Marbled Paper

Art time with small children is not my forte. I tend to turn into an ogress when surrounded by paint splatters, spilled cups, and finely shredded paper glued to the table. The twins never painted until they started at a Montessori preschool right before their fourth birthday. Over the past two years art project ideas and motivation from A Year of Playing Skillfully have helped us all. With practice the kids are much better at not eating the art supplies. I’m much better at letting them explore and create. Smocks from IKEA and $2 wipeable plastic tablecloths with picnic clips holding them down also help keep my panic in check.

These days the kids may use crayons, colored pencils, paper, and coloring pages upon request. I try to set up more organized (i.e. highly supervised to prevent disastrous mess) art projects once a week. This week we made marbled paper again. The steps are simple and the project can be made with household supplies.

1) Spray a large baking pan with shaving cream. If you like, let the kids use it for sensory play or letter writing for a while. Smooth each pan until you have a flat even surface. Use medicine droppers to drip liquid watercolors (food coloring also works) over the shaving cream.

2) Use the pointy tip of a knife to draw vertical and horizontal lines through the shaving cream. Younger kids do best with straight lines. Kids with better fine motor control to keep the tip pointed might want to experiment with circles and waves.

Don’t overmix or draw with too broad an edge or the colors will blend and you’ll lose a lot of the distinctive marbling. I didn’t catch this child in time and you can see that the patterns are less distinct on the paper (though she had a grand time stirring).

3) Press a piece of watercolor paper or heavy card stock evenly into the shaving cream. I also think individual index cards would be nice. They could be used as Valentines or Easter cards. Give the paper a few seconds to pick up the paint.

4) Scrape the shaving cream off the paper with a long knife or cake froster. Here you can see what a page looks like freshly lifted from the pan:

…and then the pattern emerging underneath as I start scraping away the shaving cream.

4) Set the paper out to dry. You can pin down the corners to prevent curling if you like.

Last year I cut the kids’ pages into hearts and strung them up as Valentines garlands (goodness knows we need some color in the white and gray days of February!). This year we’ll probably use the pages as cards or for other purposes.

For the most part the kids (6, 6, 4, and 3) handled smoothing the cream, dripping in the paint, and drawing the marbling lines. I helped them press the paper down evenly. I scraped away the shaving cream for them just to keep the mess down.

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Seven Quick Takes – In the Deep Midwinter

ONE

Our family does best when we embrace winter as a season. That means fostering coziness indoors – fires most nights, candles with every dinner, blankets on the couch – and winter fun outdoors daily. Even if it takes the kids as long to bundle up as they get to spend playing outside on a truly bitterly cold day everyone is in a better mood after fresh air, sledding, or a snowball fight with neighbors. Right before the worst of the Polar Vortex hit we took all the kids on a snow hike and sledding in a nearby forest preserve. It’s the first year the smaller two were ready for the big hill instead of our near-daily backyard sledding. Everyone had a blast. During the following week it got down to -27 (-33 celsius) with windchills around -50 to -60. We mostly stayed inside for two days because the kids refuse to wear neck gaiters/face masks over their faces and it was too cold for exposed skin. Unfortunately one of our furnaces couldn’t handle the strain and died. We’re making do with space heaters for now and happy it’s not worse. Our poor neighbors had a pipe burst in their basement the day they moved across the country! A couple balmy days and a family-wide case of the flu followed the cold snap.  We’re now back to cold and snow as regularly programmed.

