Thursday, April 30, 2009

A tiny kitchen makeover

I've been reading some blogs that have recently posted some awesome kitchen makeovers. Check out my friend Emily's chic style and her friend's retro culinary paradise. Since we just moved in here late last year, I don't think Mr. at Home would be too thrilled if I proposed painting the cabinets, pulling off the doors, and moving walls.

My kitchen makeover is a very simple change in the decor. I had a half-hearted rooster thing going in there before with dark-toned reds and oranges. Then I saw this one day at Cracker Barrel.

And a new idea was planted. Then it sprouted and grew and before I knew it, I found myself stealing my mom's bluebird birdhouse and making another trip to the CB. And Ikea. Because if I was working on the kitchen, I needed to do the attached "breakfast nook" that I had just turned into a craft room.

First the craft room.

I already had a large cabinet to hold most of the craft supplies, some bulletin boards, and a black card table. I needed chairs to go round the little table and I figured I could just look at getting some from Goodwill. Then I found these cute stools for way cheap at Ikea and we went with those. Then I decided that using the bar and hook systems would be a great way to keep the most used tools in easy reach. I mixed and matched what I liked and ended up with this little thing that helps the girls put things BACK where they belong because it's convenient.

This little space makes a great craft room and I don't have to worry about the girls messing up the dining room table.

Just inside of this craft room is the kitchen. The kitchen has dark wood cabinets, black granite countertops, and dark wood floors. It's beautiful, but it's dark and the dark colors I was using before to decorate it just didn't help any.

So in comes the bluebirds. Bright, retro-feeling bluebirds that make me happy whenever I see them. How can anyone not be happy when they see this?

The birdhouse hanging from the ceiling is from my mom. I have always loved it and make a joke about stealing it the last time I was out there. The next thing I knew, she had brought it inside and stuck it in the dishwasher for me to take home. Doesn't it look lovely here, Mom? I got the plate from Cracker Barrel and the frames from Ikea. One is filled with potpourri. For the other, I went out and bought the girls shirts to match the style and color scheme of the kitchen and took the picture. Now THAT is dedication to a theme!

To carry through the Ikea thing, I have this hanging near my stove.

I love the little spice rack and the plant. Thinking that it needed just one more touch, I added a little bow and a tiny bluebird.

It's amazing how the small changes can make such a big difference. And if you see the rest of the bluebird accessories go on sale at Cracker Barrel, let me know. There's a couple more things that would look awesome in here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The girls and their activities

We have two very different kids. Well, yeah, they're from two different sides of the world, they have two different backgrounds, and they look completely different. But I mean, you know, besides all that.

This is one daughter.

The dancer.

A weekly class in tap and ballet. The beautiful recital costumes. A trophy at the end. A daughter that twirls through life and down hallways. We have three weeks until the recital and L is over the moon with excitement and a touch of nerves that she's not sure she knows the dances or maybe she won't be able to see her teacher for help. But it's mostly just excitement.

This is the other daughter.

The athlete.

Winter basketball, spring softball.

We had a long talk tonight about sports, about playing. About talent and practice. About being cocky and being willing to work. About perception and reality. About strengths and weaknesses.

Several of K's teammates were tapped for the travel team this past week. K wasn't one of them. The deal is that K is just as good as a couple of the girls, but she doesn't come across that way. She's enthusiastic, involved, and focused, but she inherited my absolute lack of grace. She can hit, field, and throw well, but she looks awkward doing it and she's slow as molasses.

K really wants to at least be asked to play on the team, so we talked about what it would take. The first 4 girls in the batting line-up were asked for the travel team; K is 5th in the line-up. I think having the goal of making the travel team will be good for her. She'd gotten into a habit of vegging out in front of the TV far more than is good for her. She's been complacent about her level of playing skills. She was even wavering on whether or not she wanted to continue playing. We identified some areas that we can work on - some small changes that can be implemented now, some big ones that we can work on.

Yes, I freely admit that I'm competitive. I was disappointed that K wasn't asked to play for the travel team, but I do know she's not ready. There are many life skills to be learned on the playing field. Success is good. Winning is more fun than losing. Do your best, work your hardest, set high personal goals and then do what's necessary to reach them. That's what I want for K. I don't want her coasting through softball season content with "good enough" just like I don't want her doing that in school or in life.

K doesn't have the natural grace and athleticism that some of the other girls have, but natural talent will only take you so far. K will have to work harder to achieve the same results that others reach so easily already, but in the end she will be the better player because she learned to work now when she's young. When the girls are older and things are harder, K will already have the necessary work ethic as a habit. The other girls may stumble because all of a sudden they will have to work and they won't know how.

