Sunday, June 30, 2013

Super easy backyard obstacle course

I can't take credit for this idea, but I thought it would be fun to share our recent backyard adventure - an obstacle course! I've seen versions of this on Pinterest and various blogs, and thought we'd try our hand at making an obstacle course of our own.

You can throw this kind of activity together with things you already have on hand very easily. I did buy a few things, since our outdoor toy supply is pretty depleted. We got four pool noodles, four small inflatable pool rings, and added some plastic cones, folding chairs, a toddler slide, a pop-up tunnel and a few other things. Easy peasy!

Here's David running through the pool rings.

And Ella having her turn.


We used the folding chairs to hold up the pool noodles to make an over-under obstacle. They had to jump over the one and crawl under the other. I've seen ideas that have the noodles staked to the ground, forming an arch, but this was way easier. And I like easy. I'm lazy like that.

A pretty sweet action shot of David jumping over

Grayson crawling under one of the pool noodles. See - folding chairs + pool noodle = super easy

The kids pulled out an old toddler slide - the big kids jumped off, and the littler kids slid down. The subsequent tunnel was a funny edition for the olders. The little kids crawled right through, but the bigger kids had a tough time crawling through, leading to a lot of laughs as they got a bit stuck.

Grayson going over the slide and heading for the tunnel

Later, we added some cones from our flag football stuff. They were supposed to zig-zag around the outside of each cone.

David running through the cones

Ella running through the cones. She didn't quite get the concept at first, but after I ran through it with her, she got the hang of it.

The kids came up with the final challenge - they had three bouncy balls to throw at a target. There was a hula hoop on the ground and they were supposed to hit the pitcher's net and get it in the hula hoop.

David throwing balls into the hula hoop

Ella's turn. They set up stools to indicate where you had to stand for your throw - first stool for little kids, second stool for big kids :).

This was a great activity that worked for kids of all ages. We had kids from age 12 down to Ella at 3 having fun with it. It doesn't look fancy, but it was a lot of fun and very easy to set up and take down. The kids have made their own versions since we did this one as well, adding random things from the backyard and coming up with various rules (getting dizzy first, etc.). We've timed them to see if they could beat each other's times - a stopwatch app on my phone was great for that.

The weather here is hot this week, so I'm thinking this set up is begging for the addition of a sprinkler or water of some kind! Easy summer fun = win.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why I love me some social media

Social media. Love it or hate it, social media is a part of our culture and certainly isn't going anywhere. People seem to generally fall into three camps when it comes to social media use:

1. Frequent fliers. These are the people who are really plugged in. They love them some Facebook, they tweet their daily happenings, they clickety-click onto Instagram, plan their dream homes on Pinterest and generally spend a lot of time online interacting with people they may or may not have met in real life.

2. Haters. We all know some of them. The people who look down with dripping disdain at Facebook and Twitter and any other social media. They think it is either too juvenile, too lame, or just have a sense of "this is popular amongst the masses, therefore I must hate it." They probably use the Internet all the time, because at least in the US, most of us do. But they're not about to open up a Facebook account and are pretty happy to tell you so.

3. In-betweeners. Most people I know probably fall into this category. They have various social media accounts, and use them, but probably aren't tweeting photos of their lunch every single day, or saying "Goodnight" to everyone on Facebook each and every night. They use social media, like it for the most part, but aren't lost without it if they lose internet access for a while or their smartphone battery dies and they can't plug in.

This doesn't actually have anything to do with anything - it just makes me giggle.

I'm probably on the higher end of the in-betweener. I don't live and die by social media, and I don't even have a Twitter account. But yeah, I'm on Facebook a lot on days I'm home, I read quite a few blogs at least sporadically, and I have a big group of girlfriends I've known for like a decade, and I've never met most of them in person.

I'll admit it happily - I love me some social media.

Yeah, this might kinda be me.

