Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I think we just might be okay...

Last night I got one of those rare glimpses of how siblinghood SHOULD be.  One of those moments parents dream about but rarely happen in real life.

I did a fairly adequate job of putting everyone to bed last night.  They got a bedtime snack, a story, AND got to pick where they wanted to sleep.  Henry picked Ivy's bed in the basement (Ivy picked the cosleeper in our room), Mitchell picked the couch, and Violet picked the floor in her room.  I find that when I have the guts to go ahead and let them sleep wherever they want, they usually fall asleep pretty fast.  It's annoying when they pick to be in our room or the livingroom because that kind of puts a damper on mine and hubby's nighttime "adult" activities (no, no, not THOSE adult activities, I mean like eating Kempswiches and swilling Dr. Pepper while playing cribbage).  I am pretty sure though that Mitch picks the livingroom for exactly those reasons.  He likes to eavesdrop on us and beg for some of our snacks.  Henry hasn't realized what kind of things his parents do at night so he picks the basement so he can be closer to us when we go to bed.

Anyways, everyone got tucked in bed and Mitchell informed me that he was really going to sleep in Violet's bed (since she wasn't using it anyways) but that he wanted to stay up and read on the couch until she fell asleep because she's annoying and loud (a fair evaluation).  So Henry toddled downstairs and fell asleep the minute his head hit the pillow, and Mitch started looking for a book.  I had already packed up a few boxes of books so the picking was slim. 

He turned to me, pointed to a faux-leather bound volume and asked "Is this a book of poetry?". 

I looked at the title, shocked, "No buddy, that's not poetry, that's Edgar Allen Poe.  Actually I think there are a few poems in that one, but mostly it's short stories."  This was like a dream come true.  I LOVE literature and poetry and all things related to the English language, but so far it seemed like Mitch was only interested in stuff like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (which I am fairly certain may have been written by the devil?  I hate those books, but hey, at this point i'll go for anything that gets him to do some independent reading.)  I looked through what was left on my shelves and found a large volume of American poetry and handed it to him.

"I like poetry", he said.  "When I read the words it makes music in my head like a song."

"Well," I said, "Songs are just poetry with music added to them, so you're right on there."  I pointed to a couple of poems in the book that were also songs - The Star Spangled Banner and America The Beautiful.

We sat down on the couch and he perused the poetry book while I sat next to him and worked on my knitting.  He then decided to write his own poetry and invited me to help him (I enthusiastically agreed).  Here's what we came up with together...

A possum, A blossom
A piece of cherry pie
A seashell on the shore
Just like a star up in the sky
Bright as a firefly

I was so proud I could burst.  When I was a teenager and imagining what my kids would be like, what motherhood would be like, THIS is what I imagined, not all the other stuff.

After he got bored of writing poetry he asked me when we were going to start homeschooling and I said "Whenever you want."  He decided he wanted to start right then.  He made himself a math folder to keep his work-in-progress in, then asked if he could work on teaching Violet to read.  Violet certainly wasn't asleep (she kept poking her head out of the door and looking at us) so I said "Sure, go ahead".  He asked her if she wanted a lesson and she was bouncing up and down and grinning as she said "Yeah!".  They went into the kitchen and Mitchell helped her spell some simple words like mom and dad with the magnetic letters.  Then they called me in to see and I watched Violet put m-o-m on the fridge.  It was adorable.  After they tired of that, the hubby tucked Violet back into bed and we taught Mitchell how to play Pente.  He did pretty well on my team (we battled Daddy) but then I played Daddy on my own a few rounds to show Mitch how to kick someone's butt at Pente.  After a bit we tucked him into bed on the couch and went outside in the garage to have a beer in private, but it was really a great night.  The kind of night that renews my faith in my kids and in my ability to mother them.  Maybe I haven't completely screwed them up yet.  Maybe there's still hope for our family :-)

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Could Never...

I hear this quite a bit when chatting with other moms about some of our "lifestyle choices".   Like "I could never do cloth diapers", "I could never do a GFCF diet", etc.  Yeah, it can be overwhelming to think about switching to things like that, but i've found that the day-to-day practice of it is no where near as tough as what you imagine.  For example here is what we've been eating today...

Breakfast: Nothing much - I was feeling overwhelmed and crabby so I told the kids to get their own breakfast so they had (I think) brownie Clif Z-bars and apples.

