Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Soft Pretzels

I love soft pretzels! My friend Rachael and I made them for our 11th-grade book report on The Scarlet Letter. In the shape of fancy letter A's, of course. We also made homemade "wine" that sort of turned into real wine over a long weekend in our teacher's office . . . but that's another story. Anyway! These are SO delicious. We have a tradition of making them during Holy Week (they are supposed to look like little folded arms, praying).

The children have gotten quite good at making the pretzel shapes (or other shapes . . . Daisy kept making shapes that looked exactly like those "awareness" ribbons you see for breast cancer or what-have-you. They were actually quite nice. And Sebby made a tram which he was very proud of).

(We referenced the recipe from here. Since we ended up modifying it and combining it with this recipe, I will reproduce our version here to save you the trouble.

Soft Pretzels

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 T sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 T yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups

2 c. boiling water
1/4 C. baking soda

4 ounces butter, melted

Combine the water, sugar, salt, yeast, and flour in a stand mixer and beat until they form a soft, not-too-sticky dough. Knead the dough for 5 minutes in the mixer or by hand. [We always do the last couple minutes by hand; I love to knead and so do ALL the children, who each have to have their turns]. Then let it rise for an hour. [The KAF recipe says just to let it "rest" for 30 minutes, but we went ahead with the longer rise.]

*NOTE: Some recipes have you immerse the pretzels in a boiling water/baking soda solution for a minute or two, and others use just hot water---but the KAF recipe is the only one I've seen that actually calls for a "soak" in the soda bath---not boiling, just lukewarm.  I've used the boiling-water-dip in the past, but with kids helping, the soaking option seemed easier, so we gave that a try. And I was very pleased with the results! So I think I'll use that method from now on.

While the dough is rising, prepare the soda bath. Mix 2 cups boiling water with 1/4 c baking soda, stirring until the soda is totally (or almost totally) dissolved. Set the mixture aside to cool to lukewarm (or cooler). Then pour it into a cake pan or other shallow pan.

When the dough is puffy, divide it into pieces and roll out each piece into a long snake. Let the "snake" rest for 5 minutes (to let the gluten relax) and then twist it into a pretzel shape.

In batches of 6-7 at a time (however many you can fit in the soda-bath pan), put the shaped pretzels into the soda bath. Spoon the solution over them so their tops and bottoms are covered, then let them sit for 2 minutes. Remove them from the bath, place them on a greased baking sheet [they say use parchment paper, but that didn't work well at ALL for us---it stuck to their bottoms terribly!], and sprinkle them with kosher salt. Let them rest for 10 minutes, and then bake them at 450 for 8-9 minutes or until golden brown.

When the pretzels come out of the oven, brush them immediately with melted butter. Then eat them while warm. They are SO GOOD! We like them with dipping sauces too (mustard? flavored mayonnaises? even hot fudge---the salty/sweet combination is quite nice) but they don't need the dipping sauces to be delicious.
Rolling
Shaping
Brushing
Done!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Random Thoughts

Daisy and Junie both do this double-pointing thing with their fingers when they're explaining something. They jab the pointers up and down for emphasis. I have no idea where they got this, as I'm not much of a hand-gesturer. (Am I?)

I played the piano for a choir function recently. I didn't know the director very well, so I felt kind of ambivalent about her style. (Not that I didn't like her, I just felt neutral.) After a second rehearsal I realized I was thinking quite warmly of her all of a sudden. This surprised me, so I tried to figure out what had changed. After thinking back a bit, I could trace my warm feelings back to when she had said, "I'd like a lot more from the piano in this section."

When I'm re-heating something in the microwave or oven, I choose the amount of time almost completely arbitrarily, so why do I then feel a moral obligation not to open the door or stop the timer one second earlier than indicated?
I think a bunny washing itself is one of the cutest things ever. I have about 100 pictures of Nutmeg washing his face. My favorite thing is when he pulls his ears down over his shoulders to clean them.

Would you like to read a short story about meat?

Speaking of short stories, here's another of my favorites.

I was in the children's chorus of the opera "Carmen" years and years ago, when I was 7 or 8. Now, when I hear the overture start to play, I still get butterflies in my stomach. Strange, the intensity of some memories!
Sebby made these various crystal shapes out of paper. While I was admiring them I said, "I like the octagonal one" and he immediately got this sort of pained, pitying look on his face. I could see him struggling with himself (trying to be polite) and he finally said, kindly, "It's octahedral, mommy. But . . . thanks!"

Daisy, talking about penguins: "They live in Antarctica where it's sooo cold, and they're always fissuring…fridgering…frigiding…hmmm. I don't think I have that right."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Letter to Abe, age 11 1/2

Dear Aberhammer,

How many nicknames do we have for you, anyway? I think it started when we got you home from the hospital and realized we could call you Abey-Baby. Then there was Aber-Baber and Hammie and Baby Hammer (and we ended up buying you a baby hammer, in fact, but it was Sebby who really loved it most, and we all know how that turned out). Pretty soon your nicknames started to proliferate until they bore almost no relation to your actual name (Abalone? Hamalot?)---but that's neither here nor there.

