Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Walk Accomplished!

We made it out again today for a little walk before starting a sort of trial school day.  (We're officially beginning on Monday, but I need a few dress rehearsals to remind what I still need to do!)  Since we had luck with the flower garden in a neighbor's front yard last week, we ambled over there again today.  We also visited yesterday, but as it was raining, there was no wildlife to spot.

A cursory glance did not reveal any butterflies, but suddenly I noticed something bigger!  A small, bright yellow bird perched on a flower and nibbling at it!  I hushed the kids and tried to point it out quickly.  A few moments later it was gone.  Maggie (6 years) had seen it, Susannah (4 tomorrow) had not.  I promised I'd go home a look up a photo online.

I discovered many photos that looked like this little fellow:

From on the American Goldfinch page.
Then I wondered what the American Goldfinch sounded like and at the above website (, I found a place to listen to birdsong!  Lovely.

Now, maybe I was imagining it or just so unfamiliar with different birds' songs that I can't tell the difference, but a song that was quite similar to the American Goldfinch's kept wafting in the open window as we were sitting in our school room doing our math....

I'm really enjoying Charlotte Mason's focus on nature and especially becoming familiar with the plants and animals in your particular area.  How useful!  I feel so much more connected to my surrroundings just knowing a tiny bit about them.  That's a Maple, this is Queen Anne's Lace, we just saw a Red Admiral and an American Goldfinch!  The internet makes it so easy to identify the wildlife you see on a brief walk.  And of course Anna Botsford Comstock had something to say about it too.  And then there's plenty of fodder for the Nature Journal, which is just the first step into Science.

Oh, and for fun, I was going to add this video, too.  For some reason, this bird comes to this family's window every day and knocks!

Monday, August 22, 2011

One More Week, Kind Of

The school year is approaching!  Amazingly, I'm looking forward to reclaiming routines.  While in some ways this feels like The First Real Year of School (we actually have a math curriculum this year), in other ways, I've been here before.  I've done Fall.  I have some resources and ideas stashed away (somewhere) and some activities that would be fun to repeat.  (Leaf window art, anyone?)

Lovely books are coming to our house almost daily.  I finally ordered a new calendar for this year.  Fr. Andrew and I have used these for several years and love them.  I didn't order one last year because I was going to try going digital, but it totally destroyed my calendaring abilities!  I entered things in there and then because I am apparently rather visual, it was like they were just gone!  I'd completely forget they existed.  I even tried printing paper calendars from iCal to hang on the wall, but then I was entering info in two places again.  So, paper it is!

I looked at the Ambleside curriculum I'm planning to follow, and to use their week-by-week schedule and be able to take off the weeks where I know school just won't happen (and to avoid having to go too long into next Summer), we actually need to start next week!

So, this week, we need to get the school room cleaned up, for one.  We've been starting to get back into a semblance of a morning routine, and I'd like to continue adding things to that this week, maybe even Math.  (A wise, veteran homeschooling Mom friend of mine once told me not to start everything all at once, but rather to stagger.  Genius!)

I'm a bit worried about how I am possibly going to stick to a school schedule and still get all the household things done.  I'm not good at doing little bits of everything all day long... I do better with big chunks of time.  If I plan to school in the mornings and then assign a household chore to the afternoons, it looks something like this:

  • AM: School
  • PM: Housecleaning and Quick Laundry
  • AM: School
  • PM: Desk (bills and budget, planning, menu, bulletin... this is way too much for one afternoon)
  • AM: School (somewhat shortened?)
  • PM: Groceries (This is not an ideal time. Don't all the sales start on Thursday?)
  • AM: School
  • PM: Baking and other cooking projects (stock, etc.... I wish I could confine this to one day, and one consistent day.  Maybe my kitchen would be less likely to explode that way.)
  • AM: Homeschool Co-op
  • PM: Laundry and Quick Clean
I'm still not sure about this.  The Friday tasks seem like a lot for a day I've spent out of the house.  But I suppose they can be tweaked.  I was going to start doing these this week, but I've already had to be out of the house today (to visit with a moving friend, so it was completely worth it—plus, I just can't stay inside on these perfectly temperate weather days when I know disgusting, cold, Chicago Winter is coming).  I do still have a little time for at least some straightening and maybe some bathroom scrubbing.

