Friday, August 14, 2015

Flashback Friday: Sounds of my childhood

Growing up, I had a collection of fairy tale audio books.  They came with an illustrated book, each done by a different illustrator, and a cassette tape.  I would place the tape into my own small, red, tape player and read along, turning the pages at the sound of the beep.  I loved these books.  I loved the timber of the voices, the story-enhancing music in the background, and the illustrations.  I would spend hours listening to them.  This collection of audio books is one of the few things that I have kept from my childhood.  The My Little Ponies, and the Strawberry Shortcake dolls did not make the cut.

(Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Wild Swans)
I have been wanting to introduce my children to these books for a while, but there was a bit of a problem.  We don't own a cassette player.  Nor was I excited about purchasing an obsolete piece of equipment just to transfer the tapes to an electronic audio file.  Luckily, I have friends and acquaintances who hold on to  such archaic listening devices, and I was able to borrow a tape player from them.  Now however, I can see the benefit of owning our own tape player.  (Although, I won't be purchasing one anytime soon.)  My kids love being able to put the tape in, press the button, change the tape, etc. all by themselves.  While Finn is pretty savvy with his ipod, Enna is way to young to manage hers.

These books have already paid off in hours of entertainment.  A win for all involved.  So far the favorites have been: Rumpelstiltskin, The Bremen Town Musicians, Stone Soup, Cinderella, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Stories that have been deemed to scary due to their illustrations?  Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A family of four

Prior to actually having a family, when asked about how many kids I would like, I replied four.  I grew up with three other siblings and thought it was nice.  While I wasn't close to any of my siblings growing up, they have become invaluable as an adult.  I really wanted my children to have the mental, emotional, physical support that siblings can provide.  And I wanted them to have more than one option.  

After getting married and actually having a child, I decided four was unlikely.  The late(ish) start on our family and the reality of having a child and not ever sleeping again were strong factors. Three, instead, became the perfect number.  There is a lot of symmetry with three: an eldest, middle, and youngest child.  The siblings start to feel like a unit unto themselves.  Three was perfect.

Have you ever wanted something, and it was a good, honest, righteous desire, but you realized that that particular reality was not destined to be yours?  That is a hard, painful place to be.  I felt a lot of grief when I let go of my vision of a family of five.

There were a number of factors influencing our decision: Mr. F.'s and my health (or lack thereof), the intensity of our children, Mr. F.'s and my personalities (which are not what you called laid back), the fact that we haven't slept since having children, and realizing that I don't have memories of most of Finn's childhood and Enna's first year and a half because I was sleep-deprived and depressed.  I finally reached a point where I was 1) getting some sleep, 2) exercising consistently, and 3) enjoying life and having energy.  The difference was amazing and life-changing and everything wonderful, and I had no desire to reset everything and start from ground zero.  In fact, even contemplating getting pregnant again and dealing with the fatigue, sleeplessness, and depression gave me a feeling akin to PTSD.

But the guilt!  It became apparent to us that our family was complete with our two kids.  However, we are Mormon.  And Mormons don't just stop at one or two kids.  (Not unless you are physically incapable and even then you adopt.)  We should bring as many souls into our wonderful family as we are able!  Who is better equipped to raised them?!  I am being a bit facetious here, but not by much.  I would look around at my congregation as I wrestled with this decision of stopping at two children, but then seeing every other family in our age group having more.  I felt like a failure.  Why couldn't I cope with more children when everyone else could?  Why was I so tragically flawed?  Obviously, those aren't healthy thoughts.  But there were there, and they still rear their ugly heads.

The guilt really obscured the confirmation that this decision was right.  How could two children be the perfect number for our family when it wasn't for practically everyone else?  Were we just being selfish?  But, no.  We are meant to be a family of four.  The peace was there under all that cloud of doubt and self-criticism.  

