Thursday, June 30, 2011

First Time at REAL Girl Scout Camp

The milestone was reached last week:  Bluebird attended her first overnight event by herself.  (We did a trial run of staying away from home earlier in the month when she and Penguin stayed a weekend at Grandma's house in Idaho.)

Knowing that this was the first year that she could attemp camp, Bluebird sold cookies like a fanatic this past March and earned enough money to pay for all but $20 of her 3-day, 2-night camp fee.  She could not wait to go!

I drove her up to Trefoil Ranch for her check-in at 10 am.  The gate to the camp is closed until exactly 10 am, and when they open it you have to drive through one at a time and check-in with a counselor at the gate before proceeding to drop off your child at the main campgrounds.  When we stopped before our turn to check-in with the gate counselor, my resolve to not cry came crumbling down.  I hurriedly wiped away my tears as we pulled up to the counselor; and, as I pulled into the campgrounds, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the mom in the car behind us brushing away tears.  It made me feel a little better.

The real check-in included taking her temperature and a lice check.  I helped her unroll her sleeping bag in the bunkhouse and escorted her out to her counselor, and then I was told I could leave.  (They're not kidding when they say check-in is from 10:00 am to 10:15 am...go away Mom!)  So I left, stealing backwards glances at my little seven year old, who was excitedly chattering away with her new camp mates.  When did that little baby I nervously brought home from the hospital suddenly become old enough to just leave at camp?

She was at camp for the rest of that day, the entire next day and Michael picked her up on the morning of the third day.  (I had accidentally scheduled a choir rehearsal to take place at the same time, so I couldn't go.)  I missed her terribly.  I prayed constantly that she was safe and that she was making good decisions.

She cried almost the entire way home because she didn't want to leave camp.  I suppose that's better than the opposite.  She's told me that next year she wants to go for an entire week.  She kept the letters I had delivered to her at camp and I've caught her re-reading them before hiding them again in her nightstand.  She's growing up, but she's still my little girl.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Arrangement of "Battle Hymn of the Republic"

I just finished writing an arrangement of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" for our ward choir to sing at the end of July.

I figure that there are a lot of other ward choir directors out there with small budgets who would appreciate some free ward choir music, so I'm including links to the sheet music and an audio file to listen to how it sounds.

This was my first attempt at arranging music and I'm pleased with how it turned out.  It's nothing to rival professional composers, but it works for the situation in which it is needed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The End of The Wedding Shawl Drama

My last update on Carly's Wedding Shawl was a little heartbreaking:  two days after I finished The Wedding Shawl, she had changed her mind on her dress and decided to go with a white wedding dress instead.  I responded with offering to make a white replacement shawl.  She accepted the offer and chose the lovely Rock Island pattern.

This was quite perfect, as I was signed up for a knit-along for that very shawl and it was set to start in the next week.

But, knowing the drama that has surrounded this shawl from its very inception, I should have known that karma had a few sneaky little tricks up its sleeve...

I arrived at the yarn shop where I was participating in the knit-along on the first night, armed with my debit card and intent upon purchasing some lovely white lace-weight yarn.

There was none.  NONE!

There were some lovely ivories and silvers, but no true whites.  Needing to start the class right then, I quickly grabbed an aqua-colored lace-weight off the shelf and began the shawl with my class, intending to put the aqua one aside once I purchased some white yarn from any of the other yarn shops in the area.

However, I could not locate any white lace-weight yarn at any of the other shops.  There was a white cobweb-weight ( and a white lace-weight with stainless steel silvers spun into it (, but no plain ol' vanilla white lace-weight yarn.  In Utah!  We Mormons love us some white yarn and I could not find any!  (I suspect that it was bought up for all the June brides...)

Normally, I could have just ordered some online and it wouldn't be a big deal, but I was taking a class and I needed to be to a certain point by a very certain date...and the online yarn wasn't going to arrive until two days before that date, which was very much not enough time for me to complete my "homework."

