Phonics to teach the basics.

2. Knitting has happened

IMGP0127Not a whole lot of knitting, mind you, but just enough that I can show off a new finished project (and the baby. I never miss an opportunity to show off the baby!).

IMGP0101This cute little hat was a test knit that I did for perfectdisplay on Ravelry. There is no pattern, yet, but I will update my Ravelry project page when there is. Working with this yarn (Cascade Yarns Epiphany) was a heavenly experience, which came as no surprise seeing as it is spun from alpaca, silk, and cashmere. And the buttons! Oh, the buttons! Tessa Ann makes the most adorable buttons and these are no exception. 

3. A very little bit of spinning has happened as well.

IMGP9986And by “very little bit”, I mean a very little bit. This is the sample I made before I committed all 5 ounces of my muga silk to the wheel.  (This braid was a gift, purchased from Lucky Cat Crafts on Etsy.)

IMGP9960Talk about heavenly! This stuff is amazing and spins up into a gorgeous laceweight. It wants to be threadlike thin so it will be two ply. And when I said it is spinning up slowly, I was thinking of the fact that, though I started it weeks ago, I have yet to spin even half of it. 

Spinning is the hardest thing to do right now. My spinning time is at the end of the day after all of my little ankle biters are asleep in their beds. But, these days, despite my best intentions, I only have enough energy in the evenings for a little Netflix watching (currently we are enjoying old episodes of Lie to Me) and then to bed I go, falling asleep before my head hits the pillow! So, some nights I spin for an hour or so, but most nights I satisfy myself with dreaming of spinning, which is the next best thing, despite the fact that I have nothing to show for it in the morning!

 

 

 

 

 

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In Defense of the Perfect Mommy Blogger

We all love to hate her. She is disgustingly perfect. She blogs about her life and every post could be in a magazine. Her house is always clean and organized and her furnishings are gorgeous. She decorates with an amazing eye for detail and everything that she has she found at a great deal or made herself. Her closets are full of fashionable outfits and her bed is covered in hand embroidered pillows. Her kitchen looks like it could be the set for a cooking show and is always spotlessly clean.

Her children are always dressed in perfectly coordinated outfits, Little Miss’s hair things match the buttons on her blouse and the buckles on her shoes. The Little Man always has his hair combed and his face is never dirty (unless a dirty face fits into that days’ blog post, and then it is an adorable, controlled messy). Her homeschooling techniques are creative and fun. Her little ones could read at age three and knew the pythagorean theorem by their eighth year.

She makes everything from scratch out of the finest ingredients with an expert eye toward presentation and a balanced approach to nutrition. Her grain is freshly ground, her eggs came from her chicken coop out back, and she fetched her own milk from the cow in the pasture. Every meal she makes looks delicious and her children never complain that they want cereal instead of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. Her organic garden produces so much food that she sells some of it after she takes catalog quality photos of shiny eggplant and long, flawless green beans.

On top of all of that, she somehow finds time to run a flourishing business out of her basement. She creates some wonderful, one-of-a-kind product that the masses are willing to pay lots of money for and yet she somehow keeps up with the demand.

Her husband is handsome and charming. She keeps him satisfied in every way and they are living a happily ever after.

And when she blogs about this utopia of hers, she makes it sound so easy. “All I did was lead this camel through the eye of this needle like so. Anyone could do it.”

Somehow this makes us feel small. Inadequate. Like loosers.

In retaliation there has been a surge of Imperfect Mommy Bloggers. These are the ladies who flash pictures of their messy houses and dirty kids proudly. “See,” they declare, “I’m far from perfect and that is okay!” They readily admit to being in their jammies at noon and yelling at their kids. They flaunt their imperfections to make us feel better. And it works. We love them. They make us feel like we are okay. So what if I didn’t get it all done today? Nobody is perfect.

Well, I am here today to tell you that I have a problem with the imperfect mommy bloggers and this is why.

Some nights I go to bed feeling great. The house is clean, the laundry done, the dishes washed. These are the days when I spent time with each kid, talking, reading, or playing. I was a firm and gentle disciplinarian and my patience was everlasting. Our schooling was fun and we all learned something new. The Man was given a reminder of the sexy lady that he married. I prepared and served three healthy meals. My day was full, productive, and beneficial for everyone.

