Saturday, June 23, 2012

Down By the River Part 2

Three years ago I posted about our first experience playing in the river near our home.  We've enjoyed lots more visits to the river, but this year we found a rope swing that hasn't been pulled down yet.

On Saturday, #1 was invited to an evening swim party, and #5 fell into a fit of pathetic sobbing because he wanted to go swimming too.  Normally, we, his parents, don't give in to crying; but his tears must have struck a chord with Kent who offered to take him to the river.  We grabbed some towels and camp chairs and drove two minutes to the bottom parking lot of the Provo River Trail.  The rope swing is about 3/4 of a mile upstream, so we enjoyed a nice evening walk together, too.

The wind picked up as we reached the water, but the children were only briefly deterred by the icy water and cooling air.  Truly, it sounds more windy in the video than it was.

Kent and I figured that kids would naturally know to let go of the rope, but that was not a safe assumption to make.  #4 just dragged into the water and then hung there, not wanting to get all the way wet.  We didn't bring a life jacket, which was also adding to the hesitancy.  Once they figured out to stuff swim noodles in their bathing suits, though, they all four had a great time.

Kent and I had fun watching them and laughing with them.  We love living so close to the lake and river.  I'm including a few photos of the scenery that I enjoy here when I ride my bike in the mornings.  Enjoy!

And, of course, the first scenery I had upon entering my house.  This is in the kitchen.  The kids all stripped pretty quickly to go rinse off in a warm shower.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Frantic Family Posts

Yesterday at my ward's Relief Society retreat--an activity for the women's group of our LDS congregation--I had a few minutes to talk about how I make living the gospel part of my life.  I collected a lot of thoughts in the days I had to think about that topic, but with only seven minutes allotted to my presentation, I pared it down to a few basic ideas.  At the end of my spiel, I briefly talked about the process of defining our family's values and the weekly checks we do in family council to make sure we don't become so caught up in the daily run-around that we neglect the pillars of our family and what we want to accomplish long-term.  I directed the audience to my blog, where I posted about that process in 2010.  We still use the process, more consistently at some times than others, but it has stuck, so it's a good one for us.  We can usually get through an entire family council (not including calendaring) in ten minutes or less.  Maybe it will be good for you and your family, too.  It works for families of any age and size: parents of young children, children of mixed ages, single people, and couples with no children at home.  Here are links to the four posts so you don't have to search my whole blog for them:

Looking back at these posts, I realize I never explained how we use our frantic family white board.  Once each week (usually Monday night after kids are ready for bed), we all gather around the white board in our kitchen.  We sometimes read through the Family Statement first.  Then we quickly address each Standard Objective.  By quickly, I mean we decide if the objective gets a green dot meaning we're doing great in that area, a blue dot (couldn't find a yellow dry erase marker) meaning we're doing okay but could be better, or a red dot meaning that objective is suffering and needs our attention.  As we walk past that board all week, the idea is to focus our minds on whatever Standard Objective needs help.  For example, a red dot on Education usually means I need to check the kids' schoolwork online or help them catch up on missed homework.  A red dot on Home Maintenance currently means that I need to get bids from roofers.  Often, we will define the red dot and make a note on the board as to what we are going to do to make the dot green.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see that sometimes we can't commit to a dot of just one color.  Some of them are blue with a red center, or green with a blue center.  But you get the idea: rating things with colors is a time-saving way to evaluate how we're doing and direct our focus to those things that need it.  We also look at how we're doing on the Rallying Cry and determine if any targeted completion dates need to be adjusted.  (Last week I erased the target dates because summer has put our Rallying Cry on temporary hold. Once we get a better summer routine established, we'll figure out how to make the Rallying Cry happen again.)
Click on the photo to enlarge and read the board more easily.
I will add that we tweaked our weekly check-ins a bit.  Under "Individual Well Being", we added each family's member's first initial with a blank space next to it.  At family councils, we let each person give him/herself a colored dot and talk about why they are a certain color.  Recently, we missed a week or two of our check-in meeting, and #4 told me she wanted to meet again because she had been working to change her blue dot to a green.  When I stopped and thought about it, I realized she has been a lot more responsible and cheerful and affectionate lately.  How great to know that the change in her behavior was intentional and not "just a phase"!

