Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 and a Christmas Photo

We had a lovely, non traditional Thanksgiving!  Since we could not eat any stuffing or pies due to our son's grain-free diet, we did something completely different. When I surveyed the kids and my husband on what was most important for Thanksgiving, the kids said eating lots of food, the dog show on TV, and using our china dishes.  My husband, who was sick, said keeping everything calm.  With all that in mind, I set out to make a great holiday.

Tom Sawyer loves using the family china.  He studied different place setting templates on an Internet wedding site and then set the table.  He did it all by himself.  He was concerned that we did not have any ice cream dishes or oyster forks (nevermind that we were not having and never have had oysters). LOL

The final menu was (all homemade except the pizza and rolls) ~
  • pot roast
  • grain-free pizza
  • mashed potatoes
  • peas
  • orange-glazed cooked carrots from our garden
  • baked beans
  • grain-free rolls
For dessert, we had homemade banana splits with homemade chocolate sauce! Yummy!  We enjoyed playing with the Wii Fit Plus and watching the dog show on TV.  We also went on a nice walk around the neighborhood.  The kids also cleaned their rooms and sorted out toys they no longer wanted.  These are being swiftly taken away by needy families on Freecycle.  I love that the kids are pleased about blessing others.  In fact, they are the ones that reminded me that they wanted to sort their toys on Thanksgiving.

We also wrote what we were thankful for in our Thankful book.  Ever since we got married, we have pulled this book out each Thanksgiving and everyone in attendance who was capable of writing has added to it.  I enjoy reading what has been said over the years.  Some are sweet ~ like being thankful for siblings written in child scrawl and others are funny, like being thankful for Legos.

Lastly, we finally got a good picture of the kids.  I gave up on having the dogs in the photo.  It is good enough.  Now, I just have to choose which photo and order it as a Christmas card. Which do you like best?


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Friday Wrap-Up ~ Socialization

What's on My Mind

Homeschoolers are often asked if they are worried about socialization or how their kids are socialized.  Actually, I rarely get this question; but when I do, it always amazes me.  Usually it is asked by someone in a social setting where my kids are obviously being socialized -- such as dance class, the pool, or Wal-Mart.  (Why do people in Wal-Mart think they can ask you and say anything to you they like?).  The definition of "socialization" is ~ A continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior and social skills appropriate to his or her social positionThis means that we are all being socialized from infancy through death by the people we interact with daily. 

I recently had a most interesting conversation with a mother who is considering homeschooling.  Her son is being adversely socialized in the public school system, so she wanted to homeschool him.  However, her main concern was that he would miss future socialization opportunities by being homeschooled!  I assured her he would have ample opportunities.  In fact, I had just been thinking to myself that I needed to find a way for my children to socialize a bit less so I could get my kids through their lessons.  LOL!  With all that in mind ~ Here is our very social but also very typical week.

Last Weekend ~

Our oldest child (21) was invited to an awards ceremony for volunteers of the nature center where he has logged thousands of volunteer hours since he was 12 years old.  He has the record of the longest running volunteer that attended the party.  He received gifts of a new scarf, wild flowers seeds, and a huge manual on Wild Life Rehabilitation (a strong interest of his). 

 My camera was really acting up, so
I did not get any decent pictures of my own kids.

Also last weekend, our younger three attended a multi-generational party for a two year old and five year old.  They have known both children all of their lives, and we cared for the two year old in foster respite twice in infancy.  (Her foster mom had to be out of town for a few days, so we got to love on her.)

Monday ~
One of our children had her weekly speech therapy and vision therapy appointments.  Our other children talked with other kids in the waiting rooms.  Our sons also had dance/fencing classes that evening.

Tuesday ~

We got together with some other homeschooling friends and made our Operation Christmas Child boxes.  Lots of socializing going on during that.  Later in the day, our oldest daughter had dance class.

Wednesday ~

The kids went to a weekly library program that is attended by about 20 regulars.  They made all kinds of gross concoctions in class that day.  The wonderful librarians knew that my son had food allergies and had gloves ready for him so he would not be affected by the cornstarch.  That was so touching to me.  Our oldest also had rehearsals for the Nutcracker that evening. 

