April 24, 2014

Accompany Me While I Accompany

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Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono
Sometimes I like to take an inventory of the real, marketable skills I have in life. I've perfected the "Mom Glare," so I could always get an acting job requiring just that. I can take ground meat and turn it into one of three things: tacos, burgers, meatloaf. So "chef at a roadside restaurant" is a possibility. On my better days, I can sharpen pencils down to a nub without going off on a tirade about cheap pencils and stupid sharpeners and if "self-control" isn't a marketable skill well then I don't know what is.

I can also accompany people on the piano. I know, right? That keeps the food on the table! Back in college, during the NINETEEN-NINETIES, I worked as a piano accompanist in the music department. I earned minimum wage by sitting through agonizing hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho voice lessons and tinkling the ivories as needed. In the hierarchy of college jobs, it really wasn't half-bad. I wasn't flipping burgers or sharpening pencils, if you know what I mean.

Now that my kids are old enough to not suck every ounce of energy from my world, I have a little time to revisit this aforementioned skill. During a conversation with my boys' band director, I volunteered to accompany any kids who might need such a thing during the school year. As it so happened, there was a need for an accompanist at the annual solo and ensemble festival (not "contest!" noooooot a "contest!"), and I was asked to help out. Well, shiver me timbers, I was delighted to help out. Piano accompanying is not just one of those things I can do, but one thing I actually enjoy doing. Like a lot a lot. It has all the joy of playing and performing, without the droves of people staring me down. Plus, I tend to enjoy music much more when others are playing along. 

It was the middle schoolers I helped out, including my sixth-grade son. Have you met middle-schoolers? They are a TRIP! They're this big bag of over-confidence meets under-confidence meets outbursts of weird and that is AWESOME. Of course, I'm just a ball of over-confident weirdness myself, so bless their hearts for having me along for the ride. It was a very satisfying item to mark off of my list, and I look forward to more of this "work" in the future.

PS: For the musicians in the crowd, I used SoundCloud to provide demo tracks for my soloists to practice along with. You can listen to a couple of them if you are super-duper bored! I had to create a (free) account to upload the files, but that was not necessary in order for the students to have access to the tracks. Pretty nifty! (And all credit goes to my techie hubs and techie tween for making this part of the adventure happen.)

April 19, 2014

Books I'm Hogging From The Library: The April 19, 2014 Edition

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Oh, the library has been so good to me lately. Long live the printed word!

Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus "Notch" Persson and the Game that Changed Everything  ::  I read this cover to cover. How many "mom points" you think that earns me? A gazillion?! Both my boys read the book as well, so it made for a great conversation starter about programming, games, and business. I marvel every day at how the big names in gaming are all, shall we say, at least a decade or two younger than me. Yowzers! And the amount of pure learning my boys have gotten out of this game would shock most adults. To quote the book, "Children can only learn when their brains are active, such as when they are actively discussing a subject or when they are totally attentive, like they are when trying to succeed in a game."

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  ::  This book reiterated much of what I learned as a psych major in college: there's intrinsic motivation (which comes from within the person) and extrinsic motivation (which comes from outside of the person, example--rewards or punishments). So the subject was not a revolutionary one for me, but it is always, always good to brush up on what truly drives people to live well, to learn well, to work well. Every day as a parent and teacher I am faced with the challenge of how to motivate myself and those around me. Don't want to read the book? Then there's a short TED talk you can watch from the author instead. (Did I motivate you?!)

You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About  ::  Oh, Dave Barry. I read his humor column for many years and thought he was great. He still is. This book is a collection of funny stories on a variety of topics--the first chapter is the only one related to daughters and dating. I read this in a quick couple of hours and was so glad I did. I can always use more funny stuff in my life.

Day Trips® from Portland, Oregon: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler  ::  This time of year I get a serious case of Ants In My Pants. The sun comes out every now and again and I feel the need to GET OUT O' DODGE. To get in the van and GO. And just when I think that I have seen every bit of Oregon there is to see, I pick up a book like this and realize that I've barely even started. I might make up a little list of places to go, things to see, cuz you all know how I love a good list.