I haven't had a housekeeping plan for so long on purpose, and I hope I'm not going down the same route again by trying to make one.  But I do feel like certain things are being missed.  I think I also need some detailed checklists for the tasks that I'm planning to do so that I don't have to stand around scratching my head and reinventing the wheel each week.  But that can wait until I've had a few weeks to practice.

This may be another post where all you veteran homeschooling Moms are guffawing into your elbows, so bare with me.  And come back and comfort me in a few months when I am doing None of the Above.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

{pretty, happy, funny real}: New Living Room!


Remember last week when I was lamenting that I had a less-than-pretty view when I opened my front door?  Well, it turned out that moving the homeschool shelf was the missing piece to my living room jigsaw!

Here's the before picture to refresh your memory:

Looking back at this, it's not exactly ugly, it's just that the first thing I noticed was the pile of papers on my desk.  :(

Here is what I've got now!

I'd like to improve the wall art, but this is so much better!!


My desk is now (at least initially) hidden behind the door.  And actually, I love sitting over here by the windows with the breeze blowing around me.  The internet is a tad slow being this far from the modem, but we'll have to see what we can do about that....

I've had fabric meant to recover that chair for years.  Must. Acquire. Crowbar. And. Staple gun.


What would a {phfr} post be without some photos of this guy?

I put out the ottoman for one of these shots... reminded me why I don't leave the ottoman out.  Not to mention the underside is all cracked and full of nails sticking out at odd places.  Nice for putting up feet, though!

I then put away the ottoman, but John protested so much I gave him the pillow.  He likes to "sleep" on small pillows like this.  Normally, he gets the right end on the pillow, though.


As in, we REALly need some storage back here.  I was hunting around on craigslist for something to put in the place of the homeschool shelf.  Good thing I didn't find anything I really liked, because that was where the TV needed to go to make this new arrangement work!  Now I'm hunting for some kind of long and low shelving or buffet or cabinetry to put back here under the windows.  I do love that it's open now, but we need the book storage space!  And I also like couches in front of bookshelves.  Makes it feel like a library.

Linking up...

round button chicken

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Walks and Butterflies

I always envy people who go out and take walks.  I'd love to make it a part of our routine.  I tend to spend a lot of time at home: I'm just not coordinated enough nor can I transition fast enough to do a lot of quick outings.  I tend to go out and stay out all day.  But a walk—even just around the block—to get some air and look at our neighborhood, should be doable.  Even in the Winter we can handle something short!  And I have nice memories of going on evening walks with my Dad (often reciting poetry such as The Cremation of Sam McGee, for some reason).

But in general, getting out of the house, even for a 15 minute stroll, usually eludes me.  As do many of my daily responsibilities at times.  Sigh.

But today—success!  I was showered, all were dressed, we said our family morning prayers, read from the Bible, and made it out for a walk!  Now, in theory, this will all happen before we do school in the morning and it will happen at more like 9:00 AM instead of 10:15 AM, but seriously (all you seasoned homeschooling Mommies are guffawing into your elbows, I know), this was progress!

And in reward for our little around-the-block jaunt, we saw one of these in a sweet wild-flower-esque front yard not far from us:

I didn't think to bring the camera.

The above is an illustration out of this book from a trip to the Chicago Nature Museum, which (among plenty of other things) features a "butterfly room" where you can stand around as they whiz around your head and possibly land on you!

I don't think John had any idea what was happening.  As you can see, Maggie (on my right) is not too happy about a giant bug landing on her Mommy.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the Red Admiral is what we saw.  I looked around for some pictures online and found quite a few.  I then stumbled upon this neat resource:

BAMONA: Butterflys and Moths of North America with specifics on the Vanessa atalanta species of butterfly.

