to The Hills of Kansas

After a two month lull, I finally have the time to blog again. With last-minute trips, late night talks, many (oh so many) phone calls, we planned, packed, and moved with no time to blog, no time to eat, no time to sleep.

But we are here in Kansas – boxes unpacked, pictures hung, and exploring new nitches here and there. And time to look towards sharing it all online again.

As for this blog, I hate to say good-bye, so I will focus on the new and moving ahead.  I invite you to join me and my family in Kansas at my new blog, The Hills of Kansas.

Good bye Indiana, hello Kansas.

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the new outdoor kitchenette

After painting the table we originally intended to be the outdoor kitchenette, we declared it was too nice for water and dirt. It is now residing in Elliott’s room, to hold his stereo and books. So we needed a new table, but one that looked just as spiffy. We spent most of the afternoon constructing and painting, while watching over the boys. Sadly, Elliott was in such a funk, we had to ban him from any participation. Lately, he totally disregards instructions and suggestions, yells back at us, and breaks things when angry. Sensing how that could impact a quick construction project or a tidy paint job to get to the actual play, we sent him off to play elsewhere (a few times to his room too).

Mike cut and built, I painted. Oliver created mischief. But by 3:00, we had an outdoor kitchenette.

I decided since we have no intention of introducing dirt to it, at least while we are residing here for the next two months, I cannot really call it a mud kitchen. So with sand, water, and vegetation, it is our outdoor kitchenette. The boys needed no instruction!  Oliver had a cup he filled with water, which he repeatedly had me ‘drink’ from. Elliott set to work on muffins, a cake, and soup. While I missed a photo of it, the boys collecting leaves in their baskets was so sweet. This short time playing refreshed everyone’s attitude. Amazing what a little sand and water in pans can do.

                                    

        

the best day in many days

Today was very full but very satisfying. I was able to forget we were moving and focus on the moment. Despite having a sick fevery boy, I got to get on my bike (after wiping the inch of dust off, hm). Since I have been running the past few weeks, biking felt tremendously good. Normally, I am huffing, mentally beating myself up, and turning back at the first real hill. Today, I felt like I was flying and it was so relaxing to be out riding alone, focused only on how nice the river was, how perfect the wind was, and how I felt taking each hill. Lately the focus has not been about how fast or hard I seem to be running/biking, but my own personal goal setting and breaking. That is so much more satisfying and, ultimately, I perform better.

Later, I ran errands, which normally are less than joyful. And some were not all that fun – give up a little blood, off to discuss ‘issues’ at the sweeper store where I got my new vacuum, return an item elsewhere. But deciding to look at mud kitchen supplies was rather uplifting and exciting. I found some sweet scores at the local Goodwill and, perhaps feeling nice toward me because of the blood donation bandage I was sporting, the clerk made the deals even better with some extra discounts. Wonderful!

We have been admiring the mud kitchens at a few blogs (here, here, and here). I told Elliott as soon as we moved we would set it up. But we are putting a lot on hold here for The Move. When we move we will: live on a farm, get chickens, build a banging wall, make a mud kitchen, get out all the toys we have packed away, get out your work table and tools, and so on. And with many things likely to remain in boxes while we face a possible year in an apartment, I felt tired of saying “when we move”. Plus, I got to enjoy myself finding these treasures and seeing the delight in little boy’s faces.
But the best treasure and surprise for my boys was a little wooden pink table. It was marked $9.99, but the senior discount knocked it down to $7. Elliott has been saving free paint samples we got online – a buttery yellow he picked out – to paint an item all his own. Again, this was something I kept saying we would do soon, once we moved, once we found the right piece of furniture.

When I arrived home, Oliver was in a funk, so I allowed him to dig right in to the giant bag of pots, utensils, and baskets. He was delighted and immediately set to transporting some items right to the mud kitchen. His delight makes me so tickled inside.

 

Elliott jumped in too, forming an attachment to the beeswax pot I got. (Finally, a dedicated pot to melting wax and candle making, which was Elliott’s idea after a visit to Conner Prairie.) He also wanted to organize the shelves and remove stickers to get them ready. It was hard to convince him that tomorrow he would feel more like painting shelves and dipping candles. He was ready to set to work today, fever and all.

 

To put the icing on the cake of a day, my food processor and immersion blender arrived early. Whipped cream for our fruit at dinner and cracker making in the near future made for a very satisfying end to the day. And a little boy’s delight in the packaging was just fantastic.

