Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Animal Spelling Game

Last month DH and I decided to take a computer science class through Harvard's edX program.  He already knows quite a bit about what makes computers tick, but I have quite a bit to learn.  Despite my fear of the intricacies of computers and computer programming, I have completed the first problem set.  I created a nifty little spelling game that I thought might help Bumble Bee as she starts learning to read, and in the end it will even be fun for Hummingbird.

The project is online and can be played by anyone who knows where to find it.  So, if you have kids who are learning to spell be sure to check it out!

Now that I've learned a very basic programming language, perhaps I'll be able to learn more and create bigger and better projects to share.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ebates For All Your Online Shopping Needs

For several years I have been using the Ebates site when shopping online.  It offers rebates to hundreds of internet stores (now including Amazon).  Simply follow the link and do your shopping.  A deposit is made to your paypal account or a check sent to your home when you accumulate over $5 more in any quarter.  I tend to be an ultra bargain shopper, so after finding the best deal around, I head to Ebates to complete a purchase whenever I can, thereby adding a little extra savings to a great deal.

I'm sharing this now because Ebates is already thinking about the upcoming holiday season and is offering extra referral bonuses.  They also offer sign up bonuses for new users!  So, if you shop online a lot, or plan to be doing holiday shopping online this year, I do recommend checking out this site if you aren't already using it.  Just follow the link below to get started.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Frontline: The Choice 2012

A documentary well worth watching about the background and political careers of both presidential candidates. 

Watch The Choice 2012 on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Best Birthday Party Ever...

...and the easiest fondant cake!

Hummingbird celebrated her birthday with a private ice skating party.  I was lucky enough to win it for less than half the regular cost at a school auction.  We painted faces, put on tattoos, and ate cake for about 45 minutes.  Then, the kids had the rink all to themselves for an hour.  They skated to exhaustion.  This was the least work I've ever done for a party and it went great.

Behold, the cake! From the moment we walked into the skating arena, the compliments on the cake began.  A few years ago, I used Wilton's store-bought fondant for a Dora cake, and it was AWFUL!  This time I made the fondant myself from marshmallows & powdered sugar.  I was really worried about this because fondant sounds SOOO hard to do, but it was so easy.

I made a template to cut the skate, used a cookie cutter for the hearts, and free-handed her name. The key is to make the fondant shapes a few days ahead, and then simply put it all together just before.

It was a good day.  Now the planning begins for Bumble Bee's birthday.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Poster Board Art Portfolio

You can find instructions for this Art Portfolio here.
Bumble Bee's Portfolio: we worked toget

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jumpstart Read for the Record 2012

Tomorrow is the annual Jumpstart Read for the Record Day.  This year children around the country will be reading Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad.  If you don't have a copy, you can join the Bug Squad and read a free digital version online with your children.

Click Here
Jumpstart is a great program that encourages early literacy in underprivileged areas around the country.  They donate books to preschool classes in these areas, so that each child has his own copy of the years Read for the Record book.  Click the link at the side to visit the Jumpstart website where you can get more information about the work they're doing, make a donation, or otherwise get involved.  We've been participating in Read for the Record since 2008 and loving it.  I encourage you to do the same!

For a fun craft project, after reading the book have your child draw his own bug squad costume or decorate a rock as his favorite bug.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lake Punch-a-train

Hummingbird is doing a school project on Louisiana, and she was asking me how to spell Lake Ponchartrain.  Bumble Bee piped up, "Mom whenever I see a train, I'm going to punch it like the lake... Lake. Punch. A. Train.  Hahahaha!  I could punch the train in the lake." 

This had both of them roaring with laughter...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

American-Style Gyros

Anyway, I had some leftover sour cream a couple of weeks ago, and no idea what to do with it.  So, I did a search for entrees with sour cream.  Of those I found I decided to try a recipe for "gyro burgers"  with a sour cream based sauce (I can't find my source now!).  

Well, DH, who is always honest about what he likes and doesn't like, informed me that this was a miss, but could be a hit with some tweaks.  The first step was to break up the burger patty and simply use ground beef (we're not really big lamb eaters).  So, I searched all over the internet for recipes to make an American-style Gyro with ground beef and a truly Greek sauce.

Here's what I came up with by pulling ingredient ideas from several sources.  I've linked the main ones I used for the base.

For the meat combine & brown:
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 2 tsp. oregano (dried)
  • 2 cloves of crushed fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 T lemon juice

For the sauce combine:
  • 8 oz Greek yogurt
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
  • dash of salt
  • t/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 T lemon juice

  • Slice onions and cucumbers
  • Grill pitas & fill with meat, sauce, veggies

The meat, pita, and onions were a hit with DH (the girls preferred cucumbers over onions).  The sauce was okay, but still seemed to be lacking.  I had run out of time to try pureeing and juicing a cucumber to add to the sauce.  This may be my only failing it, but I wouldn't doubt if there are more things lacking.  So, does anyone have suggestions for an authentic sauce to add to my gyro burgers?  We definitely want to try this again.

