Archive for October 2008

Happy Halloween

October 31, 2008

We have just an hour or two until we load up the kids for some trick-or-treating.  Thankfully, this year we shouldn’t completely freeze our warts off.  Halloween is certainly a time when we appreciate how much warmer it is in Kentucky in late October compared with the Chicago suburbs.  It’s taken us three years, but I finally prepared to bundle clothing under costumes.  Of course, this is the year we might not need it as much.

The pestering has been going on all day from my oldest.  “Is it time to trick-or-treat yet?  How much longer?”  Middle daughter has been having fun with her new candy bucket; this will be her first time trick-or-treating.  Our theory is that if you are not old enough to eat candy then you’re not old enough to trick-or-treat.  I heard her practicing the words this morning, though.

At least she was before and after her very first gymnastics class.  Yes, today is not only her “first” Halloween, but it was her first class.  She did really well with listening to the teacher and following directions the best that she could.  Unfortunately, they started with a seven-part obstacle course, and she got lost within the first few sections.  My husband and I were joking that the contestants on Survivor probably couldn’t have handled it much better.  Even though she was lost at times, she seemed to be having a lot of fun if the jumping, clapping, and smiles were an indication.  And we know that just a few weeks can made a big developmental difference at age three.  It was a unique experience for everyone having little sister taking the class while our big sister waited outside.

After lunch we finally had to get around to carving our pumpkin.  This year instead of a fun trip to the “pumpkin patch” I just picked on up at the grocery.  With a new baby and a sick husband, we weren’t going to trek it out into the cold wind or shell out the extra bucks for “the experience”, especially most of the pumpkin patches aren’t really pumpkin patches.  They’re just grassy areas with tons of pumpkins stacked.  Anyways, the girls kept arguing over what kind of face to make.  I came up with a compromise that they each marginally accepted and started carving.

I better start thinking about dinner, though.  Then we’ll get everyone into costumes.  Hannah Montana and a Scary Witch will start knocking on doors and collecting goodies.  Then we’ll come home and the fun will continue as they hand out mini Tootsie Pops to whoever comes to our door until bedtime.  Hope everyone has a safe and Happy Halloween!!

The House Formula

October 28, 2008

Lately, I’ve kind of been sucked into watching “House”. It used to come on after “Bones”, so I used to watch the occasional episode. That was before the days of the DVR; now I very rarely watch a television show when it actually airs. For all I know, “House” might still follow “Bones”. Mainly I’ve been watching reruns. Sometimes I catch them coming on, and other times I set them ahead to record.

“House” is a pretty formulaic show, though. Here is the set-up of every episode:

In the opening scene, some unsuspecting person has an emergency situation and is taken to the hospital. Dr. House’s boss, Dr. Cuddy, or one of his flunkies brings him the patient’s file which he completely dismisses as a commonplace illness until he is told about one completely unrelated symptom. He then accepts that the patient’s problem may be exotic enough to warrant his genius. Dr. House then assembles his flunkies to brainstorm about the cause in front of a dry-erase board. He proceeds to insult them and then send them off to run various tests on the patient. The patient gets worse. Dr. House insults his flunkies more, insults the patient, insults the patient’s family, insults his boss, and harasses his best friend Dr. Wilson. After several unorthodox hit-and-miss treatments, they figure out what’s wrong with the patient and start the real treatment. But something goes wrong and the patient crashes, starts bleeding out of some orifice, or suddenly is unable to breath. House and team realize they had the wrong diagnoses. At the last month House discovers some missing clue and deduces without help from anyone what the real problem is. The patient is saved. There is usually some secondary plot line that is tied to the medical emergency by a sappy closing scene.

You have just seen every episode of “House”. Thanks to the power of the DVR, I’ve noticed another nuance to the formula. For instance, the big crash/bleeding/can’t breath catastrophe always occurs between 38 and 40 minute mark of the show. I wonder if I sat down long enough if I could tie in every sentence of my summary to a time stamp. Probably.

