Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My new favorite thing

I have been using a crappy plastic 3 qt mixer since I went away to college the first time. I guess it can't be too crappy since it lasted 20 years. But it was definitely time for a new one. One batch of cookie dough could overload it. And one batch of cookie dough may last one day in my house. I had been wanting to buy a larger capacity one for years. One I can double or even triple the dough in. Well, I finally did it. I bought a KitchenAid 600 series 6 qt professional mixer. And I'll tell you what finally made me do it.

Two weeks ago my awesome KitchenAid food processor met a tragic end. I was mixing my second batch of foccacia dough in it that day and the motor got so hot (I assume) that the dough blade became fused to the metal shaft. It would not come off for anything. I called their customer service number and she gave me a couple of things to try. They didn't work so she simply said, "Ok. We'll get a new one out in the mail tomorrow and just send the old one back in the same box." And just like that a new one came. And so just like that I became a loyal customer. And the owner of a new kick butt mixer.

Don't you just love my still life! It just so happened that Ladybug dumped those grapes there right before I took the picture. I didn't even notice until I was editing the picture!

Monday, February 23, 2009

the one about the birthday gifts...

Another reason we love the kids' school is the parents. We have a great group of laid back, fun, noncompetitive, intelligent folks. The children reflect that. As do their birthday parties. My kids do not buy birthday presents for each other, much less for friends. We make our gifts and the recipients always love them. For example, one of their friends was having a party at a park that has a big fountain. My kids made a whole fleet of paper boats to sail in the fountain and paper admiral hats to go with them. The kids all had a blast with them. There are your standard homemade playdoh and bottles of bubbles which are fun. We have done cookie/muffin mixes in a jar which are actually a huge hit with kids and parents. As are "experience" gifts. Arranging with the parent ahead of time a date you can take the birthday child to the pool with you or a favorite of my kids' friends has been coming over to bake and decorate cookies. Or do a kid friendly cooking class. Be creative! Think about what kids like to do. Then take pictures and afterward make a little photobook and give that to the child. The computer is our friend. We print off fun labels for the bottles and jars. Some other favorites...

  • check out this website for really cool templates to make lots of cool stuff.
  • Custom cds- Each child makes a mix cd of their favorite songs. They design album covers and cd stickers. We package them all in a decorative envelope.
  • Library bags. You can buy some blank canvas bags quite cheaply at the craft store. Scan a picture your child drew into the computer. Add some text ie Suzy could spend all day with a good book and print it out on an iron on transfer. Iron it on to the bag. You can use a template to make a library card holder envelope from another piece of child's artwork. You could also make beach bags.
  • Customized Word Magnets. In a Word document, make a list of the names of the birthday child and her family members, your child's name and list nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles etc. Using simple present tense makes it simpler. ie Suzy happily dances with the singing hippopotamus. Skip a line between each line of text with 3 spaces between words. Then you can either print the sheets off and attach them to adhesive backed magnet sheets (cheaper) or you use printer friendly magnet sheets. We put them in a decorated tin.
  • Book Plates. Scan a piece of your child's artwork into a Word document. Format it for large shipping labels. Add text ie This book belongs to Suzy Smith. and duplicate it for each label. Print them out and separate them into a nice stack and tie with a ribbon. We usually include a gently read favorite book with a label already in it.
  • Stationary. Have your kids fill a piece of paper with a pattern. Like rows of hearts or rainbow stripes. scan it into your computer and fade the colors out. Fill a whole page with the design and add text ie From the desk of Suzy Smith at the top. You can also do this in landscape so you can actually have two sheets per page after you cut it in half. Print off ten sheets and tie with a ribbon. Then you can use a envelope template to make envelopes from colored copy paper or from other sheets printed with their design on it. You can use card stock and add some little note cards or thank you notes. You can also make smiley face sealing stickers from price dots.
I'm going to try to upload some images of these things so you can get a better picture of them. I don't have them on my new computer so I'm going to have grab them off the old one.