I realize that most of my links are actually to souvlaki recipes because until I started typing this I didn't have a clear distinction in my mind of the difference between souvlaki and gyros, which I guess is basically the shape of the meat...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Children's Book Controversy

When I wrote Josiah and Julia Go to Church, I had NO idea I was writing a scandalous book.  I certainly had no intention of doing so.  However, it has come to my attention over the last couple of weeks that there is a campaign against it.  The prickly point is Josiah squirming at Communion.  It is the opinion of those who are upset by it that I am giving children bad ideas and being disrespectful of the Eucharist.

However, I did not think up this idea.  No, this is behavior that I have seen -- that my daughters have seen -- on several occasions over the years.  Largely, the children whom we've seen squirming, flailing, and indeed, spitting out Communion have been visitors or infrequent attendees.  So, early on my girls questioned why those children were acting that way.  I had to explain to them that some children don't attend church often enough to be accustomed to receiving Communion, and perhaps some don't like the taste of wine.  I also explained to them what Communion is and why it is important to be calm when receiving it and not only not to spit it out, but not to put fingers in their mouth or chew on teddy bears right after Communion.  Having had this conversation with my own children, I thought it might just be one that other parents were having, too, and that J&J might be a tool to broaching the topic.

Since respect for the Eucharist was a large factor in my conversion to Orthodoxy (After months of fighting to defend Catholic doctrine, I knew I couldn't keep up the fight when I saw a Catholic priest tell parishioners at a midday Mass to let those who had to return to work receive communion first, so they could leave right away.), I am hurt that people think my book is disrespectful.  The entire purpose of this book is to show children how to behave respectfully in church.  I have seen children doing all of the "bad" behaviors in church, and I find it hard to believe that others haven't seen them all, too.

Of course, I've read this book hundreds of times to my own children and neither of them has ever tried to squirm or spit out Communion after reading it.  So, unless a child is just deliberately trying to be bad, I don't think my book is going to have them spitting out the Eucharist.

Deep breath!  I guess I'll have to learn to ignore all reviews like celebrities say they do if I'm going to keep writing for public consumption.

In other news... if you're a fan (or if you're not but want to give me a second chance), I started a Facebook page not so long ago.  Check it out for a special offer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19, 2002 - September 19, 2012

Back in college, I think I told every guy on whom I had a crush that I wanted to be married on September 19.  When my now husband called me late in the night on September 9, 2001 and asked if we could really "do it in a year"?  I said, "Of course."  And after a few more minutes, called my mother to tell her the good news.  Not until after the wedding -- a year and ten days later -- did he tell me that he was really proposing when he asked that question...

I think after a decade he's happy that I thought he was, though.  On our first anniversary he put on a tuxedo and met me at the door after work with a red rose and a bottle of champagne.  I think we may have gone out to dinner a little later.  He would remember better than I.  My best memory of the evening was my first sight of him as I came home, though.

We spent the day together today.  Nothing big... kids off to school (thank you teachers for returning to work for my anniversary!). The first was early and easy; the second one was more difficult -- lots of "I don't want to go to school."  Then, we had a couple of hours to ourselves, including a walk to pick up Thai food for dinner (love that tofu!).  We spent the evening at home, but after 10 years it was time to try the wedding clothes.  I'm sad to say I don't quite fit in my dress anymore... Pregnancy caused me to lose some much needed fat in certain places.
American Gothic-esque

September 19, 2012
September 19, 2002

The lighting is bad in the current one, but we may try again in the daylight tomorrow.  The shrug I wore at the wedding began to yellow a few years ago, so I had to throw it out to protect the dress.  Hummingbird has asked to wear it at her wedding, so I definitely need to keep it nice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Quick Thought on Mitt Romney's Latest Shocking Remarks

I'm sure you've all heard Republican candidate Mitt Romney's remarks that "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

More shocking than the fact that he apparently doesn't believe that all people are entitled to food and housing, is the fact that he thinks his remarks are offensive simply because he didn't phrase it well.  He actually said, "It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question." I pay income taxes, unlike the people Mr. Romney disdains, but I still think everyone is entitled to food and housing.  Our Lord commanded us to care for the poor, the sick, those in prisons.  The Lord cares for all Americans.  Mr. Romney professes to, but he clearly doesn't.  The rich man in the Bible was unwilling to give up his possessions to help those less fortunate and follow the Lord, and it seems Mr. Romney is the same type of rich man.  If those who have more are not going to help those less fortunate as the Lord commanded, then government has to fill that need.  Should 47% of Americans live on the streets? Starve?