Now, off to a glass of wine and playing Ticket to Ride with Mike!

consequences of the storm

After Hurricane Elliott (and his playdate friend) rolled through the house, they left in their paths three rooms covered with stuff – kitchenette items here, silkies there, baskets of toys dumped, more mess than I have ever seen. While playing, I had suggested a few times that clean up after said friend left would be hard but his responsibility. But on the storm rolled.

Once his friend left, he was suddenly too tired to clean up and the tears started up. I offered music to aid the clean up process and to help some after I finished my work. But the picking up did not start. Calmly (but pulling out all the tactics), I stated that if he was too tired to clean up, he was too tired for gymnastics with friends tonight, too tired to stay up tonight, and he would no longer have friends over if he could not follow up a playdate with clean up. Then, I see Oliver with beads in mouth as he slipped on a kitchen baking pan. At that point, I lost it and yelled, well, a lot. As I rattled off all the consequences to him again in my loud mama voice, I realized it would not work. Elliott is strong-willed and will drag out something until I go nuts. But I wanted the house picked up NOW. So I decided I could still enforce consequences, but I would keep Oliver safe by picking the items up into boxes. So now four boxes sit in the laundry room and Elliott is starting to realize that not being able to play with any other toys until the mess is cleaned up stinks. He can be stubborn, but at least I have the house picked up and I am not going to go (as) nuts.

In the midst of situations like this, all ideas of how to act or suggestions I have heard seem to go out the window. I am left not knowing if my reaction was the best reaction. If I had not made so many of the toys or liked some of these gifts from friends, I would be inclined to box them up and say good-bye at Goodwill. Not sure that would be an appropriate reaction either.  But at least if I can find a plan that stops me from yelling, it has to be a decent one. I think. Any thoughts?

(To give you an idea of what this near five-year old is like: Just before I cleaned up into the boxes, I said in anger, “You’re not doing ANYTHING else until this mess is cleaned up.” He followed up with “Can I turn on a light? Can I sit down?” … Now, as I write this, he is asking me to pack up more of his stuff and asking if he can just touch his toys… I just might go nuts! Daily, I miss the window for clear calm communications and it is all downhill from there…. But, after posting, I asked him (calmly) to tell me what has happened and why. It is clear he understands and he can detail it out. And the internal screaming starts.)

that’s where you’ll find me…

Somewhere over the rainbow, in Kansas that is. We are officially moving. After many discussions, time mulling and fuming, disagreements, and some tears, at least on my part, we are accepting Mike’s new position at Kansas State.

I had three big wishes for our next move. Well, they were more than wishes – more like absolutes, which are now not such absolutes!

1. a great Montessori school

2. a farm or land for animals

3. ocean

Well, Kansas is only a short drive from the ocean, right? So for the times in between our jaunts to the beach, we can make do with the local rivers and reservoir. And farm land should be plentiful! In fact I am now questioning the desire for peace and solitude as I will have that in abundance, I am sure. The trickiest part of making up our minds was the Montessori school. Manhattan, Kansas is lacking in alternative educational options. To start a school would be a challenge, one I am not feeling up for and would totally miss my children by the time I was established. And homeschooling I fear would not suit me for the long haul. A year or so, maybe, but I am learning it is not something I feel I can do well, or let just happen as with unschooling. After many searches and changing of plans, we found Montessori schools in Topeka (1 hour) and Lawrence (1.5 hours). They even have elementary programs in Lawrence!! We are now considering living on the outskirts of Topeka and each commuting, hoping that I can find employment at one of the schools to reduce tuition for the boys as well. Mike was told today there are people who do this in architecture department so maybe he can even ride share.

It is not what I wanted and what I have dreamed of this whole time we have lived in Muncie. But at a time like this, we have little choice and will have to find ways to see the advantages of this move and the place we will call home. I am trying (though not well) to not dwell on the negatives – losing so many good friends for the Mike, myself, and the boys, moving so much farther from family when the boys are just coming to remember and love their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins so much more, moving to a rental and the uncertainty of selling our house, and the packing and moving and unpacking (UGH!!!). And the list could go on. (BUT, ona positive note, we do get to live closer to Aunt Michelle, Uncle Keith, and cousin Shane! Yeah!)

This year we will also reduce our garden planting and have to double up our work efforts on repairs we did not finish last year when we thought we were listing the house. Oh, I can already see this spring and early summer playing out… busy, busy, busy. Especially with two ‘helping’ children!

just a little flooding

Nothing like a little flash flood and tornado to get my priorities straight and refocus on what is important!