The absolute best advice you can give you children is "Do hard things". Do them now. That's what we should be teaching them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mom's Night Out

Mr. at Home was out of town on back-to-back business trips for most of the past two weeks. He very rarely travels, so it's weird to have him gone. Since he mostly works from home, it's really weird to have him gone.

Then I spent the entire time he was gone sick. Cold. Sinus infection. Grossness galore. If I wasn't laid up in bed, I was wishing I was.

And we had a busy school schedule with lots of work plus our yearly standardized testing.

And K's softball schedule kicked it up a notch with 5 games and one practice.

And our neighborhood social committee was deep in the trenches preparing for the first ever block party.

It was a busy two weeks.

I'm happy to say that Mr. at Home is now back at home, K's softball team is still undefeated, the block party was a smashing success, the testing went well, and after a trip to the Doc-in-a-Box and some antibiotics, I am feeling much better. But even Mama has her limits.

Tonight I asked for the night off and Mr. at Home graciously agreed. Perhaps because of the hissy fit I threw before lunch. That's generally a pretty good indicator that I have reached the end of my fuse.

I got into my exceptionally clean car (that's what I did today) and took myself off for a night of beautiful aloneness.

I drove to the mall where I went into JCP and found a skort that fits well for half price. And yes, I have been looking for one for weeks.

I walked through the mall, stopped at a kiosk, and found a cute stylish new cover for my iPhone. Again, something I've wanted for awhile. As a bonus, it even matches my purse.

I had a long conversation with my mom without the constant background noise of two little girls begging to talk to Grandma.

I bought a People Country magazine and read it in peace while enjoying a yummy dinner from *1* food place instead of visiting three to satisfy everyone's tastes.

I drove to the craft store where I wandered the aisles in peace, looking at whatever I wanted to look at. I came out with stuff to make a wreath for our front door since I don't have a seasonal door hanger for spring anymore.

It was a perfect Mom's Night Out.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How L expresses disappointment

Part of the reason for this blog is to help me remember (and tell the world, oddly enough) the funny things my kids do. Today is devoted to my little drama queen, Miss Ellie Mae, as I often call her.

(Don't ask where the nickname came from. It's part her name, part a southern thang, and part too much Beverly Hillbillies as a child.)


L tends to get in trouble. A lot. She's simply curious, imaginative, energetic, and strong-willed and is having a hard time thinking before she acts. Of course, part of our job as parents is to teach her to *think*, then act, and then only act if it's a good choice.

Whenever L gets in trouble, she can generally figure out what she did and will admit it, but she hates the consequences/punishment phase. No surprise there. It's just that L's way of expressing her pain often makes me laugh.

She'll run in and hand me tiny notes with pictures of a sad-faced little stick figure and her name written in tipsy letters beside it. Sometimes she'll draw a smiling face next to it titled "Mom" because she thinks I like meting out punishment.

If she's feeling particularly beset with injustice after a punishment, L will retire to her room and you will soon hear a plaintive ballad expressing the deepest despair issuing from her dungeon. The lyrics are all about how mean Mom is, how unjust the punishment, how horrible everyone and everything is, oh, the humanity!!

Then in 5 minutes everything is sunshine and roses and she's forgotten all about it.

I love the fact that she never holds a grudge, but I do wish she'd hold onto the lesson!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A quick check-in

Today the weather promises to be beautiful. The windows show only blue skies and the birds are singing madly. In a few moments we will pack up some sunscreen, toys, and other various accessories and head out for the day.

Our first stop is a softball game. Since the big smackdown on Tuesday, K has been phenomenal about getting her work done. She works without being reminded and without complaining and has completed a very large chuck of her work. To reward the hard work, I gave her permission to play. And because we also made a commitment to the team who is having issues with having enough players lately. Last game we had to borrow a younger sister from the U6 league and we were still playing one short. But it worked out, we won, and little Meggie played very well.

After softball, we will head out to the country where our friends are having a pig roast. Our friends constructed a HUGE tripod and Tommy got up at 3am (sorry, after checking his blog it was 3:20am) to hang the pig and start the fire. We'll eat pork and banana pudding while sitting around in lawn chairs watching the kids play in the mud. Don't worry, I'll be sure to take pictures.

I hope your day is just as much fun.

But I doubt it :-)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Life Lessons

Live only for today, and you ruin tomorrow. — Charles Simmons

Today K learned a valuable lesson. One that will affect her life in many ways for a long time to come.

K had missed an arithmetic test that she ought to have taken during arithmetic class yesterday. In trying to figure out how she'd missed doing the test, I pulled out her arithmetic book to see what page she had done instead. She saw me pulling books out of her box and asked in a slightly panicked tone, "Are you looking for something?" I mumbled something and took the book back to my desk.