 

TWO

The kids caught the Beatrix Potter bug this winter. We’ve spent lots of time cuddled up on the couch with Peter Rabbit, Hunka-Munka, and Mrs. Tiggywinkle. I never actually enjoyed her stories or art as a child and the kids didn’t show much interest in years past. However, my grandmother sent them a beautiful boxed set of Potter’s books for Christmas and something about those lovely little hardbacks did the trick. Turns out I enjoy them now too. I didn’t realize they were so funny! In January we read a lot of winter and arctic-themed books. As we slog through February and winter starts to drag a bit I’ve transitioned the library book basket over to fairy tales and fables using the Read Aloud Revival monthly booklist as a springboard. It’s a good month for escaping into magic worlds. We always include some black history in our reading but are diving deeper for Black History Month. Valentines Day is not a big day for us but the kids enjoy making cards and decorations so we add in a few Valentines Day books as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories this month. Plenty of studies show that stories are a uniquely powerful vehicle for learning and information, but I also like thinking about how they connect us across time and geography. An Anansi story from a thousand years ago in Africa still makes our family laugh on the couch today. A well-told story can put us in the shoes of Genghis Khan or make us cry over a refugee family. A group of actors in England can tell the story of a brilliant but lonely man in 1960s Oxford that captivates two tired parents four thousand miles away in a snowbound house in the American midwest. Which brings us to:

THREE

Endeavour. We’re not big TV watchers but this winter a great story made the coldest winter days fly by. I’d watched the stand-alone prequel movie and first season of the BBC’s Endeavour a few years ago and enjoyed it. I just realized this winter that there are currently five seasons and have spent most of my spare time (and perhaps some time that wasn’t spare but stolen) immersed in the story. I haven’t enjoyed a show this much for years. Intricate mysteries, lovingly recreated historical settings, beautiful cinematography, and above all, brilliant acting. I was vaguely familiar with the original Morse played by John Thaw and knew of the books but Shaun Evans’ depiction of young Morse is outstanding and the other leading actors are equally good. It’s been years since I’ve seen a TV show tell such a good story so well. I finished the Fifth Season last week and am fighting the urge to go right back to the beginning and start over.

Just a heads up, the individual prequel movie does have some nudity unlike the full seasons that follow. The prequel sets up the character well and addresses real moral issues (trafficking) but be advised in case you’re watching with young kids around the house. It’s not a series I’d watch with young kids regardless.

FOUR

Another thing keeping the winter fidgets at bay? The kids caught the games bug this winter. They’ve begged for games in the past, but I can’t say anyone enjoyed them. They didn’t understand the rules, fought and sobbed over losing, and broke and scattered all the game pieces. This winter we’ve had many successful rounds of Old Maid, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Count Your Chickens, Go Fish and others. It’s wonderful to see Annie play games with her siblings. For a child who struggles with social interaction and sensory overwhelm, structured games are an ideal vehicle for play. She’s able to relax and engage because there are clear rules to follow and she’s strong at tasks that require pattern or match spotting.

FIVE

I’m hitting the stage of winter where I get the winter….not blues, so much, as…discontent? Antsiness over career, home, location, travel, religion, politics, and neighborhood gets compounded by short sleep, illness, sick kids, and solo parenting during travel weeks for my husband. I’ve found the best solution is to get up and do something physical. Declutter and scrub, go for a walk, even just run up and down the stairs putting away laundry.

I’m also brushing up on my piano skills. I took lessons for eleven years but haven’t played much outside of Christmas caroling since the twins began to walk. Piano during naps woke the kids, and outside of nap time there were too many little hands grabbing for the keys. This winter they’re all mature enough to let me play and I often sit down to have a little fun with Bach or Mozart during their lunches (our piano sits in the Dining Room). Mom gets a mental break, and the kids get a little “live” music. Win-win. Really anything creative helps. Carving out the time to create something beautiful or meaningful through art, music, writing, handcrafts, or design always make me happier. I also set up extra art opportunities for the kids in winter. During the summer we’re usually outside all day and the art things barely get a glance. In winter I’ll often pull out some sensory play or art supplies for them and they’ll happily spend half an hour or an hour creating at the kitchen table.

