Monday, January 31, 2011

Homeschool is awesome

Did you ever see the movie "Horton Hears a Who"? We did. I was a bit worried since I'd heard that the movie made some anti-homeschooling references, but it turned out to be kinda funny. The "pouch-schooled" kid was sequestered inside all the time with the same teacher and the same ideas. The "regular school" kids wandered through the forest exploring the things they saw and touched, learning from their teacher, each other, and the world around them.

I think the Horton writers had it backwards. The regular school kids are generally the ones stuck inside all day listening to the teacher lecture while homeschoolers are out in the world learning through experience.

Like right now we're studying the Civil War. Sure, we're doing all the reading and research at home that are pretty normal school activities. We've got a timeline started and we'll be looking up photos. But we also have more freedom. We can discuss sensitive topics like slavery without fear of saying something politically incorrect that might possibly offend someone. If the weather cooperates, I'm planning to do the walking tour uptown here in Charlotte to see where Confederate President Davis stayed and had his office after fleeing Richmond. We watched Gone With the Wind. Next week we're heading to Texas to visit family and on the way back, we'll be stopping in Vicksburg and Natchez to tour a battle field and some antebellum plantations.

Yep, there are times that I really love homeschooling.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

L's Dance Show

Yesterday's dance debut show went off beautifully. I love how organized the shows are for our dance studio. Workers in the wings to make sure everyone was in their right place. Parents in the dressing rooms for the little ones to make sure all the costume pieces are on right. A well-dressed emcee announcing all the pieces.

I spent the pre-show time sewing snaps on the girls' ribbon chokers for their "Pirate" costume. I didn't realize that basic sewing is such a lost art, but I really enjoy being able to help. I like the other moms in our group. We're all new to the competitive dancing thing so we're all learning together what has to be done - like altering costumes, sharing make-up skills and double-sided tape, tying double-knots, and doing a frantic last minute repair for an anxious mama by sewing on a feather-thingy that popped off a hat.

The petites team's first dance was a tap routine to Jump, Shout. I brought my good camera, but I didn't have a spare minute to pull it out of my bag and, you know, use it. I snapped a quick shot in the dark backstage before the show began with my cell phone camera. So it's not a great shot, but it does show a little of the costume for those who are curious.

They did a great job, especially for their very first performance and they are so very cute.

The moms raced out of the audience and back to the dressing room to strip off the pouffy pink dresses and switch to a colorful pirate costume. (Well, actually a few are doing duets and they had an extra costume change, but I decided that L needed to ease into the whole competition thing, so, no duet this year.) I did a *little* better and remembered to get a picture in the well-lit dressing room, but it was still a quick thing with the cell phone.

She's a tough angry pirate. The petites (8 girls, 1 boy) did a very cute jazz routine to "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" and they played the part of grumpy pirates to the hilt. They stalked on stage, elbowed each other, glowered at the audience, one threw a fit, and just generally had so much fun. They were hilarious! At the end, they all whirled off stage and then, all alone, L skipped back to stage center, struck a pose, shook her finger at the laughing audience, and skipped back off. It was the perfect dance for a group of fun-loving, high-energy little kids.

We have a little over a month until our first competition. As smoothly as everything went Saturday, I think it'll be a good experience this year. And L had so much fun with the whole thing. She spent the last 2 weeks declaring that she couldn't wait for the Debut Show. Saturday morning, she was incredibly anxious to get to the auditorium, and she spent every minute before and after the show doing tap steps out of excitement. She tapped through the store, tapped down the halls, tapped up and down the sidewalk, tapped while waiting for the pizza. She's going to be sad to have to wait a whole month and more until the next performance. Oh well, she still has 5 classes a week to keep her toes busy and I'm sure they'll be tweaking the dances between now and then, so they'll be even better at the next show.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Asian Eyes

You know how my youngest daughter is adopted from China?

Yeah, sometimes I forget. Mostly she's just my daughter. Just L. A blur of energy and enthusiasm. A girly-girl who gravitates toward anything colorful and sparkly. But every once in awhile, I'll catch a glimpse of her and think, "Dang! That girl looks Chinese today!"

Which is funny.

Because she *is* Chinese.

I just usually forget to notice.

