I like to think that despite how busy I often am, I keep a relatively clean house. It's not spotless by any means, but it's clean. With three kids, a husband who removes clothing everywhere, and two cats, this can be difficult. I use all natural cleaners too, which can take more elbow grease. But I measure cleanliness in a few easy ways: can I walk barefoot and feel comfortably free of crumbs and stickiness? Are counters and tables free of clutter? Is there a ring in the tub or toilets? Have I run out of clothing?
In the book Cheaper by the Dozen (a delightful true story about a family with 12 children that has nothing to do with a movie of the same name), both parents are professional efficiency experts in the early 1900's and found amazing ways to streamline processes that would normally consume their lives. I like to take the same attitude, so forgive my unconventional 'shortcuts':
1. No folding laundry. Each person owns no more clothing than what would make a single load of laundry, which gets washed and thrown into a basket in their room, or a dresser. Yes they get wrinkled, but we own few items that really get very wrinkled and we iron if we need a wrinkle-free item. Once they get dirty, they are thrown into a hamper in the kitchen. It would be in the bathroom if that room were bigger.
2. Floor materials should be consistent. I used to use the rugs on the wood floors but during the summer I rolled them up. I vacuum the hardwood and I found that switching the head of the vacuum between rug and hardwood took more time, besides the fact that the rug got dirtier. It is faster than sweeping to vacuum the floor, especially since I do it every other day. Either have all wood or all carpet, and do the traffic areas every other day, after the kids have eaten lunch. One other vital step is to always clean up spills immediately with a mop or cloth or they will end up looking worse as they gather dirt.
3. Wash the tub every few days. This used to be more of a weekly thing but spending 5 minutes wiping the tub down with a spray saves much more time than scrubbing furiously ever couple of weeks.
4. Wash the bathroom once a week. This only takes 10 minutes each bathroom. It could be done more often, but I don't for a couple of reasons. First of all, natural cleaners don't keep the toilet bowl from going yellow like Lysol does, and even though it doesn't look nice, if it gets a bit yellow it's not a health hazard. Secondly as soon as you wash it a child will go in and splash water everywhere and it will look the same as it did. Once a week is often enough to kill the buildup of germs, and in-between just use toilet paper to wipe up hair and water spots. One thing if you have kids is to wipe around the toilet seat every day, to remove spillage.
5. Clutter and garbage are what makes a house look really dirty. Every afternoon I take a trash bag and pick up any garbage, some of which gets tossed into the Make Box for reuse. The Make Box is a box of materials for crafts. I make three piles in the middle of the living room floor, one pile for each girl and one for me, of all the stuff that doesn't belong in that room. Then each pile is worked through and put away. This process takes me only 15 minutes (the girls take longer).
6. Clean right before cooking. I know this sounds backwards, but I clean the kitchen while waiting for pans to heat up or chicken to defrost. It takes about that long to load the dishwasher and wipe the counter. Then after the meal all the plates are put into the empty sink. This works for me because then I always have a clean load of dishes the next morning, I always cook in a clean kitchen, and I only do dishes twice a day instead of three times because I don't really need to at breakfast. Even though I wake up with a few dirty dishes in the sink, I always make sure to clear and clean the counters so it still feels clean.
7. Keep a schedule. I write down my cleaning schedule or I would forget. Laundry is done twice a week on Tuesday and Friday, bathrooms on Wednesday, floors on Thursday, etc. The afternoon around 4pm is clean up time, and we do a quick one right after breakfast as well.
Those are the biggest things that I do differently in my housework, and it works well for us. Keeping a house clean can be overwhelming, but there's no rule book that says you have to do things a certain way. I admit that I don't wash my sheets once a week. I wash them when they are dirty. Why? Because I take my showers right before bed, which is the only time I get to myself. Which means I go to bed clean, so my sheets don't get dirty as fast. Be creative and think about ways to make your life more efficient, even if it seems a little weird, lol.
Tomatoes. Such a simple, wonderful fruit. Bright red, so yummy. I cooked these all into a vegetarian pasta sauce and froze it. If you've never tasted this, it doesn't taste anything like the stuff you get at the store. I like to keep the taste of the fresh tomato, lightly seasoned with garlic and basil.
What do tomatoes have to do with spandex? Absolutely nothing. But, John and I were having a nerdy argument. Was Captain Picard's uniform one piece or two? As it turns out, it started out as a jumpsuit and then changed to two, making us both wrong because we each had also argued that it had never changed!
Anyway, it got me thinking about our vision of the future. It seems as though our collective idea of the future includes everyone wearing tight, spandex-like materials, zipped to the neck. Why is that what we imagine the future to be? I'm generalizing (again) but it seems as though we have a pretty grim idea of what the future might hold, even down to having to wear uncomfortable clothing, lol.
So maybe the climate is screwed and we're going into some crazy ice age or possibly something similar to the surface of Mars. Maybe the government is corrupt (is that anything new?). Maybe technology is advancing so much that AI robots will be everywhere and we won't have any privacy because our brain will be directly connected to the Internet. If that's so, who survives? Who does the best?
If you look at history, it's the farmers and hunters and gatherers. It's the people who grow tomatoes. So I think the future looks pretty much the same... a bunch of families wearing the same old things, eating the same old foods, going through the same day-to-day things in the midst of adversity, the same as always. Times change but people don't. We still have to make a living, eat food, find shelter, raise our children.
That said, it's a shame we can't elevate ourselves beyond that like the show Star Trek tried to fantasize about. But we don't have to elevate our lifestyle - just our minds. :)
Ok so I know that my daughter is not diagnosed. She is very high on the Aperger's spectrum of functionality. But I was reading an article in the New York Times today from a mother's point of view about the unvarnished day-to-day reality of autism. As I read this I thought, "This is my child!!!" She may be undiagnosed, but that is definitely her. At the end I even felt jealous that her son is at least cuddly - my Ana just isn't.
