Monday, July 28, 2008

Are the kids having any fun?

My dear sister-in-law was quite concerned last week when we called to chat, "What are the children doing up there on the farm? Do they have any toys to play with? Are they having any fun?" Perhaps it sounded like a labor camp when I described having to move the 100-odd moldy and soggy hay piles that were left on the fields by the tractor mower because we couldn't get up to Maine until the grass was 4 feet tall. Or maybe it was the distance to town and lack of regular opportunities to play with a myriad of other children. But I can reassure her and any other worriers that the children are having a wonderful time, despite the chores and days of downpours we have been having.

Fun activities this past week:

pitching hay into a cart
sleeping on blowup mattresses and bouncing on them in the morning
sitting on Mommy's lap on the riding lawn mower and steering
picking up rocks out of the new garden and firing them them at dead trees in the woods
discovering baby field mice under a hay pile
finding little snakes, but not the stabbing them accidentally with the pitchfork (Poor Mary was traumatized until we saw the snake later doing just fine)
sliding down the giant dirt pile until all their clothes and skin turned a deep rich brown
climbing all over the tractor turning all the lights on and off
tromping through the fields on an "explore"
picking unripe apples and seeing who could throw the furthest
shooting Will's new BB gun
visiting our friend Jennifer and her relations: 17 children playing outside together
chatting up the builder and helping him paint trim
playing pirate ship on the new bunk beds
going to sailing class in town
collecting bucketfuls of orange slugs and crickets
following paths in the woods along the old rock walls
building ships, birdhouses, and lots of other stuff out of wood scraps
watching the linesman hook up the new phone by raising himself in the giant bucket
going to the library, checking out 4 bags of books, and reading them all in 3 days
watching their Daddy set off illegal fireworks that echoed off the trees

Nope those kids aren't having a bit of modern day fun. No TV, no computer games, no toys except a few stuffed animals and some stacking cups in the bathtub. Only good old fashioned creative and imaginative fun allowed here. I am determined that their summer up in Maine is only an opportunity to torture and break their little spirits. However, it could have the opposite reaction and they might never want to leave and return to suburbia.

Friday, July 18, 2008

more price increases

I like listening to Clark Howard on the radio, but don't care for the commercials and the whiny callers, "I have $10,000 in credit card debt and I can't stop buying!" It is much more efficient to read his daily show notes at his website and be able to read the week's highlights in 5 minutes. I found this little blurb particularly gratifying, especially after unpacking 30+ containers of shampoo and shaving cream acquired for pennies by combining coupons with sales. Somehow I didn't get any conditioner, but now am glad because I will just get the big bottle of Tressame, which works wonderfully on long straight hair like Mary's and mine.

Procter & Gamble is soon to bump up prices by as much as 16% on brands like Tide, Ivory, Gillette shaving cream, etc. (diapers are going up in price too) That means there's never been a better time to try off-brands or store brands; in many cases, the quality of the product is just as good. For example, there's little difference between cheap and costly shampoos. In his TV work, Clark once interviewed a professor who chemically analyzed different shampoos and confirmed their sameness. Conditioner, however, is a different story. So if you must blow money, buy a cheap shampoo and splurge on a nice conditioner. But Clark's message stands: Ignoring store brands is risky for your wallet. You could save between 30% and 60% by going the generic route.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

unpacking and getting settled

A wonderful sight greeted us at breakfast this morning, two hard working men in grey proceeded to spend 10 full minutes shoving this mountain of boxes,

into the back of the County recycling truck. Yesterday while I was on the phone chatting with Michelle of rosetta stone, the kids dismantled my carefully stacked piles and made a huge fort spreading across the yard. Of course they all helped stack it back up, even though a certain 8 year old's attitude needed a tiny bit of adjusting.

My energy level and attitude have been flagging too, it is impossible to go-go-go day after day without some down time. However, I can't wait to get to Maine and get started on all the projects I have planned for the farm. Of course first I have to unpack two POD storage units sitting in the front yard and organize yet another house. But I'm sure that a few walks along the shore will restore my spirits.

I only have a few days left to give the house here needed a little more TLC so we invited Cousin Ann to help hang pictures. She has a fabulous eye for color and I have to say that her idea of putting the Chinese ancestor paintings over the mantel in the kitchen was terrific.

Many of the pictures and pieces of furniture we have acquired have come from family or have an interesting story (at least to me) and this set is no exception. The originals belonged to my grandfather and because my mother loved them so, her mother and sister made copies - painted them by hand and gave them to her for Christmas about 10 years ago. When mother died I so much wanted to feature them prominently in my own home to remind me of these 3 very special women in my life. Now I will have sweet memories of the past while I share bread with the family God has entrusted to my care.

