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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

5th Grade Math Wins

It's official. I now realize where in my scholastic past it all went wrong. Where Math gained the upper hand, once and for all.  Where my future as an English major was sealed.

5th grade fractions.

Turns out I can multiply and divide fractions with the best of 'em (granted, I re-learned along with the boys a couple weeks ago). I was feeling proud of myself, thinking, "Gee, if I could go back and revisit little Ems I would assure her that math isn't so bad! We can do this!".......and then we got to story problems today.

Story problems have long been a bane, in general. Really, I think most of us will agree. Trying to wade through a long-winded, convoluted situation involving children named Dawn Marie and Keisha and Akim is never easy. Add to the mix the fact that we are talking about fractions and that you need to somehow figure out if multiplication or division is needed to solve these problems -- AND the wheels promptly fall off the bus.

I have no idea why in some of these problems you multiply the fractions. Why sometimes they need must be divided. It seems extremely arbitrary. The only way I can solve them is by doing the problems both ways and seeing which one actually makes sense (Hmm, I guess it makes more sense that Shanda made 28 cupcakes rather than 3/74).

Anyway, this was perhaps more of a vent then an actual post. If any readers understand fractions, obscured within paragraphs of nonsensical ramblings, I encourage you to become a math teacher. Or send me an email.

Thank you.

Rule #732: Review YouTube videos on fractions (note to self)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cheap Outings with Kids

Emily already posted on feeding kids for cheap--- but entertaining children with limited funds is my expertise.  I have always looked at my job as a homemaker to include finding cheap or free activities in our area.  I am blessed to live in New England with access to Boston, and other relatively affluent areas around me.  In New Hampshire, every weekend is chock-full of fairs, festivals, and family-friendly events.  Here are some tips for finding stuff to do to get those kiddos out of the house!

  • Find your local paper (free ones are best)  Whether I have lived in NH, PA or Delaware, there has always been a weekly, free newspaper available in the lobby of local businesses.  I always pick this up and scour the listings of events. Usually they list the cost, timing, and details of the events.  Once a season my newspaper highlights really fun events, and I usually write them in my calendar to remind myself (i.e. Milford Pumpkin festival). 

  • Skip any event with an admission cost  Some fairs up here cost $8-10 a person to attend. Really? How can I afford the $6 fried dough? (side note: I'm from Delaware which means I refer to this delicacy as Funnel Cakes, but in New England they speak a different language and it's called Fried Dough. And it's not as good).  Just choose the state fairs, etc. that are free to get in. If the admission is less than $5 a person and kids are free--- maybe I'd go. But I doubt it. Also, check for parking availability. Is it free admission and $10 to park? Don't get suckered.

  • Check for coupons If you want to go to amusement parks, business expos, and museums, check out newspapers, local fast food restaurants, websites and even your bank (Bank of America offers its members free admissions once a month to dozens of museums). Check your husband's (or your) works for discounts at area events (human resources often gets lots of coupons and passes).  I also sign up for local Groupon (or Living Social or something....) so if any kid-friendly items that come up I buy them. I have gotten passes to bounce houses, butterfly places, and more!

  • Library Museum Passes  Most libraries have fantastic discounts and passes to area museums. I have never paid for the aquarium, science museum, or children's museum in my area as I ALWAYS reserve the library pass.  Now, you have to reserve it in advance, and pick it up before you go-- so logistically it can be challenging, but free is worth the effort and planning.  

  • Remember the age of your children.  Is it worth it to drive to the ocean beach 1+ hour from my house, pay for parking, and haul all of the beach stuff 1/2 mile from the costly parking only to stay for 2 hours as my kids still need naps? Or should I go to the local lake beach (and if I get there before 10 AM, it's free....) and pack a picnic lunch?  Some events are NOT WORTH IT!!! It's too much hassle to pack my little ones up and go somewhere in which they all can't enjoy it.

  • Check stores and factories.  If you have an AC Moore's, Michael's Craft, Lowes, Barnes & Noble's, or Ace Hardware, they all have free classes for kids and grown ups.  Some have a small fee for supplies, but holiday activities are usually free! Each name is linked to the calendars or store locators on their website.  Sometimes I sign up for the email list for reminders of events.  In my town, we are blessed to live near two fantastic factories that lead tours and have free samples! We often go to the factories, and the Stonyfield factory even hosts weekly story times! I've lived near Hershey Park, the Crayola Factory and the Herr Factory-- and all offered tours and fun.

  • Kids don't need a lot to have fun. This one time when my eldest was not quite 2 years old, we promised her a fair with animals to pet. We arrived at the fair and realized we had to pay $10 in parking (see why I mentioned this in the 2nd bullet-point?).  We hardly had any cash so we left the fair and drove straight to a pet store. My 2 year old was THRILLED to pet a bunny, and the teenager who was working there let us hold kittens, puppies, even a bird.  So think about the fun of bookstores, Wal-mart, Ikea (Free kids meals Tuesdays!), Cabella's, Bass Pro Shops,etc.  Stores really can be adventures to little ones, and mom can do a little *light* shopping then too!
**If you do go somewhere for the day--don't forget to pack lunches/coolers! In museums (especially big city museums) the prices in the cafeteria are ridiculous.  Most will allow you to bring in a cooler (I usually keep a lunch bag in my stroller for our outings), and sometimes I'll buy a cookie or two to split amongst the children as a treat. 

Hope this list helps you think outside the "children-cost-to-much" bubble and use some of the free stuff available to you in the area!!