But one thing I did not identify with was her perspective on the situation. The behavior is the same but I feel quite differently, and I wanted to share my trial-and-error strategies for disciplining an Asperger's child. I was relieved to read the follow-up article from the point of view of an adult with autism because I felt like I was doing some thing right.
Like the mother, I too have taken parent training courses. I took the Triple P parenting course in a group and had one-on-one training with a mentor in my home. Previously my parenting style was quite laid back - I had read all about nonviolent communication and I felt that it was wrong to tell me child what to do because then I wouldn't be respecting my child. I didn't want to be coercive. What is wonderful is that those strategies absolutely work for my second child. I watched Super Nanny and found that a simple 2 minute time out now and then sets my middle child back on track.
But not my first darling daughter. Asperger's children cry out for Authority. Authority with a deep voice, black and white, do or do not. Authority that tells them what to do every minute of the day. This is because they are lost in a sea of overwhelming possibility and sensory input. She will push every single button I have, over and over and over a hundred times in a row, just to feel quite sure that nothing has changed. Change is evil to her, and if Mom has changed then everything in her universe falls apart. If I falter, if I fail in my consistency, which often happens in a busy household with two other children who have needs as well, then the screams and crying begin. Not normal crying, but the kind of crying that sounds like I am tearing her arms out. The kind that I worry someone will call the police some day, even though they would arrive to find that all that has happened is that her sleeves are too short or we had lunch a little later than usual.
So here is what works, so far. We have a chart that is simply a page of graph paper. Each time she allows her happy, helpful self to shine, she can put an X in the square of graph paper. If she lets the angry Ana take control I scribble an X out with an ugly black marker. She hates the perfect row of X's to be marred by the scribbly black marks. Ever time she gets 10 X's, I color a square bright pink. There is no reward at the end. We have tried bribery and that seems to sabotage the process. The reward is filling up the paper.
On top of this much of her behavior depends on my tone of voice and the way that I give her directions. Everything must be verbalized very specifically, in a positive way, and I do not allow any behavior that isn't... shall we say, socially acceptable, to pass unnoticed. For example, since Autumn was born she has had a habit of repeating Autumn's name continuously for hours. Now it has become it's own sound, something like, "Budabudabuda..." So every day I nip it in the bud. It doesn't work to say, in a frustrated voice, "Stop saying Autumn's name!!"
I have to state flatly, "You will stop saying Autumn's name and instead you will tell a story or sing a song." The command can't be more than two steps. Typical child development says that a child of 2 years old should be able to follow a two step command, and my three year old is now to three steps. Ana is incredibly academically intelligent, but usually can't follow more than 2 step commands.
What if it doesn't happen? There has to be a logical consequence of all anti-social behavior. Each time she repeats a behavior and I have to tell her again she gets a strike. Three strikes and she is 'grounded' for one hour in the school room where she is free to read or do projects. If she comes out of the school room (which she will do, repeatedly), she gets two strikes and then the time starts over. It typically takes her 4-6 hours to stay in the room for an hour.
One hour sounds harsh, especially for a six year old. This is because time outs don't work for her because they became a game. We have a stool in the kitchen for people to cool off for a few minutes. Autumn calls it the 'naughty spot'. It lasts for as many minutes as you are old, but Ana will repeatedly come off the stool just to make us put her back. I have spent days putting her back. I took a count one day and wrote in my journal that it was over 100 times, and by then it was bedtime. By making her walk to the school room herself and not interacting with her for an hour, she finally settles down and actually wants to be around people again. And she's not getting the satisfaction of my interaction through the process.
For example, while I am writing this it is quiet time. We did our school stuff, our chores, had lunch, and mom wants a couple of hours for some work so Autumn is reading quietly and Ana has the opportunity to find a quiet project or go outside. I gave her many suggestions and offered to set any of them up for her. The one stipulation was to leave Autumn alone, who isn't feeling well and requested time to herself. Here's what I had to say:
"Ana, you will choose one of these projects and go play quietly. Autumn will not be bugged and none of these have anything to do with her. If you cannot leave her alone and play quietly you will be grounded. If you listen to what I am saying happily and helpfully then you will get an X on your chart."
I have to admit I was getting frustrated. She was following Autumn around because she can't be independent or alone in a room, and I was trying to separate them. I had offered her lots of things to do but she was only interested in seeing how many things she could get Autumn to do for her, which is sort of her idea of playing. I had to take a deep breath and I told her that I was feeling frustrated. I had to think about how to phrase the instruction, which has to be, 'You will do X and X, or X will happen.' She has to be reminded of the consequences every time I give her an instruction. I do not believe it is healthy for a child to demand all of my time so she has to find something to do, or she has to face the consequence.
But, following this procedure, as difficult as it is to find that level of self-control, has improved her behavior dramatically in a very gradual way. I say dramatically because now she does things I say instead of throwing herself violently all over the place and never doing what I say. I never wanted to instill blind obedience in my children. I love her and her whimsical, curious, questioning personality, and I never wanted to feel like I was controlling her. But she craves it. She needs me to rule her life, for now anyway until I can help her learn to rule her own.
I feel very sad that parents feel so bitter against their child because of autism. I wouldn't change her for the world, and I know that somewhere in there her brilliant mind will spark on something and find some wonderful thing to contribute to the world. If it is Asperger's, and it probably is, I am grateful to it. It has made me stronger as a parent and allowed me to learn so much.
I wrote my first bucket list when I was about 14. I still have that list in a box somewhere, but now I just have it in my head and it has turned into a general philosophy. That philosophy is: "Do the thing you are scared of." *
*Unless it statistically has an over 50% chance of killing you.
This means that I have collected a list of experiences that aren't generally part of most people's experience, even though I'm only 28 (28?! Am I really that close to leaving my 20's behind?) Here's a few:
1. I met my husband on the internet when I was 20, and moved to another country without ever having seen him in person. Crazy, right? If you read Free Range Kids though, you will know that it's actually pretty difficult to get killed by weirdos. We talked for about 8 hours per day for a few months and then I got on a plane and moved to Canada, and I never really left. I didn't do this blindly however, I know all kinds of tricks for how to safely talk to people online. I should make a post about that.
