homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homeschool Snapshot, December 2012

I usually link these to the Homeschool Mother's Journal blog since I use their prompts for this journaling exercise, but I didn't bother this time because--crazy enough--I never seem to complete a blog post over the weekend, in time for the link-up. Besides, this is really more for my own temperature-checking than for public bragging anyway, forum notwithstanding. ;)

In my life recently…
Status quo. I've been fighting the eternal battle for balance. I lose a lot. I keep scaling back my expectations (regular blogging has obviously been downgraded, ha), but even so--there are never enough hours in the day, or enough me, to address all of the things I want or need to. Sigh. It's rough. And I'm constantly beating myself up for letting the whole "toddler" variable throw things completely out of whack. Other mothers have toddlers and still manage to homeschool. What am I doing wrong? *sulk*

Oh, and I'm busting ass trying to finish knitting sweaters for T and C for Christmas. They've outgrown the sweaters I knit for them years ago, and I have Distracted Mother of Toddler guilt. As noted above. The good news is that I'm almost finished. Woot!

And I don't exercise, well, ever. That sucks. I'm hoping that once the holidays pass, I'll be able to get back into some sort of routine. I think the glut of new gym memberships following New Year's has less to do with resolutions and more to do with folks finally breaking out of the time-suck of the holidays.

In our homeschool recently…
We have two emergent readers. That's the biggest, best news. I'm relearning lessons I should have internalized by now. It's true; trying to make a child do something before he's ready will not guarantee results. Waiting until he is ready will result in progress so rapid it will make your head spin. I watched one of their older brothers (my stepsons) do this with reading and swimming. I watched T do this with potty training and biking. You can prepare them from now until doomsday, but you can't force understanding, and even the best efforts at fostering desire will not take root until they are truly ready for it. After YEARS of struggling with CVC words, I have seen T in particular jump at least two grade levels in reading ability in a few short weeks. I am thrilled. Relieved. Overjoyed. Impressed. Thankful.

Beyond that, we've been making slow but steady progress in math. Both T and C get excited and want to skip ahead without fully understanding underlying concepts, so that part has been challenging. I've imposed a bunch of different drills for fact recall, and try to mix up the obvious (flash cards, worksheets) with the more subtle (card games, Monopoly).

We did a month long history study of American Colonialism, but I've kind of stalled on history. I want to get them to the Revolutionary War (especially because ever since our September readings on the Montgolfier Brothers, I've been promising a biographical study of Benjamin Franklin, but I want to keep our studies in context) but feel that I can't realistically skip over the French & Indian War, especially considering how very much of it happened locally (and, ahem, the fact that Pennsylvania History is required by the state anyway). If anyone happens to read this and has good ideas for a framework for a F&I War study for early elementary ages, please comment!!

And finally, T and C have been taking piano a twenty-first century, non-traditional way. I discovered a little site called Free Piano Lessons 4 Kids. I was skeptical at first, but we were all hooked after the inaugural lesson. Instructor Joseph Hoffman is engaging, the lessons are short, and each lesson is simple on its own but taken in sequence, the lessons build skills quickly and in an unexpected but very efficient/effective manner. I'm sold. I bought the PDF download of supporting material and this program is still a steal. The boys don't think of this as a one-way exchange, with them watching a pre-recorded video. They refer to him as "my teacher". We love Mr. Hoffman. :)

That's the structured stuff. We've also been having plenty of other fun. After a long hiatus from the kitchen, T is again interested in cooking. In an effort to reinforce some of our math (measurement, fractions, addition) and reading, I've been preparing easy to follow recipes for him, and he has been delighting us with all sorts of delicious goodies. His cookbook (and repertoire) are growing, and "Mother [Surname]'s Cooking School for Boys" is a popular game these days.

We've also been reading about giant squid, revisiting an interest in birds of prey, and building and crafting like  crazy. :)

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…
For practicing basic addition facts (pair memorization), we have really been enjoying playing variations on basic card games. Our favorites are Go Fish (match numbers adding to 10 rather than twins) and War (each player puts down two cards; the largest product wins the hand).

