Saturday, September 27, 2014

Haaaaaaaaave you met Dwija?

Of course you have! Isn't she just the bee's knees? I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds cute and cheerful and that makes me think of Dwija. I haven't met her in person yet, but I feel like I know her. I went to her SIL's wedding before she was her SIL but that totally counts, right? Practically part of the family.
(random pictures to follow just for fun)

Jingly bracelets from Grandma and Grandpa are the best!

Anyway… she just wrote an excellent post about budgeting and tracking your purchases. I wanted to point you towards it because we have just recently been going through a similar experience: tracking every purchase and really paying attention to where our money goes. (No, we don't do the cash envelope thing but it still works.) It started after Sean got a new job and we went from a paycheck every two weeks to once a month. We needed to totally change the way we paid our bills so we thought it was the perfect time to make a real study of our budget. My experience has been exactly like Dwija's. It's been so freeing to know where our money is being spent, so liberating to know that we do actually have money to spend on certain items if we plan it right. It's heartening to see that money left over at the end of the paycheck increase every month because we controlled our spending. Being faced with the reality of writing it down, really does make you think about making a purchase which is a good thing in todays' world of one- click shopping.
A grandma knows what little girls like! Cupcake is loving her new Birthday Purse.

It also makes you remember what you've already spent at the beginning of the month. Some of us (cough, cough, me) have a tendency to forget about the beginning of the month when we come all the way to the end of the month. Thirty days is a LONG time, y'all! ;)

I feel like we are more on top of our budget than we have ever been. We've never been more aware of our actual financial situation… and you know what, it's not nearly as scary as we thought it was. (OK, maybe I'm choosing to ignore COLLEGE looming on the horizon… let me stay in my happy place a little longer.) So while it's only been about 6 months for us since we started doing this tracking thing, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try it. It won't take you a year to see results although tracking for a year will show you changes in your habits, I imagine. I plan to keep it up.

Go read Dwija's post if you want the low-down on how she did it. Now, me, I'm still a paper and pencil kind of girl when it comes to most stuff so I created a couple of Word documents to print out and use in a three ring binder. (I love, love, LOVE this ledger for keeping track of my back account stuff.) My dream some day is to get to hold Dwija's precious baby and munch on his cheeks while she shows me how to use Excel. Wouldn't that be fun? I think so. Using paper might seem very old fashioned, but I'll have you know that I did recently make the switch to these erasable pens. They really work and don't leave any little eraser bits behind. How very modern of me, I know! ;)
* Silly reference in the title, I'm sorry. I've started watching How I Met Your Mother while I exercise. My only excuse… 2 episodes = 45 minutes on the treadmill!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Club 911: Nim's Island by Wendy Orr

Last week, we held our first book club of the year for BigBoy and some fellow homeschooled book lovers. Nim's Island by Wendy Orr is a short little adventure story about a homeschooled girl named Nim who lives on an island with her dad, the scientist. They turned this book into a fun little movie not too long ago. Most of the kids hadn't seen the movie so that made the book club extra exciting… I showed them the opening scene and I'm pretty sure they were going to go home and beg their parents to watch the whole thing. (BTW… my kids only made it through the first ten minutes of the sequel, Return to Nim's Island,  before they were begging me to turn it off it was sooooooo bad. Just FYI.) And all of the kids in the book club said they enjoyed this book so much they wished it had been longer! Quite a compliment to the author, if you ask me!
A couple of kids tasted it. They said it was bland.
So, for book club, I demonstrated what is inside of a coconut and we discussed things like marine biology, whether a person can really be swallowed whole by a whale, what sort of things Nim and her dad study on their island, what the island itself might have looked liked, what really happened to Nim's mother and bioluminescent plankton (Nim's favorite kind). (You can find lots of discussion guides out there for this book just by looking up "Nim's Island Teacher Resources".) For the last part of the discussion, I showed them this really neat clip of bioluminescent plankton and they were spell bound! We also discussed the differences between how a book tells a story and how a movie tells a story while I used some scenes from the movie to help illustrate my points.

For our craft, we made some simple weather station devices that I hope the kids are using at home now. The first was a weather vane to help show the direction of the wind and the second item was a homemade barometer. They were kind of tricky for some of the kids… stretching the balloon super tight takes a little more muscle than some of them had, but I think they went over well. (Thank goodness for my big kid helpers!)