Sally's Baking Addiction: Irresistible Cookies, Cupcakes, and Desserts for Your Sweet-Tooth Fix  ::  I've been following Sally on Instagram for a while, which is a real treat for the eyes. I have to enjoy most sweets via pictures only these days, thanks to Old Age and a Pre-menopausal Body. But where was I. Oh yes. This cookbook. It is filled with the types of cookies and cakes that I would actually make--ones that taste great but don't require a bunch of fuss. If you like to subscribe to baking sites, Sally's is a good one to follow.

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April 13, 2014

We Googled It: The April 13, 2014 Edition

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I figure by sharing these posts, the government won't have to go snooping around in my web browsing history. So HERE YOU GO, LOOKERS. Make of this what you will!

Love him and hug him and call him 'George'  Seems like I'm always quoting one thing or another and my boys often say, "What's that from?" Well, now they know. Thank you, Looney Tunes.

Can you visit Queen Elizabeth I's tomb?  This falls into the category of "things I never thought about until I was an adult 'teaching' world history." Good ol' Queen Bess. 

How do the pedals on a piano work?  I tried explaining this one myself. But I got about thirty seconds into my monologue and quickly, and typically, realized I had *no idea* what I was talking about. This video was enlightening to me--someone who has sat at a piano for yeeeaaaars.

How to count to ten in German  I ask my kids to play each of their piano lesson songs three times, each time they sit down to practice. I have to come up with new ways to write "three" or "three times" on their assignment sheet, because after a while, they get lazy and sloppy and "forget" this little rule. One week I wrote TRES TRES TRES in big letters on my tween's sheet. He liked that, but suggested I use the German word instead, since I have a very "German language" type of personality. Well, okay then, DREI DREI DREI!!!

Do cats have lips?  Well of course they do.

What does a 24-hour clock look like?  In our history reading, we were studying how time has been segmented and thought of for the past few thousand years. It was fascinating. I mean, a day is a day is a day, but someone randomly chose that time to be divided into 24 hours, which is made up of 60 minutes, which are made up of 60 seconds. And now our entire planet (okay, not the remote villagers) uses this system and liiiiivvvvves by it. Wow!

How is pi calculated?  We've been on a bit of a "pi" kick ever since 3-14 of this year. Who knows why. So we've watched videos about pi, songs about pi (tau), used big ol' numbers and my scientific calculator to calculate pi... you get the idea. I was a math major (yes, I was) (seriously, I was) for two full semesters and *I* never learned the meaning of pi. So once again, my kids are making me smarter (which is not hard to do).

What is a "number 2" pencil?  These are the kinds of questions my kids come up with when they're trying to avoid their schoolwork.

Do cats fart?  We are clearly obsessed with cats. And flatulence.

How does a Rubik's Cube work? And how does it stick together? And did "Rubik" invent it?  I found a Rubik's Cube at Goodwill for a dollar, and how could I pass that up? I couldn't. I brought it home thinking the kids would be enthralled with this toy from the 80s. They were, but it was hubs who latched on to it. Thanks to the internet, he has schooled himself in how to solve the cube, and he's nearly mastered it. The boys think this is genius, and anytime you can impress a tween boy YOU HAVE WON.

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April 8, 2014

LAY Down The Lord Of The Rings Book And LIE!

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I consider myself to be rather average when it comes to my use of correct grammar. I have no trouble with the its/it's and their/there/they're, but when it comes to lay/lie? I rarely get it right. Oh sure, if I'm looking at a textbook with the correct verb tenses right there in front of me--BINGO. But rarely do I carry such a chart around with me while I say, hold conversations. Mostly I blame our society, which rarely uses the right word at the right time. We've all heard both the right word and the wrong word so many times, that neither sound correct any more. 

