Thursday, March 31, 2011

Resolutions Revisited

I am doing fairly well on my resolution to take a photo a day in 2011. I have missed 3 days so far. I don't think that is too bad. I am not sure if my skills have improved at all. I tried to read a few photography sites, but I mostly wing it. I hope to learn a bit more and utilize more of the functions on my camera in the next few months.

My 40 pound weight loss goal has been a bit more elusive. I joined a gym, and I have been going most mornings. Despite the dedication to fitness, the scale has moved upwards not down. My clothes are now a bit tight with the added muscle. On the bright side, I can definitely feel and see my muscles emerging. For the next few months, I am focusing more on inches lost and body fat, and less on the scale. I will also be tracking what I eat better.

I am still writing my letters weekly. A couple of weeks, I doubled up to keep on track. I really like writing the letters. I think a hand written note is special and usually well received. I am hoping as the year progresses, I even get a few in return.

Resolutions are tough, but I hope revisiting them will keep me focused.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A New View

We have been purging and freshening up our space the past few days. It seems like we can be inundated with stuff. When it starts to feel a bit overwhelming, I know we need to get rid of a few things. We have found for our family, less is truly more. It is also nice to change our furniture a bit. A new view can help our family perspective.

The hall closets were first, and I found a few things to donate. Those were fairly easy. Next came the kiddos' rooms. Their rooms are reasonably tidy. They do occasionally erupt, but typically it is easily remedied as everything has a spot. Lately Aine's room has not worked. It lacked a true space for her to play when she needed time by herself. We did a bit of brainstorming and talking about how she wanted her room. Then the two of us decided to rearrange her furniture. We dismantled her bed canopy and moved her bed to the wall. Just this subtle change opened up the room for her. We removed any unwanted toys and all the outgrown clothing. We then created a reading area as well as a new spot for her dolls. We moved her current wall hangings to accommodate the changes. This week we plan on creating some new pieces of art to hang on her bare walls.

Eamon and Benton's room was a bit easier. With the bunk bed and twin dressers, there are not a lot of options. Eamon said he preferred the current layout of his room. We did decide to tackle his dresser. He has been putting his clothes away for a few weeks. Usually this entails opening a drawer and dumping all clothing into said drawer. If this option is not available, he will dump his clothes onto the floor in a heap. We talked about a better solution. He figured out how he wanted his dresser organized, and we did it. While organizing the drawers, we removed all the old clothes. He is quite pleased. Benton also gave input on his drawers.
The only other challenge in the boys' room is figuring out a better LEGO storage solution. Eamon has a large bin under his bed, but he likes to keep a few on the dressers and bookshelf. These are the LEGOS he is currently using or waiting to use. Any ideas on a better way to store them as all the clutter on the dressers drives me a little crazy?
All this purging, organizing and rearranging spurred a lot of interesting discussions. I think Aine was a bit shocked when I told her that I never once wanted to be a maid when I was younger. She laughed when I told her I thought I would always have a maid not be one in my own home. We discussed how a family works together to keep order. She agreed that a clean house is a nice place to live. Eamon and I talked about the cost of cleaning. He did not like the idea of paying me to clean his room. He decided cleaning it with me was far preferable.

Next up this week our room and the main living areas. Perhaps Dave will come home and think he has stumbled into the wrong house. Or perhaps we will be better able to read, think and create in our freshened space.

Stolen Moments

People often wonder how I can manage to have any hobbies with three children. Most know we are eclectic homeschoolers fiercely entrenched in the unschooling camp. They know I spend all day with my amazing children. What they don't know is my secret. Stolen moments.

I have only recently discovered the secret to maintaining my passions while guiding small people. I spent a bit of time putting those passions aside to take care of others. I soon discovered that without taking care of myself I was not very good at tending to others. I decided I needed to make time for my interests, but this task was not easy. Initially I would stay up late at night. As most will attest, I am not a night owl. These late night craft-fests would result in one cranky mama. I tried getting up early. This didn't work either, as I often would be joined by my children who would then be cranky. I looked around to figure out what other people did. After observing others, I discovered that they had success by incorporating their craft into their daily lives.