Of course, the real question is why in the world do I keep watching this show when I know pretty much what is going to happen in every episode? I mean Hugh Laurie is a superb actor; in his role as Dr. House you would never know he was British if no one told you. I don’t think that it is it, though. I do like the dramatic sub-plots and comedic quips. I’m especially intrigued by the season where he is trying to replace his flunky team and slowly eliminates possible contenders from a big group of candidates, even though I’ve only seen a few episodes from that season and I know who wins the competition.

I know to some extent all shows are formulaic. For some reason, though, “House” really stands out as the most obvious formula to me. And I don’t know if “House” will ever hold the same level of obsession for me as say the enigmatic “Lost” has or the more subtle pullings of some of my other shows. It’s very possible that I am just filling my downtime with something new, and then once I’ve seen all of the episodes I will just move on to a different syndicated show. For now I’ll just sit back and enjoy the verbal abuse.

Reading Worksheets

October 27, 2008

Besides taking care of three sick children, I’ve been working on the next set of reading worksheets for my oldest daughter. When she was four we tried using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. They may be easy lessons if your child is developmentally ready to learn how to read; mine was not. The book did give her a basic overview of some phonics. Once we both became frustrated with the book but before I realized that she just wasn’t ready to read even though she wanted to read, I cut up index cards with individual letters and word endings, like “op”; I would match letters like “t”, “b”, and “c” in front of the word ending to help make connections. She did slightly better with that.

Then I decided to make her a few reading worksheets based on a method of busy work I had in first grade. While the teacher worked with the various reading groups, the rest of us were expected to fold our papers into sections. Then the teacher had a huge chart split into the same number of sections with a word in each section. We then had to read the word and draw a picture of it on our matching piece of paper.

So for my daughter, I folded a sheet of paper into six sections and wrote a word at the bottom of each section. This has worked out well. For one thing, I could just pull out a worksheet from time to time to assess whether she was capable of blending the letters to make a word yet. Then since she has seemed ready it has been a really fun and low key way for her to learn. She loves to draw anyways; you do not want to know how many reams of paper we go through in a month. And I only ask her to do one worksheet during any formal schooling session, but she may do up to three at a sitting if she wants to. (Usually by the fourth, she starts getting tired and frustrated.)

I started out just making a few worksheets on the fly. Then I sat down with a list of probably thirty to forty three-letter words with short vowel sounds. I made a series of about thirty worksheets by hand slowly introducing each new category (by vowel) of words until all of the words were repeated at least three times. I also made some review sheets. But it took a while to fold all the paper and write it all in. We were halfway through the first stack of worksheets when I realized I might have to do this all over when my next child was ready to read. So I took all of the ones that my oldest daughter hadn’t seen yet to the library and made copies, figuring I would just remake the first half of the set and make a third copy for future children.

Then I figured that there had to be a better way. And to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to making the next set of worksheets (featuring letter blends: ck, ch, tr, th, sh, st with short vowel sounds) for my oldest daughter by hand. So I spent some time tinkering around with Microsoft Excel and came up with two templates. One has six sections per page; the other has nine sections per page. I found a script that looks more like manuscript print (with out the fancy “a”), and now I can just plug my word lists into the templates and save them to print out whenever I need.

So, in case anyone out there thinks these worksheets might be a good fit for your child, I thought I would pass on the specifications to make your own using Microsoft Excel. Like I said, for the first set I used about 30 or 40 words; I have about 60 for my second set. I do try to introduce new words in a logical order that builds on previous knowledge. I also learned early on to do a mix of new words (no more than three at a time) and previous words on every sheet so the child does not get overwhelmed or discouraged. Of course, you need to use words that a child can draw a picture to match. And we have had a few instances where I have had to explain what a word meant or discuss homonyms (the word “cot” tackled both issues).

I feel I should note that this isn’t the only reading related activity we do. We’ve also watched videos and played a variety of reading games.  And of course, we read to her.  This exercise practices phonics and builds a reading vocabulary at the same time.  I plan to do a third set of worksheets working with more letter blends, long vowel with silent ‘e’, and words ending with double consonants.  This page has a good starting point for word lists.  I don’t know if I’ll continue with home-made worksheets after the third set or move on to a published vocabulary program.  I might make a small set of worksheets with simple sentences at some point if I think it’s necessary.