Lunch:  Tortilla chips topped with leftover taco meat, chopped tomatos, and chopped cabbage (I was out of lettuce, they never knew the difference) and then blueberries on the side.

Dinner:  We have chicken breasts defrosted so we may throw them on the grill with some potatoes and green beans in the microwave.  If I can muster the ambition we all really love chicken fried rice (just chicken, rice, scrambled eggs, chopped onions, minced garlic, and soy sauce brawling in the wok) but I haven't been feeling very chefy lately...

So really, not hard and not a bunch of weird foods (though we have been eating more weird stuff lately).  They usually have water to drink or juice.  I usually wait until they are done and have left the kitchen and then chug Cherry Dr. Pepper and eat a spoonful of Skippy peanut butter and their leftovers but that's a whole other story.  I know for me, hearing about the day to day routines helps me more than just "how-to's", so maybe it would be helpful to some if I regularly posted about what we were eating?  We'll try that for a while.  That makes it easier on me too because then I have more fodder for posts.  It's a win-win :-)

The View From Here

People often ask me, "How on earth do you find time to blog with four kids, including a baby?"  Okay, that's not exactly true - no one has ever asked me that, but I have found myself wondering that about other mommy blogs quite a bit.  How the HECK do they keep up on a blog?  Well, now I know.  Ivy is quite the "snugglebug" and doesn't really like to lay on the floor or sit in baby seats or anything like that - she mostly wants to be held.  So this is how we blog - the view from here is pretty cute today...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

For Love or Money

So, while I have NEVER done anything worthwhile that I have gotten paid for (wait, the one exception is the summer I was a camp counselor, but that's it)  I HAVE done lots of cool stuff for free.  In my latest brush with fame I was interviewed by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal about what parents think about grade retention.  I was a little ticked that they got my story wrong and misrepresented ADHD drugs as the wonder cure, but hey, at least I was in the national media.  Up until now i've just done local stuff like this and this and this and this and this.  The Pork Wars one was actually listed as one of the most memorable stories of 2008.

One thing I just did that I did get paid for though, was write a 350 word article about rice.  I got paid 5 bucks through Amazon Mechanical Turk.  It's a nifty little deal through where you do different tasks (mostly online) and get paid.  Lots of tasks pay less than a dollar, but there are a few that pay a bit more.  Some skilled (like translating) and some unskilled.  It won't make me famous, or rich, but hey, it's five bucks and I didn't have to deliver a pizza to get it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sleeping With Bread

 When did I feel most connected this last week? Least connected?

Lately, in an effort to kickstart my half-hearted attempts at elimination communication, Ivy and I have been having some "naked baby time" in the mornings.  As soon as Ivy wakes up I hold her over the laundry tub to see if she'll pee for me (mostly she doesn't but occasionally she does) then I settle back into bed with her and nurse her without her clothes on so I can see if she does anything (yes, she's laying on a waterproof pad to protect the mattress).  During those times, nursing her and after she finishes eating, I think I feel more connected to her than I ever have to any other human being... ever. 

I can tell what she needs - if she's hungry my breast is right there, if she needs to pee I will see/feel it so I can change her right away, I have my hand on her soft back and I can feel if she's chilly or warm enough.  I am staring at her face and I can see if she is happy, content, sleepy, or upset.  If she wants interaction, I can smile and provide it.  I am meeting all of her needs, and for a few brief moments, she is meeting all of mine. It's almost like I can read her mind.  Granted, there isn't a ton going on inside that baby mind (which is the beauty of being a baby), but that just makes us more connected because she doesn't have all that extra junk that grown-ups have floating around in there and getting between us.  Babies can't lie or put on a happy face if they're not feeling it.

Then of course other kids come see what we're up to and that's the end of that.  But this week, those morning moments have been the times i've felt the most connected.

When have I felt the least connected?  Lately it's been when i've been thinking too much about the new house.  Like I previously posted, this whole house thing seems a bit unreal.  Since the mortgage will be in my mom's name, i've been a bit disconnected from the acquiring-the-house bits.  She keeps me very updated of course, but even so.  I feel like we're just playing make believe and we'll never actually move into the house.  I start to think all kinds of deep and ridiculous thoughts about what the purpose of life is, what the purpose of my life is.  Where am I going, why, and does it matter?  I contemplate the fact that it's been over 10 years since i've been on an airplane, and i've never been out of the country or across an ocean.  It makes me doubt the certainty of the existence of other continents (not really, but just a tiny bit).  I start to feel really disconnected from the whole world and my life.  Like i'm floating around in space and tethered to the space ship by a thin cord - not exactly hurtling wildly through the cosmos, but certainly I don't have both feet on solid ground either.  Is this how people start to go insane?  And then one day that cord snaps for good?  I hope not.  Maybe I just need more naked baby time.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Greetings from Limbo

I really hate the place we are right now.  It seems like we are stuck between two different lives and every day I feel like I have no idea what to do.  Our old life seems to be dissolving before my eyes - our little house, old friends, the kids' private school, my husband's job - but the new life hasn't really arrived yet.

