Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gingerbread Houses!

The older I get, the better I am about setting limits and saying no when I need to.  This year, it was saying no to our annual gingerbread house party.  I kept thinking of ways to make it work, but in the end, I made the decision that doing a whole party was just going to be too much in the midst of everything else that was going on.  Along with this, I also decided it was a graham cracker house year for our own girls.  As is usually the case with these amazing kids, they totally understood dropping the party and were just as happy with graham crackers as they are with "real" houses. 

So very last minute Monday night, we assembled and decorated graham cracker houses all at one time!
To join two graham crackers side by side (which enabled a bigger house), I put a line of icing down the "seam" and stuck on half a graham cracker.  This reinforced and held the two pieces together and the extra piece was hidden inside the house when it was all assembled.
Just like at our parties, dots were the candy everyone was most excited about when they first started.
Secora is a big, "I can do it my own self!!" four year old now.  We were NOT allowed to help at any point.
Sierra's starting to get a little more design conscious, though "use as much candy as possible" is still a primary goal.

"Stay right there tree, don't you even think about falling down!"

"Okay girls, it's really bedtime now, so you can keep decorating, but we need to stop eating the candy"
"Secora!  We just said we're not eating anymore candy!"
"I know, but it doesn't fit, I had to make it smaller"
(I'm not entirely sure just how many pieces of candy were sampled before they were added on, but I'd suggest not taking candy off her house)

It may not have been quite as exciting as a big party, but even kids understand the need to scale back traditions sometimes.  The holidays are about family, it's okay to set limits on what you can do so that you can still ENJOY those traditions with family!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Last of the Foot Races

Just over a week ago, I ran my last major running-only race.  Okay, okay, maybe that's overly dramatic.  I might one day do another half-marathon.  I will almost certainly do one as part of a half-ironman (the training for that is so much more bearable for me though....variety, I need variety).  I had my own little "come to Jesus" moment with this race though.  Last year, immediately after a very poorly trained for marathon, I signed up for the same race's half-marathon during early, early bird registration.  See, the thing was, I really liked the race.  They're good people and they have a good set-up and it's a race that is so worth running.  I knew the marathon just wasn't for me, but a half?  Well, somewhere along the way, I have become crazy enough that I find myself using phrases like, "eh, it's only 13 miles".   I'm not entirely sure when this happened, but my gut reaction to a half-marathon is pretty much equivalent to my gut reaction to a 5K these days.  I'm not saying that's accurate (as my legs at the end of 13 miles can attest to), but that's the mindset I find myself dealing with. 

But I was going to do really good on this one.  Since the distance didn't scare me, I could really focus on training for speed and set a good time goal.  My PR on half-marathon is 2:29, so I was aiming for 2:15.  I had great intentions.  I put a training schedule on the fridge.  I calculated paces.  I got sick the very first week.  This was not starting out well.  No worries, the girls started gymnastics at a local high school and the building was right next to the track, I already had my training time carved out for me!  And then reality set in.  The reality was that I really enjoyed watching the girls do gymnastics (which I didn't quite expect) and I really did not enjoy running.  I've always known I didn't enjoy running.  It's too monotonous for me.  No matter where I'm at, whether I have head phones or not, or listen to music or books, it's just not enjoyable the vast majority of the time.  Did I really want to spend all these hours doing something I really didn't like?  Nope.  I didn't. 

So the training plan changed.  I ran when I felt like it, I stopped when I wanted to.  Sometimes I biked on the road or the trainer.  Sometimes I did strength training while watching Once Upon a Time.  I did do most of my long runs.  The only thing worse than running is trying to run while injured in order to avoid a DNF, so mileage building seemed prudent.  As the race got closer, I decided I just wanted to finish in less than 3 hours.  About 2 weeks before the race, I totally changed my strategy from very short intervals to just walking a few minutes at the end of each mile.  Basically, I did everything you're NOT supposed to do before a race. 

