Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and New Directions

Yesterday, I spent a significant portion of my day washing walls. I'd like to tell you that washing walls is something I do with regularity, but I'd be lying if I did. I washed walls yesterday as part of a completely consuming need to clean and organize. (No, I'm not pregnant again, but thanks for asking. Smile.) 

My son was at a sleepover with his auntie and cousins, and the two girls were sick- so sick that they were both quietly watching movies and listening to audiobooks without comment or constant demand for snacks. I suddenly had time on my hands, which is something I rarely have. Finding myself standing quite still in my kitchen at one point, unsure what to do next, I decided to dive headlong into the cleaning and organizing that my house so badly needed.

I love to clean and organize. (Yes, yes, I know. It's an illness.) The more I cleaned, the more energized I felt. Where I'd been feeling trapped by my house and circumstances of late, I began to feel content with what I have, and even proud that our family has been able to do so much with so little. (For a bit of background on that you can check out Our Story.)

The best part of this energy surge? I'll tell you that a sparkling clean house was super great, but the better result was the mental clarity it afforded me. I think well in clean, organized spaces, and the mundane repetition of cleaning walls yesterday really gave me a chance to think about life- big picture life- and my path in it.

I came up with a couple of truths that have been there all along, but that I've been burying deep because I wasn't yet sure how to handle them.

1. I have too many ventures going. They're fun and interesting and I like each one of them on their own, but all together they're more than I can reasonably do at this point in my life, with three young children.
2. I have to re-establish my life priorities, because I'm starting to let the little stuff crowd out the big stuff. ("Yes, I'd love to be on that committee, and in order to make that meeting I'll cut our school day a little short and serve frozen pizza...")
3. I need to have an action plan for my goals, which are useless without action needed to make them reality.

So, in between loads of "puke laundry" (lovely term, I know) yesterday, I sketched out my list of priorities. Then I added some action steps, and shared them with my husband when he got home from work. He added a few of his own, and we worked on our family plan together. The plan will likely take some tweeking over the next few weeks, but it's a plan- a starting point.

Do you ever make goals and action steps to achieve them? Do you follow through when, and if, you do? I admit that I have had mixed success in the past, but when I really take a look objectively, I see that the times I've failed to meet my goals my heart simply hasn't been in it. Sure, we're adults, and the reality is that sometimes we're going to have to do things that we don't necessarily love in order to ensure the "survival and thrival" of our families. And that's OK, because if life were all lollipops and gumdrops then we couldn't possibly accept the good times for the gifts that they are.

So this year, I'm doing things a bit differently. Rather than radically resolving to change some big aspects of my life in a (mislead) effort to make them what I want, instead I'll be making a series of small changes to make what I've already got going on more feasible. I'll be working on cutting out some of the things that I'm participating in that don't really resonate as important in my soul. I'll be working on some time management strategies to help me more effectively accomplish the tasks I do warrant as sufficiently important. I'll be taking the few real changes, and breaking them down into smaller, more "actionable" steps, in an effort to make the improvement of one woman, a wife and mother, a realistic and enjoyable journey within the context of family life.

I'll be starting my 2013 journey in January with a series on healthful, responsible eating. For those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time, you'll know that healthy eating/food production is near and dear to my heart. So what better place to begin my "baby steps" toward defining my priorities for my family and blog? In January we'll explore what GMOs really are, what whole food eating means for you, your family, your community and your earth, and we'll discuss some practical ways to make that happen for your family.

I hope that you will join me in my next food adventure in 2013, and all the other adventures I'm sure to find along the way. I hope also that you'll follow your gut toward your own truth and reality as we welcome a new year, full of wonder and promise.

Happy 2013 to all!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Party for Kids

I had planned to put together a post for you, with pictures, from our kids' New Year's Eve party, which I hoped to hold tomorrow.

But a bout of the stomach flu has put all hopes of such an event far, far from the realm of reality, so instead I'm sharing with you my plans and activity links so that you can put together a party on the fly if you choose!

Happy New Year to you all!

The sensory idea:
Shivery Snow Slime by Growing a Jeweled Rose. She has some amazingly fun ideas for kids which incorporate slime, which I will have to do another time with the kiddos, but I thought the glittery, cold slime idea would be perfect for a wintery new year's celebration tonight!

The craft idea:
New Year's Wishing Wand by Cathy James. This is a quick, low-mess craft which can be used in a variety of ways by kids of various ages. Make a wand and use it to make wishes, to grant wishes for others, or as a dance prop.

The snack idea:
Making clock-face cupcakes (kind of like these brownies described by Amanda at The Educator's Spin On It). The plan would be to make cupcakes (using your favorite recipe or mix), and to add a clock face with frosting or chocolate chips, with both hands pointing to the "12".)

The fine motor skill idea:
Use the "Happy 2013" block letter template from The Educator's Spin On It, and use any variety of methods to fill in the block letters. You can use Q-tips to dot rainbow-colored paint in the block letters, or do what we're planning: using glue to adhere sequins and glitter.