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
This is a little harder to answer since I do these updates so infrequently. Most recently, we enjoyed a Solstice Celebration put together by a good friend of ours.

My favorite thing this week was…
C made a wreath for our front door. I wanted a "real" wreath but balked at the prices. A few years ago, I had saved the frame from a wreath we had purchased. Because I am frugal  crafty a hoarder. C located it, snipped some low branches from our pine tree, and voila--a custom made wreath.

Yes. My heart grew three sizes that day. He's so full of creativity and love.

Questions/thoughts I have…
I'm feeling cynical right now about a number of topics dealing with education in general, all of which should probably be worked out in longer posts. As always, I'm disillusioned by the false messages and hypocrisy of the meritocracy. I had a discussion with two other mothers this past weekend about a school handing a diploma to a student who had failed to even show up for 50% of the state-mandated attendance days, let alone what one can only assume was his poor academic performance as a result of that. I was in the minority position, saying that it is an insult to the kids who worked for their diplomas and that blatantly overriding not only school policy but also state law is shameful and makes a mockery of the value of that diploma. Apparently I'm wrong, and it's in the public's best interest to help such kids succeed in life by making sure they don't get judged as a failure or a dropout. My head hurts. What does that diploma mean? What do any of them mean, beyond a mark of (maybe just barely) participation?

I'm also reeling from the implications of the shift away from studying fiction in the upcoming common core standards for English. I need to read up more on this before I can really feel like I'm voicing an informed opinion on the matter, but I will say as not only a fan of literature and an English major but also as someone who for many years made a profession as a technical writer...the best curriculum for good writing and informed reading is rhetoric, which seems to have been missing from our schools for a few generations now. I'll definitely be blogging more on this as I read and think more about it.

Things I’m working on…
Balance. Did I mention balance? That, and pre-planning. I like the flexibility of not being tied to a curriculum but there are days that the structure is very appealing, and I haven't ruled out trying that approach in the future. I also need to get on the ball with record-keeping (some weeks are awesome, others I just seem to slip), and I need to order/administer some sort of standardized test in the spring semester (groan).

And finally...
Here's a picture of a happy toddler. You're welcome. :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Defining Learning

C and I started watching an episode of Modern Marvels earlier, about handmade goods. Yay, together time! Yay, educational!

About 10 minutes into the show, he got up and left. And I felt like, well, that was a failed effort all around.

Until I realized that he had gone to the workshop. Because seeing people work with wood made him want to work with wood.

Okay, that's a reaction I can embrace.

And although I don't have the necessary time to really flesh this out into a good essay (sigh...yes, I know I rarely blog anymore but my toddler is literally crooning MAMAMAMA and fighting for keyboard access as I frantically type this out), I felt the need to note this. Because it's such a good snapshot of the not-school journey: walking that delicate balance between expectation and reality of what learning looks like.

Maybe someday I'll say something coherent about this. Tonight, I'm just geeked that he'd rather DO than just observe.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

This boy

There's this boy who stole my heart...

He's nine today. Almost a decade. Halfway to eighteen. (Oh! My heart!) The years are going by much too quickly.

It seems that only yesterday we were fumbling through the newborn days, trying to figure each other out.

I hope that when he looks back on these early years, he remembers them as being full of joy and love. Because that's certainly what he has provided in my life.

He's still my baby. He still craves hugs, still wants an extra "I love you" at bedtime, still snuggles in when I want to nuzzle his head. He is still vulnerable enough to cry when he needs to, and although he's getting taller and heavier, my arms and lap are still Enough to accommodate him. To comfort him. To make it all better.

But he is growing! I've been so fortunate to be a part of his journey. He's a thoughtful person, kind and empathetic. He's patient, gentle, and remarkably funny.

He has inherited (nature or nurture?) my tendencies toward perfectionism (sigh), but he also has a capacity to forgive and move on that amazes me.