My point is simply that birthdays don't have to be filled with cheap junk and your homemade gifts don't have to be quaint. You can design some pretty cool stuff with your kids and the computer. I'm looking forward to figuring out what we can do with Photobooth!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fun with Photo Booth

I got a new MacBook on Friday for me to do my schoolwork on. We have an old Mac G5 that had iLife 04 or something like that. Well now I have iLife 09 and iWork 09. I am very excited about this. I have always wanted the Photo Booth program. As you can see, we had a great time with it today. But, it also has iWeb where I can design my own website. I am chomping at the bit to to this, but I am making myself wait until I'm done with this semester...we'll see how long that lasts.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'm cude! I'm cude! She said I'm cude!

OK. So she didn't really say I was cute. But I felt just like Rudolph.
I put a link to my blog in the personal information sheet I filled out for my journalism class and today I received a very fortifying email from my professor complimenting my family and then she said, "You're a terrific writer." *swoon*

I never used to have such weird insecurities before, but this school thing has really challenged my feelings of adequacy. As much as I have always enjoyed writing, maybe this isn't where my talents really lie. I mean, I think I sound like a rock star when I sing in the shower, but I would really just be one of the painfully embarrassing American Idol try-outs. Am I really just wasting my time? So, to have my first contact with my professor be such encouragement meant the world to me.

*singsong* off to do my homework

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reason #317 Why my kids' school rocks



The Meatball-Kindergarten

I love that my kids can just run with whatever they are excelling at at that moment. The Meatball is about to start the 4th grade language workbook even though he is only in kindergarten. Jellybean is about to start the 3rd grade language workbook. Do I think they are exceptionally smart? No. I think that the Montessori method is able to identify when a child is in their particular window to learn something and then give the child the means to go at their pace without the constrictions of following a classroom lesson plan.

It doesn't surprise me (and makes me proud) that the children are excelling, at this point, in language skills. We live in a house full of books and words. In my house words have power, both for good and evil. I am a strong believer that ugly, hateful words can stick to the walls and actually make the house ugly and hateful. When my children use hateful words they have to apologize to the person and then they have to apologize to the house. (We even make them kiss the walls! which always makes them giggle.) We read aloud to the children every night from books that excite and challenge them. Good stories that Chowder and I enjoy to read. Right now we are reading, Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi. (the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles) The kids are loving it.

Next we will probably throw in some more Greek Myths. We haven't read those is a while and they are such great stories! We have been impressed with the Usborne collection.

And then we will start my all-time favorite children's book, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. I can't wait! Jellybean is going to love this one.

PLEASE don't underestimate what your children can comprehend. Listening to stories read aloud can take some practice. Before you get to a novel with no pictures, start with some short stories and read them only showing the pictures after you have finished the page. The Mercy Watson series is great for this. As the children become accustomed to listening, and they train their attention span, you can start reading longer and longer stories until you are reading short novels to them. I will put together a list of my kids favorite books to listen to and post it on here. And children are never too old to be read to. We read all of the Harry Potter books aloud with Skaterboy. The last one when he was 15. We loved reading them together and discussing and speculating after each chapter! I promise you will have a lot of fun with this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lessons in At-Homeness

One of the things that I love about our community and school is the number of families who have chosen to have a parent at home, or with school age children, a parent at home when the children are at home. This is not to say anything against families with both parents working full time, it is simply that the dynamic of the community is different. Friends come home with the kids after school. They can run around the corner to a friend's house or just play with the other neighborhood kids on the block. And I think it makes the parents more open to getting together as well. There is not the busyness or lack of time and energy to socialize on the spur of the moment.

And what I really love about our school is the number of stay-at-home dads. What a cool dynamic they bring to their families. They have really inspired me in many ways. As an at home mom, there are the pressures of the societal images of what an at-home mom should be like, and what her family should look like, and what her home should smell like. Even though we modern at-home moms have busted out of the pearls, that demon June Cleaver still lingers in the backs of our minds as a standard.

