Thursday, December 31, 2015

Okay, So Pictures Might Help

Yesterday I was lazy and didn't upload any pictures to accompany my bleg for help. By popular demand, some pictures of my sad, dysfunctional kitchen. Lemme tell you, getting pictures off a tablet and uploaded into Blogger is a pain in the rear.

NB: I didn't pick up before taking these pictures. Yes, I know I have too much stuff out. Yes, we need to purge. I'm trying to figure out how to get there from here.

First a little spin around the kitchen while standing in the middle of it. I stood in one spot and just took pictures in a clockwise circle.

Here are two pictures from either end. One is taken standing right in front of the garage door and the other is my regular view from the supper table.

Here's where it starts getting real. This is what the inside of our pantry looks like. For real.

Kroger had a fantastic sale on Delallo products, as you can see.

The top of the fridge is just piled. Something could be done up there, but what?

The inside of the only cabinet that isn't just dishes and glasses. Honestly, we have too many cups and mugs and plates, but I don't know how many to keep. What if you need it, ya know?

This cabinet is where I want to mount a solid magazine rack for storing devices. However the rack would need to be eleven inches wide at maximum (unavailable at Target). The bookshelf under this spot sits on top of a vent so we have to be careful what we place here. Also that wallspace there is less than two feet wide.

This is the only spot I can figure to add a magnet for knives, and it is only fourteen inches wide. This is over the drying rack.

This is another possibility for mounting something, but there is a lot going on in this spot. It is the main place for unloading the fridge and pouring drinks and where the toaster is. So I don't know.

Here is where I want to put a hook for Dave's cast iron egg pan. It get used every single day so doesn't really need put away, but it would be good to have a place to stick it that isn't on the stove or the countertops because it gets in the way when trying to cook other things.

Here is the other cabinet on the other side of the sink. It's full of mugs. I'm not sure what can be done with it.

The other side of the mug cabinet is the busiest spot in the house so I don't want to add anything that might further frustrate traffic there.

Another spot that could be arranged differently if I can find another spot in the house to put this table. Finding another spot for the table is questionable without getting rid of furniture, but I don't want to discount the possibility. This is the back corner in the kitchen behind the table. It is not very accessible and tends to get piled, as you can see.

So there it is. That's our kitchen. What do you think? Throw out your ideas.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Kitchen Organization

Dave did not buy me a Christmas present this year. In the days leading up to Christmas, he was unusually cranky and busy with work. I won't lie and say I didn't notice that nothing with my name on it was being wrapped. I was curious about what was going on, but decided to take a wait and see stance. Finally Christmas arrived and he sheepishly handed me a card. He thought this card was insufficient and his distaste for it was the cause for his days of crankiness.  However he was wrong about the insufficiency of the card.  Inside the card was a note explaining his Christmas gift to me was to give me the freedom to buy whatever I need to organize the kitchen to my liking. This kind of gift is right up my alley.

The kitchen in our house is a sad afterthought of a hallway added by the builder because you obviously can't sell a house without a kitchen, but likely they expected nobody would ever eat here. But we do.

My question for you is what should I buy? How do you make your kitchen functional?

My ideas include:
  •  a hook that will hold our most used iron skillet on the side of a cabinet
  • an electrical outlet with both plugs and USB charging outlets
  • a solid magazine rack on the side of a cabinet to contain our various devices. This has to be smaller than 11 inches wide though.
  • a knife magnet. But again, I only have about a 14 inch spot in which to mount it so it has to be smaller than that.
  • Some large bulk storage containers. Something like this. How many? And for what?
  • I have one set of these canisters. Is one set enough? What do you put in them?
Some areas that needs solutions are:
  • cans
  • potatoes, onions, garlic
  • baggies, foil, wraps
  • anything else I haven't thought about
We do have a couple of lazy Susans we use for spices. A pot rack mounted from the ceiling is completely out. It just wouldn't work in here.

So help me brainstorm and figure out what we need!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Homeschooling: The First Semester

Our first semester of homeschooling came to an end this morning amongst the cries of the fifth-grader railing against the injustice of having more work to do than the second-grader and, "They had better not be allowed to go outside until I am finished!!!!!"

We have had quite a ride this semester. Our lives have flipped upside down since August. We've had missteps and successes and are slowly finding our way around our new normal. Honestly I still have weekends where I am flabbergasted I don't have to go to work on Monday.