With my mom, we put an offer in on a new house - 5 bedrooms, 40 acres, plenty of lovely room for our big family plus grandma (plus three dogs and at least one cat).  But we're at that stage in house-buying where you do the inspections, appraisals, and whatnot.  While they have accepted our offer, we don't even have a closing date yet.  It's not OURS yet.

We've decided to take a new path with schooling as well.  We will be trying to homeschool Mitchell unmedicated this year.  Henry will attend a public kindergarten (yikes!).  Violet and Ivy will come along on Mitchell's journey with us.  And while I feel pretty ready for it, we've decided that we will still have the summer off and will start homeschooling after Labor Day, so we haven't begun that either.

My hubby's job is running low on work, but they don't want to fire anyone, so he has had a week off here and there lately.  As you can probably imagine, that wreaks havoc on our already chaotic finances.  And the worst part is that we usually don't know until each Friday whether he is going to work the next week or not.

Old friends seem to be moving on to new chapters in their lives, why does mine have to be STUCK?  I take comfort in the knowledge that our new life is right around the corner, but that still makes this time suck just a little.  And please don't pontificate about "Life's a journey, not a destination".  I'm well aware that I should be enjoying every day and not just looking longingly to the future.  But right now I feel like i'm stuck in "The Truman Show".  Like I can try to leave, try to make a change, but the universe won't let me and it will never happen.  I'll drive through a wall of fire and a radiation leak trying to escape and wake up back in my old house and my old life.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Into The Earth

This summer we have been considering homeschooling for the fall and so have kind of been dabbling in it a bit this summer.  The topic we have more or less been pursuing is caves.  I must say, we've had alot of fun with it and I feel it still has even more to give us.  Mitchell doesn't tend to sustain interest in things very well, but he has been pretty interested in all our cave related activities so far and we've had some great discussions that he was a full and willing participant in.  In case anyone else is interested in learning more about caves, I'll put up the links and resources we've used at the bottom of the post.

As part of our "cave lessons" Mitchell and I visited Mystery Cave.  Last summer we toured Crystal Cave as a family and that was good.  It was an interesting tour, but Crystal Cave is very much a show cave.  Mystery Cave on the other hand, has a wilder side.  It has a 1 hour tour which is for all ages and is handicap accessible.  I think it's great that they make things so that people in wheelchairs can participate too, but frankly for me handicap-accessible=boring most of the time.  And if you can bring babies, you know it's not going to be all that fun.  But Mystery Cave also has a 2 hour "rustic" tour which is not handicap accessible and not suitable for children under 5.  Now that right there makes it sound more tantalizing.

We were not disappointed.  The 2 hour Mystery Cave tour goes into a part of the cave that has no lights and natural cave floors (as opposed to the leveled and smoothed floors in the more tame section of the cave).  There are parts where you have to duck your head, walk stooped over, and tread carefully so you don't slide down muddy slopes.  And the only light comes from your flashlight.  It was great!

The entrance is this little concrete shed in the middle of the woods.  If you didn't know it was the cave entrance, you might wonder WHAT in the heck was going on when you saw 20 people squeeze into this little shed and not come out for 2 hours.  We saw stalactites, stalagmites, trogloxenes (bats), helictites, flowstone, an underground lake, and enough breakdown to make the whole thing feel just a little bit dangerous.  I came out of that one definitely feeling a bit of awe at the geologic processes that make up our world and I think Mitchell did too.

Try these resources for some cave exploration of your own!