It's fun to write a letter to you that I know you'll read. I guess I know all of you kids will read my letters to you, eventually, but you'll read this one soon---maybe next time you log on to the computer to write on your own blog. Have I mentioned lately how much I like your blog? I like it because it reminds me of you. You're always changing the fonts (half the time I can't read the darn thing), changing the layouts, adding gadgets (---and let me just interject that it's all true, that stuff about how You Kids are better than your parents with technology. I always used to hear people say that and I thought it only applied once the parents were sort of . . . you know, doddering . . . but I consider myself pretty tech-savvy and you still pick up things and learn tricks I haven't even heard of!---)and so forth. You're kind of silly---okay, very silly---at times, but your blog is fun and surprising, just like you. I love seeing your pictures and reading your thoughts (and correcting your spelling . . . which is what mothers are for, right?).

Anyway, there's something so awesome about seeing you become a Real Person (which YOU thought you were from the time you were about 6 months old, but it took me awhile longer to grudgingly admit that you were one). And not just Any Person, but a Person who has good ideas and makes interesting points and makes me laugh out of not just politeness, but genuine surprise and delight. The other day when we were driving along (and have I told you how much I like having you old enough to ride beside me, instead of behind me, in the car? It's great having a navigator and entertainer right there in the passenger seat!) you saw a billboard that urged, somewhat sappily, HELP US SAVE THE CHILDREN! You looked at it and said right off, totally straight-faced, "Okay then, I'll give you some sound advice: stop doing a million abortions a year." It surprised me and made me laugh at the same time. I feel so lucky to have a son who I just love to spend time with, no matter what we're doing!

Even though I know you're a Person now, I like thinking back to those days when you weren't one. Did you know you're the only one of my babies who has had any hair, to speak of? It's true. It wasn't much by some standards, but I used to rub lotion on my hands and then pull up a little curl on top so you looked like a little cherub. I even entered a picture of you in a contest (Ivory Soap, I think?) and was totally flabbergasted when you didn't win. What WERE the judges thinking? Because you were so clearly the very cutest baby in the universe. And I still like your hair, come to think of it: it's so thick and so blond. I never could have imagined it, way back then. Looking back on your baby pictures now, I see YOU looking back at me, but at the time, I looked and saw only glimpses of what you'd be someday: thoughtful, steady, brave.
Speaking of brave, as I write this we have just gotten back from the doctor, where you had to sit still yet again and have the warts on your hands frozen off. It hurts like crazy, the doctor assured me, and I had to believe him, from the way I saw your back muscles tense and your eyes tighten while he blasted away at your fingers. Those were my only clues, though, since your posture remained straight and your voice steady as you counted for him through the pain: "One, two, three, four."

"He's a total stud," the doctor murmured to me on our way out. "You should hear the screams I usually get from kids." I smiled at him and patted you approvingly on the back, but what I was thinking as we walked out to the car is how he didn't know the half of it. No one does, really, because your true stud-liness is so humble and unassuming that most people miss it.
Dissecting a sheep's brain. No big deal.
Not that they miss it completely, of course. Your teachers like you. Your classmates like you. We ALL like you; we just can't help it! I think everyone you meet feels something of your kindness and your dependability. But it's the extent of it they don't realize, and since no one (including you) likes parents who brag about their offspring---well, when people compliment me on my fine oldest son, I try not to go on and on about you.

But I could, you know. Your brilliant mind deserves a paragraph of its own. I remember sitting in math class in high school, listening to the boys who sat in the back row talk about some number riddle they'd heard in a movie. "I immediately knew it wasn't right because an even plus an odd is always an odd," I remember one of them saying, and I thought, "Who THINKS like that?" Well, you do, it turns out. And let me remind you, I'm good at math! I went through calculus and I got A's, but I just don't have a mind that sorts logically through the universe, classifying it. But you! You find patterns in things I haven't even thought about. You think spatially (and not just with your Rubik's Cube, though you are the Rubik's Master). You make intuitive leaps. And, most wonderful of all, you delight in learning. It's not just math, it's not just science: it's the WORLD. It's LIFE that you love. The way it fits together, what things are called, what they mean. Every single time I introduce a new school unit to you---and I mean EVERY time, from Nuclear Power to Bunnies to the Civil War, you say, "Hooray! I can't wait!" And you mean it. I can picture you doing anything---writing books, making furniture, teaching school, inventing new technology, governing the country. You amaze me.
But you know what is maybe the coolest thing about you?---you know, if I were going to brag about you, which I'm not because it might be embarrassing for you. I think it's the way you treat other people. You're one of THE MOST considerate people I know, which is saying something, since your Dad is pretty amazing in that area himself. You change diapers. You unload groceries. You say, "Sit down, Mommy! I'll do the cleanup!" (What 11-year-old DOES that??) You entertain your siblings and make them speechless with laughter. You thank people. You spend hours creating presents and cards. You shovel the neighbors' snow. You scrub toilets. You say, "What can I do to help?"
And you know what? I don't think you were just born that way, although I do think you have been sensitive to others' feelings since you were a little boy. But I think you've worked at it, bit by bit, because you WANT to be that type of person. I've seen you reading your scriptures quietly in your room when you think no one is watching, and I've seen you writing down goals in your book: "No yelling." "Think of a fun game to play with Daisy." You've worked at being patient and keeping your temper, and you've worked at always apologizing when you're wrong, and now those are just things that are part of you, like your hair or your eyes. When Abe hurts someone he says he's sorry. When Abe makes a mess he cleans it up. Those are things I can just count on, and it's about the coolest feeling I've ever had as a parent, to see my son not just improving, but trying to improve---improving because he MEANS to, because he WANTS to. Do you know why that makes me so happy? It's because I know it's going to make your life happy. It's going to ensure that you have good friends and fulfilling relationships. No one can guarantee that good things are going to happen to you (though I wish I could!)---but when you're willing to always be making yourself into a better person, you can't help but bring happiness to yourself and others, no matter what hard things come your way. I love it that you are already realizing this and working hard to make yourself better all the time.
As I finish this post, you're starting up the dinner for me. (Crepes. Yum.) And I just keep thinking how lucky I am to be your mommy. To be honest, I didn't really know if I would like being a mom very much. I mean, I was pretty sure I'd find it fulfilling or satisfying or some other such noble-sounding word, but when I babysat other peoples' kids, even though they were funny and cute sometimes, I was always quite ready to be rid of them after a few hours. I wasn't sure how I'd do when I had a Totally Permanent baby of my own. But you made me into a Believer, Abe. You showed me that being a Mommy was the most challenging, interesting, absorbing, amazing job in the world, and I've never looked back. You were so darling, so sweet, so fun, that Daddy and I decided being parents was the greatest thing ever, and we threw ourselves into it with Great Enthusiasm (as shown by the five bouncing babies that followed our First Attempt). I don't think I can take much credit for you, but I sure am glad I have you. Thanks for being my Boy of Boys, Über-Abe. I love you most, most, most!