2. I became a Canadian. I love Canada! It's better in almost every way. I happen to live in a very amazing place too, which helps, lol. Even though I married a Canadian, the immigration process was long, stressful and difficult.
3. I've lived in lots of places. This wasn't really my choice but it is part of my experience when I was a kid. I have lived in Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Nevada. I consider Montana my home state, even though I was born in Arizona. Traveling and knowing about all these different places gave me a unique perspective on the definition of home. Now I live in BC.
4. I was homeschooled for eight years, and graduated right before I turned 16. Being homeschooled was amazing. I am not sure I would choose to graduate early the second time around. I went to college right away and found that I simply couldn't fit in, even though I made friends. I also didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I had a 4.0 GPA and nowhere to go, lol.
5. I made a goal to never, ever work in a fast food place. This means I have held some unusual jobs. My first job was piano accompanist for the local high school's choirs. Then I worked in technical support at a call center (I was the youngest person there and had a very low call back rate, a fact I am still proud of although I don't know why). I have been a portrait artist, a greeting card designer for Recycled Paper Greetings, an author, web administrator, graphic designer, dryer refurbisher, child care person, and library volunteer, among other things.
6. I try things that are a bit scary, for me anyway. I have done cliff jumping (20 feet was the highest I could do, lol), the moonlight ride on The Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, zip lines at Camp Qwanoes, sea biscuiting in the harbor here on the Island and on the Columbia River in Washington State, and I've swum in some really cold and deep lakes: Flathead Lake, Lake McDonald, Whitefish Lake and Tally Lake in Montana... plus the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon and BC. Strangely enough I ended up being the most scared of sea biscuiting because I'm actually not a big fan of water.
I feel like these things are only the beginning. I don't understand when people say they are bored. I've got so many hobbies I can't even count them anymore. For example, I collect museums and science centers. I've been to the Arizona Science Center, the Children's Museum of Phoenix (to see Wallace and Grommet, no less!), Lied Discovery Children's Museum in Las Vegas, the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, the Royal BC Museum, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Vancouver Aquarium. I should write a post about THAT!
There is so much to do and see in the world, and it doesn't cost that much money. There is no excuse for boredom! Do I have to have a rule that if I am scared of something I have to do it? No, but it sure forces me to grow in ways I never expected.
The first thing we did is talk about the principle of the day and read something out of the Bible. Today was obedience and we discussed who we obey and who we do not ('Do we obey our friends? No!).
Then we did some yoga and deep breathing to start the day. This is as much for me as it is for them.
I got some floor books for phonics and math for their grade level but they are finding them way too easy. Ah well they are fun anyway. They are sitting on their blankets, which they only use when we need to sit quiet and think.
Then the girls did their more difficult workbooks... Autumn wanted to learn her letters, and Ana (that's what she wants to be called now - sounds more mature) is into science, so she has a workbook on the solar system. Today we learned how many planets there are, what an orbit is, and what air is made of.
This is what Rainn did through all of this:
Then to kick start some ideas in their heads I suggested kings and queens and princesses to study, which was enthusiastically received. I used Konos Volume 1 to give me some ideas (and coincidentally the unit is about obedience too... hmmm how did that happen?). First we obviously had to dress the part. Please notice that no royal outfit is complete without gloves. To illustrate what obedience is I read the parable of the talents from Matthew 25 and we had a great discussion about responsibility, trustworthiness and how you feel when you do your best.
This led the way to some interesting reading. We read See Inside a Castle, and we looked at my art book to find paintings of royalty. They both observed that this king of Spain looked quite girly compared to the painting of the king of England, who was wearing armor. They theorized that either the English king was afraid to get hurt, or wanted to look braver (they are probably right).
Then Ana did some writing practice and drew a picture of a queen.
We took a break from queenliness so she could practice her reading as well. Rainn and Autumn listened to her read out loud for a few pages.
Then I was helping Autumn with the last bit of her coloring in her workbook, so Ana had me look up Queen Elizabeth and we watched her coronation on YouTube. Then she watched a bit of the official Royal channel on there (who knew the Queen would ever have a YouTube channel? lol).
That was the main part of our day. Now they are building with Duplo and tonight we will read another chapter from The Chronicles of Narnia. We are reading through them chronologically, and recently finished The Magician's Nephew so now we're on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
I think first days of school can be quite stressful if things don't go as planned, so I try very hard to not have any expectations at all. We go in to have fun and if something isn't working, we stop and go on to the next thing or simply stop for the day. I didn't have to do any of that - the girls were so excited it was a piece of cake. I think I deserve a cookie. :D
I was pleasantly surprised by this bounteous supple of carrots. Carrots are very satisfying because you can't really tell what you got until you pull them out.
Here they are beautiful and clean before putting them in the fridge. They can also be put into cold storage by gently putting them in a wood or plastic bin separated with newspaper or walnut leaves that have already fallen. They should be dry and they can be touching but with lots of airspace.
A few of them were mutants that crawled out of the garden to save human lives with their super powers. The one on the left is Spongebob Carrotpants and his sidekick Carrothead. Unfortunately they met with a dismal end as their limbs were torn asunder and eaten.
My husband believes the economy is on its way up. I think it's staying about the same right now... not getting better, but at least it's not getting too much worse. He bases his opinion on the stock market. I base mine on how big the global sense of community is.
We watched Knowing last night (you know that one, with Nicholas Cage, where he's a single parent trying to save people?). What a strange movie. I don't want to give any of it away (even though I'm dying to), but there's a part when humanity knows a disaster is coming. The majority of people in the movie go from calm to full-on looting maniacs, every-man-for-himself in about five minutes. I honestly don't think that would happen, and maybe I'm an optimist, but I think people come together in a crises.
As more people have lost their jobs, their homes, and gone bankrupt, it becomes a shared experience. Shared experiences create community, and unfortunately that seems to be the only thing that does any more. Remember the Andy Griffith Show? Mayberry seemed to have such a wonderful sense of community. What was the secret? Nothing ever seemed to go seriously wrong there, lol.
