Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Getting the Wiggles Out

Sedona has trouble sitting still.  She's only in kindergarten, so that's not a huge deal.  However, I have learned that she does better with school work if she is able to get up, move and take frequent breaks from anything that requires sitting still.

The problem is Secora.  She's just over 2 years old now and has hit that perfect age for interfering with school work.  It's safe to assume she'll be stealing pencils, writing on worksheets and erasing white boards for the next year, at least.  This exploring is completely normal and age appropriate behavior that I don't want to fight any more than I have to.  Sure, you can channel it into fun and exciting activities, but that still only buys you small chunks of time.

So our solution is for me to keep her out of the girls' hair while they do their independent work and then to cram as much one-on-one teaching as possible into her nap time.  We usually end up with about 2 hours of toddler-free time.  We have to cover both girls' math and science lessons, reading for Sedona, spelling for Sierra, and sometimes history in those hours.  In short, I need Sedona to work hard with few breaks during those 2 hours. 

To keep her focused, I put together "take a break" dice.  I bought blank dice at a local teacher supply store.  On the two regular sized ones, I labeled each side with a number from 0 to 5.  I labeled the larger die with activities such as run, wiggle walk, skip, roll, jump and scooter.

When she finishes a subject, she gets to roll the dice. 
She has to add the numbers together (nothing wrong with sneaking in some math review!) and then do that many "laps" in our back room in which ever way the large die says.

As you can see, she's a big fan.

The first day, things got a little crazy and it only got her too excited to sit down and work again. Now that she's used to it, she happily does the activity, then she's ready to return to her work. In the past, I was just sending her off to "take a break" and she wasn't ready to sit with me again for 15 or 20 minutes. This gives her brain a rest and gets her wiggles out in only a minute or two.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Unpaid Writing

Blogging does not pay the bills.  Even with ads, even with halfway decent traffic, the pay does not add up to minimum wage most of the time.  Here on my own little corner of the web, that's fine.  I started blogging as a means of having a family journal.  I frequently look back through my blog to remember exactly when a certain event happened or to reminisce about the kids when they were younger. 

Sometimes I write specifically for compensation though.  A book review here, a new food product there, whatever comes my way.  I limit these reviews to things I'm genuinely interested in, so I'm never looking for or expecting a large paycheck.  A free book and twenty bucks or some coupons for free Chinese food and I'm good.  Want me to review homeschool products?  Awesome!  We homeschool and we're open to trying out new things.

But here's the thing, you should not write for free.  Unless it's something you absolutely adore and are passionate about, it's a bad idea to give away your time and energy to a company.  Especially when that company is a blog that is running ads on THEIR site.  Obviously, it's easy to spot this scam if someone says, "Hey, write me an article for free".  Often though, it comes in the more sly form of "we'll provide this product to you if you write about it on our site".  Well, okay.  That might be worth it if you want the product.  If you're always keeping an eye out for effective teaching tools, you might be interested in reviewing products for free even if you have to return the product because at least you get a free trial period.

However, when emails start to arrive congratulating you for being picked to review items and the very first thing mentioned is "tell all your friends about our site using facebook, twitter and your blog!" That might be a red flag that someone is making or planning to make money off your sweat equity.  When the second thing mentioned is, "we don't have anything set up for you yet, but put our button on your blog!" that might be a red flag and a warning buzzer.  When you visit the page and true to their word, nothing is set up yet except their ads, that would be the big clue to stop, sit back and wait to see what happens. 

If they've claimed they're setting up a forum for reviewers and that never comes to fruition, but they set up a secret facebook group, which requires you to friend a complete stranger with your personal account, you might wonder why someone social media savvy wouldn't do a closed group instead.   Then, when a snotty email shows up in your inbox chastising you for not providing free advertising and friending strangers, you might just email back and let them know you don't put up ads for free, but you would've been happy to respond by email had that actually been requested. 

Of course, completely professional business women would never respond back with repeated insinuations that you are too stupid to understand the "simple instructions" that were easily followed by almost everyone else and that anyone who was part of the team and understood what it was all about would want to advertise.  I am certain that the people who know me in real life would laugh out loud at the insinuation that I am not intelligent.  My teachers, my continuing ed students, my clients, my friends, my family, even my enemies.  I have many faults, but ignorance is not one of them. I might even go out on a limb and say the willingness to friend a complete stranger with your personal facebook account is the opposite of intelligent.

All that team talk?  Another red flag.  It's a classic persuasion technique to get people to do what you want.  Convince people they're a team, or even friends, and they're more likely to get sucked into working "for the team" even if it's to their own detriment.  There's a reason MLMs use that tactic with their salespeople.