Love,
Mommy

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunshine girls, the sequel

I just love Daisy in her "sunshine dress" (as she calls it). She already looks older than she did here! And Miss Junie is looking so grown-up, too! I love her demure expression.
And Goldie! I love her happy blue eyes. I wonder a lot about these three girls. What will they be like as they get older? Will they keep loving each other the way they do now? I hope so!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sam's Household Duties, Part IV

You might think Sam's the only one around here with any household duties. (See also here, here, and here.) And you'd be right. Also, he's acquiring more all the time. Soon the rest of us may be totally obsolete---except, of course, that some of his duties involve doing things with or for us, so I guess we're safe for now. And as you can see, we absolutely could not do without him! Happy Birthday, my dearest Sam!
  • Looking after my well-being by warning me "Don't read that, it will make you mad."
  • Discovering things like this and this
  • Falling asleep instantly
  • Being hopped around in circles by the bunny
  • Protecting the bunny from the baby
  • Imitating Commander Data being possessed by 5 different personalities
  • Mashing baby food
  • Deciding what dessert we feel like
  • Making Santas that look like Brother Brigham
  • Answering the door when no one else is dressed
  • Straightening the sheets and blankets when they're Wrong
  • Picking up and tossing small objects
  • Making monster noises
  • Buckling babies in
  • Bundling babies up
  • Replying to rhetorical questions such as "Are those people asleep?" And "Is it good, what they're doing up there?"
  • Eating things that are out
  • Losing the stylus to his Wacom tablet
  • Referring to clearly imaginary websites such as "Fandango"
  • Warming up cold pastries
  • Telling Abe about sports cars
  • Wearing Ears, if necessary
  • Leaving ties tied
  • Cursing the old computer (not swearing, but cursing, like "argh, curse this thing!")
  • Exhibiting a touching faith that Rebooting the old computer might help
  • Getting continually in and out of bed while I'm trying to hold still and write my journal entry for the night
  • Re-explaining the pick-and-roll
  • Getting out the ladder
  • Being good at chess
  • Telling me my bunny is cute
  • Remembering (and speaking fondly of) the mailbox key that fell in the sidewalk crack, never to be seen again
  • Looking good in sweaters
  • Saying "Well, this shirt needed washing anyway!"
  • Snoring
  • Doing push-ups while festooned with girls
  • Lamenting lack of student work ethic These Days
  • Running out of Deodorant and then saying "we" need to buy some
  • Enjoying the occasional sumptuous 20-second massage
  • Remembering to cover up the bread or cookies before bed
  • Stuffing little girls into tights without regard for the aesthetics
  • Making grand pronouncements like "We need to stop those kids from leaving scissors out all the time."
  • Knowing what song it is
  • Being conversant in ungraspable concepts such as Battery Life and RAM
  • Smiling at me while I lead the music

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Book of Aim Zing

I have a friend, Jena, from high school. (I also have a friend, Ginna, from high school, and my kids refer to them as "Tornado Jena" and "New Mexico Ginna" to keep them straight. I'm sorry you have to be "Tornado Jena," Jena.) Jena is one of those people whom everyone loves. I sort of wanted to resent her when she joined the cross-country team our senior year (she was one of those adorable, sporty soccer players) and instantly became one of the best runners on the team. But I couldn't. She was just too sweet, and funny, and fun. I had an AP Psychology class with her, among others, and I have nothing but good memories of that. Then we lost track of each other for a few years. And then somehow got in touch again, and suddenly we were writing long emails back and forth, exchanging favorite book ideas and parenting ideas and (later) homeschooling ideas, and it was like no time had passed. I'm so grateful to have friends like that!