For a snack, we had some of Fred's Bananas and Jack's Favorite Strawberries. I also made some Bioluminescent Plankton Punch. This was a huge hit. I wouldn't tell the kids how we did it, but being super smart, they figured it out themselves. You take a glow bracelet, crack it and place it in the bottom of a solid color plastic cup (we used blue Solo cups). My big kids wiped each of the bracelets with a paper towel before inserting them just to make sure none of them were leaking. Then we placed a clear plastic cup inside of the solid cup and added some ice and 7-up and voilĂ 
Plankton Punch!
Yeah… they thought it was cool.

Next up… By The Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleishman

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hobbit Day 2014

Happy Birthday, dear Bilbo and Frodo...

"What's taters, precious?"
"PO-TAY-TOES!!! Boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew."

Yesterday was Hobbit Day… the day we celebrate Bilbo and Frodo's birthday. Even though we've had some fun with the day in the past, I had completely forgotten about it this year and had something like chili or spaghetti on the menu (very un-Hobbitish). Well, my sweet Sunshine (who sold all of her fundraising gloves, thank you!) said, "We have to have a birthday cake for Bilbo!" found a recipe for Pumpkin Cake with a Cream Cheese glaze and proceeded to make the cake herself. Those of you with many little kids and no big kids… these are the days that are coming for you! Hang in there.

When I mentioned that I had only planned chili for dinner, she said, "We do have those leeks in the fridge. What about Potato Leek Soup?" That sounded much more Hobbit friendly to us. If only I'd had some sausages to cook up… but I did have mushrooms to roast and we made crunchy chickpea croutons. Many rounds of Baggins Bingo finished off the evening. Some might call us dorky or weird. We choose to embrace our geekdom.  Age of the Geek, baby! ;)

P.S. If you haven't seen Wil Wheaton's response to a little girl who asked if he was ever called a "nerd" when he was younger, you need to.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunshine Knits for Courtney!

UPDATE #2: 8:30 pm The are all sold. Thank you to those who purchased, those who made a donation and those who offered their prayers! Your generosity is inspiring.

UPDATE #1: 12:40 pm The only pair left is the perfectly pink Carnation gloves. Thank you so much for loving the Lenaburgs and supporting my dear daughter's efforts.

My sweet girl has been following the story of Miss Courtney, the Warrior Princess, and has begged me for something that she can do to help. If you don't know the Lenaburgs, please take a moment to read a little about what their life looks like right now as they prepare to say goodbye to their beautiful girl and return her to our Eternal Father's glory all the while facing impending unemployment.

Courtney's body has been racked with seizures since she was five weeks old and after 22 years of fighting, her body is just worn out. Sunshine has come to know Miss Courtney through Miss Mary's blog and we are so thankful she has shared her precious girl with us and the world so that we can offer our prayers and petitions on their behalf. But we are also "doers". And when someone is struggling, we want to do something to help.
We came up with a little fundraiser idea for Sunshine. She contacted the designer of a pair of fingerless gloves and got permission to use her pattern for gloves to sell on Etsy. I am so proud of her initiative!
Today, I have posted four pairs of fingerless gloves hand knit by Sunshine herself in different colors and different yarns. Most of them are one-size-fits-most teen/adult women's hands. One does run smaller than the other so it might fit a child's large hand.
They would be perfect to tuck into a teen's stocking or spunk up a winter outfit with some color. ALL of the proceeds will go to the Lenaburg family to help with Courtney's extensive medical bills and future funeral expenses. So, you get to make a donation and receive a beautiful pair of fingerless gloves in return which just might give you a jump start on your Christmas shopping!
If you live where winter barely breaks below 70 degrees and  have no need of any fingerless gloves or would like to make a donation just because, you can use the Paypal button on Mary's blog or use the GoFundMe website that some friends established to send them a little financial assistance if you'd like. I know that prayers and sacrifices are always welcomed.

Head on over to my Etsy shop to see more of these gorgeous gloves and decide how you'd like to help this dear family in need.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not a farmer yet...

...but I think my grandfather would be proud of me. I do not have any delusions about being a gardener or even liking gardening BUT ----> I saved my basil from a horrible fungus fly infestation! And all it took was a hour on the internet, some potato slices and a bag of cinnamon. OK, maybe there was a little more to it than that.

