Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pre-Reader Chores: A Right of Passage

Chores are an ever present element in our house.  We have rooms and books.  Clothing, dishes, beds, furniture, toys - everything needs a tender here.

My children start working alongside us as soon as they can take a toy out of the chewing-toys basket.  (Teethers, rattles and those cool linking rings.)  Anything they picked out would be put back in by their hands under normal circumstances. No, I did not make them do that when we were over tired or sick.  There were exceptions to the rule to be certain.  
Crawlers with enough hand skills join in our laundry folding work.  They can drag anything they can grasp from the tipped laundry basket over to someone else for folding.

When it was just little children in the house with me, this is what we did.  I won't tell you how rewarding it was - because it wasn't.  Laundry takes f.o.r.e.v.e.r. when it is done at the pace of a tot's crawl.  I could have done it much, much faster by myself at that time.

But now, twelve years later, laundry is not my job.  My children do the laundry.

(Actually, there aren't many jobs that are mine exclusively anymore.  The household responsibilities are shared. But there will be lots of posts about how that came about in specific portions.  This is just a post about how it gets started with pre-readers.)

There is a time when a child can help and may WANT to help but can't remember two tasks in a row.  Brains only develop so fast but skills can be trained along the way as they develop.    

Just imagine all the brain development going on when you can engage them at this stage!

OK.  That wasn't my thought at the time - or now really, either.  I'm sure it's there but I'm about the practical application here.

Pre-readers need aids.  But they don't have to be complicated.  Here are the photos that were M's first chore list.

She's three in this picture.   She's made her bed.  To complete this job, the comforter has to be covering the whole mattress, the pillow is up on top, and the special blanket is out of the way at the foot of the bed.  Yes, it's a wad.  Does the bed look tidy when I look in the room?  Absolutely.  And that's a great start on learning chores.

Next she is to tidy her clothing drawers.  She's never been very good at this one.  M is not a details gal to this very day.  But she knew to get all the things into the drawers so they could shut nicely.

Toy areas that she could reach and physically manage were hers to tend.  She organized the board books and infant toys in the top picture.  In the bottom picture she would straighten bins of toys and replace the puzzles on the puzzle shelf. 

Last job on the list is to tidy her place at the table after meals.  Dishes in the dishwasher and "big things" off of her spot.  (Rice you can pick up.  Don't fuss about the bread crumbs, Sweety.)

I printed these photos on pink paper in black & white ink and then laminated them with clear packing tape.  They were hung on the fridge with a magnet/clothes-pin style clip.  She grabbed her chore list every morning and could tend to her jobs w/o my direct supervision.

As she got older and could manage more tasks, she got a second photo list on different color paper.  Pink list was morning chores and green list was the afternoon chores.

She was proud of her work!  She showed her chore lists to everyone.  As a big girl with a chore lists, she was able to see how she had grown.  "I can help!" became more than just a plea to be bigger.  It was true.

Did she need reminding to do her chores? Yes.  She's only three and even I need to be reminded to do things sometimes.

Did she try to do a half-way job sometimes? Uh, yes!  She comes by that trait honestly.  I do things half-way sometimes when I think no one is going to notice.  The cure for that?  Go notice!  If I don't go check, there goes one motivation to do well.  There isn't much for bragging rights if no one notices you did a good job and no need to work at it if no one cares enough to check on it.

How did you come up with your list for her? I walked around the house and examined things.  It takes some brain work and, when you are sleep deprived or hassled, that's hard to manage.  But it was worth the investment.  If you can only think of two things, get those two things on their list!  More ideas will come to you both as you go along.  

Monday, January 28, 2013


I do most of our cooking with what I call basic ingredients.  It's really just things that don't usually have much for a trademark on them and probably don't make it into advertisement very often.   They are the things that are on the ingredient lists of other foods or food products.

Feeding this troupe is part of what I do.  Some days it's almost the only thing that I can actually get done.

Here's one of our favorite treats.  It's one we bring to Christmas gatherings.


In a saucepan on medium heat, combine equal parts butter and sugar.  For a 9x13 pan, I usually use 1/2 cup or 1 cup of each. 

But - really - it's butter and sugar.  Can you go wrong?  Unless you burn it to an evil pseudo-enamel on your pan, no. You can't.

Stir this mixture constantly over medium to high heat.  The temp you choose depends on how confident and attentive you are.  This stuff could burn nasty and spit oil on you, too.  Keep it moving and you'll do fine.