Mostly, I worry about my children.  I so desperately want the two of them to be friends.  I want them to be able to depend on and support each other as adults.  I know very few people who grew up with only one sibling and those that did and are still close friends as adults are those with siblings of the same sex.  However, I read one passage in Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist that gave me hope.  She said:

Because Todd is my only sibling, and I am his, there's something completely singular about out relationship.  There's no one on earth who has shared our history, no one on earth who can see the world from the corner that we alone inhabit.  As children, we played on the beach together for hundreds of hours.  Our friends were back at home playing video games and going to sports camps, but he and I, he and I, were always at the lake, each other's best playmate by default.

She then says that she feels that bond and kinship even now as adults.  That she can just look at him across a table and know what he is thinking at that moment.  I have to have faith that Finn's and Enna's shared history will bind them to each other in a unique and powerful way.  A way that will see them through adulthood.          

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Summer of the Swim Lesson

I declared this year to be the summer of the Swim Lesson.  Finn, due to his sensory issues, has always, always, disliked getting his face, hair, ears, etc., wet.  Washing hair during bath time has always been......difficult.  However, I am of the opinion, that swimming is an essential skill to learn.  And swimming, as you know, requires getting your face wet.  Very, very wet.

Last year, we did some parent and toddler/preschooler swim lessons.  While they were good, we did not do them long enough for Finn to become comfortable in the water.  This summer, I signed the kids up for six weeks of lessons, with classes Monday-Thursday.  I wasn't sure how long it would take, but by jingo, that child of mine would learn to be comfortable with a wet face.

It took a week and a half.  I was actually surprised by the quickness.  I think the process was aided significantly by his little sister showing a lack of fear/anxiety/reluctance to get her face wet.  During Enna's class, Finn would throw rings into the pool for Enna and I to submerge and get.  He had a great time and so did Enna.  However, I told Finn that the next day, he would need to practice diving for rings while I held him.  Before class the next day, Finn and I practiced grabbing the rings from the bottom of the pool.  For the first couple of times, he clung tightly.  But after a few times, he was fine.  More surprising, he started initiating going under the water himself.  He started putting his head fully underwater for the bobs, and while he was practicing his skills with the teacher, he would put his face underwater too.  That was it!  From that point on, he grew more and more confident and as such, he rapidly progressed in swimming.  By the end of the six weeks, he was swimming by himself with his face fully in the water.  I have been amazed at his progress.  As an added bonus, rinsing hair at bath time has also become less of an ordeal.

Enna, too, has shown a lot of improvement.  She is just like a little duck paddling along, with me giving her only a little support.  She, too, overcame some apprehension about jumping into the pool unassisted.  Now, I have to watch out or she will jump in while my back is turned.  

The last day of each two-week session is slide day.  The kids who are still learning their strokes or are too young, wear life-jackets and the teachers/lifeguards man the deep-end, and the kids can spend the class jumping of the diving board or going down the water slide.  The kids loved it.  Luckily, Mr. F. worked second shift on the last week of swimming lessons so he was able to see the kids in their lessons and go down the slide with them.

Now though, I am glad the six weeks are over.  It was quite busy to get everyone dressed and slathered with sunscreen each morning and then bathed afterwards.  I like the slower pace of the mornings now.  I don't have to stress about homeschool finishing by a certain time.  We will probably continue swim lessons for Finn in the fall.  We need something for P.E.,  and I want to make sure we engrain those skills more solidly before next summer.  I don't relish explaining to Enna why she won't be able to get in the pool as well.

More pictures here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Happy Fourth

As a parent, I feel this pressure to make childhood magical and have elaborate holiday celebrations in order to make memories.  It is a social media trap that I find myself falling for again and again.  To avoid this obvious defeating pitfall, I should ditch the social media scene altogether except I do enjoy keeping tabs on friends in distant lands.  In the meantime, I need to remind myself that 1) I am my own person. 2) I don't see the whole picture. 3) Childhood is magical regardless of my efforts.

