My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

Saturday, April 26, 2014

There and Back Again

We have finally returned from a journey across Middle Earth with Bilbo and his companions. As with most of our school units, this one stemmed from Max's interest in the topic... namely, his third time through the book (second time listening to the audiobook). He knows the story better than I do, and I honestly have to ask him plot questions sometimes. 

We checked out a book from the library that gave Max a taste for what the characters would look like in "real life", and he was off. Each day found him dressed as a different character from the book, and he now has a collection of drawings depicting everyone from Gandalf to Gollum. He and Lucian (Bilbo and Fili) went on a four-hour journey through our backyard, equipped with swords, provisions, rain gear... and even a maraca. Not sure about the usefulness of that, but I am sure they had something in mind. 

As for school time, I found that the book is chock-full of learning opportunities even for a kindergartner! One day, inspired by Bilbo's interactions with Gollum, we practiced riddle writing. Another day we made clay maps of Middle Earth, tracing Bilbo's journey (or our closest approximation) in red paint. We learned about descriptive narrative by listening to Tolkein's introduction of different characters or places and attempting to accurately draw them. We talked about rhyme by reading the dwarf song Far Over the Misty Mountains, and we learned that it has basically the same format as the boys' other favorite poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost. 

Our unit concluded with a grand Hobbit Feast, shared with our friends John and Sara. We chose the menu based on the unexpected party in chapter 1, in which Gandalf and all of the dwarves appear on Bilbo's doorstep and raid his larders. I must say I'm pretty happy with how everything turned out, seeing as I have never made (or had any desire to make) pork pie before. The menu was as follows:

Salad with radish, cucumbers and hard boiled eggs
Cold chicken
Pork pie
Scones with raspberry jam
Seed cake
Ale for Gandalf and Beorn (Paul and John)
Ginger ale for the moms and kids
Tea and coffee

It was a ton of fun to prepare and a ton of fun to eat! The boys made the seed cake almost entirely by themselves, and they helped as much as they could with the pork pie. Everyone enjoyed the meal, and Max got to discuss the intricacies of the book's plot with his friend Anna's dad, another rabid Tolkein fan.

Now on to the American Revolution, in preparation for our visit to Boston in May. Paul Revere, here we come!

Bilbo's journey through Middle Earth

Seed cake is almost done!
Peeling potatoes for the pie
Pork Pie... mmmmm...
Chicken, cheese, salad and ALE!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Our Mighty King's Triumph

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of Heaven, exult
The angel ministers of God exult,
Let the trumpet of salvation
Sound our mighty king's triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
Ablaze with light from her eternal King,
Let all corners of the earth be glad,
Knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

-from the Exultet, Easter Vigil Liturgy

As we transformed our crown of thorns into a jeweled crown for our King, the boys were giddy about the coming feast of Easter. Egg hunt? Sure. Treats and food and baskets? Yes. But what they could barely keep contained was the word that they finally get to say. They've been waiting so long, they can hardly stand it! 

"Mom, know what we get to say tomorrow?" asked Max. Then in unison they both whispered it, almost imperceptibly. 

But now we will proclaim it to the skies, at the top of our voices! Alleluia! Christ is risen! 

All three girls!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Take Up Your Cross

Every Lent, the boys literally take up their cross- one that Paul built for them out of two logs and a couple of nails- and they take to the backyard to play Stations of the Cross. Is it irreverent to "play" the Stations? I'm not sure. But they know all 14 stations and act them out in order, so I have to assume there is some spiritual benefit there.

Last week, on one of those gorgeous spring days (I miss spring already), I was heading out to a friend's house. The boys were outside acting out the Stations, and when I came out the door I was suddenly face-to-face with this scene: Max in nothing but his underwear hauling a wooden cross, being followed around the yard by his little brother who was waving a stick at him and yelling. I was immediately struck with terror at the thought of any of our neighbors looking out the window at that moment. What would they think of us?? "Who are those crazies, and what kind of sick punishment is that for their poor son?"

I called to Max and asked him to put his jeans back on. "But Mom! The tenth station! Jesus is stripped of his garments!!" After some discussion, we agreed that shirt off in the backyard is ok. But we can't exactly bare it all out here... especially if your brother is chasing you with a stick. So he reluctantly put his pants back on and I left. End scene.

