Sunday, August 31, 2014

Looking for 48 Acts of Kindness for My 48th Birthday?

On Sunday, July 13th, an article about my 48 acts of kindness for my 48th birthday was featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

To read about each of the acts of kindness and see pictures of what I did, please visit my blog post about it HERE.

To read the article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, please visit HERE.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Homeschool Plan for 2014-15

Last year I spent a lot of time planning out the homeschool year while I took an online class. The focus of the class was an exploring the rhythm of the year in the context of planning a homeschool year.

Although I felt extraordinarily prepared going into the homeschool year, the reality was that life presented a lot of unexpected challenges during that time. So, although I had - what I felt - was a solid plan, in actuality only a fraction of what I had hoped would happen did. We still did a lot and the girls learned quite a bit in a variety of was just not everything that I had planned.

So, this year I'm stepping back a bit and adjusting my expectations to reflect what can be realistically accomplished in a homeschool year. I've listed resources that would be good to use in an ideal world if everything goes well and we have a lot of time.

However, if we don't get to something...fine. If more activities can be added...great. What won't happen is having a schedule so packed that Sophia and Olivia feel overwhelmed and burdened by learning....or that I feel like we aren't accomplishing enough because of an unrealistic plan. That takes the joy out of learning for us all.

What I am keeping from last year is the planner that I used last year: a small, maroon 3-ring binder. There's a pencil case and lined paper in it so some of the essentials I need for planning are all in one spot.

3-ring binder for academic work,
tabbed dividers, and a pencil case.

One of the things that we did at the beginning of last year that the girls and I truly enjoyed was having a daily color and food theme. We did this for about two months - or until the holidays began (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). After that, my mom was hospitalized, went on hospice, was in a nursing home, had multiple strokes and TIAs, and by the end of the homeschool year was stabilized (probably from all the good care she was receiving).

We talked about how nice it was to have the table set beautifully and to look forward to trying some new recipes based on the grain/food item of the day (e.g., rice, barley, oats). We're going to try to get back to that again this fall and see how well that goes.

These are two boards on Pinterest for different subjects that focus on these areas:
=> Waldorf Rhythm, Routines, and Meal Times
=> Waldorf-Inspired Home

My next step was to create a school calendar. For us, that means a yearly calendar since I consider homeschooling more of a learning lifestyle than a set period of days when the girls learn. That being said, there is a "start date" and "end date" of the more "formal" homeschooling. This year, that is September 2nd and May 29th respectively.

Normally, we go on a "not back to school" trip the day after Labor Day for a few days. This year, however, we will not be going on a trip. Instead, we will do a "not back to school picnic" on September 2nd - the day after Labor Day.

Also on the calendar are days that there are no school or a holiday. This year on holidays we will focus on activities related to the holiday rather than doing traditional school work.

The calendar also shows birthdays and anniversaries (e.g., Adoption Days); breaks; and when we start and end the time period where we focus more on alternative ways to learn (e.g., 4-H, county fair, state fair).

Wheel of the Year.

Next, I looked at the different holidays that we will be celebrating and learning about this year. I found pins on Pinterest for them last year and have added some new ones as they have come along. Although I have quite a few holidays listed, the reality is that we didn't celebrate them all last year. This year we probably won't celebrate them all as well. However, it's nice to have a place to reference if we want to do something special. Here are the links to the boards on Pinterest:

=> Epiphany
=> Tu B'Shevat
=> Chinese New Year

=> Brigid's Day
=> Candlemas
=> Groundhog's Day
=> Valentine's Day

=> Mardi Gras
=> Lent
=> St. Patrick's Day
=> Spring Equinox

=> Passover
=> Easter

=> May Day
=> Memorial Day

=> Pentecost or Whitsun
=> Summer Solstice
=> St. John's Tide

=> Fourth of July

=> Lammas

=> Labor Day
=> Autumn Equinox
=> Rosh Hashana
=> Michaelmas

=> Yom Kippur
=> Halloween

=> All Saints Day
=> All Souls Day
=> Martinmas
=> Adoption Day Celebrations
=> Chanukah
=> Thanksgiving

=> Advent
=> St. Nicholas Day
=> St. Lucia Day
=> Las Posadas
=> Winter Solstice
=> Christmas Eve and Day
=> 12 Days After Christmas
=> New Years Eve

Monthly activities on a circular calendar.

Last year, I created a wheel of the year after I found a pin that I liked. using a free PDF pattern from Daily Colours. I set up a weekly rhythm that I thought would be good to do last year. For about two months this worked last year, and then I had a difficult time integrating a daily rhythm with major holidays and family issues.

I'm hoping to re-explore this concept during the 2014-15 year and see if we can get back to creating this daily and weekly rhythm that worked so nicely when we began it.

Rhythm of the week.

These are the colors, grain, and activities that ideally would be done each day of the week:

=> White
=> Wheat
=> Bread Making
=> Renew the Spirit

=> Violet
=> Rice
=> Music
=> Errands

=> Red
=> Oats
=> Art and Painting
=> Mending

=> Orange
=> Millet
=> Writing
=> Yard Work

=> Yellow
=> Rye
=> Nature
=> Wash and dry bedding + towels

=> Green
=> Barley
=> Adventuring (field trips, visit my mom, volunteering at the nursing home)
=> Soup Day

=> Blue
=> Corn
=> Handiwork (e.g., sewing, embroidery, crocheting, knitting)
=> Menu Planning (also includes cleaning out the refrigerator)

Daily activities on a circular weekly calendar.

