Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Thankful tree 2019

So, I did it! I painted a tree on my wall and it went just fine. It's not quite symmetrical, which is fine because I meant for it to be asymmetrical but I'm afraid it's not quite asymmetrical enough, but that's okay. Sometimes when I make an attempt at representing something found in nature—be it a flower, a cloud, a sunset, or whatever—I always think that I didn't do a very good job, that it doesn't actually look like that. But on the other hand, sometimes I look at nature and think to myself, "See? Clouds can look like that! And would you look at this really weird twig!" and I know that pretty much anything I could draw or imagine probably already exists in nature (because nature's just that crazy). There's a high probability that a tree that's ever-so-slightly asymmetrical as this one exists somewhere in the world today (and that's good enough for me):


We've been slow about putting leaves on this year. It's been an exhausting semester. But we're slowly filling it up with things we're thankful for. and it's fun to have it be so big and bold on our wall!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day

Orchestra days are always a little chaotic, simply because it eats up such a large chunk of time from the middle of our day. We try to use that time effectively (read in the car! do math while we wait!) but it always ends up feeling like we don't quite get everything done. Today especially I felt pressed for time because in addition to orchestra I decided we should finally get around to doing a poppy craft.

We've more or less moved on from WWII (more because we have moved on to WWI (because why not do history backwards) and less because we just finished reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and it turns out that the author took quite a few artistic liberties with this story that has forever been touted as historical, so we ordered a book authored by Sadako's brother to round out the matter in our minds (spoiler: Sadako totally managed to make 1000 cranes before she died)), so I decided that since Remembrance Day was coming up we should study WWI for a while.

The kids have been working on memorizing In Flanders Fields (which Benjamin wishes could be just a little bit happier in tone, but I was like, "No, dude. War is definitely this gloomy, so...sorry") and today we made some plastic canvas/needlepoint poppies to wear. It was certainly an exercise in patience for the kids (and for me as well, if we're being honest, since I was trying to guide the two older ones through their projects while allowing Zoë to pull the needle through the one I was working on, and kept having to stop to help everyone fix their mistakes), but be we made it through it!

First I had them enlarge the pattern—which, incidentally was an 11x11 square—on graph paper, so that totally counts as math (though we still did our regularly scheduled Singapore math as well). We talked about lines of symmetry and so forth. And then I let them loose with yarn and needles. They needed a ton of help when we first started out but by the time we were finishing up they were rethreading their needles like champions.

We ended up with five poppies: one made by Benjamin, one made by Miriam, and three made by me (with Zoë and Alexander taking turns pulling the needle through whenever they they could convince me they should have a turn).

Here they are wearing them just before I called them to attention for our moment of silence:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Primary program 2019

Today was the children's primary sacrament meeting presentation, so our pew was abnormally quiet since only Rachel and Alexander were sitting with us. The other three were up on the stand ready to sing and say their lines.

We have such terrible memories these days that we couldn't quite remember who had participated in last year's primary program. We know that we went—it was the Sunday after Karen had died, so we were all pretty much a mess, which is probably why we couldn't remember much about it.

Rachel was sure that she had been sitting with us. I was almost positive that we only had Alexander with us. It took quite a bit of whispering for us to get it all figured out.

Last year Rachel, Miriam, and Benjamin participated in the primary program (leaving Zoë and Alexander to sit in the audience). Then in January, Rachel graduated from primary to the young women's program, so this is her first year not participating in the program. Also, Zoë graduated from nursery into Sunbeams so this was her first year participating in the program. I think Rachel cut some sort of wild deal with the primary last year and if she participated in a small singing group she wouldn't have to say a line (and it surprised me that she would pick singing over speaking, but there you have it).

So, that was last year.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Good grief

Well, we made it through an entire year.

I don't really know what to say about it except that we're on the other side of it. It was hard at times and beautiful at others, and...we did it! And because we did it—because we survived (as people are wont to do in universal (but, oh, so difficult) situations like this)—today felt a bit like a sigh. Like an exhale. As if we'd been holding our breath for a year just to see if we could do it—and we could! And we did! And now we know we can keep going.

I was thinking about Karen a lot at Halloween, and maybe I sat on my steps and had a brief cry (while I ate some candy) while no trick-or-treaters were coming, thinking about how this was the very last first holiday to get through without her—the very first time she wouldn't ask to see pictures of the kids in their costumes.