That evening I got home and was chatting with Paul (who had been upstairs paying bills while all this went on earlier). He told me that after I left, he had come downstairs and looked outside to see- you guessed it- Max in nothing but his underwear hauling a wooden cross, being followed around the yard by his stick-wielding brother. Apparently as soon as I left, the boys decided that authenticity beats out obedience. This event is officially the only thing that makes me appreciate the return of cold weather. Not even Max will strip down to nothing when it's 35 degrees outside.

I wish you all a blessed and prayerful Good Friday! I can assure you we will be out in the backyard today acting out the Stations of the Cross for the last time. Hopefully fully clothed.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Out Back

This winter, our house began to feel really small. We don't get out much, and I actually love being at home with my kids, but it seems that when I'm pregnant my personal space bubble expands! The layout of our house ensures that there is always a little body somewhere in my vicinity; our only play spaces are the main living room and the kids' bedroom which, with three kids' stuff inside leaves little room to actually play. The boys play amazingly well together... as long as I'm not in sight. So I find myself hiding out in the kitchen sometimes just to keep from being a distraction to their creative play. I crave afternoon rest time when all three kids are contained upstairs for an hour and I can have the couch to myself, and I look forward to evening meal preparation when the kitchen becomes my territory and I can only be interrupted for a really good reason.

I know this makes it sound like I don't like spending time with my kids. I do! We have lots of intentional time together. But there are hours during the day when I want them to be free to play independently and it seems difficult to find the space to do that when it's 10 degrees outside.

Then finally the temperature starts to creep into the 30's, then 40's... and yesterday we hit 70! Suddenly I feel as if we could comfortably fit in this house forever! We now have a fenced-in "play room" that resurfaced from under two feet of snow, complete with dirt, boards, rocks, and infinite opportunities for imaginative play. The kids have spent hours outside each day and, while my laundry pile has doubled, it's worth every load of muddy jeans and grass-stained t-shirts.

Today I am writing at 10:00am because the boys (Bilbo and Fili) are busy journeying to the Lonely Mountain to steal the dwarves' treasure back from Smaug. I packed them some sandwiches and grapes and they were off! They have only poked their heads inside once to ask for red paper to make a campfire. This is my life in the spring, and it is amazing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tooth Tale

Max at the dentist

Sometimes kids have cranky days. Sometimes they are whiny and they cry at the drop of a hat. Sometimes their siblings and friends and parents can't seem to do anything right. And sometimes this starts to wear on moms. Sometimes they lose their patience. Sometimes they run out of empathy because they think their kid is being totally unreasonable and not acting like a six-year-old should act.

Then sometimes it turns out the kid has a double tooth infection and has been in excruciating pain all day.

And a mom feels like a really bad mom for being so unsympathetic.

Max had been complaining of tooth pain intermittently all day on Monday, but besides being cranky he didn't seem to have anything serious going on. Most of the day, he played and drew like he usually does. But around bedtime he seemed to be in some real pain. He fell asleep but woke a couple hours later in tears, saying that his tooth hurt really bad. We gave him some pain medication and put him back to bed, and finally after a restless start to the night he fell asleep for good around midnight.

In the morning, he didn't wake up until almost 9:00! I went in to check on him right as he opened his eyes, and he looked at me and burst into tears. His lip was badly swollen and his tooth was really hurting him! I started calling around to dentists and I managed to make an appointment for the afternoon. By then Max was acting a bit like a zombie, following me around and doing what he was supposed to do, but talking in a whisper and moving pretty slowly. He seemed to be in less pain but he was definitely not himself!

The first dentist we visited took an x-ray, took one look at it and sent us right over to a children's dental specialist. They rearranged patients to get us in, and when the children's dentist saw the x-ray and saw Max, he went directly to the receptionist to have her start rearranging his schedule for a tooth removal! The soonest they could get him in was next Tuesday, but he prescribed an antibiotic to take care of the infection until then.

We got Max's prescription and started him on the antibiotic yesterday, plus regular doses of ibuprofen, and today he is acting and looking much more like himself! I think he has forgiven me for my lack of sympathy on Monday, and I coddled him plenty yesterday to make up for it. Now we are looking forward to next Tuesday morning, when the teeth will come out and Max will have a gift for the tooth fairy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Cleanup, Cleanup, Everybody, Everywhere"

I tried to snap a candid picture of Max unloading the dishwasher. He wanted to "pose" instead.

