Outside my window I can see the multicolored Christmas lights we keep strung up on our back patio year-round, and beyond that the lights of the city.

I am thinking about the Morning Glory Muffins I want to make tonight. Have I ever blogged that recipe? I really should.

I am thankful for Troy. I mean, I’m thankful for a lot of things, but right now what’s on my mind is how awesome Troy is and how blessed I am to have such a fantastic husband who takes care of me and our girls with zero whining and who watches the big game in between grilling hot dogs for lunch and playing outside with Elliora and giving me a shoulder rub because I have a headache. Like, SERIOUSLY, you guys. I totally won the husband lottery, and I know it and I’m thankful for him every single day.

I am wearing a Nebraska Huskers t-shirt, a Nebraska huskers hoodie, stretch jeans with stars on them, Wonder Woman underwear that I bought in Australia, my wedding and engagement rings, tiny silver disc earrings, and a purple stretchy ponytail holder on my wrist.

I am remembering that I really do like blogging and I should try to get back into the habit, maybe. What do you think? I should also get back into the habit of reading blogs. Since Google Reader went kaplooie I basically don’t read blogs anymore. (Now I hang out on Tumblr. If any of you are on Tumblr and you follow me there, shoot me a message so I know you’re a blog reader! Or that you were a blog reader, back in the days when I blogged. Sigh.)

I am going to spend this coming Wednesday hanging out with Brenda and Bug and Heather, aka CC! Heather lives in NorCal now, so I hardly ever see her even though we live in the same state, and I miss her.

I am currently reading about six different things. Let me see. I’m reading Deadly Heat, the latest book by mystery author Richard Castle…who is the main character played by Nathan Fillion on the TV show Castle, of course. Don’t judge, they’re good books, and a lot of fun if you watch the show because they always have tons of easter eggs for fans. I’m also reading the latest Rick Riordan book, House of Hades. I’m re-reading Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl; I’m pretty much always reading one or another of Rainbow’s books. I haven’t picked either of them up for a while, but I’m also technically in the middle of reading Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Oh, and I’ve been reading Secret Agent Josephine in Paris (by guess who!) to Elliora at bedtime almost every night since we brought our copy home. It’s a really fun book–you should probably buy a copy or three if you haven’t already.

I am hoping that all the sleep I got last night (and all the sleep I’m planning to get tonight), all the Emergen-C and vitamin C I’ve been taking, and all the peppermint tea with honey I’ve been drinking are going to keep this cold from taking over my life for the next two weeks.

On my mind: Honestly? Thor: The Dark World. I just saw it today with Bonnie and Claire, and it was excellent. And Zachary Levi, AKA Chuck Bartowski, was in it! Forget Loki; I was more excited about Fandral.

—several hours pass while we eat dinner and get the kids to bed and watch episodes of Sleepy Hollow and White Collar and I make Morning Glory Muffins—

Noticing that I really don’t like this “True Airplane Disasters!” show that Troy is watching. (He changed the channel when I asked nicely.)

Around the house we still have way too much stuff. It’s a perpetual problem with growing children, I suppose. Also, our kids are the kind who shed belongings and leave a trail everywhere they go. I’ve become mostly-resigned to the fact that our house is just never going to be perfectly neat and organized. It’s either that, or spend my days nagging everyone to pick up their crap and living in a state of constant annoyance, and I don’t want to be like that. So most of the time I sigh and let it go.

In the kitchen, there are Morning Glory Muffins cooling on the counter and a sink full of dirty dishes.

One of my favorite things is our Fiber Friday homeschooling group. It’s basically a playgroup for the kids, and a knit/crochet/stitch/drink coffee/chat group for the moms. Everyone in that group is awesome and I’m grateful for them.

From my photo archive:

Ides of March fashion, by Annalie This is Elliora's Going-To-Pick-Up-Chinese-Food-With-Daddy outfit (with optional puzzle accessory), 100% selected by her.

On the left is a photo of Annalie in an outfit chosen entirely by her in March 2008, when she was almost 4. On the right is a photo of Elliora in an outfit chosen entirely by her today, when she is two weeks shy of her third birthday.

happy new year!

January 16th, 2013

I am also a big fan of @wwjend's hats.
My favorite hat, knitted by my friend Jen

Oh hai there. Yes, I’m still alive. Just out of the habit of telling you all what I’m doing.

