Monday, February 25, 2013

This Week's Goals

Progress toward goals? Let us see...

Knit on 12 Days of Christmas project. {Nope. Made arm warmers/gauntlets for my sister's birthday instead.}

Finish Johanna's arm covers, then get back on track with knitting my other projects.

Work more on Raising Happiness ideas.
Continue to provide kids with upbeat, structured, scheduled educational activities.

Cherish Erik. :)
Play one solo game of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game to get up to speed in case he wants to play it again. {He got back into town earlier than I thought he would. :) So I barely had time to play a solo game. We played a game together instead. Maybe another tonight.}

Run 8.5 miles this week.

Track my savings with spreadsheet.
Make appointment to talk to foundation. {I thought Erik had done this and now I can't remember. May have to do this one still.}

And for next week...

Continue to vet books for my personal study project.
Work on knitting arm warmers for myself for the 5K.
Get ready for 5K trip! Xander is running 1K and I am running 5K. Thanks to Erik's work travel, we can stay at a hotel for free the night before and do some sightseeing in the area. Vacation!!
Examine finances and budget limits on a regular basis.
Run 5K.
Continue structured, upbeat educational activities for both kids.
Write and upload articles for The Homemaking Cottage.
Feed our new butterflies properly and release them outside if the temperature warms up.
Set up our guinea pig's new larger cage area, which should arrive in a couple days.

Enchanted Rock

Yesterday, we took the family on a hike. An upward hike of 0.6 miles. It was all Erik's idea and he executed it beautifully, preparing and packing and getting the kids ready while I went for a run and got myself ready. Xander, Erik, and I climbed up and down the whole way. Nick was carried about a third of the way, really because of Erik's and my preference. We didn't want him trying the steep descent on his own.

It was steep!

It was windy!

 Of course, after the adventure, we went out for frozen yogurt with toppings. Yum! Erik is officially our Outing Planner.

Fun With Sandy

enjoying an apple and the kids' commotion

army of Duplos for Sandy - they will be thoroughly disinfected after this
Sandy needs a bigger cage, I think. We have been often letting him out to play in our newspaper- and toy- and food-covered wading pool to make up for his starter cage. He really likes to be with us and cuddle now that he is older and tamer.

The Duplo creations are his army, I am informed.

So...I think I've figured out a way for us to afford a nice big clean soft fun cage for him by economizing on other things. He should have a bigger environment within a few days!

We love our guinea pig. Although I don't look forward to the cleaning-up-after-him part, he is a perfect compromise for us between a large, furry (expensive) family pet and a hairless, not as cuddly (cheap) pet. Xander is slowly becoming responsible for taking care of more aspects of this guy's life. They love each other.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What's In Their Book Boxes?

Above you see Nick's book box. (He is 3 years 7 months old.)

As of today, his book box - which we use for Sustained Silent Reading time and many other freely chosen times during the day - contains:

6 years 9 months old

As of today, Xander's book box contains:

Monday, February 18, 2013

This Week's Goals

I've skipped a week posting goals. Two weeks ago, these were my goals:

Valentine's Party:
Buy red streamers for the doors. {Didn't have to! Grandma sent me some of her decorations, including streamers.}
Buy spiced rum for addition to cider (for those who want it).
Finish cleaning for the party. {Erik helped with this so much.}
Finish cooking for the party.
Finish knitting for the party. {Didn't get them done in time. Used a paper craft to fill out the treat bags.}
Finish decorating for the party.
Host the party! (This also fits in the Social and Marriage categories; I think Erik and I are a good example of opposites attract, and this works in our favor hosting parties.)

Send out an invite to kids to come to our play group next Sunday.
Continue to help the boys form their habits of Morning Cards and clearing and wiping their places after eating.
Track kids' eating/sleeping/activity on log and track educational activities for both.

Knit along with The Knit Stitch by doing 13 rows on the Maximum Scarf.

Run 8 miles this week.

Track my savings with spreadsheet.

Not too shabby! We had fun with our friends during the party. For this week, my goals are:

Knit on 12 Days of Christmas project.

Finish Johanna's arm covers, then get back on track with knitting my other projects.

Work more on Raising Happiness ideas.
Continue to provide kids with upbeat, structured, scheduled educational activities.

Cherish Erik. :)
Play one solo game of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game to get up to speed in case he wants to play it again.

Run 8.5 miles this week.

Track my savings with spreadsheet.
Make appointment to talk to foundation.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Search for the Cheapest Meal Ever

Okay, so I blew our frugal grocery budget this month. We hosted a party, among other things, and bought more than usual for that week.