Thursday ~
Our oldest worked all day at his volunteer job and our youngest daughter attended ballet class.

The Next Few Days ~
Over the next few days, we have three doctor appointments, five hours of Nutcracker rehearsal, a parade to attend and a Mystery Murder Birthday Party that my oldest will be attending.  There will also be socializing at church on Sunday.  Then it will be Monday and another, similar week begins!  Now, anyone want to ask me if homeschooled kids are getting enough socialization?


Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real ~ Weather in the Mountains

Pretty ~ We attempted our annual Christmas photo this week.  It was a total failure, but we had a lovely time out in nature.  One thing that is amazing about living in Appalachia is how going up or down a thousand feet in elevation can really change the temperature. 

I thought this was the perfect winter backdrop for my Christmas photo.  At our home a thousand feet below, it was also pretty but in the 60's on that particular day.  It was a whole different story on the Parkway.

Happy ~ I am always happy to see my husband enjoying himself out in nature.  He is surrounded by chaos at work and usually doesn't see the outdoors for eight hours a day (doesn't even have a window to look out).  We're not complaining, though. We do feel very blessed that he has a good job with benefits.

My hubby with large icicle

Funny ~ I took at least 20 pictures and they were all rather pitiful and funny.  Considering my time constraints, I may have just thrown in the towel and used one, but I am a professional photographer's daughter.  No, I will have to do better.  I will have to try again.  We were trying to take a picture with both dogs, too.  I know, I am totally nuts.  Every time our oldest child tried to kneel behind the little ones, a dog jumped on him.  Then there was the issue of the kid that would not take his jacket off.  I had to pay him 25 cents to remove his coat in some of the pictures!  Oh, the shadows were not helping me, either. Here are a couple attempts.  LOL!


Is it just me or does this one look totally crooked? 

Real ~ Our carrots are still growing and doing great.  I am pleased with my tiny fall garden.  The kids just pick a carrot when they are hungry.  Of course, Boomer (dog) has learned how to pick them when he is hungry, too.  He is ALWAYS hungry!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real ~ Preparing for the Nutcracker


We are pretty much in Nutcracker mode around here.  All of the kids are in the Nutcracker again this year but with different roles.  Little Red Riding Hood is a candy cane, Tom Sawyer is a (Buccaneer) sailor, Goldilocks is a toy kitten, and Timothy is a soldier (same as last year).  With the extra rehearsals and the kids' normal classes, we are at the dance studio about 12 hours a week for now on.  That is on top of our regular weekly doctor appointments and getting our school time done.  I am going to be a busy Mommy from now until early December.  (My Mom says I'm a very busy Mommy all year long. LOL)

This is last year's performance.  
Little Red Riding Hood is on the left of the front performers.

Timothy is the soldier in the center. 
Didn't my Dad (a professional photographer)
take great shots last year?

Hearing my kids' excited voices about extra rehearsals, costumes and being on the big stage is enough to keep me motivated during this very busy season.  They all really love the stage!


I am so happy that I have all of our Advent books organized and wrapped for the countdown to Christmas.  Below the picture is the list of  our books and the activity that will accompany each one.  The kids really love this tradition, and we all look forward to it each year.

The kids and I made the wrapping paper.  What a fun art project.
  1. The Other Wiseman - Put up Nativity
  2. Just A Snow Day - Make snowman garlands
  3. Grandfather's Christmas Tree - Decorate the Christmas tree
  4. Night Tree - Finish decking the halls
  5. Silver Packages - Donate to a toy drive
  6. The Legend of St.Nicholas - Ornaments with toys in them will be hidden on tree
  7. The Legend of the Pointsettia - Make a fleece baby blanket for donation to the teen mother program at the YWCA
  8. The Dog Who Found Christmas - Donate to the Humane Society
  9. Silent Night - Go to the annual Return of Bethlehem performance
  10. An Ellis Island Christmas - Attend a Christmas party
  11. Grandfather's Christmas Camp - Drive around looking at Christmas lights
  12. The Twelve Days of Christmas - Donate food to our local mall's Christmas food drive
  13. An Amish Christmas- Bake Christmas cookies
  14. The Baker's Dozen - Give a baker's dozen of cookies to several neighbors
  15. Christmas in the Trenches - Make Christmas cards for veterans
  16. The Tree of Dancing Goats - Take banana bread to our doctors' and therapists' offices
  17. Animals Christmas Carol - Feed wild birds
  18. Santa Comes to the Little House - Make homemade peppermint candy
  19. Winter's Gift - Wrap siblings' gifts
  20. The Chanaukkah Guest - Make a Hanakkah recipe
  21. The Crippled Lamb - Donate to a children's hospital
  22. The Christmas Menorahs - Play the Dreidal game with our Jewish friends
  23. Christmas Tapestry - Christmas songs on Youtube or else looking at more Christmas lights
  24. The First Christmas - Evening service at our church