Anywho, here are the specifications to make your own:

Six-Section Worksheet:

  1. Page Setup: portrait; .25 margins (top, bottom, left, right); .25 footer; 0 header
  2. Custom Header (under page setup): right section, page # button
  3. Columns: center; width 34.57
  4. Rows: height 387
  5. Border: use semi-thick line, outside, inside
  6. Font: Comic Sans MS; size 26

Nine-Section Worksheet: Everything same as Six-Section except Rows = 258

Christmas, Christmas time is here…

October 23, 2008

Ok, not really. But the time for me to start figuring out the birthday and Christmas lists for my dear children is here. Since my oldest have fall birthdays, I usually start brainstorming and plotting out my suggestion lists for family around September. Most of our family lives in Kentucky, so they don’t really know what the girls are interested in or what they already have. They are usually glad to have a recommendation list. It also helps me avoid less desirable toys, like too many things that require batteries.

I usually start out by perusing the Toys ‘R’ Us website for age appropriate ideas. I pay extra attention to subjects the kids find interesting and try to find a matching toy or activity. Sometimes I just flat out ask them what they think they might want for their birthday or Christmas. And if they ask for anything they’ve seen on television, I suggest we add it to the list.

When you read books like Little House in the Big Woods and see how excited Laura and her sister Mary were to receive so little for Christmas (a doll, an orange, and a piece of candy), it really puts things in perspective. Kids really don’t need that much to play with. It’s hard for parents sometimes to realize this and overcome our want to give the kids lots of presents. Then there is the issue of equality when you have more than one child, so you have to balance the number of presents with the cost of each present.

Therefore, each child gets two birthday presents and two wrapped Christmas presents; one is from us and the other is a joint gift from her sisters. Then we suggest that Santa give no more than three individual gifts per child and then stocking stuffers. With three kids that’s six birthday presents, six Christmas presents, and nine Santa presents per year. That’s a pretty good haul in my opinion, and it doesn’t even include presents from Granny, Memaw and Papaw, my sister and her husband, and my mother’s best friend.   Since all of the girls are close in age, they pretty much share everything. (My oldest daughter always keeps this in mind when helping pick a present for her little sisters.)

Now obviously that’s a lot of stuff to squeeze into a small home in addition to all of the stuff we already have. I do try to pare down our junk on a regular basis, despite the protests of my oldest who has apparently inherited my father’s pack-rat tendencies. I find it is often more effective to come up with some non-toy present ideas. For instance, I have a deal with my mother’s best friend that I will provide a list of desired art supplies. Every Christmas we get the big box of stuff to last us until the next year. This year my parents are paying for the older girls’ gymnastics classes for their birthdays and Christmas; they are also subscribing them to Highlights magazines. After talking to my sister, I gave her a list of children’s books to add to our personal library.

I’ve almost got the shopping list for my oldest completed.  She always wants everything, so she is easy to shop for.  I’ll probably kind of wing it for the baby with a combination of clothing and replacement toys.  The hardest to shop for is my middle daughter.  She gets a lot of enjoyment out of stuff previously belonging to her older sister.  I did ask her yesterday what she wanted Santa to bring her.  She said, “A present.”  “What kind of present?” “A pretty present.”

Later last night she asked for a pink Barbie car that she saw on television, but when I looked it up I realized that she meant this Power Wheels Barbie Jammin’ Jeep.  As much as I would love for her to have it, since she rarely asks for anything, it ain’t happenin’.  That one item costs more than our entire Christmas budget for all three girls.  Thankfully she is a pretty new three, so by the time Christmas actually gets here she should have forgotten all about it and will happily enjoy whatever Santa does bring.

Disney Radio Rejects

October 21, 2008

The kids were watching Disney Channel the other night, and during commercial breaks we saw Emily Osment’s new music video from the Special Edition DVD of Sleeping Beauty.  Besides being Haley Joel’s little sister, for those who don’t know, she plays Miley’s best friend, Lilly, on “Hannah Montana”.  Another commercial for a new Disney channel show premiere party, featured Mitchell Musso, also from “Hannah Montana”, singing a song off of his new album.