That's a lengthy and sort of unnecessary introduction, because what I want to talk about isn't Jena herself, but this goal book she made. But I feel like in some ways, I have to start with Jena herself, because she is IN the book. It's fun and colorful and happy, just like she is. It's amazing, just like she is. Aim . . . zing. Ha!

Okay, so, here's the short version: Jena loves to draw and doodle and make lists, and every year she makes a goal book for herself. You can read her own words about it here (I love the way she writes). She uses it as calendar, planner, quote book, goal book, kids'-cute-sayings-book---everything. Every year it evolves. This year, she made it in downloadable format, and customizeable so that anyone can use it. It can be arranged in any conceivable way, for any conceivable use. And it is ADORABLE. Doodles and boxes and circles and clouds, all intended to make organizing your life easier and more fun.
I was intrigued when I read her posts (here and here) about how she uses her book. She breaks her goals into pieces---weekly goals, monthly goals, yearly goals---and looks at them throughout the year. She writes down quotes to memorize. She keeps lists and sorts things into categories. Her book is a work of art! I admit that, seeing how she used it, I wanted to try it myself, but I was a little reluctant, because I am NOT a goal-book type of person. I don't make New Years Resolutions. (Not in a militant, "I WILL NOT make them!" sort of way---I just . . . don't.) I don't like writing down goals. I do like spreadsheets. I do like being organized . . . but sometimes I don't like being organized. I love my iPad. I also love colorful pens and post-it notes. Unpredictable, that's me! :)

But I wanted to try it out anyway. Mostly, I was pulled in by how CUTE it was! Colors and doodles. It looked fun. And I was tempted to do everything exactly how Jena does it, so my book would be as cute as hers. But I reminded myself sternly that if I was going to benefit from this, I had to make it my own. I had to make it work MY way. 
Oh, good. My way. Thank you, Vizzini. What's my way? That was the question at hand. Well, okay, I use Numbers and Pages and a Calendar app on my iPad extensively, so this book didn't seem like it would be useful if it just reproduced those things. But the first thing I thought of was the little books I used to carry around with me in college---just notebooks where I recorded images; odd things I overheard or saw; the details of everyday (as pictured above). (For a masterpiece in this form, read this!) The iPad isn't very good for jotted observations---too much trouble to turn it on and find the correct app, and in digital form you can't have the fun of flipping through them for inspiration, or adding little descriptive drawings. So this goal book seemed like it might be just the thing.

And as I thought about it, the bon mots of the kids (as we call them) needed a home, too---somewhere close at hand and easy to peruse when you need a laugh. And a place to take notes in church---I still prefer paper for that (less clinical, more friendly, less liable to be mistaken for someone texting or playing Angry Birds). And doodling! While note-taking, if desired. I am not a master of the form like Jena is, but I have my own preferred methods.

With these ideas in mind, I started to get really excited about the book. First I had to find the perfect house for it. Jena's is all printed on beautiful linen-y paper, which I would have liked to do, but I just wanted to get going on it, so I used the cheap-o stuff we have around, and it's fine. The cover was a thorny issue, though. First I thought I'd use a cute binder, but I couldn't find one that was right. Then I tried using some cute paper in a binder cover, but I didn't like that either. Binders are . . . how can I put this? It makes no sense, but they just aren't . . . friendly, in my mind. They are kind of cold and poky and mean. But report covers . . . they hold their pages snugly, like a novel, and they're soft instead of hard. They are friendly! So I looked for one of those. And I found one in yellow! My favorite color, so that was clearly meant to be. :)
Ah, much better.