Kumon workbooks

Last month Mary and I went out shopping for Charlie's birthday gifts. He was turning 4 and I found it difficult to find something for a child already inundated with matchbox cars, tractors and dump trucks, and a passed down complete Brio train set. Finally after Mary picked out her gifts of Thomas the Tank Engine Stickers and a Pooh workbook at the $1 store, we found the perfect thing: "schoolbooks" just like the big kids get to use but designed for little people. I bought My Book of Easy Mazes and My First Book of Cutting, both geared for the 3-4 year old crowd.

Charlie so enjoyed his gift that after unwrapping them he immediately decided to get started, plowing through 2/3 of the Mazes book by lunchtime. The cutting book was a big hit while we were waiting at the pediatrician's a few days later. Unexpectedly I found an email shortly afterwards from Kumon, asking me if they could send me some of their products in exchange for a review on the blog. I replied, "This is so coincidental..."

When the box arrived, it contained 5 workbooks and a box of letters on cards to trace with dry erase markers. The little ones have already finished 3 of their workbooks and the rest are in the box to haul up to Maine so they can "do school" while Mary works on her math. I really like that Kumon focuses on one task and is full of colorful, but not cutesy-commercial pictures. While I'm not much on structured work for the preschool set, I like these workbooks to give a child a low key, but effective learning activity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

carnival of homeschooling

Last week's carnival was hosted by Super Angel, while this week's carnival is hosted by red sea homeschool.

soon to be a published writer!

As I scrolled through the 80+ emails in my inbox yesterday I found one very exciting one from an editor at Cricket Magazine. Way back when I was expecting baby Timmy, I signed up for one of those writing classes you find advertised in the back of magazines, "Take this test and see if you would make a good children's book writer." My mother poo-pooed the idea, but Tim encouraged me to give it my best shot, despite my already busy schedule. Two years later I received my little little diploma and only a few days later this email appeared:

Thank you for sending the revision of “Beachcombing: A Window into the Past” for our review. Our editorial staff has now had the chance to discuss the new manuscript, and I’m happy to report that we’d like to accept your article for publication in Spider, with your permission to edit it in-house.

Editing is standard practice at Cricket Magazine Group... The editing process takes from four to six months, after which time you will have an opportunity to see and approve all changes.

At this time, I’m unable to tell you when the story will appear in print. We work eight months in advance of issue date and have a number of manuscripts awaiting assignment. After I receive your go-ahead, I’ll begin editing the manuscript and will send you an edited copy within the next few months.

I'm thrilled that a professional thinks my writing is pretty good, this acceptance will give me the nudge I need to start working on a new piece. Tim has been our resident writer with a dozen articles under his name, but he will be happy to share the spotlight, especially if it is followed by a check arriving in the mail.

Monday, July 14, 2008

a very long internet-less week

I meant to write a farewell from North Carolina post, but I had been so efficient in my pre-packing boxing up of stuff that Monday morning I was informed by the moving crew that they could condense our last 4 days in Chapel Hill to 2. I jumped at the opportunity to save leave and get to Maine faster. Now we are safely up in Maryland with 99% of our things unpacked and unscathed, I can give you the condensed version of our adventure in moving.

Monday: The packers were so fast that I had to run from room to room pulling items out of boxes that I had forgotten to set aside- like the big knife to cut the watermelon I was planning on serving Tuesday at lunch. I rescued the knife (imagine trying to cut up a watermelon with plastic cutlery), but wasn't so lucky with the coolers. To transport all our condiments in the car for 6 hours I hit Target one last time for a new jobby on wheels. I'm not so sure it wouldn't have been cheaper to just buy new ketchup, so don't mention it.

Tuesday: A pretty uneventful day other than watching all our items roll onto the truck, though seeing 4 men strain to push our piano up the ramp made me very grateful I am a mommy and not a day laborer. We said goodbye to all our friends at the pool and camped on the floor in an empty house.

Wednesday: The kids and I hit the road in the rain for the trek northward, stopping at the National Battlefield in Petersburg to show the kids where their great-great-great-grandfather fought during the Civil War. I think the kids will remember eating the bag of Cheetos in the rain more than the historical aspects of the walk. The trip was lengthened considerably by the fact that we had to stop every 50 miles so Charlie "tiny bladder" C. could use the facilities. Usually we just pulled over and just let him water a bush, but Maggie was joining him on the little blue pot (stashed under the seat at all times for such emergencies as this) about every other time. Luckily I didn't hear any whining from the backseat after Fredricksburg, as the Capitol Beltway is not known for a a supply of places to pull over without getting in a wreck.

Thursday: We waited impatiently for the movers to arrive and then assisted them in unloading the truck under the assumption that "the faster they get finished, the faster they will leave." Finally the truck pulled away at 5 pm, leaving us in silence and surrounded by mounds of boxes up to the ceiling.

