Thursday, May 9, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Week - a different view

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. The week when you're supposed to thank a teacher for all that they've done for you.

On the surface, I am 100% behind a holiday like this. I DO have an immense debt of gratitude for several of my own teachers. And those thanks could never be conveyed properly with a card, or bouquet of flowers.

In our house, here is what Teacher Appreciation Week has involved:

* The teacher waking up 2-4 times per night to administer thermometers, Robitussin, and giant spoonfuls of honey to the students.
* Research on the Crusades being interrupted by visits to the doctor, orange-juice breaks, and the teacher writing out instructions on a whiteboard because her throat is too hoarse to speak.
* The teacher waking up to find a fresh cup of tea by her hand, and the dishwasher running - without having asked for help.
* And the students digging through the cupboards for lunch ideas, while the teacher sits coughing in the other room.

Yep, we're well into our second week of the flu here - for the THIRD time this winter. Morale is down, and frustration is high. And somehow Teacher Appreciation Week has flown under the radar once again.

Why don't we celebrate it? Let's look at this "holiday" for a moment. According to the NEA,  “Around 1944 Arkansas teacher Mattye Whyte Woodridge began corresponding with political and education leaders about the need for a national day to honor teachers. Woodridge wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, who in 1953 persuaded the 81st Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day... ...NEA and its affiliates continued to observe National Teacher Day in March until 1985, when the NEA Representative Assembly voted to change the event to Tuesday of the first full week of May."

So it's a holiday created BY teachers, FOR teachers. Pretty convenient, don'cha think? Personally, I think it feels a bit contrived. Then as I read online about schools sending messages home suggesting kids "just bring in $25 gift cards, so teachers aren't inundated with stuff they don't need" and other people complaining that if they see one more apple-themed homemade gift, they're going to scream. Which would seem to me, as if teachers aren't exactly tickled pink over what this holiday created by them & for them, has brought about either.

Don't get me wrong. I believe we SHOULD take the time this week to thank a teacher... truly, deeply, from the bottom of our heart. But because we mean it, not because a group of teachers invented a holiday for themselves.

In our school, I have seen gratitude this week in the forms of that tea, those dishes, and lunches I haven't had to prepare. And my students didn't even know there was a special week. Perhaps we could all remember... that thanking a teacher, doesn't have to be a one-week-per-year occurrence, OR be filled with gift-cards or gifts in the shape of apples.

Sometimes, it's the simple unbidden tasks that speak the loudest.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Saint Patrick's Day Decorations

I think I have more fun trying to find small, meaningful decorations for St. Patrick's Day than any other holiday during the year. Nearly everything available commercially is covered in rainbows, leprechauns or beer... which just isn't what I think of or choose to celebrate.

To me, St. Patrick's Day is the celebration of one of Europe's first Missionaries. And, of course, it's about ancient Ireland. So in our house, I choose items that make me think of these things.

I have been stalling on posting this year's decorations because I have been TRYING to crochet a slender shamrock garland for my fireplace. Unfortunately I seem to be incompatible with treble crochet stitches, so my fireplace remains empty but for a single stuffed lamb on the hearth.

As for the rest of the house, my front door is decorated with the same tin as last year. Within the giant grapevine wreath, I actually found a foamboard shamrock at the dollar-store of all places that mimics the rest of my decorations.

On top of the sewing table, is my glittered Celtic cross, and a few tiny jars full of moss & model sheep. Ireland is full of sheep, and they seem a fitting tribute to someone who was kidnapped & forced to work as a shepherd for years. This rests atop an aran-knit scarf, which is another thing *I* think of when pondering Ireland.

My hutch and kitchen niche are rather similar to last year. I've rearranged things, and pulled out ALL of my James Kent china accessories, but it's pretty much the same.

The only NEW things here are my handmade chalkboard, and the spools of thread in my large apothecary jar.

Once again, I chose to reuse a wired garland and my hanging candles for the chandelier. At some point I'm sure I'll come up with a new way to decorate it, but for now I'm quite content to just keep the candles up there. The tiny points of warm light just make me smile every time I walk by.

