Sunday, February 26, 2017

What do we DO all day?!

Our homeschool year started out rocky at best this year. Actually, it was awful. We ended last year on a desperate note and I spent the summer dreading the start of our homeschool semester. I glanced at my curriculum a few times, but put off buying books or making plans until the weekend before our start date. And then our first day arrived and I decided, no no, we'll start the next week instead. Shameful! I just could not get moving.

But I did buy some books and we did begin and it was sluggish and involved daily battles over every detail of our day. We were so far from the vision of a happy, organic, homeschooling family that I talked daily about just putting the kids in school. I felt like such a huge failure. (Which is silly--nobody should ever feel like a failure for putting their kids in school. School is great, homeschool is great, both choices have their pros and cons, just like every other decision in the world.) But in the pit of my disastrous homeschooling hell, the idea of throwing them into public school and running away from my problems made me feel like a failure.

We chugged along. We made it to winter break. They'd learned some stuff. (Maybe. I hope.) And I thought to myself, "The next semester will be better. It will be a fresh start. I will finally find my groove. IT HAS TO GO BETTER THIS TIME." One benefit at this point was that we had moved to where we're living now, which is a home that is very conducive to homeschool. The layout of this house is marvelous and there's so much natural light. It is a small house, but the little girls can be nearby, yet playing on their own, because the floor plan is pretty open. It's not like at our downtown house where we mostly did schooling at the kitchen table, and the little ones wanted to be involved but they'd just end up fighting, or falling off their chairs, or eating our experiment supplies, or pooping on school books. (Or on a really stellar day, all of the above.) So starting the second semester was already better than before. AND, we were back in the country with animals about to be born and a great sledding hill, so everyone was getting adequate outside time, which was an immediate improvement upon our days. All of these were benefits, but the real turning point came about rather unexpectedly.

I documented this fairly well on my Instagram account right when it happened, but I used to be a member of a Facebook group organized for the specific curriculum that we follow. It's a Catholic, Charlotte Mason-based curriculum, it's free, it's got great resources, well laid out, and follows a solid Charlotte Mason philosophy. I really do like it. However, I did not realize how passionate these people are about following the rules of the philosophy. I didn't realize how intensely they believe that workbooks are NOT OK. So, posted to the group about something (I don't even remember what it was about, but I was pretty much looking for solidarity and the post itself was very lighthearted) and included an unrelated picture of what I thought was a hilariously filled out page of Greta's workbook, on which she had answered a question with "THIS IS SO BORING." Whooooweee! I got torn apart for posting a workbook--for the very fact that I USE workbooks--and was told that my daughters writing (I think the commenter meant handwriting) was "junk" and that I needed to step away from teaching interrogative, exclamatory and declarative sentences and focus instead on phonics and knowing that sentences begin with a capital letter. The comment was pretty harsh and it made me angry. It made me angry mostly because she felt okay criticizing a seven-year-old, but also because Greta's work was NOT junk. Greta is an excellent writer (better than her older sister, but don't tell Anja I said so) who taught herself to read by reading American Girl books before she had even turned 5. This stranger was tearing apart my methods and my child's work without even knowing who I was, or at what academic level my child was working in.

So, I had myself a little hissy fit. I furiously left that Facebook group, and immediately (because I'm stubborn and childish) ditched my curriculum. For the next week or two, we focused NOT on what was next on our yearly syllabus, but we took our own path and learned bigger things than what was listed in our curriculum for this year. We kept doing our funny workbooks because even if it IS "anti-Charlotte Mason," what do I care? My kids like them. Yes, they get boring. Geezopete, EVERYTHING gets boring. When we get bored, we move on to something else. I've been getting more books, some from the old book list, some not, and of our own accord we started reading Shakespeare and memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution and studying the Bill of Rights in depth. No we've moved on to the presidents. This is stuff I didn't learn in school. We learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and that was it. We did not study the amendments in depth (or if we did, it sure didn't stick) when I was in school. Recently I was looking back over the book list of the old curriculum (which I do still use as a loose guide) before a library run, and I found that Anja has read almost every book on the yearly lists all the way through the next year! A great many of them have been family read aloud so Greta has heard them too. After my confrontation with that group, my eyes were opened to see that we are doing a fine job--BEYOND fine. Without noticing it amid our daily struggles of math problems (because the struggle was usually math,) my kids had moved beyond their grade level in their assigned curriculum, and now I'm feeling super comfortable with my second and third grader, teaching them on our own self-directed path.



So, what do we DO? Well, there are a few things that I've noticed about our days at home. For formal learning we use various books as our base--we have two history books that are very good at giving ideas that we can run with; one is "The American Story," which is stories from American history, a lot of which are about specific important people that we then can research and learn more about on our own. Another is The Biggest Book of History, which is one of those cartoon-style books that moves through time, starting with the dinosaurs and leading through modern times. It's great because it gives little detailed snippets of times and cultures, but it doesn't talk about anything in depth, so we can take those three pages of cartoon snippets and then look in other books for more information. We've finished learning about the Ancient World and now we're in Medieval times. (This is separate from US History, which we also do.) This all goes hand in hand with geography. We use this same open-ended method we use for Literature. We read a poem from one of our poetry books, then we study the author, read other works of the author, etc. Math is drill, spelling, cursive writing, and grammar are done in workbooks. We use the religion book prescribed from our old curriculum, as well as various other books I've collected over the years. Honestly, science is what's really lagging for us this year; last year we had a subscription to the Magic School Bus monthly experiment packets, and that was AWESOME. They learned so much. This year we don't have that, so we just do random science stuff. Not very structured. They're probably not learning anything.