I'm a stay at home mom, and I have been for eight and a half years. I didn't love my job before I had kids, but I did love hanging out with other adults (some of whom I even liked). I like conversation and not just the kind that involves questions about who would win in a fight, Darth Vader or Iron Man (obviously Vader, duh). I do miss daily interaction with other people who don't need me to wipe their butt or cut up their food. Because, you know, that could get really awkward.

Social media is my water cooler. It's my teacher's lounge. It is where I can come, take a quick break from whatever is going on around this crazy house of mine, and connect with a bunch of other people, some of whom even get what I'm going through. I can post questions and get great advice. I can vent and get virtual hugs and commiseration. I can post my triumphs and funny kid stories and hear about my friend's great moments.

Before the Internet, how did stay-at-home-moms deal? You could do what, call your girlfriends on the phone? Sure, if they weren't busy changing poopy diapers or fishing gum out of hair or hauling their kids to swim lessons or baseball practice. I can't imagine how isolated I would feel if I didn't have this connection to the outside world, right here at my fingertips. I can send people messages and they can respond when they have time. I can see what people are up to, like a little window into their lives (in a totally non-stalkerish way, I promise). I can connect, reconnect, keep up with people and not feel quite so alone when I'm going a little stir crazy and about to reach for the bottle of Merlot in the cupboard.

Even though I'm not actually there with you in the break room, or sitting with you in the coffee shop, we're still hanging out. You might be in Hawaii or Alaska or Colorado or London - but we can still keep up with each other's lives, talk a bit, and share stories and pictures. I can see your kids grow up and you can see mine. We can be there for each other, and not feel quite so alone, not quite so isolated, not quite so nutty when things are a little rough.

Social media is a connection that I find valuable. I love my online friends and I love that it keeps getting easier to connect and keep up with people. And as a mom who is home alone with three little kids, all day, every day, social media is often my link to sanity.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The body my children have made

If you're a woman, raise your hand if you love your body. Okay, you don't actually have to raise your hand, because that would be kind of silly and who follows blogged instructions like that anyway? But if we were all, say, in a room hanging out and someone said, "Hey, if you love your body, raise your hand," I have a feeling we'd hear the sound of crickets chirping as we all eyed each other uncomfortably, wondering if anyone would be brave or brazen enough to raise their hand. And if they'd mean it.

But hey, at least you aren't a T Rex.

Once in a while, my husband comes up with fun things to think about, like, "What if you could keep all your memories and wisdom, but go back to the body you had when you were 17." Granted, I didn't exactly love my body back then, even though I should have. But sure, there's something sort of tempting about that idea, despite it's impossibility. Young, resilient, thin, without the little lines that are starting to show around my eyes, and the stretch marks from three pregnancies. Without the knee that gets sore when I sit in one position for too long, the gray hairs I do my best to hide, and imagine the clothing size! Boy howdy, I tell you, I'd appreciate that body like I never did before! I didn't know how good I had it at 17!

But then again...

This body, this imperfect, scarred, stretched body... This body has seen and done quite a bit. This body conceived, grew and bore three totally new humans. Those stretch marks? Those are like a badge of honor, a big "F-You!" to the hormone disorder that put me through 2 1/2 years of infertility. Those lines around my eyes? They show when I smile, so really they're from smiling. And smiling is a good thing! Who doesn't like to smile?

Three of my favorite reasons to smile

I don't know if I'd want to give up the physical memory of the things I have lived through. I can still remember the feeling of a baby moving inside me. It is more than a memory, more than something I can recall that I once felt. If I sit quietly and think about it, I can almost feel it again. These memories are deep, visceral sensations that have become a part of who I am. A push against my belly. Contractions rolling over me, the pain deep. The undeniable urge to push, the rush of fluid and blood.

My hip bones are pitted, marking the passage of those precious children from my body. I don't want to give those up. My tailbone broke during my first birth, and although I could have lived without that happening, it did and the scar of my son's passage will forever be a part of me.

This body has walked countless miles, crossed the finish line of triathlons, ridden a mountain bike and a snowboard. This body has grown and nourished my precious children, both before and after their birth. This body has hit punching bags and planted flowers and walked through the sand on the beach. This body has lived and loved and cried and hurt.