Friday: Tim and I were awakened at 5am by our king size bed collapsing. We took the bed apart and reassembled it to only find it gone wonky again by midday. We must have set a record of the number of boxes unpacked in one 8 hour period as the basement would have been awash in cardboard until Will started breaking them down with his trusty pocketknife. In no time there were a half-dozen tidy stacks in the carport awaiting trash/recycle pickup day. Timmy felt very warm and while Tim went to the grocery to pick up some baby Tylenol, I checked his temperature- 103.4. Right after he reluctantly swallowed the grape goo he promptly vomited it all down the front of my shirt. Since the baby was the sickly one, he got first dibs on the bath and I had to wait patiently for my turn to scrub with Softsoap. The mango scented gel works great to eliminate any unwanted odors I'll have you know!

Saturday: Finally we discover and remedy the bed issue with a rug pad on the floor. Previously we had carpet and the rounded posts had something to grip, on wood floors they slipped under any pressure. Another day of unpacking and hefting boxes of books that were misdirected by the movers. Since the adult books are mostly on the first level and the children's tomes are in the basement, my muscles got a real workout.

Sunday: We wake the kids up early for Mass, explaining to them as they whined about their lack of sleep, "We can go to Mass 15 minutes away at an inconvenient time or we can go to Mass later and spend 45 minutes getting there. Mommy and Daddy pick the closer one. Brush your hair and teeth and get dressed." Good behavior was rewarded with doughnuts in the social hall afterwards and we were home by 9:30am. After a year of spending our entire Sunday in the car getting to and from Mass, this was a real treat. I took the opportunity to take a long nap and thoroughly enjoyed it.

and finally...

Monday (today): As we pull out onto the main road heading for the grocery store Tim called to say that he and Will safely arrived at the farm in Maine. It is still a 15 hour trek since there is traffic no matter what time you drive through New Jersey (even 2am), but he told me that the yellow siding looks great and the neighbors have commented on how pretty our little apartment/garage is. All afternoon we waited patiently for the Verizon guy to arrive to hook up the phone and internet, finally pulls up at 4:30pm, and staying 3 hours before informing me that my ancient 7 year old computer will not work with our new fancy wireless system. (Well, Tim promised me a new laptop soon anyway). The phone/internet up in Maine won't be working for 2 weeks so I will be dependant on trips to the library to email and post. Well, such is just one small sacrifice in the life of a military spouse, I hope you will understand my sporadic posting in the next few weeks until I get everything running smoothly again.

As our good friend Tigger says, Ta-ta for now!"

Sunday, July 06, 2008

helicopter vs free-range moms

I admit that I try to be a 1950's mom, letting my kids have a good deal of freedom that seems to be lacking in the lives of many of today's children. The older kids ride their bikes to piano lessons and scouts, are allowed to walk to the pool by themselves, and hang out with their friends outside for hours each day. I don't overscheldule their days, giving them plenty of free time to goof off, read, and be kids. At the playground I have always been the mommy who sits on the park bench reading a book or chatting rather than hovering beside each child. If they get hurt I encourage them to pick themselves up, dust off, and get back to playing. I have found that they end up being more resilient and not as prone to theatrics. I like to have a general idea of where the children are, but have never contemplated getting any of them a cell phone or installing a GPS chip under their skin.

After reading this article in Newsweek I took a "mommy quiz" to determine my parenting style. The results confirmed what I suspected, how we parent is based primarily on our distinct personality and so there is no "one right method" of raising children. Many times I have read a book or article that states in bold print, "The Best Way to Not Raise Brats!" and every paragraph assumes that all mothers tend to be too much of a push-over. If we can remember that each of our children were given to us by God himself and learn our parenting "style" then we can become the wonderful parent to the children entrusted in our care.

My quiz results: intj -The "Individual Integrity" Mother

Individualistic and independent, the INTJ mother is both a role model and teacher of how to be an individual and live life with integrity. She is introspective, defining her own success from within, and generally confident in her decisions. She is unlikely to be persuaded by her children saying, "But all the other mothers are doing it."

The INTJ is competent in providing for her children's basic needs, but she is likely more focused on developing their self-esteem and confidence. Observant and insightful, she puts great importance on independent thinking and self-sufficiency, yet she is comfortable providing protection and boundaries.

Self-motivated and intense, the INTJ works hard and takes life seriously. As a mother, she lives for those moments when she can impart knowledge and offer her children perspectives on life and important issues.

Knowing that not any style is "best," what kind of mom are you?

Friday, July 04, 2008

a true red, white, and blue 4th of July

The fire engine at the head of the neighborhood parade was red,

The spray coming out of the back of the engine during our rest stop was white,
and the water in the pool was blue. Mary collected the most money in the dive for coins contest, Maggie won the smallest splash contest, and Charlie decided to be the youngest swimmer in the pool - doggy-paddling 4 feet to the side all by himself! Tonight we will set off fireworks in the driveway and finally tuck 5 very worn-out children in the bed.
I hope you had as wonderful Independence Day as we did!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

want to rethink that desire for socialized medicine?