So, that's what we do for more formal work, but the way we travel through our days has a few key elements as well, that I've been more recently paying attention to.

One thing we do is talk all the time. Everything is interactive in our family. If someone is reading a book, we talk about it. If one of us learns something new, we talk about it. (This is parents and children.) We ask each other questions. We aren't afraid to ask what something means, or how something works, or to say, "Why is that so?" or  "I don't remember that," and go over it again. Everything is open to discussion.

We do a lot of art. Painting, drawing, singing, learning about artists, poets, naturalists, writers, etc. We do a lot of music, a lot of art, a lot of writing, a lot of reading. Art can be connected to so many things, it's a great vehicle for learning.

We play. Formal lessons at the table are broken up by sessions of play/free time. Lately the cool thing has been peg dolls, but there's always something they're especially into that takes up those pockets of free time.  This is good for me because it allows me to get my work done, and it's good for them because they have the time to let one lesson soak in (or ooze out...) before moving onto the next. And if they aren't into specific games or play, they use those breaks to create independently. Sew, draw, write a little book.... anything.

We're not afraid to move beyond our grade level. Everything is very fluid. Some days we read stacks of "Angelina Ballerina" books, while on others we read Lewis Carroll. "Age appropriate" is respected, but not dwelt upon.

The last thing is something that took me aaaaallllll this time to actually DO, even though I knew it was necessary and would improve our lives. We have a morning routine. I don't know why it was so difficult for me to embrace this, but setting up a very basic morning routine (not by the clock, just by getting stuff done,) has had such a positive impact on our daily life! We all wake up at different times, but throughout the early morning everyone brushes teeth, gets dressed, makes their bed, has breakfast, and we usually begin our schooling with tea and morning prayer. Routine. I knew it was beneficial, but somehow it took me ages to latch onto the idea that it would improve my entire daily existence.



In a lot of ways, I think my flavor of homeschooling might not work for everyone. It's pretty willy-nilly. I don't call it "unschooling" because it's more formal than that, but it's definitely "loose" homeschooling. I know a lot of people prefer much more structure than this--and some prefer less. The most important thing is that my kids are learning. I SEE them learning and I see them LOVING to learn new things. It doesn't matter if you've got your perfect curriculum all mapped out--if the kids reject it, or if it's making you crazy as the homeschool parent, it's not worth it. It's not going to work. I had this silly idea in my head that using this curriculum as it was written year by year was THE ONLY WAY I could do our schooling. What the heck? Workbooks might be anti-Charlotte Mason, but believing that homeschool can ONLY be done ONE specific way is anti-homeschool! The whole idea with learning at home is based on freedom, independence, and personal pace of students' learning. That's sort of the point.

So that's what we do, in a nutshell. We still struggle with math, but not as much as we used to. (We've started using the Life of Fred series along with drills, which has been really great.) Whatever you are doing as a homeschooler (or as a non-homeschooler,) just try to keep in mind that some days really blow and there's no getting around that. Just type out your troubles on social media and receive that mound of virtual hugs of solidarity, and try again tomorrow. Make sure you're not sticking with something you hate just because other people have told you it's the "best way." (This is just about homeschooling, not about religious beliefs or following the law!!) Dabble! Find what works for you. I'm a terrible homeschooler, you honestly should probably disregard everything I've said in this post. BUT, I've found a way that doesn't make me spend extended time in the shower every morning in an effort to avoid doing school. And that, my friends, is progress.

Monday, January 9, 2017

This Time Last Year

A few nights ago I was looking through my Instagram feed for a specific picture (of Captain Detergent,) but got sidetracked when I came upon the series of pictures from about this time last year when we were having the "adventure" of Not Really Having a Home after having been knocked on our tails by Life.



We had been living in the sweet little lakeside cabin with big plans to fix up the farmhouse on that property and move into it as soon as we could. On this day last year--I'll always remember it because it is the Sunday of our local Nutcracker performance, and the Sunday of Epiphany--we woke up to extremely low temperatures in the cabin. It had been cold in there before but this was unbearable. Somewhere around 45 degrees. Being Sunday, we bundled everybody up and headed out for a day in town; Mass, followed by brunch and going to the afternoon performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. When we returned to the cabin later that afternoon, expecting it to be somewhat warmer, we found it to be even colder. (The cabin was/is very poorly insulated... we had a propane fireplace heater that did well in mild temperatures, and even in cold temperatures was okay, as long as it wasn't windy... but the wind just came right through the walls and no amount of heat sources could warm the place.) We did have the option of our empty downtown house. It was getting to be evening, so we figured we could use sleeping bags and blankets and cuddle up on the floor in there for the night. At least we would be warm, even if we didn't have furniture. Unfortunately, when Martin went to turn on the heat, he found that the utilities had actually been turned on when the place had been closed up for the winter and there was no gas available to the house; we'd have to have a serviceman come turn it back on. Finally, we thought, we could drive up to my parents' river cottage about thirty minutes north of town. It's a sweet place to stay in the winter, fully stocked with food and blankets and even some toys, plus a reliable furnace AND cozy wood stove. With my parents' permission we drove up there, only to discover that the hidden key was frozen into it's lock box.