At-home dads have the freedom of no such icon. And this freedom allows them to create the role for themselves. They have already done an about face on the societal expectations put on men to be breadwinners, so they have purposefully done away with that pressure. Do they still have to deal with the patronization of career men the same way we do with career women? I'm sure. And it outrages me as much as my own experiences do. But, at home within their families they get a chance to explore. And with this group of at-home dads, they had careers and educations that they put on hold for their families. I have found a great mix of intelligent, creative, fun loving men and that appears to be what they bring first to their roles. They play with their kids. They are so much more active with them. And that's what they have inspired me with. A new emphasis on what should be important in my at-homeness.

It will be interesting to see what the children of SAHDs grow up like. Especially the daughters. I get a little worried sometimes when Jellybeam wants to be like me so she straps a doll into her sling and starts washing the floor. Not that that isn't a part of what I do, but it isn't who I am. And the father-daughter dynamic is so different from the mother-daughter one. Mothers tend to coddle their sons, and fathers their daughters. So, to have that full time coddling reversed would be very interesting. What a neat childhood for a girl. And for a boy to have someone there actively playing and roughhousing and giving an outlet to that energy. AND he'll see a man modeling housework for him. His future wife will love this! I just really enjoy watching these families and how they interact. It gives me so much food for thought.

My favorite example of the difference of the kids being raised by at-home dads vs. moms was from a dinner party we had a few months ago. Jellybean came into the dining room and asked me, "Mommy, can I please have some more chocolate milk?" Not 5 minutes later a little boy walked up to his dad and said, "How about another round of chocolate milk, dad?"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

With the love of a good man...

Yesterday could not have brought more anxiety with it. So much that I slept through most of the day. Not only was there the anxiety surrounding school, but there was the additional anxiety of driving 3 hours away from my children and trying not to die. I was freaked out because I had slept instead of writing little notes to all of the kids telling them to have a good day and that I loved them just so they would have something... you know, just in case.

The more anxious I got, the more withdrawn I became. The more withdrawn I became the more bouncy Chowder became. He has been flitting around the house for days going on and on about how excited he is that I am going back to school and aren't I excited and isn't this just so great. And though sweet and endearing it was working on my every last frazzled nerve.

Let me step back here a second to explain that Chowder and I aren't the most lovey dovey couple in the world. We tend to express our devotion to each other with big nose jokes. (both of us have them) Chowder expresses his love in a very similar fashion to a 4th grade boy. When out to dinner while we were dating he once tried to saw my arm off with a butter knife. He would want to tell me how great a moment was but instead he would give me a wet willy. You get the picture. Back to my story.

My mom and I finally got off with Sweeting in the backseat. By the time we got to Terre Haute we had lost and hour in the time zone change and it was nearly 9:00. We drove around lost in Terre Haute looking for something to eat and finally made it to campus at nearly 10:00. The campus was dark and the Welcome Center was of course closed by this time so I had to call the security guard to come get me my key so we could get into the guest house. No smiling welcome with balloons and confetti. After settling Sweeting for the night, I looked forward to the reassurance of talking to Chowder. But when I called him I have no reception. none. My mom's phone had no reception. I went outside. no reception. I tried to call from the phone in the hall. no long distance. the phone in our room. no long distance. I tossed and turned all night without that thread of connection and hope.

I woke up this morning with my stomach in knots. Still there was no reception. I got Sweeting and myself ready and walked over to the library for the presentations. I was barely keeping it all bottled in. As I took a step into the library, my alert went off on my phone. It was a text message from Chowder.

Have a great day. You are awesome. I love you lots.
took my breath away, too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All my piggie ladies...

I am ordering a hog next week and I want some tips on butchering. I would love to have sausages and bacon made, but I'd also like to make some myself. I think it would be a cool thing for the kids to experience. once!

So, I know I have several readers that keep pigs and I would love to know your suggestions on a cut list and what I should ask the butcher for. (Do I ask the butcher to give me the casings?) AND your fave sausage and bacon recipes.

and think of me tomorrow. I'll be all nervous and shy at my new school all day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Muddy Waters of forgiveness...

I'm wading through some muddy waters right now. I can't see where the drop off is. If the bottom is firm. If there is danger below. I've been standing on one side of this river. A woman, my old friend, is on the other.

