Thursday, January 23, 2020

Only good rewriting

Right now the children are preparing scripts/stories and puppets to retell a fairytale with our shadow box puppet theater. Their final projects should be fun, so stay tuned for that.

Today, with permission, I wanted to share Miriam's first draft as well as the final copy of her story. She originally wrote a rather bland retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, so I challenged her to think of a spin to put on it. We've been talking about Iran a lot, so she decided to move Little Red from the forest of western Europe to the mountains of Iran. She was rather excited to do her first rewrite, but felt a little possessive of it when I edited that version. There were some tears when I gave her my feedback but I reassured her that it was good and because it was good I wanted more of the goodness, so we were trimming away the parts that weren't great and were making great what was already good.

With that knowledge under her belt she went ahead and made some wonderful rewrites.

Here is her first draft:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Picture perfect

Phone cameras have come a long way the past few years. Mine is good enough now that I've finally started leaving the house without my trusty camera in tow. It's nice not lugging it around and I can still capture the moments I want to capture while I'm out and about. Still, I'm never satisfied with the quality of my phone pictures. Usually this doesn't matter much but sometimes...

Sometimes I capture a shot that's just about perfect.

The lighting is perfect, the composition is great, there's movement yet the image is fairly crisp...but the darn thing was taken on my phone so it's a grainy and gross.

And then I find myself wishing I had brought my camera along.

But I also know that as "bad" as it is to have your phone out while your kids are playing, it's much easier to snap a picture with my phone and shove it into my back pocket and return to playing with my kids than it is to take a picture with my big(ger) camera(s), store said camera properly in its case, and then either put the case some place safe (in the stroller or back into the car) or have it slapping around on its strap (which makes playing cumbersome).

I suppose there are pros and cons to both, but this shot was definitely a win.

Language and libraries

I'm certainly glad I decided to order The Secret World of Og because Zoë has found it absolutely riveting so far. She begs for it every night, she sits transfixed while I read (unless she's too wound up from explaining all her theories about the people of Og), and she's fully convinced she can speak Og fluently (which isn't terribly difficult considering their entire language consists of a single word: og). At any rate, she's absolutely loving it.

During reading lessons today, we came across the word "bag," and Zoë was very bothered because in the system she's learning, each vowel sound is written a different way and she felt they used the wrong vowel symbol on the word.

/ā/ is a long a, as in the word bake (and which is technically a dipthong //eɪ//), whereas /a/ is a short a, as in the word back. This way the child can see visually which sound to put in any given word.

The issue Zoë had was that the book had /bag/ and she passionately disagreed with this.

"That's not how you say the word!" she said. "I want to say it the way you say it, so they need to put the line on top of the a—/bāg/!"

Georgia...the state

When I was a young teenager (or perhaps not even quite a teenager) my friend's older brother got married and I remember that at their wedding reception (an affair that's quite long and personalized compared to what I've seen in the United States, usually with a program honouring the couple, with speeches and musical numbers and so forth (granted, I've really only been to LDS weddings/receptions, which tend to be rather the states...but in Canada everyone did a big thing with a formal program)) that Georgia was telling their love story and she said that when they met (at a church dance) she said, "I'm Georgia," because that was her name. And then she explained her name because that's something she often found herself doing, "Like Georgia the state, or Georgia the country," she said. And he said, "I'm Malan, like 'mail in a letter,'" without missing a beat and she thought that was hilarious. Granted, he probably had a lot of practice explaining his name since his is, arguably, more unique than hers.

When we announced we were moving to Georgia a lot of people asked us whether we were moving to Georgia the state or Georgia the country—and with good reason, I suppose, even though we've been back in the United States for nearly a decade now. I'm not really sure how things happened that way because I certainly never intended them to be that way. But, here we are. In Georgia. The state.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Video calls

We've struggled to connect with Grandpa the past few weeks (everyone changes church schedules so our previous video call habits have to change as well and it can take some time to fall into a good pattern) so the kids were rather excited when he called last night during dinner. 

