Thursday, June 30, 2011

(Re)Learning Math

Yesterday I was looking for some online math practice, and I found a site that I really like. It's called Math is Fun.  I plan to use it next week to help Yaya master addition and subtraction facts.  DH and I have been testing the Math Trainer for multiplication.  It is rather frightening how much one forgets after so many years out of school.  However, it is quite a testament to the efficacy of this trainer how quickly one remembers/relearns.  The program times you as you answer multiplication problems, giving you the correct answer if yours is wrong.  It suggests you do three 5-minute sessions a day.  At first there were a few problems I just plain got wrong, but within no time, I was remembering the correct answer again.  The biggest problem now is making my fingers press the numbers my brain is thinking...

The site also offers games, puzzles, and various types of math work (geometry, algebra, etc).  Yaya loves playing on the computer.  I plan to guide her to this site in some of our summer downtime to help sharpen her skills and peak her interest for next school year.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Personalized Liturgy Book for Children: Toddler Version

There has been quite a bit of interest in the personalized liturgy book, so I thought I would share the first one I made, too. This is a much simpler version for the toddler set. Again will make a nice template for creating your own.

Click here to view this photo book larger

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Roombas... Or Three

Back in 2006, DH gave me (or let me get) a Roomba robotic vacuum for our anniversary.  I brought it home and tested it out.  It worked great, but Yaya was afraid of it.  We decided to name it and call it our pet so that she'd feel more comfortable with it.  I suggested Rover because it's the perfect dog name.  Yaya, who was a huge Sesame Street fan at the time thought I said Grover, and so our first pet Roomba became Grover.  We loved Grover, and he kept our floors nice and clean... Until one day about 2 years later, he didn't.  He would start, move jerkily, and stop.  iRobot support told me he had a fatal wheel error and was irreparable.  They would let me trade him in to get a refurbished one for a mere $200.  I thought that was a bad deal, and just held onto Grover.  Despite the diagnosis, I was never able to "bury" him, so he's been sitting in our furnace closet like Snow White waiting for prince(ss) charming to revive him.

Grover and Elmo
Now, I had gotten used to having a pet roomba so although I didn't want to let go of Grover, I did want to get another one.  I searched craigslist and found a used Red Roomba for which I paid about $30.  This roomba needed a name, too.  Since he was red, we kept the Sesame Street theme and named him Elmo.  Elmo was a more basic model, but he got the job done, and we all loved him, too.  Bumble would even give him goodnight kisses when he finished cleaning and we put him down for his "nap."  Recently, Elmo started having problems.  I decided to try to fix him myself.  His initial problem was that he was bumping into phantom walls or thought he was approaching a cliff, so he would randomly halt and turn around.  I took his bumper off and thoroughly cleaned his cliff sensors. That helped some.  He was able to clean the entire kitchen, but he was still acting a little funny.  So, I gave him another check up and found that one of his wheels would not move.  Two Roombas, two broken wheels: the only thing to do was a wheel transplant.  DH wondered who I was and what I had done with his wife because I am not usually very handy.  In fact, I'm usually terrified of accidentally breaking something, so I just don't try.  This time, though, I felt I had nothing to lose...

Funny Guy
...Nothing to lose because I put an ad out on craigslist and freecycle looking for another Roomba, and someone had one she was willing to give me!  She hadn't used it in quite some time because the battery died completely and she didn't want to buy a replacement for $70 (the iRobot price).  I had a working battery so it was perfect.  When we picked him up, Bumble named him Funny Guy and wouldn't let us consider any other names.

Grover's Problem
Sadly, when we got him home, Funny Guy didn't work quite as hoped.  So, now I had to get busy on that wheel transplant for Grover.  I started by taking Grover apart.  I removed the bottom casing as far it possible, and then took off the right wheel hub.  With the hub removed, I instantly saw Grover's problem, and it was so simple I couldn't believe iRobot had claimed that it was irreparable.  His problem was merely a broken wheel drive belt.  I grabbed Elmo to begin removing his belt, but when I checked him again to verify which wheel I would be working on, both of his wheels were miraculously working again.  So, I set Elmo to run in the kitchen as a test, and I sacrificed Funny Guy to save Grover instead.  This may sound crazy, but I felt a little guilty about sacrificing Funny Guy.  I know he's only a machine, and we only just got him, but Bumble seemed to be attached already, and her fondness affected me.  Nonetheless, I began the operation and removed Funny Guy's wheel drive belt.  I transferred it to Grover and then closed up being careful not to pinch any delicate wires as I replaced the wheel hub.  Our one battery was charging from having been tested with Elmo.  When it was ready, I installed it in Grover and pressed start.  After years of supposedly being dead, Grover was alive and cleaning!

I'll remember not to believe iRobot when they tell me something is irreparably broken again.  I look forward now to the possibilities that await with two working Roombas to clean for me.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Honey and a Good Cause

I suffer from extreme seasonal allergies, which can last from March well into November and are unhelped by allergy medications.  I'm also too chicken to give myself immunotherapy shots.  So, when I recently heard a story on the news about eating local honey to build up immunity and ease allergy suffering, I thought it sounded great!  I decided it would not be any more expensive than buying medicine, and it wouldn't have the possible side effects of drugs, so it was worth the shot.