I wasn't too worried about spending extra. I figured we'd have a lean week the week after and eat from our pantry after that. February's a short month, so yay! I've been grabbing deals here and there and we do have several items in our pantry that will help.

I've also been freezing leftover or extra dishes.

But with all that, I still found myself Googling "cheapest meal ever" for our menu planning this week. :)

As usual, most of the ideas I found through that search were not cheaper than meals I've made many times over the years. I did, however, come up with enough options to plan the week's meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert - for what I believe will be $19 or $20 at the grocery store. (I like to make sure there is homemade dessert available most days in a lean week because it can be nicely filling.)

This is not going to be a super healthy menu! On the bright side, it contains more vegetarian meals than normal because meat can add up. In the menu plan below, I'll underline the things I have to buy because they're not in our pantry or freezer at the moment.

B: Toaster Strudels
L: Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwiches and Ants On a Log
D: Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Bake with Green Beans
De: Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (WWPBOCC) Cookies {I LOVE this recipe from Money Saving Mom!}

B: Banana Bread with Cream Cheese and Jam
L: Leftovers, Ants On a Log
D: Simple Pita Pizzas and Quick & Easy Breadsticks {been using this recipe for years}
De: WWPBOCC Cookies

B: Cereal
L: Sandwiches, Peanuts and Raisins
D: Simple Spaghetti and Salad with Ranch Dressing
De: Toasted Tortillas with Hazelnut Spread

B: Swedish Pancakes with Syrup
L: Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwiches
D: Creamy Potluck Potatoes with Green Beans
De: WWPBOCC Cookies if there are any left :)

B: Hot Cocoa and Cereal
L: Ants On a Log, Sandwiches
D: Light and Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes, Eggs

B: Peanut Butter and Honey Toast
L: Leftovers
D: Vegetarian Spanish Rice with four $1 hamburgers {I can subsist on vegetarian rice dishes, but it seems the rest of my family cannot} {tip: try adding sliced carrots or sunflower seeds into rice when making a variation of Spanish Rice - nice flavor and health factor}
De: if absolutely necessary, we have some candy left over

B: Cereal and Canned Fruit
L: Sandwiches and Pretzels and Banana Bread
D: Veggie Cheese Soup with Biscuits and Jam/Honey {normally we would have a lot of the ingredients for this in our freezer or refrigerator, but this week I'll need to buy onion, celery, 2 small red potatoes, California frozen veggies, 1/2 cup ham, 8 oz. Velveeta (maybe)}
De: none; what are we, kings and queens? ;)

Snacks will be air-popped popcorn, sandwiches or leftover bread, and any fruit that is left.

Anyone have other good ideas for cheapo meals? Share!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Word Search

Found a Valentine's Day themed word search for our first grader this morning, in time for breakfast warm-up. allows you to customize the word search to be big or small, printable or on the computer.

I also printed an A word search and tracing page for our preschooler to do at the same time if he wants to.

I'm just going to lay the sheets down in front of their places at the table with a few Valentine-y M&Ms on top.

(For the week or so before Valentine's Day, I usually put out their little Valentine mail boxes every morning with breakfast. They get a small note or valentine and a small treat each day leading up to V-Day. On Valentine's Day itself, they get a bunch of stuff in there. :))

Reading / Daily Five / SSR

My kids are readers. They have liked books since they were toddlers. We give them chances to read every single day, and they see both me and my husband reading often. (I don't know if I can go through a day without reading some of a book.)

As a normal daily routine, we have SSR (or Sustained Silent Reading, a la Jim Trelease). The kids and I each choose a book or three and sit near each other but preferably not on the same piece of furniture. Believe it or not, we have arguments over who sits where and who is to blame for another person not being able to "hear" himself read. However, Nick is getting tons better at reading without speaking out loudly, so maybe those arguments are nearly over. Xander is also maturing day by day as well as improving his reading-to-himself skills.

For school, I structured this time even more. We have a bean bag in the corner of the living room, up against two windows. Great reading light!

Every other day, each boy gets a turn reading on the bean bag. I made up a rhyme to announce the start of SSR to the boy whose turn it is to sit there: "If you were a dog, your tail would wag/ Because it's time to read on the bean bag!" I hand him our coonskin cap which can also work very well for a tail. He heads over to the corner to cozy up with his book box.

(I fill each of their book boxes with books, mostly readers, that are just below, just on, and just above their reading levels. They end up putting their own choices in there, too.)

The other boy takes his book box wherever he wants, like the couch or the floor, and reads, too. I usually read one of my books at this time.