It was so late when we finally got into the cottage. We were so cold and so tired, but once we got inside, we were warm and cozy and the girls loved that place, so they were all thrilled to be there. Martin and I were beyond grateful to have a place to stay. We settled in for what we thought would be a day or two.

It was not going to be just a day or two. All through the beginning of January everything started breaking--furnaces and propane stoves, well pumps and pipes and appliances... It ended up being three weeks that we were living at my parents' river cottage while we waited for things to be assessed and tried to figure out what the heck we were going to do. I had forgotten how long it had taken just to get the appliances serviced, and about the time spent waiting on repairmen to fix things until I read back on my Instagram posts. We were doing a lot of anxious waiting. A LOT.

At the time, those three weeks and the weeks following our stay at the river cottage were incredibly stressful. It was a long drive to town; Martin was going into work before the sun was up every day and coming home well after dark, so we weren't seeing a whole lot of each other. We didn't have cell reception at the river, so my contact with the outside world was maddeningly limited. Dealing with our housing situation was a nightmare; as soon as we thought something would be fixed allowing us to move back to the cabin, something else would break, or some new issue would surface and we'd be back to wondering how it was all going to pan out. Thankfully, we had our downtown house that we knew we could fall back on, but even then, after the gas service came out and we turned on the utilities we found broken pipes (and the ceiling and floor damage that goes along with broken pipes) and an ill furnace. Everything was going wrong and it was all happening at the same time.

Now that a year has passed since that time, I can look back with cloudy affection for those weeks we stayed at the cottage. For the girls, it was the best place they've ever lived. They loved it there. And I did too, in a way. It was very simple to live with only three outfits each, not very many toys, not many responsibilities... aside from the whole "not knowing where we're going to live" thing, it was a pretty sweet vacation. We even had built-in entertainment because the neighbor was having a seawall built, so there were construction vehicles coming and going the whole time! We played a lot of board games, I got a ton of knitting done, (thank you, stress knitting, for providing me a great sweater!) and even though we were sleeping on the floor in the living room, it was a cozy routine. Every morning we'd put our makeshift bed back in the closet, every night we'd lay it all out again. Ingrid was still napping, and sometimes Elka, so the afternoons were very quiet. Our bathing situation at the cabin had been.... "rustic"... so having a posh bathroom with a shower, tub, and endless supply of hot water was incredible. Baths every day! Twice a day!

I didn't realize how happy the girls were to be living at the river, and I felt such guilt about it. I bought them all pajamas at TJ Maxx. I thought they were so sad to not be at the cabin anymore, when really, they were enjoying every second of not being there and to remember it, they now say that "Ooma's Cottage" was the favorite place they've ever lived. I wish I had realized how much fun they were having at the time, because if I hadn't felt so guilty, I think I would have been able to enjoy it more! When I remember that time now, even though I still remember the facts of being so overwhelmed, my memories of that time are oddly very happy and cozy.

As it turned out, we were able to get our downtown house livable faster than the cabin or the big farmhouse on the cabin property, and we moved into it in February. It's funny to look back on that time, too. I was so sad to not be living in the country anymore, but at the same time, I remember feeling that I'd finally come home. Arranging the kitchen again, and having a fresh start in an old place was a really fun experience. And it was still about two months before we realized we'd never be going back to the cabin, so we took a family trip to IKEA and bought a lot of stuff with plans to put it in the big farmhouse when we moved in there.



*I need to backtrack a bit to explain why we had so little stuff. In the middle of moving from our previous homestead to the cabin property, our previous homestead had been robbed twice, and even though we had been largely moved out, there had been packed boxes of all our kitchen stuff there, which all got stolen. We had outfitted the cabin with necessities, expecting to leave them there so it would be a functioning place after we moved into the farmhouse, but it was a one-room cabin, so as you can imagine, it was not a very extensively outfitted kitchen area. (Really, we had plenty, PLENTY of "stuff," it was largely just the kitchen stuff we had to replace.)*



In the downtown house, along with the mentality of "everything we buy for this place can go to the farmhouse," was the idea of, "any work we do to this house will help it to rent or sell." So we got to work! We ripped up carpet and laid wood floors, painted rooms, fixed things, brought in our washer and dryer. We cleaned it up and settled in. And it was surprisingly nice. I missed our animals, I missed our beautiful lake view and I couldn't wait to get back to it, but there was beauty in the simplicity of life downtown, too. It was still stressful having our animals out there to take care of, and being downtown again was kind of a shock to the system, but when I look back on that time, moving into that place with it's white walls and clean floors and good city tap water, (I have never gotten used to well water...) watching the big girls show the little girls all the fun little details of the house, in my memory that was such a happy time.