For your viewing pleasure, click here for 10 minutes of political commentary and jawing at the barber shop in Mayberry, and a situation that shows how close-knit they were.
And yes, it's a fictional place but I think it does represent the times a little bit. Was it a world that had just come out of the Great Depression? A world without television? A world of people imbued with a strong and consistent set of values? What do you think?
I just began seriously using Twitter recently (if you look to the right you can follow me). I have had an account for a while but never really saw the point, and so I decided to see how many homeschoolers I could find and follow every single one to see what they are talking about. I am genuinely surprised how valuable and inspiring the conversations are, despite being limited to 140 characters, lol.
I am also discovering lots of blogs through Twitter. On my sidebar I have a sections called Blogs I am Reading, and those are seriously the ones I am reading. I keep it updated fairly frequently and they seem to change according to what is relevant in my life at the time. I encourage you to check out some of them because they really are very good. Two in particular really inspired me - one is a Mom who moved to Costa Rica and a homeschooling mom who I can't disagree with, lol. This second one, Little Blue School, made a really fun novel writing club and put it all into a free PDF (download here).
John and I started a contest to see who can write a fiction novel first, and possibly getting it published would be part of that goal as well. I have always written non-fiction, and he's always wanted to write, so this is a huge test of creativity. I am having to exercise my imagination muscles that I haven't used since I was a kid playing pretend.
Which brings me to Annie. She simply can't play pretend. That picture the other day of the girls playing Playmobile was taken because she was playing with it for the first time without needing help. Today was not so successful. For example, if Autumn was holding a Playmobile dog and it accidentally falls into the house, the event does not get worked into the story of the play. Instead she instantly goes to crying and screaming. There is no in between with her. It's HAPPYYYY to flinging herself on the floor screaming and crying. She is 6, and still harder than a 3 year old and baby combined, and the other two are not that easy.
Part of the problem is that she requires an adult to be in the room to be able to pick up on social cues. If an adult is participating in the play she watches what the adult is doing and mimics and can be quite happy, as long as another child doesn't do something unpredictable. But she can not do any independent play. She never, ever plays alone. I have tried so hard to teach her these fundamental things, but it's not something that can truly be taught, it has to be practiced. It's ok to play with others and for me to play and be an example, but being able to entertain oneself and to pretend things are both essential skills (and I just read this article which makes me realize how important it is). We went to the doctor and finally got a referral to a paediatrician for her, and I had thought that her sensory integration issues were probably the most noticeable, but now I'm thinking that her inability to play and symbolize are probably even more of an issue. Right now her biggest activity is to cut out small pictures of products out of advertisements in the paper and tape them onto paper which she makes into books. She has about 20 of these made so far.
I will be glad to see if we can get a diagnosis for her, but until then I think I will use pretend play as much as possible in our homeschool projects. For example, if we read a story or learn about a time in history, we will reenact it with objects that aren't accurate. I remember when Autumn was two and had picked up a hairbrush and was using it as a phone, and I had a memory of using hairbrushes when I was little for so many things... as a microphone, phones, walkie-talkie, a hammer, lol. I realized I couldn't remember Annie ever doing this. She wanted to sing one day and was begging me to buy her a microphone, so I grabbed a hairbrush and sang into it, and it blew her mind, lol.
This is NOT going to be a political post. I wear many hats (homeschool graduate and mom, writer, artist, web administrator, college student...) but this is the one hat I don't like to call attention to. The title is meant to be tongue-in-cheek lol.
That being said, yes, I moved to Canada and I am going to become a citizen. I was born in Arizona, in a conservative home, and I don't think there could be something farther away from where I am now both philosophically and geographically. I feel a bit sarcastic at the moment but I will endeavour to avoid that, ha ha.
It has been very interesting watching what has been happening in the US since I left, and at the same time actually experience the Canadian life that is often used as an example by Americans to argue a point. There has been two elections since I've been here, and many political issues have been discussed, but one thing that I have noticed is that Canadians are as informed about the US's issues as they are about Canadian ones. I am not sure that you could say the same thing for Americans - how many know who the Canadian Prime Minister is, or the differences in political parties? It's also been tricky when family members talk to me about the health care bill, and it's a very touchy subject sometimes. Almost no one in my family has any kind of health insurance, and yet I enjoy free health care. I lay awake at night wondering what I am going to do when my parents get older and need more care, and cross my fingers that my younger siblings and their families will never need an appendix out. It's a bit stressful being the oldest child.
The reason this isn't a political post is that I am not trying to make a point. I am just relaying some feelings I had after I moved to Canada, and you can take them for what you want. When I moved, I felt like I had been in a bubble and suddenly became aware of a much bigger world. In that new world there was more than one right way to do things. I also realized how much I had been suffering from paranoia. I don't know whether that paranoia was promoted by sensationalist media or a corrupt government, but it's not a very nice way to live. As the paranoia subsided I felt much more able to live my life the way it should be lived - just worrying about my kids and enjoying the little things, rather than worrying about whether or not Big Brother was or was not watching me or trying to control my life (whether that is true or not).
What is amazing about America is that almost everyone is an immigrant, the child of an immigrant, or the grandchild of an immigrant. I am a third-generation immigrant. My great-grandfather immigrated from Italy to Brazil, my grandfather from Brazil to the US, and me to Canada. I used to feel very patriotic and lucky to have been born in America, and truly anyone who is born there is extremely lucky to be part of such a privileged life. The impoverished of America live in luxury compared to the impoverished of other nations. It's a nation of people who inherited something built on the backs of hard-working immigrants of the Industrial Revolution, and I wonder what they would say about the issues we are discussing today?
