Monday, November 30, 2020

Linocut FHE

Today was quite the momentous day for our family. We finished reading the Book of Mormon—our first time ever reading it (as a family) within a single calendar year (it has forever previously always taken us two years to get through it). We'll be focusing on having a Christmas devotional every evening now, which will be nice. 

It stormed the evening of Thanksgiving, a wild thunder-and-lightning storm and I asked Andrew if he thought the southern superstition that a winter thunderstorm brings snow would hold true. He scoffed at the idea—after all, we live in Georgia now, which is farther south than North Carolina. So while that idea may have been accurate in North Carolina it was unlikely to remain true here.

"Is that claim scientific?" Benjamin asked.

"More anecdotal," I told him. "But cold fronts do frequently follow a thunder storm, which is why the anecdotal evidence exists at all, so it's also kind of scientific."

"But mostly an old wives' tale," Andrew interjected.

"Yes. But also scientific."

Now, we didn't notice the snow flurries because we were far too busy trying to make sure no one wound up with stitches to pay much attention to the weather (even though our house is abounding in windows), but I have seen several reports of snow flurries on Facebook. So it did, indeed, snow within ten days of a winter thunderstorm. 

For family night we worked on some linocuts. Miriam and Rachel finished the ones they began months ago (but left neglected once Miriam sliced her finger open). It was good for them to shake off that fear and get back up on the horse. Benjamin was ecstatic to be allowed to use the knives (he's been begging me for a pocket knife for years now). He was carving away, very proud of himself for never nicking his fingers (or the table...unlike some people I know (me; it was me)) and announced with satisfaction, "I finally feel successful at something!"

This poor child has been trying to find a real talent for years now but nothing he's tried has felt like something he could excel at—sports, music, drawing...everything is difficult for him and/or doesn't seem to turn out the way he'd like. He's been determined, though, to find a talent. And tonight he feels like he's pretty talented at making linocuts, so I'd consider tonight a success in our books.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Gratitude post 7

Last night my family got together for a game night the only way we could—virtually!

Patrick dialed in from Hawaii (4:00 his time). 

David and Abra dialed in from British Columbia—Prince George and Langley, respectively (6:00 their time).

My parents, Josie, and Kelli dialed in from Provo and Layton, Utah (7:00 their time). 

I, of course, joined in from Georgia (9:00 our time). 

I believe this occasion marks the first time we have all managed to be on a call simultaneously. I also think it's the first time we have ever played a game together as one, complete family unit. There simply haven't been many instances when we've all lived—or have even been—under the same roof. I think the last time we were all together was either my Grandma and Grandpa Layton's 50th wedding anniversary (US, 2001) or my Grandma Conrad's funeral (Canada, 2003). 

I know for sure that we were all together in 2001 (is that the last time Abra was able to make a trip down to the states?) but can't quite remember if Kelli went up to Canada for Grandma Conrad's funeral in 2003.

Okay, I looked it up the only way I could think of—by pulling out pictures of the event and, as it turns out, Kelli did manage to make the trip. So here we are in April of 2003:

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Gratitude post 6

I don't think I ever really blogged about Canadian Thanksgiving, which was way back on October 12. Our Thankful tree was busy with birthday balloons for much of October. We did manage to get a few leaves up there but we weren't as diligent about it as we had been in past years. It's hard to keep up with everything when every day feels exactly like the one before it.

Andrew cooked a beautiful Canadian Thanksgiving meal for us, though we always take a few more "shortcuts" for Canadian Thanksgiving than we do with American Thanksgiving, such as the canned green beans. We just have more time to devote to things like cooking a big meal on American Thanksgiving than we do on Canadian Thanksgiving (though to be fair that is usually also a day off). So here's our Canadian meal:

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Gratitude post 5

This evening Rachel, Miriam, Andrew and I played all four rounds of Hand and Foot in one sitting, something we've never managed before (with them...Andrew and I have played several complete games of Hand and Foot without them, usually with Reid and Karen). We ran a little past midnight and the girls were certainly getting a little loopy, but it was fun to get to spend time with them as big kids. 