I have two little basil plants in my kitchen window and one sad little cilantro plant that didn't make it but hey… focus on the positive people! Over the course of a week we noticed little gnats in the kitchen. I thought it was the bananas… until I saw them crawling all over my basil pots. Grrrrrrrrrrr! Nobody comes between my family and it's basil mayonnaise! After doing a little online research, I discovered that they were most likely fungus flies and it was probably because I was over watering the basil. I told you I don't have a green thumb. So, yeah… I created the problem that I solved. Moving on…

The first thing I did was cover the dirt in potato slices. Over the course of a couple of days, I rotated out the old ones and then added new ones while the plants sat outside to dry out. Potato slices?! That's what I said. Apparently, the little flies will lay their eggs in the potato slices instead of the wet, damp earth. Get them to lay their eggs in the potatoes and you can throw them away thereby stopping the breeding cycle. Once I felt like the dirt was sufficiently dried out (about 3 days of potato and sun) I pulled off all the dead leaves at the bottom of the plants and then covered the top of the dirt with a thick layer of cinnamon. It must be a solid layer, not just a little sprinkling, and it must be cassia cinnamon (I don't know why… that's just what the internet told me), which I had accidentally ordered an abundance of… thank you, Katherine!
Why cinnamon at all? Well, apparently, the little flies don't like it one bit and will pack their tiny bags and leave rather than dip their little toesies in it. (Ok, the internet didn't quite tell me that… I embellished.) So… now my basil plants are not crawling with tiny creatures and we can make some more basil mayo this afternoon and my grandfather can look down at my little farming effort and smile. It's not the back 40, but I'm proud of it. :)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tears of Our Lady...

{From the archives of 2009 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows today.}

The memory of an idea past lingered in my head. Very simple in it's practice, yet complex, this sincere symbolic statement spoke volumes compared to more elaborate gestures. Perhaps it had to do with the rawness of little hearts as they have recently endured a tiny bit of the pain and sorrow that loss brings.

Squeals of interest and delight resounded in the room where we learn and live together when they saw the pretty yellow drops in the bowl. We talked about the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady and scratched them out on our chalkboard. I asked them to take the lemon drops, one at a time, and slowly savor them while contemplating each of the sorrows of our Blessed Mother's heart.

There will be layers of sour that might even cause you some pain alternating with layers of sweet to reward you for you perseverance. Try to think about the pain of Our Lady's heart and how she had to endure it even when the sweet reward seemed but a glimmer in the distance.

Silence was the order of the morning. One sorrow. Then another. They quietly embraced this exercise and I was amazed by their conviction.

Four sorrows had now been counted and consumed. The Crucifixion was in sight. Shortcake turned to me with brimful brown eyes and an equally heavy heart and said, "I don't think I can take one more."

Oh dearest, little one.... many times in life will these feelings haunt you. Hurting heart, bleary eyes, lingering pain so fresh that you can still taste it to the point that your trembling voice breaks the silence and cries out in agony, "I can't take one more!"

Our Lady knows.

I wonder at what point she heard those words echoing in her ears. Her grief had to be tremendous. But she was free from the stain of Original Sin. Wouldn't she have been strong enough? Wouldn't she have been brave enough? Yes, but she also grieved deeply. She had to be in pain; not the sappy sentimental grief that some artists depict but real, trembling, heart wrenching pain.

She knows.

And in knowing, she comforts us. She holds us while we wait for the sweetness.

Go to Mary, little one. She can't make it go away but like all good mothers, she wants to. Rest in her arms. She is strong enough. She is brave enough. She knows.

Friday, September 5, 2014

WWRW :: Getting my reading groove back...

I know it's Friday, I'm just late. 

I've been wanting to post about what I'm reading, but it's mostly been picture books. A LOT of picture books. BigBoy has been doing a weekly Chess Club at our library so Cupcake and I have been reading tons of books. Right now, Mr. Putter and Tabby are her absolute favorites. She especially loves it when we mix up the names in the story… Mr. Tabby and Putter or Mr. Pabby and Tutter. She just giggles with delight.

Getting back into a weekly library trip was a side benefit of joining the Chess Club that I was looking forward to along with getting some alone time with the younger two. We have reached that point where I can leave the oldest three (16, 15 and 13) at home occasionally, and it is… wonderful! Those of you with little ones who all need your help… you will get there, I promise you. (And then, you'll want to go back. Sniff, sniff.)

So, along with lots of Mr. Putty and Tabber, we've made ourselves acquainted with the new acquisitions shelf (new to our library, not necessarily newly published) and want to share some of them with you. Here is a quick run-down of the ones we've enjoyed:

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf… Perfect for fall coming up. Really delightful little story about a girl who names and cares for her most precious treasure… a butternut squash named Bernice. Bernice, being a squash, can't last forever so you might think you know where this story is headed, but the ending is a happy one. My favorite page was the exchange between Sophie and her mom…
When it was time to make supper, Sophie's mother looked at the squash. She looked at Sophie.
"I call her Bernice, " Sophie said. 
"I'll call for a pizza," said her mother.