Of course, then I started daydreaming about planting some kind of butterfly garden next year to attract them to our house.  Anyone have any experience with this?  Maybe I'll read up on it this Winter.  We actually planted and had success with tomatoes and some basil this year (with lots of help from our downstairs neighbors, who planted flowers and lots of other veggies, and did lots of clearing and watering).

I'd say if we manage to do this three times a week (even twice a week!) I'd be happy.  But I'd love to shoot for daily!

Maintenance Laundry Day: Recovering from laundry paralysis

First Load: Outfits to last until the next available laundry day (I use the laundry on Mon, Wed, and Fri, so my list reflects that):
  • 2 complete outfits per family member (don't do what I did and forget Dad!)
  • 2 pairs underwear per person (add undershirts, etc., as desired)
This is the bare minimum.  I added these optional, but helpful, items:
  • 1 pair pajamas per person
  • 1 swimsuit per person (we're going to the beach—I hope!—at the end of the week)
  • 1 church-worthy ensemble per person (that way I'm not surprised with nothing respectable in their closets if I we can swing Wednesday evening Vespers)
  • a few extra onesies for messy babies
  • as much additional underwear as fits!
Second Load: Towels
  •  Kitchen towels or bath towels—whichever is most dire
Third Load: Sheets
  •   Master bed sheets (unless another bed literally is unfit to be slept in)
This is what I did on Monday.  I read a tip (probably a comment somewhere on Like Mother, Like Daughter) to do the one outfit per person part when you have a mountain of laundry to do.  There are few things more frustrating than spending a good part of one day doing loads and loads of laundry and to wake up the next morning and find that you managed not to actually clean an entire outfit that actually matches!

I plan to sort the rest of it today so that it's all ready to go in the wash tomorrow.  Meanwhile, I'm so relaxed knowing that I have clothes for today and tomorrow!  I may even make my first load tomorrow another one which I know contains enough outfits to get us to Friday.  Or maybe I should just start with the bottom of the basket first.  ;)

Friday, August 12, 2011

A School Room of Their Own

Does the "to have a school room or not to have a schoolroom" debate just seem endless to you?  I've been on both sides for awhile.  I thought the idea of a dedicated school room sounded lovely.  A little table.  Surrounded by bookshelves.

But then, downstairs, we literally did not have a room to spare.  We did school at the dining room table.  I enjoyed being in the heart of our home (we spend so much time at the dining room table), in the company of our icon corner, being startled to discover that my kids really wanted to learn things from me and actually listened to what I had to say a good part of the time.  As long as I didn't go on too long....

The Entrance of the Theotokos Feast Day Box from Orthodox Christian Craft Supply.  How we love these—must order a few more for the Fall.
But then we moved upstairs and gloriously found ourselves in the possession of more rooms!  A dedicated floor for bedrooms!  Even if there are only really two rooms up there.  And you have to walk through the first to get to the second.  And there's no bathroom up there.  But still!  Lying in our giant king-sized bed (which had formerly been squeezed into a typical Chicago apartment bedroom—I kid you not, we could not even close the door) in our giant master bedroom, looking up at the sloping ceilings because, yes, really, it is the attic of the building: well, it is like this blissful cocoon in which to slumber and forget about the stresses of the day lingering a flight of stairs below.

The little not-really-insulated-heated-or-air-conditioned back room that had been (downstairs) my husband's office was freed to be something else, and since my kitchen is awkwardly filled with doors and doesn't exactly have room for a table, we settled on the back being a breakfast nook.

Breakfast by candlelight on a dark snowy day

And it really did a lovely job of being that.

Our view of snow-covered garage roofs, which I quite like.

But in my quest to provide some order to my house and not always have piles everywhere, I gradually begin to remove the kid things from the living and dining rooms.  Out went the tiny toys in the corners of the windowsills, the bag of blocks, the kids' books that were always just being pulled off the shelf into a pile by the baby.  (Don't worry, there were still some kid books down there.  I love to see my kids poring over books!)