Easy Rules for the day:
#872- Learn your town, state, and region to find ALL the best deals and events for kids!
#822- It's o.k. to stay home too. All of this talk of packing up kids makes me want to take a nap :)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Feeding Frenzy Friday - 1

NOTE: I meant to publish this Thursday. Whoops.

Every Friday during the school year, I have two wonderful "Mother's helpers" come to the house. As a ministry from the local university, the girls are here for three hours once a week to help with the children--in exchange for a home-cooked meal.  The children LOVE it. Having two enthusiastic and energetic teens push them on the swings or pull them in the wagon around the cul-de-sac endlessly is pretty much toddler heaven. Even the older boys get a charge from having grand Nerf battles in the street.

As I learned from my mom, when you serve company you need to assure they are filled. They WILL leave the table satisfied. Add to this, is the responsibility of providing a meal that the girls can't get at the cafeteria or via the pizza delivery guy (darn it). Plus, they come seriously hungry.

During this time, I take my daughter Josephine to gymnastics.  We leave by 4:30. Which means dinner has to be done by that time so the family can eat while we are away.  So, dinner for 4 adults and 6 kids (and a baby), done by late afternoon. On a tight budget. Isn't this fun? ;)

I thought I would include you all in my Friday insanity. This will serve as my prep list and recipe corner, all in one! And if any of you decide on a large and filling menu this week, perhaps it will help :)

Ahem. Friday's menu:

Two loaves of bread
Baked enchiladas
Peas with bacon and onion
Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting

The cooking order will be:

Early morning: bread
Mid-morning: cake
After lunch: peas
Mid afternoon: enchiladas

hint: always start with carbs and dessert. That way, if you screw up the main dish and vegetable, no one will care too much....


Bread, found here
Peas, self explanatory. Turkey bacon, onion, butter and salt--can't go wrong
Cake: recipe found on back of Hershey's cocoa powder box. Yum!


1. Brown 1 lb of ground turkey. I add some shredded zucchini for more hidden veggies. Also throw in some rice. Add taco seasoning (essentially chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder). Mix in a little salsa and sour cream to help bind the mixture.
2. Fill and roll flour tortillas and place seam side down in Pam-sprayed 9x13. Cover top with shredded cheddar
3. Mix 1 can cream of chicken soup, equal parts salsa, and some sour cream, and pour all over the top
4. Bake for 30 minutes at 350

POST NOTE: Kids had a great time; my helpers enjoyed the meal; Yay, we survived another Friday!

Rule #213: When company is coming, fill 'em up. And make dessert.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Managing the Perfectionist with Silliness

My eldest is a perfectionist.  She hates making mistakes.  She hates to disappoint.  Every day school tasks can be cripplingly slow.

Now, growing up I was anything BUT a perfectionist-- I was satisfied if I attained a B at school, and truly never tried for A's.....   As I grew up, I have gradually morphed into a perfectionist. I am not a super neat housewife or anything, but I definitely hold myself to much higher standards than I used to.  It's like Grace is me as an adult, not a child.

Sometimes, I have to rein myself in for over-correcting her as I compound her own tendencies.  So, to combat the "serious" side of Grace, I developed a monthly (surprise) Silly Day.  My children ADORE silly days as it's a break from the mundane AND I get to use all those Pinterest ideas that I have stored up!

First things first, a silly breakfast.  I do "pancake shapes to order".... now, am I truly a pancake artist? No... but the blobs of houses, ducks, dogs or even clowns that they request make us laugh and we have to use our imaginations! We decorate them with mini-chocolate chips, strawberries, even a dollop of whipped cream!

The night before I do write down a list of potential "silly day" activities.  The obvious is FACE PAINT and silly hair first. The girls LOVE choosing their own wild hair-dos, mismatched outfits and what they want on their faces.  (Oh, one rule I have for silly day is that I usually don't leave our house as our children do look ridiculous...)

I make my own face paint that has never killed them or caused a rash--which is miraculous as our children come from a long line of very, very pale people.  I mix crayola paint (the washable, non-toxic kind) with a dab of children's liquid soap (Johnson & Johnson's or something that won't sting or irritate the skin).

Kids LOVE face paint-- it does NOT matter what it looks like as long as they get covered. (Quick note--- I often face paint my kids before we go to a parade or event that I know there will be face painting there to save me money....) 

After that, I usually plan 2-3 messy activities that have no real purpose or goal.  Grace is quite creative, but she is also quite rigid with "staying in the lines".  We do shaving cream with food dye in it, bring snow in and make mini-snowmen or even paint with pudding.

I've even come up with an Silly Animal game: two piles of cards one with animals and one with adjectives (ie. Quiet, Lion).  The kids have to act out the pair they get (hilarity ensues for Ferocious Rabbit or Angry Frog).  For lunch, I try do do one of those creative lunches from Pinterest with shapes.  Not too hard to add cucumbers to a sandwich as "wheels" and call it a car.    I've made animals, robots, and more just by cutting the sandwich a little differently.

After lunch we have a mid-day bath (Gasp--Deviation from our normal routine!!) in which we wash the face paint off before nap time.  I use some of the "fun bath" ideas I have found on pinterest--- bath tub paint, glow baths, colored ice cube baths, etc.

My children really appreciate all the effort I put in, and they get giddy with excitement all day.  In between activities, they usually initiate their own "silly" play that ends up being a bit too wild.... but fun :) 

I choose lots of silly books and songs (usually Wiggles) and we dance and read all day.  I try not to do QUITE as many chores, and it's a day off from school lessons.