For the color of the days, we focused on having them be part of the table decorations (e.g., coasters, place mats, tablecloth, table runner, candles).

Pinterest also had many ideas for ideas for food that incorporates the different grains.

Last year I made a rhythm of the week wheel. Daily Colours (the website mentioned above) has a free PDF pattern. We will continue to use that this year.

Once the overall rhythm of the year, week, and day has been established, I looked at the upcoming year from an academic point of view.

The girls each have some subjects they will be continuing on from where they left off at the end the 2013-14 homeschool year.

Because of a tremendous amount of water damage to our home this year (an ice dam in March that led to three rooms being gutted and reconstructed; the bathtub leaking which resulted in the gutting and re-doing of the upstairs bathroom in July/August; and replacing and/or cleaning the duct work in the home because of mold from the ice dam issue; as well as forthcoming projects including regrading around the entire home so our basement won't be flooded again), funds are limited for purchasing curricula.

So, we are using Ambleside Online this year for both Sophia and Olivia. It's a free curriculum that follows Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy.

I also will be using the resources I have on hand (e.g., books, curricula, photocopies I've made throughout the years) to create the curriculum for the 2014-15 homeschool year.

Olivia began using Ambleside Online's curriculum last September at the Y3 level, and found it to be both engaging and challenging. Since she is working with the local elementary school to receive assistance with some learning, auditory processing, and short-term memory issues, some of her subjects are covered in a way that works well for her: through workbooks.

This year for Olivia, we are using parts of Y5 including:
- History (1800-1914 up to WWI, World and American, Bios of Lewis and Clark, Lillias Trotter, and Teddy Roosevelt, Bios of ancient Romans and Greeks)
- Geography (Wonders of the World, Land Forms, Food Crops, Other Vegetation Biology).
- Science (inventions, nature study)
- Citizenship
- Literature (numerous classical stories plus writings by Kipling, Longfellow, Whittier, and Dunbar)

For Sophia, we are using parts of Y8 including:
- History (1400's-1688 - Renaissance to Reformation), Elizabethan England, King Charles, and Oliver Cromwell
- Geography (Kon  Tiki, Columbus)
- Science (nature study, natural history)
- Citizenship (Ourselves - by Charlotte Mason, Bacon's essays, Whatever Happened to Justice, and Utopia)
- Literature (numerous classical stories)
- Art (The Story of Painting)
- Foreign Language (continuing with Latin and Greek root words - From the Roots Up)
- Mapwork (locating places from readings on a map)
- Current Events (reading the newspaper and picking 2-3 events to write about each week)

For science, we are using Elemental Science this year. Olivia will be doing Biology for the Logic Stage and Sophia will be Chemistry for the Logic Stage. Olivia is excited because she will be using a microscope that is on par with what would be used in junior and/or senior high classes in a public school. Sophia is looking forward to the chemistry experiments she'll be doing throughout the year.

Also for science, Sophia will finish Grey's Anatomy. As a family, we will be doing a couple year-long projects. One is learning about monarchs and creating a monarch waystation in the spring/summer. The other is using a schoolyard habitat curriculum that I've had for many years. Basically we'll be analyzing our farm/land and then creating a certified wildlife habitat.

For nature study, we will be continuing to use The Handbook of Nature Study and exploring a different topic each week. I found some resources on my bookshelves which will supplement The Handbook of Nature Study and provide some hands-on activities.

For math, we will be continuing with Math-U-See. This curricula seems to work with the girls' learning style. Sophia will be finishing Zeta  and moving to Pre-Algebra. Olivia will be finishing Delta and moving to Epsilon.

For spelling, we use Spelling for a Reason. Sophia will be transitioning to another program since she is in the final book of the series. I haven't found a new spelling curricula for her yet.

Both girls will be learning about Shakespeare. The plays we'll be focusing on this year include: Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Richard II. For the first two plays, I found a parallel text for students along with a teacher's guide. I'm hoping that it helps make Shakespeare's writing more accessible for both Sophia and Olivia.

We also will continue with poet/poetry study. This year's poets include: Hilda Conkling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lord Byron, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and John Keats.

The girls also will write different forms of poetry each month. I found pins on Pinterest that have different ideas for creative expression through poetry.

For music, we'll be looking at the following hymns: Abide with Me, Lift High on the Cross, O Worship the King, I am Thine, O Lord, Come Down O Love Divine, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Jesus Paid It All, Man of Sorrows, All Praise to Thee My God This Night, Let Us with  Gladsome Mind, Just As I am Without One Plea, and How Firm a Foundation.

We'll also listen to and learn about these folk songs: Barbara Allen, Billy Boy, Star of the Country Down, Lord Randall, Andrew Barton, Once in a Royal David's City, The Holly and The Ivy, The Death of Queen Jane, I'm 17 Come Sunday, The Keeper, The Miller of Dee, Yellow Rose of Texas History, Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, Three Mariners, The Oak and The Ash, and My Lodging is on Cold Ground.

The girls will continue playing instruments. Sophia will play the harp and piano; and Olivia will play the piano.

We will continue with artist/picture study. The girls will study Fra Angelico, Diego Velazquez, and Edgar Degas.

They both will work on their drawing skills this year. Olivia will be taking a drawing class at the local homeschool co-op and using an art/literature book about Lewis & Clark that involves a lot of drawing. Sophia will either draw a scene from a reading of her choice each week and/or do some of the activities that Olivia is doing.