But at the end of the day, a lot of personal insults and complete lack of professionalism.  Totally signs of people you should do free work for, right?   But that stuff comes only when you question the mighty leader.  If you eagerly go along with the "advertise for us for free!" pitch from the beginning, you aren't privy to that side of the coin until a year down the line when you suddenly realize someone is making a fair bit of money and it isn't you.

Just a little behind the scenes occurrence in my blog life this week and a bloggy lesson for anyone just getting started out there.  I know I'm not the first person to feel this way and won't be the last.  Write for yourself.  Write things you enjoy writing.  Review products you really want to review (not every free bottle of shampoo thrown your way).  Press the delete button when things start to smell fishy in the ol' email inbox.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Love and Friendship

I'm not sure if it's inevitable once you enter your thirties, or if it's just where my particular path in life has led me, but some days it seems that everywhere I look, friends are struggling with incredibly difficult events and transitions.  Shepherding parents through serious illness, battling cancer while raising young kids, surviving the death of children.  How do you help with that?  Easing the burden of daily tasks is one thing, but how to do you truly help with something so immense?  My nature is to fix things, to find the solution.  To provide information that can make everything better.  I feel lost and useless when I can't do that. 

The last couple of years have been humbling.  Sometimes there is no solution.  My heart hurts because I want to support my friends and I just don't know how.

Then I had my eyes opened to a different view point.

Love is bearing witness.

I've been mulling over this idea for several weeks.  It's a difficult concept for me because I find my value in tangible things that I do.  I'm learning that loving someone doesn't always mean fixing things for them.  Or even improving things for them.  Sometimes love is just being there.  Through ups and downs, trials and triumphs, joy and despair.  Bearing witness to the events in their life, being a thread in the tapestry of their history.  It's valuable to simply be present, emotionally if not physically, and help keep memories.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bean Bag Toss Music

One of the great things about homeschooling is the opportunity to easily change things up to meet each child's needs.  I felt like the girls could use more practice naming notes on a staff and keyboard, but they had lost interest in the app I downloaded for my phone.  Around here, that's a sure sign to start thinking about kinesthetic learning and get them moving. 

So I created bean bag toss music!

Using painter's tape (I was out of masking tape), I made a staff on the floor.  I made a separate treble and bass clef, but I goofed and put the bass clef sign on the wrong lines, so I'm not showing that one!
I grabbed a couple of bean bags we had laying around and had Sierra toss them
Then she named the "notes" she had. 
Tomorrow, we're going to use a ruler to also practice the stem rules with each toss. 

Sedona just started learning piano a couple of weeks ago, so her work is more focused on learning where each note is on the keyboard. 
For this one, she stands at one end of the keyboard (to the side), tosses the bean bags, then comes around to the front to name the notes.  This makes it a little harder for her to control where the bean bags land.  Sierra practiced with this one quite a bit too.  She had to tell me enharmonic equivalents in addition to the first note she named.

Don't forget to give kids a chance to get up and move!  They love it and it helps them come back and concentrate when it's time for more typical seat work. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

C is for Cookie

So much for my goal of posting three times a week, huh?  Life got in the way, as it is wont to do.

It has been one insane week.  Josh and the big girls left last Wednesday for a trip to North Carolina.  It was more than a little nerve wracking to send them off.  They flew out and their flight happened to be in the middle of some storms, so that didn't help.  I've also never been away from the girls for more than 2 nights, so even though I knew they were in good hands with their daddy, it took a concerted effort to push back the "what ifs" that kept cropping up in my mind. 

They made it up there just fine though and enjoyed visiting with my in laws for several days.  The highlight for the girls was the tour of the Duke Lemur Center my sister in law arranged for them.  Especially Sedona, she is super interested in all kinds of animals.  I keep saying she's going to live out of her car and be a surfer or something, but at this rate, she might end up a world famous zoologist.  Between her love of rocks, reptiles and small mammals, some field of science that involves lots of field work would be right up her alley.  The whole point of the trip was to pick up some things from Josh's parents before they make a big move to another country.  They graciously gifted us their car along with a wide assortment of family keepsakes, tools and some other things I haven't seen yet because they haven't all been unloaded yet.  Saturday morning, they packed up to drive back.  That's right, my rock star hubby made a 20 hour drive alone with 2 kids. 

In the meantime, one of my oldest friends had her first baby earlier in the week.  We have known each other for over 20 years, so when she needed a little help, I immediately started figuring out a way to get to her.  She lives about 3 hours away, so it took a little work, but I rearranged some things and Secora and I jumped in the car Saturday afternoon to make the drive.  We checked in with her that night, checked in to a nearby hotel (Secora's sensory issues would not have tolerated such a new situation without some time away to decompress) and tried to get some sleep.  We spent Sunday and Monday morning with her before heading back around lunchtime. 