By the way, I love visitors to my blog, which is why I keep it public.  Friends, acquaintances, and other nice people, please feel free to post a comment.  I learn so much more from dialogue than from just my own writing.  If you don't have a Google account, you can still post "anonymously" and then add your name at the end of your comment so I know who you are.  If you're a weirdo or a spammer, you aren't invited to comment.  Or maybe you are so I can block you!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Diagnosis: Two-Year-Old

It's been four years since I had a two-year-old of my own in the house.  I remember wanting to freeze #5 at that age and never let him grow up.  So I jumped at the chance to have my two-year-old niece spend a week with us.  It seems I've forgotten some things about that age.

Like the bed wetting.  She did great the first two nights, but then drank herself silly for an hour before bed the next night.  If I had remembered what a tiny bladder a small child has, I would have remembered to put a Pull-Up on her and would have thus avoided being awaken by a crying child at 2:00 a.m.  When #4 brought her to me in the dark, I didn't know what was wrong, so I scooped her up to cuddle and comfort her...and then...I knew.  Yuck.  She did make me laugh, though, when, after putting her through a quick rinse and dry cycle, and then changing into clean pajamas, she requested her potty treat before going back to sleep.

I swear, this kid runs on sugar.  (I didn't give in on the treat for bed wetting, I might add.)  Last time she was here, she was new at the toilet training stage, so I brought out an old standby from my Mommy Bag of Tricks.  Every time Niece successfully used the toilet, I gave her two frosted animal cookies, PLUS a cookie to each person who helped her, even if their help was in just giving praise.  Consequently, I had five other motivated helpers constantly asking her if she needed a trip to the bathroom.  I got much better results than if I had to rely on my own brain to remember her bladder all day long.  Apparently, I also inadvertently trained her to think I am an unfailing source of treats.  At breakfast, she asks for jam and whipped cream on her waffles, and then licks off all the jam and cream and declares that she is done.  At lunch she takes two bites of mac and cheese, and then runs off to play until the afternoon cookie treat comes out.  When I told her we were going to the bank after the library, her face lit up and she asked if she would get a sucker!  (She's no Dum Dum--and yes, she got one.)  At dinner, I did get her to eat a black bean patty with guacamole.  That was probably because I'd told the kids we were having bean cakes, and she must have assumed the green spread was frosting.

I had forgotten how wobbly a toddler can be.  This poor kid trips over her feet constantly.  On Sunday, when she skinned her knees a little bit, I didn't realize I was setting myself up to be out of Band-Aids by Tuesday.  The kids changed the bandages on her toe four times.  I can't even see what is wrong with her toe, but my kids swear there is a little piece of skin missing.  When #2 painted Niece's fingernails, she came wailing to me an hour later.  Apparently she had forgotten that it was paint, and had glanced at her fingertips and assumed they were bleeding!  Wednesday, when I was sure there were no more Band-Aids for her ailing armpit, I tried to tell her we were out and she would be fine--but my kids assured me they had Band-Aids for her.  It turns out they had been drawing designs on masking tape cut to the length of bandages for a day-and-a-half!

Polka dot "bandage" on the finger, rainbow-colored masking tape on the knees.
We're also worried about skin cancer (read my sister's post here) and poor eyesight for this one.  She continually says to #2, "I wear sungasses?"  It is so funny to watch her high-step through the house looking down at the floor with #2's prescription eyeglasses on.  I guess the glasses make her feel like she's farther away from the floor!

She does have a healthy fear of animals, which has probably prevented a yellow-jacket sting or two.  But she really could take a chill pill around the chickens and ladybugs in the garden.  Sheesh!  After the amount of shrill screaming and running she displayed at seeing the ladybug, I had to laugh when she calmly pointed to this wind-up toy taranatula and delightedly exclaimed, "'Pider!"

