Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mandala "stained glass" with wax paper and sharpies.

It always makes me sad when I see a lovely art project idea that actually requires drawing. I love beauty and can sometimes execute creative ideas with some amount of skill, but the form and perspective fairy skipped right on over me in the womb. ;oP

That's exactly how I felt when I saw this: (Girl's got SKILLS already! Way to go!)

Lovely in theory, impossible in practice for me.

So, thought I, let's just use printable mandala coloring sheets and trace the pattern that makes us most happy, and then color in with sharpie markers like the original idea! That's exactly what we did. :)

First, taped down the corners of large sheets of wax paper to the table (if your artists are prone to messiness, you probably want a plastic table cloth, too...we chose to tempt fate, as usual). Then, slide your printed mandala of choice under the middle of the wax paper and trace with a bold black Sharpie. 

(I ran a small fan beside the table, because the marker fumes probably aren't the greatest to nice weather, an open window would do nicely.)

Then, we filled in the pattern with colored markers! (I own a ridiculous collection of Sharpies, but you could make a nice pattern with just three or four colors.) The trick is carefully coloring right up to the black line, but not crossing it, or the colors smear. Good fine motor skill practice, good concentration skill work.

(The very small of us used watercolor paints, since they wash out more easily...this is Grace's "Ocean with coral and lots of fish!") 

Lark chose a slightly less complicated pattern that suited her attention span. :)

Then, trim down your wax paper and tape to the window! Tada!
in the rain

in the sun

Not quite as cool as DIY artwork, but a fun thing to do on a rainy afternoon. :)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pre-coffee ethics.

Today, my 3yo found some pet nail clippers a sibling forgot to put away, and cut the tip off her Phineus doll's nose.

I found her and 5yo Lark pulling out bits of stuffing, saying, "Sorry, Phineus, but we have to take out your nose meat." (aka, fluffy stuffing)

Finding this unsettling but not taking time to reflect before speaking, I exclaimed, "Oh, NO!! People aren't meat, sweets. Meat is something you eat. We don't eat people. It's not kind to cut off someone's nose." (I realized all logical errors as soon as it exited my mouth, and my funny perceiving daughter said:)

"Yeah, but tigers and sharks eat people. So I guess we really ARE meat, too, to some animals."


"Also, mommy {gentle pat on the shoulder}, don't worry, it's just a doll."

I smile wanly. I had it coming.

Note to self: No more arguing ethics with an open minded 5yo before lunch. All my base are belong to her.

Friday, July 20, 2012

INFJ Brain Jumble and Scripting

Introverts are not necessarily shy. We do, however, wear out socially and need much less external stimulation than the average bear before we become grouchy and depleted. If our brains are already occupied with something or if we've already spend a good deal of time talking to others, words come at a high price for us. It's literally harder to force them out of our tired brains and out our mouths in an order that is kind and makes any sense at all to anyone else.

Being an introverted intuitive, this is especially true. I think in nuances, pictures, and ideas, all of which can be well married to words given enough time. When forced to deal with mundane external stimuli (and worse, direct my children through it successfully), this becomes a good deal harder, because my brain is bombarded information that my intuitive brain finds irrelevant to the task at hand and starts to shut down.

Aka, The Trip To The Grocery Store. {shudder}

Sometimes, shopping alone isn't an option. 
In this scenario, my poor introverted thinking process becomes so inundated with detail such rapid-fire information from List and children and Other People that it starts to short circuit. My usually carefully chosen words and directions start to sound like hilarious gibberish.  It becomes like an evil auto-correct that can't be tamed. Usually, my thinking reaches into bins of basically organized or related words and sifts through until it finds the right one to express exactly what I hope to convey, and my connection-driven feeling checks it over right before it exits my mouth for good measure. But when I'm short-circuiting, my mind blindly plunges it's hand frantically into whatever storage box of words is most handy and pulls out whatever it can get it's fingers firmly around, and it spits haltingly out of my mouth like a broken nail gun.

"Hey Lark, I need you to walk around the cart and walk beside me. We need to leave room for other customers to walk by" becomes, "Hey, Mirth, I really will you to run on top of the cart, no, beside me! Walk behind me. BESIDE me! You need to leave room for the potatoes to grab whatever is, erm, necessary." {dammit!} Hilarity ensues. "Mirth, we need Porcupines. Popsicle! Stop laughing and put the porcupines in the cart. POPSICLES! Sit down, Grace, sit on your nuts. Butt! Not you, ma'am, sorry."

It can be humiliating. 