And then?  A week before the race, I hurt my foot.  Yup, foot injury.  Not while doing anything cool, mind you, this was a sewing injury.  You heard me right.  SEWING.  See, I sew standing up and I did a lot of work in one day without standing on a mat.  Those hours barefoot on a concrete floor with all my weight on my left foot?  Not a good idea.  I thought it was bruised.  The doctor said she thought it was plantar fasciitis.  I pouted.  I haven't had any PF problems since I switched to zero drop shoes, but this wasn't a case of too much tightness, it was just too much standing around.  I was hopeful I could get it somewhat fixed before the race.  I stayed off of it as much as possible and it did feel significantly better by race day.  I taped it for PF with KT Tape and it actually felt fine by the end of race day (as mentioned before, my poorly conditioned legs were another story). 

Race day came WAY too early.  I ended up staying awake later than planned because I simply couldn't fall asleep.  Sedona woke up somewhere around 2:30am with migraine troubles (holidays and cyclic vomiting/abdominal migraines do not go well together).  The alarm went off at 4:30 and I groggily stumbled out of bed and started drinking coffee.  I could not get amped up about this race.  I am generally annoyingly excited and bouncy on race morning.  I'm pretty sure more than one person has consider tranquilizer darts to just make me shut up and sit still.  I'm not a morning person, this bouncing off the walls while it's still dark outside is purely a "pre-race" and "post-birth" phenomenon (my babies like to come earth side in the middle of the night).  This time though, I was just nervous.  Like, talking myself down from a panic attack nervous.  I'm not sure why. 

Once the gun went off and we got started, all was well.  Josh had a 2 hour goal, so he took off, then turned around before the first corner to wave and blow kisses.  And I was on my own.  This is the longest race I've ever done completely on my own.  That's the big accomplishment from this day.  No one ever told me I could run a little longer.  No one ever said, "okay, you've had a bit of a walking break, let's go".  No one ever said, "hey, you're going a little fast" or "you're a little behind pace".  No one reminded me to drink water or to grab calories.  I did it alone.  I trained by myself in my own way and I ran this race by myself in my own way.  When the going got tough, I pulled myself through.  When my legs cramped up, I stopped to stretch and resisted the urge to sit down.  When it hurt to run, I ran anyway.  When the leaders in the FULL marathon passed me, I cheered them on and just kept moving forward.  This was MY race, done on MY terms.  There couldn't be a better last run. 

From here, I look forward to a triathlon focus.  More swimming, more biking, no more than 1-2 runs a week!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Creeper Quilt

The Love Quilt I'm working on has been set aside temporarily in favor of Christmas sewing projects.  First up was the creeper quilt for a friend.  She had seen similar quilts on pinterest and loved the idea for her son.  I said I'd put it together for her if she bought the materials.

We decided to use flannel because it was going to be heavier and there were more colors available to choose from.  Aside from the face, there are 6 colors and we used equal amounts of each.  5 of those are greens, the 6th is gray, but we used a light gray and a dark gray (so there's a smaller number of each individual gray)
In between the regular stuff that goes on around here everyday, I got the whole thing pieced together in 2 days.  I was surprised at how hard it was to do something "random" like this.  I had laid it all out so that I could be sure I didn't have the same colors next to each other, but then when I sewed them together, I kept forgetting which way they were supposed to be laid out.  The sewing was easy, but I was always worried I was flip flopping blocks.
And then, as happens with quilting, life got in the way.  I ended up traveling out of town several times over the next few weeks in order to spend time with my grandmother, who was in her last days.  I worked on a long term hexagon quilt project in those hours I was sitting in waiting rooms or was at her bedside while she slept.  Hexagons are an awesome meditative project.

This week I was able to finish up the creeper.  I wanted to quilt it on the machine, but I did not want to use the Flynn quilt frame I usually use because I didn't think I could do perfect straight lines with it and this is a quilt that needs straight lines.  I got brave and for the very first time spray and pin basted a quilt.  Then, using painter's tape as a guide, I quilted lots of parallel lines that followed the shape of the face.  On the face, I used black on top and green in the bobbin.  Outside of the face, I switched to a muted olive green on top and kept the bobbin the same.  The middle of the quilt was bothersome because there was so much bulk to deal with, but as I moved out, it got easier and easier.  I think this was the limit in size for what I can do on my machine without a frame though.
 I did end up with some minor wrinkles on the back, which I had been worried about, but nothing too terrible and I think I could avoid them now that I have some practice with the technique.