This has been the trend with Disney for about the past few years.  There is nary a Disney channel star that has not been given a recording contract or at least a single to sing for a compilation album.  Now I know that this idea of trying to turn teen television stars into pop singing sensations is not new; just ask Annette Funicello or Shelley Faberes.  In the past five years or so, though, Disney has gone haywire with it.  It would be like if they gave every kid on every previous incarnation of the “Mickey Mouse Club” their own recording contract rather than just the chosen few.

I think it has a lot to do with the rise in popularity of Radio Disney.  In true Disney fashion, they are trying to cross promote the hell out of everything.  My oldest daughter is very aware that Disney also owns ABC, ABC Family, and ESPN; she’s not yet six but the cross-promotion was becoming obvious even to her.  And I can’t help wondering if Nickelodeon is hoping to have their own radio station, too (if they don’t already), as they are starting to do the same thing, too.

I am not saying that Emily Osment and Mitchell Musso aren’t good singers.  They seem to have pretty decent voices, but I don’t know that they necessarily have superstar quality.  I do tend to be a little more biased towards artist that actually play an instrument and write at least some of their own songs (I’m talking hits, not pity B-sides).  Since Disney is handing out recording contracts like Halloween candy, I have to wonder how horrible of a singer do you have to be not to be offered one?  As far as I know the Sprouse twins and Brenda Song, all from “The Suite Life”, haven’t been given the pop start opportunity.  Are they Disney Radio rejects?  Or maybe they were made an offer but chose to pass for now.  For some reason I kind of doubt it, though.

She’s Crafty!!

October 20, 2008

Well, the Beastie Boys certainly did not write that song about me. I am not crafty in any sense of the word, especially in the sense that would matter the most to my kids. Like most little kids, my girls love to do crafts. My oldest is always asking to do projects. I’ve tried from time to time to come up with some, but they never quite work out to my or her satisfaction. I am just Craft Challenged. I should have realized this when I got a “C” in fifth grade for art; I still contend that it was partly the teacher’s fault because she always took up art homework after I left for reading class in another room.

I did ok in art class in high school, and I had to create a few pieces from scratch as prop mistress for the drama club. I do give credit to Mr. Williams for anything I accomplished because he was an excellent teacher. There might be a few projects that I could recreate with the kids, but we just don’t have the materials for many of them. That is one of the most frustrating things about looking through crafting sites and magazines. Even though the kids receive a huge box of art supplies every year for Christmas it seems that we’re always missing some necessary item. It’s just like when I tried to make finger puppets with the kids last week. The directions just said to use glue, but apparently regular old Elmer’s glue doesn’t really hold up on felt. We really needed fabric glue. Finger puppets with staples holding them together just don’t look as nice.  And it seems like when we do have the materials, the finished projects never look as nice as they do in the book or magazine.  I am convinced that it’s a scam; no children ever created the examples they put in those books.

I just have to accept that I am Craft Challenged. This is hard for a homeschooling parent to admit because, you know, we’re supposed to be making scale models of the solar system out of recycled garbage while our three-year-old composes an ode to the planets on her Suzuki violin. That won’t be happening at our house, because I am Craft Challenged. And our recycled garbage goes in blue bins in the garage. And my kids won’t start any music lessons until they at least know how to read and only if they show a very strong desire. And I doubt that any of them will learn the violin. And I am Craft Challenged.

I know that I can not be the only Craft-Challenged parent out there. So I thought that from time to time, if I actually came across a simple craft that worked for us, I would pass it on. Us Craft-Challenged people have to work together to overcome the whining that starts when kids get tired of being given lots of open-ended projects that basically consist of handing them a bunch of paper, crayons, glue, and foam shapes and then walking in the other room.

So, I proudly pass on Craft for the Craft-Challenged #1: Simple Jack O’ Lanterns

Materials- orange and black construction paper, pencil, glue, scissors, and crayons

1. Draw a big pumpkin on the orange paper. (If you can’t draw a basic pumpkin shape, there’s not much I can do to help you with that.)