Naps are a funny thing for this girl.  When she made a nest out of her blanket and laid down on the cold tile floor in my kitchen, I realized she was tired.  Three-and-a-half hours later, I realized we should wake her up or she would never go to sleep at night.  But the damage had already been done.  My poor kids were exhausted by her chattering, which turned into whiny demands when they were too tired to play at 10:30 p.m.!  I finally gave in and let her lay on the couch next to me while I edited my Pinterest posts until she finally nodded of at 11:30.  {Yawn}

Have you read The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart?  It's the fictional story of  four gifted children who save the world.  If they made that book into a movie, Niece would be a perfect fit for one character: Constance Contraire.  One moment she can be helpful and sweet, and the next she is crying because #3 wants to help her get dressed, but Niece wants a grown-up to help her.

This little guest of mine is the cutest, smartest, incontinent, pre-diabetic, clumsy, hypochodriatic, agrizoophobic, bipolar insomniac with a possible astigmatism that you'll ever meet.  When she is about to push me over the edge with her whining, she'll turn around and smother her cousin, #5, with a full body hug, and then turn to me with a sloppy kiss to say goodnight.  My heart melts and I have to remember that all those symptoms are bundled up in one diagnosis: two-year-old.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Before we get too far into summer--the first week is already over!--I thought I'd take a post to brag about my kids.  They've had a busy school year!

#2 competed in the Sixth Grade Spelling Bee, meaning she is one of the top twelve spellers in her grade, which is a cross to bear because 12-yr-olds don't consider spelling to be cool.  However, she found more success in the science fair, where she advanced through the school and regional fairs and ended up spending a day at the district science fair at BYU explaining her project, eating pizza, climbing a rock wall, and enjoying a magic show.  Woo hoo!  Science is fun!

But this girl isn't all brains.  She's got the moves too!
For her after-school activity, she decided to join a ballroom dance class taught by Provo High's JV coach.  #2 ended up being one of the star performers for each routine mostly because she was the only students who could remember all the choreography for the three routines.  Next year she'll be attending the gifted program for seventh and eighth graders at PHS.  Thank you Freedom Prep Academy!  You prepared her well!

#4 had a good year in second grade.  She tried an after-school Spanish class for awhile, and became more confident in performing at the piano.  I could kick myself for not taking more pictures of her, but here on the right is one from the "American Girls Mom and Daughter Tea" that the school's librarian put together.
As you can see, #4 (on the right) is a sweet girl, and she quickly found a place in her teacher's heart.  She didn't love doing math homework, but she never procrastinated the extra credit projects that came home.  My favorite was the optional assignment to make a poster about Native Americans.  I kept trying to put off helping her with the research until the deadline drew closer; but she was so excited about this project that she worked on it a month early and made a poster about everything she knew on the topic (off the top of her head--it's pretty entertaining):

I like the drawing of North America.  If you look at the far left drawing on the second row, you'll see that "The Indians were so good at planting!"  She drew some corn and some grapes.  When she showed me her progress, I commented that I didn't think the Native Americans focused much on grape growing.  This became a humorous part of the assignment as she crossed out the purple grapes and then emphasized her improved knowledge by adding an entire square saying, "Indians did not plant grapes!  NO grapes!"  (You should click on the photo to enlarge it and see the rest of her vast knowledge on the topic.)  She had fun with this assignment, and was able to laugh at herself when the rest of us found humor in the pictures, too.

#5 started school this year.  I am amazed that nine months later he can read, write, tell time with analog clocks, count change, and sing the national anthem.  Here he is reciting "Hot Cross Buns" in front of his class as part of Mother Goose Day.  He helped me make hot cross buns as a treat for his classmates, too.  (A little brag about myself: I made his hat out of butcher paper, staples, and two grocery bags in eleven minutes!)

For his after-school activity, #5 chose to join a Zumba class.  He was the only boy, which meant most of the choreographed routines they performed centered around him.
After learning to stand on his head last fall, and after watching some parkour videos on YouTube, he decided to switch to gymnastics.  (Our city only offers parkour classes to children eight and older; but we figured gymnastics is a good introduction.)

