Friday, April 30, 2010

Finally . . . Kitchen Pictures!

I finally got around to taking pictures of the new countertops in the kitchen, so here they are! I love not having the tile backsplash! I really hated that. Looking at plain wall is sooo much nicer and easier to clean!
Here is a close-up of the granite. It's brownish with black flecks.

We took more off the island. Through that doorway is the laundry room and the garage. This walkway is by far the most traficked area of the house! So why would the builder put an island there with a huge overhanging ledge for stools? How could you possibly have a BREAKFAST BAR in this narrow walkway?! After a year or 2, Bob sawed off about 6 inches of the monster. That made it better, but I still could not carry a laundry basket through without having to either dip it down or raise it up to get it past the island. So we made the granite island an additional 4 inches smaller. We took a total of 10 inches off the island! Isn't that crazy?! The family before us had 5 kids--how did they manage? They had a huge fridge too! Well, it's tons better now.

And finally here is my beloved new undermount sink. The garbage disposal is still on the left side, so now it is under the big part of the sink, not the little part. I love it! I never understood why the disposal was under the small side. When I would dump things into it, water would splash out, and I was forever picking nasty stuff out of the grate at the bottom of the big part. No more! We had them drill a hole for my dish soap dispenser. I do like having that.
So good riddance to that nasty old tile and grout. I don't miss it a bit! I still can't believe it's gone, to be honest--throughout the day I still look over and am amazed at what I am seeing in the kitchen! When I made biscuits a few nights ago, it was SO wonderful to be able to roll them out RIGHT ON the counter! I haven't made bread yet, but I can't wait for that either!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Storing Toddler Puzzles

I don't usually do any of those "Works For Me Wednesday" posts or anything like that because usually I don't have anything to creative to report. I mainly steal ideas from others who post helpful tips, LOL. But when I was thinking about the problem of storing board games, which I alluded to in my board games post , I realized that I have come up with a way to store those annoying toddler puzzles. They come in the same flimsy boxes that board games do, and when you have a bunch of little hands getting them down and putting them back up over many years, the boxes do not hold up.
The first step is to cut out the picture on the front of the box. I try to include how many pieces are supposed to be in the puzzle as well. Then you put the puzzle together and turn all the pieces over. Write the same letter or number on the back of each piece, and write that same character on the back of the big picture. This particular Winnie-the-Pooh puzzle shown here has the letter "W" on the back of all the pieces. This stands for "waking up", which reminds me of what puzzle it is (Tigger and Piglet have apparently awoken Pooh by standing outside his window and calling him--some friends!). You can use numbers too, which is what our church does. This simple trick prevents you from having to work each and every 24 piece puzzle you own when your 2-year old decides it would be fun to dump out every puzzle onto the floor and throw all the pieces around, thoroughly mixing them up. Theoretically, of course. My children are under the utmost supervision at all points of the day, so this sort of thing never occurs here. Never.
Once you have your puzzle pictures cut out and all your pieces labeled, then you put each puzzle in its own Ziploc bag.

Then you find a handy-sized box conveniently located in your garage (or if you can't find anything, feel free to come search my garage, LOL), and you put all your bags in there.

Then you simply put your box of puzzles on a shelf, in our case, on top of coloring books because even though we have 3 sets of double bookshelves on our study, we have run out of space. No more scrunched up boxes with pieces spilling out everywhere getting lost! Now your puzzles can last for 12 years, through 7 kids as well!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Big Families are the New Green"

On another blog I read, Mommy Life , she posted an article by a Catholic woman about how big families actually are not the cause of great gobs of waste and anti-Earth living. I have been thinking about this very thing for some time now, coming up with many of the same points she mentions. Here is the start of the article:

Got a big family? Then you already know that you’re crazy, a traitor to feminism, and a slave to the pope; you’re neglecting most of your kids and robbing the rest of their childhood; you’re a burden on the system in general, and you probably don’t own a television set.
But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget, you’re also destroying the earth.
Lately, it’s become fashionable for radical environmentalists to denounce large families as irresponsible, even selfish. Maybe you heard the remarks of the chairman of the U.K.’s Sustainable Development Commission, who said that, out of respect for the earth, couples should be legally limited to bearing two “replacement” children.
And yet, if we can get beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, do radical environmentalists have a point? Should we slow down a little? It almost seems like common sense, especially when you’re having one of those days when you do feel a little crowded by the swarms of ravening locusts — uh, I mean, treasured offspring who share your last name. After all, aren’t Catholics supposed to be good stewards of the earth? Isn’t it true that we “lotsas” are using more than our share of natural resources, burning more than our share of carbon, and just plain taking up too much space?
Probably not. Moms of many already know that the work of caring for seven children is not the same as caring for one child times seven. In some ways, it’s easier. In the same way, many large families actually have a smaller carbon footprint than a typical family with one or two kids. A household of nine is not like a household of three times three. It just doesn’t work that way.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wow, I totally can relate to her first point, about how a big 12-passenger van can be "eco-friendly"--don't drive it! We also drastically limit our errands, trying to leave the house as little as possible. A good day for me is a day spent at home. And since we already have a built-in sports team right here, we don't have to run around all the time to different practices, playdates, etc.

We are definitely of the "tight-budget" mentality, especially living here in D.C. on one income! I can count on one hand the things we have bought new. Most of our stuff comes from the "for sale" board at Bob's work, LOL. All our clothes pretty much are either given to us from kind friends, or bought at the biannual consignment sales around here. We rarely buy things new. Whenever we read those ubiquitous articles about how to save $1000 a year, Bob and I always laugh at the suggestions--give up Starbucks! Pack your own lunch! Eat out less often! Use the library instead of always buying the latest best-seller, right when it comes out! LOL--so what happens when you never did those things?! We should be rolling in money! We are definitely "complete failures as consumers", just like the author's family!

I know that the ultra-radical environmentalists don't have a clue how a big family really operates, and I don't think they really care to learn, unfortunately. People don't really matter to them, so they are not open to hear our arguments. But they are missing out. As the author says, "There is nothing you can say. Satisfy yourself that you’re not being wasteful, and then answer not the fool according to his folly. Love your children, and teach them to love each other; and if you and your brood feel like a sign of contradiction, then that’s a good sign."

We're not Catholic, as this lady is (or Mormon either, although I am asked that all. the. time.), but I agree with her conclusions.

Of course it’s our job to care for the earth. But even more, it’s our job to remember, and to teach our children, that this world will not last, and to live accordingly.
“All flesh is as grass, and all its glory as the flower of grass; the grass withered, and the flower has fallen — but the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6).
How will it endure, if there is no one to hear it? Let us answer the No of child-fearing radicals with a joyful and ancient Yes. The world needs big families.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Backyard Improvements

This is mainly a test post to see if I correctly worked the settings so my blog publishes straight to my Facebook page. I finally did get around to taking a picture of the new trampoline, so here it is, with all 7 kids on it. You can see how it is crammed into the corner of the yard, with trees all around! We had quite a time getting it in there too. It took our neighbor, plus his son and daughter, Bob, me, 3 of our boys, and another neighbor boy to get it from our neighbor's back yard, through their trees, up the street, and into our back yard through more trees. We had to saw off a couple of branches in the process.
While we are looking at new things, this is our new grill. Bob found it on clearance at Lowes this weekend. He's glad to not have all these tempermental hot spots, like he had on the old one. I guess a grill can only take so many moves . . . The firepit is in front. That thing has been quite the hit, I must say. We also have a blueberry bush in that tub to the right of the grill. And the blue tub you can barely see is a part of our garden this year.
Here is a better picture of the tub. We actually have 3 tubs like this, and we are growing things in them, instead of down by our basement where we tried the past few years. That area didn't have great soil, it didn't get enough light, and it was a hassle to water. On the deck is better, and the boys have been very diligent about taking care of everything. We're growing tomatoes, spinach, peppers, zucchini, beans, peas, carrots, and something else . . . maybe another kind of squash? I can't remember. I am not the green thumb behind this operation.