Of course, the actual time of deciding we needed to STAY downtown and then rehoming our animals and realizing we likely weren't going to be able to homestead ever again remains a not-so-happy memory. But the first weeks of the situation remain a bright time in my mind. Memory is such a funny thing. Now we are back in the country again, unexpectedly, and knowing that we will eventually leave this place when our time is up and return again to our downtown house is an oddly comforting feeling. It makes me miss that house and it's fresh white floors and the way the early spring light came through the west windows. I don't know what to expect this Spring in this new place--where will the light come in at those nice angles? The familiarity of our old house was such a comfort to us in a time of tumult that I think it's pretty clear now that that house is always going to feel like our real Home.

**Funnily, my parents have held onto that property and are now in the process of renovating the farmhouse, so we will still see lots of the little cabin where we lived!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Today I Didn't Save the World

Parents across the globe will tell you that having children is an incredible experience. Children bring joy and fulfillment that you can't find anywhere else. And it's unique in that you don't know how it is until you actually have children. Parents of all walks will also share that parenthood is so, so hard... but totally worth it.



Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking about all the things I'm not. Causes I'm NOT helping. Music I'm NOT making. Money I'm NOT bringing in for my family. Social groups I'm NOT a part of.  It's really pretty easy to name plenty of activities I'm currently sitting out as I devote my life to my home and children. And there are many, many days when I go to bed at night asking myself the question, "Self... what DID you do today?" and I can't think of one success in the entire day.

Today I emptied the clothes drier onto my bed. The clothes are still there. Today I washed dishes, but they all became dirty again and are still in the sink. Today I needed to mop, and I did--but only one room. I didn't get to the rest. Today I was supposed to have the girls copy down their 8's in multiplication, but that didn't happen because we had visitors drop by. Today we were meant to go to a restaurant for dinner for a fundraiser for our church, but I couldn't get the kids to put on their sweaters and shoes when I asked. (We did eventually go, but it took some raising of voices.)

My day was full of a lot of little failures. I sorted the dirty laundry, but didn't get my whites load washed--it's still on the bathroom floor. We were supposed to do the second half of our Ancient Rome lesson, but it just never happened. I tried to record a song while all four girls were occupied in a different room, but it didn't turn out before my time was up. I went to change the cat litter and emptied it before I realized we didn't have any refill litter--so I lined the boxes with paper towels and my house smelled like cat pee for the rest of the day. Because we went out to dinner I didn't even cook --and we had leftovers for lunch. And I yelled. I yelled kind of a lot. Nobody seemed to be listening to me. The first time I yelled was when Greta was scaring Elka by doing this thing we call "monstering." She wouldn't stop when I asked her gently the first three times, and even kept on monstering as my voice became more and more firm until finally I yelled, "STOP IT!" and she ran out of the room sobbing. Her not listening was my failure. My yelling was another.

So.... what DID I successfully do today?

I peeled and cut up four apples for my girls and their friends and they snacked happily.

I taught my visiting friend how to knit. (To be fair, she already knew how; I just refreshed her memory.)

I took yesterday's pot of leftover mashed potatoes, onions and green beans, added some chicken broth and ham, and served the kids a pretty yummy soup for lunch. I think that was inventive. That could be considered a success.

I read "There's a Bear on my Chair!" too many times to count, among other story books, to adoring little fans.

I played with Ingrid, making a little setup with two plastic pigs she lovingly named Shady and Sunny. And we laughed and snuggled and it was nice. That was a success.

I did eventually get all four kids dressed and out the door at 5:00 to meet Martin at the fundraiser night at Culver's. It took some big doings, but it happened. Success.

I cultivated creativity through drawing time and free writing with the big girls, and wrote out phrases for Elka to copy and practice her letters. Those don't feel much like successes in the big picture, but they were small successes that can build up over time to make a successful person.

I did wash their dishes and clothes, even if the jobs were never finished.

I said "yes" a lot and in return heard Greta improve in her mandolin playing and Anja build bravery when she went out to the car by herself.

I apologized to Greta for yelling and to everyone for being short tempered about them not putting on their shoes when I'd asked (a bajillion times.) I helped others apologize when feelings or bodies were hurt. And I forgave when I was the recipient of an apology. I fed my growing girls nourishing, healthful foods and indulged them just a little bit with dum-dum rewards.

I gave them a safe, loving home today, one full of music and creativity and plenty to eat and a mama who listens to their super-sized ideas.

From someone looking in at my life, I would probably be labeled a "not very successful person." And it's true that I have many, many failings, both big and small. But how is success measured? Is it measured by what you get done? Is it measured by what you gain for yourself? Is it measured by what you give? At this point in time, my life's success is definitely measured by what I give. And when looking at it that way, I'd consider today and overall win.

I gave them my attention. I gave them answers. I gave them love. I gave them me.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Room(mom)mie

Surprise! We have recently acquired a roommate!

It's a pretty good setup, really. The roomie happens to be my best friend, who has moved around a lot over the past decade and after quitting her job in New York, has decided to move back here to her hometown and bunk up with us for awhile until she gets herself settled. She's the share-all friend, the kind I don't clean up the house for when she's coming over. She likes my children and my husband, and really is like a family member--she spent last Christmas Eve with us, having a sleepover with our kids and shared in our Christmas Morning. Together we sit up late drinking coffee and watching cat videos and laughing uncontrollably at funny cat-themed internet memes. We scroll our Facebook feeds from opposite ends of the kitchen table saying, "Did you see X got married?!" and "Oh my gosh, are you following this huge argument on X's Facebook feed?!" or, "OH EM GEE YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS CUTE CAT PICTURE!" It's just like being young and free, staying up late, carb bingeing and doing boring things together.

