autumn days

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Marshmallow Peep Science

When participating in the best Easter egg hunt ever, we ended up with many packages with marshmallow peeps.  I'm not a fan of eating them, nor of feeding them to my children, so we turned them into an engaging science experiment.  For my treats I mostly choose chocolate.  Steve Spangler's Sick Science videos have us hooked on thinking about the science all around us.  (Our favorite is the lightsaber project.)  We got excited about possible peep experiments by watching a few videos (one, two, three).  We filled small jars with liquids of our choice, made predictions for each jar, added peeps, and watched as they transformed.  My favorite was the hot water jar, as the peep completely disappeared.  We didn't like the rubbing alcohol jar as much, as the smell was so intense.  We talked about why different chemicals changed the peeps and how our predictions were similar to and different from the outcomes.  Here are some of our favorite photographs of our time as peepologists.

Preparing experiments

The hot water peep

Borax in hot water

Measuring and microwaving

Tasting a wee bit with experiments in the background

Hannah's personal experiment

Microwaving at 150 seconds

Microwaving at 180 seconds

Microwaving at 210 seconds, nearing burned and crispy completion

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Growing in the Garden

Last summer as we were soon expecting our third child, I got out to garden and rest and cherish the long days with my two beautiful children.  This time together was such a gift.  Even now, nine months later, I remember these long warm days as we played and grew together.  I love each season for what it brings.  Today's hail and thunder will soon make way for warm blue skies.  My children will move from collecting hail in winter hats (as they are at this moment, with just a week remaining of spring) into the snow cones and swimsuits of summer.  Each day is such a gift.  The present moment is all we ever have.  I'm thankful for this one.

Once again using boots as buckets

My view from the grassy shade

Planting pumpkins in a snake hole

Harvesting parsnips from his own garden

Drawing on a pumpkin from her garden

More garden splendors

Beetles on the calendula seeds

Preparing for an exciting reading session with favorite books:
The Girl's/Boy's Book of Adventure

The Very First Time with Baby

This is a bit overdue, welcoming our wee Charlotte into our family.  We're now eight months into our grand party of five.  As our wee third babe stands in the window with her siblings to watch her first wild spring hail, my hands are finally free to share the first photos she had taken with her big sister and brother.  Having a third child sometimes feels like having a first child all over again, adding a whole new dimension to this wild and awesome ride with young children.  Parenting is such a responsibility, such a joy, such a gift.  We give great thanks for these little ones joining our family.

A big brother is born.

The gift of sisters

Liam's book for his baby Charlotte

Our Mighty Favorite Book Lists

Our family has a couple addictions: flavorful food and good books.  We are completely hooked on our weekly library visits.  We find wonderful books through many book lists, such as those provided by the library, Newbery Award Winners, Caldecott Award Winners, and A Mighty Girl lists.  My favorites have been books of kindness and non-fiction stories of strong girls and boys.  Just going through the websites we love for book lists, I've found more.  I've even found books to help us celebrate Father's Day this weekend!  We just can't get enough.

Books on kindness

More of our favorites

Our family quote on my son's plate:
"Plant a kiss, endless bliss, kiss my son every day."

Playing with Childhood Memories

There are many zany activities I enjoyed as a child.  I spent weeks of my childhood with games picked up at yard sales and books found at the library.  Many hours were spent playing with an Etch A Sketch, finger print doodling with Ed Emberly's books, assembling tinker toys and Legos, crossing the creek on a log, climbing trees, building forts, laying in the meadow of tall grass, catching crawdads and frogs and crickets and snakes, trying to keep them as pets, and climbing door frames.  I cherish watching my children laugh as they partake in these very same adventures.  My children are actually playing with my same childhood Etch A Sketch and Legos and tinker toys.  We still get our doodling books from the library.

What is my point?  My point is this moment.  Each moment of raising these awesome children is an adventure.  They help me to grow and stretch and learn and to embrace my own playfulness.  I am cherishing these little people in this moment.  Even the adventures of excavating dirty socks from the floor.  Again.  I smile to myself as I remember that smelly adventure from my childhood too.

Door frames, kitty cats, and socks on the floor

Melted Crayon Bliss

We just can't seem to get enough of melting down old crayons into new shapes.  Friends gave us their old shell and animal molds and silicon muffin cups.  You can see what we've done with them.  It amazes me each time how my children experiment with mixing different colors, surprised when they create browns and blacks.  We love photographing all the colors and sharing these waxy creations with friends.