Happy Birthday, T! Thank you for making me into a mother. I love you to infinity and beyond.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Homeschool Snapshot, 10/01/2012

It's been a while since I took the time to get my bearings. I'm using the prompts from over at the Homeschool Mother's Journal linkup, but since I'm outside the share dates (Friday-Monday), I'm not going to bother linking up. What can I say, I don't get to plan when I'll get to sit down and complete a thought these days! But more on that below...

In my life recently…
We've been riding some waves. We have periods of huge, visible activity, and periods of just trying to get through a basic, no-frills day. Two weeks ago, we had nine days in a row of outings. We did some neat things (amusement park, zoo, several parties), but I got so burned out on the running-around that I passed on the next opportunity that presented itself. Or two or three; I don't remember. Some days I present planned lessons...which are a crapshoot. Some have gone back-pattingly (hells yeah I just made that up) well, and others have fallen flat. We've also done the life-learning approach of following our interests, and have had some really good conversations and researched some fascinating stuff. 

As for my life? Personally? I've been fighting a tough battle for Balance. Gosh, it feels like that's always the case. I've been meaning to blog this, but HA--balance. Sigh. I can't tell you how many blog entries I've mentally composed, but cannot get to a keyboard without interruption and with enough mental energy left (it's after midnight now, for example) to complete a coherent thought. I'm trying to streamline/organize too much at once, between housework, homeschooling, and personal goals. Yes, I have made strides in taming the overwhelming to-do list on each, but I'm still not getting as much done as I'd like to. And having a very active toddler does not help matters, as many of my goals are more easily accomplished without him underfoot. So on any given day, IF he naps, I may present a fully-prepared lesson, help with a craft project or science experiment, simply respond to a spontaneous request with something other than "maybe later", catch up on a nagging area of clutter, exercise, blog, do lesson planning, work on one of my own crafts, or (crazytime, here) shower. But the catch is, usually only ONE of the above.

I have started making my "to do" lists apply across the week rather than a day, which helps. I'm trying to keep my eyes on what I am accomplishing rather than what I'm not. And I'm also trying to keep my commitment to better sleep habits. It's so easy to fit more into the day by simply sacrificing sleep, but then I sacrifice productivity the following day. Right now I'm sacrificing, and I may regret it. But I have actually kept a pretty regular bedtime for a while now, and that alone actually helps with my balance; because it reduces my physical exhaustion.

The emotional/mental exhaustion? I have a feeling that it's a chronic symptom of parenting.

In our homeschool recently…
We've learned about the Montgolfier brothers, who invented the hot air balloon. We've studied sea turtles and revisited the sharks-and-rays. We've had talks about vaccinations, nutrition, and--oh yeah--physics (both astro- and quantum-). I'm trying to push reading skills but a combination of my scrambling to find the "right" approach and their resistance (one from frustration, one from disinterest/boredom) has left me with a kind of sporadic record of random hit-and-misses. The kids have both started playing Animal Jam, which C could take or leave, but T is totally obsessing over. I've already seen his skills in basic arithmetic, budgeting, and planning improve...both within the game (players earn credits to "purchase" digital content) and in the real world (T did a number of chores to earn the money to pay for his membership).

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…
I recently put together a little skill-building game that not only helped my kids, but also that they love so much that they ask for it. Even Daddy has joined in on the action! T, I believe, may be struggling with reading because of a mild auditory processing deficit. (No I did not make that up; I consulted with a Ph.D. in special education who gave me all sorts of wonderful advice about changing my approach toward his literacy instruction. Another story I've been meaning to blog, alas.) I have noticed that among other symptoms, he seems to have trouble with rhythm.

I made a deck of flashcards with clipart images on them; because I did not want him to get frustrated and shut down with the pressure of decoding words for this exercise. The images represent words of varying syllables (1-4). The kids and I use this deck to play "War", with the higher-syllable word trumping. Many of the images are beloved cartoon characters, so the play can become very competitive as they try to collect "teams". And T's skills at breaking words into syllables has improved quickly. Definitely a win.