#5 also reached two other (farcical) milestones.  He went on his first "date" around Valentine's Day--his sisters wanted to play restaurant, so they put him up to this.  I told him no more dates until he is 16!

He also "graduated".  I think it's pretty ridiculous to recognize promotion from Kindergarten, but I have to admit that he looks quite handsome.  (The school paid for the photo.  I never would have.)  Way to attend school #5.

I suppose "graduating" from eighth grade is a little more legitimate, but still....  It annoys me that society deligitimizes (yes, that's a word) actual accomplishment by handing out rolled-up "diplomas" and dressing kids up in cute caps and gowns.  Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox now.

Yes, #1 finished eighth grade and will move on from Freedom Preparatory Academy to PHS next year.  FPA is offering high school grades now, but #1 (and her parents) think a large-campus high school experience will be better for her.  The charter school has been a great environment, and has provided all sorts of extra-curricular activities, in addition to the advanced and creative curriculum.  (You saw her stop-motion film, right?!)  #1 has involved herself in more than a handful of activities:

Last fall she led the cheer squad for the first semester.
She also participated in cross-country.  (She's on the right.)

She was a frequent soloist at choir concerts, and even taught herself to play guitar so she could perform "Safe and Sound" by Taylor Swift.  This was part of her Hunger Games obsession.  (The song is from the movie's soundtrack.)  In this photo, she and her BFF posed after the choir sang "Footloose".  (Yikes!  Did I really dress like that at her public...on purpose?!)

She auditioned for the Mock Trial Team (it helps when your mom is a coach) and became a star attorney.

#1 also auditioned for the school's performance of Shakepeare's "Twelfth Night".  She won a lead role playing Olivia.  It was fun to see her shine in this role as she memorized lines in Shakespeare's English, and then transformed those lines through her acting to bring out the humor and wit of the play.  All the young cast performed impressively well.  Bravo!

She and her sisters also joined the new service club at the school and gave of their time to fix meals for the homeless at the Food and Care Coalition, make quilts for the Red Cross, and clean the nature trail at Utah Lake State Park.  It's been great to get our family more involved in service in our community.  

#3 really blew us away this year!  She blossomed as a student and took off in her reading and math abilities.  When the fourth grade performed their program about Utah, she was the only "Spanish explorer" serious enough about her role to put together a costume.  You should have seen her shake her maracas!
Over fall break, she teamed up with a UVU student to make a picture book that was displayed at an art exhibit in downtown Salt Lake City.
After that, she started racking up the awards:

First, she begged for gymnastics classes, and got a medal (along with all the other students) to represent her progress as a beginner.
Next, she won first place in the Fourth Grade Spelling Bee, and ended up in the top eight in the school spelling bee against fourth-through-eighth graders.  That's her at the podium with the competition narrowed down.  She was spelling words I've never heard of!

In January, she entered a photo in the Inspirations Contest (similar to Reflections, but for charter schools).  She won first place at both the school and regional level, and her photo went on to the state charter school competition.  Click on the photo to see it better.  She made this effect by manipulating the shutter speed and waving light sticks around a birthday cake.  No digital touching or effects were used in the making of this photograph.
In this last picture, you see #3 receiving congratulations from her peers at a school-wide, end-of-the-year assembly.  What was she applauded for?  If you receive the Freedom Festival magazine this summer, flip through and you'll see her picture.  She won the essay contest for her age division, which was open to all Utah students as well as students from a few other states.  Along with a $100 check, #3 gained a better understanding of how our liberty depends on our education, our laws, and habits, as stated by Fisher Ames, Framer of the First Amendment.  (I can email a copy of her essay if you would like to read it.)  I was pleasantly surprised when she deposited the winnings straight to her savings account to save toward college.
Update:  The Freedom Festival magazine arrived in today's mail.  #3's picture is on the second-to-last page, along with a quote from her essay.

Good job to all my smarties!