When it was all said and done, I think it came out really well.  And I must say, these giant 6 inch blocks were so relaxing after all that time I spent hovering over 1 inch blocks last December!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Math Mania

Our family has used Right Start math since we started homeschooling.  Sierra did levels B through E and Sedona started with level A and is working on level C now with plans to continue on through level E.  We've been very happy with it and don't plan to use anything else for elementary math.

The problem with Right Start comes after Level E.  Level E is pretty much the end of the road,  there's not a natural next step.  They offer a Level G, but it turns out Level G is not a natural next step.  I can't help but wonder what in the world someone was thinking when they tacked on Level G at the end. 

Right Start leaves off with an incredibly strong base in elementary math.  I cannot adequately express how awesome Right Start has been for truly teaching math rather than drilling algorithms without the understanding of why they work.  My only, very small, complaint is that while they end up with a good understanding of fractions and decimals, there's not a lot of practice with them beyond adding and subtraction.

With Sierra in 5th grade this year, I planned on moving on to Level G this year.  Right Start recommends combining Level G with VideoText Algebra and doing both over 2 years.  I looked into VideoText Algebra and wasn't impressed, so we planned to just do Level G on its own for the first half of the year while we continued to research math programs that covered everything from algebra to calculus.

This did not work.  Level G is like a completely different program.  It's organized differently and Sierra was not ready for it.  She was frustrated and having a very difficult time with it.  I was frustrated that it was teaching some good skills, but mostly skipping over a good pre-algebra base.  Finally, I decided to ditch the whole thing.  Josh and I sat down and looked again at VideoText Algebra, Life of Fred, Art of Problem Solving, Saxon Math, Math Mammoth and others I can't even remember.  We narrowed down our options to Life of Fred and Beast Academy (elementary math from the makers of Art of Problem Solving).  Then I sat down with Sierra and showed them both to her and asked what her opinion was.  She wanted to try Beast Academy.  She liked that Art of Problem Solving is a very rigorous math program and felt like Beast Academy would be a good lead-in to that program.  We did look ahead to Art of Problem Solving and saw how it's set up (spoiler: a daunting, challenging math book), but some practice with the Beast Academy comic books in the mean time was appealing.   She liked the set-up of Life of Fred, but she felt like the work in it was too easy. 

So we set out to order Beast Academy.  I had her do several of the placement tests and we finally decided to order level 3D.  Nothing in this level is new to her, but we felt like after all the frustration at the beginning of the year, some confidence-building review would be a good idea.  There has been some fraction work that is a little bit of a challenge, so it's still been useful for skill building.  More importantly, she's enjoying math again.  I keep having to tell her to put the math away and work on other subjects a little bit so she doesn't get too behind on those.  She's nearly finished with 3D and has asked me to buy 4A for her. 

I expect she'll finish all the Beast Academy books this year and we'll need to plan out a next step again.  I don't know if she'll be ready for Art of Problem Solving at the end of the year, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. 

Are you a RightStart family?  What did you do after Level E?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Secora's Birthday

Secora is still Secora.  Being around groups of people stresses her out and is not fun.  It's her birthday and it should be a fun day for her.  So we asked her what she wanted to do and quickly realized there's NOT really anything for her to do here in town.  Movies are too loud, arcades are too chaotic, ice skating is too different, it's too cold to be out at the park.  She said she either wanted to go to the zoo or the McKenna Children's Museum.  Because we were getting another big cold snap last week, we went with the children's museum.  We needed to make this work on a weekday because she would not have enjoyed it with a weekend crowd, so that was a little bit of trouble, but in the end it worked out.

So the morning of her birthday, we had donuts for breakfast, then loaded up for the long drive.  We stopped along the way for Chick-Fil-A, then we were there right after lunch.  She immediately took off to enjoy all the activities

On the way out, she got to spend some birthday money she'd gotten in the gift shop.  There's a pack of fancy notebooks she's been eyeing and as soon as she found out she could buy something, she went straight to them.  We had skipped afternoon snack and everyone was ready for dinner, so we stopped at Cracker Barrel, where she could have one of her favorite meals (pancakes with peaches).  We had brought her cake with us, but decided to just eat and have cake and presents when we got back home.   I told her we were going to be home after her bedtime and asked if she wanted to do that when we got home or just go to bed and do it first thing in the morning.  She told me, "well, I'm gonna rest and take a nap in the car, then we can have cake and presents when we get home".  Sure enough, she slept most of the way home and as soon as we hit town, she opened her eyes and blearily said, "I can't wait for cake and presents!"