The only problem is, while SHE might still be young and free, I am a tired, haggard, old parent. And nothing has made me realize this more than having a shiny, young roommate.

It specifically has been made clear upon the entrance of the dating scene to our home. Recently she had a "first date," for which I tagged along because it happened to be an acquaintance of mine. I was sort of their ice breaker. It was fun! We had beers and appetizers at a bar at four o'clock on a Sunday! So young and free of me! But then it got to be about 6:00 and I remembered that Martin was home with all the kids and I hadn't left them with any dinner prepared and if I didn't get home and feed them soon, bedtime would be later than ideal and then they'd be tired the next day... and it was a good reason to excuse myself, which had been my plan anyway, so it didn't have any impact on the outing... but it made me think.

It made me think about how very different parenthood is from non-parenthood. Not in a good way or a bad way, just in a different way. Very, very different. And suddenly I'm reminded of all the things I don't do anymore, all the things I haven't really considered doing in ages. Today we walked down Main Street, past a little coffee shop that I've never been to, and I thought, (for the first time, because I walk by this place all the time and never think twice about it!) "Look at all those people, sitting on the patio having coffee on a Sunday night. Wow. That sounds like a really nice time." And then a few steps ahead there was a couple deciding where to eat, and they mentioned the pub across the street, and I thought, "I haven't even taken notice of that pub in months. People eat there! Regularly!" It's really incredible--there's a whole society functioning outside our door that we are simply not a part of. It's crazy! Do you realize that some people go out to eat every night? And do you realize that whether they eat out once a month, once a year or three times a day, they never have to make a call ahead to the establishment to make sure you don't have to be over 21 to enter? !!!! This is ridiculous! These people, these others, are on an entirely different playing field of Life! And I'm not even in their ballpark!

But it's not just outside-- My Roommate's dating escapades, employment, and sleep habits have also enlightened me to my own home life and the very stark differences between Mom Life and Non-Mom Life. We'll start with sleep. And from now on we'll refer to My Roommate as Fifi.

On a typical night, my two youngest daughters go to bed at 7:00. Sometimes it's more like 6:30, sometimes it's more like 7:30, but it's in that general vicinity and if it gets to be 8pm and one of them is awake, that's grumptime. Following their bedtime, I get a good two hours with my older daughters. Usually they read or play quietly for about an hour, then we start bedtime routine which includes bath/shower, together time either drawing or playing a card game, read aloud, then prayers and bed. I am fortunate that bedtime in our house has finally gained "routine" status and goes down relatively smoothly every night. After they are down for the night, it's grownup time in the kitchen! Party! We usually make a pot of coffee, sit around gossiping about people, complain about various past and present employment, and review and compare our Instagram feeds. Wild times. Then we all retire around midnight.

Okay, here's where the differences begin. To my beloved Fifi, nighttime involves getting into bed and falling asleep. Sometimes she has too much coffee and feels anxiety and can't fall asleep right away, or sometimes she struggles with insomnia and I understand and respect that. But generally speaking, her night is: Fall asleep. Sleep all night. Wake up in the morning. That's the way a typical night for Martin is too.

This is my night:
Get into bed. Get out of bed and make sure all the doors are locked. Get into bed. Get out of bed and make sure all kids are in their beds and breathing. Get into bed. Get out of bed to get the cats out of the bedroom before they wake the baby. Get into bed. Fall asleep. Wake up between one and three hours later because Ingrid is crying. Move to her (small) bed and nurse her back to sleep. Fall asleep in her bed. Wake up one to two hours later when Elka comes into my bed. Snuggle Elka in our bed while she talks to me and complains about being hot and finally asks me to move back to her bed with her, and also, can she please have a glass of water? After water and lot of fussing over blankets, go to sleep with Elka in her bed. Approximately one hour later, Martin stumbles in to tell me that Ingrid is awake again. Leave sleeping Elka in her bed, return to Ingrid's bed. Nurse her back to sleep. Some time later, wake up to see Elka is back in our bed again, she is sleeping but the cat is pouncing all over her feet and I can't get the cat off without waking up Ingrid. Find various toys in Ingrid's bed and throw them at Martin's back until he wakes up and I can tell him to get the cat out of the room. Cat gone, everybody is back asleep. At some point around five every morning, I end up in my bed with Ingrid on one side and Elka on the other in a very uncomfortable position. This is basically how I end my night. At 6:30 or 7:00, they both wake up and being done with me, they have Martin get up and fix them breakfast, and I get my one, blessed, solid hour of sleep during which I know I will not be interrupted.

(Last night was even more extreme with Greta, Elka AND Ingrid taking turns being awake for ungodly amounts of time. Our middle-of-the-night happenings last night included two separate sessions of apples and milk, coloring, and doing mazes. And thanks to the time change, I even got an extra hour of being awake with them!)

