Thursday, December 31, 2020

Christmas cabin

As I mentioned, Rachel and Miriam made a beautiful cabin/homestead play set for their younger siblings for Christmas morning. They worked on the project nearly daily for about a year—in secret—and had to basically learn how to do needlepoint before they could begin. It was a real learning process for them, but now they are practically experts. They know so many more stitches and find patterns a lot less intimidating. They're already talking about what they'll make next.

Here's a sneak peek at their cabin:

Gingerbread houses

The little kids have already destroyed and consumed their gingerbread graham cracker houses, but the real gingerbread houses that Rachel and Miriam made were still standing and we hadn't taken pictures of them or anything, so tonight we did...so that we can destroy them tomorrow. 

Here's the smaller of the two houses, decorated by Rachel (when there was very little candy left to choose from):

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Christmas park

Alexander found a blue shovel in the toy box a while ago and suddenly his greatest dream was to visit the sandbox. He carried that shovel around with him for days and I kept promising to take him...eventually...but we live in a city where even finding appropriately socially distanced outside time can be difficult. But the weather was rather nice in the few days before Christmas (before we were plunged into below-freezing weather) so I decided to take Zoë and Alexander to the park while the bigger kids did one of the segments of their Lord of the Rings marathon.

The kids were fine without jackets, but I felt a little chilly. I guess I should have run around more!

We weren't wearing masks when we first got to the park because we were the only ones there, but then another family arrived so we put our masks on while they were getting out of the car. Here are the kids swinging:

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Una palabra

We finished reading The Book of Mormon on the last day of November and then worked our way through a book of Christmas devotionals (finishing that on Christmas Eve), so for the past couple of days we've been working on memorizing The Articles of Faith together. Rachel and Miriam pretty much have them memorized, I think, but the younger kids still have quite a bit of work to do before they can "pass" them off.

When I was growing up, my mom would sometimes have us play a game to help us memorize things, where we'd sit or stand in a circle and each person would take a turn saying one word of each article of faith. I thought my kids would enjoy that, too, so I explained the rules to them, throwing in a bit of Spanish, as one does.

"We're going to go around in a circle," I said. "And when I point to you, you'll say una palabra and then I'll point to the next person and they'll say una palabra until we're finished. Get it?"

Everyone nodded. 

Now, I knew that not everyone got it. I do, after all, have a three-year-old in the house. But I figured most people got it, so I began by pointing to myself, figuring everyone else would catch on. "We..."

I pointed to Miriam: "Believe."

I pointed to Benjamin.

 "Una parabola?" he said. 

Not quite, buddy. 

Rachel's last math unit before we started our Christmas break was on parabolas, so his confusion is understandable. And now I can't even remember if I managed to say palabra, or if I was doing some combination of palabra (Spanish) and parola (Italian). I certainly didn't confuse it with the French word mot, though I could have confused it with French for "to speak," which is parle (parla in Italian and hablar in Spanish), or the word parable in English. 

They all come from the same Greek roots para- meaning "alongside" and bole meaning "a throw," or a comparison, a juxtaposition, a metaphor, and...somehow or other...a word.

The kids all understand the game now so I can explain it in whatever mishmash of languages I want!

Games night

While Andrew, Miriam, Rachel, and I sat down to play Rummikub together, Benjamin chose to read (he's been cruising through his Christmas books) and Zoë and Alexander chose to draw. I won all three rounds (just saying) and Alexander kept calling for another round so that he could keep drawing. 

At one point Andrew reminded one of the girls that "if you draw you don't get another turn."

"What?" Alexander squeaked, tears already forming in his eyes. "That's not nice! You can draw! And you can have turns!"

"You can draw," Andrew said.

"And have a turn?"

"And have a turn."

"Okay. Play another round! I want another turn of drawing!"