Some nights I go to bed feeling guilty and inadequate. The house is a wreck. I yelled at the kids. I gave The Man the cold shoulder. I spent too much time on Facebook. I fed the kids some fast food crap.

Sure, it makes me feel better to soothe my conscience by comparing myself to other moms who fail. It strokes my ego and lets me know that I am not alone. But it does not inspire me to do better.

Now I know that it is not a competition. But admit it, we all do it. If my kids are bratty, I think, “At least they are not as bratty as So-and-so’s kids” and I become complacent in my parenting. When I visit someone else’s house and it is messy or the toilet is dirty or the windows look like they haven’t been washed in months, I think, “Wow! I am doing so much better than this gal!” And my poor housekeeping skills remain where they are.

But, when I see someone with well behaved, lovely kids, I am inspired to raise my own standards for parenting. When her homeschooling is better than mine, it inspires me to be more creative and to try harder with my own. When I visit someones clean, orderly home, my own standard gets raised a little bit and I am more inclined to wash my windows.

No, it is not a competition. And I am not trying to out-do any of my friends. But I want to surround myself with people who inspire me to be better, not coddle me in my failures. Don’t tell me it’s okay that I am the way I am, show me the greatness that I can become. I don’t want to barely get by. I want to strive for excellence.

So, I cannot resent those who seem to have it all together (which, by the way, we all know that they don’t). Rather I accept the challenge to do better in my own home and with my own kids and for my own husband. Because I can do better and I want to do better. I will be inspired by the success of others and I will forgive myself when I fail.

And I will encourage others to do the same.

People Say We Monkey Around

I just created a super wonderful chore chart and put it into action this morning. It may or may not inspire the crew to get their chores done, but it sure is adorable. (Ravelry project page here. Because I knit and crocheted elements of it)

IMGP8818

 

The monkeys were knit following this pattern and the vines were a spur of the moment crochet experiment that actually worked. I used wool felt for the leaves and flowers and I watercolor painted a poster board for the background.

IMGP8820The idea is to have the monkeys climb up the vine (there are seven leaves, one for each day of the week) as each days’ chores are accomplished. The envelopes hold the chore cards – the left envelope is the chore to be done, the right is for when the chore is complete. When a monkey reaches the top of the vine, that kid has earned his reward (Sunday is “movie day”). There are a few other little rules, like what happens when you miss a day, and how to earn extra climbing, but that is the basic run down.

IMGP8819The only problem that I have so far is that everyone wants to have their monkey to play with. So, today I will be knitting some more of these cuties just for play. They are so quick, take the tiniest amount of yarn, and make my kids extraordinarily happy! I confess, they make me happy, too. I think I want a purple one.

 

 

Mama is a What?

Season passes to the zoo are wonderful things. We can pick up some In-and-Out and then go watch the giraffes for an hour while The Fraggle pushes her stroller around in circles and into passers-by. Going to the zoo for an hour or two is much more doable than spending an entire day trudging around in the hot sun trying to see everything and get our moneys worth. As it was, two hours did me in and this old pregnant body reminded me of it for days. But we had fun, and that has been in short supply since the pregnancy began, so at least I went to bed that night feeling like a good mom for the first time in a few months. 

So, there we were, looking for a parking spot so that we could spend a couple hours at the zoo. I always drive right up to the entrance first, you know, because there might be a space waiting for me right by the gate. It happens. This time, however, it didn’t.

“I don’t know why I always do that,” I remarked to the kids. “I always think there will be a spot open this close. I guess I am just an optimist.”

After a brief pause, The Munchkin piped up from the back seat, “Mama! You’re not a octopus!”

And that is why everyone should have kids. They keep you smiling.

IMGP8488

The Wisdom of Mrs. Jo

Each evening we all sit down together and read a chapter of some book. Currently we are a few chapters from completing “Little Men” by Louisa May Alcott, and we are loving every chapter.

Some books that we read are educational, some uplifting, some humerous. This one is inspirational… at least it is for me.