That rich toffee color is the key for knowing when you are done.  It will separate into oil and sugary thickness at least once along the cooking time and you will be convinced that I've just made a mess, ruined the butter, and spoiled your plans - all from my own living room.  Keep stirring.  Watch the color and look for any hot spots in your pan surface and you'll do fine.

Pour the toffee into a prepared pan.  You can butter liberally -or- do as I do and line with aluminum foil.  If you like, add a layer of chopped nuts in the bottom of the pan.  I use pecans.  Level the toffee a bit and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Cover the pan with a cutting board or something.  Just to keep the heat in.

Peek.  When the chips are melted, spread them over the top of the toffee.  Leave the cover off and let cool til hardened.  It's a winter treat usually here so I just set it in the garage for a while.  You can put it in the fridge.  Or you can wait nearly forever and just let it cool naturally on the countertop.  To me, that's boring.  And inviting fingerprints in the soft chocolate.

Remove from pan and break into chunks.

If I was a good, normal blogger I would have photos along the way of the method and then a final, tastefully displayed photo of the finished product.  THEN there would be a gadget thingy that would let you print off the recipe in either recipe card form or letter sized (with or without pictures).

I'm not that.

But you aren't surprised.

Editor's note: Are there other food questions that you have for me?  I have a bunch of ideas of my own but if you chime in, I can bump your suggestion up the queue.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fuzz & Skinny & Relationship

Fuzz, Skinny and a bonus shot of Party Girl
Fuzz is six years old and is in a brother sandwich: Three brothers older and two brothers younger.  That hasn't hampered anything for her at all.  She likes her American Girl doll (Elsa), the dresses that Grandma makes for her, and lightsabers. She is her green-eyed Daddy's only green-eyed child.

Skinny is one of our winter birthday guys and turned 14 the last day of 2012.  He's our oldest blue-eyed boy and our blondie.  (Yes, we did wait and wait and wait for his baby eyes to turn brown.)  He's hoping to shed his braces by the middle of summer this year. Electronics, mechanics, explosions and archery are his current interests.  But his lifelong drive has been interaction with others.  He likes to read, work with his hands, and many other things, but his real love is people.  The life of a hermit would certainly fulfill the dream-of-every-14yo-boy 
(no need to shower ever again) but Skinny would shrivel away for lack of relationship.

And then there is your bonus look at Party Girl's mug.  Eh.  She made the picture more balanced.

And that's our whole family!

Throughout the years, something has developed.  It started out as simple as a three-strand cord but is now grown to be more complicated and immeasurably strong.

It's relationship.

Family is made of relating people.  Community is, too.  It seem that all things foundational in society are built on relationship.

In my experience, most significant life change happens within relationship.  We learn best with people we trust.  Fear happens when relationship experiences some sort of threat.  We're made to share, and in that sharing, all other things can happen.

It's a big and pretty ethereal topic.  I've never been very good at articulating this particular aspect of our family.  I use terms like:

  • Team
  • Buddy
  • Clan
  • Helper
  • Neighbor
But what is at the core is relationship.  

As you read what I write, keep an eye out for this concept.  I'll try to point it out, too.  AND, point it out to me when you see it or think you see it.  Thanks!

Editor's note:I have had intense Grammar Pains with this post. "Relationship" is a noun most commonly used with an article (i.e. the relationship between peers.)Yet I find myself using it in this sense in the same way that the word "community" is often used (i.e. a sense of community among the employees). These Grammar Pains were severe enough that I missed my self-imposed, unexpressed deadline for publishing this post. Yet, I'm going to keep the word usage as is. If it causes you to twitch uncontrollably, I apologize. Please consider commenting to such effect.  There may be enough that you all could get cut-rate group therapy. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stick, Fro & Noodle

Stick, Fro & Noodle

Stick (now 11 yrs old) is one of our most ambitious children. The drive to succeed has been inspiring and frustrating to most adults at different times and Stick has been feeling this for years already. She enjoys writing, running and cooking so far but her interests are always changing.

Fro is FIVE today! He's a smily guy with a twinkly eye. Mischief shares a place with joy in him. He likes being a big brother and has a great friendship going with his pal, Oh Brother.

Noodle is 15. As the oldest daughter, she's got lots of stories to tell. She bakes, supervises, writes extensively, sews a variety of things with great skill and has a few jobs for others around our neck of the woods. She's been our “practice girl” for a long time now and is a great help to us in figuring this thing out.

Girls were a puzzler for us for a while. We watched other families with girls. We read books and checked out everything that was recommended to us about raising girls. All the things that seemed to be involved were very confusing.  Phrases like:

Daughters with dignity
Traditional femininity
Modesty and life goals for girls
Maidens with virtue
That all sounded right!