The gross motor skill idea:
Creating a New Year's Memory Scavenger Hunt like this one from No Time for Flash Cards. The idea is that each family member volunteers a fun memory from the last year, and Mom or Dad writes it on a ribbon or small piece of paper. Each memory is put into a small container (like a plastic egg) and then hidden for the kids to find! As eggs are found, they can be tied or hung on a small tree to admire.

The song idea:
We'll be singing this new year's song by Jean Warren, to the tune of "happy birthday." We'll be dancing as we do it too, and just might include some other favorite popular songs to really get our groove on. You can be sure that we'll get out our musical instruments basket to help us jam, and we'll be using our wishing wands (idea above) and dancing sticks.  Hummm, I think we'll be using our dancing ribbons and silks to help us too!

The school work for the day:
I have printed out this New Years packet from Cassie at 3 Dinosaurs, designed for kids 2-7. It's free and there are tons of fun, educational ideas in one place! All you need is a printer and some paper (and I'll be laminating some activities for future use).

Supplies Needed for all projects:

Shivery Snow slime:
Iridescent glitter
Borax
Warm water
School glue
 
Wishing Wand:
Contact paper
Cardstock or heavy weight paper
Small glittery bits (sequins, gems, etc.)
Narrow stick or rolled piece of paper
Ribbon for decoration
Scissors, pen for writing wishes, if desired

Clock-face cupcakes:
Your favorite cupcake recipe ingredients or mix
Light colored frosting
Frosting gel tubes, or other edible, "writable" food, like dark chocolate chips for example

Fine Motor Skill 2013 template:
Q-tips or small paint brushes
Glue
Sequins or other shiny, glittery bits

Scavenger Hunt:
Plastic eggs (like those used at Easter)
Scraps of paper or ribbon to write memories on
Pen, scissors
Tree to put memories onto, if desired
Pipe cleaners to make 2013 tree topper, if desired

Happy 2013 to you all!

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Crazy Gratitude

My first daughter Ava, smiling despite herself. A good lesson!
I am writing to you from a place of gratitude today. A pure and true thankful place. But it didn't have to be this way- and in fact, might not have. Except for grace. Grace really delivered me today.

So, it's the Winter Solstice. Happy Solstice! Did anyone else do something special to commemorate the return of the sun to our darkness? I had so many wonderful things planned, but you know... life intervened.

I intended to wake the children at 6:12 a.m., the exact moment of the earth's farthest tip from the sun.
I tried that, but two of the three slumped back to bed with hardly an acknowledgement. 

I intended to take them to the beach this morning to watch the sun rise over the ocean as a special tribute to the blessing of the sun in our lives.
It was snowing hard enough at quarter to seven, when we had to leave, to obscure our hands in front of our faces, much less a sunrise. So I let that go. 

I intended to bake gluten free hot cross buns as a special treat to mark the occasion, but before I got my baking ingredients out I made the mistake of checking my email and discovered- to my horror- that I'd missed an article deadline. I went to work immediately, serving the kids cold pizza for breakfast. 

I intended to make Waldorf window stars with the children to add a bit of color to the otherwise bleak landscape of winter.
The company I ordered the paper from made a mistake and sent the rest of my order without the paper, which I only noticed late last night as I was trying to set up today's affairs. 

I intended to run to the bank, drop off my super late Christmas cards at the post office, and to pick up my new glasses at the eye doctor this afternoon.
All of these tasks were thwarted thanks to a freak wind storm which took out power to all three (all three!) towns I needed to travel to. Of course, I didn't find this information out at once; instead I had to drive for three hours to find each item out individually, sitting in traffic thanks to a downed tree at one point for almost forty-five minutes. 

I intended to cook a warm, traditional dinner for my family tonight.
Instead, I walked through the door with three children at dinner time, having stopped at my favorite local grocer for snacks on the way. I served Applegate farms gluten free frozen chicken, Alexia french fries**, and some cut up apples. 

I intended to savor some awesome books about the solstice together as a family tonight.
Instead, as I came through the door my chocolate lab bounded by me and ran off into the night. She only does this when she does something wrong, and further investigation revealed she had, in fact, ripped up our couch. Ripped up our couch!!

Deep breath.

But...

I choose to live in gratitude. Sometimes more successfully than others, but that's perhaps just the reality and truth of life. Today, I managed to be grateful down to my bones for a variety of things. 

 For...

*The security of my home, despite a big storm
*The welcoming arms of family, no matter how difficult the day
*That I have enough money in my bank account to stop and get the children a snack when we're out for an unexpectedly long time
*That I have the knowledge base to buy all natural foods so that even when they're not homemade I'm not too worried
*That I had time and resources this morning to pull together an article, even if it was a bit late
*That my husband chose today- of all days- to bring home some locally made chocolate truffles just because he loves me
*That after several years of homeschooling I have learned to put off a day's school events with placid acceptance if necessary
*That I'm not too blind just yet to wait to get my new glasses until next Thursday.
*the divine providence which reminds me that tommorrow is another day
*The fact that we have some friends who will be getting rid of their old couch before too long (and the hope that we might be able to acquire it!)
*that even when my problems seem large- they aren't.
*the delicious, universal appeal of pistachios to bring a family together at the end of a hard day, no matter what has transpired.

