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!

it starts with a seed

Today, in a moment of peace (well, more like 20 moments of peace), I had the luxury of sorting my seed packages, planning what needs started early, and cleaning my garden box. While writing out my notes, I could already see the blue podded peas growing, taste a black cherry tomato, and could imagine the rich smell of soil as an early carrot is yoinked from the ground. Yes, yoinked, but only when the ground is just right. Otherwise, my yoink becomes a curse as the green snaps off. Then, instead of doing the logical thing – getting a shovel to dig it out – I waste ten minutes getting soil under my fingernails as I scape around the carrot top, depsreate to get that carrot out. And in the end I get the shovel and I get it. And it is tasty. Oh, I am already there!

I can already feel the cool mornings and hot afternoons I manage to get into the garden, the anger and exhaution at weeding, the joy of finding the first baby squash, the dread at the sheer number of beans to pick and the utter satisfaction when I look at the mounding bowl of those same cursed beans. I love watching the magical transformation of our five dirt strips into a lush overgrown tangle of plants with little hidden delights under all the leaves. And I love sharing it with my boys, who seem to be developing their own love for the garden.

This year is exciting in its own right. What will succeed? What will fail? What new seeds will become treasured favorites that I want to plant again and again? What food item will I be utterly sick of and vow to plant less of next year? (This year, it will be less beets and less chard. Major winter overload right now!)  

My daydreaming is over for now. In the week to come, armed with my new book Carrots Love Tomatoes , I plan to spend a little bit more time on my garden map. Yes, I map each garden out and save the notes. It is great for looking back at what I have planted in the past, what worked well where it was at, and how much space was devoted to each item. There are online tools for mapping your garden, but since I cram so much into so little space, I do my own planning to get it just the way I want.

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.

no goodbyes yet

So it has been awhile. Many a days I click to this blog and quickly click away. I decide I do not want to remember how long it has been or chaos ensues (and even as I speak, it is) so I move on.

After the flurry of the holiday season and traveling, I assumed I would have more time. But I forgot that oh so long to-do list of all the things I pushed back because of the holidays. Oops. So I took a few weeks to figure out pictures and videos, updating and moving my Etsy shop, knitting little boys their much-needed balaclavas, starting a new Parent and Child group and many more other things (ones I must have blocked out!).

Oliver would not slow down in his excitement!

Now, as I have a few weeks planned out to finish up my bigger projects, I have found someone to join my boys in our Montessori Homecare, something I assumed would be forgotten for the next couple of months since I had very little interest. Three weeks of advertising on Craigslist and on my car just were not cutting it! But, now I find that my mind is a flurry of ideas, and a bit of panic. What do I want to have out on the shelves? How will I balance lessons for the big boys and supervising my little monkey Oliver? What lessons are most crucial since I lack some materials? What things will I go overboard with and what things will I overlook?

Even as I type Oliver is practicing his new skill: chair climbing. He scales his brothers open raised chair and slowly, with such balance, stands, smiles at me, and hesitates a moment more before holding on again. He is still triumphant though he is on his 20th or so time today. I think I will be busy, quite busy the next few months.

But I cannot say goodbye to my blog. I think it will just hang on, for the days I need to vent and celebrate something. And I hope I can squeeze the time in. (And all this makes me wonder how some parents who happen to be homeschooling, working from home, and organizing groups outside of the home can also blog, sell on Etsy, and maybe, even start a second blog staying sane all the while.)

And so I will end as I just watched (in slow motion) my little one whack his chin and then fall flat on his face from the chair.

little helper

Lately, quite sadly I must say, tender feelings for Elliott have been far and few between due to his monstrous behavior. But seeing spoons in the fork drawer made me think fondly of my little sweety. Here is how I got spoons in the fork drawer.

Earlier tonight, ever tired of asking him to pick up before moving on to the next thing and sensing I would get the same lack of energy turned tantrumy nastiness as usual. And being fed up with load after load of my work, I offered a switch. I would pick up his toys (which were really quite few) and he would unload the dishes. He happily agreed. In a few minutes I finished and asked him what I should do now. I assumed he would say help him, but he happily replied “Go work at your desk or something.” What can I say to that but ‘Okay!’

He used his learning tower to climb to put pots away. He stacked things on the counter he was too short to put away. And he never asked for my help. I only finally intervened when the stack of items became a bit too precarious. Even then, I only did the counter dishes, not what was left in the dishwasher. Once finished, he was happy. I was happy. A crisis averted!

So tonight while I unloaded yet another load of dishes, grumpy and worn out, seeing that he had to climb up to the drawers and find the place for spoons made this little mistake so very sweet. He was working so hard tonight to do it all by himself.

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I originally tried to post this last night but our internet was on the fritz.

Today, Elliott and I changed jobs again. I picked up his room and he made his school lunch. He did a great job, even selecting items from nearly all the food groups. He felt very proud that he cut his own pear (which I came to supervise), packed it all up, and cleaned up.

oh, sanity

Oh, Sanity! Where have you been?