After about fifteen minutes, one or two of us, at least, reads to another person. I want to hear Xander read aloud every once in a while, so he may read to Nick or me. Or I may use this time to read aloud to Xander or Nick a book that I got specially for one of them from the library. Sometimes Nick wants to "read" to me, and I encourage this.

(Exciting side note: I coached Nick through reading the word "Mat" today in a Bob book! I'm not sure if he exactly understands the process, but he did tell me all the right sounds and I helped him blend them together. I told him he was reading!)

After another ten to fifteen minutes, I might have one or both of the boys do an Eat Your Words or other writing activity.

After this, I give Xander a chance to practice his instrument, and then I read aloud to him from an official school book (from our curriculum).

In doing all this, I have been hugely influenced by the blog First Grade Wow. Check it out; she freely gives awesome ideas and printables.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Preschool Summary

Nick's class had a Valentine's party today. It was so fun! The kids actually milled around handing out each of their valentines to the other kids. It should have been chaos and disaster, but it worked out fine. They are growing up (sniff, sniff).

Here is a summary of what's going on with Nick's preschool subjects and activities right now.

The boys both love reading. Nick will choose to sit and read books almost as often as he chooses to play with any toy. He loves to make up his own reading of the books. I have to be crafty to get him to listen to me read aloud. Today I had him sound out the word "Mat" in a Bob book. He knew all the right sounds but I showed him how to blend the sounds. It will be exciting to see where he takes this sounding-out reading.

Both boys also love free drawing. I like how often Nick draws and has me help him write. Practice, practice, practice! Nick is very proud of his drawings. He sometimes asks me to post them on the refrigerator when he's done. They are all pictures of something. Storm troopers, clones, caterpillars, etc.

I bought each of them a medium-sized drawing pad so they could have a larger size of paper to draw on any time they want, and the drawings can all be contained in one place. They have easy access to markers, chalk, crayons, and modeling clay at all times.

What Your Preschooler Needs to Know:
I bought the What Your Preschooler Needs to Know book and the corresponding Activity Book 1 for Nick. We've had them for six months or so, but he just didn't seem ready for the activities at first. I would do them with him, but he would want to do something else with the page. Sometimes he had irrational (from my perspective) fears or dislikes of certain pages.

The Activity Book is really great, though, in my opinion. Once a month or so, I've been reading nursery rhymes to him from the reading book and trying a page from the activity book. The goal is to do the activities more often now that he is older, working up to one per week day eventually.

Art Appreciation:
I made Nick a Book of Masterpieces just like Xander's. Once or twice a month, I introduce another painting and its painter. After we look at it and talk about it, I put a postcard of it into their Books of Masterpieces and label it. We haven't done a whole lot more detail than that. Someday, I would like to sit down with just Nick and his Book of Masterpieces to see what he has to say about them.

Xander was a little bit resistant to this part of our curriculum, so I've backed off for now. I let him choose the next artist from the ones who had books of postcards available. He chose Georgia O'Keeffe. I posted a few of the postcards on our school book case where they can see them on a daily basis. And that's it.

Nick has an ear for music and sounds. They always grab his attention. He has been a relatively good hummer and singer since babyhood. I love to provide fun new songs for him to incorporate in his memory. Right now, one of his favorites is "Life's a Happy Song" from The Muppets.

I don't have him play on instruments very often right now, just because I don't think of it. But he gets to listen to Xander on the recorder and Erik on the guitar and harmonica. Both of those guys have allowed Nick to try out their instruments in the recent past.

The biggest thing Nick needed to work on when we started preschool was group time. He needed to get over shyness talking to a big group, learn to take turns, and understand how to answer a specific question by placing his name tag under a certain category on the pocket chart. As of today, he can do each of those things with hardly any problems. He does need to work on sharing when another child comes up instead of giving up the activity, throwing up his hands, and crying because now the other child is playing with it.

We wrote down goals at different points of the year so far:

1. Give him practice in a structured group environment. {Check.}

2. Have a time that is just focused on Nick. {Check. Xander plays in the play room with other siblings during our preschool time.}

3. Learn sounds of the letters of the alphabet. {Check.}

4. Practice scissoring skills. {We've gotten in some practice, but not a whole lot. We have worked on various squeezing tools in the last few weeks.}

Three Years Seven Months

Nick is three years and seven months old. In the last month, I've seen that rapid development that one sees in a three-going-on-four-year-old. Actually, I often wonder if this is just a growth of communication ability, because Nick will talk to me about things we discussed several months ago.

37" (3 feet 1 inch)

(Now that I type this, I can tell that he has grown two inches in the last few weeks. I measured him this morning at preschool and he was 39 inches. Oh yeah, and the pants I put on him today were short and tight.)