I sent a frantic email to Carly, explaining my predicament and assuring her that I was knocking my brains about frantically trying to come up with a solution, and she responded with this:
Cara, I totally understand if you cannot make [t]he shawl happen. It should not be a burden on you that I decided to change my dress. I LOVE the black shawl, and it goes so well with my other dress, I couldn't be any happier. I am planning on wearing the dress down in Wash. if the occasion calls for it, and I will be FOR SURE [be] wearing it on our honeymoon, which is going to be a I will for sure need it at some point in the middle of the ocean. So please don't stress, you put too much time and energy into making something so beautiful for me the first time is amazing! You are great, and your talent is great, but I do understand. So in saying that, instead of worrying about another shawl, you should just go and retitle all of you[r] blogs "The Honeymoon Shawl" No one will ever know the difference ;);)
So now the drama is over and "The Wedding Shawl" is now "The Honeymoon Shawl."

Methinks that Carly has proven herself as being ever-so-knitworthy indeed!  I'm so excited to have her as a sister!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Homeschooling...with Littles

I received the following comment on my "Year in Review" post:

AmyJane said...

It's interesting to read these reflections--these issues are the exact reasons I put aside the notion of homeschooling after much research and prayer. It takes some SERIOUS dedication to do it well.

The other thought that was actually the tipping point for me was that I found that in many homeschooling families, the younger kids (babies and toddlers) seemed quite ignored while the mom's attention was on schooling the older kids during the day. Given that I feel very strongly about the birth to three period as being incredibly formative, and my (very limited) experience with home preschooling and having to make a baby wait a lot, I decided that I couldn't make that trade off. What are your thoughts about your littles and how they are affected? I know there's also the opposite, quite lovely idea, that they are able to learn along with the older kids, but does that play out for you?

(I hope you're okay with the candid questions....I think homeschooling is great when it's done well, but it seems like an incredibly demanding undertaking to do it well!)
As far as I can tell, there are two questions posed here:
  1. How are my younger children affected by me homeschooling the older children?
  2. Do my younger children actually learn along with the older kids?
Oh, there's just so many reasons behind the way I do things the way that I do them...where do I begin?

Well...I, too, believe that 0-3 years old is an important developmental time...but probably in a different way than a lot of people think it is.  I think a 0-12 month old baby should have all its needs met immediately in order to create parental bonds, make him/her feel secure and loved and all those "Hey, I feel safe here" reasons.  (Which is a lot of the reason behind why this last year wasn't as productive as I would have liked it to be--I was very busy with nursing Monkeyboy, taking care of his immediate needs and fighting sleep deprivation from being awake with him during the night.)

My beliefs change a little bit once they hit the one year mark in that I think they need to start learning that the sun does not revolve around them and that they will have to wait their turn from time to time; and I expect them to actually start entertaining themselves a little bit when they are 2+ years old.  A baby has my full attention; a toddler has to start to learn to deal with the fact that they are not the only person that I am responsible for in this household.  It sounds so harsh...I don't bark at them to leave me alone or anything, but there are other kids in our home that have just as much right to my attention as the toddler does.

I'll walk you through our schedule as it stands now to show where the kids are throughout the day, keeping in mind that the schedule does a lot of evolving from season to season:

Breakfast is at 7:00AM.  I clear the table at 7:30AM and if someone hasn't gotten out of bed by that time, they don't eat breakfast.  It's my way of helping them develop the habit of getting out of bed in the morning.

Devotional starts at 8:00AM, after morning chores and getting dressed and all that stuff is finished.  Everyone attends, except Michael (who is at work by this time), and we sing and read and pray together.  I used to let them color, but found that they were ignoring me in favor of each other's artworks, so now this time is a practice in being reverent.  They did not like the change, but adjusted after a week.

We do the majority of our homeschooling during Monkeyboy's morning nap.  He takes a nap from 8:30-10:30AM and also at 2:00-4:00PM.  We can usually square away Math and all five Language Arts (Penmanship, Phonics, Spelling, Grammar & Writing) subjects during his first nap.  Bluebird is very much engaged, Penguin is engaged for most of that time and Junebug likes to tag along with Penguin during her Math and Phonics lesson.