I now carry my knitting and my reading with me everywhere. I know that I may not be able to read or knit for hours, but I can knit a few rows or read a few lines while sitting at the park. I can sew while guiding my older children with their sewing tasks. I can draw while my children are drawing. I can write when the evening draws to an end, and we are settling in for the night. No, I won't be able to sit for a long stretch of time and focus on my craft, but I can make progress a few stitches at a time.
Yarn Along with Ginny
This week, I have continued to work on my sweater. The pictures are boring as I am puttering along on the first sleeve, so I will spare you. To stave off boredom with the sleeve, I picked up the first pair of the twins' longies. I realized I just need to knit the legs, and the first pair will be done. This is a good thing as I need them in the mail in a couple weeks. Excuse the odd colored photo, I was stealing a few moments while my youngest was taking a bath.

I am reading Freedom still and supplementing it with a few good magazines. I really enjoy Everyday Food, Vegetarian Times and Mother Earth News. I picked up Real Simple for some fashion ideas as my sister is concerned I may need an intervention (I wore jeans with fivefinger shoes the other day). Are there any magazine I should be reading? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three is a Magic Number

My youngest child, Benton, is three today. It is hard to believe that three years ago we welcomed him into our home and our lives. He was born on a beautiful March afternoon. I remember parts of it like it was yesterday, but it also seems like a distant memory.
 (Benton 3/10)
Benton has grown so much in the past year. He is definitely "not a baby" which he is quick to remind everyone. He loves to play with his older siblings, and will not be excluded. They indulge his wishes and often left him join their games. He can climb any structure and loves to hang from limbs, car handles or any other fixture. He surprises everyone with this imitation of a primate.
Gammage Auditorium 3/11
Benton is a charmer. He will hide his face and play coy when a stranger approaches him. If he finds them worthy, he will bat his huge eyelashes and talk to them. He does not like to talk to everyone, and will often turn away from people. If he knows you and likes you, however, he will talk non-stop. He has a lot to say and is quite clear in his speech and his thoughts.
Phoenix Zoo 3/11
Benton loves the mechanical side of things. He can often be found carrying a screwdriver around the house or even the park. He prefers the real deal to play tools. He helps us fix everything and will often disappear with whatever tools he finds. He loves trucks and especially big machinery. Diggers is his favorite book, and he will shout in the car if he spies heavy equipment. His favorite is the excavator followed closely by all tractors. He spent almost an hour exploring the tractors at the zoo in lieu of enjoying the petting animals. He definitely preferred the John Deere over the Case.
Tractor at Phoenix Zoo 3/11
Benton is always a diplomat. He yearns for a peaceful calm home. If ever a voice is raised or stern words uttered, he is quick to tell the speaker to stop yelling. He is often overheard quoting admonitions to his siblings (Eamon, Daddy said do not get on the table!). He tries to persuade them to follow the course. He does not like to be reprimanded in any way. If he is redirected from his task or made to do something he does not want to do, he lets everyone know his anger and frustration. He will refuse to look at or acknowledge the offender. He is slow to accept them, but when he does he will talk about his hurt feelings and pride.
Benton loves to cuddle. He will often tell you to sit down, so he can crawl into your lap. He will bring piles of books to read with you. He loves his mama, daddy, brother and sister above all else. He gives big hugs and often kisses. He loves to hold hands and prefers to be carried. He no longer wants to ride in the sling - mostly because he is afraid he will fall asleep.

 Benton is truly a delight. None of us could imagine our family without him. Happy Birthday, Benton!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Finding Treasures

Recently Aine and I went treasure hunting. Our destination was the local Goodwill. We were mainly looking for a manual typewriter. Of course, we had to check everything out. We didn't want to miss any hidden treasures. The store was crazy, since it was half price Saturday. We looked at the electronics first hoping to find a typewriter or perhaps a vintage sewing machine. Yes, I like old sewing machines. Yes, I have a couple. Yes, this may indicate a problem.

We checked out the books from there. We found a paperback copy of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It made its way into our basket. Aine wanted to look for toys. This particular Goodwill lacks a good toy area. We checked the toy rack without success. I then led Aine to the sheet and fabric area (another one of my weaknesses). As we were looking around the vintage sheets, I noticed a large hat on the top of one rack. I pulled it down for Aine. She has wanted a straw hat for a couple weeks. She always has a particular idea of what she wants, and not just anything will do. This hat was perfect. It even had a pink ribbon to tie it on her head. She loved it.

Aine decided the hat needed flowers. She thought she saw some in another section of the store, so we headed that direction. That child sure knows her stuff. I always tell her she has really sharp eyes, because she can find treasures that others miss. Sure enough, there were a couple bags of light pink roses. Perfection! She quickly snatched them up. As we were celebrating her finds, I noticed a loaf pan on a nearby shelf. This wasn't just any loaf pan, but a Pampered Chef stoneware pan. I grabbed it.

