Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorite Moments from 2011

It's the last day of 2011.  Tomorrow we'll start afresh with 2012 and leave this entire year behind us, a bundle of memories with dusts swirling at its feet.  I spent yesterday clicking through every month's posts for this entire year and (probably influenced by a recent end-of-the-season episode where they essentially just piece together clips from all the episodes of that season) decided that I wanted to share with you my favorite moments in Brooketopia in 2011.  Enjoy!

Grumpy Face
Looking Forward to the Work Ahead (I'd forgotten about this one!  What a great read right before starting a new year!)

Engaged!  (That was a fun to put together.)
The Beginning of the Wedding Shawl Drama



Trip to the Renaissance Faire
Fairies in the Trees
My Birthday Post--I've been inspired to try harder as a result of re-reading this throughout the year.
The FINISHED Wedding Shawl!

The End of the Year Report--so helpful in pinpointing problems in our homeschool, and I like to go back and read it when I'm un-motivated to do school because it reminds me that the work adds up in the end.
Splash Pad Fun--the looks on their faces while they're having fun make me smile every time.
Bluebird's First Time Going to Girl Scout Camp--where did my little girl disappear?

Flag Retirement Ceremony
The Celtic Warriors--quite possibly my favorite pictures from the entire year!  They still crack me up.
My Rock Island Shawl
Summer Junebug
Fourth of July Jell-O
Sprayed in the Face

Shaun & Carly's Wedding--duh.  Oh, there was so much that so incredibly awesome about this trip!  I wish I had done more posts about the entire vacation in Canada.
Homeschool PE
Recitation of "Mr. Nobody"
Enjoying a Reese's


Rising to One's Potential

It's Because He's Smart, OK?

The Twelve Pains of Christmas
The Story of the "He Loves Me" Yarn
Autumn Quarter Report
My Toddler Kisses Yarn

As I read through each of the posts over this past year, I was struck by how much of my year was spent consumed in knitting projects.  Yeah, I knit a lot; but I made a lot of time intensive stuff this past year.  I'd like to be able to look back on 2012 and assert that I spent the majority of my efforts in making our school days great.  My main jobs right now are to be a good wife, mother, homemaker and homeschooler; knitting is my hobby and really needs to be dialed down a bit.

Onto another year in Brooketopia.  There will be some big stuff happening in this next year--milestone birthdays and life events, and hopefully lots of great photos of fun times (and amazing "Before" and "After" weight loss pictures!).  Thanks for sharing this past year with us and I look forward to sharing more of our memories in the future!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Story of the "He Loves Me" Yarn

As mentioned earlier this week, Michael had to go on a last-minute business trip to Hawaii.  For a week.  Before he left, he asked if I wanted any souvenirs and I answered with my all-time favorite answer:  "Yarn."

I didn't expect anything to come of it.  It's Hawaii; and yarn...well, that's kind of a colder climate commodity.  I put the notion out of my head and tended to the joyous week of single parenting.

When he returned (with an arrival time of 7:15 AM at the airport one hour away and on a Sunday when I was scheduled to hold a choir practice and also sing a duet in church...) and got to unpacking his suitcase, he presented me with a skein of yarn.  And an apology for it not being the kind of yarn I usually like.

He then proceeded to tell me the story of how he came to possess that skein of yarn:

He arrived in Hawaii on Saturday.  On Tuesday he decided to google for the location of the nearest yarn shop.  He left his hotel room at 4pm to go to said yarn shop and, after navigating the chaotic streets of Honolulu, arrived at the shop at precisely 6:05pm.  The shop closed at 6:00pm.

He pushed back his Wednesday morning meeting and set out for the yarn shop in order to be there when it opened at 10am.  He arrived at 10:00 on the dot, but the shop wasn't open.  Figuring there was some sort of Hawaiian laid-back attitude in regards to opening on time, he decided to wait for the shop owner to show up.  One and a half hours later, he was still waiting.  It was then that he noticed that the store hours listed were for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  The shop was closed on Wednesdays.

He walked in on Thursday at 10am and informed the shop owner that he wanted locally-dyed or spun yarn that was impossible for his wife to get in the State of Utah.  She said that a lot of people wanted that kind of stuff and that she tried to keep lots of it in stock, but he had happened to come to her store at a time when she had none of it in stock.  I'm not sure what kind of conversation and/or awkward silence followed that statement, but Michael's telling goes on to say that at point she exclaimed that she might have one skein of something in the back.  "I'll take it."