Take for example the 4th of July.  I had almost convinced myself that I needed to make special holiday pancakes along with an elaborate picnic dinner complete with pie.  In actuality, my kids wanted me available for fun.  Honesty, doing something as simple as eating outside was enough of a change from our everyday routine to make it special.  So, that is what I did.  Breakfast was our normal baked oatmeal.  Dinner (which was actually a lunch since the weather was forecasted to turn nasty later) consisted of grilled hamburgers/hotdogs, chips, a fruit salad, and raw veggies.  I did however, make a pie.  A very lovely blueberry and cream pie.

This kids had a wonderful time.  We ate outside and then set off some really mild fireworks.  We went to bed before official fireworks even started and weren't even disturbed.  It was enough.  I was enough.

Blueberries and Cream Pie
adapted from Bakerlady

Recipe for once single pie crust (I adapt this one from SmittenKitchen)

3 cups blueberries
3.5 ounces honey
1.5 ounces all-purpose, gluten-free flour
2 eggs
4 ounces sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Streusel Topping
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar (sucanat)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 ounces all-purpose, gluten-free flour

Roll out pie crust into a 12-inch circle.  Transfer to a pie pan.  Trim, fold, and crimp edges.  Chill for 30 minutes in freezer or refrigerator.

While crust is firming up, mix together the filling (honey, flour, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla).  Put the blueberries on the bottom of the crust and pour the filling over the blueberries and spread it out.

For the streusel, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour.  Pour the melted butter into the bowl and mix everything together.  Crumble the topping over the pie.

Bake the pie at 350 for 50-55 minutes.  Let pie cool completely.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sewing: Kid clothes

I have been taking great satisfaction out of making clothes for my kids that actually fit them.  Having pants that fall off their bum (because they are no longer in diapers and are so skinny in comparison to their height) turns out to be a huge pet peeve of mine.  Who knew?  So I have been practicing my sewing skills and learning new ones by sewing up some pants that fit.

This below outfit I made in March/April.  It is the Field Trip Cargo Pants and Raglan T-shirt pattern from Oliver + S.  I omitted the cargo pockets because I thought they would add unnecessary bulk.  Also, the pattern doesn't include any closure to the pockets, and I didn't want them to just be flapping.  And while other people have developed different solutions to the pocket dilemma, I just didn't want to spend the effort troubleshooting.  In any case, I *love* how they turned out.  Finn loves to wear them.  I also doubled the fabric on the knee patch area--a really simple solution since it is a separate pattern piece.  The fabric is a medium weight twill that has a really soft nap.  On some of the seams, my machine really struggled.  However, I had read on another blog to hammer denim fabric to make it easier to sew.  I gave it a try on the parts that were rather thick, and it worked like a charm.  I also used a denim needle.

The shirt is a super easy sew and also turned out really well.  I had enough fabric to make another short-sleeve shirt version with the opposite colors (green body, gray sleeves).

Cost breakdown:

Pattern: Field Trip Cargo Pant and Raglan T-shirt = gift
Kaufman Montauk Twill in charcoal: 2.5 yards @$8.98/yard = 22.45
Kaufman Laguna Stretch Jersey Knit in heather pepper: 1 yard @6.98/yard
Kaufman Laguna Stretch Jersey Knit in grass: 1 yard @6.98/yard
No-roll elastic: $0.55 for 3/4 of a yard.

Total: $36.96 for 2 shirts and a pair of pants.

The shirts were a lot cheaper than what I could buy for similar quality.  The pants were about the same as those I could buy (e.g. Land's End Iron Knee pants).  Also, I think I have enough of the twill left over to make some pants for Enna, so that makes the price a bit more reasonable.

I also decided in a fit of insanity to make all of the kids' shorts this summer.  Again, part of that was to get the right fit for both Enna and Finn.  Finn can still fit into his 2T shorts of 3 years ago, but they were getting a bit short.  Enna was fitting into a size 12mo but those were a bit short too.  I used both the Sunny Day short pattern from Oliver + S which is a free download and also purchased the Sketchbook short pattern for something a bit more grown up for Finn.  (That pattern includes pockets and a faux fly.)  For both kids I used the pattern size that corresponded with their measurements for waist and hip but then added extra length. I don't have any formal, posed pictures, but below are pictures of them in action.  Finn is wearing the Sketchbook shorts and Enna is wearing the Sunny day shorts sewn in a knit.