Our friendship started when we were teenagers. We spent summers driving around in the "frolic-mobile" eating French baguettes hot from the baker's oven and drinking ice cold Dr. Peppers in 46 oz cups, going from yard sale to yard sale looking for some thing that made us laugh or we just had to have. We went away to college together. We played hours of Rummy and starred in my TV show. We broke up. And then a year or so later came back together with the air of inevitability that our friendship seemed to have. I became pregnant and she didn't say, "You have to get rid of it." the way my other friends did. (She and Chowder were the only two.) We waited tables together. We moved in together. We sat for long hours out on our balcony smoking cigarettes and listening to music. We made up stories about limbless cats, victims of tragic factory accidents, and wrote some good and some melodramatic poetry. We went through boyfriends and husbands.

There was an intensity to our friendship that I can't put into words. The friendship consumed me, perhaps us. There would be long times of imbalance. and then resentment. and in 1998 when she quickly entered into an ill-advised marriage the intensity became too much. I held it together to go to the florist and make her a bouquet and to go home and bake her a wedding cake and to take her pictures and to go down to the courthouse and to help her pack her things into the back of her VW bug and to watch her drive away to Texas...and then it all combusted and fell down like ash. And I never spoke to her again.

She was never completely out of my life. One of my friends had married her brother. And another of my friends stayed in touch. I heard of her life. of the birth of her son. I came so close to mailing the beautiful blanket and small teddy bear I bought for him. so close. But, I just couldn't bring myself there again. I never felt anger. or judgment. or ill will. I have always wished her good things. I have always kept her in my prayers. I just couldn't bring her back into my life. I feared for my separateness.

but now we are at the same place on the riverbanks. directly across from each other.
And she has just called out my name.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Random things

My Week of Being There ended up more like three days of Being There. I didn't consciously give it up. It just happened. But, at least I have it in my mind now and I'm being more intentional about how I respond to the children.


Thursday is my Residency day. I will be going to St. Mary-of-the-Woods College for my orientation, to purchase my books, and meet with my professors and adviser. Because I live several hours away and the orientation starts at 9:00 promptly, I am going up the night before and staying on campus. And because I am still exclusively breastfeeding, my mother is going with me and will spend the day with Sweeting so I can take breaks to feed her. Yay! Mom! I am both excited and nervous.


I am having to put my New Year's Resolution on hold. I am about to start the Total Money Makeover and the part that has always gotten in my craw was that you were supposed to start by saving $1000. That would take us awhile. So, I'm going to use money from our tax return to get that part out of the way. I try to do a good job with money. And for the most part we do. But, there are some places that definitely need some cleaning up. And while we have less than $1000 in credit card debt, we still have Chowder's student loans from his last Master's Degree. I'd really like to get that paid down quickly.

So, when I know where we stand after our Makeover than I can judge a budget for the house.


If you are about to plan your veggie garden or you would really like to get started on one this year, my friend Bridgett found this super cool Google Book called War Vegetable Gardening and the Home Storage of Vegetables ...By National war garden commission written during World War I. It is amazingly helpful and practical. It is written to help a complete novice and I am using it to make my plans. You should too.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Gee thanks, Octuplet Lady.

I belong to two online parenting communities. One is a parenting after IVF community and the other is parenting lots of kids. And while these may seem like opposing communities, they actually share a deep love for children. Both the ones hard fought for and easily gained. Many times I find myself an ambassador for the other perspective because I fit so neatly in between.

Both communities have been hit very negatively in the media and public sphere by the woman who just gave birth to Octuplets. If you have somehow managed to not hear about this, just Google it. Both communities have been invaded by reporters wanting to interview people about our experiences. With trepidation, some have given the interview. But, the articles portrayed the stories they wanted to tell. In the case of my large family friend who was interviewed, out of the dozens of pictures they took of the family, the NYT decided on the picture that showed them barefoot, standing in front of religious art and ripped wallpaper (from their autistic son.) hmmmm....Do you think the NYT had a vision they wanted to flesh out?

But, the communities are also now being invaded by "Critics." On the message board of my Lots of Kids community someone posed this question:

I am one of "those people" who has always disdained large families. But maybe you can change my perspective by sharing yours. Why is having lots of kids more important than providing the best life you can for each?