Today I noticed. Lots. Today was her first dress rehearsal for her first dance show for her first time on the competition team. And those competition girls are serious about the whole dance thing and how you look on stage thing. The costumes are more complicated, there are very specific rules about the hairstyle, and the make-up. Oh. my. word. THE MAKE-UP.

When we got the list of things to have in the dance bag, I knew we were in trouble. She needed foundation and powder in a shade to match their skin tone. Well, that would be dark. But not too dark, but maybe darker than that one, but that other one seems way too dark, but her skin is dark, but she's too little for that dark color. The color I eventually got went on a bit pink and a bit too light for her skin tone, but it works well for the stage.

So we move on to the eyes and my confusion gets worse. 3 colors of eye shadow - one over the whole lid (check), one under the brow (check), and one in the crease (wait, she has no crease). We faked it and moved on to the black eyeliner. It's supposed to go right under the bottom lashes. Well, it turns out that asian eyes sit way back in there and you can't *get* to the lashes and there's a large "shelf" under the outer part of her eye. The construction of the eye and the fact that she's *6* made it very difficult to draw a line anywhere near her eye. It turned out really heavy and dramatic until I cleared away some of it with a q-tip.

BUT THEN came the fake eyelashes. (I told you those girls are serious about stage appearance.) I have never had occasion to use fake eyelashes before and all us new moms were kinda freaking out about it. False eyelashes? On our babies?!? But you know, they were a cinch. I think the flat eyelid made it that part a bit easier. It was harder to get enough cooperation to put on the mascara. Not that she didn't *want* to look fancy, she was just a bit scared of the wand and kept backing away.

But we finished even to a bright shade of pink lipstick and she looked fabulous. She's amazingly beautiful and the make-up just accented everything. We made it through tonight's dress rehearsal and tomorrow morning, we'll get up and do it all again. And maybe I'll remember to bring my camera and take pictures so you can see L and her beautiful asian eyes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A chance for all you crafty people out there to win something neat

I love to craft.

Yeah, I know, that comes as such a shock.

So this morning when the library was closed, and then the other library was also closed, and we found ourselves across town with time to kill, I decided to wander around the craft store. I discovered a treasure trove at Michael's - a whole aisle devoted to awesome fabrics and craft kits!! It was like the sun shone and angels sang when I discovered the great colors and whimsical patterns on the fabric and the crafty kits and ideas. I'm getting excited again just thinking about it.

I restrained myself and didn't immediately purchase the pattern and fabric for the adorable ruffled backpack. I can't think of a *need* for yet another bag in this house, so I resolved to wait until I thought of a really great project.


I came home to read a blog post by my friend about a quilting DVD she got. Y'all. Those fabrics would make the absolute cutest, most whimsical quilts ever. And she's giving away 2 of those DVDs on her blog. Go. Enter. And then when you win a copy, go to Michael's and buy some of that awesome fabric for your own fun little quilting project. We can even get together and learn at the same time. I've long wanted to learn to quilt and I figure if my friend can teach her little girls using this DVD, it's got to work for me, right?

So go check out the blog at so you can leave a comment and enter the contest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting a good deal

Last November, we went to Florida to bring Cindy Jae back to her guide dog school and then we stopped back in Orlando for a little family vacation. When I was looking for somewhere to stay, I remembered that a friend had highly recommended, Vacation Rentals by Owner. We found a great condo in a great community and had a fabulous experience.

This July will find us *back* in Orlando (well, Kissimmee) for L's dance nationals. We have to be there for over a week, Mr. at Home will be working remotely, there will be lots of downtime between dance commitments - all things that mean a condo would be waaaay more comfortable than a hotel room, but potentially waaaay more expensive.

So I started researching both. Hotels could be very cheap, but there were lot of extra costs to think about. Extra charges for wifi. Having to go out for every meal. Living in one room for a week resulting in cabin fever/letting Dad work that would mean we'd have to go find something to do. Small pools. Less security. That "cheap" hotel room becomes expensive. I checked the same company we used back in November for the condo, but their rates put them out of our budget and they weren't really that expensive.

