Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back to school!

Oh I was so relieved to have school finally start. For some reason this was a hard summer for me. It took at least all of June to be happy about having the kids around all day. Perhaps my dreading it turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it took about a month for my attitude to adjust.

And then it flew!

But even then, by the week before the big day, once all the backpacks had been loaded with pencil boxes and antibacterial wipes, Carden confessed that he was ready to start, and it was just silly to prolong the wait!

 Charlotte's nervousness about kindergarten didn't last long. She's gone to school three days now, and loves it. She's one of the youngest in her class, I'm sure, so we'll see how her adjustment goes. I laughed out loud at her evaluation the week before school started. The teacher showed her a sentence and asked, "Where do I start to read?" (trying to see if she understood that print goes from left to right.) Charlotte gave her a funny look and replied, "With your eyes!" Teacher asked "where does it go next?" Charlotte: "To your mouth!"

Seth is happy about his second grade class. His teacher has a fun reputation and having a male teacher will be a different experience. Seth said he'll like him a lot more once he stops confusing Seth's name with another boy in the class.

Carden was accepted into the advanced/gifted class this year. His class is a magnet site, so he's met kids from different parts of the city, which will make playdates a bit more of a challenge. His teacher is wonderful, but of course has high expectations. I was shocked to see him volunteer to recopy a homework assignment rather than erase half of it once I pointed out an error. I think it's going to be a good, good year!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

4th of July

Living in Utah County has its political quirks, to be sure, many of which are a bit foreign to my California upbringing. But all that conservative energy has to go somewhere, and for the first week in July, it does my heart good to be surrounded by all the flag-waving and celebration. The last year or so, the kids have been old enough to participate in some of the activities that go beyond watching fireworks and eating watermelon.

Poor Granny gets dragged along every year to one of my Fourth of July outings. I gotta remember she's 90 years old and it's hot out! At least this park had lots of shady trees to sit under. She's such a good sport.After the park, we took her out to lunch and then came back to our house for a Pepsi and a new puzzle. We played an American history documentary in the background and had a great afternoon together.

This year we went to a colonial village reenactment in one of Orem's city parks. We saw colonial trades (basket weaving, cabinet making, baking bread, a colonial school, and candle maker. The kids got to try colonial chores--hauling water and making rope. 

We also walked through a "Constitution Hall" with carnival-style games to teach the basic concepts from the Preamble. Lorianne, you'll be happy to know that "Schoolhouse Rock" served me well and I knew all the right answers to their quiz. Everybody, sing with me! "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution..."

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I guess they're getting older--a single sprinkler hooked up in the backyard just doesn't thrill any more. But dodging seven automatic sprinklers shooting through the constrained space of the front yard--now that's a challenge! 
Seth jumps in with abandon. (Of course, he'd also just finished an hour of soccer practice in the heat!)

Claire wants to do everything the older ones do, but usually regrets it after.

Carden's usual lack of constraint is starting to fade. He's tentative at first now, but then loves it. 

Charlotte: "AAAAHHHH!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"I'm famous!"

This week the kids' school showed off a new component of their P.E. program: Drums Alive. The kids all have big exercise balls and drum sticks. They do 30 minutes of interval training: 3 minutes of high-energy cardio, hopping or running in place while drumming madly on the balls. Then they have 3 minutes of rest. But instead of just resting, they do math problems in their heads, then count out the answer on the balls using place value (297 means hit the side of the ball 2 times, the top of the ball 9 times, then hit your sticks together 7 times).

It's a new program, so the local newspaper came out to cover their performance, and the photo and article were in the next day's issue. We subscribe to the paper, but I hadn't noticed a reporter at the school, so it was a fun surprise to read the article and then notice Seth in the cover photo. I showed him the article when he got home, but waited to see if he'd recognize himself in the photo. It took a minute or two, but the smile that slowly split his face was priceless. He shoved the picture under Carden's nose and shouted, "Look! I'm in the newspaper!! That means I'm FAMOUS!"

Reminds me of a line from a song from Newsies: "Tomorrow they may wrap fishes in it. / But I was a star for one whole minute!"