I am inspired by…
Pinterest! Is that a cop-out? I get good ideas there; and yay--Wendy Priesnitz pins links to articles (both hers and others), which I find extremely comforting, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and otherwise optimism-building.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
Oh gosh, WAY too many to name. The zoo. Kennywood Park. The library, natch. Many parks. Walks in the woods. A pig roast. Several birthday parties. I hope to take the kids to some local farms soon (we've never been apple-picking, and we typically go to the pumpkin festival at a farm close to us), a trip to the mountains, and--fingers crossed--maybe a rail museum. Also, C started attending a six-week soccer clinic and seems to really be enjoying it. Perhaps he may join a team in the future? We shall see.

My favorite thing recently has been…
Getting some one-on-one time with my older sons, both together and individually. It's very difficult to manage, but even a simple trip to the store in the evening gives us small moments of reconnecting.

Questions/thoughts I have…
Just a little "huh" moment to share. My current approach is mostly life-learning. I don't follow a set curriculum and frankly don't always have a fully fleshed-out plan beyond the current week. I'm trying to get more organized with that because there are things that I want to show them, to explore with them, to share. And there are also, of course, basic skills that I want to help them develop so they can explore better on their own. What's been interesting to me is how many of these basic skills I have started to introduce lately only to find that they've already figured out much of it on their own. I'll have a little lesson prepared at the beginner level and they just look at me like I'm an idiot. They're clever kids, and they often amaze me.

Things I’m working on…
Balance. Balance. Balance. And I'm knitting sweaters for Christmas. Because I am a martyr and a fool. LOL

I’m reading…
Religion and Reaction: The Secular Political Challenge to the Religious Right, by Susan B. Hansen 
which is interesting but dry. I really need an entertaining read; I have plenty to choose from, but nothing has grabbed my attention for a while.

I’m cooking…
The past two weeks have seen a lot of crock pot cooking, as I try to carve out more time for myself. It's been an interesting experiment but frankly, I don't know that I'm saving myself all that much effort. I do like having the meals pre-made in the freezer, though, because I don't have to go through the mental hurdle of meal planning every day. I just grab a bag, make sure I have any filler ingredients (side dishes, rice, etc.), and dinner is underway. Okay, it's saving me time. Again, yay Pinterest.

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…
Photos to come soon, I hope. They're on a different computer. In the meantime, these two articles were like a big warm hug on some particularly stressful days.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Revisiting the S word.

A few days ago, C, J, and I were at the library. C found a boy who wanted to play, and the two of them immersed in some building toys, and chattered--happily and nonstop. I ended up talking with the boy's mother, and once I outed myself as a homeschooler (seriously, why do people ask my child's grade level instead of his age? They're essentially trying to get an expectation of his maturity and development, right?), she started in with the predictable comments and questions. Including The Question. "What about socialization?"

I gave my best beauty-pageant smile and a benign canned half-answer which I hoped would stall that direction of our discussion. Because it's not an easy question. It doesn't have an easy answer. And given the fact that she was most likely yet another in a long chain of single serving friends, trying to really get to the nitty-gritty truth of the issue really wasn't worth my emotional investment or her time.

But it is important. To me.

Many homeschooling parents tend to develop a knee-jerk reaction to that question. It's fraught with all sorts of loaded assumptions, and--hackles raised--we frequently feel driven to defend ourselves and our children. It's a challenge. It presumes that socialization is something that happens in school, and that without that construct, it is difficult to achieve. It implies that we may not be equipped to provide our children with the necessary exposure to mature successfully in a key area. It suggests that we might be doing them a disservice by not putting them through the same experiences that mainstream students go through.

What do people actually mean when they ask that, though? I've been mulling this over and at the moment I would venture to put forth a few basic possibilities. Please, if you have other thoughts--comment! I'm sure this is not the end of my meditation on the subject. ;)

1. Socialization means socializing.
That is, getting out of the house (homeschooling = homebound, right? *snark*) and having casual fun with other people. This is the facepalm of all assumed meanings because of the irony. Had I been quicker on my feet (or bitchier in my mood), I might have pointed to my child playing with her child in a public place and raised an eyebrow. Seriously? Look. We're outside our house. Interacting with people. Amazing!