What has gone well:

The girls love having checklists to work from. They know what is expected at the beginning of the week and they work down their lists everyday. If they know they want to have extra time one day, they can work ahead. If there is something they want to push to later in the week, they can switch it around and do something else first. The goal is to do the basics everyday and have the entire list finished by Friday. Checklists are winning.

I love the schedule. I also am struggling with the schedule. But mostly, I love not having to roll out of bed at o'dark thirty. You may think this has more to do with me not driving into work, but if Grace had to catch the bus, it comes by our house at 6am.

Olivia does her table work first thing in the morning. She is usually finished before I even have my first cup of coffee. I just have to check it. The only subject that suffers a bit for her promptness is the cursive practice.

The general camaraderie developing among the children. They still argue and fight like most siblings do, but they are also playing together and creating their own games and stories and inside jokes. I love this very much. 

What was a plain mistake:

I absolutely should not have started school before I could really start school. I was off of work for our first week of school and it went wonderfully. They were excited. They paid attention. THEY DID WHAT I ASKED THEM TO DO.

Then I went back to work for a month. I spent that month flapping my wings in their general direction imploring them to do some work while I was never home. Then I was home and decided not to immediately force the issue while we found our footing again. More ineffective flapping in their direction. Another month passed. Then we buckled down to get to work.

Their attitude had changed from diligence to reluctance. Reluctance, not necessarily in doing the work that looked the most like what they are accustomed to doing, workbooks and such, but reluctance in that they realized there was no outside authority figure enforcing a standard. There was just me, their mother, whom they are well practiced in ignoring when desired.

I knew we would have this battle eventually, but it was disheartening to have to wrestle with it right off the bat when that first week, two months prior, had gone so well. They learned immediately that they could goof off and the adults in charge would call it school. It is a well known discipline technique to start strict and then give some slack. We did the exact opposite, not that we have ever made it to level strict.

I know that I was afraid of them getting too far behind. Not really. That's not it. I was afraid that since everyone was in school, they would feel behind by not doing anything. And that the other adults in their life would worry we weren't starting school. And that I'd have to answer too many questions. It was easier to do "school." This was a mistake. I should have just baldly stated that we weren't starting school until mid-October. The End. Well, I didn't know.

The area where this reluctance shows itself the most is in writing. In August I could ask Grace to write something and she would write a full page or more. Now I am lucky to get four sentences out of her. It isn't that she is incapable. She just doesn't want to do it.

What we are working on:

We are still working on the schedule. I am still trying to figure out what to do when and how. Who gets my attention first? There is only one of me and two of them with another one being added next semester. They all want my attention first in order to be finished first. I can help one to the wails of the other one. Nobody likes going second, ever.

Another schedule issue is that while Olivia works fairly promptly, Grace can drag her work out all day long. Given that she objectively has more work to do than Olivia since she is in the fifth grade, it is frustrating indeed for me when she drags her feet. We experimented with a few different techniques, but I have found, sadly, the best way is to stand over her until she is finished which might be as late as 4pm. If I have other people or tasks pulling my attention away, she also wanders away. It drags on and on. By the time she's done, my enthusiasm for doing anything else is about gone too.

I think she gets a bit distracted by the other kids in the house and works better after two them go outside and Marian takes a nap. It is quiet then and she focuses, but then she is also angry because *she* is not outside. I am not sure how to get her to focus while the circus swirls around her and I am not sure how to improve her mood when she has to stay behind to finish her work.

I also want to expand our readalouds. The first problem we are running into with the readalouds is the other homeschooling families on the street. I want to get the written work done before settling down to read, but then it's lunch--how I am detesting lunch these days--and then we read. Inevitably by this point in the day, either my kids are busting to go play or other kids are out on the street.

Once the friends outside have been sighted, my kids are D-O-N-E. They half-heartedly listen as they listlessly stare out the window like caged animals. There isn't much joy in reading to children who are itching to leave. I've tried closing the curtains. If we do the readalouds first and the written work second, they aren't as sharp for their work and the same problem emerges of having to enforce while they wish they were anywhere else. I want them to enjoy learning, but it's hard when friends are frolicking nearby. Having so many homeschooling families here is a double-edged sword. Nobody thinks you are weird, but it isn't unusual to have a neighbor child knocking on your door at 11am.