These are my decorations for the next week or so. After that we'll be pushing into the first day of Spring and Easter, but for now I'm enjoying the lighter decorations of a holiday often swept away between the frenzy of Valentine's Day and Easter.

This coming Sunday we will celebrate quietly, with Celtic music and traditional Irish foods... NOT corned beef and cabbage, but colcannon, oat scones, Irish breakfast tea... and other simple cottage fare. It's what we've come to love about this tiny holiday; the simpler pleasures. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Spy Anniversary Date

It's hard to believe, but yesterday was our 18th wedding anniversary. Some days it feels as if I've known my husband all my life... and other days I could swear we just met the other day. But every single day is an adventure, and it's one we're both glad to be enjoying together.

To celebrate, we decided to have another "Family Date Day" since everyone enjoyed our day LAST YEAR so much. This year our theme was I Spy. I originally saw the idea HERE on The Dating Divas, but of course I just HAD to put our own spin on things.
My husband gave the original book to me as a Christmas surprise the year before we were married, and we picked the rest up as they were released. These books have been a special part of our lives. They traveled with us while we toured with 90 teens in our early marriage. They were with us at the hospital as "distractions" during the births of both our children. Our children colored on the pages as toddlers, and we've all gone cross-eyed trying to find the last thing in a rhyme we've completed dozens of times before. The spines are broken and a few pages have come loose, but we don't have the heart to replace these books. They've become "real" to us just the way they are.

For our special day, rather than deciding to eat out we chose to create a rhyme and shop at Trader Joe's for fun treats. Our rhyme was: 

I spy something crunchy, a deep dark brown, and something sweet.
Four fizzy goodies, something round and substitute meat.
 A creamy surprise, and something quite hot.
Something that's raw, and something that's not.

 The Something hot turned out to be a stop on the way, at a tiny local coffeehouse we'd been meaning to try for quite some time that serves Ethiopian coffee. The girls had chai, and the boys each enjoyed fresh mochas. Once at the store, we all had fun running around and considering options for each of the items on our list. We ended up with: 

something crunchy - sour cream & onion corn puffs
a deep dark brown -Irish breakfast tea (I'm rather addicted & we were out anyway)
something sweet - dark chocolate peanut butter cups
four fizzy goodies - Hansen's root beer
something round - smoked gouda cheese slices
substitute meat - eggs (needed for the brownies)
a creamy surprise - roasted red pepper tomato soup
something quite hot - a brownie baking mix
something that's raw - heirloom tomatoes
and something that's not - hamburger buns

The kids LOVED this, and asked if we could do this again... this was definitely a repeat idea for when we have no idea what to do for dinner. It was cheaper than eating out, MUCH healthier... AND a ton of fun!

After our shopping trip, we headed to the art museum for another I Spy adventure. We had a list of things to look for, and it took us two hours to find our favorite art display with each of the following: 

a bowl
a happy person (This is HARD at an art museum! Everyone was scowling!)
a city
the sun
a tool
an angel
a window
a pet
a book
a family
someone working
someone important
the color blue
fancy clothing
a chair
a mountain
a mother
a boat
people in battle
a farmer
a table
an animal
a house
a child
a circle
and jewelry.

We brought the camera with, so we could look up and study some of our favorite "unknown" artists at a later date. Here are our favorite images from our hunt. 

Jade Mountain, (artist unknown) the largest piece of carved jade outside of China, our "mountain" and Blessing of the Tuna Fleet at Groix, (by Paul Signac) one of two paintings we chose for "a boat." These were my son's favorites. 

 Landscape with Cattle and Sheep, (by Constant Emile Troyon) our "farmer" and The Comtesse d'Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume, (by Alexander Roslin) our "pet" were my daughter's favorites. 

My husband was very intrigued by a Platform Rocking Chair by Wenzel Friedrich, and I could have sat all day staring at A New Orchard and Garden by William Lawson; a book about 17th century English garden designs. 

When we had worn our feet (and knees) completely out, we headed back home for lunch.... Gouda grilled cheese sandwiches with heirloom tomatoes & root beer. Then we played the Wii game Ultimate I Spy together, and finished the evening by watching Mission Impossible while munching on warm-from-the-oven brownies, and tea.