They all raced to huddle around Andrew so that they could see Grandpa:

They're a cute little bunch and I'm so grateful for the technology that allows us to stay connected with our families even though we're so far away. I'm grateful my kids get to see their grandparents when they talk to them, rather than having them being a mystery voice on the other end of a phone call (as they were for me when I was growing up).

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Messy, messy, messy

Sometimes the little people who come traipsing through our house are a little judgmental of all the chaos going down up in here. Not usually the ones who come from families with 4+ children but certainly the ones who come from family with 2 or fewer children. And I get it. We're a bit of a mess.

To be fair, when Zoë had gone for a playdate at her friend's house last week she asked her mom whose job it was to sweep the floor...because that person had clearly not done their job in a while. But the mom just laughed it off because she's spent quite a bit of time at our house and knew that sometimes (or always) our floor sweepers slack off as well.

Anyway, this one particular friend always has a comment about something. He'll walk inside and say, "Wow! My mom only lets me have one pair of shoes out at a time! Y'all have so many shoes out!"

And I'll say, "Well, we haven't gotten around to tidying the entry way yet today. Take your shoes off and go on down to the basement."

And then I'll tally up the number of shoes out and realize that we basically also have one pair of shoes out per just happens to look like a billion shoes to him (sometimes it feels like a billion shoes to me, too (and sometimes it probably legitimately is a billion pairs of shoes)).

One day he happened to stumble through our front door on a Saturday morning when the kids were having a highly motivated day and were right in the middle of their Saturday chores (because we do sometimes clean up our messes).

"Whoa!" he said, standing in the clean entry way, looking at all the clean rooms around him. "Y'all do clean your house! It looks very nice!"

"Thanks," I said.

He's basically hilarious.

Spreading his wings

I promise I will stop talking about Alexander's nursery saga soon because, for the most part, it's basically over. Today I opened the door to the nursery, said, "Have a good time, bud," and he said, "Okay, Mom. Bye!" and walked on in.

Our primary has a rather strict policy about parents picking their children up after primary, at least for the younger half the primary. This is an unfortunate policy for our family because, well, I never remember to pick up my kids. Good thing they'll also release the kids to an older sibling...which I figured was limited to much older siblings (but apparently I was wrong).

When Sunday school let out, Andrew headed off to get his choir materials which left me to pick up Zoë and Alexander. But the primary room and the nursery room are in opposite directions so I decided I would pick Alexander up first and then I'd go pick up Zoë (who would likely by then have been picked up by one of her older siblings).

But when I got to the foyer by the nursery hallway, Zoë and Alexander were standing there. They were happy as could be, showing off their papers to each other and giving each other hug after hug and being ridiculously cute.

"Who picked you up?" I asked.

"I did!" Zoë said.

"You picked up Alexander?" I asked.



"I just opened the door and said, 'I'm here for Alex,' and they gave him to me!"

"Huh. But who picked you up?"

"What do you mean?"

"What do you mean what do I mean? I mean you're supposed to stay in the primary room until someone picks you up!"

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Matchy kids

This morning when they heard we'd be making a trip to the park the kids were all very excited. Benjamin was so excited that he got right down to business on his math work (no small miracle). Alexander was so excited that he attempted to get dressed on his own, which is always entertaining.

Today he stuck his waist through the neck hole of his t-shirt and put one leg through an arm hole and the other leg through the tummy hole.

Chaos theory

Our little neighbour boy says y'all all the time and every time he says it I find it both shocking and adorable. He is so polite and articulate—as a southern gentleman should be—and then throws in that y'all and it so adorable. I have to squeeze my lips together to keep from laughing.

Today when I tried to send him home so we could have dinner he turned the tables on me and invited Benjamin to accompany him to dinner at his house.

"Y'all can come have dinner at my house!" he said. "Ask if y'all can have dinner at my house!"

