Thursday, December 31, 2009

Boxing Day / Week / Month (or How Long Is it Gonna Take Me to Clear All This Junk Outta Here?)

We started on the clutter removal the day after Christmas- Boxing Day. Ideally, we would have done a big de-cluttering before Christmas to make room for all the new stuff, but we didn't. I lean towards the “better late than never” attitude in life, so rather than lament my delay, I'm getting busy now. We started on the worst room in the house- the one occupied by my 9 year old son. I knew it would be a big job, but my goodness, I really had NO IDEA what I was getting into. I don't think many 9 year old boys are tidy, but in addition to his age and gender, my son is an inventor, a creator and a collector of oddities. He love tape, and very thoroughly attaches the strangest things with it.

When he was younger, he actually asked Santa to bring him “lots and lots of tape- duct tape, packaging tape, electrical tape, regular tape- all kinds of tape.” Santa came through that year, and my kid spent weeks after Christmas taping together assorted household items- my hairbrush had quarters taped to it, action figures had nails and old keys taped to their heads, etc, etc. The fascination with tape has continued, and he also developed a passion for tying knots and taking apart old, broken electrical appliances.

When he first exhibited this curiosity, the inner homeschooling mom in me thought “What a great learning adventure- he can take apart that old broken TV and VCR in the garage, and I'll bet he'll get a lot out of it.” He thought it was great, and I'm sure he learned something, but I made the mistake of telling friends how much my son enjoyed taking things apart and taping together new inventions. Kind hearted folks started bringing us old broken stuff for him to play with. He loved it, but after a while, I didn't.

My husband is also a collector of cr@p (he swears it's all “good stuff and maybe it is, but a lot of it looks like semi- rusty metal parts to me) and you can only put so many things someplace before it starts looking a tad bit trashy. Between the two of them, my yard started looking a little too much like a junk yard for my comfort zone. I started hearing the theme song to Sanford and Son in my head every time I walked out there. I tried arranging some of it at pleasing angles, and telling myself it was artistic “assemblage” which made the “sculptures” hip. If I keep telling myself we aren't hillbillies, then we won't be, right?

Anyway, back to this year- I never imagined it would be easy, but we moved his bed, and oh my- the myriad of weirdness. It was the same in the closet, in the dresser and on his shelves. What makes a person tape together a half dozen bottle caps, a little plastic dog, a screw and the remote control and tie it with a piece of yarn with 14 million knots in it to the bottom rail of a bed? Is this art too? No matter how much I appreciate art, I can only house so much of it, so a major purging was in order.

The little guy was an amazingly good sport about helping with the project, and spent the first couple of hours saying “This is kind of fun!” Where he got that idea, I don't know, but I tried not to squelch it with saying or showing how much I disliked having to do it. He would make different game show noises for items he wanted to keep, give away or trash, and I had to guess them. They were pretty obvious- a little “ding ding” was good, “a loud buzz was a reject- but it did make it slightly more entertaining. Eventually, he lost his enthusiasm due to the physical and mental exhaustion of going through multiple mountains of stuff, but we kept on and on the 2nd day, his room was beautiful. The car was full of donations, and the trash and recycles can were full and we had a backlog while we awaited pickup. What a blessing to have so much stuff leave my life! I celebrated with a glass of sparkling wine.

Next is dear daughter's room. For some reason, after living through my sons room, I initially thought my daughter's would be easy. Once again, my cockiness got the best of me. She is better at making her stuff look more aesthetically pleasing, but there is still a whole lotta weird and random stuff to go through in there too- like neatly folded candy wrappers- that could probably should get out of my house. Then, there's still my room, my studio, the dining room cabinet full of homeschooling stuff, and twenty five million bookshelves crammed in every corner. I can't even bring myself to think about the garage at this point. My little de-cluttering project has gone from Boxing Day to Boxing Week, and may just end up being Boxing Month. It would have been nice to have it all done and all the junk out of here before we ring in the New Year, but that isn't going to happen. Again, better late than never.

I'd love to hear other people's ideas on how they tackle clutter build up. I seem to have a magnet for stuff and then it seems to breed rampantly in my presence. I can use all the help I can get.

I hear kids stirring now, so I know they're up for the day. Another cup of coffee, and I'll be ready to meet my daughter and see what we can clear out of her room. Maybe my kids at least will start the New Year without clutter, even if the whole house can't.