We had a TON of fun together. the kids loved the treasure hunting, and my husband & I loved how we had a great day without breaking the bank. This is one of those dates that just might need to be repeated in the near future.

I love being married to a man whose not to old to play with me.... or our kids. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Beaten by a little white snow

Have you ever had a day, where your good intentions just weren't good enough? Where nothing seems to work quite the way you planned?

What do you do? Where do you turn for inspiration? How do you keep from flopping on the floor in a full-fledged tantrum?

Today I thought I would help my husband out. We have about 5 inches of new snow, and my husband has been getting home late all week due to having been sick for so long. So I thought I would shovel the driveway for him.

Reality #1 - DH has a bad back, and bad shoulders. Shoveling hurts him. A lot.

Reality #2 - I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 12. Most winter activities hurt. A lot.

Reality #3 - We promised my parents we would help shovel them out... meaning that if my husband has to shovel our driveway and THEN drive out to do theirs, he would not be home for the night until late. VERY late.

Knowing all these to be true, I bundled up and headed outdoors to tackle the driveway. We have a snow-thrower, which is not as powerful or awe-striking as a snowblower, but seems to get the job done alright for my husband. I hauled it out of the shed, and began trying to get it to start. I pushed the button, turned the key, flipped the choke, and pulled on that pull-cord until I was hyperventilating. I even thought many creatively disparaging thoughts in it's general direction, but nothing worked. Here is how the rest of my afternoon has gone.

Humility: having to ask your kid to pull the start-cord on the snowthrower.

(15 minutes later) 

Frustration: realizing he can't start it either, and the driveway's gonna be buried under 6" when your husband gets home.

(briefly contemplated) Vindication: knowing where a 6# sledgehammer/axe is, and how to use it.

Inspiration: unearthing the shovel, and finding that the snow isn't TOO heavy.

(30 minutes later) 

Humility: learning that you are not Wonder Woman, and despite the fact that your driveway is VERY short... you're gonna have to go back after a break to finish shoveling the other half.

(2 hours later)

Resignation: That point at which you realize you have two options; give up on the driveway, or forfeit the ability to walk upright for the next few days.
 Here is my snowthrower. At the bottom of the steps, because it stuck fast to the driveway in two hours' time. I cannot move it, so it sits there taunting me. It will still be there when my husband gets home, blocking his entry into the house and broadcasting my failure to him. You can see the driveway... roughly 2/3 shoveled, with icy patches galore. It is not a pretty sight, and I am feeling more than a little frustrated that something as simple as clearing a driveway is apparently beyond my capabilities.

I think a little bribery may ensue... I wonder if my kids would finish the driveway, for an extra half-hour of gaming time this evening?

Nope, I'm not above bribery. Nor am I ashamed of this fact.

In the meantime, I think there's a mug of tea & a warm blanket calling my name.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

We have been battling back-to-back bouts of stomach & regular flu here, and have not been up to much of anything lately. Hence my lack of Monday posts, and hence the reason I am only now posting photos of our Valentine's Day decorations.

I had several plans for tiny new decorations, but when taking my husband to the doctor forces me to take a three-hour nap, plans change. So this year our decorations are pretty much the same as last year... just arranged differently. I do like how everything turned out though!

Our front door, feather tree and kitchen-niche are nearly identical to last year. You can see those decorations HERE.

For the fireplace, my paper hearts from last year didn't survive, so I cut out felted wool hearts and clipped them to the mini clothespins I used for our Winter display. And rather than place ALL our stuffed hearts on the hearth, I chose just one to place near our little deer.

On my little sewing table I chose to stick with a sewing theme. The tiny glittered Valentines were saved from my feather tree last year, and I've had the buttons & antique thread spools for decades.
For our chandelier, my husband really liked the hanging globes I used for New Years, and used a few of my decorations from previous years to round things out. You can also see the little mailboxes on my hutch... the hutch is similar to last year as well, but I DID make just a few changes.

Last year I placed a miniature Care Bear from my childhood on our hutch, and my daughter thought it was the cutest decoration. So I hunted the thrift stores, and managed to find two more for this year. And I stacked our stuffed pillows on the shelf without a basket, so they would stand out better.