Alexander drew some pretty amazing pictures of Baby Yoda and our family and many other things, but my very most favourite picture of all is this one of the two of us dancing together:

He and I were really cutting a rug! 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Heiss Holiday Humbug 2020

This year was, honestly, a little boring—no trips, no adventures, just lots of...staying home—but somehow I managed to cobble enough content together from our mundane life to write a poem. I finished it—and began distributing it—before Christmas but put off the task of uploading it onto the blog. I don't know why such an ordinary task seems so huge but...there you have it. The task simply felt big—making JPEGs and making sure all the links transferred over (they didn't transfer over nicely, so I had to input them manually)—and I had other things going on (like our Christmas concert and getting ready for Christmas). 


So, here it is on Boxing Day, instead. You can read it below or click here to download it.

What is there to say about this present time?

It feels like this year lacked both reason and rhyme.

(The latter, you’ll find, I have made up for plenty

With this poetic rendering of twenty-twenty.)

Hindsight, they say, is the name of this year,

And so I’ll recount our days both droll and drear:

Christmas morning

I took 555 pictures this morning (not even joking) but I am only sharing approximately 1/5 of those with you (which is still too many pictures, I freely admit). Alexander was the first one up this morning so he and I hung out for a while before going downstairs to see if the older kids were awake (at 7:30). They were! And they rather immediately fell in line for the Christmas train (it's like our traditions are running themselves this year).

Friday, December 25, 2020

A White Christmas in Georgia

Last night everyone's wishes for a white Christmas came true! Our "wintry mix," which had been nothing but very cold rain all day, turned into actual snow very late in the evening and left us with a dusting of cold white stuff. The children were all very happy to see it this morning. They couldn't believe their luck! 

Alexander was determined that we should build a snowman, so he dragged all his siblings (and me) outside in the 27°F (-3°C) weather to do so.

Blankets and Miracles

Back before this year turned into the crazy year it was, I embarked on a project to collect memories from my siblings and Andrew's siblings to turn into a book of reflections about growing up in our respective households. What memories did we share? How were things different when different "groups" of siblings were growing up (my family has very distinct clusters of children)? What things did we remember wildly differently?

I thought it would be fun.

It was fun. It was also a lot of work and I didn't get the deluge of memories I was hoping for so I'm going to keep hounding people for memories. (I've also been going through some of Karen's papers to transcribe her view of things as found in letters home to her parents as well as in her journals). 

I had hoped to have books ready to distribute to all the siblings by this Christmas...but...like I said...I don't have the memories I was looking for. Some siblings only answered a few questions. Some siblings didn't answer any. So making a book of memories right now seems impossible. Still, I have compiled the answers that I have, so that's a start. And I'm not afraid to keep asking...and asking...and asking...and asking...

One surprising thing that happened was a rekindling of a relationship with Sarah.

Christmas Eve Devotional

Today was a pretty quiet day at home. We cleaned up the basement so the kids would be ready for their Christmas Eve sleepover. We played games—Miriam cried and cried about Phase 10 but ended up getting second place (I lost). Zoë and Alexander were so patient while the rest of us were playing; they made all sorts of beautiful Christmas pictures (most of which ended up under the tree, I believe), so when we were finished playing Phase 10, I played "The Santa Claus Game" with them (which takes a lot of patience for me to play). 

All the while I was texting a neighbour who contacted me on Nextdoor to say that she had some books she'd like to get rid of and would we like them. I told her that we definitely would! I did not tell her that I had no idea who she was! 

Here's the thing: a few months ago I put out a plea on Nextdoor to see if anyone had access to a lot of scrap paper (because my kids—they draw all the time, see? But I'm an environmentalist and can't give them fresh, good paper to draw on because they draw all the time). We got our paper. And some other random lady sent me a message saying that sometimes she goes through her things to pare down her belongings and would I be interested in any things she comes across? So I said, sure—keep us in mind.

So I thought, maybe it was this mystery lady messaging me now.

But she was being very vague. She was like, "Okay! I'll just clean them up a bit and leave them in the garage. You can swing by and grab them if you want. The door is always open."

So I was like, "Sure thing. What's your address?"