Mrs Jo Bhaer and her husband, Fritz, run a boarding school for boys and the book chronicles the antics and adventures that occur where a group of rowdy yet well meaning boys (and a couple of girls) reside. I love how Mrs. Jo responds to the situations that arise. I love her creativity in discipline, her sense of humor, and her kindness. But what I find most inspiring is her approach to schooling.

The book doesn’t go into it too much, as a run down of the boys’ curriculum would be dry reading indeed, but the glimpses are inspired. Take the chapter that we read last night, for example, entitled “Compositions”. Each child was called upon to report on something that they had observed during the week. One boy had forgotten to prepare and read a letter that he had written to his grandmother, one child had observed moles and reported on what he could remember, and one boy had caught a small owl and shared all that he had learned about it. Each child was encouraged at his/her own level, whether that was to write notes or just recite from memory, and the atmosphere was one of laughter, acceptance, and fun. In a time before TV this was a highlight of their week, a time to learn, laugh, and be together, sharing with each other the richness that they had observed in the world around them.

So, in the spirit of Mrs. Jo, I sent all of my kids outside this morning on a mission. Find something interesting. Watch it, touch it, learn about it. Later today I will help them write out what they observed. Maybe the older ones will get online and expand their understanding. Then, tonight they can share it with the rest of us.

That is far better schooling than the dry workbook pages that we struggled through this morning.

Thanks, Mrs. Jo!

Unschooling Has It’s Limits

I am a big fan of learn-as-you-live homeschooling.  For years our homeschooling style has been very unstructured and play-centered. I believe that curiosity is the best place to start a lesson, and that if my kids are very curious and well equipped with the skills need to find the answers to their questions, then I have done my job. And so far this has been working for us. My Bigs all learned to read when they were interested and wanted to (which happened to be before they were seven years old, but I was prepared to wait longer if necessary). We do math when we cook, play, stack blocks, go grocery shopping, budget our earnings, and every time I can fit it in to our normal day. We do science when we play outside and explore nature  (we live on 5 acres in the country), when we cook, when we go to the zoo, and every time I can fit it in to our normal day. We talk about current events. We read, read, read everything all the time (for a list of good books, see amblesideonline.org). We go to the library weekly (The Boy is a huge fan of non-fiction and regularly checks out books on physics, chemistry, and zoology. Yes, he is nine years old.). We Google everything (“Mama, what kind of bug is this?” “Mama, what do emu’s eat?” “When did man walk on the moon?” and on and on and on….). We watch educational videos. And did I mention that we read, read, read together all the time?

However, I am finding the limit to this style of educating the Bigs. There does come a time when life stops presenting you with opportunities to teach what they need to know. Math is a great example of this. There is a lot of math out there that doesn’t find it’s way into our kitchen. We need to get a book and set ourselves to “real” school. There comes a day when I realize that studying is not a natural skill and writing book reports is necessary on some level and there are some things that we are just going to have to buy text books for (could these be the skills that I mentioned earlier?). There is a time for kids to be kids. A time for play and exploration.

And then there comes a time when kids should be students. I am not talking about the Littles (let them play!). I am talking about The Bookworm. She is now twelve and in the seventh grade and we have decided that it is time for her to learn how to be a student. It isn’t just her age and grade that have influenced this decision, it is also a desire to shape her schooling around her strengths. As her nickname suggests, she is a reader, a thinker, a consumer of books, and she learns best with book and pen in hand. She is not really a hands on learner so much, and while she has learned a lot and thrived under an unschooling system, she is more than ready to hit the books. She is also mature enough to handle it, calm enough to sit through it, interested enough to learn from it, and excited to try something new.

So, this year, our school day has changed a little. The Bookworm is not with us when we read a chapter of “Our Island Story”, she is upstairs writing a book report on “Little Men”. But she does join us for craft projects and she still asks questions that we can Google together. I give her a weeks worth of assignments at the beginning of the week and expect her to manage her time wisely and get it all done (and done well) before the end of the week, when we sit down together to go over it. She is doing the full on amblesideonline school year in true Charlotte Mason style, only more (because she loves to read, so I have her reading the “suggested reading” books as well). And she is doing great! She is learning some things that fascinate her (“Mama, did you know that Pakistan split off from India because….”) and she is pushing through some stuff that she is not so thrilled with (“Do I have to show my work?”). She is learning important skills like time management and that sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do.