I thought that doing that, combined with confining them to the back of the house when I couldn't be mentally present to chaperon them in the adult living areas would do the trick.

But their homeschooling stuff and craft supplies were still out there.  Any time they wanted to make a drawing of a sun with girl eyes and legs or cut a piece of paper into infinite tiny bits, there it was on my dining room table (and floor) to be picked up mostly by me when I'd surfaced from whatever consuming household chore or project I had happened to have been engrossed in at the time.

An answer came to me slowly.   After a visit to a friend's house that contains a small school room in the back of her house, the thought, Move the school stuff.  Make the breakfast room into a school room, began to float in the back of my mind.  Rather, it nagged.

The breakfast room was really difficult to keep clean of food debris after all.  The table had awkward gate legs that were hard to sweep around and it is a tight space for that big table and all that seating.

I began looking on craigslist for a tall table and stools to replace the chopping block cart/island in the kitchen.  Then we could eat small meals in there if we wanted to.  (For a picture of what I found, go back one post to this one.  Scroll down awhile to see the table.  Just yesterday, I picked up two more stools so now Mommy can sit down and eat too!  Very important!)

Then I did it!  I moved the table to the other side and folded up one side of it to make some room.

(Goodness, I am finally getting to the point of this post!!)

This is just after I cleaned the floor.  But nothing has been put back on the corner shelf yet.  The table is full of little projects the kids have come up with: Feast Day Boxes, sorting beads into cups—I love what they do of their own leading!

Then we moved a corner shelf—which we call the "homeschool shelf" and which had not been hitherto residing in a corner in the upstairs apartment— into the only available corner in this room.

Nothing organized yet....
I sort of let the kids run amok in there for several days.  I have to go through and toss or store what doesn't apply to this year.  I also had to actually order this year's books but that is finally done (mostly!) so I didn't want to waste time "organizing" when I was really procrastinating from getting our actual books.

She turned and made this face just as I clicked the button, I swear.

Yesterday, I shooed the big kids outside while I attacked the floor of this room.  I wish I had a before picture!  Just imagine the above table contents (but individual items about 90% bigger, as not to be choking hazards for Baby John) all over the floor.  But one of the organizational ideas I had was this:

Blocks in one, random baby-friendly toys in the second, little board books in a third (unpictured).
I'll get back to you on whether this system has any merits!

I know this post has gone on forever already, but here are a few other corners I wanted to show.  I was browsing Like Mother, Like Daughter (when am I not?) for some motivation to get back into our routines and schooling very soon, so clicked on the "education" category and found one on Nature Tables.

So I repurposed the top of this tiny bookshelf to serve as such for the time being.  We'll need more space later on, and maybe I'll get a bookshelf to put between the tiny one and the homeschool one.  But this will do for now.

Let's see rocks (top left and continuing clockwise) from Grandma and Grandpa's house, wooden cross from craft shop, jar of shells from a lake at a camp I went to as a girl and from beaches in France (!), acorns and buckeye from a nature walk at the start of school last year.  Small collection, but we had no place to display them until now!  We'll add to it this year.

Of course, nothing prompts interest like a new arrangement!
So that, mostly, is that!

Here's a fuller view of that side:

The little chaos-maker himself on the floor....
School should be extra interesting with John around this year.

Thank you, Auntie Leila, for the motivation to make many of these changes and for this post on educating children at home in particular!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Less Messy Entry

I can't quite bring myself to call it something along the lines of "pretty," but I'm joining a linky over at Like Mother, Like Daughter.

Here are the befores:

 This is what awaits just around the corner of the backdoor.  It's not really where guests come in unless they've gotten a ride from us (which happens), but it is where my husband comes in every day, and I think it's important to spruce up what he sees first.