The cake was definitely a cake wreck.  She wanted Daniel Tiger and Thomas on a cake.  I found myself decorating cake at 9pm on a Tuesday night and had the brilliant idea that I could just freehand Daniel and Thomas.  No, no I cannot.  Thankfully, she's only four, so her standards are pretty low and she was still thrilled. 

She let us sing the birthday song this year.  She really hates the birthday song, but she said we could whisper it (I think it helped that it was just us).  So we did, and she was happy and she blew out candles.
Or tried to blow out candles, anyway.  They weren't really cooperating.  At one point she just stopped trying and stared down that last candle like, "listen, I'm done with your **** and it's time to go out now".

Candles were quickly forgotten when it was time to open presents though.

She told us she wanted an elephant for her birthday.  A real one.  This was the best we could manage

Dum-dums!  She loves suckers.  Josh decided she needed a bag of 300 dum-dums.
Her aunt and uncle got her a toddler sized bistro table, which she wanted to set up immediately and eat cake at.  So that's just what we did. 
After a very long day and staying up hours past bedtime, I figured she'd sleep in the next morning.  Of course not!  We had cleaned up all the birthday mayhem, so she was up at 7am asking us where her presents were so she could start playing.  She had lots of fun.  She's already told me four is so much fun that she's going to miss it when she has a birthday again.  Now she's moved on to asking us every morning if it's Christmas yet, bring on the holidays!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Secora is turning four today!  For several weeks she tried to convince us she was going to be some other age, usually 6.  She finally accepted the fact that she has to go through four first though. 
She's talking constantly about "getting bigger", she has hit that, "I am not a baby, I do it my ownself" stage. 
She's been doing speech and feeding therapy for the last 18 months and made great strides on speech.  Feeding is a bit of a different story, she made progress for a while then started dropping foods like crazy.  Her speech therapist suggested we take her to clinic in Dallas that incorporates speech, OT, psych and dietician.  She has her evaluation there in December and we'll see what their suggestions are. 
She is really wanting to learn her letters, constantly asking me what sounds different letters make and asking me to help her write certain letters.  It's very similar to Sierra at that age.  She likes counting too, but I think we probably have another big reader on our hands. 
She says her favorite color is orange.  Her favorite TV shows are Daniel Tiger, Thomas and Curious George.  Her favorite food is dried mangos.  After about a year of trying, she has gotten comfortable with the neighbor kids and likes to go out and throw the ball them.  She's comfortable with Walter now even though he's still 3 times her size.  The gym her sisters take gymnastics at starts classes at 4 years old and she's considering signing up in the spring.  She likes to run "weawy fast" and practice hopping on one foot.  She wants to do what's asked of her and generally listens the first time you tell her to do something, but always as soon as you say her name sternly and give her the "momma look".
She seems not quite full-fledged "fearsome four" at the moment (four totally beats out "terrible two") and I'm a bit hopeful it's going to stay that way, but I'm not holding my breath.  The good news is the flipside of those four year old tantrums is a cutie pie snuggle bug.

Happy 4th Birthday Big Girl!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Lots of Halloween fun around here yesterday! 