Seth's on the left side of the photo, wearing a yellow shirt.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Camp Floyd

Our big outing during spring break was to Camp Floyd, about 15 miles west of Lehi, out in the middle of the tiny town of Fairfield. Shortly before the Civil War, President Buchanan sent 3,500 troops (1/3 of the U.S. Army) to an outpost 30 miles from Salt Lake to keep an eye on those rascally Mormons.

Nothing happened, the whole affair was nicknamed "Buchanan's Blunder" and the troops were recalled once the Civil War started, having to sell all their supplies and equipment for pennies on the dollar. Clearly not much has changed in the ensuing 150 years in the way of government prudence and planning.

We visited the small museum, an inn across the street for stagecoach travelers, a cemetery, and (not connected with Camp Floyd, but still very cool) a one-room schoolhouse from 1898. 

I let the boys take turns with the camera, taking pictures of everything that interested them. This always helps keep them excited about looking at old clothing and furniture. Their favorite: naturally, the bullet hole that blasted through both walls of the hall when a guest was cleaning his gun and it accidentally discharged. We found an aebleskiver pan in the kitchen, which everyone found very interesting, since that's one of their favorite breakfast treats. And of course, who can pass up the carved wooden chair with a pot in the seat (toilet).  

The cemetery is fascinating because a local historian recently discovered that the gravestones are for people who died elsewhere, and the remains that they discovered through ground-penetrating radar don't match up with the headstone location. So last year they took out all the incorrect headstones and put new ones that all say "unknown" over the remains. When we were there, you could see marks in the grass from the old headstones, in orderly rows, evenly spaced. Today the new headstones are higgledy-piggledy, but accurately placed. Fascinating stuff! Sadly, the wind was blowing fast and cold by this time, so the kids only made it outside for a minute or two before the rain began. We ate our picnic lunch in the car and the kids all laughingly agreed with the quote from an unknown soldier who said "This is the most despicable place on earth."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring break structure

My trepidation aside, spring break was a lot of fun this year, a nice mix of activity and relaxation. I think it helps that the kids are getting older (or at least Claire is getting older and I don't have to drag a stroller and diaper bag everywhere or squeeze everything into the window between naps.

During school, the week is governed by each child's weekly chore chart and homework chart. In honor of spring break, I let them choose their own chores (shredding papers in the office is the most coveted). Here's our current chore system. Normally I choose the chores that need to be done each week (about half are permanent and half rotate). We try for one job a day, with Saturday for whatever's left. Of course, this is on top of their normal daily life jobs like putting laundry away, making beds, setting/clearing the table, etc.

I also came up with the "Spring Break Bingo" chart to encourage them to keep their brains going in ways that didn't require me to help or supervise.

Getting "bingo" earned them wii time. They outsmarted me though, and after the first day, kept using squares they already finished to earn future bingos. So by Friday, they only had to do one or two things! Oh well. At least they were doing something, and the motivation meant that they tackled all their stuff first thing in the morning. Next time I'll make the chart 6 by 6 squares to allow for them double-counting things!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Approaching Easter

Every year our Easter celebrations get a little bigger (and better). We started in 2009 by celebrating Holy Week. Is that the right term? When we started increasing our Easter activities, the only thing that came to mind was the phrase used in Venezuela: "semana santa" to refer to the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

This year I wanted to really make it big, so we started all the way back on Ash Wednesday, which I have to Google every year to make sure I remember what it is. Just like our nightly Christmas devotionals, every night we've gathered around a candle advent calendar, but instead of 24 days to mark off, we count to 40. Forty days from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday. Forty days remind us of Christ's 40-day fast in preparation for his work; and 40 days to remind us of his life.

Here's the pattern for our nightly "emotional devotional": light the advent candles, sing, tell a story, hang an ornament on our Easter tree, fight over how many candles everyone gets to blow out (this is the "emotional" in our devotional), have family prayer.

The song is anything about Jesus from the Primary Songbook or the Hymnbook. This year the story part comes from a book I found on the bargain table at Seagull Book that summarizes Christ's ministry. We're just going along, hoping it works out to 40 stories for our 40 days. The ornaments are pictures of events from Christ's ministry from the Friend or the Ensign, glued on black or white cardstock, with a loop taped to the back--high class. We're still about five pictures short, so I'm hoping this next month's issues help me out! This year I'm just trying to amass 40 pictures. Hopefully I'll remember to keep my eyes open the rest of the year so I can upgrade my selections for future years. And the Easter tree is a bunch of forsythia branches from the backyard. When I first cut them, they were bare sticks. After about 10 days, they started to bud and we had great discussions about resurrection, and life coming out of death. Unfortunately, the branches won't last 40 days, so this is our second Easter tree. I got tired of dead flowers falling into the candles, so I cut a new batch.