We checked out spending a whopping total of $3. Aine checked the display case on the way out. A sparkly ring caught her eye. She asked the attendant if she could try it on her finger. It was a beaded ring with a flower. She was desperate to buy it despite the very long lines. With her money in hand, she marched back into line. Aine bought herself that ring for $1.

When we arrived home, Aine immediately started decorating her hat. She showed the rest of the family modeling it with pride. Eamon was quite impressed with his sister's finds. He dressed up, and escorted her around the front yard. Aine and I proclaimed it a good treasure hunting day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On to the arms

I had a few opportunities to sit and work on my sweater this week. On St. Patrick's Day I spent several hours with friends knitting and laughing while our children played. The conversation was refreshing and the time to knit was appreciated. With ample knitting time, I was able to bind off the body of the sweater and start working on the sleeves. I thought I could knit two at a time, but my circular needle is much too short for such things. Luckily I have a set of double points. Out they came and progress is again being made. 

This sweater seems to be taking a long time. I think it is due to my size. Some days I love being tall, but while knitting I truly wish I were petite and had small feet. The length of the sweater almost undid me. I kept asking anyone who was near if they thought I could stop yet. I am not sure if it is long enough, but I decided to stop and live with it. The length seems fine to me and blocking should solve any issues.
My contribution to Ginny's Yarn Along

I am still reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. What can I say, it is 562 pages. The interesting piece is other people's reaction to it. I have been asked by several friends and members of our homeschooling community about the book. Many have read it or one of his other works (specifically Corrections). They either love it or hate it. A few didn't want to finish the book. So far it is enjoyable. I don't have a problem with it, but I could see just stopping. For now, I will continue to bring it with me to the gym and read it as my cool down. It is amazing how much you can read in 15 minutes.

On a side note: The weather here is beautiful. Benton brought me a few flowers today while we waited for Eamon and Aine to finish swimming lessons. They love lessons especially since they have their favorite teacher again. Both had no trouble with the skills after spending several weeks on swim team last summer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poké What?

Eamon loves all things Pokémon. It started when he began reading a few of the comics. His interest grew as the library acquired more comics. He read all the books again and again. He would talk about the characters endlessly. 
Then we went camping with a group of friends. A few of the boys his age played Pokémon video games and had a Pokédex. Eamon had not known about this world as he doesn't have a Nintendo DS. All his play came from what he read and his imagination. The group talked and reenacted Pokémon for the duration of our trip. They discussed levels and did a bit of card trading. One of the kids forgot his Pokédex when he left, giving Eamon extra time to peruse it. He studied each page carefully committing it all to memory.
Eamon recently decided he wanted to buy a trading cards. A few weeks ago he used his spending money to buy a set. He read them all, memorizing the various attributes. He could tell you about each Pokémon, how it evolves, its power, its speed and anything else you might need to know. At any given moment he would spout information about Pokémon combining his knowledge from the Pokédex and his cards.

With all this passion, we decided to check out the Pokémon group in our homeschooling community. Armed with his paying cards and little knowledge of the game, we met at a local park. First everyone did a bit of trading. A few games were set up and the battles began. Eamon watched at first, and then one of the veteran players showed him how to play. One of the moms explained the basic rules to me as well. She also gave me information on sets and trading. Eamon set up his bench, used his energy cards and worked his way through a game. He had so much fun.
When you are passionate about something, you want others to be. Eamon always wants to play Pokémon. He now has a group that meets once a month that can speak his language. For a long time, I had no idea what this language entailed. I listened, watched, and now I think I understand. This description from Wikipedia sums up my knowledge:
Players of the games are designated as Pokémon Trainers, and the two general goals (in most Pokémon games) for such Trainers are: to complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the available Pokémon species found in the fictional region where that game takes place; and to train a team of powerful Pokémon from those they have caught to compete against teams owned by other Trainers, and eventually become the strongest Trainer, the Pokémon Master.
You can now find us all running around outside capturing invisible Pokémon. Eamon is the leader. He orchestrate battles between the characters and creates fantastic role-playing games. He has his sister and brother on board with the play. They also are becoming experts. We work together trying to gather as much knowledge as Eamon. He likes his role as teacher and will tell anyone who listens all about his current passion.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A day in the kitchen

Some days begin and end in the kitchen. I like to cook. I enjoy food blogs. I can read about food at almost any time of day. I especially like 101 Cookbooks, Moderate Oven, Smitten Kitchen, Remedial Eating and my friend's new food blog My Sweet Life. There are others that I read, but not as often as these. I also love cookbooks. I have a few and enjoy checking them out from the library. I am always on the lookout for delicious food. I love variety in my diet and am always trying new things.