This is the body my children have made. It may not look like a supermodel or an actress or a rockstar. It may not fit into the jeans in the bottom drawer where we all keep those "someday" jeans. But it is my body and it has performed miracles.

Maybe I should love it a little more.

Fossils! Our trip to the Burke Museum

Our latest adventure was a trip to the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. David is wrapping up his project work on dinosaurs, and the Fossil Discovery Tour was just perfect. We toured their exhibit, The Life and Times of Washington State, which includes fossils and displays from various eras in Washington. The tour guide was a lot of fun, and the kids got to spend time in the Discovery Lab doing some fun hands-on activities.

Was this a plesiosaur or a pliosaur? I'll have to ask my kid...

The displays themselves were pretty neat and we got to spend some time exploring each area.

Dino skeletons! Yes!

Uncle Chris (my brother) joined us for the fun. Yay for an extra set of adult hands to wrangle/carry children!

Ella loves her Uncle Chris
The fossils included things from hundreds of millions of years ago (mostly sea life, since this part of the world was covered with water for a long time), to the ice age.

Grayson in front of the Mastodon skeleton
The Discovery Lab portion was really great. Our tour guide was awesome, and the kids were very engaged and interested. Their first activity was to work in groups to determine what time period their box of fossils came from. They were able to handle some fossils, and go match them up with fossils in the various displays. The kids did great working together to solve the fossil mystery. They also got to dig in a box of sand to discover the fossils inside, and again worked together to determine which time period their fossils must have come from.

David uncovered a Megalodon tooth in his box. That seriously could not have been more perfect. He'd been hoping he'd see a Megalodon tooth, since those are one of his favorite (giant shark? obviously awesome). It was funny, one of the museum volunteers was so impressed that he knew right away what the fossil was. She was asking our tour leader how big the Megalodon must have been, and the tour leader wasn't sure. But David sure knew. He told them all about Megalodons; I think it made his day to be able to share his info with grown ups!

David uncovered a Megalodon tooth in the fossil dig
As if the Megalodon tooth wasn't cool enough, they also got to handle a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth!

Grayson had a great time too. It is always good when an activity really holds his attention. He did awesome, working with his group and staying engaged the whole time. He found some cool fossils as well.

Overall, it was a great experience for all the kids. David has more to say about our day, and something very interesting he ate, but I'll let him post next :).

Sitting in the stone imprint of an ancient rhino. And a lesson in the futility of trying to get them all to look at the camera at the same time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Field Day!

One of the things that has made our first two years of homeschooling so wonderful is our homeschool group. By now it is no secret that we are moving in a couple of months, and our homeschool group is one of the things I hate to leave the most. It is a big, active group of families and we have enjoyed a host of amazing field trips, classes and activities with them.

Last week we had our (now) annual field day and BBQ. It is a fun way to celebrate the end of a school year and beginning of summer - and our kids get the chance to play some larger group games with friends.

We had sack races, three-legged races, a partner-balloon race, and a fill-the-bucket-with-a-sponge race. The games were capped off by a giant water balloon fight. We had hundreds of water balloons and the kids had a blast throwing them at each other. I even got caught up in the madness - and once an adult enters the foray, they are an instant target. It was a lot of fun!

David and Anna practicing for the three-legged race
They are such a cute little pair

Ella running with her sponge

Filling the bucket - this was her favorite game

Three-legged sack race
Ella and a little friend playing the partner balloon race (no hands!)

Grayson getting ready for the sack race

Go Grayson, go!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Thoughts on homeschooling kindergarten

What do you imagine when you think of kindergarten? I can't help but picture the scene in Billy Madison where he first goes "back to school" to re-pass every grade. I suppose this scene was from first grade, but I always think of him drooling on his nap mat and coloring a blue duck (not to mention Miss Lippy spreading glue all over face).

I'm not so into eating paste, (but I really ought to consider sending the kids outside for dodge ball... "Dodge ball is a special time..."), but there is something fun and innocent about the coloring and pasting and story reading that makes kindergarten so special.