And yet here I am in Canada... also made of immigrants, also got independence from Britain, colonized around the same time. And yet so different. The Canadian system with at least three parties works for the people much better, people live longer here because they have more access to preventative health care, and the standard of living is higher than it is for the US. America is an amazing place, it truly is. But I sure am loving the peace and happiness that comes from being Canadian, especially right now. :)
So after the TV and PS3 were gone, I realized I had a big room with nothing in it. Ok it has a closet and a big window, and the closet has some art supplies in it. So it became the school room and a bedroom. and I moved some books in there. But it was still empty. This is a much better usage of space. :)
(It also represents an investment similar to the cost of the TV, Playstation and audio system - how can that BE?! Don't get the wrong impression, though. These are pretty much our only purchased toys.)
Yesterday John and I had a not-free-date at a movie since I hadn't been to a movie in so long, but I realized I never wrote what our free date was from the time before. Home pedicures and foot rubs! He was a bit hesitant about this one but it was my turn to think of something so he went along - and really enjoyed it. :)
I had some aromatherapy bath salts so we got a bowl of really hot water and soaked our feet for a bit to relax while we talked. Then we manicured each others toenails. Then we got some oil out to massage each other's feet. Unfortunately I didn't have any almond oil or some nice-smelling oil, I just had toasted sesame oil which smelled a little strongl, lol. We rubbed that in until it was gone, and then John painted my nails. I tried to convince him to let me paint his but that was a no-go. :)
This date wasn't entirely free ... obviously you need some salts and oils and polish and clippers, but they are relatively inexpensive and really you don't need much to give someone a foot rub and clip their nails. Making it into a process is what makes it more romantic - just take lots of time with it.
No more PS3. No cable. But my children love video games, and it is the one and only thing they will do for hours on end without any interruption. So, it is time for me to find some good educational software. But, we have a Mac - is there anything good? Holy moly there is.
I discovered Wolfram's Mathematica 7, an incredible scientific tool that helps you visualize math, physics, the arts... just about anything. But, my oldest is in first grade so maybe it's a bit early for that, lol. Do I need to explain what Wolfram is? It's a company started by a genius who also created Wolfram|Alpha. You can type in anything and it will try to compute it for you, for example: what the airspeed of an unladen African swallow might be.
Ok, so I need to look a little younger. There's The Amazing Brain Train from Grubby Games. It's only $6.99 and looks as if it would provide cheap education entertainment for a little while. There's not much info but it looks so hum-drum I don't feel that motivated to even download the demo. It has gotten good reviews so I guess it can't hurt. There's also a company called Dataworks that has developed a whole bunch of colorful and more professional looking games for early elementary including Brain Bytes, BroadLEARN, Easy2 Learn, Reading Blaster and some others. These games are fun but they are a bit outdated which means if you have a faster Mac (i.e. one with up-to-date hardware) they might not run properly.
One game you should never buy is Dora the Explorer: Animal Adventures for the Mac. This game was haphazardly made into a Mac-compatible game and rarely runs without crashing. The kids really liked it but it is so buggy that they stopped playing it.
I've always been a big fan of Reader Rabbit. They are very fun, and they cover all the early grades. I haven't played the Mac version so I don't really know how stable it is, I just know that these are great games and very fun. I also really wanted Carmen Sandiego which says it is Mac compatible but evidently it crashes, which is a real shame. These old PC games barely work on XP so it's not worth it to try it on OS X.
So, what seems like the best series right now is Mia Mouse from Kutoka. Honestly all their games seem very high quality and very educational without seeming to be, which is exactly what I am looking for. There are programs for Preschool and up, in Reading, Math, Science, and Language. Since we are studying French I am also happy to see that Kutoka offers games in French as well as English, so we can do our home-version of French immersion better. If you explore their website they just have all kinds of really cool games including a fashion design program with a drawing tablet (if you have girls you know how awesome this could be).
Isn't that a lovely picture to start the day with? My tomatoes have blossom end rot. I planted two varieties, a beefsteak and a smaller pasta sauce variety and both have it. A lot of my beefsteak tomatoes are also deformed. I thought I would post about this as I didn't know what it was and had to do a bit of research. What happens is as the tomato ripens a big brown rotten circle forms and destroys the fruit, and it means that they have a calcium deficiency. This can happen when there are fluctuations in how much water they are getting (drought to too much water), too much water and/or low calcium in the soil. This is exactly what happened - we had a week of really, really dry weather and it was hard to keep them watered properly. Then all of a sudden (overnight) it rained a ton and got really chilly, which makes the tomatoes need more calcium than usual. The only thing you can do is keep the soil moisture steady and maybe add something to the soil like epsom salts or egg shells, but I guess it's questionable that adding anything really helps. We purchased the soil this year and it was so good for the spinach and beans and lettuce I didn't think I would end up with a deficiency. :(
Anyway, I was reading today on Not Dabbling in Normal about the financial value of a garden. It's a good day to figure that out I think, lol. This year we spent about $380 on the soil and the wood and delivering the soil to our house. Raised beds aren't cheap! It was about $120 per bed I guess, plus the fancy compost bin for $60. I took an inventory of the yard (see this post) and here's what I harvested:
Beefsteak tomatoes - there would be at least 10 pounds of tomatoes if the weather cooperates, but the forecast says rain
Bush beans - nothing... where did they even go?
Carrot - these are still going but I would estimate 5 pounds
Snow pea - 8 pounds
Dwarf bean - 3 pounds
Broccoli - these bolted before doing anything
Cucumber - these did not sprout
Lettuce - 10 heads
Spinach - 20 pounds
Garlic - 3 heads
White onion - 1 onion?
Dill - enough to fill a jar of dried stuff
Minette basil - nothing sprouted
Chives - half pound
Sweet genovese basil - this has given me enough for a batch of pesto
Dill - nothing sprouted
Cilantro - enough for a batch of salsa
Onions - nothing big
We also have:
A small strawberry bed with some raspberry transplants - we got one strawberry but weren't expecting anything
A young peach tree - 30 pounds
A walnut tree - we have yet to find out
I am thinking that with Island food prices we have just about broken even. We plan to do a fall garden when the tomatoes are done at which point we will have saved money. However without the peaches, which were free and took no work I'm not sure we would have. We also had blackberries which helped. If you look at it from the standpoint that we got organic locally grown food that we didn't have to use a car to get, then we definitely saved. :) It goes to show though that the weather can really screw things up and is probably why things like broccoli had a hard time.