What about you? Are there blessings in your life which don't stand out as such at first glance?

**For my readers with celiac disease: Alexia fries used to be completely gluten free, but since undergoing a manufactoring expansion in 2012, some fries are now produced on dedicated lines, but in a shared facility. Essentially, consume at your own risk.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Themed Montessori Shelves

I have been thinking a lot about the upcoming Christmas holiday this year, and for whatever reason I've really been in the creative zone when it comes to Christmas crafting. I've been working on some themed ideas for quite a while, and then I saw Lori's post on the same thing from Montessori MOMents last week. I encourage you to check out her ideas because she's got some great ones!

Here's what you can find on our shelves this week:

1. Gingerbread playdoh work. I used this recipe, from The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle and it turned out really well, although I used more spices than the recipe called for. I provided a rolling pin, muffin tin, and come cookie cutters, plus a few beads and sequins for gingerbread man decorating, and the kids helped themselves to some great fine motor work.

2. Red, green and white, candy-cane scented rice pouring. Oh yes, it was as awesome as it sounds, and yes, this became the instant favorite pouring activity. You can check out the post on how we made it here.

For my younger daughter, age 21 months, who just started pouring activities because she wants to be *just* like her big sister, we used some Christmas colored pom poms as a starting material, rather than rice. She loved it!

(We also continued to use the rice in a sensory bin, which we created last week.)

3.We used Christmas colored pom poms and buttons for sorting and tweezer transfers, as well. (Ben, age 6, worked on tweezer transfers with the buttons, Ava, age 3, worked on tweezer transfer with pom poms, and Eleanor, age 21 months, worked on sorting colors.)

 4. We created some Christmas-themed geoboard work, which you can read about here. This Christmas tree is a sample of a design that I created, and the kids imitated using the boards.

5. I set out a large bead lacing basket using pipe cleaners for my 21-month old. She's been watching her sister do her lacing cards (pictured below) and has become interested in doing the very same thing. Since the pattern of lacing is still a reach for her, I started her out using pipe cleaners for their rigidity and large wooden beads for their weight.

6. Christmas-colored lacing cards for my 3 year old.

7. My Christmas tree activity, which I used as a size sorting activity in the same way one uses rods. I set out the paper cut outs in random order, and the child was asked to sort them by size to make a Christmas tree. This was perfect for my three year old, and my 21 month old liked to "help" her. My six year old was inspired to make his own version for his sisters, which required some great practice as well.
8. I recently discovered these glass magnets (which look like Christmas tree ornaments to me), and I used them to make a letter identification game for each child. I cut out two Christmas trees and wrote uppercase letters on one, lowercase on another. Since my 6 year old has a clear grasp on letter identification at this point, this activity was geared toward the younger kids. As I called out a letter, the child needed to add an "ornament" to the tree which covered the letter, which eventually produced a fully decorated tree. (As a note, this was a review since I only included letters for which we'd already done three period lessons.)

9. Since we're hoping that Santa will bring us some sandpaper numerals, we're still using these puzzle numerals to conduct our three period lessons. To create a bit more festive atmosphere, I changed out the counting coins to red, white and green. Simple, yet effective. (Smile.)
Despite the fact that this may be the worst picture I've ever taken, I'm sharing it with you anyway, so you can see the full layout. I can't wait to do a few more Christmas-y crafts to really finish decorating the schoolroom!

What do your shelves look like these days?


Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas-themed Geoboard Play

Well, we had some fun mathematics-inspired Christmas celebrating today! We have been very excited by our geoboards lately, and have been using them in a variety of ways.

Today, I broke out some graph paper and got to work designing a few sample Christmas designs which could be made on the geoboard. I did this completely on the fly while we were cleaning up from breakfast, so I'm sure it can be done in a much more professional way, but it was just fine with a "homemade look," too. Both Ben (6) and Ava (3) had a try recreating the designs I made, and all I did was draw a few designs on the graph paper with permanant marker. Don't you just love it when things fall into place?

We talked all about the shapes the children used while they were building their designs, and for my older child I have begun to ask the more technical questions about what really makes a shape a shape (equal sides, 90 degree angles, etc.). I love that this sort of higher level thinking flows so naturally from hands-on exploration of materials. 

Here's how the materials looked on the tray:

Our Christmas tree-
 Christmas star-
 Christmas wreath (I admit that I wish I'd had some green rubber bands on hand for this one)
 Christmas Candle-
Fun, right? :)

The kids continued to play after they had figured out each of my designs, and they created a few more of their own: a manger, a house with a chimney, a donkey (for Mary to ride on), a present with bow, a candy cane, and a sort of smiley face to show how happy everyone must have been when Jesus was born.

Do your kids like to play around with Geoboards?

I'm linked up!
Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday 
I Can Teach My Child's Show-and-Share Saturday 
The Iowa Farmer's Wife's Sunday Showcase

If Only They Told Me Love!

Nat and Jacqui from If Only They Told Me have created the most lovely write up of our interview from last week. Check it out here, and while you're there have a look around at some of the great product reviews and resources these two moms have to offer.

Happy browsing!
 

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