Are Silly Days a lot of work for me?  Yes-- but honestly, they alleviate some of that "Homeschooling-Mom-Guilt" that I get for pushing my children so hard.  It gives me a moment to appreciate the fun and joy of having a kid without thought to learning and teaching. Don't get me wrong-- I love teaching my children, but sometimes it's fun just to be a crazy mom.

Easy Rule #499 You don't have to be a perfect Pinterest mom every day--- but once in awhile it's fun to liven up your shcedule!

Easy Rule #529 Don't always be a stick-in-the-mud-- let the kids go crazy (in an orderly way of course :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Picture It

It may be that you catch a glimpse of something in your home that sums it all up: this is your life, in a nutshell.  I found one such scene today, and memorialized it with a snapshot.

Children, symbolized by cups.
Baby = sippy cup (not that she will take it).
Baking and breadmaking are demonstrated by KitchenAid and attachment hook.
Waffle batter mars the counter, evidence of breakfast-making. And of general slovenliness.
Plastic zombie.

Rule #56: Capture the daily moments--they are what make a life.
Rule #678:  98% of boys (including all five in my house) would agree that an undead apocolypse would be pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Our Party Favorite Recipes

I alluded to a couple of recipes the other day in my party post and we have had a few requests.  From baby showers to birthday parties, these recipes are filling, easy to prepare, and, of course, delicious.

Tortellini & shrimp: top right, braided bread, bottom, Taco salad, behind flowers!

Tortellini & Shrimp


  • 1 pkg (8 oz) spinach-cheese tortellini
  • 1 pkg (8 oz) cheese tortellini
  • 3/4 Cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 medium clove garlic, crushed
  • 1# deveined, shelled shrimp
  • 1/2# plum tomatoes, cut in wedges
  • 1/4# boiled ham, cut into 1/4" strips
  • 1 Cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 Cup grated fresh Parmesan Cheese
1. Cook tortellini as package labels direct; keep warm. In large skillet, melt butter, sauté onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Add shrimp; sauté 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, ham, and peas; cook one minute.

2. Toss with tortellini, sprinkle with shredded cheese. If desired, garnish with fresh basil; sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.
Easily doubling recipe!

Taco Salad
  • 1 Large head of lettuce, torn
  • 1 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 (16 oz) can of kidney beans
  • 2 tomatoes, drained/diced
  • 1/2 Cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2-1 lb of hamburger meat
  • 1 pk. taco seasoning mix
  • 1 (8oz) jar of Catalina dressing
  • 1 Cup Fritos, crushed (or not)


1. Brown hamburger, drain fat, add taco seasoning and kidney beans, simmer 5 minutes
2. Meanwhile, combine lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and onion in large bowl.3. Add beef mixture, toss with dressing. Top with Fritos, serve immediately.

You can make the meat ahead of time, and reheat at time of the party!

I hope you enjoy these easy & delicious party-foods! You can easily double these recipes to accommodate larger crowds.

Easy Rule #728- Find some go-to recipes for parties that you know will always taste good!

Easy Rule #228- Mom's recipes are ALWAYS the best!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bread and St. Elizabeth

A friend of mine requested a bread recipe be added here, and my tried and true recipe is from my mom. It makes two large braided loaves; I make it every Friday.  Caveat: I have only ever made this in the breadmaker. I have made other breads without the machine, but using the appliance simplifies matters.

I also use regular flour and buy vital wheat gluten to add in (4 tsp/loaf) instead of buying bread flour. I've found it's less expensive and simplifies my pantry space.  Obviously, then, this is not a gluten-free recipe. Therefore, it tastes delicious....  wink, wink....!

Mom's Bread


1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 T butter, softened
1 egg
5 1/4 cups flour
8 tsp gluten
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp yeast


Place all ingredients in breadmaker in order listed.  Select and start Dough cycle. When dough is finished, grease two cookie sheets.  Pull out the dough and cut into three equal parts.  Pull and shape each segment into a long rope, and then braid them together.  Cut the long braid in half, and place each half on a cookie sheet. Cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes in a warm spot (I use barely warmed oven).  When done rising, bake at 375 for 15 - 20 minutes until browned -- watch it so it doesn't get too dark on bottom!  After removing from oven, brush with melted butter and let cool on racks.  Enjoy!

Because bread reminds me of my favorite saint, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, I've included a poem that I wrote about her a while back. 

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Beloved wife to Louis and Christ; friend to the poor.

Two men on horseback, reeds scraping the knee-high
Leather boots leaving long white scratches behind, speak of you:

“You need not marry her, Louis; you were only a child for God’s sake!”

As were you, Elizabeth.
The knots in your rosary tied by someone else’s smooth, white hand;
Your finger ringed while cradled still; a coronet place on wispy curls and pulled at
By dimpled hands; your world bartered by the highest powers--
render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

“Do you see that far hill? The one edged and shadowed with gold
from the rising bright? If it were real, if the gold could be traded
for lands replete with musky spice; for warriors lean, loyal, and hungry; for churches
spiring toward the sharp blue sphere upwards
---still, I would not give away one hour with my Elizabeth.”

And he was not alone. You felt his laughter tickling in your own throat,
could taste his grief as dry bread sits heavy in your belly;
growing and warming babies, so expanding yourself for him that
something snapped inside you when he left, crusading for the one true God.

No more arms nestling you back into his chest as you offered prayer.
The large hands that warmed your fingers pointing upward (always pointing up as were
your eyes, heart, spirit) as you knelt in the dark of morning on frigid, square stones.

