Thursday, February 28, 2013

What We Wear

I get asked about clothing quite often.  There is a lot of it in this house after all.

Outfitting this tribe can be a challenge.  There are MANY options for purchasing kid's clothing and, they've changed as my kids have gotten older.  Most of those new purchasing options have been good, so I won't complain much at all.

There are some basic ideas that I have tried to keep in mind as I collect clothing for us all.

Primary colors go together and are gender neutral.  I get primary colored t-shirts w/o pockets in the pre-puberty sizes at nearly any garage sale I find.  Mainly I get short sleeved but I like to have some long sleeved tees as well for layering and cooler days. The exceptions to this are camouflage and tie-dye because I am convinced that these actually DO go with just about everything. (Except each other ~ though my kids attempt to rock that wardrobe combo.)

Images and advertising are distracting and hard to match. We call them "picture shirts" here. They also get dated.  I avoid them unless they are very, very simple and usually hand made.  I just think they are nicer if they look original or unique instead of just like everyone else.  Think of it as a unique feature of my family.  Or another quirk.  

This is our current favorite picture shirt.  We got it for Party Girl from THIS etsy store. It's not in primary colors but, for a cute puppy shirt for her birthday, we made an exception.
There are some exceptions again, of course.  I snagged up a black t-shirt with SECURITY in block white letters across the back.  That has been a fun one to hand down among the ranks.  I keep my eyes open for these sorts of wacky, one-of-a-kind things.

Blue jeans in nearly neutral styles are common here for the younger crowd.  I don't like non-blue jeans.  We don't need any more occasions to look oblivious to coordination.  If I went that route, I would have a 5 yr old in a blue tee and purple pants every time I needed to get out the door with them.  

For the same reason, I don't like embroidered or patched details on pants.  Child-chosen outfit just won't match well with that many things to coordinate.  And those little flowers on the pocket won't cross that pre-pubescent gender line that I like to work to my advantage.  There are a lot of years when plain blue jeans can be for boys or girls.  Let's maximize that option!

Dresses are not worn here a lot.  I have a few little girls that like the ones that my Mom has made them for playing in.  Simple jumpers with bloomers are great for the littlest girl who doesn't like the updraft she gets from having a skirt short enough to walk up the stairs.  Fuzz likes to twirl. You gotta have a good skirt on a dress to do a proper twirl.  But these are rough and tumble jumper dresses that take several trips out "so Grandma can fix them."

But we do need to have dresses for some more formal occasions.  Again, I prefer primary colors but will branch out here because this one-piece outfit doesn't need to match anything else if you have neutral shoes.  I try to keep the patterns simple.  A big plus is no white, no off white and no black.  Why?  When I avoid those colors, I'm not limited to colors of sweaters to put over top in the fall or spring.  A dress with white flowers won't match as well with the off-white sweater but the blue dress with yellow flowers (primary colors) will be fine with whatever sweater I happen to have in that size.

Khaki pants for the boys have been great... sort of.  I have one pair (sometimes 2) in every size from 2T to 18 and some I have in the slim sizes as well for my scrawny butt boys that have shot upward but not wide enough for regulars yet.  They only wear them for weddings and funerals pretty much.  They always look situationally appropriate and tidy.  

Madras shirts or flannel, long sleeved shirts go well with these for the guys. The ones we have gotten aren't exclusively in primary colors but they all look good with khakis.  I have one or two in each size in differing patterns and they only come out at these occasions.  It's a pain to store them all but worth it if needed on short notice.  

Khakis & button front shirts for guys. What could be the draw back of this great pairing?  Well, when we walk into the room, we generally stand out just in sheer numbers.  When all the guys have fresh hair cuts, look JUST like their Dad and are all dressed in the same khaki & shirt combo - it's more than striking.  It's either intimidating or just plain weird.  Folks, read about life here and you'll know we don't need to emphasize that natural weirdness any more than we have it right now.  I just haven't found a good alternative yet.

How about shoes?  Shoes can be a mess of its own when there are this many feet stompin' around!  We usually have one pair of play shoes, one pair of dress shoes, and one pair of sandals per person.  But there is a WHOLE lot more to that topic.  I hope to hit shoe choices, storage, boots, and various barefoot and minimal shoe options we use around here in a future post.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Brown Sugar Shortbread: The Traveling Cookie

When we travel for more than a couple of hours or if we are going to be out for an all day event, I usually bring some sort of hand-held foods for us to have as a meal or part of a meal.  Most everything I bring has to meet my restrictions.