Last night, while up to 3 inches of water in my garage, trying to rescue a toilet paper box (full mind you!), a car seat, a few of Mike’s tools, and check on the status of the freezers (and all that food!), I saw flicking lightening and heard boom after boom. I quickly realized that standing in a lake of water was not the best place to be and quickly retreated inside. Only then, did I realize our area was under tornado threat so I scooped the boys up out of bed and got us all to our entry closet for safety. Elliott declared it a closet party and both boys did great hanging out, having an emergency supply snack of crackers and juice, and playing with flashlights and the phone (with Oliver nearly getting through to 911).

After the boys went back to bed and I felt I checked on everything in the house and yard plenty of times, I lay in bed, listening to the rain and winds. With only a few inches outside my home, I was panicking about flood damages and hoping the rain would just stop. I cannot imagine living in a place where the floods are much more real than this and the damages to home and life so severe. It was in thinking through what I would save in the house if I had to leave  that I realized nothing was all that valuable. I know I already knew this. Of course I did. But to feel the wave of panic about caring for my children just called my attention to it. And it had my attention for at least two hours this morning!

Flood of Spring 2008…

Mike fixed this with a drainage pipe which has worked great. But last night’s flooding was too much for the pipe since the front sewer was clogged/backed up. The water was up to the stepping stones, filling the front yard and seeping through the garage cracks.

I want to be a Radical Homemaker right now!

I am currently reading the book Radical Homemakers. I am loving this book… really, really loving it. Generally, well, my interpretation, it is re-examining the way we live and saying we need to return back to the family and working as a family to care for ourselves for greater satisfaction in our lives. It covers what steps I have made towards a different way of living already and what I feel I want to change to get to how I want to live. But today I felt overwhelmed by my inability to change things right now. I tend to live this way in my spending, my work, my leisure even. If I cannot get something done at the very moment I want it done, I tend to want it done as soon as possible. But what if it is not possible? What if it takes months or years? Then I tend to get very down on myself or the goal and have often given up or settled for less. With such lofty goals and what I see as a modern-day of attitude of right now, I am struggling with how to plan for a future and continue to make the steps towards it.

You see as I read this book, I was working out at the Y and just this morning made a purchase on Etsy for something I could have made because I wanted it right then. And I justify why I am at the Y and why I get things I could make and why I do not make all my own food and why we have three cars in the driveway and so forth. But in these back steps, I need to start recognizing forward momentum towards the goal and start making plans for taking bigger steps to get where I actually want to be, even if they are years down the road.

a fall snowstorm

A snowstorm has hit our home! One little snowflake coming home from school sparked intense interest in crafting up more, which timed up perfectly with a friend’s snowflake crafting at their home. Even though it is 60+ degrees outside and turkeys are still being made to grace the windows, last night was the night to crank snowflakes out.

And in case we were worried that they don’t quite look like snowflakes, Elliott was quick to take care of that…

 

“That one with the long sides is pretty awesomer. Any kind of crystal can form. Crystals can form like that. Like yours, like mine.”  

 

We were also quite enthused by the sun scattering our snowflakes around the house for us and it made Elliott wish we could have snowflakes stenciled on the walls. That sounded lovely, but we did not bust out the paints or markers to capture those shadows today.

Take a tour… part five

For the fifth, and final, house tour post, I will start with Elliott’s room. Once Oliver was crawling, we had to find a way to keep him safe from small toys. Elliott learned at a young age some items were not for eating, and I believe Oliver will be quick to figure this out. But right now, everything is sampled and felt with his mouth. Legos posed a real hazard. So once we determined Elliott had long enough legs (with the help of a stool), he got a gate for his room. On the other side of the gate is the stool so Elliott can step over and get in and Oliver cannot walk off with the stool. Oliver loves watching Elliott play and listening to the music from Elliott’s CD player. And I love not  running over every five minutes to supervise. In case you are wondering, we cannot just close the door and have it click shut because of Elliott’s door slamming ‘habit’. To curb that, a few months ago we put thin foam tape along the inner edge. Right now, it does not close completely and, when slammed, it slows down just right!

Elliott’s drawers in his dresser do not allow him to be independent in dressing, so I selected seasonally appropriate clothing and organized it out on his shelves. He has 10-12 long sleeves, 8-10 pairs of pants, 4-5 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, 2-3 sweaters, and a variety of warmer and cooler pajamas. He is able to open his sock and underwear drawer so those remain in the dresser. Because our weather has been all over the place, we still have a mix of clothing. Once winter hits, we will remove the lighter clothing and add more warm choices. For months, this has been a wonderful solution. He has just enough items to choose from and I no longer worry the drawers will fall out on his toes.