You can see the sun sinking below the horizon. Golden.

A teeny sliver of moon. This sunset is SO much prettier in person.

So…what have I been doing? Well, taking lots of sunset photos, as usual.

Sunset photographer. Checking the shot.

Annalie has also been taking sunset photos. I’d show you the photos she took, but I haven’t downloaded photos off that camera in weeks. I love Instagram along with 100 million other people, but it’s made it way too easy for me to be lazy about taking pictures with my real camera.

Homeschooling in a blanket fort.

Homeschooling is going really well lately. Annalie mostly does her daily lessons without complaint nowadays. It probably helps that she’s almost nine years old (!), and that she can do them in a blanket fort if she wants to. Also she’s not allowed to watch any TV or movies or play any computer games until she’s done with lessons and reading and her daily chores. (It’s all about knowing what exactly motivates your particular kid. If you’d told me I couldn’t watch TV till I’d done my chores and homework, I’d have shrugged and retreated to my room with a stack of books, content.)

Annalie's door art.

A lot of art is going on lately, too. Annalie always loves to draw and paint and create, but she seems to go through occasional periods when she is creating more or less constantly. It’s like she wakes up in the morning with ideas, scenes, pictures she dreamed up and she can’t do anything else until she gets them down on paper or canvas.

Annalie and her portrait of Lady Gaga.

And then sometimes, we’re eating dinner at a restaurant where the tables are covered with paper and Annalie picks up a couple of crayons and casually whips out a portrait of Lady Gaga before our food arrives.

Annalie drew herself as a mermaid. A Christmas mermaid. Like ya do.

Annalie’s Christmas-mermaid self-portrait. (What? “Christmas-mermaid” isn’t a thing?)

I love this beach scene. I love all the amazing art Annalie has been creating lately.

I love this beach scene. There are so many amazing things going on in it: the detailed sand castle, the far-away sailboat, the plumes of smoke billowing out of the cargo ship, the different colors of blue of the water and sky, and the huge crazy sun dominating everything else.

New art in the front hallway, by Annalie.

I thought the sun in the picture went rather well with the ceramic sun—purchased by Troy in some Mediterranean country while on a deployment years ago—that hangs in our front hallway. I’d tried several different paintings and photographs in that spot, but nothing looked quite right. I framed the drawing and hung it up, and it works perfectly.

Bug's creations on the left; Annalie's on the right. Re: the top right canvas,  Bug's real name starts with H. :-) @secretagentjo

My mom gave Annalie a stack of a dozen small canvases for Christmas, and I think it might have been Annalie’s favorite gift this year. She hasn’t been hoarding them, but—atypically for her, the kid who uses every sticker on the sheet in two minutes flat—she hasn’t blown through them, either. The first time she used them, Brenda and Bug were here visiting, and she generously and excitedly shared her gift. The two canvases on the left are Bug’s; the two on the right are Annalie’s. (Re: the canvas on the top right, Bug’s real name starts with H. Awwwww.)

Awesome Narnia-themed card by Annalie.

I think this is my favorite thing Annalie has drawn recently. She made this awesome Narnia-themed birthday card for friends who had a Narnia-themed birthday party. Look at it! Aslan, Reepicheep, Susan’s bow and arrows! The Dawn Treader! The painting in the Scrubb family’s guest bedroom that drew them back into Narnia! What really impressed me about all of this is that it’s been probably a year or more since Annalie has seen any of the Narnia movies and even longer since we read the first book. (And can you tell that Annalie has recently discovered Cake Boss on Netflix?)

Sequined hat, pink rhinestone shades, rocketship footie pajamas. The girl's got style.

Why yes, I do have two children, now that you mention it. This one is just harder to get photos of these days, because she’s constantly in motion. She is something else, this kid. When we ask her how old she is, she tells us, “Six.” If we try to insist she’s two, she shakes her head and airily replies, “I’m not two. I six,” before wandering off to climb on something she shouldn’t be climbing on.

Double-handed I-love-you signs.

She flashes the ASL “I love you sign” two-handed, and tells us, “I love you too!” When someone is carrying her against her will, she demands, “PICK ME DOWN.” Troy has discovered that if he reminds her to use her manners when asking for something with the phrase, “Can I get a ‘please’ in there?” then Elliora will repeat her request for food or water or whatever and tack the phrase, “please in there?” onto the end. It makes us laugh every time. She makes us laugh a lot.