Sort of.  Something wasn't sitting well with us though over the years.   The basic definitions of those words and phrases were alright  but there was something not right about how these sorts of concepts were taught and even marketed.  It was very limiting and beyond frustrating.  In what we found at the time, these phrases translated to:
Toddlers with quiet baby dolls on their laps
Handicrafts and tea parties
Long dresses, sleeves, hair and household chore lists
Girls cautious and timid

There is nothing bad about these things on their own.  Some toddlers really enjoy quiet and structure.  My girls have a thing for teapots somedays.  Long hair is rocked here!  And you'll hear about my chore lists. And I know some children who are naturally cautious.  All those things can be good.

But it was clearly a "one-size-fits all girls" agenda.  Nothing labeled "Science for Girls" or "Basswood Whittling for Girls".   No "Girls Guide to Outdoor Survival".  All of those things had boys as their targets.
We grappled with this especially in our early years as a young family.
Then it struck us that our goals didn't have to be different for our daughters. (I know. Many of you will think this is obvious but trust me on this.)  Whether boy or girl, we want our kids to:

enjoy lifelong learning with skills, knowledge and/or 
experience to match needs as well as interests.

And that's where we are now.  It's been very freeing in the way we have been able to communicate with others about our family.  We have eight boys, five girls and we are a lot of individuals.  


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oh Brother, M, & Doo-Dah

Oh Brother, M & Doo-Dah
Oh Brother (a.k.a. Flip) is our third of three blue eyed boys.  He's apprehensive around new people but is really a neat kid.  And smart, too.  We have a deal, he and I.  I am going to throw him birthday parties every year and he can have whatever he wants for supper.  That's my part of the deal.  His part of the deal?  He is always going to turn three.  Pretty good deal, huh?

M is our only curly top.  She's twelve at the time of this post and has a variety of transient interests.  She writes sometimes and then she crafts for a while and then it's on to something else.  Sharing is actually one of her best skills.

Doo-Dah (a.k.a. Doodle or Dood - but he won't respond if anyone else but me calls him by these names) is our firstborn.  He's 18 today.  That, folks, is down right craziness.  High school graduation day is the first of June this year.  THIS YEAR!  Oy.  He taught himself banjo and guitar a few years ago and recently bought his own banjo.

That means we've been home schooling for somewhere between 6 months and 75 years.  Doodle says, "It's been only twelve years or so, you know."  OK.  Twelve years.  I taught him subtraction so I guess he's probably right.

When we got married, we had already decided we would home school any children we would have.  In theory, I should have known that the "we" in this case would largely be "me," but you'll find that I've never been good at foreseeing the details.  We had reasons to home school.  They were great reasons, too.

And things went great with those reasons, too.  We got a few questions and some doubtful glances but we knew we could overcome those things.  Confidence was ours and we had strong, solid reasons for our choice.

So, then we had children.

But that's OK.  We were still strong in our convictions.  Great reasons.  It would be a powerful experience with strong family, the joy of learning and a natural, loving way to share our convictions with our children.

Then we were home schooling.

It was a new gig so it took a while to get some things worked.  But the problems we had didn't have things like organization, curriculum, or learning styles at their core.

The problem was all those great reasons.  Don't get confused on me here.  They really were great reasons.  They just weren't our reasons.

But now that we have made it through the struggling of those first years, we DO have our own reasons.  I'll share them because a) they might help you find some reasons of your own and b) it's all part of "how I do it".

Home school is efficient. I can teach my child to read from knowing no letter/sound pairings to a 2nd grade level in about 15 min a day, 5 days a week in just over a year.  It will cost me less than $50 in materials to do this task.  I can teach them math from knowing only single digit recognition to decimal long division in about 15 more minutes, 5 days a week in about 3 years.  Materials for that, if I order everything in it's most complete form, is about $150.  

My children have less prejudice. Now THAT could make some waves. I intend to explore the how and why I've come to this conclusion, but until then I'll just note what others have said about this.  

  • "Your children seem to enjoy this even though there aren't any other kids their age here to talk to."
  • "It really helps that he looks at my face when I talk to him.  It's so much easier to hear and understand each other."
  • "Your kids don't stare.  I mean, your little ones do sort of but they're just little and probably stare at everyone.  What did you tell them?"
I am selfish. That's the flat-out truth.  That look of struggle that the boy has on his face with handwriting before him?  I want to help with that.  That "EUREKA!" moment when my daughter can multiply fractions from a word problem?  I want that, too.  All of those moments of struggle, growth and achievement. Those should be mine to experience with my children. 