I hated to let go of the condo idea as it would be so much more convenient and I really liked the community we stayed in with it's huge pool with slides and fountains. I liked the nice play areas. I liked the idea of having more room (and rooms!), including a kitchen to cook our own meals and space for Mr. at Home to do his work in peace. So I found a website for the community where I could request info on rentals available.

After I submitted the request, my email went NUTS. Emails from property owners and managers with tons of available condos and townhomes for our dates. Prices were all over the board, but everything looked very nice and everyone was trying to outdo the others. We finally settled on a 3-bedroom, 2 bath, 2-story townhome with it's own "south-facing" splash pool. (I'm not sure what the appeal is of "south-facing" but several places were boasting of it.) The price is cheaper than most hotels, and in fact, was even cheaper than the rates they advertised on their website.

So because I asked, I got exactly the deal I wanted and I can stop worrying about securing a place to stay during the super-busy July 4th week. It's always a good idea to ask.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Losing the War

It's been a battle field in our house since just after Christmas. The enemy arrived without warning and struck a small blow that was ignored for a few days, but then the barrage began in earnest. Soldiers went down on both sides as the skirmishes continued. Ground was lost and won, then the enemy would refocus it's effort on a different flank and the fighting started anew.

Who is this enemy?


Viruses have been running rampant through our family and no one has escaped. A cold, which turned out to be the flu, which turned into croup for the youngest, ran through everyone the past few weeks. Now we're all dealing with a (new? lingering?) cold that has everyone blowing noses and gasping for breath through clogged sinuses.

Oh yes, we're a bundle of fun over here.

Getting back into a routine has been difficult. In addition to the sickies, we've had a major snow and ice storm that closed down everything for almost a week. It kept us home to rest, but it also kept the doctor's office closed when L really needed to see him. Thankfully, it opened and we got the medicine she needed. My outside lights are still up, waiting for a day when I'm feeling well enough to take them down AND they're not coated in a thick layer of ice. Those two things haven't coincided yet.

Things are beginning to look up slightly. We've gotten in 2 days of school in a row this week, so we're already doing better than last week. I've got a roast and veggies in the crockpot for dinner. The kids are back at all their activities. If we can keep this latest cold from developing into anything worse, we might eventually win this war.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cindy Jae's First Report Card

I got Cindy Jae's first report card today and she seems to be doing fabulously! What? You didn't know Cindy Jae got report cards? Well, of course she does! She went off to school, didn't she?

It's funny how just a few marks and words can tell you that the trainers really know your dog, because it looks a whole lot what I expected.



DOG: Cindy Jae

Tattoo: 3R09

Date: Jan. 13, 2011

Training Phase: Phase 1

++ - exceeding expectations + - meeting expectations W=working on

Accepts harness




Straight line concept






Down curbs


Up curbs



Indoor mall

Off curb Travel

Left, Left

Right, Right




Food scavenging







Small animal



Kennel behavior


COMMENTS: Cindy Jae is happy and talkative in the kennel; she enjoys romping with her roommates. She is adapting well to training.


See what I mean? Cindy Jae has always loved playing with people and dogs. She's the most happy-go-lucky dog I've ever known and she approaches every new situation with enthusiasm. And she does love to eat stuff off the ground if given the opportunity.

I'm so glad to know that she's doing well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

K has a fabulous day

Yesterday was a very good day for K.

It started off as boring and quiet as any other. Got up, watched a little TV, ate some breakfast, got her schoolwork from mom, complained that I gave her a ton of work for history, then sat down and did it all. She "heart"ed her sister's writing page (that's what L calls it when someone puts hearts around the best letters) and gave up the folding table and stool to L, doing her own work while sitting on the floor.

But then, things got immensely better.

She finished her work first and got to go with me to Ikea to spend my Christmas gift card. I bought two desks and two swively, rolly office chairs (and I only went a little bit over my gift card - thanks Heather and Leah!). The desks are plain white table tops, but the legs came separately, so K asked if she could get two different colors. K picked black and silver legs for her desk and a dark gray chair and we got red and white legs for L and a red chair.

We came home and the girls helped assemble everything and we got them tucked away in the loft. They had a great time organizing their things on their new desks and getting their chairs adjusted just right. I'm hoping the desks make it easier for them to focus on their work and for me to teach Lydia how to sit quietly for more than 2 seconds. She's very high-energy and sitting still for church or concerts or presentations seems to be beyond her present abilities. So we're working on that.