2. Socialization means having age-appropriate social skills.
This one is killing me. A few weeks ago, I saw a socialization checklist on Pinterest and the fact that a woman I follow had posted it on her homeschooling board kind of made me cringe. Now that I'm finally blogging about it, however, I can't seem to locate it. It's interesting to note that the first three pages (I didn't read beyond that) of Google results when you search "socialization checklist" are all related to dog training. Let me repeat that. Dog. Training. The elusive child list was, if memory serves, not all that different.

Oh wait, I found it. Yay Internets.

Generally, the checklist for an elementary-aged child includes such concerns as: Does he make eye contact? Does he take turns? Does he follow directions? How does he handle conflict?

Yeah...we homeschoolers don't bother with any of that nonsense. Our kids don't know how to share, play fairly, express their emotions, concentrate, or listen. Because not only do we, as parents, not nurture this type of emotional growth and development, but it also does not happen naturally as a matter of daily interaction with other human beings. < /sarcasm >

Guess what? My children have siblings. And parents. And cousins. And neighbors. And they talk to waitresses and librarians and docents. I could go on and on. Yes. My kids know how to share. Yes. I am helping them to learn which volume level of speech is appropriate for which setting. No. They are not going to act bizarrely around your kids, because they do not exist in a vacuum. It is really damn hard to be a human without--along the way--picking up on how to behave in acceptable ways around other humans.

Furthermore, it is offensive that anyone would flat-out challenge someone to provide assurance that their kids are well-mannered, which is what that assumption boils down to. It's as though the meat-grinder of forced association in a controlled environment is the only way to produce a person who gets along well with others.

3. Socialization means building relationships with a set of consistent friends.

Ah. There's the rub.

*deep breath*

I'm at a stage of my life where I have a very small circle of close, confidant-worthy Friends and little time, energy, or interest in cultivating new relationships. I am just too darn busy and distracted to invest the necessary effort toward keeping up a casual friendship. Once I had children, my childless friends in particular fell away from my life, and I'm okay with that. I don't dislike those people, and a part of me had a period of acknowledging loss, but I've gotten past it. I don't have it in me to go to clubs or concerts or drop everything for therapeutic shopping, or take a weekend bicycle trip. That's not part of my paradigm anymore. I forget birthdays, I forget to make phone calls, heck--most of the time I forget to even check for messages, let alone follow up on them. I'm just not a good friend right now. But I am a terrific single-serving friend. I can find one glimmer of shared experience with any random mother at the playground or pool or museum and for the duration of our kids playing in the same area, we are BFFs. I've occasionally laughed with these women about this we'll instantly bond, overshare intimately, and then never see each other again and be totally fine with it.

But is that enough for my kids? I don't think so. And it's becoming more of an issue. Especially for C, who desperately wants Friends.

The easy answer for most homeschooling families is to point to their childrens' other "tribes": Sunday school, scouting organizations, sports teams, co-ops, neighborhoods.

We are not a churchgoing family. My kids are not in scouts. Our attempts to forge "outside of practice" friendships with teammates have yet to yield fruit. And we live on a heavy-traffic road, and the few kids who live in safe walking range [through yards] just haven't clicked with my kids, and vice versa.

Sigh. What's a mother to do?

At this point, I am actively encouraging them to join activities. C was disappointed to not gain any Friends through the art classes that he took last year. He'd like to join a soccer clinic that starts next week, and is excited to meet new kids. Here's hoping. T is still "taking a break" from fencing and has no interest in a new activity.

What *has* been a balm to us lately is that I found a local homeschool group that fits my needs. It is not an educational co-op (difficult when approaches differ) but a social group, with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. The parents seem committed to mutual respect and the kids are just thrilled to play.