But somehow we got through that last first and entered the first week of remembering Karen's last.

That was hard, too, but not in the way I expected.

Even now as I type, I'm feeling teary. But I don't feel broken. I'm sad because I miss her and I feel, in a sense, that we're missing out on her, but also I know that she's not missing out on us. I tried earlier to put this feeling into words and I'm not sure I quite nailed it (but that's alright because Grandpa tried to put it into words as well and it took him 32 pages or something like that).

Andrew stopped for doughnuts when he was out grocery shopping today and when he brought them in the kids were excited but confused—except for Rachel who knew what today was.

"Ooh! Doughnuts!" Miriam squealed. "Why'd you get doughnuts?"

"Because a year ago today Grandpa took us out for doughnuts," Rachel recalled correctly.

"Oh, that's right! We went to Cowboy Donuts and got doughnuts because..." said Miriam, and then she fell somber. "Oh."

But, really, everyone was happy to have an excuse for a doughnut (thanks, Grandma) and we realized that we honestly don't feel that sad anymore. We feel...changed...but not really sad (though moments of grief are still unavoidable—the "Ball in the Box" analogy explains why this is so quite well and we've been coming back to it time and again over the past year).

Here we are with this year's doughnuts, feeling much more genuinely normal than last year (when we were feeling somewhat devastated):


But the humidity...

My mom just texted me to let me know that right now Patrick, in Missouri, is the coldest at 32°F. We're next here in Georgia at 40°F (though we are under a freeze warning so it might dip a little bit more). David in BC is at 41°F. Abra in Alberta is at 42°F. And those Utah people are at toasty 43°F.

But, you're likely saying to yourself, the humidity!

I hear this a lot and it drives me somewhat crazy. "It's a wet cold; it cuts right through your jacket!" or "It's a dry heat so it's not so bad."

Does humidity affect how we feel temperatures? Absolutely, but that isn't to say that any cold, humid temperature feels colder than any cold, dry temperature. As an example, a certain southerner I was talking with mentioned going outside—in the mountains, in Alberta, in December, wearing swim trunks, dripping wet—but that they "didn't feel the cold" because they're from Georgia and they're so used to a "humid cold" that the "dry cold" didn't bother them in the slightest.

Hogwash.

Here's why: scientists already calculate the "feels like" temperature for us, factoring in things like wind chill or and the heat index (which, like the humidex in Canada, considers humidity).

Friday, November 08, 2019

Sick day

I finally gave in and got the cold everyone else has been passing around and...it's rather miserable. So today was a homeschool lite day. We finished listening to Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, which I could only access as a book on CD. I probably would have stretched it into next week if I'd been feeling up to doing more but the kids wanted to keep listening, so I was like...sweet.

I had already planned for them to do some review on Khan Academy and play some online math games for practice, but they really wanted to work on their coursework (Miriam asked if she could spend her bedtime reading time finishing up her first textbook last night instead of reading, so she was excited to start in her fresh textbook this morning and Benjamin is coming close to finishing his first textbook as well so he wanted to go further). So I let them do that. And we played some math games.

Then Benjamin wanted to watch a Bill Nye movie he'd chosen from the library (on architecture), so we did that and then the kids all went down to the basement and got out the trains and blocks and lego and built an metropolis spanning the entire basement while I took a nap. Science rules.

When I woke up we had (a rather late) lunch and then the kids disappeared into the basement again and I had to coax them out to do their real science work. We're on lifecycles right now and we've covered reptiles, amphibians, and fish, so Benjamin is doing a report on salamanders (which I've only ever known as relatively small creatures—the mudpuppies at Sunshine Lake were the biggest kind of salamander I've ever come across—but he learned there are giant (monstrous, really) salamanders in Asia (like as big as people, which is crazy). Miriam chose angler fish, which have some crazy mating habits (the males of most species of angler fish are unable to survive on their own so they simply bite into a female and release a hormone that dissolves the flesh of their mouth as well as where they bit the female and then they fuse together at the circulatory system and all his organs eventually dissolve, save his testes, and he just...lives on the female for the rest of his life, taking nourishment from her bloodstream and constantly inseminating her and...nature is terrifying).

Aside from some recreational reading (which, of course, involved history books for Benjamin), that was pretty much our day. Here's hoping I kick this sickness to the curb sooner rather than later!


Thursday, November 07, 2019

Olly Olly Oxen Free!