We will probably not be doing any more hikes until the dead of winter.  Between the Nutcracker, Christmas and the increased number of roaming bears in our area at this time of year, the woods are not a likely adventure for the next month or two.  However, I just love the picture below.  Boomer, our mixed Lab-Great Dane young dog, is so afraid of water.  Unintentionally, he happened to run into about 10 inches of water while chasing a leaf.  Then he realized where he was.  Boy, did he get out quickly!  What a funny dog!


Dealing with my son's grain-free, egg-free, corn-free, soy-free diet is hard everyday, but doubly so when I can't take a chance on any inadvertent mistake and mess him up for a whole week when he needs to be in top form for performing.  Somehow I must stay on top of our diet and make sure we are fed three healthy meals each day.  We are fortunate to have a few food options out of the home in a real pinch, such as eating at the health food store or buying a fast food Angus burger.  These options are expensive, however, and still require forethought on my part.  For instance, ketchup and mustard have corn in them, unless they are organic.  So I made these cute little frozen ketchup and mustard pumpkins that can be packed on a day when I think we may end up needing to buy a hamburger on the road. 

I also need to make some cookies and bread
out of these grain-free flours.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

National Adoption Awareness Month and Charity

When I was planning the kids school year this past Summer, one of my top priorities was to get them more experiences in hands-on charity work.  I decided that we would do something every week.  Since July, we have done something almost every week (you can see what we have done on the sidebar).  For the month of November we will be concentrating on adoption awareness.  Since two of our kids are adopted through our local foster care system, I thought something local would be good.  I remembered that there is an unattended clothing closet that is open 24 hours a day to foster and adoptive parents in need.  I also remembered that it was always a mess when I visited it a few times years ago.  We decided that we would "organize it" for the month of November.  However, what we found when we got there was worse than I had remembered.  Clothing is thrown into this approximately 10x15 foot shed, and to walk into it, you have to walk on a "floor" of clothes that are about two feet thick.  It looks like people who are donating just throw bags from the door, often bags of leftover yard sale items that have absolutely nothing to do with children.  The kids peeked in and wanted to run.  I must admit, I wanted to run, too.  However, I remember what it is like to get the call that a little one will be arriving in one hour and have nothing for them.  More than once I have gone running to a consignment shop with credit card in hand.  You would think that foster kids would arrive with a few basics, but they don't. Tom Sawyer arrived at two days of age with a diaper, one sock, a thin hospital blanket and one bottle of baby formula that he should have been fed hours before.  Goldilocks (20 months) arrived with the clothes on her back, a bag full of candy and, incredibly, DOG toys.  Another foster child (age 3), who lived with us for a short while, arrived so dirty that I stripped the adult clothes off of her on the back deck, washed her and squeezed her into one of my day care home kid's clothes before heading to a consignment shop.  I did not go to the clothing closet in these cases, because I knew it would be too hard to find anything.  NOW IT IS IMPOSSIBLE!

These pictures are after three hours of work!

Can you even find both of my daughters in this mess?

My current goal for this shed is to make pathways, hang up as much as we can, clear out the trash and find the floor.  Yesterday, I dug deep in one spot so I could see what color the floor was painted (red)!  I have not tried to contact anyone to tell them what I am doing for several reasons.  For one, I don't want my kids to get lots of accolades for doing this bummer of a job.  We all have to do hard things without lots of compliments sometimes.  Also, I don't want to get wrapped up in someone else's red tape and opinions.  If they wanted it maintained, they could have done it themselves!  Really, I think that this shows how terribly overwhelmed and often overworked foster parents are.  Our society and social services should do a better job of supporting these people.  In our area, they are always advertising that they need foster parents.  While there are many who do not want to foster, they could do something else (like run a clothing closet). 