I run into the problem of Junebug not "having anything to do!"  This has been a problem in the past few months, but I could generally remedy the situation by just letting her sit in my lap and letting her tag along with Penguin's phonics and math lessons.  I've focused a bit of attention in the past months on stocking up a "Preschool Area" for her disposal, full of puzzles, chubby beading projects and things like that.  My kids also have un-restricted access to all the art supplies in the house all the time.  She has lots of options to choose from, and I expect her to make choices for herself.

At 10:30AM we take a half hour recess, where they have a snack, I change diapers and move laundry around, and the three girls play outside.  If there's some extra time, I'll do some work in the garden with Monkeyboy pulling himself alongside me.

After recess is "Everybody Together" time, from 11:00AM-1:00PM.  Since Monkeyboy is awake and Junebug has done so well with me being focused on the older two children, I scheduled this time for activities that we can all do together, for the most part.  This is when we do our History or Science lesson.  In the future, when everyone is school-aged, we'll be doing History and Science together always, so now's just as good a time as any to do it with everyone present.  Bluebird is technically the only one who needs to pay attention for History and Science, as I don't expect work in those subject areas until a child is in the First Grade, but everyone can play with LEGOS or Thomas train tracks on the floor while I read the lesson out loud.

Then, if we have an activity to go with the lesson, we do that together as well.  The Littles love science experiments and art projects just as much as the Bigs.  I have to help the Littles, obviously, but it's time well-spent.  Bluebird is required to do write-ups and narration pages afterwards, and I can sit with her and help her because my Littles are generally content to wander off and explore by themselves for a bit after so much stimulation.

Next is Reading Time, where I read a book to each child.  Bluebird usually has to go off by herself to read her Literature assignment for the day...but sometimes she sticks around in order to hear a favorite story again.  (All the Littles usually sit around to hear everybody's story love to be read to!)

After that, I prepare Lunch while everyone plays whatever they feel like playing.  We eat lunch together and talk to each other and clean it all up together.

By then it's 2:00PM and Monkeyboy goes down for another nap, and if we haven't finished something, we do it then.  (This next school year will see this hour scheduled for Latin, starting in the Second Quarter.)  If all the schoolwork is done, then Bluebird and I do some chores while Penguin and Junebug amuse themselves with a little bit of video-watching or computer game playing.  I am not a fan of television, video games or computer-time for kids; but this time of day is Quiet Time and they are far more quiet with these activities than other activity choices.

At 3:00PM there is a house-wide Free Reading time.  Everyone gets into their beds and reads for an hour.  It's a HUGE deal when a child is deemed too big for naps and is allowed to stay awake for Reading Time!  (However, sitting in their bed usually makes them sleepy and they fall asleep's nice for them and helps us avoid the "I'm-too-big-for-a-nap-but-still-need-one" crankiness that can happen in the evening when they start weaning off their naps.)  I try to read when I can, but usually use this little break to do something that needs intense focus on my part, like paying bills...or a little bit of reward knitting.  ;)

We have a snack at 4:00PM and try to clean up the house a bit and play outside.  (Starting in the next school year, Bluebird will do her piano practice at this time.)  Then we embark on the usual Evening Routines that any family would have, public-schooled or not.  We play trivia games during dinner in which we all ask questions of each other to answer; I use it as a review session for school.  I try to read out loud to everyone again in the evening after Family Scripture Study so their brains get a little more stimulation.

So, in answer to the questions, I think homeschooling works fine for my Littles.  I don't homeschool for the warm-and-fuzzy reasons that a lot of people seem to be doing it for; I homeschool because I want my children to have a very traditional and classical education that is largely unavailable in my public-school options.  I want my children to study grammar, logic, Latin and the Great Books (way more than three per semester!); and I've yet to see all of these subjects offered in their entirety in the public sphere of education.

I like homeschooling because it draws our family closer.  This was not one of the reasons I chose to homeschool, but it has come about because we do spend our entire day with each other.  When I sent Bluebird to Kindergarten for those three months in 2009, I was deeply saddened by how much her "loyalty" seemed to shift from her family members to her classmates.  Her younger sisters were "babies" that were just plain dumb and her teacher (a lady that I knew, and liked just fine) became the authority of all knowledge in her world.  Other parents told me that this was completely normal and part of growing up; I disagreed.