SIX

A good book series also helps me battle the winter doldrums. I picked up the first of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels in mid-January and am now on the eighth. They are completely delightful mysteries following and middle-school aged chemistry genius in 1950s England. Clever, hysterically funny, quick, and just right for the months of snow and ice. The most recent I read felt a bit weaker, but that won’t stop me from finishing the series. They’re best read in order.

SEVEN

We’re working on decorating plans. I’ve found Myquillyn Smith’s Cozy Minimalist Home very helpful and thought-provoking over the winter. Although we have different tastes my mom has a great eye for decorating and I grew up in a home full of her decorating and design books. However, I’ve always struggled to put a room together. The books I’d looked at were not much help. I could see a room I liked but couldn’t move from there to a coherent room of my own. Many of the books were topical (what to put in a bedroom, ideas for gallery walls) or very specific to one style. Cozy Minimalist Home does a good job working through the building blocks of a room whatever your taste, from figuring out major furniture placement to building blocks of rugs, curtains, lighting, and just enough decorating. To be clear, Smith’s decorating style is emphatically not my own, and her writing style drives me a little crazy. It’s the sort of chatty “hey girlfriend!” style that annoys me to no end, and the book could be condensed easily into one very clear and concise two page article. Faults notwithstanding, it’s started the wheels turning and various rooms around the house are underway for the first time since moving in 2.5 years ago.

 

Halloween

We had a surprisingly lovely Halloween. “Lovely” isn’t the first adjective I’d usually associate with that holiday, but there it is.

The kids helped scoop out the pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns before I carved them the night before Halloween. Annie was especially into it and stayed to scoop long after the others ran off to help Daddy in the yard.

Our friends down the street invited us over for pizza and salad and then we bundled the kids up and piled out into the crisp fall air for trick-or-treating. They have three boys in the same age range as our children and we love having them as neighbors. Our kids routinely play together, we’ve had them up for s’mores, most of the children went to nature camp together this summer, and I attend a community Bible study with the mother. Our kids had a great time rushing together from house to house this year.

We live in a fairly quiet neighborhood with few children and many reserved neighbors who stick to themselves and don’t even go into their yards. After some initial loneliness here we’ve been working hard at building relationships in our community and we noticed it paying off this Halloween. It felt like such a cheerful, neighborly, social evening with friendly greetings and brief catch ups all through the neighborhood.

Our kids reveled in the unheard of privilege of ten pieces of candy before bed, enjoyed a couple more pieces each day through the weekend, and that was that.

I have mixed feelings about Halloween. My parents, concerned by the gleeful representations of evil in our town and the holiday’s historical background, decided our family would no longer celebrate Halloween when I was about eight. I respect their thoughtful decision, but also love the simple fun and pageantry of it for little kids: costumes, crunching through fallen leaves in the cold and dark with friends, friendly neighbors, treats.  Nobody in our neighborhood puts up scary decorations. There’s little preparation required (bag of candy, pumpkin or two, costumes, no house cleaning or cooking!, done) and it only lasts a day. I think one of the reasons I love Halloween is that there’s no other holiday like it for community, at least here in the United States. On Thanksgiving most people celebrate with family or close friends or perhaps invite lonely strangers. Christmas is almost always with family, New Years with family or friends, Easter with family and church, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor day with friends or family. Halloween, though, is with your neighborhood. It’s the day when everyone with kids steps out and greets everyone else in the neighborhood, and almost every neighbor opens their door with a big smile to see the costumes and say hello to the adults. We had neighbors we barely know checking before the holiday to make sure we were planning on stopping by their house and met new neighbors who’d just moved in.

Three weeks later all the leaves are down, snow covers the ground, and I’m planning dishes for Thanksgiving. In my childhood the earliest snow I can remember was on Halloween, but in the past few years we’ve already had several rounds of sticking snow by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. It’s dark by late afternoon, and we have candles with dinner and a fire in the fireplace almost every night. Cozy season is here!