That isn't snark; I'm genuinely curious. Explain to me how you negotiate these tradeoffs.
I'm posting my response with some prettying up because I don't think this is an uncommon thought...

First off, I'm not sure why I'm supposed to convince you of anything. If you don't want a big family, don't have one. (And that was not snarky, either. I promise.) I think the main thing is that these days, we are not forced to have big families. We choose them. We choose them because, for us, it makes our lives fuller. If a family of one child or two makes your life fuller? Than that's the right family size for you.

And the phrase, "best life" is such a curious one. A completely subjective idea. What would have been the best life for me growing up would not necessarily be the best life for you. And how can you generalize so much about large families? It makes it sound like having only one or two children guarantees a "best life." I know plenty of children in one or two child families who get less attention from their parents than ours do. Our family has made conscious decisions that help us lead a life using a smaller footprint and using less resources than most one or two child families. The idea that family size somehow predicts happiness and fulfillment is absurd in my mind. Our kids come third (only after our faith and our marriage.) And they are very well cared for emotionally and physically.

I don't think people really know what life is like in our family. We laugh more than any other family I know. I still take plenty of time for myself and for my husband and I. I'm not a drone. Going about doing mindless work in a gray world. My children have taught me so much about myself and about how to relax and enjoy life. There is a perception that we are somehow this big ball of stress and chaos. Ok. maybe the chaos part is right, but we actually DON'T sweat the small stuff. For me, I love that insignificant things that should not occupy my time or thoughts...don't. Because, my time and thoughts are filled up with important things.

I love that I roller skate and write poems and bake depending on the different child. I'm learning how to knit with my daughter and play the guitar from one of my sons who is also teaching a little brother. My kids have each other to stand up for them against the world. (I overheard Porkchop and The Meatball talking about how they needed to talk with a girl at school because she was being mean to Jellybean) To help them with homework. (They are always challenging each other to do better.) Things they would rather get from each other than from a parent. But, they still get everything they could want or need from us.

Our youngest is 4 months old and I'm having to constantly tell my kids to chill out on the more siblings question. They want more! (ok. not Skaterboy.) They love their lives. We are a very laid back and fun family. Other families have commented on how they feel so comfortable around us because there is no drive to impress.

As far as the whole "older kids raising the younger kids" things I hear about all the time, again, I have to beat my kids off their younger siblings with a stick (and NO, not literally) I'm constantly telling them, "I'm the Mommy, I'll take care of that." And they are begging to do it instead. Should I then forbid them from helping their little siblings? Jellybean is the only one that Ladybug will allow to help her onto the potty. When I tried to stop her, Jellybean said, "Why? I want to help her?" and stomped off in a huff. And The Meatball helps Porkchop tie his shoes and button his oxford. Without my asking! Is it somehow bad that I'm raising children who love each other and want to help each other out? They are learning important relationship skills and it bonds them together.

Don't get me wrong. Life isn't always peachy. We have days of nonstop bickering (myself and Chowder included). I yell too much. The wet gray winter can get very long. The laundry pile can get very high. And the toilets get amazingly dirty. But, in my mind it all comes down to a game of Yahtzee. Brothers and sisters chanting for that last 4 for their brother's last roll of the dice and when it comes up a 3 they all groan together and when it comes a 4 they all raise a cheer and yell "Yahtzee!!"

Friday, February 06, 2009

My favorite things...slings

I'm a bit of a baby carrier addict. I love them. They make mommying so much easier and babying so much more comforting. With Ladybug, I purchased my first pouch sling from the amazing and talented Niki over at Coastal Slings. You really need to check out her website. You pick the fabrics email her your measurements and she custom makes your sling so it fits you perfectly. And she does it all quickly and frankly cheaply. Note that her prices are in Canadian.

Here's what I see when I look down into my sling at Sweeting...

and it doesn't take long until she looks like this...

With Sweeting, I ordered a ring sling from Raspberry Baby. What I like about the ring sling is its adjustability. And I like to be able to wear the baby on my chest kangaroo-ish style with the feet tucked in. She did a wonderful job the way she attached the rings is fabulous! and the fabric is beautiful. and she even switched it for me because I like to sling from left shoulder. Love it.