The best part of course, has been the chance to review all of Christ's ministry in 40 days, even at the five-minute approach we're taking with our young kids. Seth has really gotten into the whole countdown thing. "Mom, it's 12 days until Palm Sunday!" It cracks me up. How many seven-year-old kids know what Palm Sunday is?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A lot of livin' to do

The days and weeks fly by, filled with chores, church, school, and long lists of "have-tos" but in between we've had some fun...

Seth joined the city theatre program and was a Munchkin in the junior Wizard of Oz production. They worked hard learning the songs, dances, and cues, and he had a super time, sticking it out through four performances in three days, including a double matinee and evening run. His favorite part was having family and friends in the audience. All his Utah cousins came and cheered for him, and you could see him just puff up with pride.

Meeting Carden's favorite author, Brandon Mull, at a book signing for his new title. Thanks, Costco, for encouraging literacy!

The night before the Wizard of Oz premier, Seth was in the First Grade's "Dr. Seuss' Celebration of Reading" performance. The kids got to wear their pajamas and sing catchy ditties about Blends, Vowels, and the Marriage of Q and U.

Carden joined the school Knowledge Bowl team. For 10 weeks they met after school to memorize at least 400 flash cards for this year's Science topic. Simple machines, electricity, weather, geology, botany, Utah ecosystems, the solar system, and types of matter were all fair game. The moderator asked a question, and the first person to buzz in had to answer. A correct answer earned a bonus question that the team could collaborate on. Definitely some high-stakes, high-stress moments! Carden was a natural with his fast recall, and he was voted team captain. I was proud of how he made sure to let everyone have a chance to give the answer for the bonus questions and get their moment in the spotlight.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost in spaaaaace.....

I've heard from several friends, also doing time as Cub Scout den leaders, that our Blue & Gold Banquets are way over the top. Maybe so. We really tried to scale back this year, but apparently we're not so good at thinking small. It was really fun though, and the looks on the boys faces are classic when they see all their decorations everywhere.

The boys made tin-foil-toilet-paper rockets, decorated rocket ships and aliens to hang from the ceiling, and mapped constellations to hang on the walls. We had a great slide show of all the scout activities of the past year, and the highlight was the scout dance. We put glow sticks on their wrists and ankles, blasted some funky techno music, turned all the lights off, and let them jump around so all you could see was the moving glow sticks. The key to getting 8-10-year-old boys to dance is to do it in total darkness so no one can see them. We won't talk about the leaders' grand dance entrance: Sunglasses + husbands' suit coats + the Men in Black theme song.

Carden designed a UFO cake for the cake-decorating competition and I really tried to be hands-off and let him do it myself. It worked best if I actually left the room and came back when he was done. I piped the border between the two cake layers, but he did everything else.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I don't like glovies, I bite them!

Poor Claire. The "life is tough" lessons start young for some. Claire has sucked her thumb with great devotion from the time she could maneuver her hand to her mouth.

March 2010 (5 months old)

Claire sucks her thumb when she's tired, hungry, sleeping, upset, or bored. This appears to be about 20+ hours of her day. (Maybe it's time to rethink some parenting approaches!) The dentist warned us her teeth were already bent in, and her upper jaw was being reshaped by her bad habit and we would be looking at major orthodontics bills to restore her jaw width and straighten the bone the permanent teeth grow out of if she didn't stop.

With new resolve, we left the dentist's office determined to succeed. First stop: the nasty bitter nail polish. Didn't work. Not a flinch.

This month we are trying thumb gloves. A stretchy glove fits over the thumb but leaves the other four fingers free. She only sucks her left thumb, so we started with the left glove only. Within 48 hours she started sucking the right thumb, crafty girl. So on went the right glove, too. She started sucking her index finger. When she sees us bring out the gloves, she crams all 10 fingers in her mouth and runs away.