We had dinner and the girls disappeared back to the loft while Mr. at Home and I lounged downstairs. And the conversation turned to jailbreaking iPhones. He had tried earlier in the week to unlock his, but it had caused issues with it. So he thought he'd try my old iPhone that is currently serving as a fancy iPod.

Remember when I mentioned that the transmission went out on my car? Well, something inside had simply broken and there is absolutely no way to fix it. We had to decide between replacing the transmission or the car, so we gathered all the information we could, including having a long talk with our service guy. I can't say enough good things about our service guy. He's at the local Kia dealership and they do all the work on our cars because he has proven himself incredibly trustworthy and honest about what needs to be done and what doesn't. It's hard to find a good mechanic and we've had all kinds of experiences with other dealerships and shops and I will never voluntarily leave this guy.

After our talk with the service guy and a talk with a sales rep, we decided to fix the transmission. So we're looking at putting out a lot of money next week. And we also decided that we're going to start setting aside a "car payment" each month into a savings account so that when the car does start costing more to maintain than to buy a new one, we have the money to put toward a new one.

All that rabbit trail does indeed lead back to K's red letter day. Our "car payment" that we're going to start saving is having to come out of budget somewhere and that means a few things have to change. We've been eating at home more, combining trips, being more conscious of only buying what we need, and not going to the store at all if we can avoid it. Mr. at Home has been researching ways to save money on one of our major expenses - cell phones. We both have smart phones with data plans. We have the lowest number of minutes available and only a small number of text messages, but it's still very expensive. He discovered that Walmart has a family plan that's much cheaper than our current provider and would allow us to pay for only what we actually use, but we've had so much trouble with reception at our house that we've been wary about trying it.

So last night we decided to use a different old phone of mine and try the Walmart plan. Our old provider was very nice and gave us an unlock code for the phone, which untethered it from their network so we could use on the new network. It wasn't very late, so we loaded up the car and took the phone down to our local Walmart where they hooked us up with a new sim card and a new phone number and we handed the phone over to K.

We've been promising to get a cell phone she could use for awhile. We don't have a home phone and while she's perfectly capable of staying home by herself or babysitting her sister, we didn't feel comfortable leaving her home without a phone. So now she has a phone (and it does work very well in our house) and her parents are footloose and fancy-free! Woohoo!!

Oh, and K was excited, too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Martha Jillian Deen doesn't live here

The other day I was driving a kid to one of their umpteen classes/activities/playdates and I heard something interesting on the radio. The host was relaying a conversation she'd had with a friend about goals. Her friend had recently turned 30 and thought about some of the things she needed to learn. Like how to fold a fitted sheet and how to cook better meals. She wanted to get an exercise routine started and get healthier. Role models, experts in their fields, came to mind, but she decided that she didn't have to be just like them.

It got me thinking.

- I'd love to be as creative as Martha Stewart, to have a beautiful house and host amazing get-togethers with every detail carefully planned and executed.

- I'd love to love to exercise like Jillian Michaels, to have the energy and enthusiasm she does for making my body strong and healthy.

- I'd love to cook fabulous meals like Paula Deen, with southern comfort food and lots of butter. I'd also love to have her beautiful silver hair.

Then there are the slightly less famous people I'd like to emulate.

- The Pioneer Woman and her fabulous blog, writing style, and new career writing books.

- The Nester with her beautifully decorated home.

- Heather, from Oh My Stinkin' Heck, who has such an awesome homeschool that blends work and fun.

But you know what? I can't be all of them. Not a single person on that list is all of them. Martha doesn't have rock hard abs and Jillian wouldn't be caught dead using whole sticks of real butter. The Nester doesn't have a schoolroom in her house and Heather doesn't go on book tours. They each chose an area to focus their time and energies. None of them are perfect at everything and we're doing ourselves a disservice to think that we have to be.

Today my oldest daughter asked if I ever wanted to write a book. Well, yes. I've considered it, seriously at times, but I'm not ready to devote my life to it. Not right now. I love reading good books and I have very definite criteria as to what constitutes a good book, but I don't have the passion and drive to write at this time in my life. I dabble in many things - cooking, blogging, photography, homeschooling, music, crafting. I spend a lot of time driving my kids around to different activities. I play on my computer and get involved in church activities.