And, so, today, I got caught in the trap of trying to reason with a crying 3yo in the grocery store, while using this garbled brain-talk, in effort to make it to the checkout line and home without a giant scene. It was a bad choice. The correct choice would have been to grab the cheapest source of protein off the shelf, open it and allow her to consume it while saying the only words I can eek out correctly under duress: "I love you". Instead, I growled, over-explained, insisted and lectured in garbled INFJ-tongue until she stared at me with complete slack-jawed puzzlement with about 14 other confused customers. It's possible they thought I'd become a stroke victim. 

(I comfort myself by forming this plan: next time, grab the granola bars. Or leave the kids at home. )

Therefore, since life with four children OFTEN requires me to be entirely overstimulated, I find well-rehearsed scripts really helpful. I learned the idea from some parent-friends who started parenting long before me and were kind enough to pass the wisdom along. The basic idea of scripting is this: if it's a recurring issue, formulate something that is A) kind/reasonable B) short and easy to understand C) consistent so that your reaction becomes consistent. 

Think fast!!
In my head, it's twofold: I plan out what I will say (based on what is best and kind for everyone in the situation, be it an instruction/comfort/reflection of feelings/boundary) and then what I will do to follow up what I said. And when the situation arises, I do The Plan. And I don't have to reach into brain-bins for words on the fly. I have the Frozen Dinner of parenting instructions all made-up and ready to nuke on demand. :OP Some moments of parenting are slow simmering and savory and beautiful and comforting, and other moments require us to dole instructions out like frozen burritos in the heat of the moment. The words aren't what they'll say at your effigy (hopefully), but they do have a place and purpose in day to day life. 

This is especially comforting to my kids, too, because they know what to expect and my parenting is more consistent. Obviously, they have to be re-vamped from time to time, for age, effectiveness or situation. But the basic gist is the same. 

Some of my frequent flyers are: 

"If you don't leave the park/your friend's house/the restaurant well, then you won't come back for a few weeks. (and we don't.) My time and energy is worthy of respect, too." 

When getting into the carseat: "First we sit and buckle, then we can talk about getting other things." 

"Hitting isn't kind/OK?productive. You may find another way to show your frustration, or you may go cool off somewhere." (I use "kind" "OK" or "productive" according to which child I'm speaking to, and what makes them tick) 

"Wiping isn't optional." 

"Alive things are not acceptable projectiles." 

"Here are your options: X and Y. Would you like to try that alone, or do you need some help?" (chosing neither mean I get to chose.) 

"Being harsh about the bravely shared thoughts of others is NOT cool. Disagree in a safe way or keep your mouth shut." 

And no matter how I'm reacting emotionally in that moment, my response to the situation is the same, because I have a plan in place. I don't need to lose my head over anything or fumble around for words like a drunk person in the dark looking for house keys. I have an appropriate response ready. This is a HUGE boon for the easily exhausted introvert (or any parent, for that matter). 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Scrub Days.

Some days, all my best laid plans and ideas for the day just. aren't. working. Getting little minds and hands corralled into any activity is like trying to herd drunken cats. Or juggle them. It's difficult.

I used to end these days crying after everyone was asleep, in my favorite "comfort" pajamas over a carton of vanilla greek yogurt, asking my cat questions like: "Why is this so hard? Why can't I get them to follow this awesome plan? Am I failing all my kids completely? Why do I SUCK?! Do you even care?"

Then, on one of Those Days, I noticed something. I'd stuck everyone in the car and released them into a big park with a field, in effort to not yell at anyone harshly out of frustration. (Don't pretend now. We all do that sometimes. ;oP ) They meandered into a giant pavilion with a sandpit and so immersed their minds in play and their toes in sand that they stayed there happily for 3 full hours. It struck me that this is probably what they needed all along.

So now, when a day's just not working, I scrub all plans. Done. There's now nothing on the docket, except sitting and waiting for the day to tell us what needs to happen for us all to find our balance again. The answer always presents itself, eventually, and it's usually the youngest of us that discovers the truth first. (More often than not, if you let the youngest member of the family set the barometer for the day, things are bound to be more successful all around, in my experience, which sort of flies in the face of conventional wisdom I suppose.)

Sometimes, the solution is a day doing nothing but reading in bed together. Sometimes, we have an impromptu trip to the park. Often, it's building elaborate tents and tunnels with quilts and chairs and tables, and pretending until people fall asleep under a hideout or indoor makeshift hammock. Another favorite go-to is gross motor movement activities like tree climbing or building dams in streams with rocks or scaling giant wood chip mounds. Almost invariably, sour moods are put right again, tempers stop flaring and the pointless urgency of the atmosphere drains lazily out of the day like water out of a long, luxurious bath.

Grace and Lark's bear cave
Sometimes, we simply toss pillows in the floor and watch movies together while eating popcorn (everyone gets their OWN bowl.) If we need to run out and grab snacks just to get through that day, so be it. (And who says anyone needs matching shoes anyway? There are days for nice outfits and matching shoes, and then there are days to celebrate the hilarity of being a little ridiculous!)