"Are you sure it's alright with your parents?" Benjamin asked, knowing full well that his little friend had not been home to check on the matter.

"Oh, sure!" his friend said. "It's okay with them if it's okay with y'all's parents! You're not allergic to pizza, are you?"

I had to really work to stifle my laughter after that remark. In the end, both Benjamin and Zoë raced up the street to see if they could share a pizza dinner at their friend(s)' house (this friend has a little sister Zoë's age) because, said Zoë, "he said y'all, Mom, so I'm invited, too!"

As soon as they left I rushed to find my phone in order to text this little boy's parents.

"My kids are on their way to your house. They are under the impression they are invited for dinner. If this is alright without, it's alright with me. If it's an imposition, send them on back!"

The kids were all so excited that they got their little pizza party and they had a fabulous time from what I hear. They raced home together—in the dark!—thrilled by their taste of independence and happy to have missed out on leftover night, which is what we'd done at home.

So our dinner tonight was unusually quiet, just me, Andrew, Rachel, Miriam, and Alexander.

"Phew!" I said. "Three kids is easy!"

Everyone agreed.

After dinner we cleaned up in half the time, with half the whining, and then sat down to play a round of "hand and foot" while the baby did some puzzles by himself (...on an iPad app, but it still counts as puzzle time, right?). It was an insanely peaceful evening, but we were happy to have our little chaos agents home.

They really had quite the busy day, those two! We managed—somehow—to sandwich all our schoolwork between various social engagements. We hit up playgroup at the park (mostly for Alexander and Zoë), which ended with us breaking from the group of sane, well-behaved preschoolers (my children were not in this group; my children were running around using garbage can lids as shields and being altogether wild) to take a chilly stroll down to look at the chilly river. But of course my kids hopped right in!

They had just been looking at the water but then I took my eyes off them for a split second as I leaned the diaper bag up against a tree and...

Friday, January 17, 2020

A new family alphabet

As if I didn't have enough projects to work on this week, Shutterfly sent me a "free book" promotion. Y'all know I can't say no those things, right?! I feel like I just finished one (I just checked and I did—I ordered it on December 30!) but I went ahead and made up another one because we enjoy having them around.

Luckily, Miriam and I had begun brainstorming a new idea for a Shutterfly book before I'd even finished the last one. My very first Shutterfly book (this is beginning to sound like an advertisement, but it's not) was an ABC book of my kids for my kids, but it's woefully outdated (Alexander and Zoë aren't even featured (because they weren't even thought of when I made it)), so they've been wanting me to make an updated alphabet book. But thinking up a new alphabet sounded hard.

Plus we were silly and ended up with an Alexander and an Andrew and a Miriam and a Mommy so I didn't really know where to put everybody. If I put Andrew under D for Daddy, it would be weird to put myself under N for Nancy, wouldn't it?

I've been told I overthink these things.

But whatever.

Because I was dragging my feet on the project, Miriam went ahead and made up a new family alphabet, which she put on the bookshelf beside our ABC book. So I pulled that out a couple of days ago and Miriam and I have spent quite a bit of time revising the items on her list, picking out pictures, and laying out pages. And we're finally finished!

I won't share the whole book here, but I will share the poem because sometimes I'm a little vain and think what I write is terribly clever, so clever that perhaps someone else will think it's entertaining, touching, witty, or valuable in some way.

First of all, you should know that the title of the book is Heflabet: A Heiss Family Alphabet.

Because what do you get when you cross the Heiss family with the alphabet? A real party!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Not-so-super Sleepers

The other night Zoë was yelling from her room, with great disgust, "No! Rachel! Stop it!" before tapering off into incomprehensible mumblings.

Eerily enough, in the morning, Miriam disclosed to me that Rachel had been yelling at Zoë in her sleep. "Cut it out, Zoë..." she grunted.

Too funny, these kids!