Day in the Life

I’m always glad when I scroll back through my posts and drafts and find old Day-in-the-Life notes. A day was so different with infant twins and a husband worked long hours in the Army, with four kids two and under, and now with two kindergartners and two preschoolers. Those snapshots in time have turned into unexpected treasures for our family, although probably boring to others! There’s no such thing as a typical day here; the Man works an irregular schedule, some days are for errands, some for school, and on some days we have appointments or therapy. This, though, is one day in our life right now.

5:30 The alarm goes off. I like to be up well before the kids. This introvert has a much better day when it starts with some quiet time before my crew spills down the stairs. The Man is sick but thankfully doesn’t have a shift today so I get up quietly, dress in the dark, then head downstairs to make myself half a bagel and tea. I start to lay out the kids’ breakfast at the same time.

5:40 Sit down at the table with my breakfast (or half of it – I’m saving room to eat a bit more with the kids). I start with Bible (Psalms, right now), then catch up on Facebook, email, and my blog feed. I realize it’s September 11th when I see someone else’s post. Seventeen years later and shock still lingers at the edges for most of us. I don’t know anyone in this country who can’t remember where they were when they heard the news, and almost all of us know someone who escaped that day, or someone who died, or someone who lost or nearly lost a relative or friend. It changed my husband’s life (he joined the Army in the middle of med school) and mine, as well as our nation’s course, for better and for worse. There’s also lots of news in my feed from friends in the Carolinas preparing for Hurricane Florence. After catching up on internet news I read my current book (Dinner, a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach), preheat the oven for breakfast, meal plan, and place our Walmart grocery order.

6:45 Mix up a baked German pancake and pop it in the oven.

6:50 Get kids up, help them potty, wipe down, lotion, dress (we lay out clothes the night before), and brush teeth. Jack is pretty independent (albeit reluctantly so) about getting himself ready, the others all still need a lot of help.

7:10 The Man is up, though sniffly and tired from poor sleep. He takes over the last of the kid prep while I finish making breakfast and put the dining room to rights after last night’s cleaning. I print a picture for Annie to share with her driver, pack the last cold items for her lunch, and do a final backpack check.

7:25 Kids are in chairs at the table for a breakfast of apples, German puffed pancakes, and milk. They listen to the Same Page podcast for Shakespeare, poetry, scripture, and presidential facts, then listen to the first half of the Wizard of Oz, Chapter 10, from the same podcast. I sit with them to eat a slice of pancake. Carl reads Genesis 3. One child heads to timeout for relentless interrupting. I unload and load the dishwasher then read a picture book to Annie, who is done with breakfast before the others, and put on respectable clothes (see “dressed in the dark” above) to take her out to the bus.

8:00 Out the door to wait for the bus. Annie rides her bike for a few minutes. The bus is early.

8:05 Text a neighbor to see if she and her kids are free to play this morning. They’re busy. Respond to a teacher’s email. Meanwhile the Man clears the dishes, tidies the kitchen and dining room, and sits down to read a stack of picture books with Jenny and Josie.

8:20 I do a reading lesson with Jack. Could’ve taken 10 minutes, takes 22 due to bouncing, sulking, and a tantrum 🙄. I release him for a couple minutes then call him back for:

8:47 Right Start Math. Jack does two lessons with me. The Man is still reading a stack of picture books to the little two, then switches them over to Magnatiles. Schoolwork is so much easier when there’s another adult in the house for crowd control! If he’s not around I put the little two in the sunroom with blocks or trains.

9:17 Little ones playing with Magnatiles. Jack joins them and I free the sneezy Man from kid duty to go rest again. I pull out art supplies and a book and prep the kitchen table for painting with a wipeable plastic table cloth.