The whole family arrived back home about the same time Monday night, where we cooked and ate a quick dinner, then Sierra dashed off to play rehearsal.  She's in a play that opens this weekend, so she has rehearsals every night this week. 

And in between all that, I'm the cookie mom for our girl scout troop.  I've enjoyed doing it, but it is a lot of accounting-type work to keep straight how many boxes of cookies each girl in the troop has, how much money she owes for those cookies, keep enough cookies on hand for girls to be re-supplied, schedule booths and be sure all of the troop's obligations are met on time.  Cookie sales started today and my girls are LOVING it.  I'm pretty shocked over how excited they are, especially Sierra.  They had some early success going from office to office at Josh's work and then they were hooked. 

Whew!  So I would've posted more this week, but there was just a little bit of life going on.  I'm looking forward to some time to just sit still sometime soon.....maybe next week.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kitchen Day

I spent a good portion of last Saturday in the kitchen.  I had bought a case (about 36 pounds) of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and needed to get it prepared and in the freezer.  Using my handy, dandy, Fix, Freeze, Feast cookbook, I was able to make up:

3 meals of chicken curry
2 meals of cherry chicken
4 meals of chicken parmesan
2 meals of tex mex chicken fingers
2 meals of pecan crusted chicken fingers
3 meals of chicken broccoli bake
4 meals of tequila lime chicken
4 meals of balsamic dijon chicken (a friend's recipe)
3 meals of Thai curry (our own recipe)

That's 27 meals in the freezer!  I'll still have to come up with sides, but that's not very time consuming.  Having  main courses in the freezer makes it so much easier for us to avoid eating out on those days when there isn't a lot of time to cook.  We usually do school work in the afternoon during Secora's nap time, so being rushed before dinner is a pretty common occurrence. 

I planned this freezer stock-up the day before, so I didn't even take advantage of sales like I usually do, but the total price tag was still only $114.39, or $4.24 per meal.  Once I add sides, I imagine they will average out at about $6 per meal total.  It easily costs us $20 just to pick up fast food these days, so easy-to-prep meals at home is a big budget saver!

After all of that was packed up and put in the freezer, I made king cake so it'd be ready to eat for breakfast on Sunday morning.   My super wonderful husband did most of the kitchen clean up for me when it was all done!! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Goals

With the 2012 goals behind me, it's time to give myself a few things to aim for in 2013.  As usual, I'm sticking to things that are measurable because I feel that is much more effective than general resolutions.  If I say something like "I'll eat healthier", it's really easy to eat brownies today and save the salad for a tomorrow that never comes.  Whether or not I met the goal would be completely subjective and it's really easy for us humans to convince ourselves we're doing pretty good at something whether we really are or not.  I'm better off with something concrete to shoot for.  Something I can look at later in the year and give a definitive, objective "yes" or "no" answer to when I determine whether the goal has been met or not.   I have quite a few things on my list this year.

1) Have the full year of lesson plans put together by the end of August.  I don't mean scheduling what will be done on which day, just which lessons need to be covered throughout the course of the school year.  Each year so far, I've ended up only doing the first semester on at least one subject.  Inevitably, I end up rushed to get the rest of it finished, which is stressful on top of the stress of disrupting the school routine.  I've finally learned our parent-child relationship is better the more school organization we have.  Strict scheduling, bad.  Massive organization so we can easily pick up and work when we're ready, very very good. 

2) Pay at least an extra $2500 to student loans on top of regular payments.  Student loans have been hanging over our heads for the last 10 years.  Every month, $400 gets sent off to pay them down.  Mathematically speaking,  it's better to pay off the mortgage first because it has a higher interest rate, not that many people will give you that advice.  That has been our strategy in the past.  This year, we are closing on the sale of our old house (and putting that money towards down payment on the new house), and starting a new mortgage.  We've recently decided to put math aside and go with brain chemistry.  Brain chemistry says it'd sure be nice to not stare down those student loans any more.  So in addition to the regular payments, we're going to pay another $2500 over the course of the year, minimum. 

3) Blog more consistently. Back in July, I had a sizable jump in my blog traffic, but then it plateaued at that higher level and has stayed there.  My goal is blog 3 times per week, but my measure of success will be seeing another traffic jump by June that maintains (or increases!) for the rest of the year.  I need to be more organized and plan my posts better to make this work.

4) Market my lactation practice more effectively.  I'm an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) and run a very small private practice.  With moving cross country and back and having a sensory issues baby that I couldn't really leave for a while, I've just been taking a few clients by word of mouth rather than actively trying to build a business.  This year, I'm freed up a bit and want to build my practice.  It's still very much a "just on the side" thing, so I'm sticking with a modest goal of one new client each month. 

5) Finish the quilt.  For real this time.  It's 3 years in the making at this point, it's getting a little ridiculous.


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