When you watched from the castle window and saw his robed figure
shining out of vision’s longing grip, you shared your sorrow with
the old collapsed in doorways,
the thin limbed children, stained sun-brown, dancing for silver by the church;
To the bent, sored, mottled ones you offered a bed, hands of aloe, voice of Spirit
in soft woman-tones wrapping like river-silk over worn rocks.

Sparrow princess mourning his broken body folded in the sticky dust of heretics,
leaving all plumes in that same dust, you traded for gray linen, arms of grain,
a crown of thorns.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Murphy's Law

If you are a mother, you are familiar with this horrible, horrible Law. It is the Law that dictates a baby, who takes a 2 hour nap most days, will awaken the moment you decide to take a little snooze. It is the Law that determines your potty-trained toddler will decide the floor of the public library is a good place to poop.  It is that same Law that allows a quart of lemonade to be spilled on the kitchen floor the same day you mopped it that month.

So, who is this Murphy? And why does he hate mothers? And how can we stop him??

Well, my instincts say that if we don't nap, or clean, or leave the house, we will never be disappointed.  And at the risk of sounding a little insane, I think Murphy is a demon (and perhaps he has a chip on his shoulder because of his wussy name). It just feels like something is trying to get me angry all the time. And succeeding much too frequently for my liking.

Only two things seem to work to combat Murphy: prayer and laughter. Unfortunately, it's hard to think of doing either of those things when faced with disaster.  But I really feel that prayer and laughter are a Mother's Armor against the dark forces at work in our homes and hearts.  Against the voices telling us that we can't do this. It's too hard. There are too many children. And they are driving us insane. And the house will never ever ever ever be clean (ok, that voice may have a point...).

So, mothers, unite! Don your armor! And maybe if we all shoot up a prayer for each other, we can beat Murphy at his own game. Some days a prayer may be more a desperate plea. And laughter might be more of a weak smile. But hopefully we will get better at recognizing the warning signs....basically, when everything is going a little too well, brace for impact.

Rule #5: Remember Proverbs:31 -- She is clothed with strength and dignity*; she can laugh at the days to come.

*  "strength and dignity" is Biblical code for "sweatpants"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Planning a Penny-Pinching Pinterest Party

Title have enough alliteration for you? Well, I like to throw parties, but I am cheap--and poor.... very poor.  I see these fantastic looking parties that rich people must hire a party-planner for, and they have a budget of--well, no-budget! Would I ever spend thousands of dollars on a party?  Um... no.   Personally, I'd rather buy a month's worth of groceries rather than host thirty 3-year-olds for 2 hours in a bounce pirate castle.  Seriously, what are you actually teaching your toddler by spending their inheritance on personalized fairy wings or catered food?

That being said, I am a pinterest addict; I have pinned dozens of fantastic ideas that I could never afford, but they really are quite spectacular.  My five-year-old LOVES parties. Loves planning them, cooking for them, decorating, etc. She seriously makes up holidays so she can craft for some parties.  I have come up for some rules to host a fun party that doesn't break the bank OR spoil the child.

1.  Limit your guest list.
First think about the MUST invites: grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc. Do a head count.  For me, that adds up pretty quickly.  Now, since all of my children are still in the "Parents-still-must-attend-the-party" age, I have to factor in at least 3 people for every 1 kid in case both parents want to attend.  I usually tell my girls they can invite 1 non-family friend.  That way my guest list stays under 15 people total. I don't think it's necessary to have all of her friends from playgroup or church come.  We don't have a big enough house, and we can always meet up with them at the mall or playground (a place where I don't have to clean or cook...)
Rainbow-Castle Theme Party

2. Choose a theme-but don't be STUCK in it.
I let my kids choose the theme, because my girls LOVE it. However, I give them choices and suggestions (heavily-influenced suggestions).  We brainstorm a ton of ideas surrounding the theme, but we make sure that EVERYTHING doesn't have to fit--or sometimes that gets too crazy.

3. Go crazy on pinterest-- but then edit--heavily.
Would I love to do everything on my "party-planning" board? Heck-yeah! Is it reasonable, affordable or necessary? Definitely not.  I limit my party to the cheap, free, or easily done categories.  Think about the time and money for each idea and weigh the importance.  Would the sparkly, glitter balloons look fantastic as under-the-sea bubbles? Sure... do you really want to have that much glitter in your house? With toddlers? No.

4. Set a budget for each category.
I have a decorating (aka Dollar Store) budget of less than $6.  Usually that is: one bag of balloons, one roll of streamers (they come in two packs so I usually have other colors from previous parties), one table cloth, and plates/cups.  I have a food budget around $30-40.  Present budget: less than $10. Seriously. I shop on craigslist and garage sales.  Prizes/games: usually around $5.  So total, around $60.

5. Be prepared to be creative.
I do most stuff myself. Am I a fantastic baker? No--but I can sure make a mean Duncan Hines cake.... PLUS, with candy and cones I can LOOK like I know how to decorate! My children LOVE to make the decorations. We take pinterest ideas of kids crafts and use them for decorations. We've made flowers, rainbows, castles, paper chains, etc. The kids have a fantastic time transforming our house using construction paper, paper plates, and tissue paper, and it makes the build up to the party better!  Instead of buying kits for Pin the Tail on the Donkey we make up our own versions such as pin the bunny tail on the bunny. Made from a quick drawing and glued cotton balls.  We've become quite creative!