  • Must be manageable independently by anyone 18mo and older.
  • No drip-able liquids or semi-liquids.
  • Must be easy to pass over seats to get to the back of the van OR be stored in a group container that can be passed this way.
  • No food colorings, greasy surfaces or very sugary surfaces (to keep clothing clean).
  • No chocolate or other things melty.
  • Cheap-cheap, cheap or pretty cheap.

I have a list of options that actually work with these restrictions, too!

  • Sausage biscuits: It's my friend's recipe. Find it by clicking HERE!
  • Cheese sticks: Make your own from a block of cheese and stick 'em all in a plastic bag.
  • Bananas
  • Dehydrated fruit: Do your own or be sure to get the kind that isn't rolled in sugar. That's sticky!
  • Crackers: Non-flaky, thin, wheat/multi-grain crackers are my goto. (Off brand cuz I'm cheap.)
  • Water: Bring extra.  You might need it.

This is usually all we really need for variety.  I pick volumes based on what we are really doing.  If we are to spend the day at the zoo walking all over creation, then I pack more.  If it's just driving the five hours to Grandma's house I don't pack as much.  We're just sitting there in the van anyway.

Since I have the no melty chocolate rule and I travel with The Man, there usually needs to be a sweet treat.  Our family favorite cookie at home is a perfect chocolate chip cookie with pecans but for the road we go with Brown Sugar Shortbreads.  Just the right sort of brown sugar sweet without all that stain-the-toddler's-shirt potential.

Brown Sugar Shortbread
makes enough for 15 passenger van full for 4 -6 hour drive

Cream 2 cups softened butter and 1 cup brown sugar til light and fluffy.  

Stir in 4.5 cups flour. Mix well.  This isn't super easy.  I don't recommend using an electric mixer here though.  I always overmix when I do use a mixer on this step. Then the cookies get tough from working the gluten fibers in the flour longer than needed. (Pardon the temporary geeking there. Or maybe you should just get used to it.  Either way.) 

On a clean, lightly floured surface (you can use the flour in the bowl that just won't cooperate with mixing in), knead until smooth.  Less than a minute usually.

Divide in half. With each half, pat/roll into a ~8in by 11in rectangle on a lightly floured surface.  I just use one of my cutting boards.  Works slick and makes cutting easier.

Cut into 2in by 1in rectangles with a pizza cutter.  (Find a 7 or 8 year old to do this job.)  Have toddler prick with fork.  (Don't look too closely.  Remember that the immune system grows stronger with repeated exposure to bacteria found naturally in your environment.)  Place on ungreased cookie sheets.  

Repeat with other half of dough.  I can get each of the halves onto 2 sheets so I have 4 sheets total going through the oven two sheets at a time.

Bake at 300* (Yup.  That's low.)  15 minutes - switch the sheets around on the racks - 10 minutes more.  Just til the bottoms are lightly browned.  They don't really look browned at all on top.  Cool 5 min on the sheets before removing to cooling racks.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Can You Give Attention to Everyone?

Time & Energy.

Limited quantities of these two commodities have plagued me for the last fifteen years or more.  

I've been contacted by someone who is most interested in managing several children in different age groups that aren't ~quite~ able to do home school learning tasks independently.  "How did you spend time with little ones before you had bigger ones to help when so many school age things require your attention?"  It's just one of the ways I've been asked about how to spend time and energy with such a diverse set of needs under one roof.

The way I spent time with my littlest children changed as our family grew.  It had to.  When I had just one little geezer who would sleep on the couch while I vacuumed the carpet every single day (another blog post all of it's own right there), I could spend my time differently than when I had seven children and my oldest just turned eight years old.  

 "How can you give attention to everyone?"

If I had to pick only three concepts that helped me navigate that question, I would choose Priority, Need, and Routine.  I'm only going to give them a short spot here because this is a crazy-huge and crazy-good question and a single blog post isn't nearly a fair answer.  I'll keep coming back and you keep hitting me with follow-up.  Between those two tactics I should be able to give it my fair treatment.

Identify Priorities
Prioritizing is a difficult concept when choosing wall paint.  When living with people and running a household and parenting children, it's more than complicated.  But it will be the foundation of how you make decisions about spending time and energy.  Consider things like:

What is the primary goal?
Why is that goal primary?
What are the secondary goals?
What would it take for a secondary goal to rise in priority?
What would it take for it to drop from secondary to tertiary?
Which goals would be completed with a short-term plan?
Which are long-term goals?

These are all big questions and the answers are different for every family. It could get even more complicated when you attempt to answer these questions:

What is my primary goal?
Would an adult watching my actions be able to identify my primary goal?
Would a child watching me know that?
Are there goals that are in conflict?
What if the primary goal becomes unattainable?