I rarely laugh at homeschool- centric comics but this one got a chuckle out of me, lol. Today is Not Back to School day, and I am participating even though here in BC school doesn't start until September 8 on a Tuesday. But it all works because I am gearing up for the year. Yesterday I went to Costco and got a huge pack of construction paper, world maps, pens, and some of those fun colorful workbooks. I had forgotten that Autumn is going to be 4 this year and preschool-age... I felt a sudden shock that I have TWO girls learning at home.
I also made three polar fleece blankets out of some scraps I had around, so I can use them Montessori-style as learning mats. Why three? The baby will soon be crawling and I want to be ready to try implementing the Duggar-recommended Blanket Time. Rather than the baby roaming crazily, I bring stuff to the baby so she learns a bit of self-control in sitting still. It's not an all-day thing, just 10 minutes here and there if I need it.
My homeschool philosophy this year I can only call Child-Led Eclectic Homeschool. I did get them each two workbooks, one of them a floor-size writing workbook for Preschool and First Grade, for Autumn an alphabet workbook, and for Annie a science workbook. But, these are for their own fun and they don't necessarily have to do them every day. They are good to have as starting points so they will get into the right mindset and be actively learning, and also if they can't think of anything to do. As for 'required subjects', there are only three:
Foreign Language: French
Phonics/ Grammar and Spelling
We will be getting Rosetta Stone for our French program and learning as a family. I'm actually not a big French fan but to hold any government job or high-up business position you have to be bilingual here, and we also want to take a trip to Quebec one day so it makes sense.
For math I want to get Math-U-See and games like Dominoes, Yahtzee, etc. Actually I love games for learning and my wish list is full of them. Chess, expansion sets for Settlers of Catan, Set, Made for Trade, Ravensburger games...
Phonics is from An Acorn in My Hand for Autumn, we're not going to do much grammar this year, but Spelling will be words that we read and write that are misspelled, plus I want to get Natural Speller.
Other than that we will be purchasing things on the fly as they express an interest. I do need to grab some sketch books and more glue and watercolors, but that's about it.
Why is Not Back to School so great? Because it's fun for me too!
We homeschool. We homebirth. We do a lot of work from home. It only makes sense that our natural inclination is to base our spirituality from home too. In reality though, it's not that simple. We've both had bad church experiences, both raised in fairly conservative religious homes, and both kind of let the spiritual fall by the wayside. We've thought of going to church to let the kids socialize, and sometimes we do... but us adults can't seem to get anything out of it. Oh believe me we've tried, and we enjoy the experience. But it's the difference between sitting in a lecture about what chocolate tastes like. Yes you get all the knowledge about the flavour of chocolate, but you really need to experience chocolate, right? I'm pretty sure God is the same way.
It's not that I've never experienced God either - just never in church. It has happened when reading the Bible, when praying, when out in nature (many times), when bad things have happened and I needed strength, when living life with my husband, and most of the time out of the blue when I will have sudden clarity about a situation.
And I fail - oh, how I fail! - to maintain this experience in a satisfactory way so that I can pass it on to my children. This is where home-based spirituality seems to come in. I must add that I make no pretenses about my spiritual maturity. I am mature in one way only. and that is with my diplomacy and non-judgmental nature. I laugh heartily at Spongebob and bodily noises like any child, and even though I am very, very familiar with the Bible, my faith is at the primary Jesus-loves-me stage. Despite fighting at this to try to fix it, fighting against myself and the rhetoric around me that seems to detract from my faith... it hasn't gotten better.
So what to do? The human inclination is to copy church at home, the same way many homeschoolers start out copying school at home. Obiously that doesn't work. So here are my goals:
1. Read the Bible daily, and during the school year study other scriptures as well. Without comparison then how do you know what you believe? Faith by default isn't really faith.
2. Pray more as a couple and as a family. We are very bad at this. I felt like prayer in our house had become trite in following the formula - I want to have a real conversation.
3. Experience God in nature more.
4. Do these things with the love of my life so that we will both experience God together, and that can only make us closer.
Autumn had a doctor's appointment today, and for being so nice I got them each a bag of marshmallows. We discovered that they now make fruit flavored marshmallows, and I couldn't say no even though it's a huge deviation from the usual treat... last week it was real licorice and sugar-free fruit-flavored gummy bears. I have a huge jug of honey that is crystalizing so it's very thick, and they used it like glue to make marshmallow men. I like marshmallows too and this was my reward for getting everyone in the car and successfully pulling off a 2 hour trip without incident.
Once the marshmallow men were gone about 30 seconds later, they painted. I have a big canvas paint mat for them which is turning into it's own work of modern art gradually as they spill on it. Then we had a cleanup, and Annie picked up all the tiny scraps of paper from the morning project, which was to take a pile of card envelopes that I saved that have no cards to fit them, draw tiny happy potato people on them, cut them out, and tape them to the walls. For a minute I wondered why they always wanted to tape stuff to the walls and then I remembered my post the other day with my bus wall. :P
What is the point of all this? We don't have a first day of school in our homeschool. I can't properly call it unschooling because I do require a certain amount of effort be put into things they don't always want to do, but we work into it gradually. I like rhythms rather than deadlines. It feels like fall is suddenly upon us, which makes me instinctively clean out stuff and get homeschooling routinely again.
After painting and lunch and nursing Rainn and reading some of my college assignments, we went to look at the garden. We had a long record-breakingly hot week and the garden suffered dehydration. But I got the last of the peas and a whole lot of beans. It was so hot Autumn got a heat rash and took it upon herself to relieve her forehead of her bangs, so she looks a bit European. Then suddenly it got very cold and rainy - unseasonably wintery. All of these extremes took a toll on our garden and our immune systems. The carrots and basil thrived but a few tomatoes that had ripened in our sunshine got big strange rotten spots in the rain. The green ones seem ok so I'm hoping for a good haul - I really was looking forward to homegrown tomatoes. The biggest surprise was the peach tree. It can't even properly be called a tree - it's a stick that hugs the side of our house. It managed to put out probably 80 peaches, of which I was a little too late and got what you see below plus the 20 we ate this afternoon, lol. These peaches are so good - it's the freshest, sweetest explosion of goodness. I can never eat a store peach again.