All three of the girls are not fans of scooping pumpkin guts, so they decided a couple of years ago that it's much more fun to paint pumpkins.  Works for me, less work and less clean-up. Secora still goes with the "fit as much paint as possible on the pumpkin" method:
Sierra divided her pumpkin into three sections and painted a different theme on each side:
Sedona went with a scary face:
The day of Halloween, we skipped our regular seat work for school and spent the day on hands on activities.  First, it was the "microwave a bar of Ivory soap" trick.  This is old news on the internet, but something we hadn't tried yet.  It was just as impressive as expected, getting lots of oohs and ahhs from the girls.
This is what it looked like after it was partially done (and also starting to deflate).  I took the fluffy part off the plate and microwaved what was left of the bar to get another piece about this same size.
Then we mixed the microwaved soap, some warm water and toilet paper to make "ghost mud".  This was actually intended to be a sensory activity geared toward Secora, but she didn't like the smell of the soap and refused to come anywhere near it.  Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
Then it was time for a Halloween tea time. We've been eating the last of our Girl Scout cookies for tea time, but I made pumpkin scones for this one.  We had also been doing lemonade lately and they're really glad it's cool enough for hot drinks now because they love picking their tea, hot chocolate or apple cider to make. 
After tea time, we made flying ghosts with tea bags.  These are an easy, neat trick.  You start with a higher quality tea bag (we used Tazo brand tea) and cut the top off and pour the tea out.  Then cut the bag in half so you have a short cylinder open at both ends.  Set it on a plate and light the top on fire
As the bag burns down, it flies into the air!  Word of warning, I had the plate sitting on the table at first and the tea bags fly pretty high.  A still flaming bag may have gone all the way to the ceiling and stuck there (no worries, nothing burned).  All subsequent bags were started on the floor, which worked fine.   This little trick works because the flame heats the air inside the cylinder, which makes the air molecules move faster and spread out until the air inside the cylinder is less dense.  Warmer, less dense air (inside) is lighter than cooler, more dense air (outside), and the last bit of the tea bag is light, so the difference is enough to push it into the air.
We also did a little "candy chromatography" by putting Nerds on a coffee filter, then slowly dripping water on the candy to dissolve it.  Surprisingly, this was a really calming activity for all of them. 

The many faces of Sedona:
Secora using too much water for the chromatography part to really work right, but she got some excellent fine motor practice:
Sierra's was working out the best.  It takes a while, but you eventually see the colors separate out on the filter.
For dinner, they've come to expect special pancakes on Halloween.  I did plenty of jack-o-lanterns and things like that, but at some point Sedona asked for a bat because she was going to dress up as a bat.  I ended up doing a personalized plate for each of them.  Secora got a monster:
Sierra got a trident because she was going as a character from Percy Jackson
And Sedona got her bat
They got in their costumes so we could head to a Halloween festival in town.   Secora looked at several costumes in the store and decided to just stick with her monster from last year.  Sedona decided to be a vampire fruit bat, a creature that exists on My Little Pony.  Sierra went as Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena from the Percy Jackson books.  Sierra's costume was all homemade and she was really proud of it.  The New York Yankees cap (which makes Annabeth invisible in the books) is just a plain black (we couldn't find blue) cap and she cut out the NY logo and glued it on.  I made the t-shirt for her and it turned out better than I expected.
The shirt was actually really easy.  I printed the image on freezer paper and cut it out with an xacto knife.  After ironing the freezer paper to the shirt, I painted over it with acrylic paint mixed with fabric medium and peeled the paper off.  Definitely a technique we'll be using again in the future.

While we were getting out of the car, someone drove by and yelled out the window at us.  It was my brother and his family!  We hadn't planned to meet up, so it was a nice coincidence that the kids were happy about.  Here's Sierra and my nephew
And Sedona with him.  I don't think they were nearly as scared of the scary clown as he was hoping. 
The festival in town was a total bust.  Ended up walking a LONG way to find out there weren't all that many activities, but everyone in town had shown up and the lines were really long. We decided to go back to our neighborhood to trick-or-treat instead.  Unfortunately, not as many people were participating this year as last year, so not all that much candy was collected.  We did let them keep going until they said they were ready to be done and they all seem happy, no complaints of too little candy.  I was very pleasantly surprised that Secora did not need to be carried around this year, she willingly walked up to doors with her sisters and cousins while we waited at the curb.  She also said trick-or-treat and thank you loud enough to be heard.  At the end of the night she said, "I proud of myself".  Me too!
At home, the girls all traded to get their favorite candies.  The big girls were particularly gracious in trading Secora so she'd end up with only things she'll eat without just giving away her candy.  Sedona was thrilled to end up with nine snickers bars when it was all said and done because neither of her sisters will eat them.  Another one of her highlights of the night was when she asked if we had any water with us because she was thirsty, then the very next house we went to was giving out juice boxes. 
I think Sierra was steadily eating as she was sorting, trying to fit in as much candy before bedtime as possible.

They all went straight to bed without fuss and fell right asleep.  Saturday morning Secora asked if it was her birthday (she knows it comes after Halloween, but she's got a couple weeks to wait).  The day was spent eating leftover scones, playing a new game we got while we were in San Antonio and watching Elf.  Bring on the holiday season!


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