When I brought up my concern about forming consistent friendships a few months ago, one of the mothers said, "Why do you think THIS exists?" Finally, a group of regular, familiar faces. After years of my kids meeting single-serving people on the playground and then never seeing them again, we have a touchstone. So far, we are one of the newer sets of faces, and our summer got so crazy that we haven't attended a get-together in a while, but I hope to get back into it soon. I hope to give my kids the opportunity to turn some friends into Friends.

So, all defensiveness aside, if THAT is what some people are curious about when they throw out the S word...yes, it can be an issue if there is no built-in situation where the kids are regularly exposed to the same companions. But just like I seek out educational activities, I also seek out social activities for my children. Like all of homeschooling--like all of parenting--it can be an effort. But it isn't impossible.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Year in a Life












Happy Birthday, sweet baby J. That year went by way too fast.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Building, Making, Breaking

It was a busy week around here. Okay, they are ALL busy weeks, but this time I have taken the time to blog and have a few supercool pictures to punctuate my stories. ;)

First, I am a major Pinterest junkie. I spend WAY too much time on that site, and the only reason I am not twisted with guilt over that is that I usually do so on my Kindle Fire while nursing J. (I am all about multitasking. Word.) Anyway, a few days ago, I was browsing the pins and showed C this image of a hanging bridge

and commented that it looked cool and fun. The next day, he was busy with his tools all afternoon and finally unveiled this:

which, considering his experience level, materials, and the fact that he was winging it on his own with no outside help, is pretty amazing. What am I saying; it was pretty amazing regardless of those things. Personally, I have a great deal of trouble visualizing three-dimensional objects. I am forever sewing things together inside out because I can't foresee how things will fit together once they're flipped in orientation. But my kid can work from memory and make things that function properly. I am so in awe of the way that his mind works.

Later in the week, we had a big "highlight reel" moment: a mom-guided activity that was both educational and fun. I can thank Pinterest for this one as well; as I combined several sources to come up with a day of "absorption and diffusion". First we did a few experiments,

The various paint is not part of the experiment, but testament to how hard we use the crafting tablecloth. ;)
and then we put our observations to practice with an art project.

I even got in on the action and tricked out a onesie for Baby J.

We had a lot of fun. And it reinvigorated my enthusiasm for "we can *learn things* and *have fun* without the two being mutually exclusive. (I am all about efficiency wins.)

As for the "breaking" part of our week? Sigh. Baby J, who is just shy of his first birthday, broke his top incisors. He did not fall, although his status as a new and enthusiastic walker (youngest of our kids, too. Woo!) might lead to that assumption. Nope, my kid chipped both of his front teeth by *grinding them*. He's been doing that since they first came in, and finally wore them down enough to break them.
He has a snaggletooth grin now. And will until his permanent teeth arrive. I had our dentist look at them, and after her initial shock (always reassuring), she said that there's really not much she'd do unless he breaks them far enough to affect the nerves. The wearing-down of the edges will take a while since he isn't doing much in the way of biting/tearing food yet. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

You know how moms often lament about how they can't have anything nice (because of the kids)? Yeah. At this point I would have settled for "doesn't destroy own teeth". I have a feeling we're in for a fun ride with this one! LOL

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Break

So, this is the part where I acknowledge that I haven't blogged in ages and renew my commitment to posting more frequently.

In both the blogoverse and my personal history, this is usually followed by some sort of explanation/apology and maybe even a little musing on *why* I'm blogging anyway (is it purely for myself? do I want to attract a daily readership?) but really, it doesn't matter. Life gets busy. Anecdotes and pictures are a lot more fun. Let's get on with it.

An image-heavy, text-light recap of noteworthy experiences from the past few months:

We went to the Children's Museum for some hands-on fun.

We joined a homeschool playgroup and made some new friends.
J impresses his new lady friend. Oh yeah.

We went to the pool a few times,

and hung out at a few car cruises.

I swear there were actual "classic" cars involved. But come's frickin' BUMBLEBEE!! ;)
T completed another session of fencing (he's now taking a break from the sport).