On top of that I found even more blackberries around the fence and managed to make a pie this afternoon. I only had 2 cups of whole wheat flour to make the crust so it looks a bit funny, but oh so good. I'm pretty sure we are eating peaches and pie for dinner.
Then Rainn and Annie fell asleep so I went through some books. I have a lot of books, and some are going to the garage sale, some are being shifted to my newly organized school room, and some are going to be in my Deliberate Life Bookstore. I will be selling used homeschooling, self-sufficiency, deliberate living books here on a continuing basis, with reviews and homeschooling advice. I know books, and I've been part of the homeschool world for 20 years so I thought maybe it would be fun. :)
A long while ago when I really got into being frugal I printed out the Hillbilly Housewife $70 menu plan. I posted briefly about it, but since then I've experimented more and I've tried to morph it into something healthy. Her's is a very southern (hillbilly?) menu plan with staples such as collard greens, hot dogs and milk powder. The recipes are valuable though, and they inspired me to create my own super easy frugal menu. What I have listed below is what you need to have on hand:
20 quarts (4 pounds) Instant Nonfat Dry Milk
Costco-sized Butter Pack
5 dozen Eggs (she recommended 3 dozen but at Costco 5 is the same price)
8 ounces shredded Cheese
2 tubs of fruit-flavored yogurt
MEATS & PROTEIN
2 packs of Firm Tofu
Large Salmon filet
3 pounds Black, Pinto, and/or Kidney Beans
FRUITS & VEGETABLES
1 pound Frozen Peas
3 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
Flat of Canned Diced Tomatoes
Flat of Cream of Mushroom soup
Big bag of Gala Apples
6 12oz Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate
Seasonal veggies and fruits (these are the cheapest things in the store... especially tomatoes, lettuce, sprouts, cucumbers, sweet peas, etc.)
GRAINS & STARCHES
3 pounds rice (Jasmine is my favorite)
10 pounds All-Purpose Flour
2 pounds plain cornmeal
2 Costco-size tortilla packs
3 loaves of bread
Big bag of Instant Oatmeal
Big jug of honey
5 pounds sugar
CONDIMENTS & SEASONINGS
Ginger Black Bean Burgers
Scrambled Egg Wraps
Pasta with a Veggie and/or Tofu Sauce
Cornbread and Vegetarian chili
Tofu and rice wraps
Baked salmon and rice
Pancakes with honey
Peanut Butter and Honey or Jam on bread or tortilla
Toast and Honey or Jam
Oatmeal with Yogurt
There are a couple of choices with this plan. First of all, 3 loaves of bread isn't enough for our family, so you have to make some of your own, which is why we have a bread machine. Second, you'll be making two different bean soups, and using the crock pot is the best way to do this. Rather than having to think about making it the night before, you can put the beans in the cooker 8 hours ahead without soaking, turn the cooker on low and have soft beans for dinner. You'll be making ginger black beans one day, and a hearty chili with kidney beans another day. I also can't seem to make hamburger buns but burgers taste nice with large rolls if you are so inclined. The dry milk powder is for bread baking, and as you will notice very little milk used in the diet, that bag of powder will last a really long time. Snacks are peanut butter and jam or cut up fruit and veggies.
I am not a very good decorator. I like to decorate with books and drawings taped to the wall the change periodically. Maps are nice too. Here is my bus sketch wall so far (it grows almost every day):
John got home Saturday and I am SO GLAD! I missed him so much. The bus is in storage at the border while we sort out some paperwork and then we'll bring it home.
I also got Annie registered for school with the home learning program through Oak and Orca and I'm excited to see what that's like. It allows us lots of freedom with a lot of hands-on nature-focused projects so it should be fun.
We've decided to paint the bus simply because of the trouble John saw with police in the States. He got talked to four times in 3 days by cops who just thought he looked too weird! If our bus is big, and blue and looks homemade I think that's much more likely to happen. So we will try to make it look more like a regular RV with neutral colors. We will, however be putting a large quote on the side:
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Theodor Seuss Geisel (otherwise known as Dr. Suess)
The picture above is John's plane he was about to get on to fly to Reno. I thought I would write this because he's still not back and it's been almost a week and I miss him. We play a game I've always played since reading the book Pollyanna called The Glad Game - and this is my Glad Post. He really liked flying, and he was the emergency exit man so he had a good seat.
I am so glad we didn't get the Pittsburgh bus (see post here). We thought he would get back from Pennsylvania in six days! LOL I am also glad my Dad is a former Caterpillar mechanic and can give us good advice, even late at night.
I am glad John found the sticker for the gas tank! The fuel gauge doesn't work so not knowing how much was in there was a big worry. Turns out the tape was still on when they painted the bus blue. I'm glad John is a handy guy and got himself a tool set and was able to fix the windshield wiper.
While he was fixing it he realized it was missing a part and he was going to take the one out on the passenger side (which worked) so at least the driver's side would work. He went in the bus to get a tool and happened to look down behind his seat - and there was the part! Just laying there on the floor! How and why it was there will remain a mystery, but it is exactly why we are doing this crazy project. It's difficult to explain and I hesitate to use purely religious terms - but when you pursue your destiny and what is really important, times get tough. When times are tough, you are forced to rely on faith, and the people involved are brought closer together. So I suppose because we willingly admit we have very little faith during our regular hum drum daily routine, we are forcing ourselves to rely on it and each other. And you know what? We are happier. :)
Also since the bus can't go much faster than 55 mph we are getting really good gas mileage, lol.