30 lbs.

He's up at 7:00 or 7:30, with bouts of waking at 6 or earlier. If we hear him get up early, we put him back in bed for another hour or so. If we don't, we find him on the couch when we get up. He usually falls back asleep either way.

He naps from about 2:00 to about 4:00. Naps are very flexible these days, but he does fall asleep for nap nearly every day.

He is in bed for the night between 8 and 8:30.

I have no complaints about this!

He is still eating a lot, like every hour if allowed. For breakfast, he has (for example) a peanut butter honey sandwich, some cereal, and two pieces of fruit. Then he has a morning snack before lunch.

He doesn't leave much on his plate, so when he has eaten everything, we often allow another snack. It's nice that he loves fruit. Most of his snacks are an apple, an orange, or a banana.

Main Interests:
Avengers figures, wooden blocks, Duplo blocks, books, Imaginext castle, eating, music.

Favorite Books:
Myths & Legends, Smithsonian Oceanic Institute collection, Spiderman comics for kids.

Strangers understand him completely now. He expresses himself in comprehensible, complete sentences and conversations. He can explain what he is feeling or doing or why he is upset.

Rough Schedule:
7:00 breakfast
7:30 Morning Cards to get ready for the day
8:00 announcements, pledges, calendar, and school warm-up (and second breakfast for him as often as not)
8:50 make sure Morning Cards are done, chores - or preschool on Mondays
9:10 break, music or preschool
9:30 learning activities or preschool
10:00 independent playtime or preschool or science playgroup on Fridays
11:00 free drawing or library story time on Wednesdays
11:30 possibly a fun school activity or game
12:00 lunch and clean-up
12:30 outside playtime
1:00 SSR and reading and writing activities
2:00 nap
4:00 TV time or free play, snack
5:00 a couple of pre-dinner chores
6:00 family dinner
6:30 family activities or sibling playtime
7:00 start getting ready for bed
8:00 bedtime

Some days this schedule is strictly adhered to, but if Nick doesn't want to do any of the learning activities, he doesn't have to. He is allowed to watch four TV shows, one movie, and two computer sessions per week at times when he's not supposed to be doing something else. (PBS, nature specials, Muppets movies, Star Wars stuff...) Note that that's per WEEK, not per day. Unless I'm sick. ;)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Valentine Party

Today we had a party. This was one of the biggest parties I have ever hosted: 14 children and 10 adults.

On Thursday, the kids and I painted the sign you see above. I was inspired by this post at Modern Parents Messy Kids. The kids loooooooooved making it, because I am not a mom who lets them pull out the paint just any old time. I like the color scheme. The whole project was really fun, and it ended up being our biggest decoration for the party. You're looking at about six feet of painting there.

The party was so fun, at least for us. I had a lot more ideas than time, so Erik jumped in to make a music playlist, quick-clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, make a Temporarily Off Limits sign for one of our son's doors (the bedroom with the bunk beds, guinea pig, and butterfly larvae, of course), keep the kids busy without making a mess, pick up last-minute construction paper, and cook the cheeseburger sliders.

Meanwhile, I did the fun but slow stuff like baking 68 heart-shaped cookies for decorating, cooking two batches of caramel popcorn, making up treat bags, going on last-minute shopping trips, putting together a Valentine sensory table, making heart-shaped pb&j tortillas, vacuuming, dusting, gathering valentine-making materials, writing secret messages on white hearts, and whipping up hot cider/wassail.

We had a nice spread, thanks to people bringing over wine, juice boxes, lemonade, a fruit platter, Lil' Smokies-in-a-blanket with veggies, and more.

It seemed like all the boys wore red shirts. Very cute.

The kids who painted over the white hearts to reveal a secret message made really beautiful color combinations. I wish I had taken pictures of them, but it was a bit busy over here.

We got a nice "hidden" thank you note before one of the boys left. And he was here without his parents, so it was all his idea!

The sliders were quickly eaten up.

After people went home, Xander gave me a hug and said thank you for a great party. Nick said, "I love you." I said, "I love you too!" He said, "I love you for the party."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

2013 Goals: January Update

I'm taking a(nother) page from Money Saving Mom's book and revisiting my annual goals each month to survey my progress or lack thereof.

Here are my goals for this year with comments about my progress in January.