I think piling a bunch of same-aged kids into a room for hours each day is actually damaging to their development.  I believe that separating a child from their family for a majority of their day is damaging to the family.  Our bonds and ties lie with the people we spend the most time with; and, having experienced what I've experienced in the past two years of Bluebird's school career, I don't want to turn over the joy that I have felt in watching her grow and learn to someone else.  Through homeschooling, I get to witness every little step forward that they make instead of hearing about it after it's happened.  I miss out on nothing in their lives.  I love that.

I'll stop there before I cause any toothaches.  :)

The Littles don't suffer because I'm investing time in The Bigs.  The Bigs play with The Littles, just as I would play with The Littles if The Bigs were at school.  From my experience with Bluebird being in Kindergarten for three months, she was away for so many hours a day and then had homework to complete once she got home.  Had she gone to full-day school, I don't know when she would have time to play with her siblings.

I do wish I could read more to The Littles, but they've realized that Bluebird can read now too and so they'll ask her to read to them as well.  (She's happy to oblige them if it means showing off!)

Overall, it's a win.  The worst part of homeschooling is that it's really hard for me to keep the house clean.  It can get pretty bad sometimes, I won't lie.  I used to cringe when I'd read or hear that from another homeschooler, but now that I'm actually going through it...I'd much rather have the learning and the bonding going on instead of a pristine house.  In the long run, that's what is more important to me.  I'm trying to "grow" the kids into chores, and keeping this place clean will get easier as they get older and stop making so many messes and learn how to clean up and help out around the house.  The chapter of Littles is difficult and messy.  It just is.

I hope this answers your questions, AmyJane.  None of it is said in a condescending or self-righteous manner.  (I have experience with people interpreting my written words that way, so I just want you all to know that that is NOT where I'm coming from.)  Homeschooling works for my family and myself.  We like it.  It doesn't mean that Michael and I love our kids more or that we're better parents than anyone else...ugh, please don't read that from my words.  I am content with our lifestyle and see no benefit in hiding my happiness with it.  (I also acknowledge that I am far from being a expert on the subject!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2011 Father's Day Photo Shoot: First Attempt

I've been so consumed with the choir's performance next Sunday that I sort of spaced the fact that Father's Day is the Sunday before.  Father's Day has snuck up on me this year.  I had my moment of realization yesterday, and decided to try to grab some shots of the Brooketopianlets so we can replace the pictures in Michael's picture frames at work.

Some of you will remember last year's Attempt #1 and Attempt #2.  This photo shoot went better than last year's attempts, but still wielded poor results due to wardrobe malfunctions and distracted gazes.  Sigh.  I offer you a censored version of our session:

Actually, this one might work.

Wardrobe Malfunction.
Otherwise, this is a pretty good sampling of their usual facial expressions:
Bluebird looking bored, Monkeyboy looking serious, Penguin looking goofy, Junebug smiling.

This one might work too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cherry Blossom Blanket

We are awaiting a new little addition that will arrive this summer for one of Michael's brothers (and his wife, obviously) and I simply adore making baby things, so I volunteered to make a blanket for the wee princess.  I saw this pattern and color scheme used in a handmade purse and have been biding my time until I could finally use the combination for a project.

PatternAfrican Flower Hexagon, by Lounette Fourie & Anita Rossouw (Sarie Magazine July 2009)
The edging is #250 "Coming Up Shells" out of 280 Crochet Shell Patterns by Darla Sims.  I figured out the half motifs through trial and error.
Yarn:  Red Heart Super Saver Solids in 0724 Baby Pink, 0774 Lt. Raspberry, 0378 Claret & 0505 Aruba Sea; Caron Simply Soft in 0003 Pistachio.
Hook:  G (4.0 mm) on the Caron Simply Soft & H (5.0 mm) on the RHSS.

Thank you Junebug, for "taking pictures with the blanket."
(She was overjoyed to help model this finished project, as Bluebird is my usual go-to for photos.  I think Junebug has earned herself a permanent place in my arsenal of models.)

Click here for this project's Ravelry Page.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More Wedding Shawl Drama

Ha!  You thought, that with the completion of The Wedding Shawl, that all the drama was over.

Well, you (and I) were wrong.