Under Elliott’s bed are bins of trucks and cars and stuffed animals. He also has an old stereo to play CDs on, set low for ease of use on a Daddy-made table . This is another big attention grabber for Oliver. He loves buttons, even if it messes up the tune he was dancing to. Yet another reason to keep him at a distance, just watching and dancing by the gate. Elliott has one of our two fish tanks in his room to keep him company and is a very responsible feeder – with a very tiny scoop and tiny container of food. On the Daddy-made Lego table there are always new ‘special’ Lego vehicles being built so it always seems to be rather busy (messy). Next to that is a selection of books, which get changed every month or so. Of course we need a cozy space to read and the guest futon serves nicely for that.

In the laundry room, we keep the child-sized broom, dust mop, swiffer cleaner (easy to adjust to child size by removing middle snap-in section), dust wand, dust mitts, window cleaner, spill cloths, and a small vacuum. These used to be out in the living room, but as furniture was rearranged and Oliver began pulling up, we moved it behind a closed door. These supplies are fabulous… Elliott sweeps his lunch crumbs, washes windows whenever he pleases (typically when we have guests!), and occasionally dusts a few shelves. The best part is that he is completely able to clean up most messes without an adult.

 In the bathroom we have pulled out Oliver’s small potty to begin that fun-filled stage. We started about this same age with Elliott and found that while overall the process took longer, we were daytime dry earlier than typically expected. We followed a lot of the advice found in Diaper Free Before 3. And it was just right for Elliott… he was so proud of himself and eager to take part in learning this life skill. I am hoping for an even smoother transition since Oliver has such a good role model! Not visible are the baskets of underwear, spares for all the changes we will be making each day. The stool pictured is the lower one that Elliott can use now. We are saving the first stool Elliott used, the taller, two-step stool, for when Oliver can be sturdy standing at the sink.

In the corner we have a towel at Elliott and Oliver’s height and the mirror hung low, for checking a goofy grin or brushing teeth. We left one drawer without a child lock for wash cloths and toothbrushing items. Elliott is quite good at washing his own face on nights we skip a bath and is working towards flossing and brushing independence. He wants a little too much personal time though, slamming the door and practically yelling at us if we suggest he needs help. Unfortunately, when it comes to his teeth, he still does need some help flossing or brushing well.

 

Oliver’s room is by far my favorite for lighting. He has four window to see tree branches and our tall grasses swaying. But the winter is harder because it is the coldest room in the house. Aside from his dresser and cabinet (both complete with pinch-free child locks), he has a floor bed, a low book shelf, his walker wall, and his toy shelves which are just below the towering children’s ‘library’. While he is nearly beyond the use of the rail on the walker wall, he delights in himself, walking towards the mirror and laughing. The floor bed has gone as well for him as it did for Elliott. He occasionally stays up to play, but will fall asleep when he is tired. In the morning and after naps, he can easily self-entertain for at least 15 to 30 minutes since he has access to toys and books without any hazards for us to worry about.  Oh, and see that sweet little pillow? Elliott designed it after he saw the one I made for him room. It is an island with volcanos, trees, and a sun. Oliver is so lucky to have a brother like Elliott!

 

It has been fun showing you my home,  a bit of what the boys are up to, and how we try to foster their independence with our home environment. Because of the efforts put forth, I love our cozy little house and the feeling of security I have when we are all home together. I hope your home, whatever kind and wherever it is, makes you feel peaceful together.

 

take a tour… part 4

After seeing a friend’s blog of her home, mine is feeling a wee cluttered. Frankly, it always feels that way to me. Day in and day out I see the items that bug me and nag me. I have all day to fuss over the messes. On one hand you could say we have such busy, full days we have all of it out because we work with all of it. Or we have two children so we have to have so much more stuff out to meet both their needs. Or I am a crummy photographer, not taking nicer simpler pictures. But what you see is what is really there. I wish it were that easy to shift the blame. I know the real reason is because we are often too busy, or lazy, to remove what is underused or what we are completely done with. For instance, in doing this blog post, I was too lazy to take out what we were done with before pictures. I just let it go. I did manage to clear some of our nature table, though it typically has to be spilling over the tray onto the floor before I remind Elliott we should remove a few ‘treasures’. With reluctance, I will continue our house tour, trying to focus on the positives of the space!

Being able to see what my boys are up to with a quick glance is wonderful, making me feel a bit closer and more connected.  And if someone is not visible, they are almost always within ear shot, giving me time to step in if needed or listen and observe from a distance. For this reason, I love our house. From this second living room I can see many directions and hear everything. I can watch children out the back sliding doors or have a wide open area to work and play on the floor. This is where we tend to play board games with Elliott, wrestle around with Oliver, or hang out with friends during playdates.