Late on Monday evening, I heard a bunch of noise downstairs, but Andrew was down there so I didn't think to check it out. Besides, I was being held hostage in Alexander's doorway, waiting for him to fall asleep for the second time that evening.

Andrew, likewise, figured it was me puttering around...until he went to see what I was up to and noticed some odd evidence left behind.

He padded up the stairs and when he saw where I was—lying in Alexander's doorway reading a book—he whispered, "Did you get yourself a bowl of cereal?"

"No," I said. "I've just been here."

"Weird," he said. "Someone got a bowl of cereal. I thought it was you making all that noise."

"Huh. I thought it was you."

Alexander was just about out at this point so I slithered away from his room and followed Andrew downstairs. There was a box of cereal on the table along with a container of almond milk—as well as the little plastic milk from opening the milk for the first time (so this person had been super dedicated and had gone out to the garage fridge to fetch a new carton of milk)—on the table. They'd also spilled—and left—a bit of milk.

There was a bowl and a spoon in the sink.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Super sleeper

When I was growing up I had a couple Berenstain Bear books (and always wished we had more), one of which was Read, Set, Go! I can still quote the opening lines: "Hooray! Hooray!" their friends all say. "The bears' olympics start today!"

Once inside the story the Berenstain Bears compete to see which bear is the best at a number of different things: running, jumping, I can't remember what else. Then they get awards for who was good, better, best or fast, faster, fastest. Poor Papa can't outdo the cubs in anything until, at the end of the book—spoiler alert—he takes an epic nap that wins him first place in sleeping.

Well, it's a new year, obviously, so we've all been working on our goals over here, trying to figure out how to be healthier, kinder, smarter, better people. To that end, Andrew decided to get a FitBit.

I tried one years ago but didn't like how it fit and quickly returned it because I knew I wouldn't be able to stand having something like that on my wrist. But Andrew was once a watch wearer and seems to be comfortable with having something on his wrist again even after so many years of not having a watch (it broke when Rachel was tiny and we tried to fix it but failed and he's been without a watch since then).

Besides tracking his activity in general, and buzzing angrily at him if he's been too sedentary any given hour of the day, it claims to track his sleep patterns. Obviously all measurements must be taken with a grain of salt, but the data has been fun to look at. And it's really proving that our own Papa Bear is a champion sleeper (something we've long suspected).

His record, in case you're wondering, is crashing from "awake" to "deep sleep" in...30 seconds!


I dropped Alexander off at nursery on Sunday and for the first time ever he didn't put up much of a fight. He's been a very big talker lately, when it comes to going to nursery.

"And we play toys! And we have snack! And we blow bubbles! And we have singing time! I love nursery!" he's been known to boast. Of course, he'd never actually stayed in nursery by himself, but ever so slowly (over the past nine months) he's been learning that nursery is alright.

Last week was a huge turning point, when I left him for a full half hour and he didn't (hardly) cry.

This week I went into the room with him and he said, "Mom, tan oo 'tay?"

"I can't stay, remember?" I said. "I have to go to Rachel's class this week."

To my surprise he said, "Okay. Bye!" and then ran over to his favourite nursery leader, who was beckoning him over to see all the little puppets she had. 

It was a truly bizarre moment in my life. 

I was like, "Oh. Okay. I guess I'll just go...? then. Like. Okay. Bye." 

I didn't really know how to leave him, like...

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Extraordinarily ordinary

I'm starting to feel better about things. Not great because I still have to organize my manuscript, but better because I still have several months to do so. But as I'm re-reading my poems I'm realizing that they aren't terrible. They might not be great and are by no means phenomenal, but they're good.

Ever so slowly, I've been reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. A piece of hers from this book was shared in the writing class I took last year and I liked it so much I decided to get the book and read the whole thing. Some of the advice has been helpful, some has been less helpful, but that's just how advice is—you just take what you need, right?