At one point Andrew stopped and cocked his head as if listening (because he was, indeed, listening). 

"Ah, that's the wind," he said. "I thought it was raining."

"It is raining," we all told him.

"It's not," he said. "It was raining earlier today but it's just windy now."

"It's definitely raining," Rachel said. "Look at the deck. It's wet."

"Because it was raining all day. But it's not raining now."

"But it is raining now," I told him.

"It's just windy."

"I'll ask Alexa," Miriam offered. "Alexa—what's the weather?"

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Gratitude post 4

Yesterday Andrew thought it was Saturday all day, which explains the particularly lengthy break he took to play Nintendo with the kids in the middle of the day. Not that I'm complaining because he's been working insane hours this entire pandemic and if he wants to sit down and play Nintendo for two hours just before lunchtime on a Saturday Monday, who am I to intervene (especially when it's keeping all the kids entertained)? 

He also suggested we do a movie night with a picnic dinner, which is typically a weekend thing.

But, I mean, we're taking this week off, anyway! It's a week-long weekend for us! 

I suggested we could do a family night lesson and he was like, "We can do that on Monday," and I was like, "But..."

Newsies it is.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Gratitude post 3

Today I'm thankful for language. 

I'm thankful for the sweet baby language I've witnessed while my kids (and nieces and nephews and younger brother and sister) have grown. Language development is fascinating...and adorable. Case in point: The other day Alexander was wearing his cute penguin pyjamas which—ridiculously—have igloos on them as well. My kids have been learning a bit about the antarctic and there was a little confusion about where certain animals lived—polar bears and penguins and such; in short, they don't live together...and penguins don't belong with igloos.

These pyjamas have penguins and igloos on them in spite of that improbability, so Andrew pointed to an igloo and asked Alexander, "What's this?"

"A...doo-dit!" Alexander announced happily. 

"A what?" Andrew asked.

"A doo-dit," Alexander repeated.

"What's a doo-dit?" Andrew asked.

"Lite, when you want to tick two paper togetter. You u'e a doo-dit!"

"A glue stick?!" I asked. "When you want to stick two papers together you use a glue stick?"

"Yeah!" Alexander exclaimed. "Lite, dat's one doo-dit, but pennins live in a doo-dit, too!"

"Close," I said. "Penguins live in igloos."

It's just so fun to watch children decode language, whether it's their first or second language. 

Today I got to have a little video call with my mom and brother (and was so thankful we could use our common language to speak with each other). Alexander did a lot of the talking on this video call and my mom was impressed at how well David managed to decode Alexander's baby speech—in two different languages! When Alexander realized Aunt Ruth was speaking Spanish (to her family on a different video call in the background), he quickly announced that he could "tout in Bannih! Uno, doe, fway, twatwoh, finto, fay, fiete, nuebe, diay!" 

Uncle David realized what he was doing right away—he was touting in Bannih (counting in Spanish)! He missed ocho, but that's alright. His counting is rubbish in English as well. But we are doing our best to figure out a few things in Spanish (and German and Russian and Arabic forth). I'm grateful for the multitude of languages in the world and am grateful for the little bit I've been able to learn in the small number of languages I've attempted to learn. I'm thankful for people more fluent than me who translate things for others. 

I'm thankful for written language, how sounds and ideas can be represented on the page (or the screen) and be distributed or kept private. I'm thankful for books and literature, for people who use language beautifully—poets and authors and screenwriters and playwrights.

I'm thankful for the change to study literature and language more (and am rather thankful to have just finished the first draft of my first final paper).

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Gratitude post 2

When I was younger I couldn't ever understand why my mom didn't animals in the house. She was raised on a farm and while they occasionally had kittens (or calves) inside the house, the animals, for all intents and purposes, lived outside. Now that I'm older...I kind of get it. It would be nice to not have to worry about the way the cat kicks litter out of her litter box (though we're using pine pellets, which has been great so far (she still gets wood chips everywhere)), or the way she likes to sharpen her claws on my favourite couch (though I think I may have finally won that battle), or how loud she can be when she gets hyper and scampers around the house, or how obnoxious she is when she's in heat.