The report cover won't hold the whole year at once, but it will hold half, and that works fine for me. In June I'll switch my calendar pages over and we'll be good.
At the beginning of the book, there are pages and pages of boxes to fill in with . . . whatever. I told you I don't like writing down goals. But I DO like checking things off a list. So I wrote down things that I don't really think of as GOALS. Just stuff I (or we) want to do and it will be fun to do it, and this will give me a reason to do it, and remind me to do it, AND I get to check off a box. Yay!
I totally needed a place to write down books I want to read. I have been keeping a list on my iPad, and on Goodreads, but again, it's a pain to access, and because I never look at it (unless I'm adding another book to it) I always forget what the books are when I'm at the library. And now I can check them off when they're read. And remember what they were, if I want to recommend them or revisit them later (since I forget everything these days). 
Another thing I love to do is memorize things. Just ask Abe---every time I see one of those "Gettysburg Address: Learn it, Live it!" billboards by the road, I launch into a recitation and there's no stopping me. I love having poems to say to myself when I'm sitting and waiting for something or during a quiet moment (ha ha). So I thought it would be fun to memorize a poem every month. I printed out a bunch of these blank pages and wrote out the poems I wanted to learn. Now when I have a spare minute I can turn to them and work on learning them! And write analysis notes by them. It feels like I'm in college again. Yay!
There are pages that are useful for a traditional "to-do" list format. I like how I can use these for a whole month at a time (scheduling things to be done on a specific day stresses me out, and I avoid it if possible).
I know I said I love my iPad calendar, and I do (alerts! repeating events! color-coded by family member!) but I actually am finding it quite nice to have this one filled in with the basics as well. It gives me a picture of the whole month, and what is coming up, in a way the digital one doesn't. Also, it allows me to draw little pictures and write down menu ideas or other random things as they strike me. I made sure I just scribbled out my mistakes right at the beginning (rather than white-out or something), so I won't get all depressed when I inevitably spoil the symmetry of my writing or smear my ink. I have to allow myself to get somewhat sloppy or I won't use it! I like how there are blank boxes for just whatever on these calendars.
After each month's calendar (and each one is different, with a different color and quote and so forth) there are pages for daily goals and lists. These are the pages I'm using for my notes and observations and random thoughts. I LOVE having a place for these things; it makes me feel like a real writer again. So for example, I'd read a couple of quotes on paradox that I really liked, and I wanted to think about them more, but generally speaking I am so overwhelmed with trying to just survive the chaos of each successive moment that I always forget what it is I want to think about. :) But I wrote down the quotes and I left an empty box by them, and sure enough in church I heard several things that seemed connected to my earlier, half-formed ideas, and then because it was on my mind I encountered the subject again in a news article, and that gave me a few more ideas about it so I wrote those down too. I love thinking about something fruitful during downtime rather than running my mind over things I'm worried about or can't control! Maybe these thoughts will turn into a poem someday, or an essay---but either way it just feels good to THINK. (Did I ever imagine, back in college, that I'd have to "schedule in" time for thinking? I did not. But what did I know?)
As I was busily working away on this book, happily switching between pen colors and so forth (this isn't a post about pens [more's the pity] but I must recommend these erasable markers shown above---I love them so much!!) my son Abraham kept commenting wistfully on how fun it looked. He loves list-making and planning things out, and it finally occurred to me that I could print out a book for him too! He was beyond excited when I told him he could have his OWN goal book. He told me which pages he wanted me to print, and I found him a binder to use (he told me he understood about binders being "unfriendly," but it bothered him more how MY book lost its margins in the binding of the report cover).
Abe adores being able to check things off of his list. He puts random things like "Do the Rubik's Cube" in his book just for the joy of checking them off. :) "This is just the sort of thing I like to do ANYWAY, but now it LOOKS better!" he told me. And it's really fun for me to see the types of goals he wants to set for himself. I love seeing what is important to him, what he wants to remember, and how much he's trying to improve himself and take control of his own time. He would fill up twice as many pages, if he had them. He told me he is RESTRAINING himself and purposely NOT starting to fill in March yet, because he wants to still have it to look forward to later. Whenever I get out my book to look at, Abe runs to get his, and we sit companionably and fill in boxes together. I love it.
And here's something totally adorable: for my birthday, Abe made me "An Addition to the Book of Aim Zing," containing pages that he thought might prove to be useful supplements to what I already had. For example: a page to write down "Funny Jokes" I wish to remember, a page to collect "favorites" for each month (I love that idea; how perfect for our family scrapbooks!), a page for my goals about the piano, and a page of "secrets" (this is folded up and enclosed in a sheet protector so I can write down ideas for presents I want to give to people, and he assures me he WILL NOT peek at it). :)

In summary: I, the non-goal-setter, have been able to turn this "goal book" into just the sort of random, hybridized Book of Everything I want it to be---and it makes my scribblings and ramblings seem beautiful and sort of charmingly idiosyncratic rather than deranged and disorganized---and it has even talked me into setting a few actual goals for my own Betterment. Which is all pretty . . . amazing, I think. Good work, Jena!

You want one, don't you? Well, you can buy one for yourself, here. (And of course Jena's not paying me to say this or anything. I just think this book deserves a wide and appreciative audience.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

You could totally do this (or, Why I Am Not a Saint)

Multiplication tables practice.
Hey! So! I sort of keep this "on the down-low" around here, but we've been homeschooling for awhile now, and naturally I get asked about it from time to time. As I don't like to subject the unwary to the spectacle of me rattling on and on about something, I usually try to confine myself to a brief and non-threatening statement about how much we like it. But I wrote the following email to a friend and thought it might also be useful, in slightly edited form, for those of you who find yourselves curious about such things. To the incurious, I release you! Fly away free!

*******
So, I am concerned and have been thinking about your email. I hate to hear you say you felt like a horrible mom reading about homeschooling—because that's the very opposite of what you should feel!! Argh! It's so hard to express things right. I think about this a lot, because it's so common to have people say something like, "Oh, you homeschool? You are such a saint!" or "You must be so patient; I could never do that; I can barely stand having my kids home for the summer"—or similar statements. And it bothers me—not bothers me in that I'm annoyed, but bothers me in that it makes me think, "That's not correct." I will try to put into words why that is.

First of all, it's NOT that I am putting my own progression on hold and only thinking of my kids, being a saintlike and selfless person. I keep realizing more and more how life is just a series of trade-offs. You just CAN'T do everything you want to do—at least I can’t—so I am constantly shifting around and re-evaluating, trying to keep balance in my life and trying to make sure I’m at least covering the most important things—which keep changing constantly—and I constantly feel like there is SOMETHING I’m really neglecting and should be doing. Once I start doing better on one thing, I promptly neglect something else! But the great epiphany I had was that these things are CHOICES. Like, I could feel frustrated all the time and mad that I can’t do what I want to do—or I can take control and make sure that most (not all, obviously) of the things I'm doing ARE what I want to do—or at least they fit in with what I want to do.