I can't even begin to express how disgusted I am with this man, and how scared I am that he just may get elected.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Strike Continues...

...and I am most annoyed with the CTU.  They have a contract that seems quite reasonable, and in some cases more than reasonable.  I understand wanting to "mull it over" before signing it, but at this point get the kids back into class while you mull it over.  I spent last night and this morning reading the Summary of Terms sheet posted on CTU's website.  They summarize the things they like and don't like.

Two things they don't like is the longer day and longer school year.  It seems to me if schools around the nation have days longer than 5.45 hours and 180 day school years, then CPS can and should, too.  Not to mention, of the now 7 hour day, teachers will only about 6.25 hours working.  They will be getting a 45 minute duty-free lunch.  That's a shorter day than most professionals work.  I do recognize they teachers are spending some time at home doing things like grading, so I think this is perfectly fair, but it's certainly not unreasonable as CTU seems to think.

Anyway, I've marked up the Terms sheet with my opinions on the big issues.  I'm neutral about many things in it, so those parts are simply unmarked.  I've underlined in green things I like and struck out in red things I don't like, and I've added a few comments along the way.  The evaluation process seems more than fair, and overall this contract seems quite reasonable. 

My last little point to note is that I'm happy to see that CTU agrees to make up the days that have been lost to their strike.  Now, I want to make my opinion known that those days should be made up on single day holidays (Columbus day, Presidents day, etc) throughout the year, and not with an extra 1.5 weeks at the end of school.  Without our Labor Day start to school the kids already get out 2-3 weeks later than all of the school districts I know (suburban and Louisiana).  Adding time at the end will keep them in school pretty much until July, which really isn't fair to them or parents!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Teachers' Strike Day 4

Well, homeschooling crumbled today.  We're hearing rumors that this will be resolved in time for students to return to school on Monday.  Three quarters of our household will be thrilled if that happens.   Bumble Bee is the only one who still wants the teachers to strike so she doesn't have go to school.  I told her teacher last week it would set her back if they went on strike, and it will.

The city has 145 schools open and staffed by principals and other non-CTU staff.  One of those is within 2 seconds of us.  So, we may send Hummingbird tomorrow, and perhaps, Bumble Bee.  They won't be holding classes, but it will be like a day camp with including independent reading and writing, arts and journaling, sports activities, and computer-based programming.

Even though today didn't work out the week certainly wasn't a total loss.  Hummingbird did complete a nice project on the history of the American Flag. She also learned some new grammar and practice a bunch of math.  And we've done two cool science projects, one of which I recorded and used to practice video editing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teachers' Strike Day 3

One thing I do like about this strike is that we can all sleep until 7:00 AM. We usually have to be up by about 6:30 to get Hummingbird on the school bus. So, we've just had breakfast, and I'll be printing out worksheets in a minute. I just did an email check before we get going. There was an "update" from Hummingbird's principal. The update was there's no news on when this will be settled. Mr. Netterstrom is a pretty high profile principal in the city because his school is a new classical school with accelerated learning, and he is taking it to the forefront of many of the changes the mayor wants. They did a longer school day last year, which was even longer than this year. He has had full choice in hiring teachers with no requirements to draw from a laid off pool. The staff at the school are fabulous, and I really think it is a great model for others to imitate. Here's a what Mr. Netterstrom thinks about principals' right to choose their own teachers without restrictions.
“It’s just like holding a coach accountable for a team’s results. They create the team. They create the culture. They create who’s the best fit,” the mayor said. Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North, couldn’t agree more. “I was very blessed to open up the school four years ago and I got to hire every single staff member who works for me. And that’s really made all the difference in our school in building a climate and a culture that’s been very positive and has had really good academic and social results,” Netterstrom said.  Read more...
 Here's to a good day of learning and hoping for a return to school!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teachers' Strike Day 2

Today went pretty well for us, but we all wish the teachers would go back to work.  I'm definitely on the fence about the strike.  I think it's terrible because it impedes the education of our children.  I understand that they want a fair contract, but I also think that they need to make some concessions, too.  I am generally pro-union; I've even belonged to a union in the past.  However, everything I'm reading reports that CPS has conceded on this point or that, but nowhere has the CTU given an inch.

As a parent it is even more frustrating when union president Karin Lewis says things like "I've got to go back to the silly part of my day [referring to the negotiations]. . .Y'all continue to have fun. Show each other some love." (Read more on today's happenings)  Never mind, that kids are missing out on their rights to an education, or that parents are having to find and pay for ways to take care of their kids while they're not in school; y'all just have fun! (I do like that the Tribune reporter spelled "y'all" correctly).

Okay, I'm done ranting.  We actually had a pretty good day, and if I lived somewhere where my girls weren't going to a really good school, I think I could get the hang of homeschooling.  We were a little more laid back today, but we still did some good work.