6. Don't skimp on food.
Since my parties are attended by mainly adults, they are not going to be playing our kiddie games; they will be eating.  And in the spirit of my mother's parties, there is always WAY too much food--but that's a good thing. People like to eat while mingling so don't leave them bored or hungry.   I don't plan parties around dinner time because that food is usually more expensive.  The lunch/brunch time slot works best for the kids, naps, and my budget.  Also, if your sister or mom insist on bringing a dish-let them!  Serve lemonade, iced tea, and water.  Have a few juice boxes for the kids.  Make your own cake (with bought icing can cost you around $3), and serve chips/pretzels in bowls for snacks.  For the main dishes I usually do two (i.e. shrimp tortellini or taco salad--recipes to come).  I always have a hot appetizer and a salad of some sort.  Since my drinks & dessert are less than $6-7, it's not hard to spend the rest on the main dishes.

7. Keep in mind the POINT of the party.
Does your 1 year-old need a million presents? No. Does he/she really have a clue about what this is about? No.  Honestly, I don't usually get my under-2's presents when I have a party. They get ENOUGH stuff. And my brilliant sister-in-law listened to my suggestion one year and gave me a box of puffs, organic fruit snacks, etc.--all edible and age-appropriate stuff! It was the best gift for a third child you could ever give!! The POINT of these parties is really about having fun with family and friends.  The people who come won't care if things don't match or you don't have matching silverware, etc.  And your kid should not become a little selfish child who demands gifts, attention, etc.  If my children misbehaved on a regular basis or demonstrated entitled or ungrateful behavior--I would NEVER EVER throw them a party. Seriously. No way.
Easter-themed (day before Easter b-day)

Now, this all being said--- I do love cooking, crafting, and coming up with creative ideas (see--another awesome alliteration!).  I am sure Emily is laughing hysterically at this post, as she is NOT quite so into throwing parties--which is fine too!  Your kids will NOT know the difference if you just host simple family parties with bought ice cream cake (though Emily actually makes quite creative cakes).  I enjoy these parties so I keep doing them!!

Rule #347  Throw parties if you want to for you kids! Just don't spoil them. Watch a few episodes of MTV's Super Sweet Sixteen, it will keep you grounded.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Short Poems from Abroad

I came across some short poems I had written during my college study-abroad time in Austria...They were in a journal in my bedside table, so long unread.  Ah, youth :) Here is a sampling. See what you think! 


You seemed so unlike a lie to me
that I stepped in your puddle
and drowned.

Heart Ache

A smile remembered
like a lighter
this loved-rolled
cigarette into 
incendiary ashes.


Of what I thought
I knew of love,
I know I loved
the thought.


If a whisper could resound across the ocean,
And a dream was a thought to be shared,
Would I still hear Silence?


You are waiting in the wide Somewhere
for a small girl woman to recognize
a searching heart and call it her own,
for Part Two of your soul's novel.

Just Grand

Where have all my echoes gone?
You are the sponge at the 
bottom of my canyon.

So Sue Me

Perhaps I don't 
ring your bell
curl your toes
make your day --
Am not your
cup of tea,
chick -- 
I laugh aloud
at the cold night sky
while you sleep.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Solar System Unit Song

I finished up a Solar System Unit Study for my first grader, and she was struggling with the concept of the difference between rotation and orbit.  I came up with this song to help her understand and coupled it with a fun, hands-on activity.

I cut out a paper sun and held it above my head as we sang the first verse, and she had to spin around saying "night" when she had her back to me and "day" when she could see me.

Then, for the second verse she had to spin AND orbit around me, and say "Year" when she returned to her original spot. We giggled as she crashed around dizzy, but in the end she completely understood the concept of how seasons and time worked!  Hope you enjoy this fun activity too!

Easy Rule #572- Acting out concepts sometimes helps the more hands-on learners!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Five Ways to Grow SMART Kids

Let me start this by saying that I truly think ALL kids are WAY smarter than we parents realize. They don't think learning is boring! When I used to work at a daycare preschool many moons ago, I remember being astonished at how much those 3 year-olds could do. And then, when I had my first babies, being astonished at how much a 1 year old could do! And then a 2 year old! Wow! Kids are amazing!

Sometimes it seems like we, the parents, are slowing them down, simply by not expecting very much from these little people. Here are some tips for getting the most from your kids' potential:

1. Answer Your Kids' Questions with Truth and Detail -  Answer EVERY SINGLE ONE. Don't ignore the questions. Don't give them a babyish answer or a funny one to make other adults snicker. Give them more information than what they asked. Flood them with knowledge. Talk clearly and explain and elaborate. Why are you stopped at the traffic light? (talk all about traffic rules and light colors and the importance of safe driving, etc.). Why can't we buy those cookies? (explain about healthful eating, about shopping on a budget and making good choices). How does the bank give out money? (talk about working and getting paid and keeping money safe and only spending what you have). If they are too little to ask questions, point out and explain things anyway: "See that big tree over there? That's an oak tree! It's changing colors because it is fall. The acorns are dropping down. Let's see what color leaves we can see...etc."  Great things happen when you respect the questions of a child. They CAN handle the truth :)

2. Expect Good Behavior - Let your kids have a "bar" to reach. They may surprise you.  If you expect a tantrum, you will likely get one. Instead, expect them to sit still. Expect them to behave. If they don't, be shocked and punish swiftly (however you and your spouse agree: timeout, no sweets, etc.).  Babying and coddling is NOT the same as loving and cuddling. Raising expectations creates maturity, and mature kids are ready to learn.