9:30 I call the kids to the kitchen for a book and painting. This activity comes from A Year of Playing Skillfully. We read He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by the fabulous Kadir Nelson. Then the kids make their own “worlds” by using pipettes and dripping blue and green liquid watercolors onto coffee filters. The kids love it. I’m not much of an arts and crafts mom but my kids adore painting and creating so I appreciate that AYOPS provides a steady supply of great process-oriented art projects for our kids. After painting the coffee filters they switched to paper towels and had fun watching the paint absorption patterns. Jack has been in a bad mood all morning, but as I’d hoped working with his hands settles him and snaps him out of it, as it usually does.

That child on the end isn’t smiling, she’s tantrumming because she can’t get her dropper to suck up paint. Thankfully, big brother to the rescue:

10:00 The kids wrap up painting. I help them scrub up and change out of painting clothes, then wipe down the table and put away the painting things. As the kids hit the restroom and put on shoes I clear the fridge a bit for groceries and grab a quick piece of cheese for each kid.

10:25 We’re on the road for the park a bit later than I’d like. The Man woke up from his nap right before we left and agreed to finish clearing the fridge and make lunch for everyone while we’re out. As we drive the kids listen to Mozart and I listen to my current audiobook, Just Open the Door. It’s so-so – some good ideas on hospitality, but with a “hey, girlfriend!” tone that is not my cup of tea. The statistics are what strike me most. A full 1/3 of all Americans don’t know their neighbors at all. About half of all American children eat fast food for at least one meal a day. Most American families only sit down to a meal together once every five days. It’s so foreign to the way I grew up and the way we run our family. [For really thought-provoking writing on hospitality I prefer Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key, read earlier this summer. Butterfield is definitely stronger with narrative than with explanatory/connecting sections but there’s a lot of meaty food for thought in her book.]

10:45 Park. I run into a lady I know casually. There’s the usual assortment of young moms with preschoolers and babies, one in snow boots because his mother has wisely chosen to pick her battles, 75 degrees or not.

11:04 The grocery order is ready. We leave the park to pick it up. More reading time via audiobook for me.

11:11 Arrive at the grocery store, wait for our order to be brought out.

11:18 Done and on our way with a week’s groceries in the trunk. Hooray for online grocery shopping! There’s no fee and I find I save money because I don’t make impulse buys as I walk through the store. The drive home is beautiful – blue sky, golden-brown corn and soybeans, and early fall colors on the trees.

11:30 Home. The man and I unload and put away groceries with varying degrees of “help” from the kids.

The Man sits down to eat lunch with the kids while I keep going to get all the food unpacked and put away. Once they’re done with lunch the kids go down for naps just in time for me to…

12:16 …Step out to pick tomatoes and wait for the bus. I say hi to the driver, spend a few minutes with Annie, then leave her to ride her bike on the driveway for a bit before nap. We’ve found the transition home goes much more smoothly when she has a few minutes exercising outdoors before coming in. I step inside to put some soup in the freezer and unpack Annie’s backpack. The Man heads up for another nap himself, feeling no better. I bring Annie in to wash her hands and get ready for nap, then read her a book (Ox Cart Man). Annie goes to her room for quiet time with a stack of books and a box of wooden trains.

12:40 Everyone in bed at last! I slip down to the kitchen to make my daily hot cocoa. Jack pops out of his room. I return Jack and sit down at the table with a book. Annie pops out of her room. I return Annie and sit down at the table. Jack pops out. Annie pops out. Finally, all children are back in their designated quiet time spaces and peace reigns. I sit down (again) with cocoa and Dinner, a Love Story, check the internet (still there…), and update this log.

1:40 Prep dinner and collect library books to return.

2:05 Kids still napping except Annie who is loudly singing in her room but playing independently, so good enough. I hand off the last bit of veggie chopping to the Man and head to the library to drop off books and pick up our holds. One the way home I pull through two grocery stores hunting for an elusive ingredient. No luck.

3:05 Home. Wake any still sleeping kids and help them with toilet, socks, and shoes. The Man buckles everyone up as I quickly whip up a pie crust and put it in the fridge to chill.