And she was like, "This is Michele. Two doors down. Two trucks in the driveway..."

And I about died! 

I mean, I knew it was Michele, but the thing is, I didn't know this particular neighbours' last name and, well, there are a lot of Michel[l]es in the world! So it just didn't click that it was that Michele. And for the record, my directly next-door neighbour's name is also Michelle. So there's that. I mean, this Michele could have been anybody! But she had books...so...

That was a fun message to type.

"Oh, that Michele! Yup. Totally know who you are!" is what I did not type, but I assure you my message was just as bumbling and awkward.

The little kids (Benjamin inclusive) and I walked up—in the cold, sleety weather we had today—to get them books but the garage door was closed. We rang the doorbell but no one came so we headed home. Halfway there Benjamin noticed Michele waving out the window to us. Evidently her husband had close the garage door (because it was sleeting, probably) and she hadn't realized. But we got the books and took them home and the kids immediately tore into them (she had a copy of Ripley's Believe It Or Not! in there and whether or not you believe it that is right up Benjamin's alley).

Andrew and Rachel made beef stew and latkes for dinner, which were divine. We're all very excited for leftovers tomorrow (when Andrew will also make tamales; traditionally his family has fried burritos but...I don't really like fried burritos, so I'm happy Andrew has figured out the whole tamale thing).

After dinner we settled in for a reading (and acting out) of the Christmas story. The kids anticipated this and assigned all the roles and came for scripture study in full costume. Here's Alexander patiently waiting for the nativity to start:


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Two Christmas Stories

Soon after I pulled out our collection of Christmas stories, Zoë and Alexander sat down together to write stories of their own. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Family pictures

We finally got around to taking family pictures this weekend, deciding that the best place for them this year would be our own home. Andrew set up a photo studio in the basement, which worked really well for the little kids...but was a little difficult for the taller members of our family (so we ended up heading outside to take pictures as a group).

Here's Alexander, the sweetest-faced three-year-old you've ever seen i your life:


Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas Jammies

The children have been wanting new pyjamas for a while. True—we made pyjama bottoms around Easter, but that was months ago and the children have been wearing nothing but pyjamas since then. We also realized that, in the past, Grandma has been the one who consistently sent us pyjamas for the kids. Not that she did it every year, but frequently enough that the older children all know what pyjamas they've gotten from Grandma (the Star Wars jammies, the Fruit Poop jammies, these jammies, etc (even after she died she kept supplying the kids with pyjamas because Rachel and Miriam have been sleeping in Grandma's t-shirts since she passed away). Other than new Grandma jammies every now and again, the kids have largely subsisted on hand-me-down pyjamas, which I think is totally fine. But also they've been wearing pyjamas so often that all their pyjamas are falling apart—Rachel put a big hole in her red flannel pyjama bottoms (a hand-me-down from Auntie Josie) and Benjamin put a big hole in the knees of the pyjama bottoms we made for Easter. Anyway, my point is that some of our children were quite desperate for new pyjamas and we finally realized that new pyjamas were no longer going to materialize out of thin air. (Another layer of growing up, I guess).

So we got the kids pyjamas for Christmas.

It started with me, technically. Andrew was at Costco (like back in September or October; he doesn't go to Costco these days because (a) Christmas rush and (b) COVID is so absolutely, ridiculously widespread right now) and he picked up a set of the fuzziest pyjamas for me (in some sort of lame attempt to keep me warm so I don't freeze him to death with my feet when I climb into bed, probably).

But, "I can't have these!" I said. 

"Why not?"

"Because Rachel has been begging me for new pyjamas for weeks now!"

Saturday, December 19, 2020

2020 Christmas Recital

I'm trying really hard to not be sad that we filmed our entire recital on "grid" mode...so instead of a beautiful full-picture view of our recital we captured everything. It's fun, I suppose, that we'll get to watch our audience's reaction (since we couldn't see them from where we were performing) but...it's simply not the finished product I'd hoped for.

Luckily we filmed our "dress rehearsal" this afternoon, so we have that. 