Here is brand spanking new Sweeting in my ring sling. She was the smiling-est newborn I ever saw...
and here's me, looking a little rough in the early days...

Both slings are from work at home moms and both are very professionally made. And I'm a bit of a snob about these things.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lame List Post

Well, Niki did it so I figured I could too! Everyone and their (or my) mother have been tagged on Facebook to do the 25 Random Things.
Here are mine:

1.) One of my favorite things to do is scald myself in a bath while reading cookbooks cover to cover.

2.) I was traumatized as a small child because my mother sang "Leaving on a Jet Plane" to me as a lullaby. I was always surprised to see her in the morning.

3.) In college I was ostracized from my campus NOW chapter because they did not agree with my Choice.

4.) I love Anna Akhmatova's poetry but never talk about it because it sounds pretentious.

5.) I was once a Russian major in college and was going to translate post-revolutionary poetry for a living. That's how I planned to make my fortune.

6.) I can't be around my girl cat at night because she looks like an animatronic cat and completely creeps me out.

7.) I hate the beach. Hot, sand, saltwater, squishy things. No. Damn. Good.

8.) I love the new New York Style brand Rosemary and Sea Salt Foccacia Sticks.

9.) When I was pregnant with the twins I was 54 inches around. That's 4 feet 6 inches.

10.) I blew out the speakers of my Subaru blasting Chumbawumba. Yes, Chowder. I am finally admitting it.

11.) When we played Charlie's Angels, I was always Sabrina. Trisha was Kris, Kim was Kelly, and Danny was Bosley.

12.) When I was 8 years old I was peed on by an adult Malayan Tapir at the St. Louis Zoo. And not just a little.

13.) Ever since I was a little girl I have starred in my own TV show (in my head). My audience has always loved me and found me witty and wise.

14.) I always wanted a house full of 7 children.

15.) I am a catalog junkie. No worries. I recycle.

16.) I can't wait to turn 40! I like myself so much better as I get older. I think I am so much prettier too. This aging thing is awesome! so far...

17.) I can't stand to get my hands wet. I have been known to wear rubber gloves to give the kids baths. And to wash my hair. poor kids with the freaky mom.

18.) I get filled with rage when I see people litter! I mean, what the hell, people?! Just opening a car window and throwing out a bag of fast food trash?! Who raised you?

19.) I rarely drink more than a glass or two of wine because I am afraid of the alcohol abuse in my family.

20.) When my children are first potty training, I tell them all that Daddy loves to wipe butts and it would hurt his feelings if they asked me instead of him.

21.) I have been in love with my husband for 22 years.

22.) I yell too much. I'm afraid too much.

23.) I am a pastor's wife who doubts her faith daily.

24.) Seed catalogs are my pornography. Nothing but fantasies.

25.) I love road trips and hate flying. Even though it takes days to get there, I love them. Even with 6 kids. I'm looking forward to the road trip this summer to our family reunion. Too bad it's at a beach ;)

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Week of Being There

Yesterday began the Week of Being There. My week long experiment of not saying, "Just a minute" or "Hang on. Let me finish this." When I'm not doing anything important. When I'm on the computer or getting caught up in cleaning. Things that should not come before the kids. There obviously are things that I'm doing that I have to say, "Just a minute" to, like feeding Sweeting or taking a shower. But, in those cases I will tell them an exact time that I will do such and such with them. This does not mean I don't get any time to myself, it means that I waste a lot of time during the day, these days, that should be going to them.

So, yesterday was our first full day. And you know what? We had a great day! I had a lot of fun. We watched Sound of Music (reigniting my lifelong fantasies about Christopher Plummer), played Yahtzee, and did one of the kids' favorite things...We set up the camera on timer on one end of the room and then race to the other end to get our picture taken.

I'm looking forward to getting back to the things I love to do. and cracking out of this miserable shell.

grrrrr! What happened to the music?! It's so much funnier with Polka music!! Isn't everything?