A weekend of peace and self-determined plans gave me an ounce if it back.

The weeks leading up to this trip had me thinking a great deal about a person’s need for breaks, regardless of gender or their job. I was rather bothered and, the more I thought about it, angry to realize some people (um, other husband’s) would be bothered by the idea of their spouse vacationing without them, even to the point of fighting or not allowing it. After a simple bit of logic with my spouse, he agreed that I should take a break. I pointed out that he had been a numerous trips lately for days at a time and I would appreciate the time to myself – to sleep without interruption, to eat a meal without getting up and down to serve anyone, to do a few activities of my choosing for as long as I like, to use the bathroom without having to worry about what a little toddler was exploring. And like that a promise was made for a whole week!

Sure there are lots of concerns. Can the family financially manage it? Can the other spouse take time to care for the children? And if those are issues, such as they were and are for us, the trip can be (and was) shorter. Or childcare can be found so it may not necessarily be the spouse watching over the children. But beyond these issues, I have tried to figure out why it would ‘not fly’ in other people’s homes, as one person said to this idea. Why? Because it money spent on one person and the other misses out? Because a spouse might cheat? Because a spouse thinks that the other one is not working that hard at their job? Would the feelings be the same if it was the husband wanting a mini-vacation or day away alone? Everyone working either a ‘real’ job or who is home with kids (or both!) works hard. And if someone wanted to cheat, they would find the time one way or another. Really, what real reasons can someone give for a flat-out refusal to a request for a break? Serious. Maybe I am overlooking something… Any reasons out there I am overlooking?

Sanity savers are important for everyone. Yes, everyone! Mike and I have found ways to exchange time with each other so we each feel we get time to ourselves or with friends. I have Sunday knit nights with the ladies after the kids are in bed. He goes golfing occasionally on Saturday mornings with a friend. If I want to run an errand alone, he will play with the boys. And this time, since he had business yet relaxing trips alone, I got a weekend to myself.

I finally settled on a weekend at a country B&B, Tryon Farm Guest House. I shopped at every antique shop I could find, visited Lake Michigan, and changed my plans on a whim if I wanted.

 

driving north through Indiana

Most of my highlights are my feelings of concern being let go. While shopping at my first antique shop, I kept feeling the ‘pull’ of children. Typically I cannot linger to take in all a shelf has to offer or I have to pass all the breakable nooks. I had to shake that feeling off and realize I could take as little or as much time as I wanted, looking wherever I was interested. Later on the trip, when I decided to pull off to a trail head, I just did it. I did not have to be concerned that it was 5:00 and the children would be hungry. Typically, on a family trip, we would have had to either plan the trip out better to have food with us or miss stopping right then. Because I could go on a whim, I felt such a rush making my way up the dune and saw a great sunset.

 

antique shop in Chesterton, Indiana

The trip was also time for me to reflect on my family, myself, and everyone else in the world. Oh, I know that sounds big, but when one can follow their ideas uninterrupted, you can get beyond the day-to-day picture and mull over bigger issues. Time to reflect is good. And again I will say it – it is good for everyone.

 

near the Tryon Farm Guest House, Michigan City, Indiana

My highlights of the trip:

  • lounging in a feather bed in the morning
  • having an utterly beautiful gourmet breakfast prepared for me and not having to worry over the prep or dishes
  • finding some sweet treasures – bead stringing beads for Elliott, a wool blanket to keep Oliver warm, an apron and bracelet for me, a lovely ornament to add to our unique holiday collection, and more interesting cloth napkins for everyday use
  • finding utterly smooth rocks at the lake to admire or make into rock houses, people and animals for the boys (uh, yes, rocks for Christmas!)
  • running up Mount Baldy at dusk at Indiana Dunes to catch the sunset shimmering on Chicago’s buildings
  • grabbing a late night chicken marsala dinner at a little Italian joint and watching it made from my table (I saw the mushrooms chopped, I saw them coat my chicken!) and savoring each bite
  • seeing alpacas up close and taking home a small bit of them (in the form of handspun yarn!)
  • trying and loving a small town café’s invented Honey Nut Latte

 

 beads for Elliott

rocks at Lake Michigan

Mount Baldy with Chicago in the distance

Here is hoping everyone gets the break they need and deserve.

(Oh, and on a totally separate note… my smart phone saved me so many times when I got lost, when I needed a place to eat, when I wanted to find coffee or antiques. Normally I curse my dependence, but my phone proved its worth this trip.)

today’s thrill

Despite it being Halloween, today’s thrill had nothing to do with scary costumes or silly tricks. Today was the day we said goodbye to the garden for the year. That in itself was not thrilling. We had to rip that last plants – the tomatoes, the Brussel sprouts, the okra – and harvest what was left before we mixed in compost and tilled the soil. This also was not exactly thrilling.