Doing our part to raise the next generation of geeks. #GeekShirts

They both make us laugh a lot, these little geeklings of ours.

E: "I'll snuggle and help warm you up, Annalie!"

I think we’ll keep ‘em.

Two colorful potholders I've crocheted recently.

I’ve crocheted a few potholders recently. Some of them I’ve given away as gifts, but these two I’m keeping because the two crocheted potholders I’d been using for years both got burned on Thanksgiving.

A galaxy of crocheted stars! Some last-minute gifts a friend ordered: crocheted balls and a star ornament. Fingers crossed they get there on time!

Some star ornaments I crocheted for Brenda and Bekah, and a few crocheted balls. I’ve actually crocheted about 20 balls recently to give as gifts, but I haven’t take pictures of them all. Yes, I said “to give as gifts.” Only about three people got timely Christmas gifts from us this year, and that’s only because I ordered their gifts online and had them shipped directly. Everyone else probably thinks we suck and don’t love them anymore. And let’s just say I’m hoping to get our holiday cards mailed out before Valentine’s Day. I won’t even mention all the Christmas baking I didn’t do this year. Ironically, however, our Christmas tree is still up. (Was it just me, or was anyone else particularly unmotivated this past holiday season?)

An owly hot pad for @secretagentjo.

An owly hot pad I crocheted for Brenda, at her request. It’s meant to look kind of like her book character, Little Hoo. I think it turned out pretty good, considering I was completely making it up as I went along.

Be wholehearted.

I’ve painted some stuff, too. Have I taken pictures of most of it? Noooo. In fact, one person who had commissioned me to paint her a mug, oh, a couple of months ago sent me a very sweet note on FB, wondering if her mug had been fired. I have been very, very slow about shipping items to people lately. Lucky for me, people are mostly kind and understanding about this, but I hate the fact that I’ve been taking advantage of people’s good natures. If I have been slow about shipping something to you, please accept my humble, heartfelt apology and this reassurance: I’m so sorry I’m slow. It’s not just you. Everyone has been waiting forever for their pottery. I promise I will try to do better.

Annalie found my origami book & paper. She folded the blue hat first, then the green hat.

I hate to end a post on that slightly bummer note, so here! Please enjoy this photo of oranges wearing origami hats, folded by Annalie. She found a book and some paper that I had and has been folding all kinds of things entirely on her own. It’s kind of awesome to watch her figure something like that out without any help.

Rainbow cake on a random Tuesday: that's how I roll.

If you were here in my house, I would further brighten your day by feeding you a piece of rainbow cake, which I made on a random Tuesday because that’s how I roll. Here’s hoping you all had wonderful holiday seasons and that 2013 is full of random-Tuesday rainbow-cake goodness for everyone.

reading is fundamental

September 19th, 2012

geeklings reading on the deck

It mystified me when I realized a few years ago that Annalie was actively resisting learning to read.

I was an early reader—very early. I was barely three when I started reading easy-reader books. In kindergarten I was so shy and reserved that my teacher didn’t know I was reading at a third-grade level. The summer after second grade, I borrowed the Beverly Cleary book Fifteen from a teenager traveling on the same Trailways bus as me and my family and finished it before the trip was over.

Reading was my number-one, all-time favorite activity as a kid. I liked to color and draw, and I enjoyed swimming and playing kickball with my brother and our friends in our front yard (we ran the bases backwards—the corner sidewalk square was first base, the cracked sidewalk square was second, and the crab apple tree was third). But reading trumped everything.

I carried a book with me everywhere we went, from Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house to the movie theater when it was my brother’s turn to pick the movie, and read in every spare moment. The only thing I ever got in trouble for at school was being so lost in a story that I failed to hear the teacher asking us to get out our math workbooks. When neighborhood friends knocked on our door and asked if I could come out and play, I often politely told them, “Not right now, thanks. I’m reading.”

It’s not surprising, then, that I wasn’t sure what to do with a kid who didn’t want to read.

As Annalie turned three and four without any signs of wanting to read for herself, I just shrugged. She was clearly a smart kid, and she knew the alphabet and her numbers backwards and forwards. She’d learn when she was ready. I kept reading out loud to her and encouraged her fledgling attempts to sound out words.