So in other words, I'm searching (along with everyone else) for the balance between what I feel I “should” do—based on the gospel and the culture and what everyone around me is doing—and what I “want” to do—also based on the gospel and my own personality and what is fun and what matters to me.  Some of the “shoulds” and some of the “wants” are unimportant; some of each are also important——but those change based on who I am and who my family is and where we are in our lives, etc.  And that’s why no one should look at me, as someone who homeschools, and think I am doing “more” than they are—because I’m NOT—I’m just doing different things. I can’t speak for all homeschoolers when I say this, because I know some people really do it because they feel they “should.” They feel it is the best thing for their kids, so they are willing to sacrifice their own preferences which would be to NOT homeschool. But for me, it’s not that. I admit I started thinking about it because of some spiritual experiences and promptings that I had, over the course of 6 months or so. And at that point it really wasn’t my preference; I felt like I would rather not, but I was willing to do it if that’s what God had in mind for our family at this time. But then I gradually realized that “homeschooling” had a big component of “arranging my family and my day the way _I_ want it to be arranged” and that was really attractive to me. So I decided we’d just dive in and go for it, try it out for a year and then go back if we didn’t like it, and the amazing thing I discovered is that I PREFER it this way. Again, it’s NOT because I’m selfless and martyrish. It’s because it works with who I am and with what I like and with who our family is. Sure, there are times when I feel like I am sacrificing my own needs or my own time, but EVERY mom does that. The thing that separates me from where I was when we were in public school is not that I’m “more patient” or “more selfless” now—but that I feel like now, I am using my time and my talents in a way that is fulfilling and fun and exciting to me—rather than trying to fit in all the things I “should” do around someone else’s priorities or schedule. And for me that tradeoff is totally, TOTALLY worth it, in fact it makes all the “sacrifice” of homeschool NOT a sacrifice.

I feel like I’m still not making total sense, so let me try to give specifics.

Okay, here is a list off the top of my head of some of the things I wish I could do or think I should be doing.
  • Cooking great nutritious meals, not eating out too often, trying out new recipes to keep things interesting
  • Keeping the house clean
  • Teaching the kids to clean and work
  • Spending one on one time with kids—interviews, dates
  • Helping the kids get along with each other so they will love each other when they’re grown up
  • Playing with the little ones in an educational way, reading to them etc—helping their brains develop
  • Helping the kids become good musicians—piano, singing, an instrument?
  • Keeping the kids physically fit—sports, exercise
  • Keeping myself physically fit, running, lifting weights
  • Practicing and performing the piano
  • Composing or arranging music
  • Writing—poetry, or essays, or anything
  • Being a good friend to my current friends—remembering birthdays, getting together occasionally
  • Making new friends—both me and the kids
  • Having people over for dinner or having fun with other couples
  • Working on my marriage and devoting time to Sam, dates, etc
  • Decorating and making the house look cute
  • Saving money, being frugal, looking for sales and finding “good deals," balancing checkbook, saving for the future
  • Staying informed and involved in the community
  • Looking and dressing cute myself—cute hairstyles, makeup, not “letting myself go” :)
  • Keeping the kids clean—baths, haircuts, new clothes and shoes, mending and fixing old clothes, sorting them, keeping the old ones in boxes to hand down
  • Teaching the kids about the gospel, preparing for missions, "the home is the new MTC”
  • Family Home Evening
  • Free time—unscheduled— “time to be a kid” for the kids so they don’t miss out on the boredom and freedom of childhood
  • Reading great books as a family
  • Reading good books myself
  • Family scripture study
  • Watching BYU football and basketball
  • Watching movies I like with Sam
  • Missionary work/sharing the gospel
  • Personal scripture and gospel study
  • Thinking about and taking care of my mom, and Sam’s parents
  • Keeping in touch with my brothers and their families
  • Going to plays and concerts, enriching myself culturally
  • Learning new things so I show my kids that learning should be a lifelong process
  • Going to the temple, often
  • Fulfilling and magnifying my calling
  • Helping Sam magnify HIS calling
  • Truly listening when the kids talk to me
  • Broadening our minds through travel and having new experiences, getting out of our comfort zone
  • Visiting teaching, being a good neighbor, compassionate service
  • Having more meaningful prayers—couple prayer and personal and family—not letting it get repetitious
  • Working in the yard, weeding, planting flowers, making it look nice
  • Fixing stuff that breaks around the house—I mean, calling the repairman to GET it fixed, or buying the part or painting over the hole or whatever
  • Supporting ward activities and RS activities, primary, passing off scout requirements and hauling everyone to pack meeting etc.
  • Keeping up with doctor’s and dentist appointments for the kids and me
  • Creating and keeping holiday traditions, birthdays, etc.
  • Enjoying the outdoors and the beautiful world around us, riding bikes, hiking, campfires etc.
  • Down time and sleep—relaxing, allowing time to recharge and recover
So, you have a list like that too, as does everyone, obviously. And we CAN’T do it all at once. And I even just wrote things I actually WANT to do and think are important—I didn’t even include things I feel vaguely like I ought to do (family history, volunteering, donating blood, sewing Halloween costumes etc). It sounds clichéd and I know you know this, but it was a big realization for me that EVERY TIME I do something on that list, I am also choosing NOT to do something else! That’s just how it is. And you’re probably thinking, like I did, “How could anyone ever take their huge list like that——and then ADD HOMESCHOOLING to it??! that would be crazy."