I am also learning. I am learning that sticking to your homeschool-philosophy-guns isn’t always the best thing and that each kid learns differently. I am learning that I can teach in a more structured way without going crazy and that there is a time when kids should turn into students. I am learning that unschooling has its limits. And that is good, because if I am not tailoring my kids schooling to their style of learning and their strengths and weaknesses, then I am missing one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling. I enjoy unschooling the littlles. And I enjoy hitting the books with the Bigs.

What an adventure this homeschooling thing is!

My Day In Numbers, A Countdown

10

phrases that I repeat over and over and over and over and over. (That would be, in no particular order, “Please speak kindly to your sister”, “Just say ‘yes, Mama’ and obey”, “Put the baby down”, “Stop running down the stairs like that”, “Ahh! You just gave me a heart attack”, “No, we don’t flush (fill in the blank) down the toilet”, “Who didn’t flush the toilet?”, “Close the front door”, “I know you are hungry, but you just ate 10 minutes ago”, and (my personal favorite), “WHY?!?”)

9

moments that I wished that I was spinning, followed by getting out the wheel, spinning for 20 seconds, and then remembering why I wait till they go to bed to spin, putting the wheel away, dealing with whatever issue tore me away from spinning and gazing longingly at spinning wheel.

8

“Read it again, Mama!”s that I acquiesced to  before I finally said, “No, I read it enough times today”.

spills to clean up.

6

little people vying for my time, attention, and love.

5

school subjects to cover while I still have their time, attention, and love.

4

phone calls ignored.

3

meals planned, prepared, served, eaten, and cleaned up.

2

minutes to myself. Barely.

1

bedtime routine executed with all diligence and speed on my part, but not really on theirs…

0

times I regretted any of it.

Sibling Wars

“Don’t touch me!” “Stop looking at me!” “Get away!”

They usually get along pretty well, but we do have our share of squabbles. Car rides are prime places for the grumpies to emerge, especially when The Boy and The Dancing Queen are seated side by side.

To be fair, our last trip was really long and they did great for hours, but the strain was too much, and eventually the bickering began.

As parents, our response is about as predictable as their arguments.

They start with the angry outburst – “Scoot over, your squishing me!”

We respond with, “Okay guys, let’s speak kindly to one another.”

It escalates to the whiney – “Stop it! I said stop it!”

We try a firmer voice – “Hey, you two. That’s enough.”

The peak is usually shrieking or tears, depending on the offending party – “GET ON YOUR SIDE! STOP TOUCHING ME!”

And, of course, we match it with a frustrated – “YOU TWO STOP FIGHTING RIGHT NOW!”

In a short car ride, we’d be home by now, but on this trip the peak hit with an hour to go and we knew that didn’t bode well for our sanity.

That is when The Man had a stroke of genius. “Okay, guys,” he said, “You are going to do dishes for three days – together. It is time for you to learn how to get along with each other.”

Silence.  After a time, it started up again, and The Man responded calmly with, “Okay, that’s another day of dishes.” They had a week by the time we got home.

That was almost two weeks ago and I have an amazing tale to tell!

When it comes to my kids, if there is a fight it is usually between The Boy and The Dancing Queen. They are like oil and water and have never really gotten along. Oh, there has been the occasional truce, short interludes of peace and companionship, but they were few and far between. I have wracked my brain trying to think of ways to get them to love each other, to play nice together, to just get along, for crying out loud!

Well, we found the answer.

After a week of working together, they are getting along splendidly! They really learned how to communicate with each other. They learned to respect one another and they found something to like in each other. It is amazing! It took a few days. It took a few fights. But there were a lot of dishes to wash and a lot of messes to clean. As they worked together towards a goal, they found out that they really make a good team. Now, I find them reading to each other on the couch, playing with each other outside, building forts together in the living room. It is like a miracle!

The day after they finished their sentence, they had a little spat. I calmly looked up from my knitting and said, “Oh, it looks like you guys need another day.” And they did the dishes that day, too.

But I don’t think that they will be doing it again. And if they do, I have a plan. A plan that works beautifully.