You can see that my Mom Nighttime is very different from Fifi's Non-Mom Nighttime. It's a lot of taking care of people and tending to needs. Much like the rest of my existence.

So, it's no surprise that another obstacle I've run into in regards to Fifi's dating life is that I'm always meddling. In some ways having a single friend living with us is what I imagine it would be like to have a teenaged daughter. Fifi has been dating--let's call him Mo--only for about a week. She had a spontaneous second date with him on Halloween, where they handed out candy to trick-or-treaters on our porch, while we trick-or-treated in our usual neighborhood where we know lots of people. After some hours of not hearing from her, while we were driving home, I texted her, asking how it was going. She didn't respond. I started to get nervous. I didn't know this guy THAT well, what if he was actually an ax murderer? I texted again: "he didn't murder you, did he?!" Still no response, and suddenly I was mildly freaking out that I was going to arrive home to a scene much more gruesome than had been advertised.

Of course, they were just outside sharing wine and Kit-Kat bars. She hadn't seen my texts, so deeply had they been looking into each other's eyes (JUST KIDDING!) and all was well. But then he came over again on another day, and I was trying to tidy up quickly, making sure he didn't get the impression that my poor roommate is forced to live in squalor (which, let's face it, she kind of is,) and when he arrived, I offered them coffee and water and I occasionally offer dinner, and why do I feel the need to do this? because I AM A HOMEMAKER, DARN IT, THIS IS WHAT I DO. But Fifi is not my teenaged daughter, she's a grownup(and not my daughter at all)! She can offer her own guest a glass of water! I do not need to meddle!

Also, this arrangement has made me more aware of my parenting, or more accurately, of the fact that I'm surrounded by children twenty-four hours a day. Until recently, it wasn't as clear to me that this was the case. I mean, I was aware, obviously, but I wasn't aware to the full extent of reality. Interrupted conversations, scoldings, violent outbursts from certain daughters. The crying--so much crying! And why doesn't anyone ever wear clothes?!? All these things are blindingly clear to me now, whereas before they had just been background noise. (Literally and figuratively, haha.)

I've always been a pro at putting off grocery store trips, but now when Fifi says she needs to go to the store and I say, "me too!" I realize that I'm putting it off because the idea of taking four children to the grocery by myself makes me nauseous, so I wait until times when Martin can go with me, or better yet, without me, on his lunch breaks. Fifi is putting off her grocery shopping for all the reasons I used to. Sometimes I miss those reasons. (And sometimes I don't.)

Generally speaking, it's the whole having a social life that is the most noticeable change in the way I view my world. It's been years since I've noticed the extent to which I have no life outside my children. And it's not that I don't get out, it's just that everything is so painstakingly planned. I have been playing music quite a bit lately, and it's great! But it's a much more involved process nowadays than it was in my beginnings, when I all I had to do was make sure I was paying attention to the time so I wouldn't be late to a gig. Now I need to secure childcare, which sometimes involves Martin taking off work early, which makes me feel guilty about playing out, blah, blah blah... and the whole time I'm gone, I'm hoping that all goes smoothly at home, that nobody gets hurt, nobody is sad, nobody is fighting too much, everybody is eating their dinner. More blah, blah, blah. And after the gig, there is no lingering, there's no going out for drinks, there's no staying for dinner. And it's okay, because I love walking in the door to four little voices saying, "Hi, Mama!" and jumping on me and asking about where I've been and what songs I sang. And it's okay because I enjoy playing music out even more than I used to before children, because it's no longer what I do every single weekend--it's a fun treat!

Still... no matter how completely awesome it is to have my four girls (and it IS completely awesome, super duper completely awesome,) there's a bit of nostalgia that strikes when I notice young people who are clearly not tied down by kids and I realize just how much my life has changed over the past nine years.

But, you know what? There's something all the people of the non-children group of society don't have. And they can't take it from us, either. And I feel it's really telling of how kind of ridiculous our life is at the moment, that Martin brought it up to me tonight, while discussing this blog post, in the form of a question: "You know what they don't have, right?" And we were both able to answer in declarative unison: "Chuck E. Cheese."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

When You Only Get One Life (eat meatballs and buy banjos)

I am aware that even though I really, really like cats, I am not actually a cat myself. Because of that, I only have one life. One! Not nine! Just one. Sometimes this makes me rejoice because, well, just look around you. This place is pretty freaking cray cray. But sometimes it makes me sad, because (eternal reward aside,) this is the only chance we get. The only chance to have earthly adventures, make connections, have somewhat irresponsible, while not immoral, fun.

This past week, we traveled. My sister-in-law was getting married in Boston, and we planned out a week of adventuring around that one big, joyous event. We drove out east overnight Thursday and arrived mid-afternoon at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where we had rented one night in an airbnb beach house. Off-season made the price excellent and we had so much fun in our less-than-24-hours on the beach, it was just delightful. We had never been to New England, and the coast was so beautiful. It was warmish, enough that we could take off our shoes and socks, get a little bit wet, but not swim. We climbed on the beautiful rocks, chased waves, dug holes, found shells, and made a funny sand hippo. We got our morning coffee and pastries at a little seaside coffee shop the morning after an evening dinner at a fun little restaurant/bar just a few blocks from our rental.