3. Feed the Sponge - Start phonics early. Read. Use correct words - don't dumb it down. Read some more. Follow their interests. If your boy loves trucks, teach him "excavator" and "combine harvester"  - no need to call it a "dirt digger upper."

4. Laugh! - Jokes and silliness and good-natured ribbing create wit and zip and energy in children. A good attitude is key to learning, and humor can alleviate the most stressful of situations. Comedians are some of the cleverest people. Read Shel Silverstein together and explain WHY it is funny stuff.  Foster it and see the lights go on!

5. Faith - In this secular world, oftentimes people of faith are looked down upon as being somehow ignorant and naive. On the contrary, teaching children that they are loved and protected by a higher power builds security and comfort and peace. How many times have we heard that public schools need to be safe in order for children to learn? I proffer that the same holds true within the home. A crippling fear of the dark or of death or of robbers will hold back your children from embracing knowledge. Teaching them that their soul will live forever is a beautiful gift.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Going to church--even for the Not-So-Right Reasons...

On any given Sunday morning, you may see a mom frantically smoothing down bed-head hair and wrestling toddlers into tights.  Meanwhile, a scruffy husband dons a wrinkled shirt as he wipes off stray shaving cream.  After the entourage of children find their shoes, they scramble to the car seats amidst bickering.  Frantically, they race to the church only to sneak into the back pew praying that their baby does not scream during the quiet parts of church.  Why do families bother to go to Mass when it can be such a hassle on an otherwise “peaceful weekend day”?  What if the parents don’t have a strong faith?  So many families choose to have their children christened in the faith, and then don’t attend Mass as a family again, though it is a commandment that we attend weekly.  The Catholic Church offers salvation, truth, and understanding, but what if you aren’t ready to “buy into” all of that?  What can the Church offer your family if you are not strong in your faith?  The Church can teach your family so many things besides the obvious spiritual reasons:

1.       The Church strengthens marriage:  As the divorce rate nears 60% for Americans, couples can be reassured that Catholics have a less than 20% chance of separation, which is the lowest among organized religions.  The statistic, however, has one “catch”: the couples must attend mass regularly.  The act of taking that hour out of your schedule for God as a couple has a profound impact on the overall success and longevity of your marriage, even if you do not  necessarily have a profound faith. 

2.       The Church teaches you sacrifice:  Planning your weekend activities around Mass times can be inconvenient, even with all the choices that are offered.  Sometimes by attending church you may miss parties, play dates, or even just sleeping in (especially as your little ones grow into teenagers).  How is making your children go somewhere that they don’t want go good for them? It teaches them that the world does not revolve around their needs and desires.  Learning to sacrifice for others can be the cornerstone for developing empathy, work ethic, and selflessness.  Children also will witness their parental sacrifices in going to Mass, and they will recognize the importance of a greater good.

3.       The Church teaches your children to sit still:   Children are bundles of energy that race around all day while parents desperately try to keep up.  Many parents wait until preschool to teach their children the importance of sitting and listening.  Providing a routine structure in which children NEED to be quiet once a week is a great start on that essential life skill.  Is wrestling a 15-month-old for one hour exhausting? YES! But once that baby learns to sit quietly (and it does eventually happen) that skill can translate into other areas.  For example, sitting at a restaurant waiting for food will seem easy in comparison.   Children will learn that they can’t always be “wiggly” and noisy.  Even two-year-olds can differentiate between a playground and a pew, if the parent is vigilant and consistent.

4.       The Church teaches forgiveness:  Though most parents and couples attempt unconditional love and forgiveness, every day stresses challenge even the most patient and kind.  The act of Reconciliation can be an emotionally healing experience for the entire family.  Unlike other Christian religions, the Catholic Church has you confess your sins to a priest. This may seem like a cruel, humiliating task, but instead it can be a peaceful closure to one’s mistakes.  By verbalizing your sins, you have to face your errors and become accountable for your actions.  Besides the absolution of your sins, the psychology of the act itself provides enough reason to participate.  Teaching your children (and yourself) that you can make mistakes, learn from them, and start anew creates an emotional secure family.

5.       The Church teaches fundamental morals:   Children need rules, limits, and structure to succeed; they need those guidelines to be able to securely develop into stable, reasonable adults.   Even if you don’t consider yourself a “good” Catholic, you probably believe in the basic tenets of the church.  On the most basic level, the Church follows the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments—not exactly challenging doctrine to follow, even for children.  Without deep faith, one can still model those teachings as a family.  Children eagerly grasp at the concepts of right and wrong, but they are also in the “why” stage.   The Church provides an answer to that ‘why’ –a reason besides “Because I said so.” 

6.       The Church thrives on tradition: Throughout your life you may move to a new house, city, or even a new country.  Catholic means universal; unlike other Christian religions, the canon of the Mass will remain the same no matter where you attend.  For families, the church becomes a home: a consistent, stable one.  Churchgoers have a more positive daily outlook than non-churchgoers, and statistically they are happiest on Sundays.  Keeping the tradition of Sunday Mass will have you focus on doing at least one activity together as a family.  Once church is established as a “mandatory” tradition, family dinners, outings, and more might soon fill your Sunday calendar. 