Normally I am the one who scours mommy blogs for answers to parenting questions, but today I feel as if I have some wisdom to impart. You'll be shocked to hear that my wisdom is in the area of... wait for it... housekeeping! What?! Yeah, you know, that thing that I'm no good at, that invisible monster that follows three steps behind me and undoes everything I do? Don't worry, it's still wildly out of control. BUT I have discovered three ways to get my children involved in the process, and it has made a noticeable dent in the amount of work I feel the need to get done each day. Has it made a noticeable dent in the bomb explosion that is our house? Well... no. But my sanity is worth something, and maybe... just maybe... these changes will free me up to clean some otherwise-ignored areas of the house. Or maybe I'll just read a book instead.

So I want to introduce you to our cleaning plan. After years of trying and failing to implement a plan that sticks, I think I'm finally onto something. It's not perfect, and it's not complete. It is probably not right for your family. But maybe if you've been struggling to think of ways to get your kids involved, this can be a jumping-off point for some ideas.

1. The Chore Chart: I've tried assigning chores in the past, but I've never been consistent enough to enforce them. We have a hard time scheduling in a time to do chores, but when I ask the boys to do certain things they are usually pretty receptive. I decided to capitalize on their favorite chores and let them create a chart that they thought was fair. The key was that they were involved in the entire process. They chose the chores that would be included (with a bit of guidance), they designed the chart and chose the clip art, they even named it. "Chores for Boys"- not what I would have chosen, but hey!

The other important thing about our chore chart is this- although they refer to them as chores, I refer to them as "helping Mommy".  It's amazing how their attitude changed when I framed their work as helpful to me rather than just required hard labor for them. Plus, the chores that they chose are completely within their ability to do well. They are actually helpful to me, and I don't ever have to redo what they've already done. Right now they each have two chores (alternating) each day. One one day, one is in charge of unloading the dishwasher (stacking on the counter top everything they can't reach to put away) and switching laundry from washer to dryer. The other wipes down the sink in the bathroom, empties the bathroom garbage and puts a clean bag in the downstairs garbage if need be. I'm realizing that the kid with dish/laundry duty has a much heavier load each day, so I'm thinking about amending our plan slightly.

2. Sweeping: For all of the housework that I slack on, sweeping is the one thing that I am slightly obsessive compulsive about. I hate the feeling of dirt and crumbs under my feet, and I hate the look of toys and crayon pieces strewn under the dining room table. At this point in my life, the thought of handing sweeping duties over to one of my children is unthinkable to me... but my belly dictates that trying to sort through all of the "keepers" from the trash on the floor is close to physically impossible at this point! I tried to get the boys to pick up all the toys on the floor before I sweep, but it never happened quick enough or completely enough.

Then Paul introduced his genius plan. When sweeping, I now sweep everything on the floor into a big pile. This means books, toys, crayons, pencils, trash, dirt, junk, everything. Then when I'm done, I call the boys over to "save" anything they want to keep away from the garbage. It works like a charm! They will drop everything to collect a stray Lego head that ended up in my trash pile. I wish I could say that less stuff ends up on the floor now, but that's not true at all. However, my back is in much better shape, and sweeping takes about one-tenth of the time that it used to. Score!

3. After Dinner Cleanup: This one is the most in-flux still. We have a hard and fast rule that all toys need to be picked up before bed. But exactly when it happens differs depending on the night. My favorite nights are the ones when we split up duties between kitchen cleaning (Mom and Dad) and living room cleaning (Max and Lucian). If we make it into a race it's usually pretty successful. The problem with this method is that things don't necessarily get picked up and organized... mostly just thrown into a corner. Sometimes that's fine with me, as long as the rug is clear and the couch cushions are uncluttered. But sometimes I really want things organized, and then it's usually a supervised cleanup before prayer time. Either way, it's amazing the difference it makes to my mental state when I can walk from the stairs to the couch in the morning without stepping on a Lego.

And that's all she wrote! I still don't have a good system for folding laundry, every room besides the living room and kitchen gets completely neglected most days, and I don't even want to mention how far behind I am on organizing the kids' clothes in the basement. But I am taking baby steps in the right direction, and these few simple changes make me feel like I have some semblance of control over my home! So I just had to share, partially because someone might benefit from something I have to say, but mostly because I want it in writing. What we are doing as a family right now, I don't want to forget about it. When we inevitably get off track again, I want to be able to reference this and realize how slight changes can make a world of difference.