I really like the way the way the pillows look this year!

On our table, I kept things VERY low-profile this year. Just a single printable Valentine I found HERE and a few of my glass hearts on a dollar-store tray that's held up for years.

And on our "Anniversary table" the only change from last year was a photoshopped quote used as a backdrop to a few of my favorite decorations from last year.

I am SO glad that my little wire flowers survived from last year!

For the first time in 18 years, I don't have a special dinner planned for tonight. Nobody feels like eating, so we'll have heart-shaped eggs with rice for lunch, and bean soup for dinner. This year Valentine's Day isn't about spending time with our loved ones... it's about taking turns SHOWING our love by taking turns refilling the vaporizer. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Decoration Renovation

 My mother gave me a Valentine's decoration not that long ago, saying that she didn't intend to use it - and that maybe I could remake it into something I would like.

The more I stared at this, the more convinced I was that I wouldn't be able to use it, because I'm pretty sure I saw this for sale in a Current catalog... in 1984. The flashbacks were enough to give me nightmares of big hair & tiered miniskirts, so I set it aside for a few months.

With February arriving I pulled this out again, and decided I would either find a way to use it or donate it by the end of the week. Then it hit me... those are REALLY nice solid wood hearts - and while I don't like pastels, I DO like solid wood! So I decided to "tear them apart" and see what I could make.

The first step was to get rid of the gingham bow, and the raffia. After that, I thought I would sand them down. My daughter suggested sanding & then staining them, for a pretty rustic heart display. While this worked great for two of the hearts, after 45 minutes of intense sanding with the power-sander when there was STILL purple paint in the graining of the bottom heart I realized that just wasn't going to happen.

So I checked my paint drawer, and found a leftover can from a few years ago and sprayed them a bright glossy red.

Next, with my daughter's help, we added some antique white to the centers & around the edges, just to add a little visual interest.

Then it was time to decorate them, and after going through my entire sticker drawer I headed to Michaels where I found a sweet set of Valentine's Day stickers on sale for $3.

I very rarely use pink in my February decorations. I tell my preschoolers I'm afraid of pink, and that's not far from the truth. Growing up in a house full of girls - and now having a VERY girly teen of my own I think I've been overloaded. But I fell in love with the sweet critters on these stickers and decided to make an exception to the no-pink rule... AFTER I got my husband's approval, since I didn't want him cringing every time he saw these! 

After that, it was just a matter of finding a way of hanging them. I tried several options before I settled on making a short crocheted chain for them to hang from.

I really like how this turned out! It fills the inner space of my giant grapevine wreath, and is a definite improvement over the candy hearts! Even my son likes the cute critter stickers, so this is definitely going to be a favorite decoration for this year.

Besides, if I ever get bored with how it looks, I can always change it again!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Accountability Mondays - Mixed Blessings

*sigh*This is the post I did NOT want to make. But... here it is.

After an entire week of working HARD... I lost a whopping .2 pounds this week. No change, and no more marbles in my "lost" jar. 
Yep, still one lonely little marble in the bottom of my jar. Teasing me, sticking it's tongue out at me, and saying "I told you so!"

Now let me tell you what I DID accomplish this week! 

1. I exercised my butt off on five days.

2. I managed to swim 20 laps at-speed... (followed by 45 minutes of chasing the kids around) and set myself a goal of working up to 35 laps, which will be a half-mile.

3. I went through the exercise room with a trainer, and found TWELVE machines that I CAN do - arthritis & all. This is a MAJOR issue for me, since there are days (weeks) in the winter when I feel as if there's nothing at all I can do. Even on those days - now I know I can get into the pool & swim laps. 

4. I learned that I have some serious muscle-memory working in my favor. Stepping up to machines I haven't touched in 19 years, I am lifting about 80% of what I used to lift - in high school, pre-children!

So yeah, there's still one lonely marble in that jar. And yes, it's beyond frustrating. Yes, I wanted to kick the scale and harrumph around the house. But with everything I've learned I can do over the past week... all I can manage to do, is pack up the bag to head out the door again this evening.