Cost breakdown:

     Sunny Day Shorts = free
     Sketchbook shorts = $15.95 (made without the pleat)

    Kaufman Carolina Gingham in orange: 1.5 yards @$6.95/yard = $10.43
    Kaufman Interweave Chambray in khaki: 1.5 yards @$8.98/yard = $13.47
    Kaufman Chambray Union Indigo: 1.5 yards @ $7.98/yard = $11.97
    Interlock in heather grey: 1 yard @$7.98.
    Valori Wells Quill Interlock in purple: 0.5 yards @ ?/yard = $7.49

Elastic: about $6.00
Number of shorts made: 11

Total: $73.29 or $6.66/shorts

The price per pair will decrease as I make more since I included the price of the pattern in the total.  Could I find similarly priced shorts at Target?  Yes.  But these fit.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

Mid-May, Finn graduated from preschool.  The preschool he attended was a 5-day, half-day, pre-kindergarten, Christian preschool (descriptive enough for you?).  I was so worried when he started.  I worried about his ability to focus, make friends, behave appropriately, cope with all the sensory inputs, etc.  In the end, he did so well!  I was so happy with his progress. 

My wish would be for an almost identical situation for him for Kindergarten: half-day, small class size, motivated parents, fabulous teachers, etc.  Unfortunately, that is impossible.  The public elementary school for which we are zoned is the worst in the area.  It is a Title 1 school that serves a lot of poor minorities.  It very much has an inner-city feel.  While I think other children might do fine (there are some great teachers!),  I really felt that Finn would not.  In fact, every time I thought of him going there, I felt physically ill.  I looked into attending other public schools, but we didn't fit any of the exemptions.  Another option was a charter school that everyone raves about where students are picked via lottery.  We signed up, but we did not make it this year.  That left private or homeschool.  Private was outrageously expensive, and honestly, I had impressions that our money would be better spent elsewhere.  Homeschool it is.

I have been thinking of homeschooling for a while even though my kids were too young until just now.  There are a lot of benefits: working with your child's preferred learning style, working at his pace, freedom of schedule, quicker lessons, more playtime, etc.  However, I was concerned mainly with my ability to teach effectively and to have patience.  Also, I won't lie, I was really looking forward to having a big chunk of time to myself, free of kids (or at least one).  As an introvert, I really do need some time alone to recharge, and I rarely get that with my kids.  

Despite my worries, we have been doing pretty well.  We took a whole whopping week off, but then Finn wanted to have stuff to do.  Scheduled, structured stuff.  So, we started homeschooling at the beginning of June.  I ended up using the curriculum Bookshark.  If you are familiar with homeschool curriculum at all, you may have heard of Sonlight.  Bookshark is the secular sibling.  Same company, same curriculum but without the religious/missionary books included.  Sonlight/Bookshark is all about books.  The kids learn about science/history/LA through reading stories.  What I liked about them is 1) all the books.  I felt that Finn would learn more through the reading of stories than textbooks.  2) multiple options to pick from in other subjects.  For math you pick between Horizons, Singapore, or Saxon and for phonics Handwriting Without Tears or A Reason for Handwriting.  Everything then comes together with an instructor guide and a schedule.  It makes for very little work on my part.

I am surprised at how much we get through in very little time.  We cover all of our material (which is pretty substantial) in about 2 hours (or less), 4 days a week--basically the time it took just driving Finn to and from preschool.  Now that we have started swim lessons for the summer (4 days a week in the morning), we are doing about half the work (30-45min).  We squeeze it in between breakfast and getting dressed for swimming.  That way, we still have our afternoons free which seems to be what Finn prefers.  