Oh, so very wrong.

I posted about the completion of The Wedding Shawl on Wednesday, May 25th.  I was elated.  I would spontaneously erupt into little "Happy Dances" whilst walking about my home.  My family stopped asking me why I was dancing because they knew I was still oh-so-pleased with myself for finishing The Wedding Shawl.

This behavior lasted for two days.


Because, on Friday, May 27th, I received a message from my soon-to-be Sister-in-Law which said: 
"So... I really hope that you don't hate me, but I went and looked at real wedding dresses today, and absolutely fell in love with a dress...and I bought it. It is white and champagne, and the shawl still goes with it, as white, champagne, and black are still the wedding colours. Anyways, I just wanted to let you know about the change, and, ugh, I just really hope that it didn't put a damper on your wedding excitement. Take care, hope to talk to you soon.

Sincerely, your hugely indecisive, pain in the a** sister-in-law"
(Let the record show that I did not put in those asterisks.  They were her addition...I don't know if that's how she writes or if she "censored" the language because I don't swear.  Whichever reason it is, I think it's cute...hopefully that makes sense.)

I stewed on the subject for a few hours.  I wasn't mad that she switched her dress.  (Really, shouldn't a bride be allowed to change her dress for her own wedding if she so desires?)  The black shawl probably would not go with her new white dress.  (And really, what kind of message does it send to wear a black shawl over your wedding dress?)  I like knitting, especially pretty stuff, so I offered to make another shawl for her, this time in white.

It's sort of insane.  But I feel good about it this way.  I want to do this nice thing for her, and if she wants a white dress at her wedding instead of a black one...who can blame her for that?  Duh.  Get with the program or get out of the pool.

I gathered up pattern choices once again.  In addition to the original offerings, I gave Carly the option of choosing from:
  1. Rock Island: 
  2. Holden Shawl: 
  3. Ishbel: 
  4. Haruni Shawl: 
  5. Summer Flies:
  6. Citron:
  7. Calais Shawl:
  8. Percy Shawl:
  9. Orchid Thief:
  10. Frozen Leaves:
  11. Diamonds Shawl:
She immediately picked Rock Island.  Wedding Shawl, take two...

(And yes, the black shawl is still hers.  It still goes with the original black dress.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

End of the Year Report: 2010-2011 School Year

Review:  It was our first "real" year of homeschooling; the first year that I had to submit an affidavit declaring my intention of educating my children at home.  I was nervous about it.

August 31, 2010:  First Day of the 2010-2011 School Year!
We instituted a new tradition of tie-dyeing t-shirts to wear on the first day of school.
It worked wonders in getting them out of bed!
We started two weeks late because Michael's stepfather passed away the day before our proposed first day of school.  We ended up staying in Idaho with family all that week and then spent the next week after getting over allergies.

Bluebird's face after tasting baking soda water
for our "Acid or Base?" experiment.
December 2010
Bluebird:  Bluebird was in the First Grade this school year.  Her favorite subject at the beginning of the year was Math; now it's History and Science.  Bluebird finally finished Phonics Pathways, and she started studying grammar, writing and spelling.

She kicked against the pricks almost the entire year in regards to penmanship and having to write anything at all.  Some days I thought I would go completely out of my mind at the thought of having to spend another day trying to coerce her into writing without being grumpy about it.  When I realized that she was old enough to begin a writing program, I put it off until January because I just could not even fathom the idea of adding in another thing that required her to write more.

However, about a month after we started Writing With Ease, she became less combative about writing.  I don't know if she just got used to the idea of it or if it made her happy to choose the shorter sentence to copy each lesson and feel like she'd gotten away with an easier assignment...but she mellowed out a little bit over writing.  I've been incredibly grateful for that development.

Penguin:  Penguin was in Preschool this year.  We gently introduced her to phonics, penmanship and math.  When she grew tired of working on something, we stopped and she went off to play.

She has learned to read and her ability to control the pencil has increased.  She loves math and she's done very well in understanding the new concepts.  Preschool is so much fun!