As I found the page she was supposed to have done today, I noticed she'd only done 5 problems. Then I started flipping through the rest of the book. She hadn't done *any* of the pages in a very long time.


A quick glance through her other books produced the same result. She'd do a few things here and there and skip everything else.

It had been awhile since I had done a spot-check of her work as she's always been a self-motivated perfectionist. Trust-worthy enough that I didn't even consider that she wouldn't have done her work.

But her grades have been slipping lately. Her handwriting has been sloppier. She's been making careless mistakes on her tests. All signs that she has been "missing practice".

As Mr. at Home explained, "In case you don't realize it, this is the worst trouble you have ever been in."

She decided that because I trusted her and didn't check her work daily that she could get away with not doing it. If she was done with school, she could watch TV. She could play on the computer. We could run errands or go do something fun. Just skipping one day became two became a habit.

I do take responsibility for not checking her work more often, but I'm also glad she's had this chance to fail *now*. It's much better to deal with the issue of personal responsibility when she's 8 and it's only schoolwork instead of when she's 18 or 28 or 58 and the choices she makes affects more than just an arithmetic grade.

This afternoon, Mr. at Home and I marked or tore out every page she hadn't finished in her schoolwork. Then we worked to determine what her punishment should be.

Until all the work is finished, K is allowed to do nothing besides school, eat, sleep, and church. Considering the amount of work she has, this could be awhile.

There is no softball until the work is complete (no pass, no play).

There are no movies until the work is complete (no Hannah Montana movie).

There is no TV for the rest of the school year.

There is no computer for the rest of the school year.

Every problem she works, question she answers, and word she writes will be checked and redone as necessary.

Every privilege she's been given as a result of our trust in her will be revoked until she earns them back. No playing outside alone, riding her bike around the block, staying up late reading, etc.

All this so she can learn the simple truth that bad decisions lead to unpleasant consequences.

Monday, April 13, 2009

In which the price of a season pass went up $13

Since we live so close, I got the girls and I season passes to the local amusement/water park. It's a very cool place and definitely worth multiple visits over the summer months. The girls love it, I can tolerate it, and it gives us something to do for a few hours whenever the girls start complaining of boredom during the summer.

On visits to the park in past years, we've been stuck on the little kiddie rides and in the little kiddie pools because the girls were too short for anything fun. Thankfully, they've continued to grow and now K can ride anything in the park. L, however, is exactly 44" tall. That's exactly tall enough for the bigger kiddie rides, but only if the measuring stick for that ride is placed exactly at 44". And the child stands up straight. And stand still long enough to get a good measurement. And the gate guard isn't being overzealous and decides that she's not exactly at the line.

Trust me, there is nothing more disappointing to a 5-year-old than to wait in a line and to get told at the last second that she's "too little" to ride.

After one disaster of a day where Little Miss had to miss out on some rides, I decided to remedy the situation. I made a trip to the local cheap shoe store and found some tennis shoes with really tall heels. They're white and plain and L wasn't too thrilled about not wearing sandals, but I dressed them up with pink flowered shoelaces and she was okay with it.

To make double sure. I put L's hair up into a ponytail smack on top of her head to make it harder to push her down and get a shorter measurement.

As I explained to K, it's not cheating. There's nothing that stipulates that you can't wear thick-soled shoes or ponytails. And she really is (about) 44" and we're just allowing for differences in measurement sticks.

It's all in how you look at it.

We visited the park again on Friday with our new "not cheating" measures in place. We had L officially measured at the front and the guy said "Oh, yeah, she's way over the mark" and he gave her the coveted "44 inches" wristband so that none of the gate guards had to measure her again. No more last-second disappointments and Mommy gets to add a few more interesting rides to the repertoire.

That was a well spent $13.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Awesome Easter dinner

If you don't have these two cookbooks, GET THEM.

Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader

Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Then make the glazed ham from the Mitford book and the cranberry relish from the BH&G book. Serve it to friends and amaze them with your cooking prowess. Don't panic, they're both very, very easy. And very, very tasty.

So tasty that all you can think about is the leftovers in the fridge. No matter how stuffed you are. You just want more.

My menu this week is going to consist of ham sandwiches, ham and potatoes, ham, ham, and more ham.

It's gonna be a good week.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Getting ready for Easter

First the domestic stuff.

Tomorrow is Easter. Friday night, I asked some friends and their kids over for dinner Sunday night so I spent today getting ready. I sat at the table with a pile of cookbooks because, let's face it, I have never cooked a ham or made any attempt at a traditional Easter dinner. I also thought it would be fun to have a little Easter egg hunt for the kids.