So, okay, I started homeschooling because I felt it was something God wanted our family to try, and because it intrigued me . . . and I thought it might be fun, after talking to friends about it. But I did really worry, "What about my own time? do I just have to give that up? what if I resent my kids or have a nervous breakdown because of it?” I know those are real issues for a lot of people. But I thought I would never know unless we tried.

And what I discovered, to my great amazement, was that I had been thinking of it all wrong. For us, and let me emphasize FOR US—it would be different for every family, and I know our experience is not universal, and in fact this might not even be true FOR US at a different time in our lives—but FOR US, RIGHT NOW: homeschooling has allowed me to get to MORE of that list than I EVER have been able to before. I am busy, yes, and maybe I’m busier than I’ve ever been—but it doesn’t feel burdening and I don’t RESENT it the way I resented busy-ness before. Because I always used to have this nagging feeling: "we should be having more gospel study, more family time, more quality parent-child time, etc etc etc——and if I was a BETTER MOM then I would be DOING all those things!  If I were more on top of things, we would get up at 5 a.m. to do scripture study; we would have family councils on Sunday; I would go have nightly talks with the kids as I tucked them in every night." I felt like it was so daunting and I just had no TIME for all those things, because the kids left the house at 8:30, got home at 3:30, homework-dinner-bed, and there was nothing left, and I was so TIRED and I resented every extra school project and every PTA meeting and School Carnival and so forth. But I also knew I could have found the time for doing more, if I’d gotten up earlier or been more efficient or more organized—but I just didn’t. I kept knowing I should but I just didn’t.

So suddenly when my time became MY OWN and MY FAMILY’S, I was able to find ways to fit more in, and it was actually stuff I WANTED to fit in. Piano lessons can be during the school day instead of after it. Helping the little kids get along and be entertained is everyone’s job, not just mine. If something feels really out of balance we have the freedom to correct it. Learning and living aren’t separate tasks. We are learning and reading and spending time together as PART of our school day instead of trying to fit that in AROUND it. Half of the stuff I felt like I “needed to be doing” just gets done naturally when our family is learning together and working together all day long!  I don’t have to add it in separately. I don’t feel like, if I miss the goodnight kiss and talk, that I’m a failure because I haven’t even seen my kids that day, or if I end up getting mad or yelling at the kids, that we only had negative interactions that day, or if we miss FHE I missed my one chance in the week to discuss the gospel. It gives me more margin for error! For me, that’s huge, because I am less stressed and that makes me a better mom! It doesn’t stress me out to read books and plan lessons for our homeschool. I love it!! It’s what I like to do anyway! I do get stressed out about it, of course, but not in the same way, because I’m the one making the decisions. We don’t do stupid projects I think are a waste of time. :) And it’s also this way for me to connect with the kids that I not only didn’t have TIME for before, but I didn’t WANT to do it. I’m not naturally a sit-and-play-legos type of mom, or a let’s-get-out-the-craft-box, or a take-the-kids-to-the-Monte-Bean-museum-in-the-afternoon type of mom. And I think a lot of people (YOU seem to be) are so much better at that than I am, and it’s not that I couldn’t have TRIED to become better at it, but I just didn’t do well even when I tried. I would rather sit and read my own book, or do my own project, and so I felt like I was not giving MYSELF to my kids as much as I would have liked to. But if we’re doing a craft project for school? or a field trip? then it has a purpose to me and I enjoy it SO much more, and I get enthusiastic and have FUN doing it. Again, not that I couldn’t have done that without homeschooling, but I DIDN’T do it. But enthusiasm for learning is one thing I do have, and I have always had, so when I get to share that with my kids, MY way, I really feel like ALL of us benefit. 

And of course, I still am neglecting tons of stuff on that list above, but what we are doing is more in line with my priorities and my inclinations, so everything goes smoother. I know there are people that will think my kids are missing out on stuff, but they’re ALWAYS missing out on something, whether they’re in public school or not. By not being at public school they’re missing out on fun class programs, and having other adults that love them, and good friendships, and potentially being good influences on others around them, and teachers who are smarter and better than me in various ways, and who knows what else, and I’m missing out on stuff too. And we had to weigh that when we were making the decision. But they are gaining closeness with their siblings, and life skills and habits that the artificial setting of a classroom with 30 kids all their same age will never give them, and hands-on knowledge, and subjects and skills no school would have time to teach, and immersion in gospel topics, and a love of learning. And maybe that sounds like I think the latter outweighs the former, and I DO think so, but only for us, you know? For other families, the benefits and costs might be totally different. Or other families might be able to fit in more stuff in addition to public school than we were ever able to. And it’s really worth a lot to me to be able to determine what _I_ think is the most valuable way to spend our time learning, rather than being at the mercy of what the teacher or the school or the government thinks is the most valuable thing for my kids to know. In some ways, maybe that is MORE selfish. Or some people might hate it. For me it is freeing, though, and gives me great peace.