We also will continue with composer study. The composers we're going to focus on this year include: Hildegard von Bingen, Benjamin Britten, Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Dukas, Engelbert Humperdink, Claude Debussy, Georges Bizet, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

For handicrafts, the girls both want to do ceramics (which they'll do through the homeschool co-op) photography, cross-stitching, spinning, embroidery, and latch-hooking. Sophia also will be continuing knitting at the co-op, and developing her skills in beading, Spencerian handwriting, and sewing.

For Olivia, we want to complete the  Five in a Row cookbook that she started a couple of years ago. We have read the books in the Five in a Row series that complement the recipes in the cookbook. We still have a couple of the Beyond Five in a Row books that we need to read before she makes the recipes corresponding to those books.

For physical education, we have a variety of activities. This year we are starting out the year preparing for a 5K walk at the end of September. After that, the girls will do six-week blocks of different activities (swimming, hiking, ice skating, yoga, table tennis, and biking. In the spring, a six-week block will be split between tennis and croquet.

Also for phy ed, the girls will do equine vaulting in the late spring and summer. Dog training - obedience and agility will be done throughout the year by Sophia. Sophia also works out at the fitness club a few times per week.

In addition, the girls each have a variety of subjects that they learn about during the year:

A to Z Book (Olivia is creating a book about different subjects that begin with each letter of the alphabet)
Art (several books and resources will be used including Teaching Literature through Art and a book by Usborne that focuses on different artists and making art projects based on particular works of art)
Character Education (we will be finishing the multi-year curriculum we've been using from Character Education)
Critical Thinking (each of the girls has their own critical thinking workbook. In addition, there is a weekly activity that we'll do in the Brain Stations book.)
Handwriting (standard for Olivia and Spencerian for Sophia)
Home Economics (using Keepers at Home and Hope Chest for ideas and activities)
Holidays (using Pinterest and several books for ideas and activities)
Journaling (the girls do monthly journaling activities based on pins I've found on Pinterest)
Life Skills/Handicrafts (using the book Hope Chests for handicrafts as well as the Webelo and Cub Scout handbooks for life skills - particularly outdoor/survival skills)
Reading/Literature (personal reading of classical books as well as books that received the Newbery award that I read aloud)
Second Impressions (this is a curriculum I wrote many years ago for use in a homeschool co-op. We will be revisiting it again this year and doing many more activities since the girls are older. The curriculum focuses on pre-cycling, reducing, recycling, and reuse.)
Spirituality (using the UUA Family Pages inserts that have been in past issues of UU World - one insert per month.)
Service/Volunteering (we will continue to volunteer at the nursing home and other places as we feel called to do. We will be setting up accounts of the President's Volunteer Service Award to track how many hours we are volunteering since volunteering is such an integral part of homeschooling and our lives.)
Social Studies (Olivia has a workbook that is part of a series that she enjoyed last year and wants to do this year at the sixth-grade level; and Sophia will be using the Create a Culture book)
Speech Therapy (Olivia only)
Typing (Mavis Beacon program)
U.S. Geography (Cantering the Country curriculum - focusing on 18 states)
Vocabulary (1 new word a day, M-F)
Writing (both the girls have writing books to help them develop skills in this area)

Using free printable sheets from Donna Young's website, I planned the homeschool year. I have the schedule for the academic portion of the girls' year in a purple 3-ring binder. There are tabbed-dividers that separate the plans by week.

The last component of planning for the upcoming home- and homeschooling year includes creating a larger binder with non-academic subjects and home management items. I began working on this last year, but never completed it. 

Now that the majority of these health issues and home repair projects are behind us - plus a major decluttering effort from March through now, I'd like to focus on getting these sections completed. This will help maintain a sense of order as we go through the homeschool year.

Binder with non-academic subjects and 
home management items.

Organized Home has many free printables that will be invaluable this year in terms of keeping organized. The tabbed sections in the white 3-ring binder include:

- Contact numbers - includes emergency numbers, frequently-used numbers, and a list of birthdays/anniversaries

- Menu planning - this has a plan for theme dinners when things get a bit more hectic and we don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, or making meals for various school subjects (e.g., meals that focus on different states, meals from the Five in a Row cookbook).

Last year I had envisioned having a meal plan. I'm not sure if I want to do this or not...or if it involves too much planning and making of new food and not acknowledging a way to eat all the leftovers. I don't like to see food wasted, and if I'm always making new food there is bound to be food that will be wasted.

At any rate, this would be the plan for the week in an ideal world:

Sunday - Sunday Dinner - meat with potatoes and carrots. The leftover meat can be used for sandwiches during the week. Have a very light meal in the evening if anyone is hungry (e.g., cheese, crackers, fruit).

Monday - Asian Night

Tuesday - Crockpot Night

Wednesday - Pasta Night

Thursday - Leftovers

Friday - Soup Night with Fresh Bread

Saturday - Mexican Night

Shopping List - Copies of a shopping list. One will be posted in the kitchen to add to each week. In this way, when we run out of something it can be immediately added to the list.

Food Inventories - There are sheets for the freezer, pantry, and larder. The larder, in our case, is part of a closet that holds heavier canned goods (e.g., peaches, pears, tomatoes, applesauce) as well as the top shelves of a built-in bookcase that hold lighter canned goods (e.g., jams, jellies, salsa).

Recipe Locations - There are pages that have the name of favorite recipes, the cookbook/source, page number, and comments.

Monthly Rhythm - This is my chart that has five columns: month, mood, symbols/color, activities, celebrations.

One of the pages that has the monthly rhythm.
This page still needs to be retyped 
so that it includes the hand-written information.