The Yippy, Yappy Yorkie in the Green Doggie Sweater by Debbie Macomber and Mary Lou Carney… I admit I got this one thinking that Sunshine would like to read it to Cupcake. It's about a little girl who is worried about moving to another house and leaving behind her old town especially the yarn shop where she learned to knit a sweater for her little yorkie named Baxter. Of course, she finds new things to like about her new place including a new friend who has a yorkie and wants to learn to knit. This book is by the author of the Blossom Street series for adults. I don't know anything about those. We've read the other kids book that she's written, The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater that Grandma Knit, and thought it was cute. This one too was cute and might be something that someone who is moving might like for their kids… or someone who knits… or has yorkies.

Do you like Patricia Polacco's art? Some people do and some people don't. I admit that it's not my favorite style, but I still enjoy it and her stories that have an "Old Country" feel to them. This one is not a new one but it was new to us. G is for Goat is a really fun little alphabet book with an unusual theme. Goats. It is fiercely cute. Looking to introduce your little one to the alphabet and just can't stomach one more "A is for Apple, B is for Boat" book? Definitely check this one out!

Minette's Feast by Susanna Reich... Darling story about Julia Child's cat. Anyone else find it funny that her cat's middle name was "Mimosa"? I loved how well written this book was (I'm a sucker for alliteration in a children's book) and of course, all the biographical information they snuck in especially the loving relationship between Julia and her husband, Paul. While I may not agree that "a house without a cat is like life without sunshine" I know many cat lovers who would. There is a notes section in the back with more specific information and a glossary for some of the french words and phrases. This one might be one we decide to own someday!

Lastly, this is one that I shared with Miss JessicaSpice when she CAME OVER TO MY HOUSE on Monday!!! I know! In person playing and snuggling a tiny baby and eating and chatting… and we didn't take one picture, either of us. We are such bad bloggers, or maybe just better friends? I grabbed If You're So Smart, How Come You Can't Spell Missisippi? by Barbara Esham off the new shelf without really looking at it. Turns out, it's about dyslexia. I don't have a child with dyslexia, but if I did, this would be a great book to own. A little girl questions her super-smart lawyer dad why he can't help her with her spelling test and he explains to her what dyslexia is. She thinks about a little boy from her class who can't spell either and takes is upon herself to learn about all of the amazing accomplishments of some other people with dyslexia so that she can share them with him. It was a very interesting read. Cupcake liked the pictures but wasn't into the story much. BigBoy read it too and he said that he liked reading about all of the great people who had dyslexia. His favorites were William James, a psychologist, and Helen B. Tausig who was a doctor in the 1930's.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Red Knit Cap Girl Birthday

Yesterday, Miss Cupcake turned three. How did that happen? She was just born the other day, I swear. I blinked and now she's three.

~ The Inspiration ~

Please ignore the lightbulb in the background. That wooden bowl is my husband's domain and I just don't ask.

Have you heard of Red Knit Cap Girl  and Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue? If you have little ones in your life you must check them out. The art work is so pretty, I want to frame every page. These books have delighted Miss Cupcake and captured her imagination since we were first introduced to them. We decided to bring these lovely little stories to life for her birthday since Cupcake is a huge Naoko Stoop fan. There is a third book, Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree,  coming out that we can't wait to arrive (thank you, Auntie Jessica and Uncle Sean!), and these two board books, All Creatures Great and Small and Noah's Ark,  also illustrated by Naoko Stoop are must-have items in Cupcake's Mass bag every Sunday.  

I wanted to make a larger version of the adorable little doll Jessica painted for Cupcake back last Christmas. And I wanted Sunshine to try to make a real knitted cap for her. Sean helped whittle down the bottom of a standard 3 inch peg doll form in order to create the look of a short coat and boots. I painted a cap on her head, just in case, but Sunshine's fit perfectly. 

 ~ The Cake ~

I started with the cake. One of the cakes I considered for BigBoy's Narnia themed birthday was this beautiful representation of Reepicheep paddling his coracle to Aslan's Country. I wanted to recreate the scene with Red Knit Cap Girl, White Bunny and Polar Bear Cub sailing north so I found some paper that looked similar to the paper used in the books. I even sent Naoko Stoop an email asking if the paper folded boat was a real one or her own imaginative design. She wrote back! Squeeeee!!! I love it when authors do that. She said the design was her creation but sent me a helpful little drawing and message for Cucpake. I used this website's instructions for a paper boat (scroll down to the pink one) with some of my own modifications and used a skewer for the sail anchoring it into a chunk of Sculpey.