The second problem with the readalouds is that I have no endurance for it. We read a chapter out of a novel at a time and I am dying by the end of it. I try to squeeze in another short story after the chapter, but then I am pretty much finished. My voice starts to hurt and I am ready to quit. I don't know why I have so much trouble reading out loud. It's not like I don't talk a lot regularly. I do. But regular talking doesn't seem to wear my voice out the way reading does. Obviously I am doing something wrong. Pentimento, I'm in need of a voice lesson. :)

I want to add more history and science and the easiest way is to add them to do more readalouds, but see voice problem above. The girls are also campaigning for more hands-on science learning which makes me a little twitchy. I keep putting them off by saying we will do more next semester, but now next semester is staring at me. I want to get the area where I keep these kinds of supplies organized before we started getting into science, but that hasn't happened yet. Digging through unorganized boxes of stuff with children clamoring about is not my idea of a good time.

Writing is also something that needs more attention from me. Like I said before, at the beginning of the semester, they would write extensively for me and now not so much. I am not intent on them writing reams, but I want them to produce something every week. Up to now, I have had an open-ended weekly deadline for them to write a bit about anything they have read or listened to over the past week. The open-ended nature of the assignment led them to pretty regularly blow it off.

What is challenging but exciting:

One of my main motivations in homeschooling, besides the schedule and the family time and the ability to shape the influences on my children, is to protect them from the spoon-feeding ways of the school system. They are accustomed to having everything thoroughly explained by a teacher before attempting to do any of the work. Because they catch-on quickly, they rarely experience frustration with having to figure something out on their own. It's all already been explained.

That's all well and good until you are in integral calculus at university, thought you understood the lecture, took sketchy notes, are trying to complete the homework, and, holy crap, you realize you have no idea what you are doing or even how to begin to figure it out. Isn't that a fine kick in the pants? Not that that ever happened for real. Cough.

Anyway, I want them to learn how to figure it out and struggle with concepts without being given explanations that others might need, but they do not. It isn't that I object to teaching and explanations. Not at all. It's just that if they can figure it out on their own, I want them to have that experience, but it is hard to come by in a school setting.

Over the past few weeks, Grace has declared more than once that she is bad at math. She is not bad at math. In fact, I gave her the Saxon placement test to see where she is and she is a year ahead of her grade level. Math is now the subject where they are most exposed to concepts before getting explanations from me. This is frustrating for Grace. She is accustomed to having the concept and explanation in hand and now she doesn't. This frustration is making Grace think she is doing poorly in math. She isn't doing poorly at all.

On one hand, it's great news she is frustrated. This is exactly what I wanted. Heh. On the other hand, I do not want her to get discouraged. I need to figure out how to allow her to struggle and also reinforce to her that she is doing just fine. I am wondering if I should start giving her math tests. We haven't done any testing because I know what they are doing and how well they are understanding and I adjust on the fly. But a function of testing I hadn't considered is that it lets the student know where she stands. While I am getting feedback on her progress, Grace is left floundering from one concept to the next. As soon as she understands, we move on, but I don't think that she *knows* that she understands. Does that make sense? Are occasional tests the answer?
What comes next?

Next semester we will add Sam to this mix. I don't even know. Letters and sounds and numbers and counting. Is that it?

We will add more science and history to the reading, but I'm not sure I can bear experiments yet.

I will be more consistent with writing deadlines so they actually write. I am not terribly concerned with quantity, but I do not want them to fall completely out of the habit of putting original thoughts on paper.

Hopefully the schedule will continue to normalize as we find a rhythm that works for us.

And there it is. We survived the semester. Hooray! I think we have all learned and grown from our experiences, but I am ready to take a few weeks off. All in all, I think we are doing well. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Inverted Family Tree

I want to tell you all about what I've been doing these past few weeks, both on the housekeeping and homeschooling fronts. Getting to the computer upstairs is harder than it might seem. We purchased a small laptop for downstairs to ease the congestion on the main computer and to allow me to access the Interwebz without leaving the main scene of action in the house. Behold!