We are also trying something new this year. This is Bob's cheap version of the "Topsy-Turvy" tomato grower, hanging off our deck. It's what we can the "cheap 5 gallon Lowes bucket with holes drilled into it". Catchy! One bucket has tomatoes and the other strawberries. We'll let you know if it works. Or you can just wait until you see us on late-night TV hawking our invention.

So that's the roundup of all our new backyard features. Now to see if this post shows up on my news feed . . .

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Board Games

It's a rainy day here, so no jumping on the trampoline. That has certainly been the activity of choice lately! Before the advent of the trampoline in our backyard, board games were definite favorites. I'm sure they'll come back into popularity here, LOL. We have come across a new kind of board games, which I wanted to let everyone know about!

When we were in Ohio, we wanted to buy a birthday present for Amy's son Zachary, who was turning 10. We looked at their Amazon wishlist, which had the game Stratego listed. Bob flipped through the sale circulars and discovered that Target had that very game on sale! We headed over there and bought a game for him and a game for us. Stratego has been a huge hit in both houses! The best part of the game, though, is that it did not come in one of those incredibly flimsy cardboard boxes that collapse so easily and are impossible to store. No, this game came in a sturdy wooden box, and it is supposed to look like a book on a shelf when stored!
There are a whole bunch of different games in this series--we bought Scrabble, Clue, Strageto, Life, Monopoly, and Risk. Our old games were falling apart, and many pieces were missing, especially in games like Monopoly and Risk. Also sold in the series are Yahtzee and Sorry.
Here is the Life game when you first open it up. The game is folded up, and everything else is under it. The book "cover" just slides off the game.

Here it is completely unfolded, and you can see the next layer in the box, which has the spinner and the little plastic buildings to put on the board. Everything you get in the regular Life game, just nicely packaged and compact!
Another thing I really like about these games is that they are the classic versions. This means that, for example, the markers in the Clue game are just little plastic markers, not molded characters that all look a bit shady, like in our big box version of the game.
So if, like at our house, all your board games are starting to fall apart, you might want to consider picking up some of these "Vintage Game Collection" games, which evidently are sold only at Target (that's what the advertising says anyway!). The best part is that storage is a breeze. Just clear off a little bit of bookshelf space (I know, I know--that's the hard part . . .) and set them in there like books! They even look nice!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Another week . . .

Wow, another week has gone by?! This week went quickly mainly because the boys worked through test review book to prepare for their Stanford Achievement Tests in a few weeks. We tried a new set of books this year, ones that are specifically geared toward the SAT, as opposed to the ones we usually get, which ask generic types of questions that prepare for a wide variety of standardized tests. I must say I prefer the old kind of review books, which are Spectrum Test Practice books. Although the questions may be not always asked the same way as Stanford asks them, I feel like they have a ton more review in them. Plus, for Caleb and Jonathan I have to read almost every question to them. The questions are only in the teacher's manual--they only have the answer choices in their book. Well, that is how the test is for 1st and 2nd grade, but it is a real hassle here at home! Because of the heavy amount of involvement from me, Caleb and Jonathan are not done yet, so we'll have to spend a few more days finishing those books up before going back to our regularly-scheduled school routine. I'm still thinking I might go ahead and order the other kind of book for Jonathan. I think he needs a little more practice before he takes the test. It's his first year testing. I always get nervous for that!

Every morning last week we expected the drywall man to show up to finish the backsplash walls. He never showed up, so Bob called Tuesday, and eventually went himself to the showroom to talk to someone. The guy did come Saturday morning. Yay! We had to wait for the caulk to dry before painting, and we had company for dinner last night, and our small group from church over this evening, so we have not been able to paint it yet. But soon!