I let them start the day with playtime because I need some time to prepare tutoring lessons for this evening.  Best to get that out of the way first.  Next, we took a walk to the library where everyone picked out chapter books, and we had an impromptu photography class along the way (pictures below).  Then, we had a brief lunch and started the real work.

I found some grammar sheets for Hummingbird to do, and I helped Bumble Bee practice writing her name (she's great at tracing, not so much at freehand).  Her goal is to be able to write her name and get a library card of her own, so this may not take too long.

Next came math, Hummingbird worked on the computer with Math Trainer.  She answered 100 of 102 multiplication facts (from 1x1 to 5x5) correctly!  Tomorrow we push her up a notch...  Bumble Bee and I worked on a pre-K workbook -- counting & circling objects, tracing numbers, and determining sets.

After math came social studies.  Hummingbird suggested on our way home from the library that she would like to learn more about the Star-Spangled Banner. So, I found some color sheets and informational sheets online that she worked on.  I also wrote down 7 questions for her to research online with Daddy while I was out this evening.  They completed all but one of those.  Tomorrow she'll finish that, and we'll add some state flags (Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, & Indiana).

We didn't get to the science experiment today, so tomorrow we'll learn about air pressure and crush a can.  I'll probably post a video of that one.

Karen Lewis says the union is in this strike "for the long haul." I worry that with their utter refusal to compromise, like the Tea Party, we may indeed miss a large chunk of school time.

As we started out we met a striking teacher and her daughter.
As it happens they are neighbors to Hummingbird's best friend from school.

By Hummingbird
By Bumble Bee

By Bumble Bee
By Hummingbird
By Bumble Bee

Despite my frustrations with the current day, I am reminded each time I look at the calendar that things could be so much worse. As I go to sleep tonight, I will be praying for those whose lives were so devastated eleven years ago.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strike Day 1

I'm exhausted.  Summer vacation is over, so we're not really willing to let the girls sit idly wasting brain cells while the teachers strike.  So, we had our first day of homeschooling today.  It actually went well, but I managed to catch a severe cold, so I am now wiped out.

 So, here's what we did today...

We started the day with breakfast and cleaning the bedroom, especially the desk area.  I knew we would need a good spot for Hummingbird to work.  Then around 8:30 we did an hour long French immersion lesson.  I've started teaching part-time with Multilingual Chicago, so the kids are good practice for my classes.  We read La Chenille Qui Fait des Trous, and sang a song about the days of the week & ducks.  We also talked about the weather and numbers, ending the hour with a game of Bingo in French.

Next, we had a short art class.  First, we made sun catchers.  The girls came back from their summer adventures with this craft, but we never got around to it.  The paint was dried out, so we improvised with sharpies and glitter glue.  Upon finishing that, we took a walk for a photography lesson.  The girls each took pictures of the strike in progress.  We had to see it for ourselves, as the teachers were shouting outside our windows by 6:30 this morning.

By Hummingbird
By Hummingbird
By Hummingbird
By Hummingbird, only blurry one...
By Bumble Bee (she spotted the striking kids)
By Bumble Bee

By Bumble Bee
By Bumble Bee (her teacher)
Hummingbird was interested in practicing the zoom feature.  Thus, most of her photographs were from behind the teachers, and half a block away. 

Bumble Bee, on the other hand was up close and personal.  She spotted the kids and was curious to know why they were striking.  The teachers started marching to another nearby school while she was taking pictures, and we even saw her teacher.  I was worried they wouldn't like us taking pictures, but most of them smiled at us.  Her teacher even paused to say hello, and let Bumble Bee snap a quick shot.  We do like Bumble Bee's teacher, and I can't wait for her to return to class & relieve me.

Back to our schedule, we had P.E. & recess at the school playground after art class.   Then, we came home for lunch followed by spelling work for Hummingbird and puzzles for Bumble Bee and Grace (she's 2 and she's with us two days a week).  After puzzles, we put Grace down for a nap, and Bumble Bee took a bath and learned about what floats & sinks in water.  She really like this, and was very quick to grasp why the different objects floated or sank.  Math work followed spelling for Hummingbird while Bumble Bee finished her bath.

Next came reading time.  After 6 books, I was ready to collapse, so Bumble Bee got about 40 minutes of TV time, while Hummingbird continued her reading of Socks by Beverly Cleary.  Our day was almost to the end.  Hummingbird had to do a little social studies.  She played games on the Little Passports website and read up on the various countries visited by Sam & Sophia.  I made her name each country and its capital.  I even learned something new.  I never knew the capital of Australia is Canberra.  I guess I always assumed it was Sidney.  Bumble Bee had free play with Grace.