Hokey-Pokey!  Those are big questions.  Re-read that list.  Consider it as you proceed with your week.  

Question yourself. 
Question your motives.  
Test them for truth.

What is a need?
I have been told I have an odd approach to a lot of topics.  If that's true (and the witnesses are swarming around & chuckling in the cyber-background here), my understanding of a "need" is likely to be influenced.  I practice lots of things based on what is or is not a need.

My newborns don't need a bedroom.  They need a safe place to stay.
As we don't have allergies to them, breakfast can be toast & spreads.  Every day. Always.
Working together is time together.

When my children were all under eight years old, we had a busy house.  I didn't have time to play Candyland with pre-readers everyday. Mercy, that would be torture.  Candyland?  Oy!  Learning to cooperate was a need.  Menu variety at lunchtime was not.  Skills in family safety were needs.  Deep cleaning was not.  Team building within the family was a need.  Toddler playgroup was not.

Identifying the needs from the whole list of things young parents are TOLD are needs is a job that can make a Mom's life focused or diffused.  Consider some things you have been told are needs for your family.

Sunday dinner
Movie night
Family Game Night
Personal Time (Vague! MYTH! ARG!)
Peer group playtime
Date Night with Daddy/Mommy
arts & crafts hour
Couple's Date Night

Are those needs?  Really?  Do you really think that *insert famous achiever of choice* had all these things?  Do the emerging citizen leaders in struggling cultures point to Family Game Night as the met need that gave them the drive for greatness?


Consider what is truly a need and attend to that.

There are many approaches to the metering of time. I know schedule folks, routine folks, and relaxed folks.  There are positive and negative spins on all of these plans.

I've come to appreciate the routine.  And my kids have as well. 

Routine is predictable at its base.  Time is full of predictable events in sequence.  All things will be tended to in turn.

But routine is also flexible.  There is no crisis when people need to alter events.  A new need always supersedes the list of times and events.

When I had only young children, my routine was a great comfort to me as I looked at those faces.  It was a plan to address a great concern to me.How will I ever have time to spend with them all?  "Chill, Sarah," I would say to myself.  "Let's look at the routine.  Include some guys in clearing the table.  We can even do it as a bucket brigade.  Then we'll all fold laundry and maybe listen to an audio book.  These two will have time together with this toy set and the other two will have solo playtime while I check email and feed the baby.  Be mindful with your actions, young Mom, and you will be on your way!"

At the end of the day, I did spend time with them all.  It was intentional, focused time with them on a task of one sort or another. As the tots grew up in this, they could trust that I would spend time with them.  They didn't need to hang on me and demand.  The routine we had was predictable and all the reinforcing and encouraging times of the day would come again tomorrow.

Editor's note:  This is a HUGE topic.  I barely scratched the surface.  I have more to say here and intend to keep coming back but your specific questions can guide how I go about answering.  Comment here OR view "my complete profile" in the right margin under my picture and email me.  That's how this post came up next.  Someone asked.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why I Like Synthetic Fibers

In the pseudo-circle of people I know, natural is the word.

The food is organic.
The cooking is traditional.
Teaching. Learning. Cleaners. Footwear. All that.
Natural is in it all.

But clothing fibers are where I fall jump off the natural wagon on a lot of occasions.

My reasons are varied but it usually all comes down to the fibers.

Hydrophobic or Hydrophilic?

or "Excuse me while I get my geek on."

In the textile industry, fabric fibers are described as either hydrophobic or hydrophilic.  "Hydro" is the Greek prefix for "water".  "Philic" is the suffix for "loving," and "phobic" is the suffix for "hating/repelling".  

Natural fibers (those gathered from organic sources) are most likely to be hydrophilic, especially when the natural oils are removed as is common in the processing.  Cotton, linen, silk, wool, hemp, and several others fall into this category.

Synthetic fibers are hydrophobic.  They are fabricated from inorganic materials.  You know.  Like plastic.  Polyester, nylon, rayon, spandex, and a bunch of other meltable (and trademarked) fabrics are in this list. 

The reasons why these fibers are hydrophobic or hydrophilic are varied.  My best understanding involves cellular structure and that's why I love it so very, very much.  

Cells of plants and animals all have walls.  To keep the innards in, the bad stuff out, and to filter the comings & goings of things across this border.  Cell walls are designed to be a permeable barrier and they never really lose that feature - even when the cell is dead.

As the cells are exposed to water, they get wet.  No different than the hydrophobic, synthetic fibers, right?  But at the fiber level there is a difference.  Cell walls want to take in water.  Synthetic fibers just get wet.

Once the fabric is wet, the benefit of synthetic fibers is in the drying process.