While Alexander still wakes up to find me in the middle of the night I finally have him more or less convinced that he's not getting any milk, so he'll just climb into bed with us and settle back to sleep (which has been a glorious transition). In the morning, however, he's all, "MY NEED MILK! MY NEED MILK! MY NEED MILK!" so we're not quite weaned yet.

And thus this morning, like every other morning, found me, nursing Alexander in bed. Zoë came in and flipped on the light and used the master bathroom before going back to bed. Rachel was up making her lunch for school. Andrew was in the shower. Miriam was getting breakfast.

Only Benjamin was still asleep.

We gathered for prayer on the stairs so that those still in bed (Zoë, who was awake, and Benjamin, who was asleep) could be present and determined that at some point in the course of the morning Alexander had pooped in his diaper. So after we'd said the prayer I noisily changed Alexander's diaper outside of Benjamin and Zoë's room. I chatted to Alexander, gabbing loudly about how it was time to rouse the children and get our day started.

Zoë stumbled out of the bedroom, but Benjamin did not.

"Let's go in and wake Benjamin up," I said.

"I'll do it!" his eager sisters replied in chorus.

They stormed his room, flipping on the light, and attacking his bed with the force of thirty to fifty feral hogs. Like, for real though—no one could have slept through the ruckus they were making! They even—seriously—broke a slat on the bed.

But still no Benjamin emerged from the bedroom. In fact...

A day in the park

We had to take Alexander to the doctor this morning so he could get his second flu shot. He wasn't very happy about it but he also didn't cry (again—how brave is he?!) and we found the day so beautiful that we rushed home to do our math (we'd already done our social studies) so that we could pack a picnic and head to the park.

Here's our little picnic:



Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Halloween Costumes

I already more or less wrote about our Halloween night, but let me sum up: Andrew worked late so I sent the kids out to trick-or-treat for themselves for a while before joining them because we weren't getting any trick-or-treaters out anyway. It was such a cold night (for us southerners) that the youngest few wanted nothing other than to go home (they reasoned we didn't have to go door-to-door collecting candy since we had a big ol' bucket waiting for us at home and kept saying things like, "It's almost my bedtime!" (but then, of course, they didn't want to go to bed once we got home)). The houses in our neighbourhood tend to have rather large yards so it took a lot of walking to get not much candy, not that it was a terribly difficult or unfamiliar walk (we walk around our neighborhood all the time), but I imagine it would have been nicer if we had been warmer. 

The one picture I took of the kids on Halloween

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Sew...

I'm not very good at sewing and, in fact, until this year had never used a sewing machine (at least not really; I'd tried to use my great-grandma's sewing machine but it never would work quite correctly (it probably needs more than a little tune up given that it is a relic)) but somehow or other I decided to do some sewing with my little Activity Day girls.

After learning that it would take them a full hour to sew one straight seam (by hand, but still), I decided that if we were to ever finish this project I'd better help them along a little bit.

We're making scrunchies—with a bow!—because apparently scrunchies are back in style. Most of the girls got the scrunchie part finished but not a soul had started on their bow. 

I asked my co-leader if she'd sew them up for the girls and she said she would but then some family stuff came up and she ended up being a little unaccessible the last few weeks so today I decided to sit down and do it myself.

I've been practicing my sewing skills by making cloth napkins out of old towel-things Karen had (because that was an environmental change the kids decided we could make—no more paper napkins—but, honestly, we go through a lot of napkins at the dinner table (we are messy, messy people (may we please grow out of that)) so I keep having to make more to keep our inventory ahead of our demand (and we still run out).

I'm 16 napkins in (I believe) and so by this point in time I can sew a mean straight(ish) seam. I've never turned corners or attempted a curved stitch—until today when I stitched together eight little bows for my activity day girls!

Miriam went ahead and turned hers right-side out and it doesn't look too shabby so hopefully all the others will turn out just as well. I figure that as poorly and lopsidedly sewn as they are, I probably did no worse than the girls would have done (and I did it in a fraction of the time).

So I'm basically a seamstress now, right?

DNA extraction

We've moved on from human genetics (a bit) to discuss the life cycles of plants (since that's where our textbook went next). I decided that instead of planting seeds in different environments, we'd do some DNA extraction for one of our experiments (since we have acorns sprouting (or not sprouting) all over our yard currently and since my kids know the parable of the sower, this didn't seem like a very riveting experiment to do (What?! You mean the seed left on the empty lid didn't sprout even when left in the sunny window while the see that we put into the soil, which we made sure got plenty of sun and water did sprout?! Who would have thought?!); we do, however, have an oak tree growing in our kitchen window sill (and several sprouting all over the lawn, but none sprouting on our driveway; go figure))).