Most importantly, there's no pushing through or powering ahead when everyone's got a bad case of "the stupids" (you know, the days when every instruction is met with a blank stare), or the grumpies, or when the whole family is just restless in general. There's only stopping and trying to find our bliss on Scrub days. And that's OK.

It's OK because Scrub Days are about finding something our routine made us leave behind. Relationship. Connection. Alone time. Fantasy. Imagination. Our inner monkey. When we give ourselves time to honor the part inside us that's screaming for air and sustenance, so that we can become balanced people again. Then we can move forward and think about words like "accomplishment" and "rhythm" and "planning".

 All work and no play makes Jane a dull/grouchy/spaced out/whiny/incomplete girl. So instead pecking away at the impossible, we relax and let our Muses carry us effortlessly to where we needed to go in the first place. Does it look indulgent and lazy to others? Sure. Who cares! We know it's wise. We know it works. And that's really all that matters.

Getting lost in wonderland.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teaching Latin Roots with Harry Potter spells

I'm about to get my nerd on. You've been warned.

The nicest thing my mom ever did for me was the teach me how to read. Also high on the list was to teach me basic greek and latin language  roots, and the reason is simple: if a person knows basic word roots, that person can decode the majority of words they encounter without a dictionary or being a hard-core etymologist. That's always a plus.

I'm also a fan of learning being painless, and not having my children spending their lives poring over flashcards. Who wants to do that? I never did.

This is where I want to kiss J. K. Rowling on the smacker. Thank you, Mme Rowling, for being so freakishly imaginative and delightful in your attention to every little detail of the Harry Potter world.  Pssst! This is the skip-able part where I'll provide a little  info for all y'all who believe magic is something nasty Satan pulled out of his underwear (it's OK, I won't tease you...too much) or for those who have been perfecting meditation in a remote monastery (an admirable pastime!). A lot of the fantastic curses, hexes, charms and spells from the wizzarding world are based fairly accurately on latin words that reflect the nature of the magic performed. For instance, Aqua Eructo (water, to raise)  is the spell for producing a raised jet or stream or water. Many of them can be broken down and explained with basic latin roots. 

So we like decoding spells. First, we use dry erase markers on windows to explain the basic root and tease out words commonly used in our language which contains parts of said latin roots. Then, I write up several spells (Mirth has most of them memorized from the books already!) and we notice how the root meaning matches the result of the spell! It's way more fun than I just made it sound. :D 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book dramas for the kinesthetic learner

Today's reading lesson consisted of reading through "Guess How much I Love You" (Lark's choice), helping her recognize letters and sounds, and prompting her through words that follow basic phonetic rules such as "big", "nut", "bed", "in", "up" and the like. Then, we donned some stretchy legging ears and turned our living room into a veritable warren. 

Fun was had by most. Electra would have rather been napping. ;oP

In which she shamelessly destroys Ben Folds songs for her own purposes.

I know I can pop out some freakin' awesome babies,
In fact, I am told that a lot.
Now I know that all the late nights,
Sore nipples and latch work has brought me here

And what on earth could make me grin,
Before I kissed your triple chin
And I know that you are, you are
You are the fluffiest!

What if I'd been born fifty years before you
I'm sure that would be hell on my vag
But then I could have cooked while you nursed on the floor 
Due to the sag

And around my wide hips I would spy
Your awesome scrumptious baby thighs
And I'd still know:

That you are, you are
You are the fluffiest.

I love you more than chocolate fudge,
You've got the sweetest baby {pudge}. (It's yummmmmmy....)

Next door there's a kid whose eyes disappear
'Neath his cheeks, nice  and  deep, when he smiles
But to call him cute just does not compute
when I compare him to you my sweet child

I'm sorry I know that's a strange way to tell you how I know
You're the best....
Obviously. :heart: 

But obviously,

You are, you are, you are the fluffiest. ;OP

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rainbow feet.

I've sat down five times to complete this post, but, because I"m a mother of small children, it's just not happening.

This week was a very long week, emotionally, for reasons that have nothing to do with my kids or Barefoot Man. However, being a parent doesn't stop, not even for the heartbroken. There were still dirty bums, still quarrels to sort out, still meals to cook, still a hot car to climb into, still groceries to haul, still piles and piles of laundry to process and still things to teach and learn.

And because this weekend was "catch up" weekend, while Barefoot Man took the older two fishing, the littles and I stayed at home. They napped and watched an endless loop of Dora the freaking Explorer while I worked my ass off. And all I want out of life is an hour to myself in silence.