These are just a few of our reasons and only a small glimpse at why they are our reasons.  I'll be revealing more about our whole home school experience as time goes on.  It's one of the things I do.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bicycle Boy and the Party Girl

Bicycle Boy and the Party Girl who steals his heart
Bicycle Boy is 16 now and is our second son.  He can make social and relational observations that others aren't aware of.  Seeking to maximize his options, he excels in drawing arts and piano while learning fiddle and expanding his interests in barefoot distance running, beekeeping, and home school high school survival skills.

Our Party Girl (a.k.a. Party Crasher) is almost two and a half years old.  She's nicknamed this because she was born about 3-4 hours after the first of several weekend guests arrived to our home.  We had a yard full and a house full, but I wasn't even here.  I saw pictures of the party online.  The ladies came to visit us in the hospital but were all gone by the time I got home Sunday afternoon.  She's a cuddler and looks the most like my baby pictures of all our children.

Bicycle Boy (BB) is so named (and so easily wooed by littlest sisters) because he spent nearly a month in the hospital after a bicycle accident.  As an eleven year old he took a handlebar end in the stomach region and crushed his pancreas against his backbone Memorial Day Weekend.  Though surgery went fine, the inflammation from the injury made eating without vomiting impossible.  He received TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) for the rest of his stay.

Except the time it took for his dad and I to eat one meal every day or so (as BB was comfortable with it) he was with one of us at all times.  His sister, Fuzz, was about five months old at the time of the accident and she was with me at all times for meal reasons.  The four of us were there together for the first few days & nights and I woke any time BB made a noise and to feed Fuzz.  But we had eight other children at home and only so many people who could cover the needs for us there.  Those kids needed a parent in this time, too.

So, The Man stayed in the room on the pediatric floor and there never really was any question about it from the staff.  His work situation allowed him to do his work from the internet connection with the hospital.  He worked his 40 hours a week from the room.  I came home in the evening and left before dawn to be there for doctor's rounds.

And Fuzz went everywhere with us during the day.  BB would make chatter noises back to her as she practiced all her sloppy sounds.  She napped in the bathtub in the hospital room.  When we would go for wander walks around after he had recovered from the incision, he pushed her stroller.  For that month, they were their only siblings in a face-to-face experience.  They were special to each other and have been since.

In that hospital experience, which extended to a total of essentially 40 nights before the summer was over, we learned a lot of things.

Someone stays with the hospitalized family member always.  This was especially important for us in this case because it was a child.  No matter how hard they may try to be otherwise, hospital staff members are humans and mistakes happen.  One extra person actively engaged in one-on-one care and needs is The Most Valuable asset in the room.  The Man caught errors before they happened and the staff was very thankful for having someone who cared enough to make sure things were all correct every time.

Your health care (and that of your child) is your responsibility. You don't hold the experience, training or license to administer some of the care you may need when in the hospital but the decision is yours to make.  Don't make an uninformed choice.  

If someone on your healthcare team says something or is doing something that you don't understand, ask them to explain it.  

If you don't understand still, ask them to try again.  If you still don't understand, request someone else to try with you again.  

Sound embarrassing?  Maybe it is.  Get over it.  This is your life or your child's life and - like it or not - your responsibility.  

It's not that bad.  Most every day hospital staff are faced with blank-faced people who won't lift a brain cell to think about what needs to happen.  Most every day these employees are bearing the weight of life choices that are not their burdens to bear.  I know from many experiences that hospital staff members WANT you to ask questions and WANT you to know so YOU can choose.     

Write it down.  Everything.  Names.  Dates with time.  Hair color, relative height, watch or glasses style.  Whatever it takes to make your brain remember because you will want to remember and you won't be able to.
The Man and I worked on high-stress, slim rations and interrupted sleep for weeks at a time.  If we didn't keep notes, we would have risked errors and misinformation even more.  We used a simple spiral bound notebook and kept a daily log.  Who came when and for what reason.  If someone was new to us, we made notes to help us remember that person by name, face and department.  We referred to it often and in front of those we took notes on.  They knew we wanted to make good choices and were being proactive to avoid confusion as much as we could.

We were thanked often for these three things during our stay.   They don't take much time but they endeared us to the staff at the hospital.  BB's doctors would stop in after their long hours to see how things were going for all of us.  Nursing staff appreciated our presence on the floor.  They never needed to worry about that kid in #4-213.  His nurse light never went on for a pointless concern.