Monthly Sections - I have a tabbed section for each month. It starts with August right now because that's the current month. Once this month passes, it will go to the back of the monthly section so that September is first.

Each section has a list of the holidays and when they are in 2014-15. I've also included some ideas, instructions, and information that relates to some of the holidays. Following that is the plastic page protector that has the recipes for the month.

This is December's section. 
The first part has a list of holidays and
the second part has a sheet protector filled with recipes
that can be made for the month's holidays and celebrations.

Seasonal Chores - Organized Home has a free printable that has a fall and winter checklist; and spring and summer checklist.

Weekly Rhythms - This is the typed version of the daily color, grain, learning activity, and home activity. There also are daily to-do sheets from Organized Home.

Weekly rhythm.

Grain Sections - The next seven tabbed sections are labeled with the grain of the day - starting with wheat and ending with corn.

Protector sheet with
a variety of recipes using rice.

Patterns for Meal Time Accessories - I printed out some ideas for making tables look welcoming and pretty. There also are patterns to create napkins and place mats.

Blessings - There are some blessings I've collected that I would like to print out on cards made from watercolor paper that the girls painted.

One of the meal blessings in the binder.

Daily Rhythms - This section is a reminder of what I would like my daily rhythm to look like:

Wake up before the girls and:
- Get dressed
- Let the dogs out, take them for a walk, and feed them
- Make hot chocolate
- Write in my journal
- Start the laundry (if needed)
- Review the meals for the day, and take out anything that needs to be thawed
- Prepare breakfast

I'd like to play a board or card game with the girls each day. Integrating an element of play into each day is a goal I'd like to work on during 2014-15.

The next section focuses on family values. In terms of family values, I'd like to have the following words describe my home: contentment, love, acceptance, comfort, spiritual, truthful, generosity, helpfulness, exploring, learning, togetherness, openness, happiness, caring, compassion, wonder/discovery, reflective, excitement, enthusiasm, gratitude, and service.

The last section focuses on a family mission statement. I have a rough draft of one; and would like to work on finalizing that during 2014-15.

I also included several daily to-do lists from Organized Home. These will come in handy - especially during November-January when there is a lot to be done on a daily basis.

Daily Chores - This section has ideas for keeping a home clean. I have a proposed schedule for daily cleaning that I am interested in seeing if it will work or not this year. It is:

Sunday: Bedrooms
Monday: Mudroom
Tuesday: Offices
Wednesday: Bathrooms
Thursday: Dining Room
Friday: Living and Family Rooms
Saturday: Kitchen

Following that are more comprehensive daily chore lists that I pinned from Cedar Ring Mama. At some point during Autumn 2014, these would be nice to review and adapt to my home.

First Aid Inventory and Medicine - Organized Home has a inventory sheet for first aid supplies. I also would like to list everyone's current medications they are taking.

Bills -  There are forms on Organized Home that are for each month. The top half has lines, and the bottom part has the name of the bills, date they are due, and the amount owed. There also are important dates and a monthly calendar on each sheet.

Social/Support/Craft Groups - This section will have information about any groups that the girls and I are participating in and/or leading. Once the groups begin in September, this section will have more things in it and may be sub-divided for each group.

So, what happened to the maroon binder? It has information that I still want to read, think about, and integrate into our daily lives and homeshool. This will be an ongoing resource that I can refer to, add to, and adapt the 2014-15 homeschool plan by as I make my way through the information.

Information about handiwork in the maroon binder.

The plan is definitely a work in progress as I see what feels right for our family and what doesn't feel like a good fit.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 34

This week I chose to read Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

The beginning of this book was great when she focused on "successful" introverts. Her message was to embrace introversion and make the best of who you are based on this quality. You can be very successful even if you are not outgoing.

Then the author moved into quotes and data from different psychological studies. Normally this would interest me, but she had a way of making the information dry and not engaging. At this point, she lost me.

I flipped through some the chapters and could not find anything that captured my attention. I couldn't imagine reading through 271 pages simply to say I read this book. It wouldn't have been a good use of my time.

That being said, there were some interesting points she made:

=> One third to one half of Americans are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

=> Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are overstimulating.

=> Many introverts are also "highly sensitive." If you are more sensitive, then you're more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" or a well-tuned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.

=> When you were a child you were probably called "shy," and to this day feel nervous when you're being evaluated, for example when giving a speech.

I had high hopes for this book, but was disappointed about a third of the way into it. Thankfully the book I read last week about introversion was much more insightful and engaging.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quiet Kids - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 33

For the 33rd week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Quiet Kids - Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World by Christine Fonseca.

The ideas and information presented in the book relate both to children and adults who are introverts. However, there are many more suggestions about how to help youth who are introverted at home, in school, and everyday life.

I found the book to have helpful and practical ideas for making children who are introverted more comfortable and successful in the world. I truly wish that a book like this was available to my teachers who would have better understood students who are me.

Below are some of the key points that I took away from the book:

When introverted children get overstimulated there are some signs to look for: increased agitation, short temper, emotional outbursts, and excessive withdrawal. To help the child, schedule periods of solitude into the day, learn calming strategies, seek solitude after long periods of social connection, and set good boundaries on their time.

When introverted children are understimulated, they have a tendency towards withdrawal and isolation. To counteract that, schedule periods of activity into the day, and make exercise part of the day.

Introverted children are deep thinkers interested in deep feelings and beliefs. They enjoy learning about other people. Friendships, especially ones with people who will volunteer information and take the lead in conversations, are important to introverts.