I will do this. I WILL lose 111 pounds in 2 years. I WILL be skinny again, and I WILL beat those horrid little marbles balls into submission! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Little Clean Fun

The other day, we had a minor kitchen mishap. SOMEONE in our house, who would like to remain nameless, (while *I* would like to mention that just this once... it WASN'T me,) accidentally added a zero to the baking time of a few potatoes in our nearly-dead microwave. Because of this accident, we learned that over-microwaved potatoes will catch fire... and that the resulting smell with fill the WHOLE house with an odor very similar to burning cigars.

We all decided that we desperately wanted to go grocery shopping. That evening. Immediately. I'm pretty sure Olympic speed records were set in the coat & shoe-donning categories.

The next morning I opened the microwave to clean things out, and discovered that more than a little of the odor was still lingering. I figured that a little vinegar & lemon juice would help clean things out, but the kids asked if we could try microwaving another bar of Ivory soap. I figured it sure couldn't hurt anything & it might make the smell a bit more liveable, so why not. Then they brought me BOTH bars and asked if we could nuke them both to see how much of the microwave it would fill.

For those of you who know about our popcorn experiment, or our setting the tent up in the living room in February this probably won't surprise you at all, but the little voice in my head immediately started shouting "DO IT! You know you want to!!!" And... yeah, I listened.

The answer is - two bars of soap fill a microwave to about 3/4 full - UNTIL you open the door & let out the warm air. Immediately upon opening the door, the soap pile deflates quite a bit, and this is what you're left with.
It's pretty cool, because what looks like a pile of foam is actually a dry squidgy foamy texture that's fun to play with. For anyone recreating this, it also sheds powdery soap "dust" EVERYWHERE so make sure you're ready to clean soap up from wherever you choose to play with this.

Once we'd had our fun, we needed to find something we could do with the soap since we don't believe in wasting. First we picked it up to crumble into the blender... and discovered something rather amusing that none of us remember seeing from the last time we did this.

Do you see it? Yeah, we all thought that was VERY cool! I think our next Ivory soap experiment will be to try two bars at once again, with one face-up & one face-down to try and figure out why this happened.

Once run through the blender, we discovered that two bars of soap makes NEARLY a quart of soap "snow." The kids then tried to add food coloring to it, and found out that you just can't color dry soap flakes - the color balls up & won't incorporate through shaking.

I thought we would be leaving the soap in this form & using it as a dry soap, but the kids had another idea. After a few minutes search online, we found a recipe for liquid soap and boiled a gallon of water on the stove. Once the water had boiled, we slowly stirred the soap flakes in, (it was at this point I found out exactly HOW MUCH food coloring the kids had tried to add!) and then transferred the whole lot to our stand mixer.

It took about four hours for the soap to finish setting, but what we ended up with was nearly a full gallon of bright blue cherry-cola scented (we added some of the oils from my apothecary; back before I decided to exclusively essential oils) soft soap. We poured as much as we could into a bottle saved from one purchase or another, and the rest into an old juice pitcher.
This soap does NOT foam up well, but it sure smells nice! And we have enough liquid soap for several MONTHS now... all thanks to a "happy little accident."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Accountability Mondays - Humble Beginnings

As an effort to keep myself honest while beginning my billionth weight-loss journey, I will be blogging about my struggles & successes on each Monday.

After years of trying to find a health club that we could afford, we finally looked "outside the box" and found a place with an indoor pool that we can swim laps in. Yesterday was our first day, and my ribcage is definitely telling me that an hour of being chased across the pool by the kids ought to help the pounds drop off.

Our plan is to visit the pool five times each week. Because our schedule varies from week to week we can't commit to "every Monday" or anything nearly so structured, so five times each week will have to suffice. The boys will be going through orientation to use the exercise room this afternoon, and tomorrow it will be the girls' turn. 

For a visual reminder of my progress, here is where I'm at right now: 
The marbles in the right-hand jar represent how many pounds I need to lose. And the lonely little marble on the left... yep, that's my weight-loss so far this year. Heh... time to find him a few friends, don'cha think?

Since I know from experience that my downfall seems to be persistence - what are YOUR tricks for keeping up an exercise routine after the first few "kickstart" pounds are a distant memory?