The thing I love about homeschooling kindergarten, is you kind of can't mess it up. Some countries don't have children beginning formal academics until they are 7 or 8, and our insistence on beginning formal schoolwork at 5 doesn't necessarily put our kids ahead. That's not to say Grayson didn't have his own set of schoolwork to do this year. We worked on phonics and reading, handwriting, and math, and even a little science. We read stories and poetry and did some art projects. But you can have a more relaxed pace and not stress too much about how much schoolwork your child is doing. You still have many years ahead of you.

Part of our fairy tale project - his Cinderella "magic pumpkin carriage"

Kindergarten offers a lovely freedom for the homeschooling parent; at least I felt that way. It takes very little time to do a phonics lesson or practice reading, then do a math lesson and a handwriting page. And if we didn't do all those things each day, it was fine. I think many homeschoolers find themselves reading a vast amount of material aloud, and those become part of your kindergartner's day as well. Simple, quick and fun - those were my guiding principles for Grayson this year.

My relaxed approach has worked well for him. I think of all my kids, he would have been the one to really dislike going to school. He's a little bit wiggly and does not like having someone else plan his entire day for him. He likes having the freedom to choose the order of his subjects, and to spend lots of time playing and building things. And I love that I can give that to him.

Homemade sling shot - and yes, he almost always wears a hoodie

He's made enormous progress in handwriting this year, his reading is taking off, and we abandoned the kindergarten math book and jumped partway into the first grade level because math was so easy for him (I realized this after he looked at a worksheet one day and said, very dramatically, "Yawn! This is too easy, Mom." Time to move up!). I'm very happy with the progress he's made in his basic skills subjects.

And for a child who is already apt to equate learning with boring, even at the tender age of 6, I think I've done a good job of preserving his natural curiosity and keeping him interested in the process of learning. My hope is that we will find things that ignite his curiosity and get him thinking and wanting to learn things on his own.

For now, I'll keep exposing him to great stories and other interesting material, working with him on his basic skills, and providing lots of room for his interests in things like geography and Lego building.

Man, I love that little guy

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Homeschooling myths: patience

One of the comments homeschooling parents often hear is, "I don't have the patience to homeschool!" It seems to imply that the parents who do homeschool must possess extraordinary amounts of patience in order to do what they do.

So is it true? Are we little patron saints of patience, never to show our frustration or lash out like a sea captain yelling at his crew in a storm?

Not necessarily.

Yes, homeschooling takes patience. It tests your patience as well. But I am quite certain that every homeschooling parent is not blessed with some extra measure of patience that everyone else lacks. There is no prerequisite patience limit you have to possess in order to get your "I'm a weird homeschooler" card. We are regular moms and dads, and sometimes we are able to take that deep breath, keep our cool and handle a situation well. And sometimes we're just fighting to not lose our sh*t in front of the kids. It happens.

Getting your kid to practice their math facts or write a sentence or read a chapter is not much different than anything else us parents ask our kids to do. I would guess people aren't so much daunted by the idea of having to get their child's cooperation for schoolwork, as much as having to get their child's cooperation for schoolwork in addition to everything else - and knowing how hard it can be to get kids to finish their chores and do their homework before they turn on the XBOX.

Part of the beauty of homeschooling is that, when schoolwork becomes a drudgery, we have the option of taking a look at why, and changing things if needed. We chose a math program that doesn't have tons of worksheets filled with endless problems. We play a lot of math games to practice math facts and other concepts. Partway through this school year, we found that our language arts plan was a little dull, not only for David, but for me to teach as well. So we changed things up, and found a system that works better - and there is a lot less complaining.

That doesn't mean that every time your homeschooled kid decides they don't like something, you throw it out. There are those times when you have to push them through, even when they complain or moan or insist it is impossible. It isn't always easy, but often when you get over that bump in the road, you can remind them of what they achieved and share a sense of accomplishment with them.