From New Hampshire, we drove south just one hour to Boston, where The Happy Couple had generously booked us a room at the Hotel Buckminster. The timeline sent us directly to the home of our (at the time almost-) brother-in-law, where we had drinks and the two joining families met and mingled. It was very nice! From there, to the rehearsal, then on to the (fantastic bbq) rehearsal dinner. And the next morning.... up and getting four flower girls and myself, a bridesmaid, ready with the bride and other bridesmaids and flower girl before the big, beautiful wedding, which was tremendously beautiful.






The reception was a blast; Greta had the time of her life.



I think it helped to curb the sadness of the wedding weekend ending that we had planned to spend Sunday exploring Boston on our own before driving through the night to Virginia where my brother and his family lives. Boston was great. We visited Boston Common (such an interesting history!) and the Boston Public Gardens, where we saw a girl busking with her stand up bass, playing and singing jazzy songs. We'd never been to Boston and it was fun to see, though we are definitely not city mice.


Of course, the visit to Virginia was great. Nine girl cousins combined, friends and family, wine and good food for two full days. It was just what we needed to cap off the trip, too; by the time we were driving home, we couldn't do another all-nighter and stopped at a hotel (a very odd Holiday Inn, decorated like a lodge belonging to a kitschy grandmother and a big game hunting grandfather. Taxidermy and raffia scarecrows everywhere. Really weird.) The drive home was somewhat terrible. Driving in the day with four children is a lot different than driving through the night with them while they all sleep soundly in the back. We made a lot of stops. One was to an IKEA for meatballs and a few things we actually needed, and another was to Moore's Music Emporium, where I bought a pretty delightful little banjo.



I have been wanting a banjo for many years. I had one for awhile, but Toddler Greta broke it (sadly, and by accident) and before it was ever fixed, it was stolen when our old house was robbed. And this is the part of my story about life and how I think it's ok to act irresponsibly sometimes. It's easy for me to think this way because I am a Youngest Child, and it's easy for me to find support in this way of thinking from my husband, because he is a Youngest Child too! (they say that Youngest Children should never marry each other... I can see why this is true. BUT.... we have LOTS of fun.)

When we began planning this trip back in the spring, we were broke as a joke. We intentionally didn't book ourselves a hotel room anyplace because we didn't have the money for one. We just waited and waited, hoping something would fall into place, planning to take our tent and find an open campground nearby, if we needed a place to spend the night. During one of our better paychecks, we put away a chunk of money in a coffee can and hid it in a cabinet. That was our trip money. And we planned our trip entirely around that very small budget.

But evidently, while we aren't very good at being responsible, we ARE good at being thrifty, because we never exceeded our budget! Not even close! That was why, on the trip back home, we decided it was worth the money to make memories by going to IKEA when the kids were all being completely crazy and we couldn't make it four more hours in the car and remain sane. And that's why, just across the river from Wheeling, West Virginia, we stopped into Moore's Music Emporium, located down the street from the Sunoco station where we fueled up, and I walked in and bought a good banjo for a good price, and then we had live music for the drive home.

Now we're back home. We're still broke, but now we have better band practices because we've added a banjo to the mix. Even with buying the banjo and going to IKEA for silverware and succulents, we didn't spend our budget! But even if we had, it would have been absolutely worth it for the memories of playing Orphan Girl while driving down the I-70 and the memories of being so humiliated by my children when they were screaming in the kitchen marketplace area at IKEA, and hollering about how they hate lingonberry everything, and then the memories of a never-ending drive from Cincinnati to home as we tried to dodge tornadoes moving through the area. No regrets! Because we only get one life! And honestly... sometimes that's a big relief to me.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Best Kind of Gathering (costs nothing!)

It works out to being about twice a year that my friends and I gather for a Saturday Morning Clothing Exchange. The email list that goes out advertising the exchange is I think the same one as a pretty interesting sounding book club, to which I've always been invited, but have never even read one of the books, though my intentions are always very good. One time, even though I hadn't read the book, I almost actually went to the meeting! But I chickened out at the last minute in typical me fashion. Ha, fashion. Because I'm really blogging about a clothing exchange and just got sidetracked thinking about the book club. Lol.

We take all our castoffs (and our husbands' castoffs, and some homewares and some kids' stuff... basically anything we need to get out of our life) to the home of someone generous enough to host us, and we separate into piles: tops, pants, dresses, shoes, men's, scarves, etc. Then we rummage through and try to be polite about it, even though we are all totally wanting to take home everything that everyone brought for ourselves. I'm not very discreet about my desire to revamp my entire wardrobe at these things.... I dive in face first and only come up for air when it's time to use the dressing room. (which is a bathroom, because we are at someone's house.)

These things are SO FUN. Often we all bring a little breakfasty pastryish thing to contribute and we have coffee and since we are surrounded by piles of clothes there's plenty to talk about, right off the bat. Naturally, we first talk about purging possessions, simplifying our lives, (it always goes back to the KonMari method,) and from there we move into the reasons we've got all these clothes to get rid of, which is usually due to the realization that we're never going to lose the babyweight. There's no awkwardness, because people hauling in loads of castoffs and breakfast pastries are natural conversation starters, and it's a diverse group so we really have plenty to talk about.