Follow along with Rudolph Day tasks each month to get Christmas tasks accomplished. {Did this in January.}
Save up money throughout the year to fund Christmas gifts.
Save up money throughout the year for traveling to Chicago for Christmas.
Knit 12 Days of Christmas figures. {Did a little bit of this.}

Knit 20-30 striped dish cloths for gift packs. {Ha ha, I've done one.}
Knit as far as I can through The Knit Stitch. {I'm pretty much on pace for this project.}

Work on Raising Happiness concepts: Put on my oxygen mask first, teach mindfulness, use turtle steps to reach a big goal, make a community for my children, teach emotional intelligence, improve my marriage to improve my parenting. {I'm definitely working bit by bit on these.}
Try not to move away from this area. {So far, so good.}
Continue to slowly train children in life skills a la The Parenting Breakthrough. {Working on these on a daily basis.}
Continue to homeschool. {Yep.}
Start a playgroup for Xander once a week. {Yes, but haven't sent out our first invite yet.}

Pay off at least one debt. {We've made a couple of extra payments so far.}
Follow The Total Money Makeover and Money Saving Mom's Budget advice. {Yep.}

Use Gottman's five hours a week plan to become closer: 5 minutes in the morning finding out what my husband has planned for the day, 5 minutes a day cuddling or giving friendly touches, 15 minutes or so at the end of his work day decompressing and listening to each other (couch time!), and 2 hours once a week spending quality date time. {Really trying to do this each day/week.}
Go outside the house on a date once a month. {Not last month.}

Run almost every day. If I can't, use the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred video. {On track.}
Try to do additional exercise, like strength training, Pilates, or just stretching every day.
Take care of my hygiene - don't leave myself for last. {Doing well on this.}
Give some type of service each Sunday. {Done a little bit of this.}
Attend church.

Stay fully on top of laundry, meals, and training/being there for the kids, every day. {Done pretty well on this.}
Stick to routines that keep our floors reasonably clean, surfaces uncluttered, objects dusted, sheets changed, spills cleaned up, rooms tidied, and cars cleaned. {So-so.}
Try to keep cleaning tasks to less than two hours per day.

This Week's Runs

Okay, writing that title, as the immature person I can be, I had to giggle. No, this is not a report on any kind of digestive activity. (Was it just me whose mind went that way?)

Last Sunday was that humongous insane 30K race that I ran/walked with my friends (Erica and Eileen). That doesn't fall into the week that I am reporting on, but it sure affected it.

My first inclination was to wait a whole 4 to 5 days before running again, but when the two Es, as I like to think of them in my head, invited me to run Wednesday evening, I said yes. I was getting antsy. I think my body sort of got used to that moving-for-hours-at-a-time thing. We ran/walked about 3 miles.

Pathetically, my body really felt that 3 miles and I took another three days off.

On Sunday, I got antsy again and jogged for almost 3 miles.

This week, I am scheduled to run 8 miles (not counting any walking that I do). I have already done 2.76 of them. :)

This Week's Goals

Last week a big week for me, internally! I am working on some big new things and I think everything is falling into place. I had to expend a lot of mental energy adapting routines, but I can already see the time I will be saving in the future. I'll write about my latest grocery and menu planning project sometime soon - it is working so much better than I even imagined.

Oh, and the family's health is good. After three doctor's visits last week and a trip to urgent care, we are all great. Nick's forehead and black eye are healing very quickly; the boys' teeth have been cleaned; Xander's foot problem has been taken care of; Nick's stitches were removed; and I learned that brand-name Allegra is the answer to my cedar fever here in Texas - NOT the generic version of the same drug. Very good to know. Also, Erik had the mother of all painful cricks in the neck but that has resolved as well.

Last week's goals were:

Valentine's Party:
Knit five or six teeny Valentine teddy bears.
Try the sliders recipe ahead of time.

Listen to Xander some more about his feelings about school and challenging tasks.
Read aloud at most breakfasts and lunches from our book lists.

Have more than one planned episode of quality time with Erik.
Get up each morning with Erik for our fitness plans.

Continue to work hard at my household tasks and goals in a systematic manner.
Do not denigrate myself to anyone for a week. :)

And here are this week's goals:

Valentine's Party:
Buy red streamers for the doors.
Buy spiced rum for addition to cider (for those who want it).
Finish cleaning for the party.
Finish cooking for the party.
Finish knitting for the party.
Finish decorating for the party.
Host the party! (This also fits in the Social and Marriage categories; I think Erik and I are a good example of opposites attract, and this works in our favor hosting parties.)

Send out an invite to kids to come to our play group next Sunday.
Continue to help the boys form their habits of Morning Cards and clearing and wiping their places after eating.
Track kids' eating/sleeping/activity on log and track educational activities for both.

Knit along with The Knit Stitch by doing 13 rows on the Maximum Scarf.

Run 8 miles this week.

Track my savings with spreadsheet.