2. Cut out the pumpkin. Cut small squares and triangles out of black construction paper for eyes and noses.

3. Have kids glue on black shapes (or googly eyes, buttons, or anything else you have) and/or use crayons to make faces on the pumpkins.

Uncrafty Tip: If you manage to draw a decent pumpkin, before you give it to the kids to decorate, take your construction paper pumpkin and lay it over a sheet of cardboard or heavy stock paper (I’ve used the backs of note tablets and boxes that soda cans come in) or even a another piece of construction paper. Trace around the pumpkin shape. Then cut out the cardboard pumpkin and save it as a stencil for anytime you need it. I’ve made a handful of cheap custom stencils this way, especially for Valentine’s Day.

We did this craft yesterday. I made three pumpkins for each of the girls to decorate (easily thanks to a home-made stencil). If I had the time and inclination to figure out how to get digital camera pictures loaded on the computer I would attach a picture of the three-eyed jack o’ lantern DD#2 created, but you’ll just have to take my word for how cute it is. In the meantime, we plan to tape them up in our front window today as Halloween decorations.

So there is hope. If I can manage to pull off a craft that half-way works, so can you.

The Sneaky Chef

October 16, 2008

I had been hearing about The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine all over the parenting blogs and forums I visit for quite some time. I read the debates about the ethics of sneaking pureed vegetables into the favorite foods of unsuspecting children. Is it lying? Shouldn’t kids be encouraged to eat their vegetables without underhanded tricks? What about when the children grow up, move out, and their nutrition plummets because they didn’t know all about the secret ingredients?

I thought I’d check it all out for myself.  I must admit to being relieved when Mrs. Lapine quoted American Dietetics Association report that 50% of all kids ages 2 to 18 eat less than one serving of fruit per day (p.26). My kids usually eat at least one serving of fruit and one of vegetables every day (mostly carrots). I don’t think we are in as desperate need of sneakiness as some families. However, she kind of lost me when she talked about previously making two to three meals for dinner every night. That’s where I draw the line. The only exceptions I make are if a new recipe turns out horrible or if I decide to treat myself and DD#2 to a dish with tomato sauce, because my oldest won’t even be in the same room with tomato sauce (with the exception of on pizza). Otherwise, I try to make meals that everyone will eat or at least one item on the table that everyone will eat. And I make it clear that if someone refuses to eat a decent amount of dinner that they won’t get anything else for an hour or two.

I really decided to try out the book, though, because I thought that I could use a little extra nutrition snuck into my diet. The basic concept of the book is to make certain purees, syrups, and mixes using small amounts of really healthy ingredients and then use them in popular foods to give them a nutritional boost without effecting the taste. She recommends making the purees from scratch, but she said that you can also use jars of baby food in a pinch. The last half of the book is mainly recipes with extra nutritional tips.

So, last weekend at the store I bought a few jars of sweet potato and blueberry baby food. I didn’t feel like going through all the work of making purees until I decided it was worthwhile. I also figured that if it didn’t pan out I could save the jars for the baby to use up in a few months. So far I have only tried it with two recipes. I made up a batch of Cheesy Tomato Macaroni, a favorite for me and DD#2, and added two heaping tablespoons of sweet potato baby food. Mrs. Lapine recommends mixing sweet potato with tomato sauce because it barely changes the color of the sauce and the sweet potato makes the tomato sauce less acidic. DD#2 declared it to be just as delicious as ever. There were a few bites where I thought I detected a slight taste change, but it could have been because I was looking for it. I also put one heaping tablespoon of the sweet potato in our boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch. I couldn’t tell at all, and neither could the kids. Next time I might try adding two tablespoons.

As baking season approaches, I’m going to try mixing in a little wheat flour with my white flour, which I have done sometimes in the past. And I may start using a little more wheat germ again. I have a short list of recipes from the book I want to try out as well. The hardest part is going to be sneaking certain ingredients past my eagle-eyed oldest daughter; although sometimes the idea of something being super healthy actually makes her more willing to try something. I think one point in our favor is that most of the purees that would work in the recipes that we would eat are made of fruits and vegetables that the kids and I already like.  We’ll just have to get used to the idea of mixing sweet potatoes in with macaroni and cheese.