I determined that my kids were going to have this drilled into their heads while their brains were still young and pliable. I created some sentences showing (hopefully!) the correct use of each word, and this is the infamous printout that started us down the path of Bathroom Memorization. I kept to the theme of "Lord of the Rings," thinking this would create imagery and help the words "stick." My kids may or may not ever want to think of the Fellowship and how they lay and lie, but that's the price we'll pay for good grammar.

I'm sharing this here so that you, too, can lay down (that book!) and lie (rest!) with confidence.

Lay:  to place

Bilbo lay down his book, There and Back Again
Aragorn laid his sword on the ground. 
Gandalf is laying his pipe on the desk. 
Sam has laid the lembas bread in his bag. 

Lie:  to rest

Pippin may lie down in the forest. 
Last year, Frodo lay down in Bag End. 
Eowyn is lying on the couch, asleep by the fire. 
Merry has lain on the bed in the Green Dragon Inn.

(Each set of sentences uses these verb tenses: present, past, present participle, and past participle.)

Would you like a printable sheet for your very own? Yay! Enjoy!

More tips over at We Are That Family

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April 7, 2014

Make Your Own Set Of Resurrection Eggs

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A few years back, I realized that Easter needed a bit more hoopla to keep up with its rival holiday--Christmas.

I also said to myself: "If plastic eggs were good enough for Jesus, they're good enough for me."

So, I set out to buy a set of the historically traditional Resurrection Eggs. If you're not familiar with the concept--these 12 plastic eggs are filled with small, symbolic items that tell the true Easter story. But I soon discovered that the sticker shock of the pre-made Resurrection Eggs was enough to make Jesus die and rise from the dead again.

Lisa, you are awful. Just awful.

So, I took my cheapskate, resourceful self and made my own set of Resurrection Eggs. And now I'm sharing my do-it-yourself page with you:

The 12 eggs are easy to assemble--just collect 11 items (#12 egg is left empty, clever clever!) you probably already have at home, print and cut out the page of verses, and stick the items and slips of paper in the eggs.

I recommend numbering each egg with a sharpie--to keep the eggs in order and to therefore, lessen the Mama Madness.

Over the years, our family has talked through an egg a day for the 12 days leading up to Easter. Or, on those years where I had too many kids and too few brain cells, we've played hide-and-seek with the eggs, and then read through them all in one day. That one day was usually Easter, except for the years I was really out of it (*cough* *most of them*) but eventually got around to reading through the eggs a week or seven past the holiday.

But regardless. The eggs have always been a great tool for teaching my kids (and me!) the main points of the Easter story.

PS: If you haven't seen Jim Gaffigan's take on Easter, GO THERE NOW. Start at 1:15. You're welcome.

PPS: For best results, open this pdf file I created and print from there!

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April 6, 2014

Orange We Glad We Volunteered

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As a parent, one of my hobbies is scraping away at my own kids' self-centeredness. I do this by occasionally blasting them out of the house and into the world of "others." "Others" being those who put them to work helping those who have a need. Bwah ha ha.

I had on my "forty before forty" list to volunteer as a family. I decided to head back to the Oregon Food Bank, a place where all five of us could contribute in a practical, meaningful way. I should also mention that this volunteering slot was to be held indoors, which is generally a win in my book. One does appreciate a break from the endless, fall / winter / spring rain. 

The kids and I had volunteered at the food bank two years ago, repacking rice into family-size packages. We were glad when we showed up this time to be doing something completely different: oranges. Our goal, along with about thirty other adults, was to take the oranges from enormous bins and pack them into fruit bags. For two hours it was orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, orange in bag, tie the bag, REPEAT. Occasionally there was a rotten one so intermixed in this cycle was TOSS ORANGE IN BIN. I do love a good diversion.

I enjoy tasks like this. It was kind of repetitious (kind of), but we were DOIN' THE WORK and GETTIN' 'ER DONE. In one afternoon, our group had repacked like fourteen billion pounds of oranges or something like that. Plus, how often does one get to wear a hairnet? Not often enough.