I went to 4 stores in search of the few ingredients I needed and the stuff for the egg hunt. Target was completely out of the reasonably priced plastic eggs (I am NOT paying almost a dollar per egg!). I did eventually make it home with everything I needed and some cute stuff for the egg hunt. Now, I just hope the ham will turn out.

The cranberry relish is in the fridge, the Easter Story cookies are in the oven, I want to get the eggs filled tonight, then it's off to bed because I have to be up, dressed, and at the church (across town), by 7:15am. I have to be ready to sing by 7:15. We'll just have to see about that.

I am looking forward to being there for the Easter services. On Friday night, our church held a Tennebrae service. It was a quiet and intimate candlelit service focusing on the sacrifice made at the cross. It was a perfect time to reflect on the cost of our salvation. Tomorrow, we celebrate the joy of Christ's resurrection.

And that is Easter.

Friday, April 3, 2009

We have a new daughter

I'd like to introduce you to our new daughter!

Her name is Kate.

She loves fancy dresses, especially if they make her look "more mature", and high-heeled shoes.

Her blond/brown/red hair is carefully combed into a short hair-do with bangs because she wants to hide her high forehead.

She's 8, going on 18.

I know she kinda looks like our oldest that I gave birth to, but that little girl disappeared in a cloud of smoke today and this new girl appeared.

In one day, she

1. Changed her hairstyle to cover up something about her looks she doesn't like.

2. Decided that more grown-up dresses were exactly her style.

3. Picked out church sandals with "high heels" and a more grown-up look.

4. Changed her name from her full name that she had always insisted on to the shorter nickname she always professed to hate.

K has always been rather a tomboy preferring boy-style shirts and shorts. She refused to wear dresses or bows, often picked the "boy" toy for her Happy Meal, and chose sports over dance. Of course, her favorite color has always been pink and she does have a lot of girly traits, but they never stood out.

Until today.

Today was one of those days when I blinked and my little girl is suddenly becoming a young lady. Am I ready for this?

And there are further ramifications of this transformation besides the fact that I have to re-do the personalized pin I made to wear to K's softball games. As a result of K's gushing over the grown-uppishness of high-heeled shoes, the youngest is now insisting that her church sandals also have high-heels.

Lord, help us all.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Homeschooling stuff

Yesterday we had a little get-together with some homeschoolers. And by little, I mean a crowd. Our Bible study class has something like 9 homeschool families, plus we had some others come. Some that have been homeschooling and some that are looking to begin next year.

It was really a lot of fun. We stood around chatting about field trips and things, but mostly it was about curriculum. If you've ever even looked into homeschooling, you know that the volume of different curriculum options out there is staggering. overwhelming. terrifying. You find one and the next thought is "What if there's something better?" So you keep looking. You smile at the strengths and groan over the weaknesses of each one. You add up the prices of all the different parts. You sit up nights poring over websites for products and trying to find reviews. You call every homeschooler you know and ask what they're using. You essentially drive yourself and your significant other crazy trying to make a decision. Any decision. About anything.

The whole curriculum thing was the absolute scariest aspect of beginning homeschooling and every year I go over the decision again. Should I stick with the same thing? Change it a little? Change it a lot? What is going to work this year with this child is this situation?

So far with K we've done-

Kindergarten - Math and Language Arts/Social Studies at a university-model school, science at a nature center, reading and basic skills at home

First grade - A Beka DVD program

Second grade - A Beka traditional program (same curriculum, but I taught it)

Third grade - A Beka DVD program

Next year, I will have a 4th grader and a kindergartener. I'm 99% sure that I want L to do the A Beka DVD program for the first few years. It has worked very well giving K a good academic foundation and has helped her do well with homeschooling. Trust me, K did *much* better with the DVD than when she and I were working on our own together. I think the DVD will do the same thing for L.

My big question for this next year is for K. She has requested dropping the DVD stuff. She wants more literature, more independent learning, and she wants to take a class. I promised her I would look into it and so I again find myself mired in the curriculum swamp that sucks in every homeschooler each spring. In some ways, it brings back those feelings of panic that overwhelmed me when I first started considering homeschooling. In other ways, though, I'm not that same green, reluctant newbie who wandered around her first curriculum bookfair in a daze. I know a little more now and I'm a little more confident that I'm not going to completely fail as a teacher and ruin my child.

Ok, some days I'm a little more confident.

Some days I'm absolutely sure it would be easier to stick her on the next yellow school bus that passes our neighborhood. But then I remember that brings its own set of issues.

So for awhile I'll be researching curriculum options. I'm actually kind of excited about it. We even talked about putting together a co-op at the meeting yesterday. If you told me that four years, I would have laughed. Then told you to go find your brain because you had obviously lost it somewhere.