Happy New Year! Hope everyone has safe and festive celebrations.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Christmas Craftiness- Glitter Everywhere

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday week. I meant to get this part 2 post on Christmas Craftiness up before  Christmas, but punctuality is not my strong point, and I was too busy actually enjoying the holidays with my family to write about them. So, I'm a day late- but better late than never, right? (I tell myself that a lot.)

After the chaos of Christmas, my house is more of a disaster than usual, but the nice thing is, that there is glitter everywhere. It's a good thing that I love sparkles, because for the last couple of weeks, we have been finding stray glitter pieces everywhere- on our cheeks, in our hair- my son found some in his soup the other night. He decided it wasn't toxic, ate it anyway, and told me about it later. At least he didn't come up with any ideas about waiting for it to pass- glittery poop is the kind of thing that kid would find hysterical.

The source of the glitter was Christmas craftiness. We made cards and ornaments for the grandmas...

 I'm also still finding stray bits of wrapping paper and packaging, separating paper from plastic, and  marveling that this time of sharing and love is the one week in the year that our trash can is actually full when we drag it to the curb. Maybe I can use some of the paper for my belated solstice bonfire that never happened, unless the colored wrapping paper is full of lead or some other toxic chemical I don't want to burn. I guess I'll have to google it.

Anyway, I do feel very blessed that we were able to continue the traditions for us that make the holidays special each year. We read our favorite holiday books, and we watched our favorite movies. My mother-in-law has a wonderful tradition at her holiday gatherings that each guest must provide some sort of entertainment. The "talents" vary widely- we've had songs on the piano, poems, magic tricks, dances jokes and more. Of course, some have more actual talent than others, but all are fun, and entertaining, it is. Last year, my little family did a rousing rendition of the Heat Miser song from The Year Without a Santa Clause. For those of you not familiar with 1970's era Christmas specials, here's what I'm talking about...

It was a hit. This year, I opted for "Quirky Science Tricks" as seen below....

I don't have a British accent, and not all my tricks worked perfectly, but it was well received anyway.

Now, on this leisurely morning after the Christmas chaos, while being thankful for all the goodies that came our way this holiday, I am contemplating Boxing Day, and the idea of boxing up some of this excess stuff and passing it on to someone who needs it more than me. My younger child just finished reading our beloved old copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas aloud to me in bed, and I think I'll close with my favorite line from that Dr. Suess classic...

"And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas....perhaps...means a little bit more!"

I hope everyone's holiday was full of blessings and glittery good things!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas....

Despite the hecticness, consumerism and overall frenzied insanity of the month of December, I love the Christmas season, and all the fun activities that come with it.

We started off the month taking the kids, dogs, hot tea and hot soup on a drive to find a little snow and a Christmas tree.

We hiked and searched and debated, until we finally found a tree we could all agree was "the one." I think it is actually the first Christmas tree in at least 6 years in our home that has not been a complete Charlie Brown affair.

I still have fond memories of the year we chose a manzanita Christmas bush rather than a tree though.

We've been busy in the kitchen....

making and baking goodies- like these chocolate bugs and coconut mice...

We've been plotting, and sneaking, and whispering. I love how excited the kids get about surprising loved ones with gifts. We've made lists, and lost them and gone shopping and forgot what we were in the crowded store for. We've been packing and wrapping and mailing. I've ordered a few things online, meant to order a few more, missed the shipping deadline, and cursed myself for blowing it. Of course, like everyone else, we've stood in plenty of lines, and seen a few Grinch like shoppers as well.

No matter how we try, I don't see how we can escape the rushing and crowds and other such things that have just become another part of Christmas in America. But, the part of the holidays that I treasure is the time spent making and sharing things. I'm so glad I have artistic kids who like to create as much as I do. We've been doing a lot of crafting, and I'm hoping to post about it, and other holiday traditions this week.

For now, I've got cards to address, and ornaments to paint with my kids. I think I'll change into yoga pants to be more comfortable while I have another cookie and some cocoa while I'm at it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice and the Season of Lights

I am so very happy that the Solstice is here and gone. Even though it's only the first day of winter, and we probably have a lot more cold weather and dreary days before spring, I can already feel the shift toward the light. I have really been feeling the lack of light and shortness of days this year.