We have Elliott’s work table and will be bringing Oliver’s smaller, shorter one back in from the garage soon. The upper shelves hold our Montessori materials – the bead materials for mathematics, number rods, geometric shapes cabinet for sensorial work and inset tracing, and the ten boards (more mathematics). On occasion Oliver has begun to notice these items, but I try to keep the more dangerous small beads and materials to the back. We also have out a few shape puzzles for either boy, plenty of plastic Mr. Potato head pieces, and many Schleich animals and dinosaurs for scenes, sorting by continents, or, lately, setting up as family sets across the whole floor. I am so happy Santa thought of these because they are so realistic and beautifully made. They are a favorite for both boys. Under the shelves, and oddly never noticed by Oliver, are boxes of the moveable alphabet and a rug for laying out words.

  

More fragile materials are up higher or pushed back from Oliver here too. I have out the binomial cube, puzzle words and phonetic reading commands, and sequencing puzzles. Sandpaper letters, sandpaper phonograms, and chalkboard had to be lower since they are so heavy, but they do attract little fingers. We have had a few close calls! Below that is a dressing book, shape sorting, container opening (small objects inside the box for Oliver to practice opening) and some wood blocks. The bottom shelves are mostly directed towards Oliver but Elliott is still interested.

While Elliott started learning print at his Montessori school last year, I was trained with showing cursive first. So I had already ordered cursive sandpaper letters and a cursive moveable alphabet while he was learning to print his name. While he is able to recognize the sounds either way for a majority of the letters, he still shows little interest in really wanting to write or read. I am trying not to push anything but only show him something when he seems interested. When interest wanes, I give up for the time being. Working with mom can frustrate him more than I think he would normally get in a classroom setting.

 

 In the hallway we have a frame from Michael Olaf with changeable Bit of Intelligence Cards from The Gentle Revolution Press. I love this frame and the pictures that perfectly fit. Quickly, any time I please, I can slide the current picture out the top and one of the nine others behind it can be the new natural picture or art for the time being. When those 10 have cycled through, I sort through my giant stack to find more. They are lovely images with 10 facts about the pictured scene or item. We have paintings by a variety of artists, leaves, insects, butterflies, musical instruments, and flowers. The boys seem to appreciate the subtle change in the environment and like having lovely images right at their eye level.

Next to the kitchenette we have a large bin of dress up clothing and a puzzle of the United States. While I love our puzzle maps, the World puzzle and North America puzzle had to be hidden in our room because Oliver was eating Asia and all small Central American countries. He has not yet acquired a taste for Rhode Island or Vermont so for the time being we can leave this puzzle out.

If any area is where the clutter is at, it is always the nature table. Elliott is a treasure hunter. Small or large, it makes it way here. Feathers, nests, nuts, leaves, seeds, rocks, shells, squished bugs, butterflies, even found trash all get displayed for a period of time. We also keep arts and crafts on this shelf because we can hide so much in the drawers and cabinets. In the open areas, we have finger knitting, bead stringing, sewing, handmade books on the natural world (life cycle of a seed, land and water forms, how a chick is born), play dough and tools, and a bead craft. Inside the cabinets are markers, pens, pencils, stickers, papers, cards with envelopes, stamps and ink pads, scissors, a stapler, a ruler, tape, glue, a pencil sharpener, any necessary supplies a four-year old needs to make anything crafty. Paper crafting is very important here. Oh, and a mat! This is quite important for the period before something has been mastered (drawing on paper, gluing only on the intended item). All of these items were gradually added to Elliott’s shelves, being introduced one at a time so he had a chance to practice and learn. Typically I even set up each activity with its own supplies. For example, for gluing, I put out a glue stick, small papers to glue, a special mat just for gluing, and large papers to glue on, all contained on a tray. Once shown how to handle the glue, he had everything he needed gathered together so he could practice and gain control, repeating as much as he wanted, but not distracted with all the other craft choices. Once he mastered that, I changed papers, tried new types of glue and then, finally, added glue to his regular crafting supplies. I did this same slow introduction process with cutting work, stickers, stapling, stamping, markers, colored pencils, and painting.

 

 

 

 

* Please note no animals were harmed in the filling of the specimen jars. All specimens collected had already perished. Elliott is just that good at finding dead things outside. Recall the squirrel?

 Next on the tour… the boy’s bedrooms and the bathroom. Oh, the excitement!

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