Our company last night was a couple who we knew back in Ohio. We knew Teri from when Bob and I were dating, and her husband Jeff we met later on. They got married right after we moved back to Ohio in 2001, so we got to go to their wedding. They have a little girl who is about Grace's age. She is as cute as a button! She has been diagnosed with autism, but she did really well. She wasn't overwhelmed by all the kids, and she and the girls played really nicely. We had a great time catching up with Teri and Jeff, who are now assigned here. They are going to hopefully try our OCF Bible study out one Friday.

Today we got an exciting new addition for our backyard--a trampoline! Our German neighbors have to move soon because the people from whom they are renting their house are moving back here after their State Department tour. About 2 years ago they bought a trampoline for their daughter's birthday. Our boys have played for hours down there on it, so when they realized they wouldn't have room for it in their new yard, they asked if we wanted to buy it. I have never thought we would have one, but like I said, they have been playing on it for a few years now where I can't see them--so maybe it would be better if it was where I could see them! We did call USAA to make sure they wouldn't raise our rates or anything. Our yard is none too big here, so it definitely takes up some space back there! We trimmed a few branches to get it into the yard, and we might have to trim a few more. It's not totally level right now either, so we still have a bit of work to do.

That's our exciting and not-so-exciting news for last week!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pictures of Something New . . .

Unfortunately, that something is not our kitchen. The drywall man is supposed to come back and sand the wall down, so that we can then paint it, put the outlet covers back on, and reinstall the flourescent lights we have under our cabinets. We do not seem to be on his top 100 list of priorities, however, so there is no telling when all this will occur. He will probably show up tomorrow morning, right as we are walking out the door to our co-op, I am sure. In the meantime, the microwave still sits on the island, a huge hulking presence there. The counters around the sink are empty, a very strange state indeed for our house! And walls look very unfinished, with the bare outlets, capped wires from the lights dangling down in front of them. I am definitely not posting pictures until it is a little more finished!

But we do have something new to report: a firepit for our deck! Bob bought this on Saturday, and to say the boys love it is a tremendous understatement.

They have been busy chopping firewood and kindling in the back. Real lumbermen, LOL, with the blisters to prove it! We've had s'mores 2 nights in a row (but now we are sadly out of graham crackers), and we roasted hot dogs last night for dinner. Actually, the boys roasted hotdogs, and Bob grilled a lovely steak for him and me. We had a romantic fireside dinner on the patio table on the deck--all we lacked was a big candle for the middle of the table, LOL.
We had considered a chiminea, but we are glad we went with the firepit. With so many little "roasters" around the fire, this has more area around it, so less crowding. And the coals are really nice for roasting marshmallows!

Yum, you can practically taste the stickiness here! We've been running high on baths/showers around here, LOL. Between the smoky smell, the dirty ash, and all the stickiness, little people have been remarkably dirty, to say the least.

Here is a bonus picture of Faith terrorizing Grace with a quarter quarter staff. Grace may not look terrorized, but she was quite annoyed and upset in reality. Faith really knows how to push her buttons, and she seems to relish the opportunity to do so. Hmmm . . . that sounds uncomfortably like another pair of siblings around here. We shall see how things, and personalities, develop . . .

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to Write Good

In honor of Nathan and Luke finishing up their writing co-ops for the year, I thought I would post these tips on writing. I think I actually posted these before, but I can't find them on my blog. So here's a rerun, if in fact they are already on here somewhere . . .


by Frank L. Visco

My several years in the word game have learnt me several rules:

1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren't necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
13. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. Profanity sucks.
15. Be more or less specific.
16. Understatement is always best.
17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Car Game

While we were back in Ohio, we were listening to KLOVE, and the announcers were talking about car games. Someone called in to tell them about her car game. She said she had a large family (which immediately made my ears perk up!), with kids ranging in age from 21 down to 1. They like to play a game called "Banana!" while driving because even the youngest kids can play.