My ultimate goal is to become more intentional about how I spend my time, but we've got to finish out some commitments we've made that have proven to be big time-suckers. Yesterday I snapped and complained about something, prompting Mr. at Home to ask if I was happy. And I *am*. I just get tired of the never-ending treadmill of the daily routine. I want to find something I'm passionate about and have the time to pursue it. I want to be able to say "yes" to some big dream even when it means saying "no" to other things that I dearly enjoy.

I can't be Martha Jillian Deen who constantly redecorates her home and negotiates movie rights to her latest book while her children play educational games. But I CAN be Valerie who lives her life with passion and purpose.

Christmas Catchup - The Clan Meeting

Mr. at Home is the youngest of 7 children. One has passed, one is off in foreign lands, one has her own family, and the other 4 all met up in the Georgia mountains the week after Christmas. Two of his sisters, Heather and Leah, flew from Texas and the plan was for us to drive down on Tuesday morning and join them at the home of Mr. at Home's brother, Howard, and his wife Nancy.

Did you get that?

Brother: Howard, married to Nancy (Georgia)
Sister: Heather (Texas)
Sister: Leah (Texas)

Just thought I'd clear up any confusion.

Well, on Monday, I started getting that "about to get a cold" feeling. Tuesday, I wasn't feeling too well, but it wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, K and Dad were feeling a bit sick to their stomachs. We held off for a couple of extra hours and everyone finally felt well enough to make the short trip. Yea!

For dinner Tuesday night, Heather had graciously spent most of the day in the kitchen slaving over lasagna dinner that was amazing. Stacks and stacks of cheese, an enormous pot of sauce, and boxes of noodles.

L helped assemble the lasagna. After all, it's made of pasta and she loves pasta.

Wednesday morning, we piled into 2 cars and we were off on an adventure. The first stop of the day was Babyland General, where the hand-stitched Cabbage Patch dolls are made. I was part of that generation when Cabbage Patch dolls were THE thing to have. It was a huge deal when my uncle and aunt gave me my first one as it was during the huge first rush when you just couldn't find them anywhere. I still remember Isaac Evin in his red checked shirt and denim overalls. So when Nancy said she was taking us to Babyland General, I think a shiver went down my spine.

It's a very impressive building full of doll nurseries and a cabbage patch where a "baby" is "born" from "Mother Cabbage" during a little presentation they do periodically during the day. I couldn't resist getting the girls both dolls. Not the $200+ hand-stitched ones, just some small babies with plastic heads made in China. There were less zeros in the price.

After a long, satisfying visit with the dolls, Howard and Nancy took us out to a wonderful little buffet at a lodge. They had the best fried chicken. We left there for the small "Bavarian" town of Helen, where they transformed all the buildings into a little old-fashioned village full of shops and ale houses. It was such a neat place.

The girls took their dolls with them everywhere. K's doll hitched a ride in her hoodie pocket.

The last stop of the day was at Tallulah Gorge. We walked out to an overlook, then down hundreds of stairs to a suspension bridge. Then back up hundreds of stairs. It was hard work and we laughed at our efforts on the stairs, but it was beautiful!

Look! I made it into a picture again and even got the whole family!

Here's the siblings. Heather, Mr. at Home (aka Will), Leah, and Howard. There's a very strong family resemblance.

Then we went home and had cheesecake for dinner. Could the day have been any better?!

It was a wonderful day and a fabulous visit. I loved all the places we visited and I loved spending time with the other side of our family. Thanks, Howard and Nancy, for hosting and planning and thanks, Heather and Leah, for coming all the way out here to see us!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas Catchup - Snow!

After dark on Christmas Day, it started to snow! A white Christmas!

It snowed all evening, most of the night, and was still coming down nicely the next morning. We left early for church to make sure the heat was on and to sweep the snow off the sidewalks. Ok, Mr. at Home actually did all that and I walked around taking pictures. The snow was beautiful.

All that walking around in the snow had me covered myself. And since I decided to make more of an effort to get in front of the camera, here's a picture of my snowy self.