Let's say I have a gajillion plant cells forming hydrophilic fibers in one hand and a gajillion thermoplastic hydrophopic fibers in the other hand.

Grey shirt: 100% cotton, Men's Large, 15.5 oz
Red shirt: 100% recycled polyester, Men's Large, 13oz

Now I immerse them in water for 15 min and hang them up to dry.  The sun is shining but it's February in Minnesota so these north-facing windows are shut.  And those are cabinets on each side of my kitchen sink.  No fans.  No cheating.  Just two shirts on hangers.

Completely wet but not quite dripping:
Grey shirt: 3 lb 14 oz
Red shirt: 2 lb 8 oz
Weights after hanging 2 hours:
Grey shirt : 2 lb 2 oz 
Red shirt: 1 lb 8 oz

Weights after hanging 5 hours:
Grey shirt: 1 lb 6 oz
Red shirt: 15 oz

Weights after hanging 6 hours:
Grey shirt: 1 lb 3.5 oz

Red shirt: 13 oz

After 6 hours at at 68*F on a hanger, the synthetic shirt was dry at its original weight.  The cotton shirt still had 4 oz of water in it.

OK.  So, synthetic fibers dry faster.  Why does that matter?  It matters for a variety of reasons. My two favorites are sweat and drying. In my book, they are different.

Most people sweat and kids are no exception.  A sweat-soaked, cotton t-shirt or dress shirt stays wet longer.  It's cold and clammy and stays that way for hours and hours in the dirty laundry basket (assuming it ever gets there but that's a whole 'nother topic).  On the body, it's always cooling.  That's fine if you are moving to keep warm.  But once you stop hiking for the day, that shirt will lead you to chills in the evening.  On scrawny little seven-year-olds, it happens even faster.  Synthetic fibers dry faster and return to their dry functioning state quickly.

Drying laundry is as certain as taxes.  It's going to happen.  Synthetic fibers dry much faster on the clothes line or in the dryer.  For the average person, that's not a big deal.  BUT if you are the mom who has to resurrect an outfit that the toddler has just yurped all over in the van - it's a life-saver!  

  1. Strip child. Remove chunks. Stifle gag.
  2. Put clothing in plastic bag w/o holes. Half fill bag with water.  (You do have water bottles, right? Good.)
  3. Slosh clothing thoroughly.
  4. Get your hands in there and rinse that stuff out really well.  
  5. Rinse & Sniff.  (You know what I mean. Icky job but SomeMommy's gotta do it.)
  6. When you think it's rinsed enough, lay it out over the defroster vents and hit the road again.  Flip clothing as needed to get elastic waistbands & pocket layers dry.
You saw the pictures above.  This method works and the stuff will be dry in a hurry.  Ask me how I know.  And how many times this method has been varied and tested.

But do you guys wear this stuff all the time?  Really?  Like super-athletes to the grocery store or something?  No.  We usually wear whatever is around and cheap.  In our every-day life, we don't need to worry about chills.  "If you are cold, get a sweatshirt from your room."  But when I can get it cheap, I snatch up.  We do go camping, hiking and otherwise adventuring when we can.  And we do make all-day trips to Town that involve in & out of buildings and vehicles and treks across the parking lot.  Clothing that wicks and dries is great for those outings!

Eventually, I will blog about how we pack for all of us for extended trips and then you will see again how handy these fibers can be.  But that's another post for another day... or two.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Do You Use for Curriculum to Teach Them Reading?

noun |ˈrēdi ng |
the action or skill of reading written or printed matter silently or aloud 
New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

In my lifetime, text has changed in its presentation.  I know how to use a card catalog in a library.  I filled out worksheets that were produced on a mimeograph machine.

Now I'm blogging.  I haven't seen a card catalog for years & years. (Though I would be hugely tempted to buy one of those cool, long-drawered cabinets if I ever found one.)  My two year old uses my printer and makes copies of coloring pages for herself for coloring practice.

But the text hasn't really changed. 

Reading is the core of my education program through high school graduation.  Reading is the way most adults in America learn today.  It's in everything from advertising and warning signs to research articles. 

I have two tools that I really want to have to teach reading to my children.  Again, I've done it enough now that I think I could probably teach someone to read without these tools but, given the chance, these are my tools of choice for teaching children.

This is my original copy of this paperback book.  Still in very usable condition for the rest of the crew here!
I started using Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons with our first child and really have used nothing else.  So, call me "Biased."  I am.  I like it.  I no longer follow it word for word and we've switched to a style of handwriting different than it advises.  It's been an enjoyable tool to use for all of us - with the usual specializations that you have for each student style.  And it segues into my next reading tool.