Many introverted children develop deep beliefs at an early age that guide them throughout their lives. This is related to their tendency to seek answers from within. As a result, they are often less dependent on external validation and more reliant on their inner strengths.

Many introverts are divergent thinkers, analyzing the world from a highly creative point of view.

There are many aspects of introversion. Some (if not all) can apply to each person who is introverted: deep thinker, highly creative/innovative, works well independently, curious, thinks before taking action, builds deep connections/relationships, may overthink simple thinks, takes a long time to complete tasks, may struggle with collaboration, may resist transitioning to new things, overly cautious, may struggle to form friendships initially.

Introverted children function best in a household that is calm, somewhat free from clutter, and organized. They thrive when things are predictable and routine. They also function best when given their own space – a bedroom or a specific section of a shared bedroom – that they can decorate as they choose. They need a comfortable place where they can unwind and shut the world away, especially if they are involved in a number of social activities or around a lot of people for long periods of time.

Other things that help the introverted child include: predictable routines around bedtime, mornings, homework, etc.; opportunities for solitude; reduced pressure when she is overextended; and meal options that are balanced and have protein and regular intervals. All of these things can help restore an introvert and allow her to function at her best.

The Hula Hoop Technique: imagine there is a hula hoop or some other circle on the ground. Step into the middle of it. Everything outside of the circle is outside of your control. This includes friends, family, school…everything. Except you! Everything inside of the circle you have 100% control over, including your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions.

Introverted children are not shy by definition. They are keenly interested in people, often wanting to get to know them at a deep level. However, they are not always comfortable around people, especially larger groups. In these situations, the introvert is often overwhelmed, resulting in withdrawal.

Introverted children are emotionally sensitive. They often hold in their emotions until they explode. At first glance, they may appear to be handling setbacks in stride. More often than not, they are overthinking emotions and bottling them up inside before exploding.

The stress response for the introvert often takes longer to trigger than it does in his or her extroverted peers. However, introverts are more uncomfortable with the feelings associated with a stress response, resulting in a larger, more intense reaction to relatively low levels of anxiety or stress.

There are four key habits to living a healthy and balanced lifestyle:

- Proper rest – introverts require sleep in order to renew their energy stores. Getting eight hours of sleep nightly (at minimum) ensure proper brain functioning and mood stabilization. Consider: turn off electronics and develop a bedtime routine to assist with sleep troubles.

- Eat healthy foods – introverts perform best when they are eating many small meals filled with protein. The protein hits throughout the day help stabilize energy. Consider: When introverts are run down, they will naturally crave simple sugars and refined food. These can make the energy drain happen faster and should be avoided.

- Daily exercise – introverts tend to live in their heads, forgoing activity. But, getting exercise on a daily basis, even small amounts, will assist in recharging dwindling energy supplies and managing stress. Consider: Any type of activity is good for introverts. But be careful about exercising late at night as this can lead to sleep problems.

- Relaxation and connections – introverts need a balance of solitude and connections in order to achieve optimal balance. Take time to help your child both distress and renew, as well as connect on a social level. Consider: If you find your child withdrawing from all social contact or becoming agitated, check their stress levels. Odds are their energy stores have been depleted related to stress. Help them take a little time to decompress and renew.

With regards to stress, introverted children should:
- Focus on healthy habits including appropriate eating, sleeping, and exercise routines.
- Spend time relaxing every day. Don’t allow their energy stores to become too depleted.
- Pay attend to their internal chatter. Redirect negative self-talk.
- Be mindful and realistic in their perspective of situations and guard against perfectionism.
- If they find themselves particularly stressed over a specific event, mentally rehearse the event, focusing on successfully completing the activity.

Creativity is a natural area of competency for most introverted people. This is inclusive of more than the arts and artistic endeavors. This is the ability to move past traditional ideas and thoughts and create something new built from the old – innovation.

The creative process is a natural force, requiring periods of solitude, stillness, and contemplation. Introverts are particularly well-suited to a creative path. All introverts require opportunities for creative contemplation in order to stay balanced.

This list includes daily activities designed to enhance creativity:
- Have your child read something new or unfamiliar, such as book in a new genre or on an unexplored topic, every day.
- Ask the question “what else?” often.
- Have your child come up with five new ways to use familiar objects every day.
- Play creative word games and puzzles often.
- Make a “creation” box filled with any art supplies.
- The next time your child wants a new game, have her make one.
- Look for ways for your child to be creative every day.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Poets' Wives - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 32

For the 32nd week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I picked The Poets' Wives by David Park. This was a randomly-selected book from the library in my search to find a book that began with the letter "P" (the word "the" doesn't count) since I'm doing the challenge alphabetically (e.g., two weeks for each letter of the alphabet).

The novel focuses on three women – Catherine Blake, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and the wife of an imaginary Irish poet. Each woman is dealing with her husband's death in a different way.

Out of the three stories, the first one - about Mrs. Blake - is by far the best. The story revealed how she was not able to read the poet's love letters until he taught her how, who trusted in his visions, and who learned to share her house with divine company only he could see.

Perhaps most insightful for me was reading the following passage that describes how Mrs. Blake feels even when Mr. Blake is alive: "I am alone...because I know there are worlds inside his head that I have no path to and whose very nature and colors seem always beyond my grasp. And that night I see most clearly what I have always known which is that I possess part of him but only part and although I know that he both loves and needs me....I am never to have all that is my full desire."