7.       The Church is patient with faith: You may not have a profound faith now, but the Church is patient.  The church provides a calm, peaceful atmosphere to foster your spirituality.  You, or your children, may not always feel a connection with the Mass, but by being there you are receiving the graces of the service.  You are giving your children a chance to claim a faith that you may not have.   If you attend Mass with an open mind, your belief may deepen, or you may at least be willing to discuss your doubts with those who may have a stronger faith. 

Lastly, just ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?” Going to weekly Mass has a significant impact on your family’s well-being.  The Church can support you as your family grows, and you may take advantage of the dozens of other opportunities it can provide (youth groups, RCIA, etc.)  Hopefully, you will soon recognize the true riches of that the Church can offer you, so you can be Catholic for the right reasons, but for now, just go to Church—God knows what He’s doing.

**Please note, if you are doubting your faith, please do examine these guidelines for receiving Holy Communion

The easy rules for today:

Rule #3 Go to church every Sunday. You (and your children) may be getting more out of the mass than you realize.

Rule #313 Play the odds: if statistics show that churchgoers have happier, longer marriages and more stable families-- then go for it!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Community Kids-- Part 2

So you have the bank, the consignment shop, the grocery store and the pharmacy to go to--with three kids in car seats.  Running errands with little ones is quite tiring, but manageable if you follow some easy suggestions.

  • Planning your route is essential-- What is the quickest route with the least amount of travel between stops? Will you have frozen goods that will need refrigeration? How many drive-thrus can you use (banking, pharmacy, etc.)?  How many times will you have to get the kids OUT of the car? For example, sometimes I plan to hit the library before it opens because their drop-box is open. Otherwise, I have to go INSIDE to drop things off; this way, kids stay in their car seats.
  • Timing-- When do your kids need naps? Meals? Errands are NOT fun when you have tired, hungry, and grumpy kids. 
  •  Have your bag well packed/organized-- Have your grocery list written in order of the store with any coupons paper-clipped to it.  If you have packages to send or deposits to make, have everything filled out ahead of time so you are not trying to fill out essential paperwork while your little ones are standing next to you in line.  Does the grocery store give out free cookies for kids (most do by the way if you ask...)? Bring wipes to clean messy faces and water to drink.  Always pack emergency snacks for your littlest one so you can actually finish the grocery shopping... but wait to give them until he/she starts getting antsy in the cart. 
  • Make the car ride fun-- I live in New Hampshire, in which most errands take at least 10-20 minutes each way in the car.  If it's over 20 minutes of driving, my 5 year old loves books on CD.  When we are staying around town I play a variety of car games with them (I will post more on these later!) and we listen to nursery rhymes, kids music, and the classical channel.
Easy rule for today:

Rule #300- Think like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared. When I have a ton of errands to do, I usually prep everything the night before so it's easy to sweep them all out the door!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Big Family Cooking - Part 3 - Dinner Expanders

Make use of dinner expanders (e.g. rice and pasta).

1. Rice: Since my husband is Filipino, we have a giant rice dispenser in our kitchen nook.

Isn't it gorgeous? Williams Sonoma.

Rice is a staple in our home, and I have learned to truly appreciate its versatility. A great option is to pair with ground meat (beef or turkey) to fill tacos or enchiladas. Fried rice is another tasty choice--eggs and seasoning go a long way.  Whisking up a sauce or gravy with some leftover chicken and ladling over rice makes for a quick and hearty meal.

2. Pasta pretty much speaks for itself as far as its expandable and budget friendly qualities. Just watch it on the casseroles. You don't want to be known as Mystery Meat Mama with her trusty 9x13.

3. Beans are another expandable and affordable wonder food, but one in which I am just starting to explore. My family doesn't love them, so I'm working on sly ways to sneak them in, as incognito as possible. Perhaps Jules has some suggestions...

4. Potatoes absorb the flavors of the "star" food. For example, saute the potatoes in a bit of oil on the stove, and then add the ground beef and salt. As they cook together, the flavors mingle and the potatoes spread the goodness.

5. Leftovers: Don't let them go to waste! Instead of making an entirely new meal the next day, serve leftovers and make a smaller dinner companion--like a quiche or buttered noodles--to go along side.  Or, turn the leftovers (if possible) into a different meal--like a stir fry or fajitas.

The Easy Rules are:

#147: Stretch the pricey meat with inexpensive expander foods so that your dinners feed a bunch on a dime.
#25:  Buy a rice cooker

Bingo for Different Ages

I am homeschooling my 5 year-old in first grade this year (we did Kindergarten last year), my 3 year-old in preschool (about 40 seconds a day), and simply surviving my almost-2 year-old boy.  So, when I come up with an activity that they all enjoy and *GASP* they learn something-- I am thrilled.  For the last couple of years, I have played Sight Word Bingo with Grace, but my other two cannot read yet.  I came up with an adapted version as seen below:

For Grace, I had her new sight words (as well as sight words she often misses), and for Lissie I just wrote capital letters.  And for James, I haphazardly drew a grid and placed stickers of objects I hoped he would know the name of (I keep a huge folder full of random stickers so I have quite the collection). The "Bingo" sheets I got out of a workbook, but I am sure you could find a blank printable or just draw one free hand (or use a ruler if you care about neatness).   I gave each child a pile of buttons (you can use marshmallows for older kids as markers, but I knew James would just eat them) and I would just name something for each to cover up.  (For example, "Grace, 'every', James 'Cover a Monkey with a button,' and 'Lissie, cover the letter "B"')

My kids don't understand the main purpose of bingo, so we just covered the whole board up and yelled bingo when everyone's squares were covered.   They each got a couple of mini marshmallows after they named every square on their board.