After church, the girls got outside and played in the last of the snow. They're much cuter than me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Christmas Catchup - Christmas morning

We don't really do Santa around here. I don't really care much one way or the other, but I have to say that it makes Christmas gifts a whole lot easier. We don't have to stick to the whole Christmas morning surprise thing. A couple of years ago the girls got a trip to the American Girl store to pick out their own dolls and stuff and just got their stockings on Christmas morning.

This year the girls big gifts on Christmas morning were things they needed for their activities. They both needed big ticket items and we just made things easier on everyone by getting them for Christmas. It was also a good lesson for them - activities are a privilege, the equipment needed is expensive, and sometimes gifts are things you really need rather than toys you just think you want. The girls had really good attitudes about it all and never questioned it after we told them that's what they were getting.

K ended up with 2 big gifts that she needed. One was a new trumpet. We were renting one for her band class, but she loves playing and practices often, so we bought her a new one since she will be continuing. It's just a very basic beginner trumpet and it ended up costing less to buy than to rent for a semester. She also needed a new glove, so I took her to the store and let her choose a new one. She knew she was getting a trumpet, and she obviously knew about the glove, but she *didn't* know that I had signed her up for a softball skills training course for the next 6 weeks. She was so very excited about that!

L's big gift was new dance shoes. She needed very specific jazz and tap shoes for her competition team, so I took her to the dance store and got them fitted properly. I then sent the girls out to the car while I paid and I managed to sneak in a new, bigger dance bag. The girls would be shocked if they ever knew how many of their gifts I managed to buy while they were with me without them any the wiser. She's already told me a few times that she loves her new dance bag.

The girls both got new Webkinz because they love to play with them and they got new purses filled with a few goodies. K got a new Bible and she had bought her sister a new one. L got a couple toys and clothes and they both got some cool stuff in their stockings. My big gift was a Nook ereader which I l.o.v.e. and Mr. at Home got a box of his favorite cigars.

So it was a very nice Christmas where everyone got something they loved, then we went and had lunch with friends where I didn't take a single picture and just had a great day.

Christmas Catchup - Gingerbread

My birthday is 4 days before Christmas. And yes, it has always irked me that we were rarely in school to celebrate, people combined gifts, it kinda got lost in the Christmas celebrations, etc., etc.

But this year? I had a very, very cool birthday. Mr. at Home and I had plans for that night to meet some good friends at a Brazilian steak house (the food was *amazing* and the company even better). I did, however, find a very neat way to pass the day until it was time for dinner.

Some friends invited us to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville to see the gingerbread houses. I've always wanted to go, but it's never worked out until this year. So the girls loaded up and drove out to the mountains to meet our friends for lunch, then we went out to the hotel. Now this is an amazing hotel. First off, it's HUGE and incredibly fancy, but it looks like exactly the sort of place you'd expect to host a gingerbread house competition. We had a difficult time finding a parking spot, then we had to trudge up an enormous hill to the front porch. At which point I discovered that I had left my camera in the car.

Now if I'd known what this place was going to be like, I would've sucked it up and gone back for it, but I didn't and you'll just have to put up with camera phone quality.

First was an enormous lobby with a beautiful sleigh and reindeer setup for photo opportunities.

Then we took off wandering through the winding hallways and levels where there was a fabulously decorated Christmas tree every few feet and breathtaking views of a beautiful courtyard and the mountains beyond. And then we found the cases where the gingerbread houses were displayed.

And they were beyond anything you could imagine.

Each piece in the adult categories had to be handmade and they had done so in exquisite detail. This was the first house we saw.

The icicles blew me away. The horse. The tree with a cardinal. It was simply breathtaking. But there were so many more. They could be no bigger than 2 foot square, so everything was done is such miniature perfection.

Most were buildings - houses, stores, theaters, but some people really pushed the boundaries and created other things like dolls and pumpkin stands. The grand prize winner was a set of nesting dolls where each one appeared to be finished with wool or wood or lacquer that looked real.

There were tons of houses of all different types.

Some whole landscapes.

Some famous houses like Falling Water.

The little girls' favorite was this gold-roofed theater with a single ballerina on stage. (It's on the left.)