On some mornings when I go in to work early, I leave the house in the dark, and I come home in the dark, not having seen my farm or any of it's non human occupants at all that day. I know that plenty of people have that kind of schedule all the time, and they are fine with, or at least used to it. I personally think it stinks. I like seeing what is going on on my land and with my animals- not to mention the time exploring it all with my kids. It is certainly making me appreciate, and protect the uninterrupted days we do have to enjoy the outdoors here together.

I don't know how people in Alaska and the far north manage. I backpacked there for a few months one summer many years ago, and while the midnight sun was something to get used to in a tent, I cannot imagine the near complete darkness they have in winter. I remember a woman telling me that alcohol consumption, domestic violence, and suicides all go up substantially there in the dark season. I can imagine that is probably true.

I guess that shortage of daylight hours is probably why so many cultures and religions have recognized that we all seem to need a little extra light and celebration at this time of year. I could use a little extra light and celebration myself. Although it poured down rain all day here, dampening my idea of a Solstice bonfire party, I'm lighting candles, and enjoying the light and warmth that I do have. The darkest day of this year has past, the window of daylight hours will be growing again, and soon I'll be enjoying long days, evening walks with my family, and plenty of sunshine to play, explore and accomplish things outside. In the meantime, I am feeling awfully thankful for a cozy fire to cuddle up by, people I love to cuddle up with, games to play, stories to read, music to listen to, and hot toddies to celebrate with.

Happy Solstice everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Craftiness- Part 1- Advent Calendars

Despite outside obligations calling us in too many directions, I am feeling blessed that we have been able to squeeze in lots of Christmas craftiness around here. The house is a messy disaster, and we are finding stray glitter in everything, but it's fun anyway. It started the last week in November with Advent calendars. My kids have wanted to have one for years, and I have fond memories of my own childhood holidays, opening little doors each day to find a new miniature surprise. I also remember opening doors ahead of the day and sneakily eating my future treat, without ever really thinking what I was going to do when that day came.

Anyway, back to my kids and this Christmas... my younger child is always anxious to get started with the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, but since his older sister has a birthday the first week in December, I keep the holiday decorations away until after she has had a chance to have her special day celebrated without a Christmas tree taking up half of the living room. But, both kids were excited about the idea of making Advent calendars, and it seemed a small and unobtrusive enough thing as to not take away from the birthday excitement.

We started with a large square of felt for each kid. They came up with their overall design- one with a tree theme and one with a stocking theme, and cut out and sewed on the shapes and all the little pockets. This was great experience on the sewing machine for both of them.

They numbered the pockets with fabric paint, and we hung the finished calendars with clothespins on a ribbon strung across the wall. Since the Advent calendars go through the 24th- Christmas Eve we will take them down, and hang the stockings in their place. It took a few hours and we ended up with a couple of cute calendars that are reusable for next year.

Due to the memory of myself as a child eating my treats ahead of schedule, trying to blame it on my brother, and ending up making my mom annoyed with both of us, I decided not to fill all the pockets in my kids calendars in advance. I thought I'd do it each night after they go to bed, and they'd find their surprise every morning. Unfortunately for my kids, they have a slacker mom who isn't all that on top of every day kind of things, so sometimes (OK, maybe semi-often) I don't have the present in the pocket before they get up. Sometimes, I don't even have the present itself, or any idea of what it will be, so it ends up being a surprise all around. I don't want to do a chocolate kiss or candy cane every day, so in theory, I was going to be creative with non sugar surprises too. The kids started joking that “It's not really today yet” when they get up and see the empty pocket. After my coffee, when my brain is functioning at a slightly higher level, I come up with something, and they always like it. Once though, we left early in the morning and completely forgot about it until late that night, so they had two pockets full the next day. There was a chorus of “Yay- It's yesterday and today!” around the calendars that morning.

Maybe next year I will be organized enough to have the treats in mind and on hand before the actual day, but then again, maybe I won't. Either way, I hope when my kids are grown that they will remember the fun of the projects they made. And I'll continue clinging to the ideal that in the end, the overall happiness of the season is more important than precise punctuality anyway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Puppet Challenge

While perusing the goodies on a past issue of the Hands On Homeschooling Carnival, I came across a link to this great blog Think! which is all about fun, hands-on challenges for kids to solve. The whole idea is creative thinking and problem solving, and of course enjoying the process, which scores major points in my homeschooling theory.