I'm still not pleased that I'm still half in pyjamas (dress rehearsal, Nancy, come on!) and there were a few other mishaps that we ironed out before the recital (as well as a few that we did not manage to iron out (and even then we managed to add some new mishaps to the recital because we are nothing if ingenious)), but...it's better than the video we got from the recital so I'm glad we have it.

If we try this again in the future (and we probably will—even after the pandemic is over (it's going to be over at some point, right?!)—because we live far away from our loved ones and they tend to miss out on this sort of thing) we'll do a lot of things differently. Like, for example, we realized that we probably should have simply streamed our concert on YouTube and then met up with people in a Zoom call after...or something. But, live and learn, right?

We had a sizable crowd show up, with friends and family tuning in from Idaho, Hawaii, Ontario, British Columbia, Utah, Illinois, Alberta, Georgia, California. Even our next-door neighbours "came"!

Without further ado, here's our 2020 Christmas Recital...

Thursday, December 17, 2020

15th anniversary

Yesterday was our 15th anniversary, a number that somehow seems big and small at the same time. We didn't really do much to celebrate, but fortunately we're both the kind of people who are okay with that so neither one of us felt neglected by our lack of fanfare. Andrew worked. The kids and I had a normal school day. Andrew took Miriam to her organ lesson. Rachel made pancakes for dinner. After we put the kids to bed we watched the first couple episodes of the new season of Doctor Who (we haven't sat down together to watch a show (besides Christmas shows with the whole family) for quite some time; and then we had to do two episodes because cliffhangers)). 

It was a lovely quiet evening and just a generally happy day. Life is often generally happy and lovely and quiet around here (well, maybe not always quiet), but it is generally lovely and happy. I think we're very lucky to have that kind of satisfaction.

Andrew did an anniversary post on Twitter, so I decided to do one on Facebook, too. Publicly celebrating each other is a good thing to do sometimes, maybe? I don't know. Anyway, he caught me checking on his Twitter post and lightheartedly accused me of comparing our posts, which perhaps I was doing...a little. Not in an "I'm so sad that your post has so many more likes than mine" way, but more of a "Oh, look! Ade commented here so I'll like her comment" way. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Spoiled-est cat

Is anyone starting to get nervous about my Christmas poem? Just me. Okay, good. 

I mean, I've been working on it. It's just not finished yet. I should probably do that sometime. Yet, here I sit...not doing it. 

Instead I'm going to tell you about our cat. Because clearly that is a higher priority.

Waffelles is, generally speaking, a very gentle kitty. She very rarely scratches or bites and when she does it's usually obvious that either she (a) was trying to play and got a little too rough or (b) the kids were annoying the snot out of her and would not follow her less-violent cues. But, really she's very patient and gentle. 

Case in point, here are a few pictures of Alexander hand-feeding her this morning:

Dreidel FHE

For family night we talked about Hanukkah and played dreidel. We started "lighting" our menorah a few days ago and the kids asked what Hanukkah was all about and we...couldn't quite tell them. Something about Assyrians and the temple and oil...but...the story was too hazy to recount. So I told the kids that they should do some research and that I would do some research and then we'd talk about it later. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Miriam and Rachel had done their research! So when I tried to tell the story this evening they jumped in and fairly accurately narrated the story of the Maccabees. In the end, when they won the war and were able to reenter their temple, they found that it had been desecrated (and dedicated to Zeus), so they wanted to rededicate the temple but only had oil for the menorah for a single night. They decided to use it anyway and it kept burning for a miraculous eight days (or perhaps they simply had an eight-day celebration). 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Christmas activities

Yesterday Rachel made some lovely gingerbread cookies and after church today she whipped up some colour flow icing while Andrew helped the other kids with some graham cracker houses.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Prescriptivism vs. creativity, or Joseph vs. the sheep

I spent several hours this week preparing little craft kits for my primary activity girls. We have one more activity this year and then all of our 11-year-olds will be heading into the Young Women program, so I had Andrew deliver the kits to my girls with a little print that I made (of a wood block carving that Rachel did of the nativity) with a note for each of them. I did not include instructions for the craft, but I did email the parents that we'd be meeting together next week to put the craft kits together...