3:30 We hand the kids their afternoon snacks and waters in the car and pull out for a family hike. On the trail there are early fall colors, lots of races, rocks thrown in the creek, near misses with poison ivy, and a peaceful trek back to the car.

4:45 Home. I go in to get dinner in the oven (thank goodness we prepped in advance!) and assemble an apple pie with apples from our orchard trip the day before. The Man supervises the kids while they bike on the driveway.  I enjoy listening to a podcast while I cook and work on dishes. The Man brings the kids in and changes them into pajamas as I cook since dinner will be later than normal.

5:30 Dinner. It’s Arroz con Pollo from Dinner, A Love Story. I increased the quantities so we’d have enough for two nights. The Man and I plus two kids like it. One more kid tolerates it, and the fourth resists but eats politely enough when reminded there’s fresh apple pie for dessert so it’s a net winner on the family dinners front.

6:00 Dinner is done. We hand off back and forth with wiping up kids, brushing their teeth, doing dishes, and packing up food. One twin is assigned to wipe the table and chairs with the little two while the other twin vacuums the dining room. They’ve gotten a lot better at it over the summer! I check last minute to see if my parents can drive over for pie but they’re busy. The kids are getting antsy as warm buttery cinnamon smells waft out of the oven. The Man reads the kids some bedtime stories early since the pie is still finishing in the oven: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and The Apple Pie that Papa BakedBoth are fall favorites around here.

6:40 Pie! And vanilla ice cream! And paper plates because Mommy and Daddy are tired of dishes!

7:10 We clear dessert dishes. The Man takes the little two up for bed while I pack lunches for the next day. In addition to Annie’s regular school it’s co-school day for the other three. I start reading picture books to the twins.

7:35 I run out to drop off unused extra diapers at a donation drop in the next town because the Man feels too sick and tired to drive. The Man takes over story and hymn time for the twins.

8:03 Home, help put the twins down for bed. The Man and I finish packing school lunches, changes of clothes, etc. as well as doing final tidying around the house.

8:30 I join the Man at the table with a cup of tea and a book. We both read a bit and chat about the next day’s plans, then he keeps reading and I fill out paperwork for Lucy’s school.

9:00 I check that doors and windows are locked and close down the kitchen. We get ready for bed a bit earlier than usual since we’ll need to make an early start to get everyone out the door for school in the morning. We read a bit. The Man checks kids one last time before lights out at 9:40. 

School Day Breakfasts and Lunches

This is my first year packing a daily lunch for a kid, as well as packing a lunch for five of us one day a week. It’s taking a little more organization than our standard scan-the-fridge-ten-minutes-before-lunch approach. I’ve never been a meal planner for breakfasts and lunches but am very much a habits person for those meals. It reduces decision fatigue and makes grocery shopping easier. While breakfasts and lunches run on autopilot dinner is our creative meal. I rarely repeat the same recipe for supper in a month, or even two, though I do almost always make enough for two or three nights at a time.

Front porch dinner prep so I could supervise that little red speck biking on the driveway.

I usually eat breakfast when I get up two hours before the kids. Ever since childhood I’ve felt nauseous if I don’t eat first thing in the morning. On school days I spend breakfast braiding hair, packing backpacks, or doing our morning time readings while the kids eat. I like to give them meals that are quick to prep, rich in protein, low in added sugar, and with a reasonable balance of nutrients. I’m not a food fanatic but I like to feed the kids whole foods/from-scratch meals when possible. It’s also critical for both catching the bus and the cook’s sanity that everyone eat the same thing at the same time, and that the dish not require much individual or personalized prep. For the kids’ breakfasts we usually rotate between:

  • Fruit plus oatmeal mixed with unsweetened applesauce. I make them with milk, not water, for a little added protein. I’ll occasionally sweeten the oatmeal with mashed bananas (defrosted from my freezer stash) instead of applesauce.
  • Fruit plus bagels with cream cheese
  • Fruit plus scrambled eggs. I usually have one of the twins make the eggs while I deal with other tasks. Sometimes we throw in a little shredded cheese.
  • Fruit plus plain whole milk greek yogurt with a small spoonful of jam or mashed bananas, or honey/vanilla yogurt.
  • Fruit with sausage patties. This one is rare, generally reserved for a night when the Man is on call and I want to be able to cook breakfast the night before and just reheat in the morning.
  • Fruit and baked German puffed pancake. This one is also rare because of the honey/syrup factor but it’s an easy “special” school morning breakfast because it only takes a handful of ingredients and cooks in the oven instead of requiring I babysit the stove or waffle iron.

If the kids want more after finishing their breakfast they can have shredded wheat or cheerios with milk. They’ve yet to discover sugary cereals so for now they’re really excited for the bland stuff “just like Daddy!” 😉 . Once a week or so we’ll have “special family breakfast” on a day when the Man is home and we don’t have an off-to-school time crunch. It’s usually something like pancakes, waffles, or bacon and eggs and toast with jam. I’ll also occasionally make a batch of these always-tender whole wheat muffins with bananas, substituting a smaller amount of honey for the sugar. This rotation gives us just enough variety to prevent boredom while keeping things simple and semi-automated. Also, while everybody understands that they get what they get, nobody is stuck for too long with a food that’s not their favorite like egg-apathetic Jenny or oatmeal-resistant Josie. If you’re looking for other low-maintenance but tasty breakfast ideas this post had a great roundup.

Dinner leftovers are generally saved for future suppers unless there’s only one or two servings left. Annie isn’t generally a lunch meat or cheese sandwich fan (she just deconstructs them) so for Annie’s school lunches I follow a basic rotation, prepping the night before and making generous use of her thermos:

  • Unsweetened applesauce (a treat around here), cheese, fruit, sliced raw veggies.
  • Yogurt, fruit or raw veggies, crackers or other carb
  • One pot macaroni and cheese, fruit, raw veggies. This recipe makes a lot. There’s usually enough for two meals for all the kids, who thankfully aren’t picky about reheated pastas. If the adults are both eating it as well it makes enough for a meal plus a couple of people’s lunches the next day.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit. Actually Wow Butter and jelly because there are peanut allergies at her school. This is the highlight of her week. I like to keep it to just once a week because of the extra sugar, and because I’m not a big fan of all the soy in Wow Butter. I usually make it on the day of the other kids’ cottage school, with PB&Js for their packed lunches as well.
  • Natural cold cuts, cheese, veggies, fruit.

Once in a while I’ll throw in a little treat like a cookie or a couple graham crackers. While there’s nothing exciting or fancy in her lunchbox it’s enough variety to keep her interested, they’re all foods she likes so I know she’ll eat a full lunch at school, and they’re all foods she can eat without help opening packages or containers. And, once again, it’s all automated enough that I don’t have to think about it or rearrange the grocery list every week.

It’s worth noting that on work days the Man doesn’t require a packed breakfast or lunch because the hospital keeps the doctors’ lounge stocked with basic items like sandwiches, soup, yogurts, hard boiled eggs, and fruit.

What are the go-to breakfasts or lunches in your home? Does everyone sit down at the same time or is it a busier morning where everyone leaves at a different time? How do you handle that? Has it changed with the kids’ ages, number of kids, or homeschool/school/work shifts? What are your favorite easy meals to feed a crowd for breakfast or lunch? Any favorite options for make ahead meals or packed lunches?

Back to School

And just like that, we’re back to school. It’s still hot and humid outside, but the first trees are turning and we’re getting the occasional cool crisp morning warning that fall is on its way. We wrapped up the break the same way we started it with surprise ice cream for lunch.