As firm believers that learning (and life in general) should be as fun as possible, we love this kind of stuff in our house! I immediately got my kids set up with this puppet challenge.  It was posted weeks ago, and we are late on the bandwagon as usual, but who cares? It's educational and entertaining at any time, right?
The challenge was basically to make a puppet using 24 inches of string, 4 straws, 2 objects of your choice, 4 paperclips, and 4 index cards. They had to use all of the materials, (markers were allowed, scissors were not) and the puppet needed to have at least 3 moving parts.

My kids got busy right away, and were happily occupied with it for a bit of time. I was able to use this time to catch up on a little writing, and not feel like I was neglecting my homeschooling duties. They were independantly engaged in creating and problem solving- homeschooling at it's best!

I love seeing how differently people will solve the same problem using the same materials. My two very different kids came up with different shapes, different sizes, and different moving parts for their puppets.

The pictures aren't the best, but the challenge was fun nonetheless. We are definitely looking forward to more of these challenges in the future! Check out the link to Think! to find challenges for your family.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The BEST Birthday Party Ever!!!

My daughter recently had what was called by a distinguished guest, “the BEST birthday party EVER!” Yes, I am shamelessly tooting my own horn here because it was a bit of work to organize and set up, but the excited, giggling girls made it so very worth it.

The birthday girl had decided that she wanted a murder mystery type theme for the big day, and after doing a bit of research, looking at what was out there online, and talking to other parents, we decided to write our own mystery. There are a lot of pre-packaged parties available, but she wanted the flexibility to create the characters, and did not want the whole thing to be scripted. So, my budding young writer decided on 5 friends who she thought would get into the spirit of their roles and play along (as well as her little brother,) and she came up with a character for each of them. The characters were very funny, with names like “Suzette Twallette,” “Yo Mama,” and “Madam Kazoo” and with each having several ridiculous traits. After deciding that what called these characters together was “The Disappearance of Cynthia Silverspoon,” we had to somehow tie them to the missing woman. So, we added connecting details to their character sketches- one became her bodyguard, another her personal trainer, the owner of her favorite restaurant, her singing coach, and a snooty French cousin. Just for fun, we added details to each character that made them a suspect and gave them reason to dislike (and therefore potentially set up) one or more of the other suspects. Each character received a summons for questioning from a private investigator (me) along with a sheet describing each of the characters. I needed some adult help to pull this off, so I added in a gardener / chauffeur (Jonathan Brownthumb) and baker / maid (Miss Muffins) who were played by my husband and mother-in-law. My daughter didn't want to know who did it, or any other big details, so she handed it over to me at that point to come up with the rest. Now, this all came at a very busy few weeks in my life, so I was running on very little sleep, and as a result, there was a whole lotta silliness involved. Luckily, her scout troop leader passed along some ideas from a mystery party she had done, and that was great for getting ideas flowing.

Before the party, I secretly enlisted the help of a friend who lives up the street to play the part of Cynthia Silverspoon, and while my husband took our children on an errand, we made a video recording of Miss Silverspoon dressed in faux fur coat and pearls making a dramatic plea that she “just knew someone was out to get her...” While she was putting the directions to her secret bank accounts in the safe, she is knocked on the head by an off camera villain, and the video goes out.

Fast forward to the day of the party, the chauffeur picked up the girls (in costume and character,) and brought them to the estate for questioning. We took fingerprints, and mug shots, and then sat the suspects down to watch the video of the night of the disappearance. Starting at the scene of the crime, the kids had to follow clues which led them all over our property and pointed at every one of them at one time or another. There were messages in Morse code, flag code, maps, invisible ink, and more. They had to do quite a bit of thinking and looking things up while working together to figure out the clues.

At one point, they were called to pull up a file on the computer which contained another surprise video of our Jack Russel Terrier interrogating the animals on the farm. Our animals have quite a bit of personality, and since we spend a lot of time with them, my kids and I regularly make up goofy conversations between them with each animal having it's own recognizable voice. The kids thought this was hysterical!