Well, I put this book down quite a while ago and it got lost on my desk under a pile of books. My desk could probably be described as a "chaotic good." The only clear space is where my keyboard sits (and even that is covered with my keyboard). I have seven books on my desk (including one book of family history), an embroidery hoop (from making Andrew's Christmas present), a packet of stickers (for potty training purposes), a clipboard (which doubles as my homeschool planner), a little dress that needs to be mended, various artwork by my children, notes to myself, records from our last doctor visits, my camera (and its case), a CD and cassette tape (from my grade four teacher), an envelope full of old envelopes (acting as a "list" of people who sent us Christmas cards)...and so on.

Nothing bad is on there. It's just...definitely not lawfully good.

My nightstand looks similarly. There are four books over there.

And two at my reading/nursing chair.

There's one in the hallway by Alexander's room (so I can read it on the floor while he falls asleep), and one by Zoë and Benjamin's door (our read-aloud novel).

Then there are books downstairs...

Friday, January 10, 2020

Getting dressed

Speaking of vulnerability, here's Alexander who tried to put his pants on by himself today and is now wondering what to do with that second pant leg (since he managed to stuff both his legs into a single hole):

Sometimes you just gotta try stuff.


I've had a "book deal" for ten days now and I haven't quite managed to celebrate that because instead of feeling happy, I feel gripped with anxiety. I mean, I did feel happy, I think, though perhaps shocked is a better word for it. I got the email while we were in downtown Atlanta at the playground outside of the MLK museum and I just walked over to Andrew with my phone to show him what the email said. So he hugged me and congratulated me, while I just felt dazed.

Poetry is weird.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

A boy in green pyjamas: staring out the window for a year

On December 6, 2018, Alexander couldn't yet walk but he could climb and he managed to get onto the fireplace ledge so that he could stare out the window and daydream. I captured this photo of him, which isn't anything particular but which, for some reason or other, comes to mind whenever I catch Alexander staring out the window (which he has ample opportunity to do in this house). 

Alexander, December 2018

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Playground and books

We went to the park this afternoon at a time I felt was getting rather too late, but it turned out to be a great time to go! There were so many other children at the park; my kids had a blast! I hardly saw Zoë and Benjamin—they were off making friends and playing make-believe. They didn't want to leave when it was time to go and came home filthy and tired. It was perfect!

Miriam and Alexander hung around with me a little more. There weren't many older kids there (or any, really) for Miriam to play with and Alexander is only brave enough for fleeting encounters with other children before he runs back to find me again. It's not that he's unfriendly. In fact, he's very friendly and called everyone there "my friend." 

"My friends are playing, Mom! Look! Look at my friend on the monkey bars! Look at my friend on the swing! Look at my friend on the slide! Look at all my friends! I have so many friends today!"

He even ran over to a little "ice cream shop" that a little boy was working, and gave him a handful of wood chip money in exchange for a wood chip ice cream cone (but he ran away before the other little boy could give it to him, so the next time he went up to the counter with a handful of wood chip money the other little boy just chucked the wood chip ice cream cone at him and Alexander was very upset that "my friend throwed things at me" and I had to brush off his jacked for him). Mostly, though, he just hung around me and asked me to watch him do things and to catch him on the slide and to push him on the swing and so forth. 

Miriam also did her fair share of asking me to watch her do things:

Homeschool ramblings

I knew it would be a struggle for Benjamin to maintain his focus while studying and, indeed, it has been a struggle. Perhaps it's self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps he only struggles because I expect him to struggle. I don't know. All I know is that there are days when getting him to focus on his work is a real battle. 

On those days (like, oh, yesterday) I feel like throwing in the towel, but then I think about how I had these very same battles with him over homework when he was in public school (and they were every bit as passionate (or dispassionate, depending on how you look at it) as they are now). And so I convince myself to continue the slog. But I can't stop wondering how to light that fire of desire within him? How do I fuel his curiosity? How do I get him to want to learn what he needs to learn?