When he presented me with the skein of yarn and apologized for it not being quite the right color, I silently agreed with him.  The turquoise was pretty and I thought the purple was sort of nice, but the blue-ink color was definitely not my style.  However, upon hearing his tale of his quest to acquire the yarn, my heart softened considerably and I pledged to make myself a hat from it and wear that hat until it died.

And so I proudly present the "He Loves Me" Hat:

Pattern:  Turn a Square, by Jared Flood

YarnNadezhda's Crayon Box, colorway "Kahana Bay."  (67% Cotton, 25% Wool, 8% Silk) and Berrocco's Ultra Alpaca in "Lavender Mix" #6283 (50% Alpaca, 50% Wool) leftover from my mother's Christmas Hat.

Needles:  US 8

Modifications:  I made the hat about 1.5 inches longer than called for so it could definitely cover the tops of my ears, and also have a little bit of extra space to accomodate any sort of pulled-up hairstyle.
Thank you Michael!
You are all sorts of persistent awesomeness!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Because if I don't post something about it, I'll regret it.

There's a lot of ways to write a post about Christmas.  This year I'm going with photographs and letting the reader see for themselves what Christmas was like in Brooketopia.

Tracking Santa on Christmas Eve.

 Children make Christmas sparkle.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Family Handmade Christmas:
How Our Family Did Christmas Presents This Year

In case you haven't noticed, I like to make things.

However, this can make Christmas a little bit troublesome.  I want to craft a treasure for each person on my gift-giving list, but (in case you haven't noticed) I'm terribly busy with growing and educating my family.  Crafting time is a bit hard to come by at times.  As a result, we haven't sent out Christmas presents in years because I didn't want to send handmade gifts to some people and generic store-bought gifts to others, just in case it caused hurt feelings.

That all changed this year.  I delegated the Christmas gift-giving list amongst members of our family and allowed everyone to partake in the joy and anticipation of giving to our extended family.  I think it was a smashing success and plan to continue with the practice for next year's Christmas.

Unfortunately, this idea of delegation came to me in October, which didn't allow for extravagant crafting, but it was fun nonetheless.  First, I wrote up the list of the people we I wanted to give gifts to and then we had a family meeting and everyone took turns choosing a name from the list and accepting responsibility for making their present.  I put a "handmade gift only" rule into effect because I was not about to open the gates of allowing a 7, 5 and 3 year old to run rampant through the mall, choosing any gifts they desired for their recipients.  I'm OK with spending a few dollars to purchase fabric and odds 'n ends for projects; I am not OK with forking over $50 for some novelty monstrosity that my 3 year old thinks would make a good gift.

Our list of thirteen gift recipients was divided amongst five people, which meant the girls each made three gifts each and Michael and I were each responsible for only two.  A "Handmade Christmas" has an actual shot at success when you're only responsible for making 2-3 gifts!

The girls LOVED making their gifts.  Bluebird put her newfound sewing skills to use and sewed up little lavender-stuffed heart sachets for two of her recipients, and I took her and Penguin to a ceramics studio to make a gift for one person on their lists.  Bluebird chose to paint a cappuccino mug with matching saucer for her Aunt Sandra and it turned out so incredibly cute that I would possibly have thought about keeping it for myself had Bluebird not painted a gigantic "S" on the saucer.

Penguin used her ceramic studio experience to paint a gift for...well, I can't exactly say yet because I'm not sure if that particular family has received their box yet (I'm glaring at you, Canada Post, for this infraction).  We were at the ceramics studio for THREE hours as the two of them diligently tended to their projects.  I was so proud of their commitment to producing "good" presents.

Penguin also painted a picture for Granny and helped make a basketball-themed hair ribbon for her cousin Amber, who recently made it onto her high school's JV basketball team as a freshman.

Junebug...knows what she wants to do and will allow nothing to distract her from accomplishing what she decides she is going to do.  She wanted to paint pictures for everyone on her list.  Period.  I tried to talk her into other ideas, but she was adamant--she would paint pictures for all three of her recipients.  So she did.  And I packaged them in gift bags with a big bag of Ghirardelli chocolates as a way to sweeten the deal.