As Annalie turned five, and then six, and still was mostly indifferent to reading, I worried a little. I talked to my friends whose kids were a bit older than Annalie, and some other homeschooling moms. My friends reminded me that kids learn at different rates, that in some European countries ANY formal math or reading lessons are verboten until kids are seven or even eight years old, by which time most kids are on an even playing field as far as cognitive reasoning goes.

So I just kept doing what I’d been doing all along—reading to Annalie, praising her efforts to read, and modeling lots of reading for her.

That changed a little when we started doing sit-down lessons with a first-grade curriculum. I thought, Well, someone who knew what they were doing designed this curriculum, and I know Annalie is smart enough to read, even though she doesn’t want to, so…I guess we’ll just follow the curriculum and see what happens.

Mostly what happened was: Annalie started to learn how to read more than the thirty or so words she could already recognize. It was laborious and slow and involved lots of whining, even though I made it as fun and painless as I possibly could. Getting her to sound out a word was like pulling teeth, even though she was always proud of herself when she realized she was improving. Frankly, it was exhausting, and her stubborn resistance to reading made many of our homeschool days more frustrating and challenging than they otherwise would have been. (Of course, it probably didn’t help that I was in my third trimester of pregnancy at the time. Just trying to figure out which mug to drink my coffee from in the morning could leave me in tears.)

Around the time I had Elliora (about halfway through the homeschool year) I sort of threw up my hands and retreated from the reading battlefield. I was taking some time off from formal lessons anyway, since I’d just had a baby. I decided if Annalie just wanted me to read to her, and she didn’t want to take turns reading sentences, that was okay. And anytime she asked me what a word was—even if it was “the” or “and”—I wouldn’t ask her to sound it out, I’d just tell her what the freaking word was. She’d learn words that way too, eventually.

It wasn’t a magical solution that instantly made her want to read more. She still resisted sounding out words on her own. But (here is where homeschooling really shines, in my opinion) because we had the luxury of time, because there was no class of eager readers for her to keep up with, I was able to let Annalie go at her own pace. Slowly, over the next few months as she realized the pressure was off, she started to read more and more on her own. She got a big boost in confidence at the end of the school year when she took the California Acheivement Test and scored well above her grade level in reading.

Then last year, during our very unschooly second-grade year, at some point the switch was flipped. It really did seem that fast, like Annalie went overnight from carefully sounding out things like:

“On…brigg…bright red days, ho…how good it fells…feels…”

to smoothly reading things like:

“Fire Lord Zuko’s off his gourd! You people don’t belong here! This is the kingdom’s—and the earth’s—first school of metalbending!”

As a beginning third-grader, Annalie still doesn’t love to read like I did at her age, but that’s okay. She is confident in her reading skills now, and doesn’t shy away from words or books. On our moving road trip this summer, she discovered Archie Comics Digests at some gas station or another, which is hilarious to me because I loved those at her age. She’s just starting to realize that reading can let her go places and discover wonders all within her own head. She already knows very well that, “Can I please stay up and read just a little longer?” will get her bedtime delayed a quarter-hour or so.

I know there are people who probably think I should have just pushed her a little bit harder a couple of years ago, and she would have learned to read much sooner; that school is challenging sometimes and you just have to learn to deal with it, the sooner the better.

I agree that school—and life!—are challenging, and that anyone who doesn’t teach their kids how to deal with challenges and disappointments is doing them a disservice. If Annalie had been in a regular school, she probably would have learned to read just fine a year or two earlier than she did. Or maybe she would have resisted, and would have been labeled a slow learner. I don’t know. But I do know that six-year-olds are just barely past babyhood, really. If you have a preschooler who loves to read, that’s fantastic! They will probably do great in a traditional classroom. But if you have a perfectly intelligent five- or six-year-old who balks at being asked to interpret the written word, it’s probably not the end of the world. Give her another year or two, and she’ll be older and more mature, and she just might teach herself to read overnight.

I’ve been so thankful over the past couple of years that we are homeschoolers, which enabled Annalie to learn to read at her own pace. I don’t know why she wasn’t ready to read sooner, I don’t know if it was for emotional reasons or what, but I’m thankful that I didn’t have to force her to learn before she was ready.

Most of all, I’m grateful that she’s reading now…that she’s cracked the code and a world of knowledge is out there waiting for her, in libraries and bookstores and magazine stands and on the internet, and I get to help her explore it.