 I'm so proud of him. He started in November, and by June had been promoted to the intermediate class and showed so much talent and ability. I'm torn on his current status. The truth of the matter is that when he signed up initially, I simply wanted to get him involved in any "activity": to meet people and brave a new experience. Done and done. I watched my wallflower child blossom into an engaged athlete. He became well-liked by both his instructors and his peers. His crippling shyness melted right away. This was a good experience. And he's young. And unlike signing up to play a season of a team sport, the lessons/practice of fencing has no set end-date; no natural break. He was getting burned out. All of that said, I support his decision to sit it out for a while (he's leaving it open-ended).

But the bleachers mother in me is bummed that I'm not still watching his famous surprise lunges and easy laughter with his opponents and just how HARD he worked, and happily. *sigh*

Wait, didn't I promise less text? Right. More pictures. Like of our first vacation in four years!


ohhhhh yeah, the BEACH!

We LOVE the beach!

Yay beach!
 Oh, which beach was it? KittyHawk. So it was an education adventure as well.
No, I swear. The kids were totally into the museum and we've read books about the Wright brothers since our return home. Hooray for history!!
I even managed to squeeze in a few bike rides

and believe it or not, I sewed a few things, too!

His "Ace Ventura" shirt. :)

And that should just about get us caught up. ;) I'll try to blog more soon. I hope your summer is full and happy!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guess What?

Chicken Butt!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Know You're a Homeschooler (or maybe just a Nerd) When...'ve had a rough day. The baby is teething and crawling. The older kids have had to entertain themselves even more than usual. You feel like a sucky parent.

The baby finally passes out for a nap, and you think to yourself how you really "should" do something educational, or at least of some sort of developmental quality, with the older kids. So you track them down. They are watching TV (guilt? welcome to overdrive!).

Then you notice. They are watching Mythbusters.

Yeah. They'll be okay. ;)

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Brief Window

Crafting when you have children is not always easy. Crafting when you have a baby is somewhere between difficult and downright impossible. Oh, there are those who will suggest that you get things done while your child naps...but that presupposes not only that they actually do nap (and reliably, and for a long enough period of time to get anything done) but also that you have nothing else that you could/should be doing during that time. Oh yay! The baby is actually asleep! Should I knit something? know...cook a meal, clean myself, or pay attention to my other children? Ah, decisions, decisions...

There's the option of crafting while the baby is awake, but yeah. That doesn't always go so well. A small baby often requires constant holding, and a mobile baby requires constant vigilance! But there is a window of opportunity. When the baby can sit unassisted and manipulate toys...but cannot yet crawl and get into trouble...ah, yes. Then a mother might be able to do a little peripheral monitoring of the self-entertaining child and maybe get a few stitches in here and there.

So I did. And look what I made!

First, I sewed the Henry Shirt from the book Sewing for Boys, as a gift for C's 6th birthday. I was a little unsure about my fabric choices; most people who have uploaded pictures of their finished Henrys paired a prints with a solid. However, I selected a small print and a small madras. They featured complementary colors, but would the prints be too busy and clash? 

I took the gamble anyway. And I am *so* pleased with my results.

My favorite part of sewing is learning new tricks, and this one had a few. The yoke/sleeve/lining construction was confusing, but I proceeded with caution and my results were good. I felt rather proud for conquering it.
And witness how awesome a contrast-lined sleeve looks.
Also, after my madras proved to be stretchy enough to get misshapen when I topstitched the closure bands, I decided to stop being intimidated and taught myself how to install and use my machine's walking foot. I ripped and redid that stitching and:

Precise. Narrow. Perfection.

So skills!

My thoughts on the pattern? Like many others who have made this, I find the fit to be a bit off. I made it in the largest size (6-7) and it *just* fits C for length (if I do it again, I'll add several inches) and is very wide. I'm writing the width off as a stylistic thing because I'm not sure I'm up to figuring out how to make the garment more narrow when the yoke pattern piece is so oddly shaped. I will also likely make a regular (rather than inverted) box pleat at the center back on my next Henry; simply because that's how most RTW shirts are designed.