Claire has worn them for about four weeks and she hates them. She figured out that if we don't have the gloves buttoned on the tightest setting, she can pull them off with her teeth. The first time, she hid under the kitchen table, pulled them off and stomped over to Tyler. With as much vehemence as a 2-year-old is capable of (which is quite a lot, actually), she snarled "I take my gloves off. I bite them!!). Yikes.

She gets her favorite treat, fruit snacks, if she wears them. A few times we've caught her sucking the glove out of desperation, but she is slowly making the change. The first week I'd watch her fall asleep; she'd flutter her fingers near her mouth, as if she couldn't figure out what to do with a hand that wasn't in her mouth. She's into stuffed animals, so we keep baskets of them in every room so that when she has down time and would usually be sucking her thumb, she can hold coyote and unicorn instead.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

V-day boxes

Next year I think I'll promise extra chocolate to the teachers who make the Valentine boxes during class. I'm not a crafty person, and even less of a crafts-with-kids person. Or maybe I just make the mistake of saying, "Let's see what ideas we find online." Low-achieving parents (me) don't put pictures of their Valentine box projects online. High-achieving parents (not me) do. So after seeing the 4-days to make a paper mache R2D2 and other boxes that would have taken the entire contents of our recycling bin, we settled on a tissue-box alligator for Seth, and a pirate ship milk carton for Carden. It still took 4 days. I learned that art projects with Seth, are just that--art projects. Art projects with Carden are high-intensive occupational therapy. Ugh. And poor Charlotte, struggling to write her 9-letter name on 16 valentine cards...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tea Party

My cute little niece Rachel turned 3 last week and wanted a tea party birthday with her cousins. Since all the cousins live in Lehi, we had the party here and I got to do the decorating. It's been a long time since I've had that much fun! (Naturally she tripped and skinned her nose on the sidewalk a couple of days before all her birthday.)

Entertaining is so casual now, that the only appreciative audience for gold-rimmed china and antique tea cups is the 8-and-under set. Charlotte and Claire were hilarious. Every new item that came up from the basement elicited shrieks of delight. "Oh, Mom it's sooooooo pretty!!!" I, on the other hand, was a trifle embarrassed that I own so many sparkly dishes. Granted, several items came from Mom's garage sale finds when I was a teenager and dreamed of throwing sparkly dinner parties on a regular basis. (Hey, it was the 80s--excess was in!)

Now my perspective (or justification) is a bit different; I'm into the heritage aspects of my sparklies: chandelier crystals from Vicki, painted china platters from Granny, an antique tea set and glassware from my grandparents, the Irish linen tablecloth from dad's mission.

The girls all came in their dress-up finery and raised their pinkies to sip their juice and eat their dainties. They all loved the chandelier crystals dangling from pink ribbons and the I think it should be an annual event!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gong Hey Fat Choy

Or as Seth will be happy to tell you, "Happy New Year in Chinese!"

We celebrated Chinese New Year tonight and boy was it fun. Actually it was a good excuse to get take-out for dinner, but in a way that never let them suspect that Mom just didn't want to cook tonight.

The local party store had a pretty decent selection of Chinese New Year decorations (considering that the local Chinese population is about 0.0001%), so with a couple of Google searches under my belt, I hung up red lanterns and paper dragons and hid the brooms so our good luck wouldn't get swept away. Hiding the brooms was definitely good luck for Carden and Seth, since sweeping is one of their nightly tasks.

I remembered I had a roll of tablecloth-size clear plastic, so for our table decorations I swiped an idea I read somewhere. I made color copies of pictures and factoids about China from a kids encyclopedia. I cut them out and laid them on the table under the plastic. It does have a bit of a white-trash aesthetic, but considering a full glass of water spilled during dinner, plus the usual assortment of dropped food (especially with four kids handling chopsticks), all my stuff was protected.

While we struggled with our chopsticks, we read the factoids and talked about China and discussed the animal zodiac and which animals we were. Despite all our emphasis on the positive qualities of each animal, Charlotte could not recover from being born in the year of the pig.

After dinner we handed out red envelopes with actual dollar bills inside and watched a great documentary, "Wild China," that was perfect for the kids, with lots of interesting animals and landscapes.

We wish everyone happiness, wealth, and longevity!