After we had seen all the gingerbread creations, we wandered outside to a little artists' shop where they wanted $65 for a crocheted baby hat and most of the stuff was breakable, so I took most of the girls outside where they ran around like crazy and found a bit of leftover snow.

The girls have all declared that they want to enter the contest next year. There is a child category where the rules are far less strict so we'll have to see what happens before entries are due for 2011. Whatever the case, you need to plan to come visit us next Christmas and we'll go see the gingerbread houses together.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Catchup - Cookies

I will finally actually really post a few pictures from Christmas for those family members who read my blog and want to see pics of my kids. And I'll tell you about our exciting Christmas.

Want to know what was so exciting about our Christmas?

Well, it was a quiet, simple, holiday season. Nothing much planned during the week before Christmas. A little time with friends, dinner out, hanging around the house, a little trip after Christmas Day to visit Mr. at Home's family, then back home to lay around being sick with a cold. The exciting part of our Christmas is how easy and nice it all was.

Since we had all this free time the week before Christmas, I decided to do something I enjoyed from my own childhood. The girls and I picked up some sugar cookie dough. Because we like shortcuts like that. We floured up the countertop, used the Christmas cookie cutters, and baked us some fancy shaped cookies.

But then the real fun began.

As the cookies cooled, I filled bowls with powdered sugar and carefully dribbled and stirred water into them until it came to the consistency of thick paint. The girls added food color to make six different colors, then we took six clean paintbrushes to the table and got busy.

When I tried to do this with the girls in the past, they got bored after only a few cookies, but I guess it had been awhile since the last attempt as they had *never seen this before*. They sat and painted and painted and painted those cookies.

Even dad got in on the fun.

These are my favorite. Mom let each of us kids pick out a few of her cookie cutters for ourselves when we left home and I ended up with these. They're a bear to actually use because they're so detailed. You have to make sure your dough is plenty full of flour and that you coat both the dough and the cutter thoroughly with flour. Then it works just fine. But just looking at them reminds me of sitting at our kitchen table painting cookies exactly the same way as a child.

And then we ate all the cookies. They were incredibly yummy.

Time for Learning Review

"Can we just do Time for Learning from now on?"

L seems to have liked it :-)

Time for Learning is an on-line curriculum that covers the core subjects. We received a 1-month free trial in exchange for an honest review, so here goes.

We used Time for Learning as a supplement to our normal work, since it was just a try-out. But I tried to keep their regular stuff light and gave them plenty of time to get the computer lessons accomplished.

At the beginning, K loved the PBS-educational-show style of the Time for Learning lessons.

(I'm having a hard time conecentrating as L is having a royal dramatic meltdown because she simply can't do her writing properly (and she might get another B! Oh, the humanity!!) if she doesn't get to use the TV tray and stool that K claimed this morning. Darn that K for picking the "comfy" spot! anyway...)

Then the PBS-educational-show style began to really get on K's nerves. Because every example they showed was the example+dialogue+humor+animation and it took forever to get through every example and the lesson seemed to drag on forever.

I have to pause and preface the next part by saying that I'm not being prideful or better-than-you. It's just the way they're made.

My kids are smart. As in rather intelligent. They're accustomed to getting through their work quickly with minimal explanation and interruptions.

The constant repetition and lengthy teaching segments drove both my girls batty. For L, the worst was the reading where she had to redo the same story with a little less help each time. She kept saying "I've already done that!" Sometimes the problem was that she had simply not clicked through every part of the lesson and sometimes she just had to do several similar lessons in a row.

Both the girls liked the ease of having their lessons on the computer and I liked how little I was responsible for. Many of K's lessons were ones she had to read and even some of L's first grade lessons were the same. Sometimes a voice read the words on the screen and sometimes it didn't.

From what I saw, Time for Learning is a great tool if you need something your kids can do mostly independently. It would work well for most learners with the repetition and explanations and instant feedback when you answer a question incorrectly. Because we've always used a fast-paced curriculum with high expectations, most of it was too easy for my kids, but it's probably on an average grade-level.

If you'd like to learn more, you can use the following links to their website. - Online interactive curriculum for home use, PreK-8th Grade. - Online writing tutorials for high, middle, and elementary school students. - A forum to chat with parents online about kids, education, parenting and more...