  • Cave vocab worksheet (3rd grade)                                                                                          
  • Caves in the bible : (Joshua 10:15-19 RSV) (John 11:38-40 RSV)

  • Netflix has an interesting Nova documentary available to watch instantly on the computer, Extreme Cave Diving
  • Dissolve sugar in water to watch things dissolve firsthand, like the rock does when caves are created.  We looked at the sugar first with a magnifying glass and talked about its properties - hard, grainy, squarish crystals - then add lemon juice to make lemonade!
  • Some things that are less related to caves but are still directions that this exploration has taken us: echolocation in other animals than bats, volcanos, 1920's gangsters (courtesy of the Wabasha Street caves), mines and other man-made tunnels

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chocolate Nut Balls

I tried and tweaked a new recipe today.  Vegan chocolate nut balls.  I know, it needs a new name (got any ideas?).  As usual, Violet loved it and the boys were so-so about it.  Violet is really taking to all these new foods and flavors much better than the boys.  Probably because she is so young.  I thought they were pretty tasty too so here they are for you...

Mama's Vegan Chocolate Nut Balls

Cookie dough:
  • 1 3/4 cups ground raw cashews
  • 3/4 cup ground oats
  • 1/4 cup Agave Nectar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • Flake coconut
Chocolate chips:
  • 2 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 Tablespoon agave nectar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla

Dough: Grind up raw cashews and raw oats in a food processor or blender. I did mine in my coffee grinder, which worked but probably wasn't good for the grinder.  Place all wet cookie dough ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add dry ingredients except coconut and mix more.  Refrigerate dough.

Chips: Mix all chocolate chip ingredients together in a medium sized bowl except cocoa powder. Add the cocoa powder and mix well.  Roll the dough out onto parchment paper and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
When the chocolate is frozen, cut into chips. I used a pizza cutter but you can use whatever.  Mix chips into dough.  Roll dough into balls of whatever size you'd like (I like mine bite-sized but then you have to roll a ton of them).  Roll the balls in coconut.

Place in fridge to harden.

Mitch said he mostly didn't like the chocolate chips (they have a dark chocolate flavor) because they were too bitter for him.  He wanted me to make some without the chips.  I'll try that for him, and i'll also try making the chips sweeter for him too or maybe just using our store-bought GFCF chocolate chips that I know he likes.  Or maybe I should just chalk this up as another failed food experiment.  I figure if Mitch won't eat it, what's the point?  He's the reason we're doing this whole thing in the first place! Grrrrrrr...

The View From Here: Ivy

I have a nice little corner set up for Ivy and bought her a great little toy arch to hang things on for her.  Guess what?  She hates it.  She doesn't mind a little floor time in the corner now and then, but she has absolutely no interest in that toy arch.  I've tried to hang different things on it to catch her eye, but to no avail.  I made some really neat high contrast thingies out of cardboard for her that I hung on there - she wouldn't even look at them.

I'm still not sure why things on the arch don't interest her, but I did notice something when I was changing her yesterday.  It seemed that she likes looking at the grate on the little metal wipes shelf over her changing table.  So I said to myself, "Self, if the baby won't go to the cute developmental thingies, bring the cute developmental thingies to the baby."

I hug my black and white and red masterpieces from her wipes shelf and bazinga!  She DEFINITELY noticed them at the next diaper change.  Her eyes were open wide and she held very still and just stared.  She was mesmerized.  Here is the view from Ivy's changing table...
Now as you can probably see, she was already getting some interesting patterns and contrast from the stuff that I had placed on the shelf.  But mamas like to feel useful once in a while so i'm going to leave the hanging things up there anyway since she seems to like them even better.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but i've also hung the three objects at three different heights, so there is some depth perception work going on there too.

If you'd like to make something out of these nice high contrast infant patterns, you can print them from here.  Then make them into whatever you want.  I glued them onto cardboard and hung them with curling ribbon (what I had on hand).  You could just tape them up on a wall or car seatback or wherever your baby might want something interesting to look at.  Make a little book out of them for you and baby to sit together and look at?  Be creative!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Oh My Goodness, There's A Baby In There!

When Violet was a baby I got introduced to the whole attachment parenting idea.  I didn't immediately fall in love with all of the principles, but I dabbled a bit.  One of the principles recommends babywearing as a way to connect more with your baby.  We wore Mitchell in a backpack out in the Boundary Waters when he was six months old, but it wasn't a day-to-day kind of a thing.  Over the last three kids we have owned a Baby Bjorn and a woven Ellaroo wrap, besides the big hiking backpack.  I used them occasionally, but it always just seemed easier to have whichever baby it was in their baby bucket seat or to hold them.