Curriculum:  We dropped ARTistic Pursuits after a few months because the girls started groaning every time I got it out.  I like the curriculum and plan to pull it back out in a year or two; right now I think it's just a little too much for them.  We switched over to Usborne Art Treasury and they heartily enjoyed the projects.
Tearing up tissue paper to make Waterlily pictures like Monet's paintings.
Lessons Learned
#1:  I tried to incorporate as many activities as possible throughout the year because I think activities are what make school interesting for kids at this age.  However, activities are exhausting for the teacher to arrange.  After reading through the weekly reports where we did activities, I noticed that those were the weeks where we seemed most productive.  The weeks where we just hunkered down and buried our noses in books were moderately productive, but didn't have the same upbeat energy about them.  Activities need to stay.

#2:  I spent A LOT of time driving people to the airport in this last year.  Between Michael's business trips and my cousin being at BYU, we made almost monthly trips to the airport to drop off and pick them up.  My cousin no longer attends BYU, so there won't be any more trips for her.  Michael and I have discussed the possibility of having his company pay for a shuttle to the airport each time he needs to travel.  It's just taking up too much of my time.

#3:  I am sick A LOT.  I've known that I've had bad allergies for years, but in reading over the year's weekly reports I was shocked to see how many days of school we missed because I wasn't feeling well.  I've started a regimen of allergy shots in order to avoid future weeks of misery and missed school days.  (FYI:  Allergy shots are not fun.  But my family needs me to be healthy.)

#4:  Just because you can homeschool anywhere doesn't mean you should.  We travelled with Michael up to Seattle for two weeks last September so we wouldn't have to be apart and because you can take homeschool with you!  However, homeschool supplies takes up a lot of room in an already-stuffed minivan and homeschooling in someone else's house is really hard to do.  In the future, travelling will not include formal homeschooling.  In fact, we have a three week trip coming up before the end of the year and I've re-arranged our school schedule to allow us to take those three weeks off from school--which means we'll be starting our next school year three weeks earlier than planned to make room for the trip.

#5We need an Errand Day.  This next year I'm going to experiment with four longer school days in order to free up the fifth day to get errands done.  We can't get all our errands and housecleaning done on Saturday and have time to enjoy Michael being home or do family activities.

#6:  My hobbies are taking up too much of my time.  Oh, this is a bitter pill to swallow.  It's becoming more apparent as I look over the plans for the next few years that I will soon have no free time for "other" hobbies.  This is fodder for a whole other post, but in a nutshell:  It pretty much boils down to whether I want to homeschool or whether I want to spend significant time with my creative hobbies.  There's not enough time for both in my day anymore.  I will have to spend less time on my hobbies.  And really, there will be plenty of time to advance in my personal areas of interest when my children have flown from the nest.  This is not saying that homeschooling is an all-or-nothing scenario; the teacher needs to fill their well in order to remain enthusiastic about teaching...but I'm going to have to figure out how to fill my well more efficiently...if that's possible.

Overall:  I am proud of our accomplishments, but the overall feeling that I have about this last year is that it wasn't as productive as it should have been.  I didn't push myself very much and while we have technically finished up on grade level, we could have done far more than we did.  I am going to do better about having school each school day, protecting our school hours and doing what it takes to keep my health and our home operating well.  Homeschooling just doesn't work that well when I'm sick or when our house is a mess.  I need to improve in these areas.

I enjoy homeschooling immensely.  I think my kids are awesome and I'm glad that I get to spend my days with them instead of letting another adult experience all the fun of being with them throughout the day.  We do need to do better though...I'm hoping that next year will be a year I can reflect on with little regret.

But we did accomplish big things this year--getting through The Story of the World in one year takes a bit of persistence and considerable effort.  Bluebird can now point out and name numerous places on a map and she knows who a lot of ancient historical figures are.  She can talk intelligently about cells, atoms and chemical reactions.  SHE WRITES!  She knows a bunch of addition and subtraction facts and has read through some really good books.  She can define nouns, pronouns and verbs.  She memorized the list of Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and a handful of poems.  We did get stuff done this year...and I'm going to try to remember that when other negative feelings try to creep into my mind.

But best of all, I was able to spend so much time with my children in this last year.  That's the best part of homeschooling:  Observing as my children grow up each minute of the day and not missing out on watching them discover their world.