Michael had big plans for his people, but a last minute business trip to Hawaii made it impossible for him to make his ideas tangible.  He ended up purchasing some thoughtful gifts for the people on his list.

I knitted for the people on my list.  (Shocking, I know.)  As luck would have it, I ended up with my mother and my father as my intended giftees and I made both of them hats.

My mother's hat was hard to give away.  The pictures turned out terrible because lavender purple does not look cute when photographed in a lime green-painted room.  The pattern is Leafy Rosette Beret, by Amy Jansen and I enjoyed knitting it very much.  I used Berrocco's Ultra Alpaca yarn in colorway 6283 "Lavender Mix," and I've already used up the leftovers in a project for myself.  It's a gorgeous shade of lavender.

My father's hat was super soft and warm.  I made him a Turn a Square (designed by Jared Flood) from some charcoal Ultra Alpaca (#6289) and the leftover forest green yarn from the scarf I made for his wife a few years ago.  I have only one picture of it, and it's while it was on the needles.  In my haste to get the packages out on time, I neglected to take photos of just about everythingHopefully I can avoid this error next year; or, better yet, hopefully the recipients of each gift will email me a picture of them enjoying their gifts, which I can then add to this post.

With Junebug's insistence on sending pictures to people on her list, I "stole" one of her recipients and made him a hat.  He's 17 years old and I'm quite sure the cuteness of a 3 year old's painting would have minimal effect upon him.  He received the first Turn a Square that I ever made.  I made it earlier in the year because I felt prompted to make one to have on hand "just in case" come Christmas-time.  Awesome.

And that was that.  :)  The day after Christmas we "chose" our names for next year.  With the success of this year's gifting, we decided to expand our list to twenty-something people and changed up the selection process a tiny bit:
  1. Everyone got to hand-select one name up front.  We all get "perfect ideas" for random people, so I wanted to allow everyone a chance at creating at least one of those "perfect" gifts.
  2. We then drew the rest of the names out of a bowl to assign the remaining names.
  3. Each person had the opportunity to "trade" one of the names they drew for a name on someone else's list, if the "owner" of that name was willing to trade.
  4. You could not have a name that you had last year.  (And, in future years, this rule will extend to the last two or three years...I'd like to avoid monopolies.)
Now we each have 5-6 names we are each responsible for and an entire year to work on the gifts.  I've sectioned off the next year and set up deadlines for gift-making--if they want to take advantage of this idea, then all their gifts will be completed by the end of September, thus allowing them total freedom in Halloween costume design and any other last-minute gifts they may wish to make for members of our immediate family during November and December.

So watch out Family, we ALL have our eyes on you in this next year...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Quarterly Report 2011-2012: Autumn Quarter

Hi there!  Remember how I said that I was going to stop doing the Weekly Reports in favor of doing one big report at the end of the quarter?  Well, today is that day.  Problem is, when I'm not concerned with writing up a report at the end of the week, I kinda sorta stop taking pictures.  I think I went all of November without taking a single photograph of anyone.  So, to sum up where this is going:  I miss the Weekly Reports and plan to re-instigate writing them in the next quarter.

A Quick Re-cap of
Our Autumn Quarter:

BluebirdWe made the decision to let her skip the rest of her second grade-level curriculum and advance up into the third grade level.  I think it was a good decision.  She does not like that there is some extra work involved, but there's also no more complaints of "how easy" math is.  I think she's still a little beneath her ability level, but I want to make sure she has her math facts memorized completely before allowing her to bump up another grade level.  She struggles with the timed drills, so I would like to devote some time to intense drill practice in this next quarter.

Penguin:  Still likes math and is doing well with her Kindergarten level math.  She'll probably finish it up in the next quarter and progress to first grade level.

Junebug:  Can now, with some coaching, count to forty.  She is very proud of this accomplishment.

Monkeyboy:  Can yell "FEEE" when you count to three out loud with him.

Language Arts

Bluebird:  She's handling dictation like a pro.  She started learning to write cursive in the past couple of weeks and it has been going well.  She's covered verbs, adjectives and adverbs this quarter in her study of grammar; she has a hard time remembering what adjectives are sometimes.  Spelling is...not my favorite part of our school day; the words just don't seem to "stick" in her mind.  I've resorted to just systematically spelling out each word on her list every day and posting a list of her words each week so she can look at them more.  There's been a tiny bit of improvement, but I'm not satisfied with how this is going.  She read The Canterbury Tales, D'Aulaire's Norse Myths...and other books that I just cannot remember by this point.  (Yet another reason to keep up with the Weekly Reports.)