Lark is currently trying to cheer me up by singing a love song AT me at the top of her lungs. Electra is jabbering away "mamamama" at me while she digs her little pointy toenails into my already raw thighs. Grace cried about me not loving her while I hugged and rocked and cajoled and slathered sweet words on her like icing on a grumpy cupcake until she passed out from the long day (mercifully). Mirth is practicing the 7.5 year old ritual of informing me about facts I just recently taught her as if educating me (this is her way of double checking information, and a bit of a nasty habit ;oP )

I. am. spent.

I've nothing clever to say.

I do, however, have a lovely picture that was the brain child of both Barefoot and I...the footprints were his idea, and the rainbow colors was mine. :O) It's brightening our back doorstep splendidly. We used basic acrylic paint (such as Plaid brand), and will seal them over with a clear outdoor patio sealer. Fun! :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Language and individual learning pace.

My firstborn daughter started reading words, I kid not, at the age of 2.75. She kind of ruined me for teaching there for a while, because I literally just gave her a general set of rules once or twice, answered her questions, and she took off little a dogged rocket to the moon. She loves finding the word that fits each situation *perfectly*, and is generally undaunted by the fact that they're not commonly used. Lemony Snicket is a particular favorite of hers, because of the non-condescending use of complex language. (Today, whilst playing a round of "find your family member amongst the sea of stalls in the public bathroom, Mirth informed me, "Mom, I'm in the penultimate stall! That means next-to-last!!" I love that she felt the need to explain. ;P) 

 My second born uses language beautifully and descriptively, always with a lyrical lilt to her stories and observations. She has not, however, cared much about the ins and outs of reading up until this year. That would have required sitting still long enough to listen to boring rules. However, through some creative engineering of learning moments involving casual songs and movement, Lark's interest has been piqued and she wants to learn. (I hide in the closet pumping my fists in a silent cheer...books = hours of quiet entertainment) She's almost six. I'll take it. 

She's a VERY kinesthetic learner, and loves weaving art and stories and imagination into her world of words, and this is one of her favorite games: stick the appropriate letter sticky note on the object that contains it's sound. My favorite is the "body parts of your siblings" variation. XoP

In other news, Electra (five months now!) has learned to say "mama" this week! It's the funniest thing to watch someone so little so piping pleased with herself for being able to command mama's immediate attention with a word. Hurrah, wee girl!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mom's Ransom Box-My take on it.

Once again, another awesomely unique idea is homogenized for the masses by Pinterest. This time, I don't care. The hot summer clutter was getting out of control, and this is working beautifully. I love that it's mutually respectful; you get a chance to earn your stuff back, and my time/energy is also not wasted. Good teaching device. I like it.

**Evil Witch Cackle: It's working, it's woooorking!!!**

Our favorite hot weather activities

We live in a part of the world that translates the word Summer into "burning, oppressive cauldron of hellish doom". Least that paints a charming, lazy picture in your mind, let me assure you: the sun here can be doggedly miserable.

Early last week, we were getting up early and hitting the blueberry fields before noon rolled around and sweat started trickling freely down our backs, and that was cool. We could slide the canoe into the water on the weekend and go fishing in the shade before our skin started to sizzle, and that was reasonable. But this past little while, the afternoons have been around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat gauge from our oven thermometer informed us sagely that unless we preferred life at a crispy 200 F inside the car, we'd better stay OUT.

So, we've done things indoors. It's been fun inventing ways to not go insane, and I mean that with no sarcasm. Like a snow day, with much, much, MUCH less snow.

One day, we invented a massive "playing doctor" drama, complete with nametags, X rays and a "cast".

The process went something like:

1. Cut old National Geographics into strips. Also cut fabric into looooong strips. Print off most accurate-looking version of a leg-break that matches your pretend scenario. (Ours was a woman walking her dogs and slipping on a banana peel on the sidewalk.)
2. Invent doctor personas. Mirth and Lark went with Bones and House, MD.
3. Enact banana slippage, hopefully without hurting yourself, and be forced to drink about a gallon of "precautionary antibiotics", aka, water with Rescue Remedy in it.
4. Have cloth wound around foot as a protective layer, and then watch "Drs" apply glue-soggy strips on top to form a cast.
5. Endure several episodes of Walking with Cavemen while you wait for it to dry. (If we ever do it again, we'll be rustling up a plastic babydoll with no household responsibilities or toilet needs. )

We also had good times with cheap masking tape. There were several murals and an obstacle course, and the play lasted for an afternoon and an evening until bedtime. (Lark decided a helmet was needed for the obstacle races, "just in case".) I love that masking tape comes off hardwoods without a hitch, and it all comes up in about 4 minutes. Can't beat that for $3.

We also baked cookies in the car. I kid not. They were all the way done after 2.5 hours. (I used a gluten free mix with coconut oil, but I doubt that would effect the results much). The girls were amused, and I was pretty impressed, as well.

about halfway through baking process.