It is fun to see what he remembers from our very short lessons.  The other day, he mentioned that Egypt is so hot, you could cook an egg outside!  (A tidbit that he remembered from the kid encyclopedia we had read a week before.)  He excitedly showed me a picture from the front of a National Geographic because it had the same columns that were on ancient Greece buildings.  (Another point from the kid encyclopedia.)  It is nice to be able to reinforce ideas that we have talked about during our lessons throughout the day/week/month.  We have had a lot of thunderstorms lately, and we have been discussing weather during science--lots of opportunities to repeat information from our books.

Am I going to do this forever?  (Or for 13 years?)  I don't know.  I am just taking it one year at a time.  All I know is that it was the best decision for this year.  Who knows where we will be in a year from now?  I would like to see Finn interact more with kids his age.  So far we are limited to church, swim lessons, and the occasional playdate we can schedule.    

Just for fun, beginning and ending pictures for preschool.  I can't believe how much they both changed in a year!  Where are my babies?!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May Happenings

May has treated us well.  The weather has been really nice, and I am really enjoying my children at their current ages.  It makes a huge difference to be more mobile.  Enna is potty trained and now sleeps in a big bed.  We more or less get sleep at night.  Life is good.

We have a historical site near us where the docents don historical garb and show visitors life in Colonial America.  For May Day, they had special activities planned: a outdoor performance of The Tortoise and the Hare, people spinning wool, some historically appropriate vendors, hair wreath making, maypole dancing, etc.  We came at the end which worked out well.  It wasn't overly crowded, and we got to participate in the Maypole Dance.  The weather was perfect and everyone was entertained.

We also went camping for the second time.  We decided to ventured out a bit further than before by traveling to Harper's Ferry--a 2-3 hour drive from our home.  It is a quaint historical town near the intersection of two rivers: Shenandoah and Potomac and and three states: Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  It was really the perfect trip because it hit Finn's Trifecta: Trains, Biking, and Camping.  There were a number of trains, tunnels, and tracks which brought delight to both kids.  Also, there is a canal path that runs from DC all the way to Pittsburgh, PA and part of the path is right there at Harper's Ferry.

I decided a while ago that I want to be a family that bikes.  It seemed like it would be a great way for us to get outside and be active together despite having younger children.  It meant investing in some substantial gear, but it has been worth it.  I have loved our family bike rides, and I love this mode of exploring new places.  On our ride at Harper's Ferry, I kept brainstorming other places that would be fun to visit and also bike friendly.  Our current set-up is a child seat on my bike for Enna and a trailer bike attached to Mr. F.'s bike.  I admit, I get the better end of the deal.  While I have to deal with the occasional kick to the backside and the added weight, Mr. F. has to cope with the completely unpredictable pedaling and lurching from Finn on the trailer bike.  It can be a bit amusing to ride behind them and see it all in action.

For camping, we went to the The Treehouse Camp.  I have to admit, the place was not like I had pictured in my mind based on their website.  I was thinking of something a bit more rural and secluded.  And while it is located in a wooded area, that wooded area is smack dab in the middle of a residential and farm community.  In the end though, it was great, and I would have no regrets going back.  We didn't stay in one of the tree houses, although they looked fun.  Instead, we tried out our family tent for the first time.  It was fun to wake up in the morning and hear the birds sining.  It felt like camping in an arboretum.

I don't think anyone sleeps well with kids in tents.  (If you do, please don't tell me.)  While Finn has gotten better about falling asleep with it still being a bit light, Enna will not.  And he can't really fall asleep while Enna is insisting that she doesn't want to sleep yet.  So that means a really late bedtime with a normal wakeup.  The kids run around on a 3 hour deficit which by day two, means things get really hairy, really quickly.  Once asleep, they are fine except for the complete lack of motor control by the children which makes them toss and turn and whack you in the face or other body parts.  Needless to say, two nights, is my max at this point.

We brought the kids' bikes for them to use around camp and also visited a local playground.  I wanted to explore more of the town of Harper's Ferry or do some hiking on the Appalachian trail, but we ran out of time and sanity.  I am trying to decide on our next camping location which probably won't be until fall because trying to sleep when it is hot and humid is my idea of purgatory.


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