I wanted to try using some marshmallow fondant to make the ice chunks and unfortunately, used up more of my powdered sugar than I thought so I ended up not having enough to make buttercream frosting to cover the whole cake. Instead. I tinted some of the fondant blue and wrapped it around the sides so I could use the buttercream just for the waves on top. I have never cared much for fondant and now I know why… it was only because it wasn't homemade! Everyone liked it.

I think she liked it. 

~ The Decorations ~

We found an old red cap that I crocheted for Rain (it kind of looks knitted) to use for a decoration. She wore it for 2.1 seconds.

I wrapped her gifts in white paper to look like icebergs and covered the table in a white table cloth. We pulled out all of the Schleich animals we could find to match the characters in the book. Polar Bear Cub, Squirrel, Bear, Hedgehog, Polar Bear Mama but when it came to White Bunny, we needed something tiny and cute. We chose one of the Playmobil bunnies from this set.  I also used some more printed paper to make a telescope (from Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue) and some paper lanterns like the ones they made for the moon's party in the first book. We strung them up with little lights so that they really glowed.

Kinda hard to see but you get the idea.
And streamers… Daddy makes sure there are always streamers.

 ~ The Banner ~

I drew this picture to add a space between the words. Other than that, this was a super easy banner. I didn't even print it out, just wrote the letters myself with a large, red marker.

~ The Birthday Girl ~

One of her gifts… her own polar bear cub with a pink knitted scarf, boots and glasses. Why? I don't know but she loves her and named her Snowflake.

We love you, Cupcake!

Friday, August 22, 2014

7QT: Austin Adventures Cont'd

I never finished telling you about the rest of our Treeschooler's adventure. One of the deciding factors in making this commitment was that the day of the shoot was the day before my grandmother's 92 birthday… and in the same city! We hadn't seen Granny since Cupcake was about a year old. We surprised her by showing up at the restaurant where she thought she was just meeting her adult children. I think she was pleasantly surprised, don't you?

My aunt had displayed some family photos and I was so delighted to see this one. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of both of my grandparents looking so young before. That little guy is my dad, I think. I'm pretty sure because he looks just like my brother did as a kid. Although, it could also be my uncle.

I have always thought my oldest son looked an awful lot like my PawPaw, but also thought maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part since I loved my PawPaw so tremendously. (I'm tearing up just typing that.) This picture and the comments of some dear friends on IG made me believe that it wasn't just my imagination.
Afterwards, we headed to the Texas Memorial Museum because they promised DINOSAURS and a paleontology lab with a real, live paleontologist to talk to. Well, they delivered on the dinosaur bones part…
...and some really beautiful rocks and gems. But the Paleontology Lab was closed, much to BigBoy's dismay. :( Oh well. It was a pretty sparse museum, but it worked for us since we weren't trying to kill a lot of time there.

The next day, we headed over to Sean's sister's house to meet up with family and squeeze in a little baby cousin love.
This little guy was fussy with a capital F but so squishy and delicious to kiss!
It was a crazy busy kind of weekend but good. It made us think that we really need to plan a family vacation. I know summer's over, but we are thinking a nice fall vacation somewhere cold.
Anyone know anything about Missouri? ;)
{To clarify… this is not a reference of any kind to recent troubles in MO. We really and truly are planning a trip there to see some (we hope) beautiful fall colors!}

Now, it's back to grind of daily life. Some of the online classes the oldest two are signed up for start next week but The Professor's Latin 3 class has a translation due before the first class begins. (High school is hard!) I think we will be easing into the school year a little at a time instead of just jumping right in. Right before this picture was taken, The Professor walked through the kitchen, smiled and sighed saying, "It's good to be doing Latin homework again!" He's such a cute little classics nerd!

 On the feast of the Assumption, we attended the Ordination Mass of this young man, the newly minted Fr. Justin, O. Cist.. He was beaming!
We couldn't hang around for his reception so we waited to give him a gift at his first Mass.
Cupcake was so excited to give him a present. She insisted that she had to give it to him and watch him open it. I think she thought it was his birthday. It was so sweet and beautiful that even the professional photographer who was there came to take pictures of the scene. So I was only hugely slightly mortified when she asked why we gave Fr. Justin a necklace. It was a rosary. 


And speaking of rosaries… I was playing around with taking pictures "off auto" on my big camera the other day and thought this one turned out pretty good. This is a quote that I love (from the movie Shadowlands) that I had asked Kendra to go all "Picmonkey Crazy" on but knowing that she's got lots of little ones, I decided to play around and see what I could do with it. Of course, Kendra came through and even posted hers today. (I never should have doubted.) Thank you, Miss Kendra! Her printable prayers are really just amazing… all free and beautiful too. 

Whether it's the first of your school year or the last of your summer, have a great weekend!