One of my girls got rather excited about things and put the craft together on her own and I was blown away with how she pieced it together. The craft kit was, I thought, rather puzzling, so I didn't expect the kids to try putting them together on their own (my own kids thought the figures of Mary and Joseph were keyholes), but this little girl found a way to use every piece and I'm just so impressed with her creativity!

Here's how my model project turned out (which itself deviates from the original idea):

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Un-Brace Yourself

The other day Alexander looked at Miriam and said, "Tan I touch your bray-uh?"

"Can you...touch...my braces?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. 

But then he kind of chickened out. Still, it was such a funny request that we made the kids pose for a picture before bed last night—everyone with their finger reaching out to touch Miriam's braces—on her last night with braces. 


Monday, December 07, 2020

Christmas Light Looking

We did a couple of big things today—we plucked all the leaves from our Thankful Tree so that we could make room for the incoming Christmas cards and we turned Alexander's car seat around. It was time. He's three years old (and then some). Besides, for Family Night Andrew suggested that we go out Christmas Light Looking, which everyone agreed Alexander would enjoy much more facing the right way 'round. 

The hospital had a lovely light display that you can drive through, but they're really not as interesting from the back. So we turned Alexander around and he was fascinated. The drive alone was enough for him—he kept saying, "Wow! Wow! WOW!" but when we got to the lights he was over the moon, so I suppose switching his carseat around was worth it...even if it's further evidence that he's growing up. 

Everyone enjoyed the lights, though they were all rather confused when we announced we were leaving the house. Alexander was the most confused/excited child of all. He barged into the bathroom to ask me if I was going on the family trip, too. 

"I am."

"Good!" he said, running over to give my legs a hug. "Because I want you to be in our family and go on our family trip! We have never ever gone on a family trip before! So I will make a map!"

I hope this family "trip" was exciting enough that he'll want to go on an actual trip sometime. 

Last week's laughs

It's been a rather wild week over here, but I'm happy to announce that I have officially finished with my first semester of graduate school (my group turned in our final project today). I've also been busy working on our annual Christmas poem as well as finalizing my book manuscript. And homeschooling the kids. 

I can hardly even think of what we did this week—though I do know that we read a lot, talked a lot, laughed a lot—so I won't try to make up for it entirely, but I will leave you with this story...

Andrew was telling me about this theory he saw on Twitter that text messages between partners had become increasingly random over the course of the pandemic. Being in such close and constant proximity, there has been no need for conversation to happen over text message, so instead there are only random snippets—messages like "Oh, I saw a huge mangy fox yesterday," followed by a picture of a Turkey-shaped challah, followed by an amended word count, followed by "Text your dad!"

We decided, reviewing our text messages, that this theory was probably correct.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Making Christmas

In a fit of something that feels close to insanity, we put up the Christmas tree and let the kitty out of her convalescence isolation chamber. She got "fixed" on Monday, as you may recall, and we were told to keep her in one room, preferably a quiet room, away from other pets or particularly obnoxious (read: small) humans. We tried keeping her in the laundry room, but she was going crazy being holed up in there so we set her up in the basement, wedging one of the girls' mattresses in their doorless doorway so that she wouldn't go climb on their bunkbed or anything crazy like that. 

But then we caught her sitting on the top of the mattress (in the little space between the mattress and the doorframe) and decided that it's not really possible to keep a cat from climbing. Especially our cat, who will climb the window mutins. It's equally impossible to keep a cone on a cat (I think Waffelles wore her cone for approximately 20 seconds before ripping it off). 

Mostly we just left her in the basement to rest, hoping she wouldn't climb too many things, and she seems to be healing just fine. She spent a couple of days being tender with herself downstairs and spent most of her time sleeping, but after that she spent most of her time meowing because she was lonely. She was fine whenever anyone was down there hanging out with her but if we ever dared close her down there alone she'd be all howls and yowls. 