Towards the end of the story she is reflecting - perhaps dreaming - about the day she was married and then shifts to the focus that she is alone after his death. She flows into the thought that "soon my beloved will come to gather what is finally his and then I too shall be dressed in light and all the infirmities and afflictions of old age shall surely fall away. Such colors then, already spreading in wonder across new worlds, and I shall see the visions that were denied to my mortal eyes, my head and heart freed forever from their earthly [limits], and I shall be as the woman clothes with sun, no longer 'the shadow of delight.'

"He's whispering my name and holding out his hand. His hand that has no stain or mark [from writing poetry with ink]. He's telling me that the pure soul will cut a path into the Heaven of glory, leaving a track of light for men to wonder at .... I can barely raise my arm but I reach out and take his outstretched hand. Then we step into the other room together."

The next story in the book focuses on Osip Mandelstam who was exiled, then sentenced to hard labor for his anti-Stalinist poetry. He died at a transit camp in 1938 and his work was preserved solely in the memory of his wife. This story skipped around to different time periods and was not the most engaging least compared to the story about the Blakes. It was confusing and difficult to follow.

The last section of the book is set in contemporary Northern Ireland, where a wife fulfills the last wishes of a second-rate poet. He clearly is not going to be missed by his family (wife and two daughters) nor the public who was largely unaware of his poetry.

There were so many layers of secrecy, grief, and loss within this story. Yet, it was one that I didn't want to read since there was an equal amount of disrespect in every relationship that centered on the husband and father.

The Poets' Wives, although well-written, is not a book that I would care to read again. I'm hoping the two books that begin with "Q" are a better use of my time.

Friday, August 1, 2014

101 Days of Summer Fun - Update #10

Saturday, July 26 - Today we did a lot of errands: the bank, Houles to get items for the horses, Home Depot to get tile for the bathroom, the grocery store, and post office.

Sunday, July 27 - We worked on decluttering some of the hobby shed today. Since it gets humid and none of us enjoy that type of weather, we tried to get the majority of the work done before noon.

After reading and relaxing in the early afternoon, Sophia and Olivia had equine vaulting in the afternoon.

They spent the first part of the lesson practicing on some skills.

Both are working on standing up on the horse. It takes a lot of balance to stand up while the horse is moving.

At 5:30 p.m., the parents and families came to watch the youth in the class show what they have been working on. They demonstrated practicing on the barrel.

This step is necessary before trying these moves on the back of a horse.

They also showed some of the skills they have been improving at the level that are at. For the girls, they are at the trot level.

The next level up is the canter. It is significantly quicker than the trot.

After the class was done, they posed for a picture.

There will be two additional classes for girls who want to keep doing vaulting.

Monday, July 28 - Olivia got her braces on at 11:10 a.m. We stopped and got some sherbet since her teeth are sore. The girls continued to work on their projects for the fair.

Tuesday, July 29 - We brought the projects to the fair in the late morning. It was a beautiful day - one of the coolest ones compared to some years that we've brought projects in.

In the afternoon, we brought the dogs in for a shot that they need to get before going to the kennel tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 30 - We dropped the dogs off at the kennel so we could spend the day volunteering at the Washington County Fair. The dogs are getting groomed and they are experiencing time in a kennel to see how they do.

We met some of the seniors from the nursing home at the fair around 10:15 a.m. After helping unload them from their van and getting them in wheelchairs (if needed), we took them around to look at different parts of the fair.

After looking at the flowers, one of the first stops they wanted to do was get a malt. 

We looked at another building of exhibits and then they were hungry for lunch. They all enjoyed dining in the 4-H building where we could sit down and have a meal together.

We looked at more exhibits and saw how we placed on our projects. Sophia received quite a few Grand Champion and Reserve Champion ribbons.

Olivia received a Reserve Champion on her etching of a wolf. The display case she is standing by held her project alone which was a nice honor!

We spent some time feeding the animals. The goats were particularly eager to be fed.

There was even a camel that Olivia and Bonnie fed.

After the fair, we went to pick up the dogs. They looked so nice after their baths and brush-outs.

They even had small bows attached to their collars. Cooper had a blue one and Aspen had a pink one.

It was a long, but very fun day.

Thursday, July 31 - Today was a day to relax and take it easy. My sister came over and spent some time talking with Sophia about her trip up north. Both she and Sophia have to write a final report and submit it to the Ann Bancroft Foundation which partially paid for some of the activities that Sophia did.

Friday, August 1 - We spent part of the morning doing a presentation about Australia for the seniors at the nursing home.

Sophia and Olivia worked with the seniors to make pavlova - a meringue topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

The seniors enjoyed the special treat.

We also played a DVD that featured beautiful scenes, animals, and information about Australia. Many of the seniors watched that while they were eating.

I did a presentation about Australia and we showed photographs from a trip taken there back in the mid-1990s.

We had things for the seniors to taste, look at, touch (like a ginger root and ginger plant - which is grown in Australia), and smell (like eucalyptus and tea tree oils - oils from two types of trees that grown in Australia).

I was told by the wife of one of the senior residents that it was nice to have such strong scents because the sense of smell is one of the things that goes when a person has Parkinson's Disease. Knowing that, it may be good to explore other strongly-scented activities for those with P.D. who live at the nursing home.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peaks and Valleys - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 31

For the 31st week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I chose Peaks and Valleys  by Spencer Johnson.

Basically, the book is a parable about a young man who lives unhappily in a valley. One day he meets an old man who lives on a mountain peak. At first the young man doesn’t realize that he is talking to one of the most peaceful and successful people in the world. However, in the course of additional visits and conversations, the young man understands that he can apply the old man’s remarkable principles and practical tools to his own life to change it for the better.