Disclaimer ~ The work is hard but the clothes are mostly clean, although often stained, and nothing is smelly.  I would not expect my children to work in poor health conditions.  However, they did sink into and get stuck in piles of clothing a few times.  We also need to watch out for broken glass.  Thanks, Mom, for helping on our most recent trip over there and for taking home some things to try to get out stains from special items.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Welcome to Ellis Island ~ Hands on Learning

We are learning about the Irish Potato Famine, immigration and Ellis Island this week.  Of course, I know that Ellis Island did not open until after the potato famine was over and that I am mixing time periods a bit.  However, for our learning purposes they go together well.  I am always looking for ways to bring history to life.  Yesterday, we ate only potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Then I decided that having the kids walk through the process of getting into America in the 1800's would be a good way to give them a hands-on approach to learning.
 We read these two books and then our journey began.

At the start of school, I told them to go pack their suitcase for a long journey.  Everyone went off and packed up their favorite stuff.  I love to see what kids pack.  The girls packed an extra outfit, underwear, stuffed animals and pillows.  Tom Sawyer packed his pillow and weapons (light sabers).  LOL  I then told them that they were headed for America and needed to walk many miles (six times up and down our flight of stairs barefoot!) to get to the ship that would take them to freedom.

Once they got to the ship and paid for their ticket, we crossed the ocean (walked all around the house). When we got to America, I informed the kids that they smelled bad from being in very tight quarters below deck with sick passengers (of course, they didn't really smell).  They were allowed to shower and tidy themselves in the bathhouse at Ellis Island (our bathroom).  From there, they sat in reception hall (our library) waiting for their manifest I.D. tags to be attached to their person and then proceed to their medical exams. 

The Medical Officer (me) checked their temperature, eyes, fingernails and hair/scalp.  The Medical Officer also quickly checked their mental status.  Unfortunately, the girls did not pass the medical and had a large X placed on their manifest ID card.  The medical officer thought they might be feebleminded and needed a more intense examination.  While Tom Sawyer waited in a waiting area, the girls went through a few intelligence tests. 

They were asked to count backwards from 20, find America on the globe, work a small puzzle and read a few sight words.  Fortunately, they passed with flying colors and were able to join their brother for a Legal Inspection.  The girls did a great job of answering the questions.  They said they wanted to be maids or nannies in America and had relatives waiting for them.  One of them even had more than the required $10 to enter the country -- a rarity at Ellis Island!  However, while they were being interviewed, their 9 year old brother was busy unpacking his bag. 

The contents of his bag raised a red flag in the eyes of Security (also me), and he was whisked off to a special inquiry.  How he ever passed the special inquiry remains a mystery!  The line of questioning went something like this ~
  • What is your profession? "Ninja"
  • Have you ever killed anyone?  "Just one or two really bad guys."
  • Do you plan to kill anyone in America?  "Just him." (said with a beaming smile and pointing to his adult brother, the second-in-command Security Guard)
  • What do you plan to do in America? "Get out of here as soon as possible and play on the Wii."
  • Then why did you come to America?  "My deranged teacher put me on the boat."
  • Do you have anything else to say for yourself?  "When do we get to eat in this crazy place?"
I am pretty sure that our current Homeland Security would not have let him in, but, alas, this was the 1800's.

Tom Sawyer does look worn out by going through this grueling process, doesn't he?

Once this cute little sibling group was reunited, they headed into Registry.  They were so glad to make it to this last step before entering America!  They found it very difficult dealing with the Registration Officer who did not understand how to say or write their last name.  Little Red Riding Hood even wrote out her last name for the officer but the officer said she couldn't read it.  To which Little Red Riding Hood replied, "It's written in English!!"  In the end, they all entered America with a new last name of "Puddles".  Poor Little Red Riding Hood was really quite dismayed to have been renamed "Mrs. Puddles", but the other children took it in stride. Finally, they were in the Land of the Free.