My next step would be to find some local honey.  The news mentioned the Chicago Honey Co-op, so I started with their website.  Their honey is reasonably priced, and they'll ship it anywhere.  However, they won't let you drop by and pick some up if you live in the area.  For me, that wasn't a good deal.  So, I kept looking, and I found Sweet Beginning's Beeline Honey.  Two things persuaded me to try their honey.  Its price is comparable to the other, and in addition to shipping anywhere, they don't mind local pick up.  Plus, Sweet Beginnings is part of the North Lawndale Employment Network, which offers transitional jobs to formerly incarcerated individuals and others with significant barriers to employment.  They have an impressive impact on the community.  Their website boasts that the "recidivism rate for former Sweet Beginnings employees is below 4%, compared to the national average of 65%..."

When I went to pick up my honey, I decided to take the surface streets through the city because it was in the morning, and I didn't want to take the interstate and risk the traffic.  Now the North Lawndale neighborhood is not a place you'd want to get stuck.  The potholes are large and abundant, and there are numerous people lingering around the streets.  I'm not easily scared by rough neigborhoods, but as I drove westward and passed a block with 3 police SUVs and a bunch of people standing around, I thought This isn't a good sign.  I decided to take the interstate home when I was finished as well as the next time I pick up honey. 

When I walked into the Sweet Beginnings building, it was not what I expected to find.  What I did find was hopeful, though.  There were a handful of people in the open entry room.  A couple were on computers, a few were waiting in chairs.  It looked like a small scale employment agency, but I didn't see any honey.  A lady making photo copies near the door looked over as I entered, so I spoke to her, "I emailed about picking up honey today."  "Oh, yes, come this way."  I followed her into the next room that was bustling with activity.  One man was filling a box, a few people were busy on a computer, two others were doing something I couldn't really see.  The lady said, "This is our bee team.  They take care of all the honey and sales."  So, I repeated what I had told her, and they instantly knew who I was.  One lady when downstairs to retrieve the two jars of honey I had requested while a man grabbed a chair from the other side of the room and offered me a place to sit with Bumble.  Bumble took my money, and when the lady returned with my honey, she paid.  Then, everyone in the room said goodbye as we left.

I felt good about a purchase that I hope will help me, but I know is helping others.  If you like honey (or honey infused body care products), this is a company worth supporting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Free Summer Kids Activities (Many in Chicago, Some Nationwide)

I am always looking for things to do with the kids in the summer, and I hate spending a lot of money for activities.  So, I've compiled this list to help out others.  It will certainly be most useful if you are in Chicago (or planning a visit), but a few activities are nationwide or mostly so.

1. For really hot days take the kids bowling for FREE! You can sign up at to receive printable coupons good for 2 free games per child per day.  It is nationwide as long as there's a bowling alley near you willing to participate.  If you live the New Orleans area, you're out of luck for now.  If your bowling alley doesn't participate, you might suggest that they consider it for next summer.  You will need to rent shoes (or buy a pair online if you plan to go often).  We went 1-2 times a week last summer, and the girls had a blast.

2. Parks and playgrounds are always fun, especially if it's not too hot.  There are tons of great parks in Chicago, and at Millenium Park there are free kid's activities all summer long.  The Family Fun Festival offers a variety of activities every weekday, including Wiggleworms interactive music, story time, arts & crafts presented by different museums, and music & dance performances.

3. Swimming! This is one we have not tried in past years, but we will be doing in a couple of weeks.  There are 77 public pools in Chicago that offer free swimming.  Click here to access a list of pool locations and hours.  Most of them have certain times for various age groups or family swim, and they offer free swim lessons for kids ages 6-12.  If you don't live in Chicago, check with your local park district about public swimming pool availability.

4. Movies in the Park. There are lots of options for different age groups at parks around the city.  The Karate Kid for older kids, Yogi Bear for younger one, and Jaws for parents.  This would be fun with a picnic dinner.  If you don't live in Chicago, your local movie theater may offer free summer movies.  You can check here.

5. Music in the Park: if you want a little more culture, try the Grant Park Music Festival.  This is another good one for enjoying a picnic dinner while listening to the wonderful performances of the Grant Park Orchestra accompanied by guest musicians.

6. Museums: All of the major Chicago museums offer free days throughout the year.  I am disappointed to say that despite the fact that Chicago Public Schools didn't get out until June 17, many museums offered their last summer free days in early June.  There are some, however, that will be having more free days in July and August.  If you live in the city, or are visiting residents, you can also check out passes for many museums from any library branch.  Target is also sponsoring free or reduced admission at museums around the country.

7. Lincoln Park Zoo is always free.  It offers traditional zoo animals like zebras, elephants, and giraffes, as well as the Fart-in-the-Zoo with cows, baby chicks/hatchlings, and a beehive (sort of).  There is also a community garden, and storytime on Wednesday and Friday at 9:15 and 10 a.m in the farm area.