By this time it was late afternoon, and we had a science lesson.  Daddy made it rain in the kitchen!  He questioned Hummingbird about the water cycle & why it rains.  Then, he heated water in a tea kettle to steaming.  He held a pan of ice over it, and as the steam hit the pan, the water condensed.  The girls loved this and wanted it to rain on them.  Daddy was obliging and moved the pan over their heads so little bits of "rain" could fall on them.  This brought many giggles and squeals.

So, we got through one day.  I don't quite know what to do tomorrow.  Daddy has agreed to do another late day science experiment.  He's going to crush a can under atmospheric pressure...  I'll let you know how it goes.

The girls had fun today, but after years of wishing she could be homeschooled, Hummingbird decided today that she'd rather leave for school.  I know many of you out there homeschool, so if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

CPS Teachers on Strike

I'm am a very disappointed parent right now.  I am especially disappointed in the Chicago Teachers' Union. 

CPS offered many concessions giving the CTU what it wanted on some big issues.  School board President David Vitale said the district changed its proposal 20 times over the course of talks and didn't have much more to offer.  Here's a link to the current CPS offer.  This includes a 16% pay increase over 4 years.  Chicago teachers' salaries are nothing to sneeze at.  According to a CPS spokesperson, the average pay for teachers, without benefits, is currently $76,000/year (the highest in the nation).  And these increases will occur at a time when CPS really doesn't have the money for them.

Despite major concessions on the big issues, which apparently were agreed upon, CTU has decided to strike. Some of the factors stated for the decision to strike include job security, dissatisfaction with Health Benefits, and a new evaluation process.

What doesn't CTU like about the Health benefits? They reject a wellness program, which seems to me a great option to improve health and lower overall health care costs. The wellness program even includes an option for opting out of it.  They also dislike a slight premium increase for families (as opposed to single and couple teachers).  

Another "big" thing CTU mentioned in the strike announcement was the new evaluation proposal which would mean that approximately 30% of their members would be discharged in 1 to 2 years.  I don't know exactly what the new evaluation process would look like, but it seems to me that if 30% of your members can't pass evaluation, they probably shouldn't be teaching our children.  I certainly want my children's teachers to be good enough to pass their evaluations.  And as they spoke out against this new process, I couldn't help but notice that one CTU representative (or teacher) couldn't even speak properly.  Speaking of the evaluation process, he said, "Us educators have a real stake in that."  If you don't know when to use a direct object pronoun versus a subject pronoun, what are you teaching our children?!  Don't get me wrong, my girls have had some great teachers over the past few years. However, let's keep good teachers and compensate them fairly, while getting rid of teachers who can't do their job effectively.  

Even if teachers get what they want, the only thing this strike will really do is hurt students.  It will hurt them as they miss out on classroom time this week (and in the weeks to come?).  It will hurt them if 6,000 unqualified teachers remain on the job.  I'd rather see more teachers like those at Skinner North, who are qualified, enthusiastic, and take a real interest in teaching our children.  Those teachers worked an extra 1.5 hours a day for our children last year against the wishes of the CTU leadership because they care about our children. I'm proud of the 10% of CTU teachers who voted against a strike.  I only hope that the rest find a way to compromise quickly so that our children can get back to school.  In the meantime, we'll be running a homeschool here...

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Week of School & Teacher Strike?!

 The girls started school this week.  Hummingbird has always liked getting away from Mommy since the first day of preschool.  This year she didn't even want me to drive her on the first day.  She was adamant that she wanted to ride the bus.  She's already reaching the point of being embarrassed by Mom...  Dad waited for the bus with her, and got her off to school successfully.  Her biggest disappointment was being late for what we call "second breakfast."

Bumble Bee's first day of preschool was a mixture of excitement, tears, and fun.  She woke up excited about school, probably sensing some of Hummingbird's excitement.  When it was time to go, though, she got nervous.  I think the crowds of kids and parents started the nerves.  By the time we got into her classroom, she was clinging and begging to go home.  When I finally extricated myself, half of the kids in her class were in tears.  The teacher, her aide, and another staffer were trying to calm them.  And eventually they did.  She had fun reading, playing, and singing.

The second day, she was moved to the afternoon with a new teacher.  The PM schedule was much more manageable.  That first day we had to get Hummingbird to the bus at the same time that Bumble Bee was supposed to be dropped off at school.  Well, the second day was rough at first, too.  And so was the third.  Today was the worst of all.  She started crying to stay home before we even go out the door.  Again, as all week, she had fun at school once she calmed down.  And she has made friends with the other little girl in class who cries, Solilie.  This class has fewer children (about 6 boys and 4 girls from what I can tell), and they're not as nervous about school.

All that effort to get her accustomed to going to school may be wasted... The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is considering a strike.  That is just what Bumble Bee doesn't need.  More on that later if it materializes; for now, I'm just hoping it doesn't.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And the Winner Is...