(And certainly there are debates about what a child needs to learn (there's the unschooling method of simply letting the child direct what topics they'd like to learn, for example), but I'm a little unyielding about my children learning the basic building blocks of education—basic math, reading, writing, and so forth—so I'm afraid that with me as their educator they're just gonna have to buckle down and do their math every day for the foreseeable future (sorry (not sorry) kiddos).)

Anyway, after such a terrible day yesterday I tried really hard to come up with some content that Benjamin would enjoy today and it's possible it worked—or at the very least sparked something.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Impromptu inuksuks

Today was our first official day back at the grindstone, which made for all sorts of chaos with it being Monday and an orchestra day at that. I think we managed to get our work done. I honestly haven't even looked at my lesson plan or clipboard to see if we did what I set out to do, but we were certainly working hard all day...or at least most of the day. We did take a break at the playground on our way home from orchestra.

Here's Zoë, a little monkey after my own heart:

Monday, January 06, 2020

In which Alexander (maybe) conquers his fear of nursery

"Will you stay?" he begged on the way to nursery.

"Oh, I'll stay for a while," I told him, and this was fine since there was only one nursery leader there for the time being. The nursery felt rather empty since all the three-year-olds have been booted out (they're Sunbeams in primary now, which means that suddenly Zoë is not a Sunbeam) and Alexander seemed to enjoy the more peaceful, less populous, atmosphere.

Still every few minutes he turned to me to say, "Will you stay? Stay here, Mommy. Stay."

"I will stay for a bit," I told him.

At one point he even left me of his own free will! He saw another little boy climb onto a teeter-totter and ran over to join him. They sang "Up and down! Up and down!" together for a few minutes before going their separate ways.

Happy New Year

We've had a handful of days in 2020 and it seems to be going well so far—of course, we've yet to really get back to business and perhaps that's why it's seeming so lovely (I mean, besides some wacky politics and insane wildfires and that sort of thing). We rang in the New Year pretty simply: games and sparklers, some sparkling cider, an early countdown for the little kids, more games, an an official countdown for the big kids, some more cider, and a romp outside banging pots and pans.


Thursday, January 02, 2020


It's been pouring rain all day so I declared it a day of school (because, as the sole administrator of this outfit, I can do that). I suppose I could have left the children to their own devices for another day, but they've had a lot of that this break and, frankly, haven't been using their time wisely. Now, I don't care about them wasting time (I'm not sure I believe time can be wasted because even if you're doing nothing you're still doing something); I care about them using their time to pick fights with each other (which they've been doing a lot of). So this morning we had our first day back to school (and tomorrow if we feel like taking a day off we still can).

We're going to do a unit on folk stories—myths, legends, fairy tales, fables, that sort of thing—so we read some definitions of these genres and tried to draw distinctions between them. This can be hard to do because people don't really agree on the difference between a myth and a legend and a fairy tale; one book said a fairy tale must be so old that we cannot know the true source of the story, but then we have Hans Christen Andersen, J.R.R. Tolkien, and L. Frank Baum, all of whom have helped solidify fairy tales for our generation, so clearly a fairy tale can have a known author; perhaps, then, it is the magic in them that makes them fairy tales. Or at least the magical, supernatural elements that we don't believe are true (because otherwise they wouldn't be fairy tales; they'd be myths)). It all gets a little complicated because no two sources that we looked at truly agreed upon a definition (and that's fine because life is murky).

We read This Fable Is Intended For You by by Hans Christen Andersen, to discuss fables (where animals star in the story instead of humans (because then it would likely be a parable) and we get to imagine ourselves in their place) and the introduction L. Frank Baum wrote in The Wizard of Oz, where he purports to have left the nightmarish violence out of his tale (though I'm not sure my young children would agree with that—those flying monkeys are terrifying) since morality is included in children's education these days so they don't need tales to frighten them into being good.

I guess.