Penguin:  She's definitely reading!  She doesn't believe that she can actually read a book by herself, so the "reading for fun" is slow to materialize.  She progressed into the first grade penmanship book during this last quarter and is doing a good job in learning to write her letters.  Some sort of fire was lit in her to become a good color-er, and she's been bringing me some very neatly colored pages in the past few weeks.

Junebug:  She pretty much knows all of her letters now, and is doing well with learning what sounds each letter makes.  She's not interested in writing, but does enjoy coloring in the lines "like a big girl."

Monkeyboy:  He loves to steal the markers if they are left unattended and scribbles furiously in the pages of any nearby book.  Try as I may, I cannot be excited about this for him.

Bluebird read most of her history on her own and then would draw or write up a narration page for it, which I would then look over and approve for filing.  We didn't do any projects this quarter with history.  Autumn Quarter is hard to get everything into--there's Halloween, Thanksgving and Christmas to contend with, and Church Volleyball takes place during almost all of October and November.  Volleyball can greatly affect our plans when it comes to the Regional Tournament--I can be out pretty late some nights and spend the next day feeling pretty tired and sore.  Perhaps I need to re-examine my involvement with the team, or just get into better shape so I'm not suffering the next day!

We did collect gallon milk jugs for about a month with the intent to turn them into Knight's Armor, but when the counter had completely filled up with milk jugs and I couldn't see a date in sight where I could feasibly take the time to actually complete the activity, I decided to throw them all in the recycling bin and move on with my life.

We talked about the Rock Cycle, the Water Cycle and read about other things that interested us.  Earth Science is boring.  We're looking forward to shifting gears next quarter.

Bluebird advanced to Brownie Scouts and Penguin officially became a Daisy Scout!  However, instead of pushing ahead with Girl Scouts, we tried out the "Keepers of the Faith" program with our homeschool group.  As a result, Bluebird learned the basics of embroidery and first aid, and Penguin did a Decoupage project. 

We've since decided to not continue attending the Keepers of the Faith club, and I'm looking forward to re-kindling our involvement with Girl Scouting. 

Penguin and Junebug painted a whole lot of pictures.  Bluebird and Penguin did a little bit of ceramic painting for Christmas presents.  Penguin learned how to knit.  We danced a lot to The Nutcracker

Highlights of the Quarter
  • Bluebird advancing into Saxon 3 Math.  We're all so proud of her!
  • Penguin relaxing into reading.  It doesn't appear to cause her any stress to have to read for me anymore.
  • The look of Junebug's face when she counts and realizes that she is counting "big numbers."
  • Monkeyboy finally settling down and being able to play for a few minutes by himself with the Thomas trains and LEGOs.  It has been non-stop chasing after him since he became mobile last year, and I can actually concentrate on teaching things now because he'll sit on the floor near me and play for 10-15 minutes at a time.  Such a wonderful blessing.  He also brings me books to read to him sometimes, which just sets my heart a-glow.
  • Bluebird raiding her piggy bank in order to buy more books to read.
  • I actually had to use the phrase "No more grammar lessons at the table" during dinner one night.