She's just ending her second heat cycle, which I'm grateful will be her last! As educational as having been, I'm pleased to announce that she'll be off for a little operation in the morning. 

We assembled some hygiene kits this afternoon and had a few washcloths leftover. Waffelles discovered this pile, snuggled right in and fell fast asleep (Benjamin tucked her in) while the rest of us worked on some new Shrinky-Dink projects (it's our newest obsession, apparently). We stuck one of the cloths into her cat carrier so that she can snuggle with it while she's riding in the car.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Gratitude post 1

Today I am grateful for challenges that have helped me mourn with those that mourn, and for the life experience of others that have helped them to mourn with me when I needed it. 

A dear friend of mine is in the hospital right now, doing all she can to stay pregnant for as long as she can. I'm so worried for her, but am so glad that she's at a good hospital (where she'll stay until the baby is born). I was grateful for the opportunity to reflect on all the help we got when Benjamin was born, most especially from the women who'd walked that difficult path before me (so don't be surprised, Crystal, if your blog stats show an increase in traffic from Kansas because I sent this sweet friend your posts about Cheetah). It's going to be a long, hard road for her sweet family, but they're amazing and will get through it just fine. 

A cousin of mine has been dealing with an aggressive form of breast cancer and a few days ago her teenage daughter took over posting on her support group. Her mom had begun saying and doing strange things, so she'd taken her to the ER, where they had to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait...because there were no beds available...because all the beds were taken with COVID patients. But finally they made room at the inn, told this sweet child that her mom was suffering from "delirium," and sent her home to rest while keeping her mother for "observation." 

I had a feeling I knew the reason for her delirium—irreversible organ failure. 

Today this young girl offered this pithy update: "My mom might not make it. That's all. Thank you."

Then a few hours later: "My mom has passed away. Thank you once again."

And I was taken back to Andrew's equally concise—yet emotionally saturated—post from two years ago: "She's gone." And I thought of all the wonderful people who sat with us, cried with us, remembered with us, and welcomed us into the messy world of grieving. There's not much I can do for this sweet, now-motherless girl. She lives so far away and I don't even really know her that well, but I wrote some words of condolence to her and hope they do something for her heart. 

I often wonder if anything I do has any sort of impact on anything (or anyone) for the better. So much of...everything...seems rather inconsequential. 

This past week I lead another (zoom) activity for my primary girls. We did a gratitude scavenger hunt where the girls went around their houses looking for things they were thankful for in each colour of the rainbow. Then we told each other what we'd found to be thankful for. One girl surprised me by producing a yellow paper heart—a note that I'd written to her this summer. I was so touched that it had actually meant something to her, even though at the time it had felt like a rather trivial thing to do. Then again, it probably felt inconsequential to her to say that she appreciated the note. 

So I guess what I'm grateful for are the moments that make us reach out to others—the moments that force us to admit that we need help, the moments that allow us to open up and share our lived experiences, the moments that allow us to reflect on the earthly angels that have influenced our lives. 

But I'm also feeling that life is so hard for so many, and I really wish it didn't have to be this hard.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Winter poems

Yesterday we read some winter poems and then tried our hand at some poetry. It...did not go well. The children wrote poems, it's true, but they were...not great. So today we read more winter poetry and talked at length about the literary devices various poets employed to write a little magic into their poetry. We brainstormed symbols of winter and practiced describing things using all of our senses. And then the children wrote poems and things went a lot smoother!

Zoë wrote a poem to the tune of Frere Jacques:

I Love Winter

I love winter, I love winter!
Yes, I do! Yes, I do!
I like building snowmen.
I like sledding down hills.
Yes, I do! Yes, I do!

I love winter, I love winter!
Yes, I do! Yes, I do!
I like reading inside
Huddled in my blanket.
Yes, I do! Yes, I do!

Monday, November 16, 2020

We shrunky-dunk

I spent some time hunting around for a fun Christmas activity for the kids to do—something that everyone from the littlest to the biggest would enjoy, something that wasn't too messy, something that complicated enough that we wouldn't finish it in two seconds but not so complicated that it would drive us crazy. I was explaining my quest to Andrew and said that "I settled on this cute shrinky-dink tinsel tree."