...Janelle thegeekywife

Thank you to both of you who participated.

First day of school pictures to follow...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to School Giveaway and Sale

I know some of you have already gone back to school, but for those of us in Chicago, back to school is always the Tuesday after Labor Day.  It's coming soon! 

I've been ready to send Hummingbird back for a bit now.  We've gotten all the school supplies and even dropped some of them off at her school.  She knows who her new teacher is, and she's started to think about what she'll wear. 

I nearly forgot, however, that I'll also be sending Bumble Bee to school on Tuesday.  I don't have as much to get ready, and she doesn't have as far to go.  We'll merely cross the street to drop her off.  I do need to get my camera ready.  The very first day of school is definitely an opportunity for a photo shoot.  She's actually ready, too.  She's been itching to go to school like Hummingbird for a year now.  And she survived a week of Vacation Bible School this summer, so I'm hoping we won't have too much separation anxiety.

Anyway, I have 3 copies of Josiah and Julia Go to Church which are "less than perfect."  So, I've decided to do a giveaway (and a sale).  If you haven't bought a copy for your home school classroom, or your "church bag" as we call our bag of church appropriate books, here's your chance to own one.

I'll be giving away one copy, and two copies will be on sale for $10 (plus shipping if you don't live in the Chicago area).  But if you win & buy the extra two copies, I'll ship them all for free (within the U.S.).  If you'd like your copy signed, you'll have the chance to tell me whom it is for.

Ways To Enter: 
1. Follow me here, and leave a comment.
2. Follow me on Twitter (I'm branching out, mostly for updates on OCN posts), and leave another comment.

On Tuesday, September 4, I'll figure out how to use a random number generator to choose a winner after my kids are in school!

To celebrate the beginning of the school year, I've also reduced the Kindle price for my French and Spanish counting books on Amazon.  They are currently $2.99/book instead of $9.99.  If you don't own a Kindle,  Amazon offers free software to read the books from any laptop, PC, or other device.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Upcycled T-shirt Bag

It's been awhile -- quite the crazy summer -- but I'm back with an easy sewing project.

The girls have been attending a great Vacation Church School program this week.  Each child was given a t-shirt with the week's theme on it.  Sadly, Bumble Bee's is too big, and the logo is upside down.  So, she has been refusing to wear it.  I can't really blame her for that.  So, I thought this was going to be a wasted shirt, until I had an epiphany at bedtime last night.  If I sew across the top and add some ribbon for straps, it would be a nice bag with the logo right side up!

This would be a good use for any too small t-shirts you hate to part with.  So, here's how I did it.

Finished Bag
What you need:
a t-shirt
yardstick or ruler
light marker
velcro (optional)
sewing supplies
1. Fold over the sleeves.   If they are bulky, trim first.
2. Use a yardstick & marker to draw a straight line across the top of the shirt beneath the collar and size information.  You'll need this to sew a straight line since the top of the shirt is curved.
3. Sew across the top.  Then, sew down the sides in a straight line from the sleeve seams.
4.  Cut two strips of ribbon to desired strap length, and fold the edges under.  Sew one to the front hem and one to the back hem.
5. Sew a bit of velcro to the middle of the hem (or use stickable velcro).
6. I haven't done this, but I'm considering adding some fusible interfacing for extra stiffness.

 It occurs to me, I also could have made a throw pillow...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just a Thought

Sheldon Adelson (conservative casino owner) gave $10 million to the Restore Our Future super PAC and plans to give an additional $100 million. Harold and Annette Simmons (Texas billionaires) have given $20 million to GOP super PACs. In 2008, Obama raised $750 million for his campaign with a large portion coming from grassroots, small donors. Do we want a few billionaires determining our future, or should we all have a voice? *Numbers taken from "Hey Buddy, Can You Spare $20 Million? The Super PACs are Killing Him. Inside Obama's Cash Crunch." Daniel Klaidman. Newsweek, July 16, 2012. 38-41.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Corporate Campaign Influence

For some time now, I have been disturbed by the Supreme Court decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that made corporations "people" under the Constitution.  I fully disagree with that decision, and I am saddened by the can of worms it has opened up.  The amount of money being donated to presidential campaign funds is obscene, and the companies (and few individuals) making the donations certainly don't have our interests at heart.  How can ordinary people hope to have a voice when corporations are making their money scream so loudly?  Evening more disturbing is that some of these donations are being done anonymously with the donors hiding behind privacy rights while still wanting their free speech rights.  The things is, though, that the rest of us pretty much have to be known to exercise our free speech rights, and that is how it should be.  If you want to influence elections, you shouldn't be hiding your identity.  And while I'm the first to acknowledge that we're not really all equal, I think there should be strict limits on campaign donations to make our voices even just a little more equal.

Here is an interesting infographic showing how the influence of "Big Ag" is spread out this election cycle.  