As I write this John is driving the bus up through California. He sent the picture above with his iPhone because he was very proud - he had to back the bus into this spot with that car there and it was no easy task. Now he is driving white-knuckled down a mountain as he tries not to push the brakes too much.
So the bad part of this story so far is that the bus had a few issues that he discovered upon arriving in Nevada. First, the brakes had seized because someone adjusted the air brakes wrong. So that finally worked and John set out at night when the roads were a bit emptier. It was tough because he has never driven anything so big... it's huge! Then he was chugging along uphill and he didn't have any power and the check engine light came on - and he discovered the odometer didn't work! So who knows how many miles are on it. These are all the kinds of things we wondered would happen, since after all we did buy it sight-unseen on eBay. So he stopped and it was 2am and he was on the side of the road somewhere by Lake Tahoe. That was a real low point.
He managed to limp along to the next town which was South Lake Tahoe, where he found a mechanic and had to wait until this morning for them to look at it. It turns out that at some point someone either pulled the whole engine out and put it back in, or put in a different engine. Whoever did that was a lazy bum because they didn't hook up any of the wires, which was why the gauges didn't work. The check engine light came on because it overheated, and luckily it was because the fan simply wasn't hooked up! It's a brand new part, not connected to anything! Once that was fixed, it ran much better. The low-power problem turned out to be some issue with the throttle not being connected properly, and he now feels like he can actually move when he presses the gas, lol.
So the last I heard he was heading to Sacramento where he would get on a highway north to Oregon, and hopefully all goes well from here on out.
Outside My Window ~ it is hot! The sky is that brassy pale blue and if there wasn't a very tiny cool breeze off the ocean we would be melting in the sweltering humidity. There are blackberries and the garden is has all kinds of green tomatoes on it but the leaves keep wilting if I don't water as soon as the sun hits them.
I Am Thinking ~ I am missing my husband. He will be in the States until Wednesday probably and it is hard to be apart for more than a day. I have faith that this is what we are supposed to do and it will all work out, but I am a woman and I worry.
I Am Thankful For ~ the Internet which has allowed me to be in contact with John and get him the information he needs on the fly. My computer dings and he needs to know how to get to Carson City... I just Google it and he has an answer in less than a minute.
From the Kitchen ~ green tea and lots of bush beans, and cinnamon toast. It's too hot to make anything except burritos.
I Am Studying ~ Written Communication, Business Management and Information Technology in college, and I'm doing research for the bus conversion.
I Am Reading ~ I just finished Self-Made Man, about a woman who tries out being a man for a year and a half to see how the other half ticks. Fascinating but disturbing. John and I are also reading Tom Sawyer together, and he is reading The Magician's Nephew to the girls.
I Am Hoping ~ for no hassles at the DMV! (I think that is serious but it sounds more like a sarcastic joke, lol)
I am Creating ~ a wall of sketches of bus interiors and designs. Our dining room wall was pretty blank so every time I sketch something I tape it to that wall.
I Am Hearing ~ the train tooting, boat horns, a friendly breeze, and the quiet that happens when one child needs a time out in their room.
Around the House ~ to pass the time and stop worrying about my husband I pick a different room each day and clean it. I've done my room, the girl's room, the downstairs bedroom, and today is the dining room. I also need to move some branches to the burn pile outside.
One of My Favorite Things ~ yesterday it was taco seasoning but then I woke up with a tummy ache so I'm not so sure anymore
A Few Plans for the Rest of the Week ~ stay by the computer until John gets home, then help him start ripping seats out of the bus
Even though we are really into simple living and the whole voluntary simplicity thing in general, we are are a very techie family. Geeky? Nerdy even. But this is the month of radical changes to shake up our lives and get us out of our apathetic rut, and so we even downscaled our technology. We'd already downscaled our clothing, our toys, and our belongings in general, but technology was one big thing that we hadn't really done anything about. We had a big screen TV, a Playstation 3 and a nice sound system to play Blu Ray movies (our favorite was Planet Earth, which is definitely worth seeing!). We also had three computers and a couple of iPods. We didn't have cable, but we had fast internet so we could download movies. This month we now own one computer and two iPhones, and that's IT. This is an amazing feat in the history of my marriage. There has never once been a time in which we did not own at least two computers.
Admittedly, I think in the future we will probably get some more computers, lol. BUT, I think they are a good tool. John is leaving tonight for Vancouver and from there he will fly to Reno early tomorrow morning. Then he has to take a bus to Carson City and stay the night, and from there he will be given a ride to the Big Blue Bus. From there he will drive up through Sacramento to Oregon, stay the night at a KOA and then continue Tuesday to Blaine and into Canada. Hopefully he will make the ferry on Tuesday night.
I have lived in Nevada at two times during my childhood - once in Elko for a year, and once in Las Vegas for a year. I've traveled and stayed in Oregon lots, and at one time lived in Vancouver, Washington. So I'm pretty familiar with the roads and what to expect. But I took a look at Google Maps to double check his route and make sure it was fairly easy in a 42 foot bus. I did not realize that even with their simple website you can literally cruise down the road in pictures and turn 360 degrees to see what's all around you. He has to stop at the DMV in California and I was able to see that there would be no parking for him and he would have to park across the street. What an amazing tool!
My family took lots of roadtrips when I was a kid, and I remember my Mom plotting out our trip using a big Rand McNally atlas that we would get every year, usually from Costco. She would write down a list of each turn and highway, and during the trip my job was to help navigate by checking the list with the map and the roadsigns. Now all I have to do is plug the stops into Google Maps and it makes me a list and then shows me pictures of the entire itinerary. Amazing! John is also carrying his iPhone with him and there is some question if the speedometer works on the bus very well, so we looked for a speedometer iPhone app. Turns out .... there's an app for that! lol
It is that kind of technology that we can use more of, but giant televisions and incredible surround sound are fun sometimes but not a necessity of life. Every purchase represents minutes of our lives that my husband had to spend away from us, and by selling those items we don't need and putting that into something that brings us together we can salvage that investment of time into something we can believe in.