"Are you even speaking English anymore?" Andrew asked.

So I had to explain the magic of shrinky dink to him. He didn't seem to think it was an actual thing so was just as invested in the process when we broke it out for FHE as the kids were. We divided up the pieces and coloured them. I didn't take pictures of that part, but here's Rachel and Miriam putting some of the finished ornaments on the tree:

Sick poetry

I don't have a copy of this book in hand yet, but following my uncle's advice I did look up Le Ton Beau de Marot and we read a few translations of the poem "A une Damoyselle Malade" and discussed the differences between the translations (ignoring the rhyme scheme for the the literal translation, and so forth) and then tackled writing a poem in the same form.

Zoë and Benjamin really struggled with the idea of a couplet expressing an idea (or, even harder in this case, an idea split between couplets) but they really nailed the rhyming thing. 

Zoë's poem was...rhyme-y...but didn't make much sense.

We have a cat
And things like that.
Like a spider
And cider
And cockroaches
And approaches
And webs
And ebbs.

Let me explain her thought process as far as I understand it. We have a cat (true) but we also have a jorō spider that we caught from off our front porch. Cider rhymes with spider. The cat caught a cockroach, played with it for a bit, and left it for dead (sometimes she eats them and sometimes she doesn't) so we fed the freshly-maimed cockroach to the spider, who was very grateful (I assume that because she's eating it, not because I know how a spider shows gratitude). Approaches rhymes with cockroaches! Spiders make webs! Ebbs rhymes with webs! POETRY!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Primary Program

The kids had their primary program this morning—on Zoom, of course (and thank goodness)! They were each assigned a topic and then got to write their own part. All the singing was done just in our own home while everyone was on mute (it would have been too chaotic to try to have everyone's video/sound synch), except for the last song, which Miriam's class pre-recorded. They just played that song at the end for everyone.

Here are the kids waiting for the program to begin:

Asleep, asleep...

Alexander had one of his "really weird nights" the other night. That's what he calls those nights when he just can't sleep no matter how hard he tries (or, from my perspective, doesn't try). It had been really just a rough week of sleep.

One night—two hours after bedtime—I finally told him, "Close. Your. Eyes."

And he did...and fell asleep within seconds. But that trick didn't work the following night and he stayed up and then kept just getting up and then somehow managed to wake up at his usual time in the morning and was just a little bit off the whole day. He managed to stay awake until we were just about done with our evening scripture study and then he just couldn't hold his head up anymore and fell asleep in my arms.

I think he slept all of that night. I can't remember.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Into the Woods

Surging cases of COVID notwithstanding, we went to check out a local open-space park (which is probably a pretty safe activity, honestly). I feel like we're behind in exploring our new home state, since we've been in "lockdown" mode for more than 50% of our time here. But we really were itching for an adventure and felt like urban hiking would be a rather safe way to do that. I guess urban hiking is technically not in the woods, but these are woods within our city. Like the Ramble in New York's Central Park, this park was donated to the city on the condition that it remain "forever wild," with minimal development (public washrooms, for example, were added).

The city has a dinosaur scavenger hunt going on; this is the first dinosaur we've found (we...haven't been exploring many new parks). The kids were quite excited to spot it!

Alexander was in the stroller and when we asked him if he wanted to hop out to visit the dinosaur he said, "No, thank you." Here's Benjamin bravely offering the dinosaur a handful of leaves while Zoë gives it some side-eye.

Friday, November 13, 2020

In poor taste

Nothing about this pandemic is really very funny. Our numbers are hopelessly out of control right now—162,226 cases confirmed yesterday in the United States—and while we are getting better at treating the disease and while there is hopeful news about vaccines...more cases will ultimately translate into more deaths. 

The annual estimate for flu deaths in the United States is between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths per year (out of 9 million to 45 million cases). As of this moment, our confirmed death count for coronavirus is 248,584 (out of 10,880,536 cases (granted these are the known cases so doesn't truly reflect the number of people who've had the disease, which is likely much higher than this and which should soften the death rate a little)). This is not the flu. I repeat: this is not the flu. 