(One of our first crayon adventures is documented here.)

Cups, turtle, frog, traffic lights, and tie dye 

Shells and cups

Traveling to the End of the Oregon Trail

The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is one of our favorite Portland destinations.  This site is the actual end of the trail where travelers would spend the winter before heading north or south to claim their land.  We recently ventured there with friends with our local library's free Cultural Pass.  We adults and children learned so much about the Oregon Trail on our visit.  

Knowledgeable guides walked us through many details of the planning and execution of families' travels west.  Just as with each previous visit, our children loaded up their wagon for their travels, made butter, dipped candles, bound leather journals, watched a movie, got dressed up, played pioneer games, and filled out paperwork to claim land at the claims office.  

From our day there, one pioneer story stands out in my mind about a mother of five children who was afraid of snakes.  She unloaded everything in her covered wagon each night so she and her children could sleep off the ground.  Her husband wouldn't help her with this because he hoped she would give up on the task.  In her journal one night she wrote something like this.  "Crossed two rivers, walked 18 miles, stopped to camp, prepared supper, about 9:00 noticed children were beginning to tire, unloaded the wagon, put children to bed, then little Sarah joined our family around 10:00."  She had birthed her sixth child shortly after getting her others to sleep that night.  What an amazing adventure!  What a day!

Dipping candles

Dressing up and churning butter

Loading the family wagon

The Gift of Rebalancing with Quiet Time

I last wrote about my challenge of homeschooling and juggling the needs of three children around the clock.  Feeling so drained from meeting the endless needs of my children, we've chosen to partake in the resource of public school for our big kids next year.

In my search to fix what was broken, many friends shared with me how they use various resources.  Many families with young children employ a babysitter, a grandparent, and daily quiet times.  My partner and I are the main adults in our children's lives and may hire a babysitter once every month or two.  Grandparents are sadly a small part of our lives.  (We are joyfully adopting other grandparents for our family.)  Upon being reminded about quiet times, we started having them that same afternoon.

My children now have two hours alone in a room with the door closed.  They have a clock and activities and are quiet until the predetermined time.  At this very moment, I am in the midst of a miracle (knock on wood): my three children are all in separate rooms with the doors closed.  My window is open as thunder rolls wildly outside.  My home is otherwise oddly quiet.  What a tremendous gift.  It hasn't been this quiet in our home since long before my eight month old daughter was born.

Quiet time is a game changer.  Our baby is sleeping better in the day, leading to better rest at night as well.  Our big kids are rested and calmer and have time apart to help them appreciate being together once again.  My mind ponders idioms that feel right: "Fences make good neighbors" and "Absence make the heart grow fonder."  Also, "This too shall pass."  I give such great thanks for this one quiet moment.  May I rest and replenish enough in this moment to be more the mom I want to be for these amazing young people.  They are such a gift in my life.  Now I am rested enough to see more of the awesomeness within each child.  I love lightening, thunder, and pounding hail.  I love my children.  I love this way of refilling myself.  I love my quiet time.

Enjoying togetherness once again

Hiking Togetherness

My children and I have gotten to take several morning hikes.  Sometimes we take water bottles, notebooks, pencils, and snacks.  Other times we just wake up in the morning, grab our garbage bag, and start walking.  No need to drive or schedule or coordinate.  These hikes are teaching us how to be together in new ways: how to move, explore, investigate, learn, question, stay safe, respect personal space, and listen in rhythm with each other.  When my charming son chooses to argue with me over who knows what, I remember it is my choice to respond with short answers, breathing, silence, and singing instead of engaging in debate.  Time in nature is so healing and soothing for us.  We meet new people and dogs, identify animals, name trail segments, feed the birds, make up stories, recognize landmarks, find variations in plants and animals, identify what we can, smile, laugh, breath deeply, and exercise.  Yes, these hikes began as a way for me to exercise with three children.  And it has become so much more.  This time and this space is such a gift.

Walking and growing together

Portland Tree Lighting 2015

While I was at home with our wee new babe last December, the rest of my family had the pleasure of attending their first tree lighting in downtown Portland.  They spent some time with the big tree in Pioneer Square, hung out at the Apple store, sang with the crowd, and took in the decorations and merry making.  We are so blessed to live in an area with so many wonderful family-friendly events.  This day was a gift for me to rest with my baby while our big kids got to take in the sights and sounds of their city with their daddy.  What amazing lives we lead.  