When I found out with Violet that it was supposed to be pretty beneficial to them to be worn, I tried to wear her more, but she was pretty content just sitting in a highchair or bouncy seat so it didn't become a very high priority.  Besides, the Ellaroo was a pain to get on and off and the Bjorn hurt my back, so it was more of a chore to wear her, than a benefit to me.  I even bought one of those death bags that were supposed to be so great to see if that would work better, but that one hurt my shoulder and it seemed like Violet couldn't breathe very well in there so I quit using it.  I figured babywearing just wasn't for us.

But as Violet grew we started hanging out at a local mecca for urban hippies called The Parenting Oasis.  It seemed like everyone was wearing their baby, and it was so EASY for them!  The babies looked happy and comfortable (and breathing just fine) and the mamas were able to pop them in and out of their carriers with ease and no apparent back pain.  I became determined to figure out their secret.

After some research and impromptu surveys I figured out that my problem was bad products.  This time around I tried a Moby wrap and lo and behold, it worked!  It was kind of a pain to get on and off, but the beauty was that since it was stretchy, I could easily get Ivy in and out without taking the whole darn thing off.  The super wide shoulders not only made it very comfortable to wear, but a hidden benefit was that when she was out of it, it looked kind of like a funky shirt instead of an empty carrier, so I could just leave it on.  Another hidden benefit - it was so cozy that it was like a magical sleeping wrap.  As soon as I popped Ivy in it she would fall asleep within about five minutes and would sleep until I took her out.  This made trips to the grocery store with four kids a little less scary than it sounds.  Ivy would sleep the entire time in the wrap so it was like I was only taking three kids (which is still a daunting task in and of itself).

The Moby served us well in May and June, but July it was just too darn hot to be wrapping all that fabric around me every day.  I went looking for other options and found the adjustable Hotslings sling.  Another great find.  We use this one pretty much every single day lately.

Something that we did to try and encourage ourselves to wear her more was to outlaw the baby bucket.  We have been using the convertible Britax Marathon right from birth and skipping the infant seat altogether.  So when we get to our destination, we have to either carry Ivy in our arms or wear her, there's no temptation to just carry her around in the bucket instead.  Part of this was a conscious decision to try to offer her more stimulation, interaction, and bonding on a daily basis, and part of this was just the fact that for the life of me I can't find the base to the infant seat.  It is lost somewhere in the depths of my storage room (I think... but maybe I got rid of it?  But why would I do that?  I don't know...).  Another one of "the hidden benefits of disorder" (read it!).

All this babywearing has yielded some pretty interesting effects.  It seems like every where I go, there are twice as many people cooing and smiling at Ivy than ever interacted with my other children as infants.  Every store or place of business we go into, customers and staff are always saying "Oh my goodness - there's a baby in there!  Awwww, doesn't she look snug and cozy right there next to her mama."  I thought maybe Ivy was just exceptionally cute (but what mama doesn't think that?) but then the receptionist at the pediatrician's office said something that made me think.  She said "Oh how sweet!  What a cutie!  We never really get to see the babies because they are usually in their seat on the floor."

Wow - I was stunned.  They are receptionists at a PEDIATRICIAN'S OFFICE and they never really get to see babies?  But it makes sense.  You aren't supposed to put those buckets up on the counter, for safety, so people set them down on the floor.  All the babies get is a good view of everyone's ankles.  Ivy, on the other hand, up in her sling, gets to see everyone's faces, watch what i'm doing (she loves to watch me wash dishes from the sling - lots of clanking and splashing and movement), and interact with both me and whoever else may be around.

These days, when I see a baby at a store in a bucket it makes me sad.  I mean, mom probably puts the baby in the bucket at home, puts the bucket into the stroller or shopping cart when they get to their destination, maybe does the same at another store, then goes home and maybe even leaves the baby in the seat even longer if they are asleep.  The baby spends the whole morning getting little to no human touch or interaction unless they cry for it.  As I was walking into Chipotle yesterday with Ivy in the sling, I found myself kissing her head and patting her butt.  If she had been in a bucket, she certainly wouldn't have been getting that kind of interaction as I walked in the door.  It's little things like that that add up and I think are really great for her.

Don't get me wrong, i'm not judging the moms carry babies around in those buckets.  That was totally me three years ago.  I've done that hundreds of times without batting an eye.  But I feel like my eyes are open now and I would never go back.

P.S.  The Hotslings instructions says their product is also good for pets so OF COURSE I had to try it out on my furbaby lol - she likes it.
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