C seems to like the shirt, 
despite the body language *sigh*
but he has chosen for some reason to see it as nightwear and keeps asking when I will be making the matching PJ pants...

Project #2 was also from the Sewing for Boys book. I made the R is for Romper for Baby J.

You may *squee* now.
I am in love with the fabric that I chose; it's a JoAnn's knit with a Hey Diddle Diddle motif. I bought a cut of this fabric not long after I discovered his impending arrival and had intended to make a layette with it. Um, whoops. But it's all good: we have a romper, and there's plenty left over for some future PJ's and maybe more. 

I started following my own drummer on this pattern's construction when I realized that it was designed to be sewn with exposed, raw seams all over. I guess that look is all the rage for...someone. Lots of someones, apparently. Not so much for me. So my first order of business was to sew with right sides together and topstitch all over the place. And pardon my back-patting when I say that my seams look incredible.

Next, I needed to attach and finish the neckline binding using a different technique. I followed these instructions from omi creates and am very happy with the results.

Then I hit a problem. The pattern was designed to have ALL raw edges. Not just seams, but typical hem areas as well. I wasn't sure how much I'd sacrifice in leg length, but I went full-out OCD and *had* to turn under a real hem. That's where I goofed a bit. First, I forgot to change the stitch setting on my machine, so instead of a nearly-invisible straight stitch, I did the hem with a zigzag. Oh well, worse things could have happened. And they did. I started having tension issues with my machine. So the leg hems are a bit wonky. Bleah. I decided to leave the sleeve ends raw because they were too short to turn under for a traditional hem. As it is, the fabric that I used for the sleeves is thin and has a good deal of curl, so a hem would have been a moot point anyway.

Speaking of sleeves, there are two issues that bother me. One was a goof by yours truly. Sometimes when you stay up into the wee hours starting a project, your eyes are tired and you accidentally fuse your interfacing to the "right" (but incorrect) side of your fabric. So, um, yeah. The sleeves are kind of inside-out. Granted, it's a solid color. You can't tell. But I know. And whoops, now the whole Internet knows. Sometimes I should really keep my mouth shut.

The other issue is that the underarm seams seem to twist/pucker and pull. 

Seriously, though...look at the little animals. And the super narrow topstitching on the side seam. This is so much awesome anyway.
I'm honestly not sure if that is due to the thin fabric, my construction, or the pattern design. Honestly, none of them looked likely when I investigated. Maybe it's just a fluke; I will watch this area on my next project using this pattern.

When I make this pattern again, not only will I add hem length to the legs and sleeves, but I will also tack down the bottom edge of the raglan openings *before* sewing the sleeve/side seam. I found doing so afterward (as per the instructions) to pose a bit of a challenge, and opted instead to add a third snap. I also plan to draft a crotch gusset for the next romper. The fit is okay...but my cloth-diapered son would probably be more comfortable with a little extra wiggle room "down there".

Mmmm. Form-fitting.
Oh! And I did all sew-on snaps. Because I am a major martyr. But yay, awesome me.

I made this pattern in a size 6-12 months. J is a week shy of 9 months (and around 19 pounds) and this *just* fits him. I'm definitely making more of these (I am so happy with the final product) in the next size up.

In summary: two projects in just over a month. Unheard of! And both from the same book. If you sew and have a little boy in your life, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Sewing for Boys. The garments are classic and customizable (check out their Flickr group to see user, mine aren't there yet...I'm typing like the wind now because my kids are asking for food. So maybe later.) and even the more difficult-to-construct projects have clearly written instructions with plenty of illustrations. Many props to the authors/designers for some garments that are both adorable and totally wearable.

So there you go. I still sew. Sometimes! It's been a nice diversion...kind of helped me to return to myself a bit. It's difficult to do "me" things when you have a little one. I got a little bit of that, and some really cute garments for two of my kids in the process. This was likely a brief phenomenon, though, and not the beginning of a new phase of crafting for me, as J is crawling now. With enthusiasm. Lord help me. :p