Loving Lost Lake

For my spring birthday celebration, my family took me to Lost Lake for the third year in a row.  What a treat!  Lost Lake is much like Clear Lake, where I vacationed each summer in a rustic cabin with my parents for almost 20 years.  Now living in Portland, Lost Lake is a much closer and cost effective option for my family.  (We would have to drive 3.5 hours to get back to Clear Lake.)  There is something so peaceful about time in the forest, making time to watch the trees and birds and water.  We spent a few hours rowing on the lake (much of it in circles, thanks to everyone's turn to row), explored little alcoves on and off the lake, hiked around the whole lake, watched others fish, and relaxed.  This time together in the forest is the extent of our summer camping, as my partner isn't wild about getting dirty in nature and we still have a wee babe.  Our time at Lost Lake is such a gift, one we look forward to all year.
This five year old found his marker post.

The leader of our pack is 8.75 already.

Salmonberry blossoms are both gorgeous and delicious.

Encircling the lake together

Oh, how we love the trees.

For the Love of Peacocks & Friends

We have so fortunately befriended people who happen to be peacock farmers.  We treasure our visits out to the farm to play with the fowl as they strut their stuff and the peahens lay their eggs.  Yesterday we had a wonderful afternoon on the farm.  There was tree climbing, fruit watching, swinging, talking, driving the tractor, weed pulling, counting the eggs, and barn sweeping.  My older children identified all the garden plants and weeded all the plantain to save for an upcoming summer craft while my wee babe had a drink and nap in the sunshine.  I felt so refreshed after resting in this so-very-green setting with my bare feet on the ground for a few hours.  And we all slept so well afterward.  We can't wait to get back.  Friendships, peacocks, and time in nature are gifts we give ourselves, such blessings.  

Singing and dancing with a friend

Watching an amazing spring dance

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Home Tinkerings & Stunts

We find such joy in creatively playing and spontaneously crafting at home.  No new supplies needed.  What a gift to have this time together.

"Why wouldn't we balance spoons on our noses?  Let's talk about concave and convex images!"

Quilt burrito time

Is it a sushi roll or a snail shell?

Homemade bow and arrow

Climbing over cats

Climbing over cats and boys

Constructing airplanes and drawing unicorns

Journeying from Homeschool into Public School

I've been homeschooling my children since leaving my public teaching position when my oldest child was 10 months old.  This constant togetherness and synchronicity is our life.  My first child had three child-centered classes each week from that time to now.  Our second child had about one class a week from age one to four before joining his sister for most of her activities at age five.  Our third child joined us eight months ago.  She has not attended any baby activities, very unlike her sister and brother.

Life as an "attached parent" is intense.  The co-sleeping and homeschooling without any childcare, other than my working-seven-days-a-week partner, is consuming.  Throw in daily meals, driving with a screaming-while-detesting-car-time baby, home tasks, the endless academics, my partner's expectations that our children be far above average in every way possible, a son who loves to argue, and life with my three beautiful children is slowly becoming overwhelming.  My partner supports us in infinite ways, such as running errands with and without our older children, doing the grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, home maintenance, transportation to some activities, and being with three children while I have a weekly bath.

When I venture out into the world with my wee babe, leaving the two older children with their dad, it is to have adult connection with my supportive, female friends.  With them, I feel validated, understood, cherished.  Coming down from the high of connective friend time back into my privileged life, I have withdrawals that include my biased view of how consuming my "attached parenting" lifestyle is, how much of my time and energy I give to others, my unmet needs for solitude and exercise.  After adult time, I see my need for exercise without the usual hiking while carrying a baby and negotiating with my strong-willed son.  (Why do we argue as we hike through the forest?)  I see that my times alone are my weekly bath and taken in the middle of the night in the dark on the bathroom floor four feet from my sleeping baby.  Not only am I sleep-deprived, I have busy-brain-insomnia tonight as I write.  When I mention as gently as I can to my partner my feelings of being out of balance and desiring more time alone to exercise and think, he points out the sacrifices he makes to be home with us every evening, how he prioritizes gym time over social time, how he takes care of the house, how my saying I need more time alone feels to him like a slap in the face that he's not supporting me in all the right ways, how this is the phase of our lives for sacrificing for our children, how our lives are so amazing there's no valid reason to complain.  This conversation between us has gone in circles and repeated itself a hundred times.  I hear his words and have nothing to say.  He's right.  He supports us in so many ways.  Yet, even reflecting on the blessings of my amazing life, I sometimes feel like I am drowning in the needs of others.