Bringing in the okra pods for their seeds, harvesting a large bag of swiss chard, and finding just a few more yellow tomatoes to pop in our mouths was thrilling. Elliott’s delight at finding more caterpillars camouflaged in the veggies was thrilling. Showing Elliott how to carefull use a knife to cut the okra from the plant and turning the job over to him was thrilling. Sharing the same excitement with everyone in the family when we found a small patch of forgotten carrots was thrilling. Working as a family and finding ways to have Oliver be part of it was thrilling.

Today I felt happy with the garden and with the hard work the family has done all season long. I had doubts in the garden this year, but it proved me wrong. My freezer can attest to its success. 

While sharing the day with flocking starlings and the last caterpillars, we all felt very pleased even though it was a full work day and we had to said farewell to the garden. I hope you had a thrilling day in your own way.

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!

take a tour… part 3

In our house we have two rooms that for us serve a very similar purpose, but I suppose could have been very distinct. We have two living  rooms, both available for child’s work and play with only one with chairs for adults. Because our house is small, our office had to move into the space as well when Oliver was born.

While I like the idea of children having space in each room for some items of their own, part of me does wish we had a more open play space (but with a door) so adults could have some peace while imaginative (loud) play occurred. I feel I often have to hush Elliott while Oliver sleeps or try very hard to tune the boys out while I get some of my work done. I love the stories and interesting games, but it can be overwhelming in a small house.

This is our front room, with our fishbowl windows we opted not to cover with curtains. We love to see out and have lots of natural light. So what if everyone sees us at night!   

In this space we have the computer desk, piano, and adult furniture. This left less space for children’s stuff… but we still have a book basket and child’s chair for reading, two open cabinets with baskets of activities, a closed cabinet with many puzzles and games, and a large play table for playing house/farm (or trains if the mood suits us to switch it).

 

The activities on the shelves these days: a basket of small toddler mouth-friendly toys, a musical piano, musical bells, a big bin of musical instruments, and children’s CDs on a low shelf (available for Elliott only, behind a cabinet door).

We also have out a wooden animal memory game (or picture cards for Oliver), a natural items basket (with shells, household items, pinecones, rocks, various fabrics), plastic art sculpture making toy, a race car track, a musical peacock, soft blocks, play silks, and a jack in the box. Oh, and a cabinet with puzzles and games. So as you can see, there was only a little space for children’s stuff in this room!

Truthfully, this amount feels overwhelming to me some days. I have found one thing though to help keep my children’s interest in books, toys and games high, but the clutter to a minimum for me. I have a large storage closet. As Elliott out grows something, I save it for Oliver. If Oliver is bored with the alligator pull toy, I bring out the rabbit pull toy from Grandma. If Elliott mastered the 8 sets of sequencing puzzles on the shelf, I add a few new ones in to the mix. If we have too much out, some items go up. And sometimes, we donate. I have a constant rotation of items or pieces to add to make something more interesting or more challenging. For this age, having less out but in an organized manner allows them to have engaging periods of play because all the pieces of an item are there, ready to use and the amount is not overwhelming. They are also able to be successful cleaning it up because the toy has a clear space on the shelf. The biggest challenge to this system is bringing out new seasonally appropriate books and engaging toys. It takes time to change what is out on the shelves, especially when I have an eager helper. Elliott is very capable at helping by bringing items we agree to remove and selecting new ones to put out, but it does take that much longer. He needs time to mull over the choices and suggest/debate with me about what he thinks Oliver would like!

Tomorrow I will follow-up with our other living room space, an area where we keep more of the Montessori materials and nature items.

hitting a rock

When it comes to your spouse, that relationship can be rocky. And if it is not, it tends to not get that much attention. Some people are obviously better at valuing their relationship, taking care of it. But here, well, we have been on cruise lately. And last night, we hit a rock. And it felt like a big one. (Funny, we tend to hit the same rock over and over again.)

Our big issue is the balance of family time and work time. But the bigger issue is that my spouse feels he does not need to involve me in his work obligations. I get angry over too much work time AND not being aware of obligations that will impact our time as a family. So if the work day extends beyond agreed upon times, or if a new meeting comes up, I expect to know. Anything that effects family time needs to involve spouses talking.

Any additional work takes away from family time and jobs we need to get done at home. (despite being a stay at home mother, a lot of tasks just feel impossible to accomplish between naps, feeding children, cleaning children, helping children.)  It does not mean that it can be changed or that a compromise will always feel satisfactory, but, keeping a spouse out of the loop until the meeting is the next day or signing up for additional duties with no regard – well that is a recipe for disaster. Essentially, my spouse forgot to buckle his safety belt and we hit the rock.

The problem the next day is when promises are made (my husband survived the crash) and are taken to mean something. I wonder where will we be in a few weeks. Though my husband swears it will different, you might hear me yelling – ‘Look out, big rock!’ – along with some other choice words.