Mrs. Ellen Westwood, 88, was in Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital for two months after she had been admitted into Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital for routine shoulder surgery. The woman ended up being treated for dementia and C.difficile, which Westwood's daughter alleges she contracted at the Orthopaedic Hospital after the surgery. The bacterial infection soon spread to her cheeks, face and throat, making it difficult for her to swallow.
Doctors at Selly Oak Hospital then told the family that all food, fluids and hydration were to be stopped and that Mrs. Westwood would be given morphine "because she is dying".

The family, however, brought the woman food and water. Hospital officials responded by threatening to report the family to social services for feeding Mrs. Westwood.
Eventually the family obtained a second opinion and Mrs. Westwood was able to go home, where she is recovering well and is celebrating her 89th birthday today.

While active euthanasia officially remains illegal in Britain, some are saying that the NHS standard procedure of issuing elderly and vulnerable patients with an "end of life plan" that includes dehydration, is simply euthanasia under a different name.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

IHM Conference notes: Taming the Tough Teens

Dr. Ray Guarendi is the funniest guy on the homeschool/family life circuit. He imparts great words of wisdom in between jokes, sometimes making the point about discipline the punchline itself. He is the father of many children, all adopted I believe, and can have a 4 year old saying, "Yes sir, anything you say sir," in about 20 minutes. This talk really struck home as I am one of those relatively strict parents he harps on, my kids are good about 85% of the time, but that isn't good enough for Dr. Guarendi. No way, he wants everyone's kids to be kind, respectful, charitable, and gentle all 24 hours of the day.

"Teenage angst" is cultural not developmental. We have permitted a great deal of bad behavior in the name of "kidhood." We are at the point of such lax parenting that now we have an epidemic of battered parent syndrome.

We need to have zero tolerance for nastiness, disrespecting a sibling, and many behaviors that we wouldn't tolerate from anyone else. If they ask to do something fun, "Can I go to the movies...?" They should be given a chore first, "Sure, but the lawn needs to be mowed." If they are rude then add on more labor.

We do the same sins over and over but we expect our kids to reform instantly, "Oh, I never thought of that, I'll be sure to follow your advice next time Mom." Let's get real, they are children and will try the same stunts again and again.

Many of the parents here have kids already in the top 5% of good behavior. They don't do drugs, smoke, drink, swear.... compared to everyone else we are "Amish." But do you want to raise a comparatively decent kid or do you want to raise saints? This relatively strict syndrome is only an illusion of strictness. Compare it to saying at the Particular Judgement, "But, God, 99% of the time I didn't commit a mortal sin!" Our children need to be respectful of their parents and siblings first and foremost, don't let them slide just because they are nice to everyone else but nasty to members of their family.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Beverly is hosting the carnival this week at About Homeschooling.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

pre-packers packing

In less than a week we will welcome strange people into our house to touch everything we own, wrap it all carefully in newsprint, and seal it in boxes. Then another set of people will put all the boxes in a big truck and drive away. Can you tell I have issues about this? Perhaps it is because I have always moved while either pregnant or nursing save once. Perhaps it is because I consider my home a fortress from the many worldly evils and when we move that feeling evaporates.

My coping mechanism is to become uber-organized mama, starting by making lists of what needs to be packed for Maine, what needs to come with us in the van, and what we need to eat for supper to use up everything in the freezer. I then organize every junk drawer, every shelf, every closet so the loose game and puzzle pieces are not mixed in with other junk and lost forever. Finally, I hit the liquor store for boxes to pack up everything that is not breakable or nailed down.

Unfortunately the kids undo much of my work by playing with the toys I put away, piece together the puzzles I stack on the shelf, and sneak the books I am trying to pack so they can read them by flashlight in bed. After two weeks of sorting and packing the house looks much the same as it did when I started but with the addition of a multitude of stacked whisky boxes. I have to remind myself to be gracious to the folks who we will entrust our worldly goods to and that in two weeks it will all be unpacked again in our new home. Lastly, if that isn't enough to put me in a better frame of mind I need to recall that in just 3 weeks we will be headed up to Maine for picnics, visits with old friends, and walks to acquaint ourselves with the farm. This is our last military tour so in the not too-distant-future I see the end of this seemingly endless packing and unpacking that has been the backdrop of my 12 year career as a military spouse.

future vocation...or not

Maggie: "Charlie, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Charlie: "A fireman."

Maggie: "You could be a priest."

Charlie: "No, I want to be a fireman."

Maggie: "Priests love God best. Don't you want to be a priest?"

Charlie: "No! I want to be a fireman!"