8. Reading Programs: the Chicago Public Library offers a summer reading program for kids up to age 14.  After reading 25 picture books or 10 chapter books, kids earn a t-shirt.  Each week they present a book report, they are also entered in a raffle to win books.  If you're not in Chicago, Borders Books and Barnes & Noble also offer summer reading programs.  After reading 10 and 8 books respectively, kids earn a free book. B&N is only open to school age children, but even young children can do the Borders one.  If you don't live near either of those stores, here's a mail-in reading program.

9. Story Times:  Most of the Chicago Public Library branches offer story times.  You can search for events by branch.  Barnes and Noble also offers weekly story times.  Just click the "stores and events" link on the website to find one near you.  If you live near a Pottery Barn Kids, they offer story time year round.  As an extra bonus to theirs, you get a attendance book stamped every week and after 5 stamps it becomes a $10 coupon good on anything in the store.  They are also offering a reading program to earn a free book for reading their entire reading list (it's not very long).

10. If you have kids ages 8-12 and live near an Apple Store, they can do a free summer camp workshop where kids become filmmakers.  Mine are too young for this one, but we'll keep it in mind for future summers.

If you know of other programs or have other ideas, feel free to share them!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Easy Upcycling Craft (Denim Purse)

This has been a team craft for us between adult (or older child) and younger ones. We've made two types of purses from Daddy's worn out jeans --large purses, and pocket purses.

What You Need:
old, holey jeans
ribbon (choose a thick width for the large purse, smaller for the pocket purse)

sewing machine & thread
fabric glue
markers (or other decorating items)

Project One (Large Purse):
1. Cut off the bottom portion of the legs as high as needed to make a purse in the size you want.  The hem will be the top of the purse.
2. Turn inside out, and sew the cut edges together.
3. Cut a ribbon to the desired length.
4. Fold the edges under (to prevent unraveling), and sew to the inner side seams of the purse.
5. Put an art smock or old T-shirt on your children and hand them some permanent markers to decorate.  You can also cut out pictures to trace, and the kids can color them in.
Project Two (Pocket Purse):
1. Cut the pockets off the same pair of jeans (including the inner jean to which the pocket fabric is attached). You can either cut the top inner edge with pinking shears or cover the edge with ribbon to prevent unraveling.
2. Put fabric glue on the wrong side of one pocket.
3. Place edges of ribbon cut to desired length on the glued side of pocket and place the other pocket on top (wrong sides together). Voila, you have a purse with two small compartments.
4. Put an art smock or old T-shirt on your children and hand them some permanent markers to decorate.
Addendum: The larger purses are great for organizing small toys, carrying books & things while your out and about, and as gift bags for girls' birthdays. We attended a horse themed birthday party once, and Yaya decorated one with a galloping horse for the gift bag.  We saw it holding books in church the following Sunday.

You can also watch demonstrations from the instructional videos page.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers' Day

No breakfast in bed for Daddy. It would be too messy for him. However, Daddy did get some cool coupons good for a card, dessert, dinner, and a day of Yaya being nice, as well as a father-daughter photo album with artwork by the girls. Not too shabby. We also celebrated with lunch at Crust. It was tasty, and the girls made some more Father's Day pictures while we waited for food.

To all the special dads who have enriched our lives with tickles, horseplay, and love: 

Happy Fathers' Day

And much love to my husband, my dad, my dad-in-law, Fr. Benedict, and Fr. Tom! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Personalized Liturgy Book for Children

Sometime ago I created a brief liturgy book for my toddler.  I filled it with pictures taken over the course of many Sundays.  Each page showed a part of the liturgy with what it is called (for example, "Little Entrance," "Gospel Reading," etc).  It was a big hit with adults and children in our parish.  Many people hoped I would publish it, and I did try.  However, Conciliar Press suggested that it was too particular to be of much interest to the larger Orthodox community.  I think they are probably right, although I think many people in the Diocese of the Midwest would like it.  Conciliar Press thought a better idea would be to offer a template for people to make their own books.  Nothing has been done through them to pursue that yet, but it may still happen in the future.

Recently my "toddler" having grown into an older voracious reader asked me for a new liturgy book.  So, I sat down and compiled a translation from various sources.*  Then, I brought my compilation to church and edited it while DH handled the kids during Sunday liturgy.  Now, after much labor, I have decided to share this one with everyone.  You can use the template I've created and tweak it with the translation used in your parish and pictures of your church family.  This one is very pink for a girly girl, but you can even change the color scheme.  I've ordered my copy from Shutterfly, and it should be here before Sunday.**  I can't wait to test it out and discover if it can hold the attention of an elementary student through a fair chunk of the service.

* The Divine Liturgy: An Abridged Text for Students by the Department of Religious Education (OCA); The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostomos; and
** The one possible sticking point to your own copy is that it can only be viewed and easily tweaked at  They do offer frequent discounts and coupons, though.  If you have more time, you could probably copy and paste into some other photo-sharing site or format.  Finally, if you do use it, I would be very appreciative of any donations for all the work I put in, but please use it even if you can't.