Of all the forms of cooking, I really like to bake. If given the choice, I would much prefer making chocolate chip cookies to making dinner. Sweets are a bit of my downfall. Most of the goodies I make are somewhat healthy. I substitute flax seed or chia seeds for eggs, use applesauce in lieu of oil and almost exclusively use whole wheat flour. I still use sugar, although I occasionally substitute maple syrup or honey. In a nutshell I try to make my obsession with baked goods not a detriment to my family's overall health.

I am most predictable in my baking. I prefer chocolate chip cookies to pretty much anything. I have six recipes for different types in my recipe box. I love them all with their subtle differences and nuances. I recently found out that my children do not like chocolate chip cookies above all else. They actually have other favorites. One like snickerdoodles and the other sugar cookie. Can you imagine such a thing??

In an effort to appease the masses, I recently spent a few hours in the kitchen making a few of everyone's favorites. I made banana bread, baked oatmeal cake and of course chocolate chip cookies. The banana bread is fantastic and gets rave reviews whenever I take it anywhere. I often add mini chocolate chips to one loaf, which is always a big hit. I found out about the baked oatmeal from a friend. It is delicious for breakfast or added to a bowl of yogurt and berries. And finally I made the cookies following my current favorite recipe. Everyone was quite pleased with the yummy baked goods. Below is the recipe for my banana bread. It never fails to impress.
Banana Bread - original source unknown

4 ripe bananas (1.5-2 lbs, but I often use more)
1 c pkd light brwn sugar
1/2 c oil
1 lg egg
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking pwdr 
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream (I usually use homemade yogurt)
1 T vanilla
I added choc chips on a whim

Preheat oven to 350
Beat bananas until mashed.  Add brown sugar, oil and egg.  Beat until smooth
Reduce speed to low.  Add flours thru salt.  Bet until smooth 
Add sour cream and vanilla.  Beat until combined.
Fill muffins 3/4 full
Bake 25-30 mins rotating pan halfwy thru

Saturday, March 19, 2011

All the better to see you with

Eamon has gone to the ophthalmologist for several years. It started when he complained of seeing double. Upon further investigation, we noticed he would often cover one eye when reading or studying something closely. The doctor prescribed eye exercises and continued monitoring. At his recent visit, he was given a prescription for glasses. He was a bit reticent at first. The ophthalmologist said he didn't need to wear them;  his prescription is not strong. If he wanted to wear glasses, he could but no stress.

Recently Eamon asked to get his prescription filled. I took him to Costco to pick out a pair as I knew they were reasonable. The staff was helpful, and the glasses cost approximately $100. Yesterday we received a call that the glasses were available, and we picked them up. Eamon is so excited. He has been wearing them often. I ordered a backup pair from Hopefully he likes those too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Good Reminder

My mom's mom was handy. My grandma could saw the legs off a dining table and make it into a level coffee table in one cut. She would sew quilts for her grandchildren with a sewing machine that she tinkered with herself. She crocheted blankets. She took apart and fixed the washing machine while standing in ankle deep water (I won't mention that the machine was still plugged in). She cooked for a family of eight and still enjoyed cooking for her grandchildren. She knew how to refinish furniture, resurrecting old pieces that had been cast-off by others. She would grab a paintbrush and add color to walls as well as canvases. She did what needed to be done or was at least willing to try.

Whenever I visit my parents I am reminded of my grandma. I recall her willingness to try, and of her creativity. My mom has several things in her home that my grandmother made. The coffee table mentioned above sits in front of their couch. Several of my grandmother's paintings adorn the walls. The quilt on one of the beds was made by my mom with grandma's help. But perhaps my favorite is a needlework piece she made.