Like I said, this textbook sometimes feels a little juvenile for Miriam (and sometimes even for Benjamin). 

The DNA extraction, though, was right up our alley. I'd seen this idea pop up a few times over the years and decided to pull it out now since we were studying both DNA and plants and happened to have a few pumpkins on hand. 

Weirdly, while I could find several videos (like this one) telling how to extract the DNA, none of the videos discussed why anyone would ever need to extract DNA from something. Fortunately, a quick internet search gave me plenty of reasons why (genetic modification, crime scene samplings, cloning, and so forth) so we had plenty to discuss.

After pulverizing a bit of our pumpkin in the blender (with some water to make it nice and juicy), I scooped some into baggies for each of the kids to squish and added some dish soap and salt (our washing solution). Once their pumpkin puree was thoroughly mixed with the soap and salt, we ran it through a strainer and (since I couldn't find any cheese cloth) some paper towels. 

Here we are squishing our mixture into our strainer:

Monday, November 04, 2019

DST has us all like...

Why do we do this to ourselves? We've been willingly walking into jetlag for decades...and to what end? I suppose one nice thing about it is that my children can play outside until it gets dark but we still get to eat dinner at a decent time once they're driven indoors...

Alexander was rather thrown off by things. He woke up at his usual time on Sunday morning, which meant he woke up early for the new time, and then he fell asleep halfway through sacrament meeting and didn't wake up until halfway through Sunday school. Once he was well-cuddled, we went to nursery where I sat him in a chair and walked out of the room. And—miraculously—he didn't start crying immediately. Rather he participated (silently) before getting weepy (but not unconsolably so).

He was only in there for about twenty minutes and his leaders did end up bringing him to me just a few minutes before church let out, but all in all he did a fabulous job. And he was so excited for his little handouts. His teacher makes great handouts that he plays with all week long.

Last week they got a little paper suitcase with a picture of someone praying, a picture of someone reading scriptures, and a picture of someone being baptized. This week they got a little bag with different books of scripture to put inside as well as a little sunshine on a stick.

His leader sure loves her Cricut (and he sure loves that she loves it)!

We talked a lot about how we found each other, just like Llama Llama and his mama (because mamas come back for their babies). Hopefully next week will run a little smoother than this week did and Alexander will be a little bit braver because, as I mentioned, he was a little thrown off by this new schedule that's been dictated to us.

He was so out of sorts at bedtime—so beyond ready for bed—that he bit me!

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Some fun stories about my cool kids

I don't know many Halloween songs, but when I was in nursery with Alexander last Sunday (because he still won't stay in there by himself; I actually tried leaving him but his leaders soon called me back in because they couldn't handle his...passionate...expression of separation anxiety) his music leader sang a Halloween song with the kids, so I recorded her singing it with them so that I could learn it.

It's just a short little song, but both Zoë and Alexander love it.

Here they are singing it before bed tonight (the tune is a little more...melodic...in real life, but I think Zoë did a pretty good job carrying it on her own):



Zoë sang it for Andrew the other night and when she did her big "BOO!" at the end he pretended like she'd really scared him and she started cackling. "Hahaha!" she squealed. "I scared you...with fear!"

Alexander simply sings, "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah TREE! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah ME! *silence, silence, silence* Ooo-oo! Ooo-oo! Ooo-oo! BOO!" because he's really big on syllables but not so big on enunciating sometimes, even though he can say "skeleton" and "pumpkin" and "werewolf" and all sorts of Halloween words.

Anyway, I love that we have this little song to sing with each other in October now so I'm glad Alexander's teacher was able to pass it on to us. I'm hoping he'll go into nursery easier eventually (we've only been trying for six months now). I pulled out Llama Llama Misses Mama and we've been reading it daily this week and talking a lot about how sometimes babies go to their own classes and mommas go to their own classes but that mommas always, always, always come back to pick up their babies.

We'll see how tomorrow goes.

*****

Triumph

So, once a quarter (or so), Rachel's school gives the children a recess. They don't typically have recess (or any sort of real break), even though the CDC recommends that all students K–12 be given 20 minutes of recess daily (a lot of upper-grades schools seem to be unaware of this), so these recesses are a real treat.