At the end of the morning, all that's left (which tends to be a lot) is donated; the one who volunteers to take it decides what center it goes to, and all that stuff is out of our lives forever, thankfully. Not that I have EVER gone home with less than what I brought, as good as my intentions for that outcome may be. No, no, I come home with OODLES of new things to wear! This time, I got a new dress!



I pretty much stopped wearing dresses (almost) nine years ago when I started breastfeeding because they are just so impractical. But now that those demands are fewer, I feel like I can pull it off again. And this one has buttons down the front, just in case.

Some people just come to visit, with no intention of taking anything home with them. This time we spent the last portion talking about the books that will be assigned for the book club in the months to come. Sometimes we bring kids, sometimes we don't. It's all very loose and leaves me feeling filled up with good social juice, and at the same time freshened by letting go of some possessions and acquiring some new bits for my drawers, which always feels good, especially if they were free.


If you're looking for more ways to be social with a purpose, I'd highly suggest this sort of gathering. I'm already looking forward to our next one! 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

On This, the First Day of Autumn

Happy Equinox!

Aahhhhhh, the autumn equinox when the calendar officially tells us that it's Fall and we are therefore granted permission to drink as much hot chocolate as we want and add spoonfuls of cinnamon to everything with wild abandon. I know, some people live for this time of year. Leggings, chunky knit scrarves, boots, a pumpkin spice latte always in hand. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Mmmm, Fall.

I like Fall, too. I don't adore it the way I used to, thanks to a few pretty miserable winters, but I can still appreciate it. I haven't had any official “tests” done to confirm this, but I've got this suspicion that I'm actually genetically part lizard, because I just love the summer heat. LOVE IT. I bask in it. I love the heat and everything else about summer except for mosquitos. But Fall is good, too. I guess.

Tonight to celebrate the Equinox, despite the temperatures here being in the 90s, I made potato soup and baked spiced apples. Sounds pretty fally, doesn't it!? And since I don't use real recipes, I thought I'd share my “recipe” in quotations, for both. 



First up:

Five Pound Potato Soup

Five pound bag of potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
An onion. If you don't have an onion, a handful of green onions will do. If you don't have those, use chives.
As much garlic as you love.
Carrots, maybe four? Peeled and chopped, or peeled and shredded.
Broth to fill the pot
Milk to finish
Sage
Salt
Parsley
Chili Powder (optional)
Butter

Sautee the garlic, onion of choice, parsley, sage, salt in butter. After it smells good, add your chopped potatoes and carrots, stir up. Cover the ingredients with enough broth or stock or water with boullion, that you expect some will boil down by the time the potatoes are soft. Your end goal should be a thick, goopy mixture when you take it off the heat.

When you've got that, (this takes occasional stirring and mushing of the potatoes so you can tell when they're really done,) you set it aside to cool for a few minutes before adding the milk. Then you add the milk, really just enough to make it more liquidy and creamy.

Note: I like my potato soup to also have broccoli and plain yogurt in it. However, MY KIDS HATE IT THAT WAY, so I make it more plain, like above. But you can add plain yogurt to thicken it (not too much or it's too tangy and tastes like you already ate it once, if you know what I mean) and you can clearly put in some broccoli to make it more healthy and, let's be honest, more delicious. I freaking love broccoli.

There you go! You can add shredded cheese too! I try to make cheesy biscuits or cheese bread when we have this soup because my kids (seriously! These troublesome youngsters!) don't like cheese in their soup. Whatevs.

Now here was the real star of the show tonight:

Equinox Apples

An apple per person, peeled and cored. Don't be afraid if you don't have an apple peeler-corer-slicer; I just use a knife. Make sure you leave a little bottom so the insides don't seep out. Place the apples in a bakeable dish; I use a cast iron skillet.

Stuff each apple with about a tablespoon of butter.

Make the mixture:

Brown Sugar
White Sugar
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Cloves
Ginger
Vanilla extract

My exact measurements of the brown sugar were “what's left I in the bag,” which I dumped into the bowl, and added the other ingredients proportionally to that. It was VERY spicy to just eat plain, but once it was baked with the butter, it was the perfect amount of spice. The white sugar could probably be omitted; I used it because I'd put in too much vanilla at the end and needed it a touch sweeter, but since my initial measurement was what it was, I obviously was out of brown sugar. Sprinklings of the rest... maybe half a teaspoon of the spices?

Mix the mixture well until it's made evenly crumbly by the vanilla, then spoon about two spoonfuls into each apple's center, over the butter. Two spoonfuls was about right. I have made them in the past when I've thought “more is better” and it's turned out gross. You don't want to spice-out the apple flavor!

Bake at 350* for about half an hour. You can test the apples as they bake by sticking them with a fork to see that they are “tender crisp” or whatever the term is for “perfect baked apple” or “perfect steamed vegetable.” You don't want them soggy, but you don't want to have to use a knife.




These were really spectacular for our little fall celebration tonight. Thursdays are ballet night for Anja, and everyone goes together to walk over to the ballet school to pick her up while I finish up dinner at home. When they got home they were greeted with a pretty yummy smell! And an even yummier meal. I call tonight an autumnal success, despite the actual outside temperature!