I Don’t Talk On the Phone and Other Ways Parenthood Changed My Life

Don’t take it personally. It isn’t you. Really. I haven’t returned your phone call, yet, because I just don’t return phone calls. You see, I have children. Lots and lots of children. And so I don’t talk on the phone very often. When one lives in a small house with six children, one finds themselves having phone conversations like this –

“Hello? Hi! How are you? Put your sister down, please. What? I’m sorry, what did you say? No! Don’t bring the hose in the house. Wow! Really? Oh, just a sec. No, you can’t have ice cream for breakfast. Okay, sorry. Well that is amazing, and then Oh wait. Really? All the toilet paper? Shoot. I really have to go. Can I call you back later? Stop flushing! Better yet, just message me on Facebook.”

One only has to have a few conversations like that to induce one to avoid the phone at all costs.

I do have an answering machine, though, and I did get your message. Well, most of it. You see, somebody dropped a glass jar onto the kitchen floor when your message was halfway through and I had to run off to get the baby out of the blast area before she ingested broken glass and when I returned to listen again, the baby was squirming in my arms in protest because she wanted to eat all that sparkly glass, and her squirming was knocking my hands out of my control for the most part and when I meant to hit “play” I actually hit “erase”. When the machine asked me “erase all messages?”, I was distracted by the barefoot child running toward the minefield of broken glass and hit “yes” instead of “no” and well, what was it you called for?

Getting a hold of me is easiest if you use Facebook messages. Or better yet, just come by. I am here all the time. I don’t leave the house much, mostly because I am a homebody, but also because when one has six kids, one doesn’t get a lot of invites for visiting. Oh, I love to have people over, and I do it all the time. If I don’t, I would never see anybody! And I am not really complaining, though I know it sounds like I am fishing to be invited somewhere. I understand that it is intimidating to ask us over – we must seem like an invading horde or like the clowns in a circus car (“how many people are in that car, anyway?”) as we spill out of our SUV into your clean, quiet, orderly house. And feeding us must scare the daylights out of any hostess. So I just try to keep my house picked up and my bra on in anticipation of drop in guests, but to be safe, maybe you should just expect to find a mess and me in my jammies… just in case.

As a matter of a fact, my house is rarely clean. I didn’t say that I don’t clean, just that it is rarely clean. But, cleaning the house for me looks like this –

Go in kitchen to wash dishes. Find toys all over kitchen floor. Call kids in to pick up toys. Play peacemaker to the bickering about whose toys they are and who put them there. Say in an exasperated voice, “I don’t care whose they are or who put them there. I just want them put away.” Return to the dishes and find that there are no clean dish towels. Go to laundry room to look for a clean towel in the “to be folded” basket and throw in a load of laundry while I am there. Hear the baby waking up from nap. Get her up, change her diaper, nurse her, cuddle and play with her. Smile when I see The Munchkin approaching with a pile of books. “Mama read to me?” she asks in her so cute way. Read a pile of books. All the kids gather round to hear, regardless of age, and I sigh in content as I cozy on the couch with my brood. Then I look up and see all the dishes in the sink. And the toys on the floor. So I do what any good mother would do – I reach for another book.

So parenthood has turned me into an almost-hermit who dwells in a messy house with a bunch of loud kids who only communicates with the outside world through Facebook messages.

And I am totally okay with that.

This Moment – Each and Every One

A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Only, today I am having a hard time choosing just one. Which of the many beautiful moments from this week is the most memorable?
Is is blowing dandelions with The Princess?
Or watching the Fraggle try to walk?
Maybe my favorite moment was experimenting with photography with The Boy,
Or passing around the welding mask while watching the solar eclipse, and discovering all the interesting effects of the diminished sunlight. 
Perhaps the best moment was working on a crossword puzzle with The Bookworm in the garden,
or watching The Munchkin turn cardboard into an excellent and hilarious dress up.
Of course, I can’t forget the zoo moments, like when The Dancing Queen was almost eaten by a hippopotomus,
and we all got to touch sting rays (or at least try).
My life is filled with perfect little moments. It is hard to pick just one.
May you have a lovely weekend filled with perfect moments. And may you catch at least a few of them with your camera.