She likes to be in the room where it's happen[ing], so yesterday when we dragged out all of our Christmas stuff, we gave up trying to keep Waffelles in the basement anymore. She's been enjoying having full run of the house again (and her surgery site is looking pretty great, I think). As worried as we were about the combination of kitty + tree, she's really been quite good about it. Hopefully that sticks.


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 and...so 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 a...ahem...mature...cat...has 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. 

BUT...

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. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

2020 Halloween Costumes

After putting on some finishing touches, the children donned their costumes this afternoon. The pictures didn't load in order, but that's alright. We'll look at the pictures in reverse order.

Here's is Miriam as Constanze Mozart, Mozart's wife:

We've got the power!

Sometimes when I read dystopian novels I think to myself there's no way society could descend into chaos that quickly. And then things like this happen and I think to myself society could definitely descend into chaos that quickly.

Our society depends on so many things to function smoothly—trust, electricity...and a few other things. 

Take those things away and life feels somewhat fractured.

Fortunately, as we've become increasingly reliant on technology in our lives, I can remember the good ol' days of my childhood when we were less reliant on technology. Take automatic garage doors, for example. It seems like everyone has one these days, though I'm not sure why...

I've been trying to remember when we first had an automatic garage door. I think we had one in the High River house, which felt so fancy because our house on Sutherland Street had a pull rope and had to be raised and lowered manually—a skill that comes in handy when the power goes out! You basically need two people to open the garage door when it's on an automatic track: one to pull the emergency release from the track and one to start lifting the garage. At least...that's how ours works. But then the nut holding the garage to the arm of the motor fell off and we were free to raise and lower the garage at will (we looked for the nut but couldn't find it so we'll have to get a new one). 

We realized this morning that our water heater is gas, not electric. Yesterday we were rationing hot water, thinking what we had in the tank was it (because our water heater at our house on Hummingbird Lane was electric and that's we experienced a few power outages there as well). Today I read a text from a friend in our ward who lives a block or so away and she mentioned her gas water heater and I was like, "Oh! We have a gas water heater, too!" So we were able to shower and wash dishes today, which was nice. 

I was washing the dishes—by hand (which really doesn't seem to take much longer than simply loading the dishwasher, to be honest, though I guess it's water usages that we're concerned about, not time, necessarily)—and was stacking them on the counter like I always did growing up (because my family did not get a dishwasher until the year 2000). Plates can be leaned against the wall to dry, cups can be engineered into tall pyramids. It's really quite fun. But there wasn't a great place to put the silverware. 

I wish we had one of those cool draining racks for silverware like we had growing up, I thought to myself.

And then I realized that I had one of those. In fact, I had an expensive, top-of-the-line draining rack right at my finger tips! So I opened the dishwasher and started loading the pre-washed dishes inside to dry. 

We were really figuring out this no-power gig. Life was no longer feeling desperate. 

We had things under control.

So we did our schoolwork again, though today we read our book (finished The Little Prince) tucked in bed rather than at the kitchen table because the chorus of all the generators running in the neighbourhood was driving me a little crazy, but the noise from our generator was worst of all (and the noise was the absolute worst in the dining room where we typically do a good chunk of our morning work). The kids didn't mind too much.

Friday, October 30, 2020

An Ironic Update!

The whoosh of the wind and the obnoxious pulsing of generators are swirling outside my window, but inside we are warm and—perhaps more importantly—dry! And (lucky people that we are!) one of the generators is ours! 

When we realized the power wasn't going to come back on any time soon, Andrew went on a quest for a generator and managed to pick up the very last one at ACE Hardware (Lowe's was out, Home Depot was out), so our situation is looking up! The contents of our fridge will survive and we've been enjoying not being completely dependent on flashlights and candles (and getting to use the internet and our computers a little bit (though I do think we should turn off the generator soon because that thing is so loud and I'm worried all the neighbours will hate us (and I'm a little sensitive to noise)).