Something has to give.

I chose to homeschool my children eight years ago because it felt like the right way to support the children I adore.  Time caring for my children was and is very rewarding.  With my previous experience teaching in public schools, I knew what the public system looked like from the inside.  I knew I could improve upon that through alternative education.  And I did.  I call my partner the Tiger Dad because of his high academic standards for his children.  He says he wants his children, now ages five and eight, to be two years ahead of their grade academically.  He says he isn't the one who chose to homeschool, so he shouldn't be the one to do the teaching, nor is he equipped to teach.  (We all enjoy his spontaneous lectures and quizzes on every subject.)  So it falls upon me to meet and balance high academic standards with the developmental needs of my young children.  For me, this reflects the public school setting where there is a disconnect between expectations and the developmental needs and abilities of children.  Homeschooling with three busy children feels very different than it did when I began with a toddler eight years ago.

In the search for balance between academic excellence and the feeding the delicious joy within my children, we have found awesome programs to support our needs: classes and co-ops that teach, inspire, and delight.  My son has always efficiently and easily pushed my buttons.  He has great knowledge and interest in hitting me where it hurts.  His dad taught him the lyrics to Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven.  For me, this is a sad song written by a father about his son falling out of a window to his death.  I explained to my son why I feel sad when I hear this song.  I asked him to please stop singing it around me.  In response, he sang the song over and over on a loop next to me for a solid half hour.  He stopped after I had sufficiently ignored the words.  His dad found this funny.  "The boy has good taste in music!  That's a good song."  So my son and I get into some hot spots in our long days together.  Those spots are getting too hot for me and I am beginning to crack under the pressure.

What about public school?  If my son attends public school for a year, we will have a bit of time apart, a different perspective on our relationship, and a little space in which to grow fonder of time with one another.  It's a relief to think about public schooling as an option.  I imagine I will have exercise and fresh air while walking through the local park to school each day to drop off and pick up my inquisitive son.  In our free time, we can play together in the natural setting of the park in all seasons.  He will learn to make friends, negotiate, and solve problems without a parent right next to him.  He will build upon his existing skills of getting along in a group, socializing, and staying on task.  He will befriend local kids his age.  When presented with these ideas, he's thrilled to try out our public school, to make new friends, to have lunch and recess with so many other children, to have P.E. and music.  Kindergarten is a great time to take public education for a spin.

If my son is sold on attending public school for a year, my daughter flatly says no.  She sits quietly and cries when we want to discuss it.  Now, if she continues on with her homeschooling activities and her brother has his own scheduling needs of getting to and from school, our wee third babe gets even less of my time and attention.  I'd be even more frazzled than when homeschooling with three children.  My partner and I are discussing with our oldest daughter the many benefits for our whole family by trying public school for one year.  Here are some of the perks.  Baby will get to attend library story times and a baby-centered class like her sister and brother did.  She will get the quiet naps she needs.  She will learn to nap off my body (not in a carrier nor by breastfeeding) and then I will get personal time.  I will get to go shopping with only one child.  We will save money by investing in free education instead of super-awesome-yet-definitely-not-free private programs.  Extra funds could be used for a taekwondo class to increase focus, determination, and precision.  My older children will learn to make friends, solve problems, meet new challenges, be held accountable to other adults for their choices, and learn a new system with same-age peers without a parent nearby.  They will get to try new and challenging tasks and get through with grace and confidence.  They will see how a simpler routine will help their parents be more peaceful.  I feel relief and joy just thinking about the possibilities.

At this moment, my oldest daughter has no interest in public schooling for a year.  She wants to stick with our existing academic and social communities.  I don't blame her.  We will be stepping away from an amazing bounty of resources for one year in public school.  In my ideal world, this whole homeschoolers-spending-a-year-in-public-education scenario would all work out with grace and joy, leading to more peace, balance, and growth.  I continue to make my lists, to find the silver lining in journeying into a year of public education, to sell my daughter on the possibilities.  An experiment with my family.  My family continues to connect, learn, play, and create our plan together.  What a gift to have the choice of how to learn and grow, how to be apart and together.  What a journey we share.

Time to play in the park