Our original book had a comb binding. After use with 6 kids, we transferred it to a 3 ring binder in plastic sheet protectors. Good for many more!
Alpha-Phonics is designed to be a stand-alone reading instruction tool for all ages.  (Since I am teaching my children, I prefer to use 100 Easy at the start.)  Beginning with a review of basic short-vowel sounds, it progresses through lessons to complex consonant and consonant/vowel combinations.  

Near the end of the lesson series, my student is reading these words.
These materials are non-consumable.  You provide your own stick & dirt floor or paper & pen.  It makes them more than re-useable.  It makes them a gift you can give to another person to teach more readers.  It just keeps going and going!

Since it is my blog and my list, I'm going to add to my tool kit.  

If I got to have more than just the above tools to teach reading, I would choose two book series.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a series of books.  Most US public high school graduates (at least in the Midwest) know of her children's books.  Conveniently, the books are not only written in chronological order, they are also written in increasingly difficult reading levels.  We read the books in this order:
  • Little House in the Big Woods
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Farmer Boy
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake
  • The Long Winter
  • Little Town on the Prairie
  • These Happy Golden Years
  • The First Four Years
  • West from Home
  • On the Way Home

C. S. Lewis wrote a series as well.  The reading order of The Chronicles of Narnia has a bit of variation depending on who you ask but the books are a great example of good writing form and sentence structure.  They are prattle-free and that is always a good thing.

If you can't find either of these series in full at your USA/local library, complain bitterly.

After my children complete 100 Easy followed by Alpha-Phonics, they go right to reading 30 minutes per day.  At first, the new reader will read aloud to me for 30 minutes (or whatever is tolerable for them) from Little House in the Big Woods.  Once things are going smoothly, I distribute the listening portion of the job among the other readers in the house.  This way the reader has a variety of listeners and we listeners have a way to share the load.  (Listening to a new reader for 30 minutes is sometimes a looong job.)

Editor's note: Though I haven't had the opportunity yet, I would like to teach adults who want to learn to read as well.  I would not use 100 Easy Lessons directly with them as it's clearly targeting children.  BUT I would use it's methods and make my own similar method using Alpha-Phonics as the foundational material. I am THAT convinced of the effectiveness and thorough content. (And I know lots of adults that could use the insight on number interaction found in Math-It.  It was great for me!)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What Do You Use for Curriculum to Teach Them Math?

Teaching children calls for a variety of things.  The LEAST important of those things is a good tool.  It's possible to teach with lousy tools.   At the stage I'm at, I am convinced that I could teach things like reading, writing, and math with a stick and a dirt floor.  Give me a lot of smooth river rocks, a sharpie marker or two and a stack of 3x5 cards and I would call it "Slick!"

A good tool is just really, really nice.

noun |əˈriθməˌtik|
the branch of mathematics dealing with the properties and manipulation of numbers 
New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Learning about numbers is a thing that you introduce in just everyday activities. You can count to your children.  Toes, cars, windows, and grapes are all good.  I've counted scabs, bandaids, holes in jeans, and duct tape patches, too.  They all work.  It all counts (silly puns run in my family) toward immersion in the concepts of math skills.

After the basics of planned conversation, I have a favorite tool. 
Be careful where you leave Mom's Math-It Timer Plate.  It will cost you $12 to replace it! YIKES!
Math-It, by Elmer W. Brooks, has been my foundational math tool.  I use the solitaire-style games and the guidebook to teach everything through long division with decimals and rounding.

Editor's note:  Mr. Brooks doesn't have a site where he sells his stuff.  You should be able to find these materials by searching for them by name and author.

Our children make their own practice sheets by using these 3x5 recipe cards, ...
... some ten-sided dice (see below),
... their own paper and pencil,

... and some simple directions for use.  I've already taught them how to do the math with the Math-It program's ideas. 
When my students are finished with me & Math-It, they are usually seven or eight years old and enter....

Go ahead.   Guess.

With just these simple materials, what is their arithmetic mastery?

These are the 10 sided dice we use with the cards above.  You get them at your local Gaming or Role Playing Gaming store.  Because you like to shop locally.  It's better for your community.  But you are supposed to be guessing what my kids enter after using these tools.

When my students are finished with me & Math-It, they enter Fifth Grade math materials.


Yup.  I am their one-on-one tutor as needed but I don't need to provide instruction for them.

But Sarah, you are just a natural at math skills!  I can't do that!  Oh, for Petey's sake!  Before I used this with my first student, I added on my fingers - I kid you NOT!  I could not multiply in my head without first counting on my fingers.  I learned my arithmetic skills along with my children and can pass them on now!  I was driven to learn and turned that into an ability.