The author said about using the parable format for this book that he really enjoys learning, but doesn't like to be taught. He feels that many people are like that: they don’t like to be told what to do. With a parable, you pick and choose what you find valuable. What you don’t find valuable, you toss it or ignore. You decide what is true based on your experiences. Parables are much more powerful. What we learn lasts longer in our hearts and minds…and we are more apt to use it.

So, I listened to the book on CD since there wasn't a hard copy of it available at the library. There were many good points that are worth noting that I wish I had the actual book to re-read and fully absorb the message.

That being said, I ended up replaying many sections of the book so I could write down what I wanted to remember. These are the concepts that resonated most with me:

- When people know how to make both good and bad times work for them, they worry less and do better.

- It is natural for everyone to have both peaks and valleys in their lives. It's the highs and lows you feel at work or life. These personal peaks and valleys minutes, months, or longer.

- Peaks and valleys are connected. Who is to say where the highest part of the valley ends and the lowest part of the peak begins.

- The errors you make in today's good times create tomorrow's bad times. And the wise things you do in today's bad times create tomorrow's good times.

- People make things better when they return to basics and concentrate on what matters most which is what creates good times for them later. Too many people fail to manage their good times and do not notice that they are creating their own future bad times. They waste too many resources well and get away from the basics.

- How you experience a valley has a lot to do with how long you are in it.

- Peaks are moments are when you appreciate what you have. Valleys are moments for when you long for what you are missing.

- If you want to have fewer valleys, have fewer comparisons.

- You cannot always control external events, but you can control your personal peaks and valleys but what you think and do.

- Choosing a better belief usually leads you to a much better result.

- Look for the good in a bad situation.

- The path out of the valley appears when you choose to see things differently.

- You can change your valley into a peak when you find and use the good that is hidden in the bad times.

- How you manage your valley will determine when you get to your next peak.

- If you don't learn in a valley, you will become bitter. If you do learn, you will become better.

- A plateau can be a time for you to reflect, rest, and renew

- You can have fewer bad times when you appreciate and manage your good times wisely.

- Those who are unprepared for a peak soon fall from it and experience pain.

- Your ego can make you arrogant on the peak and fearful in the valley. It keeps you from seeing what is real. When you're on a peak, your ego makes you see things as better than they really are. And when you're in a valley, your ego makes you see things as a worse than they really are. It makes you think that a peak will last forever and that a valley will never end.

- The most common reason why you leave a peak too soon is arrogance masquerading as confidence. The most common reason you stay in a valley too long is fear masquerading as comfort.

- Most people think of valleys as times of frustration, hurt, disappointment, anger, and failure. Remember what happens when you find and focus on the good that is hidden there. You can change a valley into a peak. But it takes a remarkable person to truly appreciate and use what is hidden in a valley.

- Getting out of a valley means can be done by creating and following your own sensible vision. A vision of a future peak you want to be on. Something as big as you can envision, but also is realistic.

- The pain in a valley can wake you up a truth you have been ignoring.

- A personal peak is a triumph over fear.

- The good and bad times are truly gifts. Each has great value if they are managed well.

- Humility – helps you stay on your peaks longer.

- A valley is an opportunity to grow – to create something better in life. Look for the gifts in a valley it can bring you to a new and better place. Purpose of the peak is to celebrate life, and the purpose of the valley is to learn about life.

- Our fear keeps us trapped.

- What is the truth in this situation? (Ask this question in both times of the peaks and valleys.)

- Save and invest your increased salary.

- Say less and do more.

- If you replace fear with love you will be more likely to be loved.

- Imagine your better self in every detail (e.g., make a difference in the world, never take for granted the people closest to you). Hold this picture close in your mind and heart.

- Peaks and valleys are opposites. Look at what put you in the valley and do the opposite You’ll get the opposite result.

- Part of the old man was within him and always would be with him.

- To get out of a valley sooner, find and use the hidden good in the time of bad.

- Be of more service at work and loving in life.

- Be humble and grateful.

- Keep making things better.

- Save resources for your upcoming valleys.

- It doesn’t matter where a person lived, but how one lives.

- Wishing leads to new action. Create a sensible vision instead. Envision the vision using all your senses.

- Make reality your friend.

- How is your approach working? If it isn’t working out, then you’re probably not in touch with the truth. You’re living an allusion.

- Is this raising or lowering your energy? If it’s stressful or lowering your energy, then it isn’t the truth. If it’s raising your energy, then you’re living in truth…with integrity.

- Sometimes things are so bad that you can only see the bad – the negative. But if you look for the good, then you will come out in a better place…a place better than you were in before you entered the valley.

- What if we couldn’t do everything we want to do due to a lack of money? What if we just spent time with people doing free things?

- Don’t focus so much on success. Focus more on peace of mind.

- The more grateful you are when you are on a peak, the more you experience a higher energy and the happier you feel. You are almost practicing gratitude on the peak just like when you need gratitude skills when you are in the valley.

- Success is progress towards a worthwhile goal.

Friday, July 25, 2014

101 Days of Summer Fun - Update #9

This week we didn't quite follow the original plan for the 101 Days of Summer Fun that I had hoped we would do. The reality of life and home repairs definitely interfered with what we were able to do. Yet each day was full of things we did - both fun and practical things that are part of real life.

Saturday, July 19 - Since Olivia loves rock climbing, she and I went to Taylors Falls and did the I Can Climb! program that's offered through the DNR. She wanted to do a climb that she tried last year but wasn't able to reach the top. This year she was determined to climb the entire way up.