For the most part, my kids were happy little worker bees. It was really good for them to be out doing actual physical labor--something that is sorely lacking in their world these days. And I was proud to see them give up an afternoon to serve other people, even if I did hear one murmur, "I never want to see another orange in my life." 

Hubs came along with us, which made for great company and good help besides. Plus, who else could appreciate my humming of the "Work Song" from Les Mis? Only him. And he's been such a trooper as I work through my never-ending list, which is now exactly halfway done. Woot!

April 2, 2014

Five Reasons Homeschooling Takes Less Time

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Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young
It's not unusual for someone new to homeschooling to expect that the "schooling" part of the day should take about seven hours of time. After all, one assumes, that is how long the public school kids are "in school," and shouldn't the schedule at home be the same?

I always answer this with a resounding "NO," and here are my reasons, because I hear you asking "why." I do. These are in no particular order, and I welcome your ideas at the end!


  1. There's a lot of shuffling and getting seated and taking attendance and quieting everyone down that happens in a classroom that doesn't happen at home. Okay, okay, it still takes time to get settled and get seated, but it's with a much smaller number of kids. Like one. Or six. 

  2. A child will naturally speed through whatever s/he is good at. Well, throw in several minutes of staring into space or bickering interacting with a sibling, but it still doesn't take very long to get through the easy stuff. (And each child's "easy" stuff will not necessarily be another child's "easy" stuff.)

  3. You can skip some of the easy stuff. Your kid knows his multiplication facts backwards and forwards? Then you don't have to keep doing multiplication worksheets just to fill some arbitrary amount of time.

  4. I've come to think of homeschooling more like "tutoring" than "schooling." There are subjects where I sit down with only one kid, and we work our way through the tough stuff. Long division, cursive handwriting, drafting a report, et cetera. This is intense work, for both parent and child. It might not seem like thirty minutes of one-on-one instruction is accomplishing much, but it is.

  5. My kids know that once their official schoolwork is done, they are FREE for the day. FREE. You wouldn't believe how motivating this is to kids--they love, love, love the freedom to play, joke around, putz on the computer, skype with a friend, read a good book, or run in the yard. Granted, there are days the kids drag their feet through their work (much to everyone's dismay), but for the most part, they can "focus and finish" to get 'er done.

These are just five reasons homeschooling takes less time than "going to school." What would you add to the list?

More homeschooling posts over at the Hip Homeschool Hop

Strawberry Plants Forever

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I grew up on a big 'ol farm that had a garden full of strawberries. So once summertime rolled around, I'd draaaag myself out of bed by 11:00 and be out eating berries by noon. Who knew I had it so good?

I love the taste of freshly picked strawberries, but with no plants in my yard, I'd get this taste just once a year at someone else's pick-and-pay patch. You might imagine my delight, then, when we bought our house a few years ago, and it had a small strawberry bed in the backyard. Now, it wasn't much, and it needed a freshening-up, but still. IT MADE BERRIES. AND THEY WERE GOOD.

That was last summer. This is what the patch looks like in the spring, kinda measly and sparse:

I finally decided that my kids needed the same joy of having a happy, thriving patch of strawberry plants at their very own disposal. I added this to my "forty before forty" list to make sure I didn't procrastinate yet one more spring. 

I thought about buying the plants at my local big box store, but I wanted better quality plants, and more expertise at my disposal while buying. So I headed off to Portland Nursery, where they are always fully staffed and willing to answer a multitude of questions. I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to figuring out what, where, and how to plant pretty much anything. I mean, when faced with about twenty varieties of strawberries, how would I know what to choose?! 

It was recommended that I plant local varieties, which makes sense. So I promptly picked out four kinds: Tillamook, Hood, Rainier, and Quinault. Aren't they lovely? 

I also picked up a bag of compost while I was at the nursery. My boys are still fascinated that this "dirt" came out of chicken manure and bat guano. "Magic dirt," I like to call it. We all worked together to clean out the old strawberry plants, and mix in the compost with the old soil:

It looks better already, right? (Just keep your eyes on the raised bed, the raiiiised beeddddd, and not the lameness surrounding it.)