Why does everything end up here?  There's about half a square foot of space there and for some reason, that's where I unload my purse as I'm coming or going.  I do like to store my purse on this thing, mainly because I just need somewhere in the kitchen for it to live (there's a tiny bit of entrance hallway—which I may show you later if the kids don't all mutiny at once while I'm writing this—but it is already quite tight).

But this is not what I have in mind for it, generally.  

Notice this little book in the middle of the chaos?  Confessions of an Organized Housewife.  Clearly, I need this book.

So, I don't have any pictures of the process, but I took everything off of the cabinet and sorted it into piles.  I had the idea that the piles needed storage here somehow, that that was why they were there.  I even went searching for this odd organizer thingy I'd made a while back.

But you know what, as I sorted, 90% of the stuff could just be put away on this floor.  I did repurpose a little basket for all the tiny toys and kid stuff that ends up down here somehow and that needs to go back upstairs.

Here's what I came up with:

That is where the purse usually lives.  But look just above the purse.  There's a cute little head up there....

Let's pause for some cute baby.

Boy, do I know I'm cute or what?

OK, back to organizing.

So, I don't really consider this "pretty" or even ideal, but at least it is neat.  

I think I'm going to have to say goodbye to that island thing next to the cabinet and then I'll need some more storage over there....

There.  Not too bad.  Don't like the radio antenna hanging all over, but it's the only way to get reception.  Also don't really like the stuff on top of the radio and speakers, but again, it's neat.

Here's the rest of the first view of the kitchen from the back door:

So from that picture, the whole kitchen just looks covered in dishes.  And it is.  I could give you the excuse that I'm sick (which I am), but even when I'm not, the evening and bedtime circus often leaves the kitchen this way.  But you know what makes it instantly better, if only slightly? 

Clean table.  Ah.  At least it doesn't look completely out of control now.

And just for good measure, here are few other views, of which I do not have before shots:

This is the aforementioned tight back entrance.  No room for a big bulky purse/diaper bag.  I severely edited what is hanging on this thing.  It's somewhat necessary right here, but it's also what you see right when you come in.

I have since mopped those back stairs, which really brightens my day when I open the back door.  But picture that landing nearly covered with boxes.  I decided that it just clogged up my life to have things living down there.  That one remaining box is full of glass bricks and I'll have to get one of the men in my life to move it.

Hmmm... I need a better shot to end this post with.....

That's better.  This is slightly related to entries since it's one of the first things you see when you enter my front door.  It's fun because I really like those pillows and because I repurposed a duvet cover to cover that couch.  The arms are still bare, but they actually match the blue of the checks, so it works!


You know, I keep wishing I'd done the real front guest entry... but it really is just a door into the living room which views my desk of all things!  I am terrible at keeping THAT clean.  Here are the before and after pics of that:

Before: kinda cluttered.  A pile on the desk.  And while I like that display of cards, it just looks like a mess in this photo.  Maybe I should edit it?  

Desk pile cleared... but really... what to do when you just walk into my living room and dining room?  I've relocated most of the toys and kids books (which I'm not so sure about because I like to watch them lounge around reading...) and the school stuff is now in our cute little schoolroom, which I should show you all when it gets organized.  Part of the problem is that when I go online for something, the kids sort of run amok behind me.  Maybe if I started bringing the computer into the back half of the house and stuck to Aunt Leila's rule about confining the kids (and myself when online!) then maybe that part of the house would stay tidy?  Thoughts?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

{phfr} What a break!

What has it been, two months since I last posted?  A few weeks after Fr. Andrew's ordination, we made a last-minute decision to attend our Parish Life Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.  Well, my decision was last-minute.  Fr. Andrew had been planning to attend already.  But the thought of my husband having several days off in a row for a long car trip with a giant hotel room to himself?  Bah!  We're coming too!  We lucked out with a fridge and microwave in the room and mostly ate out of those!  We had a nice time meeting new people and seeing some old, dear friends.  On our final evening (well, we were only there for two evenings and the first was the day we arrived, I think... whirlwind trip, it certainly was), we joined a seminary friend's family in hunting down St. George church in Cleveland, our hosts, and exploring a giant urban park across the street, complete with interesting bistros and good corner coffee shops.