Big Ag’s Big Money in the 2012 Elections” width=225

Footnote: The Supreme Court made a bad decision in Citizens United, but I'm so glad they upheld the Affordable Care Act today.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


My kids are still pretty young, so we haven't encountered a whole lot of teachers yet, but we met one this year that I feel the need to acknowledge.  Hummingbird's first grade teacher was just terrific.  She did her job, and more.  She did an excellent job teaching the kids, both academics and how to treat others.  She was also fabulous about communicating with parents both when our children were doing well and when there was a problem.

As the year ended, we were sad to hear that she wouldn't be here next year.  Her husband got a job out of state, and they are relocating.  The last day of school went by in a flash, and the bus kids were hurried off without much time for goodbyes.  When Hummingbird arrived home, it really hit her that she wouldn't be seeing Mrs. Anderson again.  She was teary-eyed and sad most of the evening, and finally, she asked me if we could have a play date with Mrs. Anderson.  I told her I would ask, and perhaps, we could at least visit her at school to say goodbye while she was cleaning out the classroom.  

When I received a reply email from Mrs. Anderson, Hummingbird was so excited that she had agreed to meet us at the park to play.  So, a few days ago we went to the park for a play date.  I thought we might play for 30-45 minutes, eat a picnic lunch, and then let Mrs. Anderson go.  I was wrong.  Instead, we played for two wonderful hours.  They played on the swings, the seesaw, talked through pipes, and estimated and measured distances around the park (a little learning amidst the play).  Hummingbird had so much fun, and promised to send pictures and updates from her upcoming vacation adventure.

It really is an extraordinary teacher who takes such an interest in her students to take time out of her own day, when school's out and she's packing for a big move, to share some special one-on-one time with a student.  We were very lucky to have Mrs. Anderson in our lives, and I hope we are able to keep in touch with her despite the geographic distance ahead.

Thank you, Mrs. Anderson.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Vegan Blueberry Muffins

For quite some time now, I have been trying to find a great vegan blueberry muffin recipe.  I have not had much success.  I was starting to think that blueberry muffins were just one of those things than can't be made vegan and still be any good.

Just the other day, I created my own recipe and they turned out great.  They really didn't seem vegan.  I'll give you the recipe in a minute, but first, let me tell you how I got to it.  About four months ago, DH decided to cut sugar out of his diet (as much as possible).  While I and the girls aren't ready to go as far as he has, I've been trying to cut back on the sugar.  So, I've been altering the vegan pancakes that I make on fasting days.  I've cut the sugar out completely and substituted one ripe banana.  After all, banana pancakes are great anyway.  I decided to add some blueberries the other day, and the girls loved them.  They also didn't notice the banana at all.  I mashed it so well -- no chunks -- and the taste blended with everything else.

Well, since the pancakes turned out so well, I decided to try the same thing with muffins.  I have a chocolate chip banana muffin recipe that has always been a hit, so why not adapt it.  I cut out the sugar (and the salt), took away the chocolate chips, and added blueberries.  It was perfect.  The girls oohed and aahed, and asked for more.  I loved them, too.  They were soft and moist, and just the right sweet.

So, without further ado, here's the adapted recipe:

2-3 ripe bananas
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil or tahini
4-6 oz blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

If you have a large Kitchen-aid mixer, you can throw everything, except the blueberries, in and mix.  If not, mash the bananas in a small bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients in another bowl.  Add the wet ingredients and bananas, and mix.  Then, gently stir in the blueberries.  Pour into 12 muffin cups, and bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes (I don't preheat).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Computer Silhouettes

So, I saw a pin on pinterest at for doing computer generated silhouettes that I thought was pretty cool.  Then, I recently got an email from Paperless Post for a competition to win "a Custom Portrait by Artist Carter Kustera."  The portrait is a silhouette with a custom caption.  When I saw it, I thought, I don't need to enter the contest. I can do that!

So, I did.  I'm thinking I can print something like this for their grandmothers for Christmas or birthdays.  These took only about 10 minutes using a digital camera and Photoshop. The link above has another link to free software that would allow you to do the same thing. What a great, inexpensive gift this could be.  Shutterfly or at home 8x10 prints, a cute frame, and a great gift.  My mother still has a construction paper silhouette that we made at school when I was in first grade.  It would also be cool to compare that to the girls', too.  Anyway, now that I know it works, I may try again with new photographs.  Probably something with their hair in pony tails to make the silhouettes neater and less "fat" looking.
Hummingbird picked what hers should say, and when I redo them, I'll let Bumble Bee pick her caption. Then, each will have a piece of art that captures not only her image through ta camera lens, but her self-image as well!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Human Crime or Punishment From God?