Hurricane Zeta blew in with all her fury at around 4:00 in the morning. Andrew was still awake because he was doing a guest lecture at The University of Turku, in Finland. They've already ended daylight savings and we don't end our daylight savings until this weekend (right?), so there was a little mix-up about the time class actually began. The good news is that Andrew was definitely on time—in fact, he was an hour early! The bad new was that it meant he needed to stay up an hour later than he originally thought he would have to stay up. But it was fine.

He did his guest lecture and then inspected the house to make sure everything was ship shape and Bristol fashion. The trench we'd dug out along the side of the house seemed to be doing its job nicely, not that it mattered much because Zeta brought along more wind than rain (while Delta was wet, wet, wet). 

Here, again, is the chart of the rain we got with Hurricane Delta:


And here is the chart of the rain we got with Hurricane Zeta (only a tropical storm by the time it reached us, thank goodness):


As you can see, we didn't quite get even 1.5 inches of rain with this storm. That's nothing! Though I am glad we still prepared by digging the trench and cleaning out the rain gutters (even though the trench and rain gutters are both now completely filled with debris).

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Hurricane Zeta

As unbelievable as it is, somehow...somehow...yet another hurricane made landfall in Louisiana and the tail end of Hurricane Zeta is due to hit us in the early hours of the morning. Hurricane Sally found a leak in our roof. Hurricane Delta was kind enough to point out a few weak spots in our hull foundation. 

We're really hoping Hurricane Zeta just ignores us, but we spent the afternoon getting things ready for her anyway. After all, we don't often get company these days. 

So...we cleared out the gutters, built up the ground around our foundation and dug a trench through the side yard. 

Normal stuff like that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Acorn Ink & Quill Pens

Oak trees in our area seem to be particularly ambitious and I have a few avid acorn collections living in my house so we always have plenty of acorns about. At first Benjamin wanted to collect 100 acorns for our 100th Day of School celebration (which I think we should hit around December 8), but when he collected well over 100 acorns on one little walk he decided that perhaps he should collect 100 x 100 acorns, or 10,000 acorns!

This last number proved to be a little too ambitious because that's a lot of acorns and a lot of counting. 

Still, we have a sizable bin of acorns sitting around our house, which we figured we'd just chuck outside for the squirrels every now and again over the winter. But the kids wanted to do something with them. 

At first they wanted to make acorn flour, which is possible. Acorns themselves are too high in tannins to be healthy for humans. They have to be soaked (sometimes more than once) to leech the tannins, and then they have to be baked, and then they have to be ground up. And that just sounded like a lot of work for something that I wasn't sure was going to be very tasty (otherwise I'm sure we would eat acorns regularly because they are plentiful). 

After a bit of searching around for ideas we settled on making acorn ink. 

It seemed easy enough. You just have to crush the acorns, which is easy enough if you have an eight-year-old around who enjoys crushing things (which I do). Then you soak the crushed acorns in water, boil them for a bit if you want, strain them, and add some "rust garden" vinegar (which we began a few weeks prior to preparing our acorns—for that you just put a rusty bit of metal in vinegar and let it go to town). All in all a very passive project. The hardest part was just waiting for things to be ready, waiting for things to rust, waiting while the acorns soaked.

We started our rust garden about three weeks ago and started soaking our acorns sometime around October 9. We just let them sit and sit and sit, partly because we forgot about them altogether when the basement flooded and partly because they just needed to sit for a while. I strained the ink once a few days ago, discarded the acorn chunks, and then boiled it down to make it thicker.

It was a rich brown and, I'll be honest, I was skeptical it would ever turn black. 

Today I strained our ink once more and then we added some of our "rust garden" vinegar to the ink and it magically turned a deep black! It was rather amazing!

Our next step was to make some quill pens (because if you're into a project this deep you may as well go all the way). We watched a few tutorials (like this one) before attempting things on our own. I was a little nervous to try it with a handful of kids, but they did great (ie. no one chopped off their finger or anything)!