She stuck with the climb and made it to the very top!

She did another even more ambitious climb that involved climbing around a tree and adjusting the rope around sections of rock that protruded above her.

She did a great job with that climb as well and made it to the top. Rock climbing is definitely her sport!

Sunday, July 20 - Last week when we came back from the trip up north, we noticed a rather significant water stain on the ceiling below the bathroom. The stain on the right is right by the bathtub and the little hole to the left  is below a section of the drain where there's a PVC elbow.

The stain has increased in size and on Monday the bathroom will be gutted and reconstructed.

Until then, we have a quart jar on the dining room table collecting water that is dripping through the ceiling every time someone takes a shower or bath. This can't be good.

Paige took the girls to pick up their projects at the county fair. It was very hot and humid, so although it was fun to see the animals (like the rabbits), it was also nice to get back home to air conditioning.

Monday, July 21 - Today Sophia, Olivia, and I went to the nursing home and helped the seniors play "big bowling." The seniors have a lot of fun doing this, and we are happy to help make this activity happen there.

Although everything is large - the bowling ball and pins - it is still is challenging to get the pins down.

After the seniors were done playing, they wanted to see Sophia, Olivia, Tia (the volunteer director), and I play as well. It was wonder they enjoy this activity so much!

Tuesday, July 22 - Olivia had an appointment with the orthodontist. This is a follow-up to having braces a couple of years ago and then needing to finish the work once all her adult teeth came in.

We went to the library for a bit, and then came back home. Construction on the bathroom continued.

The walls are being removed, part of the floor, the bathtub, and the tiling on the floor and walls. It's a complete tear-out. It seems like the more that is removed, the more bad things are discovered. At least things will be fixed and up to code once everything is done.

Wednesday, July 23 - In the morning, we attended a funeral for one of  the seniors whom we enjoyed visiting at the nursing home: John Jackson. The girls each wrote a memory they had of John on a card and attached it to a hydrangea from our garden.

One of the employees from the funeral home had the girls place their flowers right up front with the beautiful big bouquets of flowers. He was touched by the fact that they wrote memories of John and said that the family will enjoy reading them.

The girls spent some time in the afternoon with their friend, Mary B. She wanted to see and hear about their projects that they submitted to the fair.

After Mary left, we went to the Scandia Farmers Market today and enjoyed seeing Joanne (a volunteer with the Ann Bancroft Foundation), Pam Arnold, and Ann Bancroft.

We bought a lot of delicious fresh produce that Pam and other farmers grew. It was Wellness Wednesday at the market, so there were samples to taste, music, and activities. Lots of fun!

Thursday, July 24 - This was Aspen's last day of puppy obedience training. She did very well.

She's always so alert at class and is getting more comfortable with the different dogs, people, and activities.

This week there were some basic agility activities for the puppies to try. Plus some different things to do - like putting an item of clothing around the puppy's neck and taking it to a hoop to sit.

The bathroom is coming alone, but we still don't have use of the bathtub yet. However, we are one step closer! The bathtub is in place with its lovely bright blue protective color.

This is a soaking tub so it is taller than the last tub we had, plus has an angled back and arm rests.

Friday, July 25 - Sophia and Olivia worked on their projects for the county fair after we did a cat therapy visit in the morning at the nursing home.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ice Cream Floats for Seniors

For one of Sophia's 4-H projects this year, she made a variety of ice cream floats for seniors at a nursing home where we volunteer. The seniors enjoyed the variety of flavors of floats since they normally only offer root beer floats at activities there.

The first one that she made came from this pin on Pinterest which led to this site:

Creamsicle Float

2-4 cups vanilla ice cream
1 can (12 ounces) orange soda

In a tall glass, put as much ice cream as you want. Tilt the glass to the side and pour in the soda to reduce the foam and bubbles.

She also made a Cupid Float that was on Eclectically Vintage and this pin:

Cupid Float

2-3 scoops French vanilla ice cream
Cherry 7-Up
Whipped cream
Maraschino cherry

Scoop ice cream into a tall glass. Slowly pour 7-Up over ice cream. Swirl whipped cream on top. Top with a maraschino cherry. (For the floats that Sophia made, she didn't include the whipped cream or cherry since it is easier for the seniors to eat without them plus doesn't pose a choking hazard.)

A float that uses sherbet instead of ice cream provided a different taste. The pin led to Home Cooking Memories:

Lime Sherbet Float

2-3 scoops lime sherbet
1 can of lemon-lime soda

Use a clear glass and fill it with scoops of lime sherbet. If you don’t have clear glasses, you can use any cup or glass you might have, but having clear is nice so you can actually see all the green. You could use a pint-sized canning jar if you don’t have a clear glass.

Pour the lemon-lime soda over the sherbet you just placed in your glass.

A classic float, called the Purple Cow, was the first choice of several seniors. The pin for the recipe led to Simply Kierste:

Purple Cow (Grape Float)

2-4 cups vanilla ice cream
1 can (12 ounces) grape soda

In a tall glass, put as much ice cream as you want. Slowly pour the soda into the glass until you reach the top.

And, of course, we can't forget the standard root beer float as seen on this pin that led to Town and Country Magazine:

Root Beer Float

1 pint vanilla ice cream
2 bottles very cold old-fashioned root beer
Freshly whipped cream, for garnish (optional)

Spoon a few scoops of vanilla ice cream into 2 tall float glasses. Pour the root beer slowly over the ice cream and top with a dollop of whipped cream.