And there are still plenty of external things our family has to plan around—church, scouts, choir, homeschool groups, extended family stuff, sports, etc. So it’s not like I get to TOTALLY dictate how to fill our days. But I have a lot more control than I used to, and it’s really made me so much happier. To the point that, again, I don’t feel like I’m “giving up” anything even though I read less, I practice the piano less, I shower less :), I write less than I used to. The benefits FAR outweigh the costs. And I do have faith that I’ll have time for more of those things in a different time of life—my patriarchal blessing says, what I can’t do simultaneously, I can do sequentially. That comforts me. Also I feel like I have been blessed to (often—not always) have more energy and drive so that I can often accomplish more in a shorter time than I used to. I don’t know why exactly, but when I'm keeping my mind engaged and active in working on school stuff, other parts of my “creative self” seem to come to life as well, even more than they did when I had “more free time.” Interesting. And maybe that's just because of what I like and how I'm made, and it wouldn't be true for everyone? I don't know.

And again, I want to make it clear that I realize there are lots of benefits the other way (i.e., in NOT homeschooling) as well. I have been reminded by several people of what we will be losing by doing homeschool. I have worried about neglecting the younger kids and cheating them of their time alone with me, about depriving the school kids of the chance to learn from other teachers better than me, about making them socially awkward, about them missing opportunities like spelling bees and talent shows and dance programs, etc etc etc.  And to all of those things, I just had to accept it: “Yep. They will miss that. Yes, that is true, they won’t get that.” It’s true. Malachi didn’t get the chance to go off to kindergarten in his cute little backpack all independent and proud of himself and sweet like kindergartners are. And I regret the loss of those things, but I think you just have to face the fact that you can’t EVER fit in everything you wish for. Public School vs. Home School is not a choice between “doing something totally fail-proof that I can guarantee will be great for my kid in every way” vs “doing some crazy thing where who KNOWS what the consequences will be!”  And it’s ALSO not a choice between “doing the minimum for my kid” vs “being a selfless parent who gives up everything enjoyable for the good of my children.” You know? I just think you have to accept that there are tradeoffs in everything, and try to inform yourself about what those tradeoffs might be instead of pretending they don’t exist. That is my main regret about the years previous to our doing homeschool. I didn’t ever even think about the tradeoffs at all; I just did the default. And I didn’t think about what other options there might be, and I didn’t try enough to figure out how to be proactive in shaping our family life into what _I_ felt it should be. I let other people and other activities dictate that more than I should, so I regret that. And really, that’s something I need to be constantly working on with ALL the choices I make in life, not just schooling—should I spend my morning, while the kids are at school, exercising or practicing or reading or going to the temple? If I do one of those what will I be NOT doing? And is it worth it?

Anyway, it was really liberating for me to say, “I have never been good at sitting on the floor playing with the baby anyway. So, she’ll get hauled around hither and yon with us while we have our field trips, and she’ll scream in her crib while I help the older kids with a math problem, and THAT’S A CHOICE I’M MAKING because I think it’s the best of the available options.” Or “Any weird habits or social awkwardness my kids develop will now be blamed on me and/or homeschool, and THAT’S A CHOICE I’M MAKING because I think it’s the best of the available options.” Or “The bickering and fighting between the kids will sometimes seem almost unbearable, but dealing with it is A CHOICE I’M MAKING because I also get all the good parts of having them around.”  You know what I mean? We’re just doing the best we can with the options we have right now, and as time goes on we’ll re-evaluate and make sure we are still doing the best thing we can for the situation we’re in.  And you’re doing the same with your kids—you may not love driving them back and forth, or having to squeeze everything in between the end of school and bedtime, or whatever, but it’s worth it to you because of the opportunities and the growth and the tradeoffs that public school provides to them and you. And if it ever STOPS being worth it then you’ll do something different, because you’re smart that way. :)

SO—I have been very long-winded and I’m still not sure I have been very clear. But that’s the reason I don’t like hearing “you’re a saint!” or “I could never do that!” even though it’s very flattering and I’m sure people mean it nicely! :) I’m just a person like you—bungling along, failing at a million things, impatient with the kids, messy house, wishing I looked cuter, trying to keep the spiritual perspective in the day-to-day. I have been LUCKY enough to have a chance at some control over the structure of my kids’ education and our family’s life, for awhile (it won’t last forever) and I’ve chosen to take that chance because I like the benefits of it and I’m willing to pay the costs of it. And you COULD do it if you wanted to, and you would be great at it, but your NOT wanting to does not make you inferior or bad at parenting. That would be silly for you to think, because you are AWESOME and I’m always wishing I could be more like you as a mother.

Love,
Marilyn

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Furry

I'm sorry, if you don't like lots of pictures of bunnies you should probably click away now. But this furry little bunny-bundle is so much fun. We are having a great time getting to know him!

He and Marigold have a natural affinity for one another. I don't know if the bunny can just tell that she's a baby and is therefore not scary to him? Although, babies can definitely be scary, so I don't know! They are kindred spirits, though.

A blur---running through a toy we made for him