First we used sandpaper to scrape the membrane from the feathers. I thought this would be easier (ie. safer) than handing everyone a knife. This way even the littlest among us could feel like they were contributing to the finished product even if Mommy ended up doing most of the cutting later on.

Phys Ed

We had a great first day back at (home)school! By the time I dragged myself out of bed in the morning the kids had all had breakfast and had cleaned up the table. Rachel and Miriam had mostly finished with their daily math section and Zoë was sitting at the table with her math workbook (Benjamin was playing Lego in the basement and Alexander, though he had had breakfast with the kids, was now with me). Further, Rachel had started a load of laundry, had put away the clean dishes and loaded all the dirty ones into the dishwasher. It was pretty remarkable!

We started reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which all of the children seem to being enjoying so far. They did their writing responses with little complaint and then we all finished up math (most especially Benjamin, who had to go from start to finish). Then we headed out for PE.

Rachel wanted to explore the new playground we found (since she was too cool to go out with us last week). It turns out that Monday in the early afternoon is a much less busy time for the park than Friday mid-afternoon. I even managed to park in the parking garage.


Monday, October 26, 2020

Miriam's 11!

When Andrew asked Miriam what her favourite part of being 10 was, she didn't say me (rude). She said everything was good about being 10, except for March. Considering yesterday, her birthday, was March 238th, that's a considerable amount of the year she took an exception to! We jokingly asked her how she enjoyed having her birthday in the spring, rather than in the fall, like it usually is, and she replied that it was wonderful because she usually has a more autumnal cake but this year she felt justified in picking a more spring/summer flavour. 

She went with what Rachel called a "basic" vanilla cake, with raspberry filling. And it honestly was the most delicious cake Rachel has made to date. Miriam also requested that the cake be decorated simply and elegantly. So here it is:

Birthday buddies

Miriam turned 11 today, which is breaking my heart a little bit. I have enjoyed being her primary activity leader so much and I'm going to miss her when she graduates into the Young Women's program in January (it still blows my mind that all the girls move up together because when I was that age you had to wait until you turned 12 to graduate from primary, a policy that came with its own set of challenges). But it's not like she'll be entirely gone from my life. 

I mean, we're homeschooling and are in the middle of a global pandemic so tend to just stay home a lot, so I'm going to see her frequently, and I'm sure she'll enjoy getting to spread her wings a little bit, assuming we ever get to a wing-spreading stage...which...I mean...I dunno.

This afternoon I did get an email notifying the young women and their parents that all in-person activities have been cancelled through November and will be replaced by virtual activities (three cheers for that because...hello), due, of course, to the pandemic and the rising numbers we're seeing now. While I'm happy about this change, I do find it confusing because our numbers are still lower than they were when they originally started pushing for (and holding) in-person activities while Rachel and I were raising a big fuss about...you know...the pandemic. And now that the numbers have been, from my perspective, holding steady, they are suddenly deciding to not have in-person activities. 

Nationally, our numbers don't look great so I imagine Georgia will spring up there soon. But I think this call has less to do with Georgia's numbers (or even our county numbers) and more to do with the fact that there are "a few" cases within the ward, though I don't know that we'll ever know who.

But none of that has much of anything to do with Miriam's birthday and more to do with just my overall feeling of being crushed alive. It's fine. I haven't been finding the time I'd like to write (here or elsewhere) and so I'm going to squish my "October Birthday Buddies" into one post, which really isn't fair because although they are born within the same month, their birthdays are farther apart (11 days) than Zoë and Benjamin's (10 days), though not by much. This is just one more way for them to learn that life isn't fair (and that it can't be fair)—sorry and you're welcome.

First we'll catalogue our birthday balloons. Here's Alexander with his birthday balloons this morning before we finally took them down. We meant to get around to making more for him but his birthday ended up being a little busier than we expected—with re-stretching our carpet and putting our basement back together.