One of the final clues led them to check the phone messages, one of which was from the “neighborhood watch” asking them to call about some suspicious activity. When they called the number back, they were directed to get to the missing woman's vacation home (shown on the map as the friend who played Miss Silverspoon's house.) We rushed up to her house and inside they followed a trail of items to an upstairs closet where they rescued Miss Silverspoon (she tied herself dramatically up when she heard we were coming) The final clues strewn around her house pointed back to the gardener and the maid, so we had to rush back to our house. The kids found the suspects trying to escape and nearly tackled them in their excitement to save the day. My mother-in-law is one hip grandma, and she did a great job hamming it up with a Scooby Doo inspired “We would've gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those meddling kids!” The kids loved it, and one proclaimed it was “the BEST birthday party ever!” All of that mystery solving made us hungry, so we ate pizza and cupcakes, and the girls had a sleep over in which lots of giggling, and very little sleeping took place.

I'll admit, it was an effort to think up the clues and put it all together, but it was totally worth it. The kids had so much fun, and so did the adults. Unfortunately, during the mystery, one of the girls fell while running for a clue, but got right back up and kept going with barely a tear. Maybe it was the excitement and adrenaline because she barely complained, but the next day we realized the poor girl had sprained her ankle. Luckily, she is on the mend, and she still had a great time.

I'd love to do one of these kind of parties again. I'm not opposed to buying a packaged one, but did have another friend warn me to check the ratings. She had purchased a mystery game for a family party last year, and was unpleasantly surprised as the game went along and very adult themes popped up all over the place. I'll definitely be on the lookout for that if I do buy one.

Now, I'm just on the lookout for when we'll be having our next celebration, and what the theme will be. No matter the work and mess, we love parties.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Busy, busy

My goodness, I haven't posted here since before Thanksgiving! This time of year is busy for everyone, and I feel like it's been especially hectic around here. I have had a good opportunity land on my lap, but the timing (or lack of time now) is causing me to really evaluate and lament my remedial time management skills. I've been working very part time teaching childbirth classes and helping new moms with breastfeeding for quite a few years, and my office recently got a nice big grant to increase our services. In turn, they asked me to increase the hours I work. Of course this is a blessing monetarily, but I haven't quite worked out the logistics with the family. First and foremost come my kids, and homeschooling them is my most important priority. We have been really fortunate to have found a style of homeschooling that is a lot of fun and works really well for us. We don't use a curriculum, but we do a lot of really cool stuff. The thing is, it takes a quite a bit of work on my part, finding fun stuff, activities, crafts, books, videos etc. It's work I really enjoy, but it does take some time, and now I'm feeling pinched for time. My husband is a great guy, and does try to help out. He is actually better at getting the kids to their classes on time than I am, but he is not the type to go on a field trip and think “Hey, I saw a book about that at the library- let's check it out!” He isn't going to start thinking that way any more than I am going to suddenly start thinking “Hey, the front wheel in my car is making a noise- I better get under there and see what it is.” I'd leave that to someone else, just like he'll probably continue to leave the gathering of outside resources to someone else (that would be me.)

I was already over halfway through my semester of online classes through my local college when this opportunity for more work came my way. I've been doing well with my classes, and was handling the workload just fine before I started working all these extra hours. Now, in the final few weeks of the semester, one of my professors has started piling on the essays- and unfortunately for me, they are academic style essays with citations in MLA format. It would be one thing if it was just extra writing of a style I enjoy- opinionated or sarcastic essays would be fine, but the academic voice is not one that comes easily to me. I have a brand new wrinkle in between my eyebrows, which is not what I wanted for Christmas. Maybe someone will send me some wrinkle cream.

The first two weeks of adjustment have certainly brought some turmoil to our normally happyish home. There were some tears and outbursts- I'll admit that some (but not all) were from me. I still haven't quite figured out how to make it all work, but I am trying to be thankful for my blessings, and open to finding a way. We are resourceful people, and pretty flexible too- we'll manage- I know we will. While convincing myself that this chance to become more organized and focused is actually a good thing, I am realizing how very grateful I am for the big chunk of time I have had to goof off and learn alongside my favorite people in the world. Even with my increased hours, I'll still get a lot more free and fun time with my kids than so many mothers do, and when I do work, it is work that I enjoy, and I hope makes the world a better place. So, I am consciously counting my blessings, and trying really hard to stop my whining, so I can get on with the business of enjoying life with my family.