And they chuckled when they found out that little sister napped in the bathtub from 1-3pm every afternoon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Melonheads & Birthdays

The Melonhead Boys: Pete, Tubby and Cob
It's birthday week here at our house and it's a great time to introduce The Melonhead Boys.

Pete (a.k.a. The-Boy-with-No-Nickname) is now 7 and the youngest of The Melonheads.  He intends to be right up to speed with both of his next-older brothers.  He's our only leftie and is clearly bound for greatness.  Just ask him.

Tubby is the birthday boy today and he's 10 this year.  He's all about relationships.  He'll drop everything to speak, share or work alongside someone else.

Cob (a.k.a. CrabbyPants) is 8 going on 9 this spring.  He's our second of three blue eyed boys.  He's cautious, confident and expects to excel.

There are a lot of child birthdays to celebrate here in a year.  As a child in our family, you get to have major influence over the evening meal on your birthday.  Dad usually wakes you up with a birthday greeting or a phone call.  And Grandma will usually call you from South Dakota.

Somewhere around the actual birthdate we have a little party.  The guest list is always the same.  My grandparents and my parents have been our only party guests for all these years.  Though our kids may have a very different idea about what makes a "birthday party", we've really come to enjoy it in many ways.
When our family was smaller, we had several birthday parties every year.  It eventually got to be kinda much.  Like impossible.  It was hard to find dates for gathering that fit for everyone and I got sick of all that leftover birthday cake.  bleh. so we went to quarterly birthday parties.  It's actually only three seasons - Winter, Spring and Fall.   (Our Fall Birthday party includes birthday kids from 4 months but it works so well for us and the kids enjoy it this way.)  If a party is a frequent event, it's not so special anymore, ya know?

Gift giving became easier for my grandparents when we offered to do the shopping for them. At first they felt a little awkward with our offer but when they saw what we could do with a planned budget, they really got to love it!  When we knew that we had some smaller gifts to provide, we kept a watchful eye out for great deals and built sets over time.  Now, 15+ years of parties into this experiment, we have a FABULOUS set of Lincoln Logs.  At first the great-grandparents of the birthday boy would say "that sure isn't very much when a guy only gets a box of wood sticks".  But in a couple of years of Birthday Lincoln Log Sets, they saw the greatness we had planned.  And were glad to say that they gave the family "a play set that will fill the playroom floor!"

And it does sometimes.  And under the chairs.  Behind the books.  In with Mr. Potato Head.

At least they are easier on the feet than Legos, right?

My Family

This is our family.  This picture is almost 2 yrs old at the time of my posting but it says a lot of things about us I think.  
  • We have some great friends with an RV.
  • Some of us try to look normal... sometimes.
  • Our kids come by their "Squint for the Camera" tendencies honestly.
  • I am pretty far behind in having family photos taken.

I'll do the introductions (since it would be pretty pointless for you to do them) in later postings so I can do a proper job of it.  But for now, here's the stats:

~ Two boys, a girl, a boy, two girls, three boys, a girl, two boys and a girl.
~About 16 months apart.  No twins.
~Two parents.
~Married in late winter '94. Children in Winter '95, Spring '96, Fall '97, Winter '98, '00,'01, and a bunch of years after that.  I have the dates and years written down somewhere. 
~Not Catholic.  Or Mormon.
~I know almost nothing about any other large families either on or off national television.
~Neither my husband nor I "love children".  We like our kids a whole lot but you won't find us seeking out everyone else's baby from here to Town just to goo-goo over them.

We have lots of interests under one roof.  Canning, running, gardening, banjo, piano, quilting, cat, writing, outdoor games, camping, computer programming, bee keeping, jewelry and glitz, miniatures, explosions, blues music, stout, singing in harmony, games, and lots of things I've forgotten because I forget things.

It's not been anything like the life I planned and prepared for.  It's just a fraction of what I have.  And I would not be the person I am today without it.  I'm living an extraordinary life.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"How Do You Do It?"

I'm asked this or something very nearly like this at least once a week.

"How do you do it?"

Sometimes it's asked by a total stranger in a store.  It's often asked by people who thought they knew me.  I've even been asked by someone taking my phone order at Land's End.

I am asked in all seriousness.  And sometimes not so serious.  Many times it's been obviously malicious.  Most often it's not.  It's almost always asked with at least a bit of genuine curiosity.

"How do you do it?"

Maybe you have a question like this, too.  Ask it.  Really.  I wouldn't give you the 'go ahead' if I didn't intend for someone to take me up on the offer.  Think about it a bit and then go ahead and ask me.

How do I do it?  I hope to answer that question in a more organized way now.  Let's see how I do.