Here's what you do: you look for yellow cars. When you spot one, you shout, "Banana!" before anyone else! So see--it's easy as can be, which is why little kids can play. In fact, they are sometimes the best players! Bob and I are great for the first 4 minutes of the game, LOL, and then we get distracted. Hours later, "Banana!" rings out from the back of the van, from Jonathan.

At first there were legal questions pertaining to exactly which vehicles qualify as bananas. After much wrangling, we decided that yellow semis, cargo trucks (think: Penske), and school buses are "banana splits", but don't count for any points. Construction equipment doesn't count, but feel free to shout out anyhow.

Sometimes we switch it up and play "fruit salad" where you call out whatever fruit you think the paint colors of passing cars resemble. Props for unique fruits ("Kumquat!).

I bet you'll start noticing all those bright yellow cars out there! It turns out, they really are all around!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Happy Easter!

We had such a lovely day celebrating the resurrection of Jesus! Bob tuaght the 4-year-old children's church, which Anna got to be in for the first time, since she just had her birthday. I was scheduled to be in the infant nursery, but we didn't have any infants, so I was able to be in the main service, which was wonderful! We actually have a lot of babies in our church, but all the moms have chosen to keep their infants with them, rather than use the infant nursery. And all the babies that are Faith's age have just learned to walk, so they are in the toddler nursery now!

After church, we hurried home to finish getting our share of food ready to take over to the McC's house, where we were eating Easter dinner. We brought a ham and a potato bake that Caleb can have. I had to finish glazing the ham and melting cheese over most of the potatoes. Christine had rolls, glazed carrots, and stir-fried green beans. We had a delicious meal. Another girl in our small group, Rachel, came as well. She is a full-time, live-in nanny for 2 children, so it was very interesting to hear her take on child-raising and the nanny phenomenon, which is very common in this area. Both Christine and I agreed we would NEVER want a nanny, even the very best one! We would not want someone other than ourselves influencing our children so much, whether for good or for bad. Now a housekeeper, on the other hand--both of us would be VERY interested in one of those, LOL.

The weahter was absolutely beautiful, so the kids spent most of the day outside. Our boys brought their ripsticks and hockey equipment, so there were lots of games going on outside. The adults sat outside a lot too--it was just so nice! Then Bob got inspired to help Craig move their big wooden swingset/play fort. They had already taken it somewhat apart because the people who lived there before them had sort of plunked it in the middle of their yard. They have a neighbor who seriously does not like boys playing outside in the front, so they want to be able to have more backyard space. They wanted to move the swingset over into the corner. Bob and the older boys were a huge help with that. They all agreed that Craig and his boys probably couldn't have moved it by themselves, so we were glad we could help. Besides, it's a lot more fun doing something like that as a big group! More like a party!

We did learn one new tradition this year. Craig's mom is Hispanic, and she sent a bunch of traditional Easter eggs--cascarones. These are hollowed out eggs (well, ours were not real, LOL) filled with confetti. The traditional thing to do is crack them over someone's head, showering them with confetti. Having one broken over your head is supposed to bring you luck. Well, our boys should be plenty lucky! The McC's deck was filled with boys chasing each other around, cracked eggshells, and tons of multi-colored confetti pieces! A very festive look! The boys definitely had a great time with this tradition!

We didn't leave until around 7:30, by which time the girls were absolutely fried. We came home, put them straight to bed, while the (sweaty, stinky) boys showered. We were so thankful for the resurrection of Christ, and our belief in Him and His sacrifice, that makes us brothers and sisters in Christ! We really are family!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Anna's Cake