I could have planted the 40 plants in about 15 minutes myself. But I like to boss get the kids involved in the process--that way they have the future satisfaction of knowing they helped "make berries."

And here the plants are, a day or two after we got them in the ground. Aren't they cute?

Now, here's hoping they not only stay alive, but thrive. I plan to post an update later with the results!

March 30, 2014

Pride And Prejudice

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In general, I'm a "read the book before you watch the movie" kind of tyrant. However, many years ago, I tried reading this Jane Austen book and that Jane Austen book and came up "mlerph." I couldn't quite follow the plot or keep the girl characters apart in my head. So I went ahead and watched Pride and Prejudice, and watched it again, and again, and it became one of my favorite films of all time. Hubs finally gave into my obsession with Mr. Darcy and bought me the movie five years ago. What a good man he is. Hubs, of course.

So at this point in life, I know the Pride and Prejudice story backwards and forwards. But I still hadn't finished the book, and that didn't seem right. I mean, how could I love a movie so much and not have read its book? Inconceivable. So I added this item to my LIST.

(You sick of hearing about my forty before forty list yet? Hope not! Cuz we got at least twenty more items to gooooooooo!)

I ended up borrowing the audiobook from the library and listening to that. Hey, IT COUNTS. I can't help that I fall asleep two paragraphs in to a book! Anyway, I would listen to the book while I was putzing around the kitchen, which I seem to do for twelve hours a day. The particular reader for my set of CDs was a mannish-sounding woman, which bothered the menfolk in my house, but didn't affect me. I loved the wo-man reader. S/he brought a certain life to the text and I found myself stopping and smiling and laughing as the story played on.

And that's what I was not expecting. I wasn't expecting to like the book as much as I did. I figured since I knew the plot so well, I'd have to trudge through the chapters. But alas! Jane Austen is brilliant, such a brilliant writer that the book held my attention from start to finish. I also wasn't expecting the movies (all of them, in one way or another) to keep so close to the words that Jane had so smartly penned herself. Well done! Well done indeed!

And because I'm an overachiever, I made sure to watch four of the movie adaptations, as it seemed like the "complete" thing to do. The the BBC miniseries remains my favorite, followed by the newer BBC miniseries, then the Keira Knightly rendition, and last and certainly the least (my word! the costumes!) the 1940s film. All in all, it was a rewarding item to mark as "done." I can't wait to introduce it to my teens a few years from now, woot!

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March 27, 2014

Hiking Wahkeena Creek

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I live in Portland, Oregon, a place where we can get to the coast, the mountains, or to waterfalls with an easy one- or two-hour drive. It's an outdoor-lover's paradise. Even though I'm a bit "indoorsy" at heart, I do enjoy getting out in The Nature and enjoying All The Beauties.

We went through a phase in our family, when the kids were younger, where we did lots of hikes. Easy ones. I tended to avoid the more strenuous and dangerous walks, because I value our lives and in general, don't like to work all that hard when I'm supposed to be "relaxing." But now that my youngest is seven, and mostly in control of her faculties, I determined it was time to step up our ourdoorsyness a notch. I made a goal to hike a new trail in the Columbia River Gorge, and we set out to reach Fairy Falls.

The hike description said the route was "two miles," which I translated to mean "one hour of walking." What the description didn't say was that those two miles were primarily at a 90° angle. "Ten switchbacks," it said, but I lost count after a hundred and ten. We never did make it all the way up to Fairy Falls, which I have now renamed to be "Fairly High Up There Falls." The good news is--we started the hike at a waterfall (Wahkeena) and walked alongside a lovely creek (Wahkeena Creek) most of the way up the cliff hike. Very lovely.

It was really good to see my kids outdoors after being cooped up in the house most the winter. And even though we were huffing and puffing for at least two hours up, and screeching the proverbial brakes on the hike back down, we still enjoyed the fresh air and one another's company. Great way to spend an afternoon in the Pacific Northwest!

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