Some people get lucky and have a mild case. My friend in Finland just got out of quarantine—their whole family had to quarantine because their daughter had a classmate test positive, so was sent home to quarantine and then she tested positive so the whole family had to quarantine (which was fine because the school decided to just require all the upper grades to quarantine for a few weeks by that point). Anyway, only the one daughter got sick and her symptoms were very mild. And I think that's great!

(And they're not COVID-deniers so this next part doesn't have anything to do with them, I just offer it in contrast)...

BUT I've had other friends who have had a really hard time recovering from this illness, friends who've lost loved ones because of this illness, friends who are now widows or parentless because of this illness. 

And that's not cool.

So I don't really find this pandemic funny. 


Last night I was apparently really cold when I went to bed. The thing is, I didn't feel cold, at least not very. I just was cold. 

Usually I can tell that I'm cold. Like, when I climb in bed and stick my feet on Andrew, I know they're as cold as ice. But last night I was surprised when he jerked away and complained about my feet being cold because they weren't that cold. 

"You are so cold!" he said.

"I'm not," I said. "You're just warm. In fact, you're very warm. I can feel the heat radiating off of you."

"I'm not warm," he said. "I'm normal. You're cold."

"I don't feel cold," I insisted. "I'm normal. But you're too hot! Seriously—do you have a fever? It hurts to even touch you."

"Because you're cold."

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Another jarring jorō encounter

"There's a ginormous orb weaver on the front porch," Andrew said after he'd run outside in the rain to make sure all our weather-proofing measures were still solidly proofing against the weather. 

Naturally we all had to run out to see if it was a run-of-the-mill orb weaver or whether it was a jorō spider. It was a jorō spider, which I must say I was much happier to see in the woods than on my front porch! These spiders are so big!

I had Miriam hold up a ruler beside it so you could see just how big it is. She did her best to not hit the web with the ruler, but be close enough so the spider and ruler were on the same plane. I think the ruler is only upstaging the spider by a centimeter or so here (she did end up accidentally hitting the web with the ruler, which made it scurry away a bit, so she was really close):

Rondeaux pour vous

We've been studying France lately, but I'm recently at a loss of what else to read about France so our mornings have turned from Molière and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, which have been enjoyable...but a little surprising. Take Sleeping Beauty, for example, a tale we thought we knew quite well but which, under Perrault's hand, delivers quite the plot twist (spoiler alert: ogres are involved). Today we took a break from fairy tales, much to Zoë's disappointment (she really wants to read Beauty and the Beast next) to study some poetry. 

We read a few translations of famous French poems, which were lovely translations but didn't give us a good feel of the poetic form, which is understandable. Translating is hard. Translating poetry is harder. Still, we looked at the rhyme scheme and did our best to decipher the French (my French is très mauvais). And then, because it's Remembrance/Veteran's/Armistice Day, I told the kids we were going to study another poem today that was written in France by a Canadian in 1918. The immediately knew what poem I'm talking about and started quoting it, so we finished quoting it and then we talked about the history of today and how the holiday differs between countries even though it was founded at the same time and for the same reason. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Mental math

Many years ago when my math-loving uncle was so kindly and patiently helping me through college algebra (and so many tears), he told me things like "math is fun" and "anyone can understand math" and many other phrases that I considered absolute hogwash. But I have to say, homeschooling my children is opening my eyes to this way of thinking. I'm fairly sure that people who claim to be "bad" at math often have simply not been taught the foundations of mathematics well enough. Going back to the basics has been eye-opening for me. 

Benjamin is so quick with mental math because he really understands how to manipulate numbers. It's quite amazing. And as I'm working through the curriculum with him, I'm finding that my mental math is getting better as well. My understanding of basic mathematical principles applies to higher math. Anyway, it's just been a great experience.

Today, for example, Benjamin had the following problem:

(187 + 188 + 189) ÷ 75

He solved it in just a few seconds, writing very little down. 

"39!" he declared. 