Once you get into a routine with "doing school" at home, it becomes an expected and (gasp!) even looked-forward to part of the day. Do my kids always want to work on spelling or do copywork? No, not really. And do they complain and whine some of the time? Totally. "I don't waaaaant to do schoooooool....." But overall, doing our schoolwork has become a regular part of our routine, and most of the time we enjoy what we're doing. They do push back and complain and make it hard for me - sometimes. And I do lose my cool and yell and give myself a time out - sometimes. Other times, things go smoothly, and when it doesn't, I do get a little glimmer of a patience halo. But not always.

Trust me - if you've thought about homeschooling and your main hang up is the patience thing, don't sweat it. You might be surprised at how eager your kids can be to learn when you're able to tailor their curriculum to their abilities, needs and interests. A little patience is helpful, yes - but that's the case with parenting in general. You don't have to be a patience superhero to homeschool.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How homeschooling has changed me

I'm heading out on a limb and linking up with the Hip Homeschool Hop for the first time!

Our school year is winding down a bit, and summer days are beckoning. I've been thinking lately about this homeschooling journey, and not only how it has changed the course of my children's educational lives, but how it has changed me as well. Being a homeschool mom has given me an entirely new perspective, not just on education and learning, but on life and how we want to live it.

Everything is a learning experience
Suddenly, every trip to the grocery store is a chance to practice planning, list-writing, sorting, reading, adding, sharing, and turn-taking (they ALL want to push the cart - sigh). A trip to the doctor or dentist leads to learning about different careers, human anatomy, and hygiene. Even a walk around the neighborhood has been transformed into mini-nature study, as they look for signs of spring, or collect leaves and pinecones. It isn't that these things weren't happening before - it is that I am so much more aware of the little bits of learning that take place everyday. And I am much more likely to capitalize on them. It isn't that I feel the need to turn everything into "school" - but I'm cognizant of the learning opportunities that abound in the everyday in a brand new way, and excited to expand on them according to my kids' interest.

I'm far more open to their project ideas
My two boys decided last fall that they wanted to learn to sew. So we bought a great book on beginning hand sewing, some basic supplies, and set to work. They have made piles of pillows and stuffies, and David is currently planning a knight costume to wear to the Renaissance Faire. We also now have a new toolbox with some basic tools, and a big pile of scrap wood in the garage, with some woodworking projects in the works. From art and craft projects (for a while, we were nearly overrun with origami birds), to sewing and building, my kids have jumped into different skills and projects this year. I don't doubt the interest would have existed no matter where they were going to school, but homeschooling allows us the time to make these projects a priority. As I'm checking off boxes on my mental checklist (ok, that is art, that's home-ec), they are busy having fun building things. I know my openness to these often messy endeavors has increased tenfold.

Posing with some of their sewing projects

There is so much I can't wait to share
I love history, and I love great stories. We read about exciting people and events in history, and it makes my heart soar. When David brought me my beautifully illustrated copy of The Hobbit and asked me to read it, I thought I'd die. We've read amazing fairy tales and even my reluctant listener, Grayson, has been drawn in to some of the great stories, fiction and non-fiction alike, that I read aloud. And there is so much more to come! We are wrapping up our study of Rome, and will move into the middle-ages next year. Oh my word! Knights! Castles! Royalty! Battles! Inventions! There are so many wonderful things that I loved learning about, and it is such a blessing to be the one to share them with my kids.

I am pushed to learn and discover new things
David wants to build, build, build. He literally wants to build a robot to help do his chores. Writing, stories, history, literature? I can do that all day long. Heck, I can even hang with the math stuff, thanks to a great curriculum. But engineering? Robotics? Building? Dude, I have no clue. I am at a loss as to how to guide and nurture his budding interests in these areas - but thank goodness, good ideas are just a few keystrokes away. I've connected with local homeschooling friends who have kids with similar interests, and there's nothing like a good 'ole Google search. Their interests are stretching me to learn more and discover ways to help them learn more - and definitely helping in the don't-let-my-brain-turn-to-mush department.

As we wrap up this year and head into what is shaping up to be a project-filled summer, I'm excited for the possibilities - both for them, and for me!