We milked summer for all it was worth despite a full calendar of work and medical appointments. Water play, hikes, popsicles, day trips, ice cream, fresh garden vegetables, berry picking, bonfires, picnics, parks, porch living, friends, bike rides, boats, walks, parades, festivals, vacation, birthdays, and more filled our days to the brim. On many days the kids spent every moment outside from breakfast to bedtime with a midday break for naps.

Annie started kindergarten last week in a public school special ed classroom just a few minutes from home. We’re missing her wonderful special ed preschool classroom but we’re cautiously optimistic about her new teachers and class and appreciate that it’s so close! Although it’s a full day program we required only half day in her IEP and the district has been very accommodating with special transportation and therapy services scheduled for mornings. She stays for lunch and recess to get a little unstructured play with classmates, then comes home in time for reading, nap, and an afternoon of open play and family time.

We started homeschool kindergarten for Jack in a low-key way last week and officially kicked things off in a big way on Monday with our now-traditional hot air balloon day. He benefited from the summer lull. His reading came together for new levels of fluency and independence and he’s now working on a 100 books challenge while continuing phonics lessons from Alphaphonics (using the same battered book my mother used to teach me!). We’re implementing more math this year with Right Start as the best fit for his needs and personality. We’re kicking off breakfast each morning with The Same Page podcast as an easy way to start our homeschool and public school days off on…well…the same page with Shakespeare, scripture, and poetry. I like that we’re all listening to beautiful language even when I’m running around braiding hair and packing thermoses. We often listen to a chapter book at breakfast as well, and I’ll sit down to read poetry, picture books, a devotional, or play music at the piano (in the same room as our dining table) if we have time. We’re keeping things very informal and low-key academically. Jack’s fine motor has really come together in the last month. He likes to practice letters and writing so I supply opportunities but don’t push. We read a lot of good picture and chapter books from a wide variety of subjects. We memorize poems, folk songs, and hymns in a casual way, and spend most of each day with unstructured play as well as more structured play and art opportunities from A Year of Playing Skillfully.  We used many of their ideas last year and can’t speak highly enough of the program. He’ll probably do a once a week sport or swimming as well. It sounds like a long list but I probably spend 20 minutes a day in “formal” academics with Jack. The rest just fits in as play and stories, which I think is perfect for a kindergartner.

Next week Jack and the little two will start at a one day a week Charlotte Mason cottage school. The little two will be in their very low-key preschool program that focuses on play in nature, good read-alouds, and art. Jack will be in the 6-11 year olds group. It’s scaled by age with much lower expectations for the younger kids. I think he’ll benefit from the older kids’ example as he’s used to being king of the hill with his siblings. He quickly made friends with half a dozen other kids at the open house and can’t wait to start. They’re all three very social kids so it will give them a good low-pressure opportunity to learn in a group. Bonus, it will give me one morning a week child-free!

We don’t worry about preschool academics but Jenny and Josie will be more-or-less preschoolers at home with lots of free play and books and some supplements and art prompts from A Year of Playing Skillfully. They join in most of our morning time and read alouds but I don’t worry if they leave to play.

As with any other area of life “the best laid plans of mice and men…” saying applies. I watched my parents homeschool for 12 years and no year, or even month, looked the same. For now we know our general direction, with plenty of flexibility and freedom to change built in as the year progresses.

Pause

Tuesday accidentally turned into “everything in a day” on the calendar. After an early breakfast I ran Annie to the hospital for blood work. That child is strong; it took four people. Then we handed off keys in the driveway so The Man could take Jack to therapy, then handed off again so I could take Annie to a different therapy, all before lunch.

In between appointments I helped the girls make a tent under the crabapple trees, then pulled out some colored pencils and paper for them.

After half an hour Daddy and Jack pulled into the driveway, the biting gnats found us, and we were back to our busy day. If this photo had audio there’d be a toddler chanting “WIW YOU DWAW ME A PINK BABY?” over and over as the other kids begin to scatter and she senses an unattended parent. Our life is rarely as serene as the photos look but it’s a good one.