"You didn't show your work," I reminded him. 

"Don't need to," he said. "It's easy."

I often have him write down or explain what's going on in his brain (for my sake if not his), so this is how he explained his answer:

"Two groups of 75 is 150, so we see that 75 can easily fit into each of those numbers two times. That leaves us with a remainders of 37, 38, and 39, consecutively. You don't even have to think about it for the other two numbers, really. It's just an increase of 1 each time, so if you solve the first problem and get a remainder of 37, the next two remainders must be 38 and 39. Add the first two remainders together and you get 75. Cancel that out (because it's another group of 75) and you're left with 39. That's your answer. 7, remainder 39."

Two years later

We're two years on this side of things now. 

The good news is that grieving gets easier. We feel better today than we did last year, and last year we felt much better than we did two years ago. Though I imagine we will still have hard days—or at least hard moments—ahead, I hope this trend will continue.

The bad news is that I am not entirely sure grieving gets easier. I've said many goodbyes in my life. Saying goodbye to Karen was probably the hardest one...and I'm afraid I have other hard goodbyes down the road. I don't want them, but they're coming for me just the same. I wish experience could make that grief easier, but I don't think it will. 

Except that I'll know that it won't last forever—that feeling of being suspended in time while the world somehow carries on without you? It doesn't last forever. Maybe knowing that will make it easier. Knowing that losing someone is a shock to the system, but that—with enough time, with enough gentleness—it will get easier. It will become normal, live-with-able.

For this little one, Karen's death was an earth-rocking event:

Monday, November 09, 2020

In which I talk about politics (when I should probably stick to weather)

Saturday morning while Andrew was out grocery shopping, the election was called in favour of the Biden/Harris ticket. Rachel, who had been voluntarily cleaning the kitchen so she could bake another batch of cookies, came running upstairs to me with her phone. 

"Pennsylvania went to Biden!" she squealed.

"What?" I said. 

"He won! Biden won!"

"Biden won?!" Zoë and Benjamin called from the bathroom they were busy cleaning together. 

"Yes!" Rachel said. 

Zoë and Benjamin danced around screaming and yelling for a few minutes before I convinced them to finish cleaning the bathroom. Andrew arrived home soon after. He walked in the door, we looked at each other and sighed, one of those deep body-relaxing sighs, and we haven't really stopped sighing since. Every time we walk past each other we stop and sigh. Every time we make eye contact, we sigh. 

The kids are starting to wonder what's wrong with us. 

It's like we're young and in love again, only we're not (young, I mean (we're still in love)). We're just so very relieved. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

Virtual talk

Benjamin gave a talk "in" primary on Sunday. He was actually rather excited to write his talk. Since he chooses to listen to the scriptures (rather than music) while he falls asleep and has thus become quite the little scriptorian. He wrote a lovely draft earlier in the week and we cleaned it up together and then he practiced it a few times before Sunday. 

He read it very nicely, even though he was nervous and when he was finished he apologized for "faltering" in the middle of his talk. I guess he felt like he had stammered a little, but I didn't notice him make any mistakes at all.

Here's his talk:

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Are we eeyouman (or are we dancer)?

Alexander drew a group of humanoids the other day and beneath them all he made some markings:

"What does it say beneath your people?" I asked him.

"Those are the letters for the people," he told me. "Listen! E is for eeyouman! E! E! Eeyouman!"

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

More well-child checks

I took Miriam and Benjamin (or, as we like to pencil them into the calendar when they have activities together, BM) in for their well-child checks today. They are doing...well. 

Benjamin grew 2.5 inches since last year, and now is 4 feet 3.5 inches tall (50th percentile). His weight was a bit of a shock for the doctor because the nurse accidentally typed it into the system as 4.52 lbs. 

"This can't be right," the doctor said. "It says 4.52 lbs!"

"Well, that's about how much he weighed when he was born, but I'm sure he's put on a little weight since then!" I said. 

So the doctor pulled up the written record and it turns out he's actually 54.2 lbs (or 54 lbs. 3.2 oz), which is in the 30th percentile. Doing just fine.