I will tell you all about these things we have learned and discovered soon enough. For example, it is bad idea to eek out a few more days of school right before Christmas when nobody on the street is doing it and all the kids are playing outside all day long. Note to self. But sometimes a post unrelated to anything going on grabs your attention and demands to be written. This is one of those times.


My maternal grandmother* had four children. In order for those four children to be replaced, she would need to have eight grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren.

This people math is the basics behind zero population growth theories. The idea is that you shouldn't have more children than are necessary to replace the people who already exist. Of course, proponents would probably be happy if you never reached that number. Even though I reject the philosophy behind ZPG, I was essentially raised with these ideas. My parents, for whatever reason, were very conscious about not exceeding their "limit." My brother exists, in some small part, because there were open slots available from cousins who did not exist. I am repulsed by the idea that my brother might not exist if the quota had already been filled.

My maternal grandmother had nine grandchildren, which replaces her children plus one--the open slots enabling my brother were on my father's side of the family--and it just so happens I fall exactly in the middle. There are four grandchildren older than I am and four grandchildren younger than I am. Assessing the state of our extended family as I enter the final likely years of my fertility, I am distressed. She should have sixteen great-grandchildren, but as of now, she has eleven.

My oldest four cousins produced one child between them. I have four children. My sister has three children. My brother has zero children. My youngest two cousins have three children between them. It does not seem likely that any of my cousins will have any more children. It isn't that they all suffer from infertility. There is a lot of sterilization going on here. I know because they tell me.

So here we are at eleven. We have five missing people, at a minimum, on my mother's side of the family. Our family tree is inverting.

On my father's side of the family, the situation is much the same. My paternal grandmother had 7 children which would require 14 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren to hit replacement numbers. She had 13 grandchildren--close--and thus far eleven great-grandchildren, seven of whom belong to me and my sister. Since I am one of older cousins in this group instead of in the middle, it is harder to make long term pronouncements on how many children there will eventually be. I can say that as of right now, my four oldest cousins have four children between them. Twenty-eight does not seem likely at all.

Since the concept of replacing yourself was near growing up, I have thought a lot about replacement numbers and how many children are required to achieve it. I have also wondered if I personally have an obligation--in the best sense--to have more children since no one else seems willing to do it.

I know I cannot carry the weight of my entire family. Even if I had a goal of making sure the numbers were at replacement minimums, it would be impossible. I don't have that much fertility (or energy). If I felt like we were DONE, done, I doubt I would be worried too much about it. You can only do so much.

But here I am at age 38. I will be 40 in 18 months. It feels like a deadline. As I sit here discerning my unenthusiasm for pregnancy along with all the other factors of life, I wonder if the abysmal number of children in my extended family should play any role in our decisions.

Since I am willing to love and raise a baby, despite my hatred of pregnancy, do I have any obligation to do it again in light of the fact that my cousins, as a rule, won't? Does anyone else think about these things? Am I the only one?

*My grandmother died in 1999, but I wasn't sure how to treat the verb tenses so just bear with me here.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Immediate Book Meme

I've been thinking about this ole blog frequently and failing to visit it frequently. I have several posts bouncing in my head and yet am not managing to sit down and pound them out. And lo, MrsDarwin comes to the rescue. Here's post full of hopeful promise that I'll soon be posting regularly again.

1. What book are you reading now?

Stillwater, by Cat Hodge (It's on Grace's Kindle so it's slow going as I negotiate who gets the device on any given day.)
Ida Elisabeth, by Sigrid Undset

For the homeschool:
Jenny and the Cat Club, by Esther Averill
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (An aside: How long does it take for other people to read a longish book aloud to their kids. We've been hitting at this book since August and it feels like we are going painfully slow. Problem is I can only read about a chapter at a time before my voice gets too uncomfortable.)
Robin Hood

2. What book did you just finish?

33 Days to Morning Glory, by Michael Gaitley
Shadows on the Rock, by Willa Cather
Ward No. 6, by Anton Chekhov (A short story, not a book, but I say it counts.)
The Entire Collection of Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel.

3. What do you plan to read next?

The Rule of St. Benedict

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales (Argh, this book. I like it, but it always seems to get pushed aside by more pressing matters.) 

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Leisure The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper
Elisabeth Leseur- Selected Writings
Crimson Bound, by Rosamund Hodge

6. What is your current reading trend?

Second grade readers and Life of Fred math books.