I remember the framed embroidery hanging in two of my childhood homes. It had a place of prominence hanging by a rocking chair in the living room or by the front entry. It always struck me. My mom would sit in a rocker just like the picture with my youngest siblings. I would ponder the simple verse and wonder about it. Did my grandma make it because it reminded her of my mom, her only daughter? As I grew older, I started to understand the message. I realized that such a simple verse has so much importance and meaning. My grandmother, herself a mother of six, did not make it because the figure reminded her of my mom. She made it hoping to remind my mom and her future generations that the job of a mother is amazing yet short-lived. She wanted us to remember that

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'til tomorrow...
for babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow
so quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep...I'm rocking my baby
and babies don't keep.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not Much to See Here

The weather has been beautiful here. We have been spending much of our time at the park or riding bikes outside.
With the outdoors calling, I have had little time to knit. My sweater is moving along. The body is almost done (have I been saying that each week). I am sure of it now. Just need to begin the arms. I also realized I need to get moving on a couple pair of gift longies. So much for having "plenty of time." I am now down to the wire. 

Reading has been easier since I joined a gym. I was conflicted about joining one, but I was not exercising like I should. I try to walk daily, but things happen. Carving out that time for me is a bit easier with a gym membership. I head out each morning and workout before anyone is up. The early alarm isn't easy(5am is tough!), but I have time for working out and a bit of time to read. I am still reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and liking it quite a bit.

Perhaps next week I will have pictures that mark some visible progress in my knitting and in my reading.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fun with Grandma

We have been busy playing with Grandma the last few days. Today she took the kiddos to the store to pick out a toy. Each picked what they most wanted. The decision process was a long one. I am sure Grandma was unprepared for the deliberations that ensued. After a long time, Eamon chose a remote control boat, Aine a Barbie and Benton a big red bouncing ball. They were delighted with their picks ripping into packaging as soon as they were in the car.

We stopped for a brief lunch during which they plotted how they were going to use their new treasures. Eamon wanted to try his boat immediately. We decided to deviate from our plan to visit the dino museum and headed to a local park with a pond instead. All three were ecstatic! Eamon launched his boat and everyone had a chance to pilot the boat. The boat worked really well. The range was perfect for our neighborhood park, and the speed was good for novice hands.
Aine skipped across the rocks near the edge of the pond. She promptly fell right into the water.
This led to much experimenting with how far you could walk into the pond. They tried to see if they could paddle across the small pond on logs that were floating in the water. These shenanigans ended when I finally told them the pond was not for swimming, and they needed to vacate the gross, disgusting, dirty, pond water.
They continued to race the boat around the pond scaring waterfowl and turtles alike for quite some time. We finally decided to head home when the waterlogged clothes became a bit too much and bellies started to rumble. They recounted their exploits for daddy over dinner, and have begun planning tomorrow.

I wonder if Grandma is up for more adventures in the morning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Let me time you

Eamon is the proud owner of a new watch from his dad. He loves it. It is a bit big on his seven and a half year old arm, but he wears it with pride. It was his daddy's don't cha know. He sports it daily without fail, and he checks it often. Eamon will spout off time facts throughout the day.
Mama, do you know when high tide is? 
Mama, how fast can I run around the block? 
Did you know it took you ten seconds to do that.
I can time you. Ready, set, go!
Don't be puzzled by his latest armwear. His new black timepiece is a treasure, and his is ready to tell you the time if you ask.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Difficult Date Day

Recently Dave and I set off for a hike by ourselves. Usually we go as a family, but Dave wanted to explore a different trail which was rated moderate to difficult. We were not sure our kiddos would enjoy it, so they visited a bit with my parents while we hiked.
Our destination was trail 306 at Shaw Butte located in the Phoenix mountain preserve. The hike was beautiful. It started off as an easy walk from the North Mountain Visitors Center. We gradually encountered steeper inclines as we made our way to the top.  We definitely did some heavy breathing on the hills, but we were amazed by the views. I have lived most of the last 27 years in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and it has grown so much in that time. The views of the city were expansive.
Springtime in the desert finds wildflowers in bloom. They range in color from yellow to white to orange to purple. We were lucky that recent rains have left the desert wet and ready for spring. We spotted quite a few yellow brittlebush on the mountain,
as well as a green ocotillo in bloom.
We didn't encounter any wildlife as we hiked, although at times it felt like the city was miles away. We were surrounded by mountains as we made our descent. I even commented to Dave that it felt as if we were out in the middle of nowhere (except for the power lines).

In the end we hiked a little under 5 miles, and enjoyed our time together. Although it involved a bit of heavy breathing, we managed to talk without interruption and revel in each other's undivided attention. We have plans to do it again soon.