Anyway, we played twice (took about 15 minutes total) and they loved it!  You can use this for big kids (bigger words) or even colored stickers for colors, etc.  Lots of fun!

Easy Rule for today:

#780- If you can find a way to sneak learning into a game--do it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Grocery Store Parade

So, usually I do my bi-weekly Aldi shopping trip by myself, or with only my eldest son (age 10). I make sure it's payday which gives me the giddy feeling of having TONS of money to spend--illusion is my comfort. I have my list all made out, check the special items on sale that week, leave the napping baby and other munchkins happily watching a cartoon, and virtually skip out the door to buy Food, Glorious Food! Please sing the preceding line to get the full effect of my joy. I don't know why buying food makes me so happy, but something about coming home with a boatload of yummy goodness is so fulfilling! I feel it's almost a vocation of sorts....

Today was different. My Hubs has been working a lot of extra  hours, so it's been challenging to find a time for me to escape to the store. I found myself in need of several of my staple items and decided to take a cue from Jules in her Community Kids post and bring the children to the store.  My kids are well behaved, and I don't mind bringing them along. They've accompanied me to many an appointment and errand. However, I was reminded today that it's just not FUN to bring all 7 children to Aldi.

I planned my errands wisely--hit the Goodwill to clear out the van's cluttered trunk of "garage sale fail" items we've been toting around for weeks; proceed to the library so the kids could play and read and select a couple hundred books to bring home (and so I could pay the $9 fine I owed. What is wrong with me?? Why didn't I just renew the freaking books online??); and then drive across the street to the grocery store.

I unloaded the clown car (I had the mini van) and walked the children across the parking lot, noticing about 8 pairs of eyes marveling at the parade of children accompanying me. Sigh. More to come.  I stick the baby in the front of the cart and plop the 2 year old in the back ("Mom, it says here that No Child Should Sit in the Back of the Cart!" "Hush, Jo, it's fine. They won't say anything because they don't want a 2 year old on the loose either!"). A 4 year-old and a 6 year-old hold onto the sides of the cart, while the 3 older boys (ages 8, 9, and 10) walk behind. Thusly, we enter the store, only narrowly fitting through the automatic door.

As we walked down that first aisle I felt unfocused, unsure as to what to put in the basket. I knew I needed chocolate chips and some canned goods, but those items didn't seem important enough to be out like this. The kids were being good, but there are just so many distractions! I have to keep my eyes on the children and the food on the shelves and the sale prices and the random people around asking me "Oh, they are not all yours, are they?" "How old is the baby? She's so cute!" "How many sets of twins?" And the children asking, "Can we buy some of these pomegranates? And pumpkins! Can we carve a jack 'o lantern tonight?"

When all was said and done, I escaped with $70 worth of food and all kids accounted for with no disciplinary actions needed. HOWEVER, I will not do that again soon. My peace was not there. I'm not sure I shopped smart.

It occurred to me that even 8 adults all going to the same place at the same time would be borderline ridiculous.....unless you had reservations and alcohol. Perhaps we have reached critical mass and it simply isn't feasible to expect to accomplish a whole lot when we attempt group errands. We had better stick to the library and the park and the soccer fields, if at all possible.

I love being an advocate for big families when out and about the town. I love when my kids get compliments on their behavior. I love spending time with them. But I also love the one hour of grocery shopping Nirvana I get every couple weeks--minus the parade.  I think I need to make an Easy Rule...

Rule #65: Make sure you are able to bring your kids with you around town in a pinch. But if you want to really shop successfully and intelligently and (let's be honest) enjoyably, take yourself on a grocery store vacation.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Community Kids-- Part 1

I went to donate blood the other day at my church, and I pretty much go everywhere with my 3 children (ages 5 and under) in tow.  Upon arrival, a Red Cross worker informed me that I could not do the interview-portion with kids.  Now my two eldest could wait quietly while I went behind the room divider for 5 minutes, but my heart sank a little when I looked at my 22 month old son who is very much in the "I-Need-To-See-Mommy-At-All-Times-Stage".  Luckily, I spied my friend's mother and the table of cookies.  After setting them up, we survived the 5 minute "apart" time without a fuss, and I was reunited with them for the blood donation.

I lined up folding chairs next to my gurney, and my three little munchkins watched as I was drained for 10 minutes.  I had several workers come and comment, "Oh my! They are all sitting so quietly and nicely while Mommy gives blood!"  Honestly, I get that a lot--as if people truly expect children to misbehave everywhere--and I understand where they are coming from. I've been to restaurants, libraries, theaters, etc. where children are NOT sitting quietly and following directions.

Many of my friends say, "Your kids must be so much calmer than mine!" or "How do you do it?"  First off, my eldest is pretty calm, but my other two kiddos are pretty much typical,wild children that can run and scream with the best of them--during the right time and place.  The first thing about my kids in public places is that I bring them to public places. As I said in the beginning my children go everywhere I go: pharmacies banks, church, doctor's appointments, etc.  They are VERY used to waiting at a variety of places, which helps them know what is expected of them.  I expect my children to be quiet, sit still, and be polite.  Is it always easy? No! Do I bring emergency snacks? Yes, but I don't immediately use my arsenal of entertainment: boredom can be good.  They are learning how to be quiet and focus on their own thoughts and surroundings.

So the Easy Rules for today are:

 #425: Don't be afraid to take your kids in the community; they need to learn societal expectations of children.

 #372: Do have emergency snacks and books in your bag just in case the wait is super long.