Lowlights of the Quarter
  • Getting to the end of the quarter and being disappointed with my efforts.  It's Bootstrap Time; I've got to work harder next quarter.
  • I don't think my laundry was ever all folded and put away once in the past three months.  It's not fun to constantly feel like you're not finishing everything every single day.  I keep telling myself that I'm doing a lot and I have four young children and that it's OK for it to be like this right now...but I struggle every day to get school done, do any amount of cleaning and laundry and keep the kiddos fed with healthy food.  I'm pretty exhausted a lot of the time.  I only include this confession in order to stay true to my commitment to tell the truth about what it's like to homeschool.  Too many people paint a picture of reading on the couch together and framed pictures of fingerpaintings, without letting people know about how hard it is to do everything.  Each decision I make about how to spend my time is a decision to not spend time on something else equally as urgent or important.  It's hard to shoulder it all sometimes.
  • I didn't keep up with the Weekly Reports!  I know, after the previous point you would think I'd be OK with that, but the girls happened upon the computer with the blog on the screen and they spent half an hour clicking through the blog and just loving all the stuff they could read about themselves.  The blog is a journal of their lives and they really enjoy reading it.  As a gift to them, I'm going to continue to chronicle our weekly adventures.  Years from now I will thank myself for the decision to sacrifice whatever things I will choose to sacrifice in order to make this a reality.
  • Michael and I made the decision to discontinue our affiliation with our homeschool group.  It was a hard decision to make and it still makes me sad when I think about it sometimes.  It just wasn't a good fit for our family anymore for various reasons.  The worst part about this was giving up the Homemaking Club I had helped felt like I completely dumped it in my friends' laps and I felt really awful about it (still do!).  It just wasn't working for us anymore.
Funnies of the Quarter
  • Penguin drawing a picture of Michael for her penmanship assignment.
  • Penguin: "Mama, how do you give bad luck to black cats?"
  • Continually having to explain to Penguin that tights are not pants.
  • We had to drive Michael to work one morning so we could have the car that day, so we had breakfast from the drive-thru.  I ate something that had raw onions on it, and when it came time to start school my stomach was rumbling in a not-so-friendly way.  I said that my stomach was hurting and Bluebird piped up and recommended that I immediately cancel school so that I could go lay down and rest.
  • Me: "Ugh! How do people keep their houses clean?!?!"
    Michael: "Suspended animation. The kids come home from school and ZAP! Then in the morning, ZAP! and they go back to school."
  • Bluebird was reading through D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths while I was folding laundry at the table. She turned a page and muttered, "That is just so odd."
  • Bluebird: "Would you like me to write another book in my 'Fairy Series' or my 'Average Girl' series?"
    Me: "'Average Girl' series?"
    Bluebird: "You know, books that plain, ordinary girls of all ages would enjoy."

General Observations
It wasn't a banner quarter for us, but we did keep up with the 3R's, which is most important at this stage. We spent a lot of time focusing on how to keep our home functioning nicely, as I cannot take any more of the general chaos that is our chore system. We are far from being organized, but we're making little bits of progress towards a more sustainable routine.  And you know, we're still very much at the beginning of our homeschool journey!  It takes time to figure everything out.

Full speed ahead to the Winter Quarter!  Weekly Reports resume in January!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Pancakes

I should show you my collection of sprinkles sometime.  I have sprinkle mixtures to correspond to almost every holiday throughout the year.  I like to toss them atop stacks of whipped cream-adorned pancakes on mornings when I feel especially in love with the Brookelets.  They like it, too.

Sometimes they take a while to wake up and show their joy:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Here Kitty, Kitty
[Holiday Edition]

I'm not much of an animal person.  I believe that animals should stay outside and perform the duties that God sent them to Earth to do.  (ie.  Dogs scare away bears and deter burglars, cats catch mice, chickens provide eggs, etc.)

However, our HOA has a strict "No Outdoor Pets" policy for our entire neighborhood and so if we have pets, then indoors they must be, except for the mandatory "nature calls" scenarios.  Since I detest animal hair, I made a statement to the effect of "No Animals While We Live in This House."  It has been challenged repeatedly, and I admit that I have been completely defeated.  Kitty litter scooping, backyard dog poop removal, reminders to feed and water the animals, fights over who gets to brush the dog, vigilant vacuuming to remove gag-inducing pet hair from the furniture...these have slowly become part of the daily routine in Brooketopia.

But then Quesnel hides herself in a pile of pine boughs and it makes me laugh.  Baxter meets me at the door when I walk into the house and showers me with an enthusiastic display of joy over my return.  I check on the girls before I head off to bed and find Quesnel curled up with Penguin as she sleeps.  Baxter plays fetch when Monkeyboy throws a tennis ball in the house, which makes Monkeyboy squeal with glee.

The animals have found their place in our family, and all the frustration the accompanies the extra work that they demand melts away as they snuggle into my heart with the love they show to each member of my family.  I pledge to keep them stocked with Kibble.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gingerbread Girl

As mentioned previously, Junebug loves all things gingerbread men; so when I saw these gingerbread jammies I made sure that they became hers.  She wears them almost every night right now, and in this picture she's helping me to make ginger cookies--my gingerbread girl sporting gingerbread jammies and a gingerbread moustache.