The recesses are "sponsored" by PBIS, which stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and which seeks to help schools establish, well, positive behaviour through incentives rather than punishments. Not that they are against punishment when it's necessary, just that people are often more motivated with positivity than with negativity. So, they're trying to get schools to use positive reinforcement methods as well as fostering connection with students.

Because that's what we're learning as a society: that connection is important.

Dependency on drugs and alcohol (for one example), and bullying behaviour (for another), can often be traced to the inability of someone to connect with anyone else. They feel alone. So if we can teach kids to have real, meaningful relationships (and if we treat them with respect rather than always throwing the book at them) a lot of future problems in their lives can be avoided.

Obviously I believe this program should be welcomed into Rachel's school with arms wide open (because it seems to me that they really struggle with this (the entire district, really)).

But that's just my opinion.

Anyway, they just had their first PBIS-sponsored "walk and talk," where they skipped out on their "connections" classes (which is just their elective course, not a core subject) and were given a snack (a bag of chips and a water bottle) and then had to walk a lap around the field before being allowed to—for once—freely associate with one another.

Rachel is pretty good at surrounding herself with good people. She walked around with some friends (acquaintances, really, since they don't get much time to foster relationships at school) and at the end of their time they decided to pick up some litter around the field (arguably a very good thing to do).

Unfortunately—and unbeknownst the vast majority of the students—a couple of students did not choose such a wholesome activity, had a little disagreement, and ended said disagreement with a physical fight.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Rules

School here continues to be...interesting. We are actually enjoying homeschool at lot more than I thought we would and Rachel is still enjoying middle school...but it's just not the experience I would have wished for her...so we're looking into alternatives for high school right now. The problem with that is that sometimes colleges don't look too kindly on homeschool transcripts, so I'm looking into ways to ensure that my kids can still get into the colleges they want (AP exams will help and we're looking into dual enrollment as well, then there's online high school, and, of course, they can get the HOPE scholarship if they score above the 75th percentile on the ACT or SAT) but we're still at the exploratory stages of everything so...who knows).

The high school handbook is online and reading it gives me the chills. Here are some excerpts:

"Students are expected to conduct themselves as mature young adults while on...camps."

Fine. Cool. Neat. Normal.

But then the normalcy devolves into this:

Tragedy

An email was sent out from Rachel's school yesterday morning informing parents that a student at her school "was killed last night" and that they had extra support staff on hand. But that was all the information they sent out, which wasn't really enough information to calm my nerves. In fact, it was just the right amount of information (ie. not enough) to pique my nerves!

There was nothing about it in the news that I (or Andrew) could find.

So we went along our days, wondering what happened, wondering how this would effect Rachel. I texted her in the morning just before school would have been in session, but she didn't answer. She did, however, text me shortly after school let out. When I heard my phone buzz I immediately ran to it to see who it was and was glad it was her.

"Our bus driver got everybody cookies!" she informed me.

"So fun!" I said. "You'll definitely have to make them a thank you card!"

And that was it until she got home.

"How was school?" I asked her at the doorway.

"Fiiiiine," she answered, suspicious of my peppy-mom routine (I might be a mother but I am not typically ver peppy; I'm more of an "Oh, you're home! What time is it even?" mom than a waiting-for-you-at-the-door-with-a-smile mom).

"Anything...weird...happen today?"

"No."

"Nothing at all. Like, you didn't hear anything about anything or..."

Friday, November 01, 2019

NaBloPoMo

Years ago I thought NaBloPoMo was a joke. Like it was hard to write a blog post every day for a month? Please. That's child's play...

So I tried my hand at NanoWrimo and discovered that I'm really not a novel-of-that-length kind of a story-weaver (and that's okay because there are books of all lengths in the world). I never did finish a NanoWrimo novel. But I got my blog posts in, by golly.

And then I had more and more and more children and I'm finding that, actually, it is difficult to write a blog post every day, so perhaps NaBloPoMo would be a good thing for me to attempt once again.

I told myself this earlier in the day.

And then Alexander took until right now (it's 11:20 PM, for the record) to fall asleep , which means I was held hostage in his doorway for hours this evening (and my phone won't log on to blogger so I can't write form my phone).

So I suppose this is my first lame post for November.

Here's to more loquacious future!