We celebrated Anna's birthday by bringing a cake to Bible study on Friday before we left for PA on Saturday. I was tempted to just bring cupcakes, but I knew she wanted a "babydoll" cake, so cupcakes wouldn't really count for that. I wanted something that would fulfill the cake obligation, LOL. I also didn't really want to do a doll, which definitely has the potential to end up a Cake Wreck. So I proposed a Fisher Price Little People cake. I suggested "Sarah Lynn", because she has nice yellow hair and thus would need no dark frosting, but Anna immediately chose Sonya Lee. She is Anna's favorite because (why else?!) she wears a pink dress and headband. I wasn't that excited because that meant I had to make white frosting and chocolate frosting (to which I had to add a ton of black color gel, which makes it not taste the best), but I soldiered on, LOL. It was easy because I only had to bake one big 10x15 cake and then cut out the shape of her. I wasn't all that happy with it--Luke pointed out correctly that her face needed to be more round on bottom, and her ears are a little high--but Anna was happy. And now Grace is interested in the Sarah Lynn cake, so maybe I'll have a chance to work on my Little People skills in the near future, LOL.
Here is the happy birthday girl waiting to blow out her candles!

Anna and Amanda L are birthday buddies, sharing the same March 28 birthday. Amanda just happens to be 8 years older!

Yummy! Anna always picks strawberry cake for me to make. I'm sure you can't guess why . . .

Faith liked the cake too, although here it looks like she ate a little too much and is actually approaching a sugar coma. It's just late!

Back Home!

After a very relaxing spring break, we are back at home! We drove back yesterday in beautiful weather. It's so much easier to make a drive in sunny weather than in gloomy clouds and rain!

Over the course of all the drives this week, we listened to only 2 books on CD. The first one was called The Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath. It was an amusing way to spend a few hours, but I don't really think it is a book destined to become a great classic, LOL. I was just reading the Amazon reviews, and one reader called the Pepins "zany noodleheads", and I would have to agree! They have lots of problems, and then the author appeals to the readers to "think" their suggestions as to how to solve them, which the author picks up by her "special antennae". The suggestions are goofy too. The book started off very slowly--Bob was ready to give up on it after the first chapter--but thankfully it got more funny and interesting. The author does drop several witty phrases and complex words, but overall I thought her writing was not too advanced. She had a lot of dialogue, and just about every time she used "said", instead of any other more interesting synonym! "Said" is a banned word for Nathan and Luke's writing class, so that jumped right out at me, LOL. The book just seemed like a lot of random words sort of strung together--another Amazon reviewer called it a stream of consciousness book". So it was funny in parts, but not a classic.

The second book we listened to was The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. He wrote the book when he was a soldier during World War I, as a sort of distraction. I thought his sentence structure was much more varied and that overall, his vocabulary was much richer. It was an interesting contrast, since Horvath wrote her book fairly recently, back in the 1990's, I believe. We all enjoyed that book.

We drove straight over to the McC's house, where our church small group was having a Good Friday meeting. It was nice because they were having a baked potato bar, so we didn't have to worry about stopping for dinner. We were all pretty fried after a day of driving, so we didn't linger too long. Plus, we had to get home to clear off our counters! I'll tell more in a later post, but today we are getting our tile countertops changed out for granite!

Also, after I nursed Faith before putting her to bed last night, I discovered that she has been busy this week--she has 3 new teeth! She finally got that 4th bottom front tooth we've been waiting for, and she also has her 2 top 1-year molars poking through! I feel very justified in blaming any crabbiness, drool, odd sleep patterns, etc. from these past few weeks on teething, LOL. So that brings her teeth total to 10. It's a good thing she has all those teeth though--she's finally completely done with baby food! After December, the only baby thing she was still eating was baby cereal with fruit mixed in. Before we left, I finally just started giving her regular cereal in one of our "straw" bowls (they have a built-in straw--kids love them for cereal!) and milk, and she's been doing fine with that. It's nice because no one has to feed her that. She's doing pretty well with a spoon, although she still grabs cheerios out of the milk with her hands sometimes. Faith is growing up! (Although Grace will point out, Faith is still a baby, since she wears diapers, unlike Grace, who is a BIG GIRL wearing panties.)