On the day we departed Cleveland, we headed over to Fr. Andrew's sister's house to visit with her and her husband.  We brought them quite a variety of lunch food from our stash for our hotel room.  And in return, Aunt Leanna gave us this beautiful bowl from their recent trip to Turkey.  I just stuck it next to this icon of the resurrection (which in and of itself is fairly interesting, since it's not an icon seen very often in the East) and I love how the icon echos the shape and color of the bowl in the aura (is that the right word?  energies?) around Christ.  Not planned at all.

About a week later, we had a fun-filled visit from Fr. Andrew's other sister's family.  We had a total of ten people staying our house that week—and a total of six kids!  We had a great time having them here and we did a lot of exploring the city.


One day found us in a park that was set up for some kind of outdoor theater.  The kids all ran around at random, and John was just so happy that he could now join in like the big ones.  His walking in earnest began somewhat simultaneously with Fr. Andrew's ordination, and he's happiest when all the adults in the room quit telling him how cute he is and trying to cuddle him already.  He just wants to move!

A couple of weeks later and we were off on another quick adventure.  My parents had gotten us tickets to an outdoor Shakespeare theater west of Madison, Wisconsin.  We picked up Daddy from work a bit early and raced up to meet Grandma and Grandpa at a Culver's (Mmmmmm....) near American Players Theater.  We had dinner and then left the kids with the grandparents who would take them to a nearby hotel to play in the pool.  We booked it to the theater for our walk "up the hill" to the stage.  If we'd have had more time, we could have picnicked in the park near the theater.  It's a beautiful location.

We slathered ourselves with bug repellent and grabbed the ponchos packed by my parents (hadn't thought of that...) and it was certainly a good thing we did the latter!  We got the full APT experience by getting thoroughly soaked as "the show must go on!"  The rain did let up for the touching final scene of The Taming of the Shrew and as we applauded the riveting performance, the cast applauded us for sitting through the weather!


Here are our girls modeling their similar dresses in the hotel room the next morning.  They look a little too sweet, don't they?

And here's an out-of-order shot of John in our picnic basket.  Silly boy.

Finally, a week later and the National Antiochian Archdiocese Convention made its way to Chicago.  We left the kids with friends for "clergy day" so that Fr. Andrew and I could go to our respective meetings without boring the poor kids to death.  They had fun playing with their favorite two-year-old girl (whose blog hasn't been updated in a little while).  Mommy and Daddy had a fun day in downtown Chicago, sipping Starbucks and renewing friendships with fellow clergy families.

That Saturday, we joined my parents again, this time at the Convention hotel rather than Madison for some downtown shopping (can you guess how often I do that?) followed by Vespers.  The following morning, All Saints worshiped with many bishops and three metropolitans at the Convention.  It was a beautiful liturgy with many, many worshipers in attendance!

So, I think that about brings us up to the present.  No wonder I've felt somewhat off in my housekeeping and blogging and general normalcy.  There hasn't been any normalcy since the ordination!


A final monkey wrench in our life has been that a few members of our family have needed to be off of white flour and sugar.  So these cookies were made with whole grains, stevia, and "date sugar" (which is just ground up dates).  Yes, the chocolate chips had a wee bit of sugar, but I only put on three per cookie.  Not bad for a non-refined-sugar cookie, though!

And now, it's the beginning of August, we haven't been to the beach even once, and I need to make some decisions already about our homeschooling books.  Really, I just need to sit down and order them already.  I'm half excited and half terrified to beginning homeschooling again.  We sort of winged it last year (and considering my kindergartner taught herself to read, I think we did OK), but I'd like to be a little more organized for the big First Grade.  I'm sure I'll look back on this or on our future kids' first grade years and barely blink, but for now, I think it's a lot about establishing good habits—mainly for me!  Wish me luck!

****Update: Boy am I rusty.  Here's the missing button!****

round button chicken
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