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Thursday, June 6, 2013

If you can't "do it all" - do some well

I'm not afraid to be honest about how I don't do it all, and how in some things, I actually fail rather miserably. In fact, at this very moment, I have yet another pile of unfolded laundry, mocking me from behind my desk (I'll spare you the photographic evidence). Perhaps it is somewhat hilarious that my thoughts this morning have wandered to writing about, "how to keep up with things," but in an effort to at least partially redeem myself, I offer these tidbits of wisdom.

(Wisdom? I suppose that will be debatable.)

If your life is as busy as mine, and if you have kids I'd venture to guess it is (whether you educate at home or send them to school), and the little details of life can pile up and feel overwhelming. From the literal piles of laundry and clutter, to the more figurative piles of responsibility for nurturing a family, we shoulder a lot. And if you work outside the home, my hat is off to you, because I remember wandering into my house after a long day at work and thinking, "I don't know how I would do this if I had children," just before plunking my butt on the couch and flipping channels because anything else seemed to require too Herculean an effort.

That said, life still happens, clutter, laundry and dishes happen, and those kids seem to want to eat multiple times a day (seriously, what's up with that - like they are growing or something?). So what's a busy mom to do? Here are a few of my tips for not drowning in the sea of to-do lists and tasks that threaten to overwhelm the day to day life of a busy mom (or dad!).

1. Let some of it go. My laundry pile? I let it go. I know I will get to it eventually, and in the meantime, at least we all have clean clothes to wear. Whether it is leaving the dishes overnight, the stack of papers and mail on the kitchen counter, or a floor that could probably use some attention - sometimes it just isn't going to happen. And that's ok. Unless you have someone coming to your house who will run white-gloved fingers across your mantle, checking for dust, chalk it up to your house being "lived in" and let some of it go.

Don't ever do this at my house. Seriously.
2. On the other hand, prioritize what matters to you. I don't want to live in a sh*t hole any more than the next gal. At some point, stuff's just gotta get done. If having a clean kitchen is what makes you calm, do that first. If the laundry neatly folded and put away makes you happy, make sure that gets done. If you can't stand clutter, keep up with it. Make the things that have the biggest impact on YOUR state of calm and happiness a priority and keep those things in check.

3. Consider the needs of your husband and family. (If you have a husband and family, obviously). One thing that has helped keep me from drowning is knowing what is important to my husband. In our case, he hardly notices if there are toys scattered around and doesn't really care if he has to fish for his clothes in a laundry basket. It is far more important to him that he has good food to eat. So I know that if I have to choose between getting something clean and making dinner, dinner always wins. I do my best to prioritize food shopping and cooking so I know I can throw together a decent meal, even at the expense of other things. When you can't do it all, do the important things well, and the rest will catch up eventually.

When in doubt, cook something with bacon

4. Don't be afraid to value nurturing your family. This is probably the most important piece of the puzzle, honestly. When I first quit my job after having my oldest, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being a stay-home mom. I was quick to point out that I still worked part time from home, even though it was (and still is) a very small part of what I do all day. I was quick to say I "didn't quit my job to be a maid, I quit to be a mom." It took me a while to realize that the mundane tasks of running a home are actually incredibly valuable. Creating order out of chaos, providing nourishing and comforting food, even just keeping up with the daily tasks of life - they all create a home that we all want to live in. Home should be our safe place, the place where we want to be. It is the cornerstone of our family, the place where we gather, rest, play, and enjoy each other's company. Maintaining a home that is comforting, peaceful and just generally a nice place to be is an enormous gift to my family. Whether or not "society" agrees is largely irrelevant. And having that kind of home doesn't mean everything is spotless and perfect. It means that the work I do, even when it is just scrubbing toilets or reading "Green Eggs and Ham" for the zillionth time, or throwing together something for dinner - that work has value. It means something to my family, whether they know it consciously or not, and nurturing them is important and fulfilling.

Bottom line? Prioritize, get done what you can, and always keep in mind that you have the privilege of nurturing your family.

And when in doubt, make cookies. Cookies make every mom a rockstar.

Love on a plate.