I recently learned that the Westboro Baptist Church plans to protest at the funeral of an Orthodox woman, who was shot at point-blank range last week by a gunman who was escaping from a coffee shop in Seattle, where he had already killed several people.  The church members are planning the protest because they believe her death was punishment for the same-sex marriage law passed in Washington. 

Let me take a cue from SNL… REALLY?!

God does not punish innocent people for the sins of society.  I did not know the woman who was shot, but I'm guessing as an Orthodox Christian, she was not a proponent of same-sex marriage.  Regardless of her stance on the issue, I would like to repeat that God does not punish individuals for the sins of society, and He hasn't since he sent the flood in the days of Noah.  The day will come when He will judge each of us, but that day is not here yet.  The horrible crimes committed in the world are committed by fallen humans with free will.  Why was this woman murdered last week?  A combination of chance, timing, and someone's free will choice to commit murder caused her death.  NOT God.  Despite how we may sometimes feel, God is not punishing us in this world.  And it is not our place to pass judgment on others and add to the misery of the world.  Our place is to work to understand each other, perhaps correcting each other in love, and to support each other in our struggle to reach salvation.
The members of the Westboro Baptist Church and all of those who wish to point a finger of judgment need to step back and examine what is in their own hearts causing such a desire to add so much pain to an already pained world.  Is God really the one urging their protests?  As much as God may hate our sins, He still loves us sinners.

If you would like to show support to the family, you can find contact information for sending cards and well wishes at The Sounding.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

In honor of Mother's Day, I thought I would point you to a very interesting podcast called Fetal Consequences.

Researchers at Tufts University have found that the "barrier" between a mother and her unborn child is not very secure.  During pregnancy fetal cells can pass through the placenta and into the mother's blood.  Once they do, these cells remain in the mother for decades.  These researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how those cells affect the mother.  Do they help her fight illness and heal?  Do the cause certain illnesses? As it turns out there is a plethora of variables that affect those questions. 

Regardless of the answers, I find it wonderful to think that whether a mother has lost her baby before birth, or had a child die, or even just had children grow up and move away to live their own lives, we can all take a little comfort in the fact that we are never fully apart from our children.  A little bit of them will always remain with us perhaps doing what children do best... helping us when we're low and need some sunshine and fighting us at other times.

I hope you listen to this podcast, enjoy your children, and enjoy your Mother's Day!

Monday, May 7, 2012


Some months ago, I heard a review on NPR for a then newly released movie entitled Melancholia by director Lars Von Trier (I must admit to never having heard of him until this movie, but from what I now know his films are generally dark and disturbing... anyway...).  Overall, the reviewer liked the movie, but I've also heard that it is so heavy, and perhaps slow, that many people don't finish it.  

DH & I had both heard the NPR review and were intrigued.  About a week ago, I found it on Netflix, and this weekend we watched it.  It is certainly not an Orthodox film.  Rather it is on the surface nihilistic, but I found it to be incredibly beautiful.  Here I'll have to admit that most movies I watch are "light watching" and I would never call them art.  This one is not in that category.  The scenery, cinematography, and music are all so beautiful, so powerful that when put together I can only call it an artistic masterpiece.  

The story follows two sisters (Part I: Justine played by Kirsten Dunst, Part II: Claire played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the days before the possible collision of the planet Melancholia with Earth.  Justine's severe depression (melancholia) and Claire's perfectionist personality create an abundance of dramatic tension in Part I as we trudge through Justine's awkward wedding reception.  However, I found that tension to be alleviated by several moments of comic relief (I won't swear those moments were intentional -- I may just have an odd sense of humor or be familiar enough with Justine's emotional state to find them funny).  As Part II progresses, the roles of the sisters reverse Claire who has taken care of Justine and arranged things begins to panic at the thought of the world ending.  Justine, on the other hand, finds a sense of calm and peace in the knowledge that the world will end.  While Claire hopes for disaster to be averted, Justine finds relief in its certainty. 

The story line offers an honest look at human nature.  As tables turn the facades we put on for the world are lifted, and we are shown our weaknesses, but also the strength we can find despite that weakness.  The final scene of destruction is poignant in the show of real love between Justine and Claire and towards Claire's young son.  This love gives Claire and her son strength in their fear.  It is for this that I would disagree with critics who call the film nihilistic.  Justine (and the director) may think the world is meaningless, evil, and deserves to be destroyed, but in the end we can find meaning in relationships and love.

I definitely recommend watching this film.  It is artistically amazing, and whether you end up liking it or not, it will leave you with plenty of food for reflection.  Having said that, there are at least two scenes (of nudity and sex) that would almost certainly offend some people, but after watching the entire film, I found them easy to overlook.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From a Boy to a Soldier

A year ago, my oldest nephew, who graduated high school at the top of his class, decided to quit college and enlist in the army.  When I heard the news, I thought, Is he stupid?  He was so smart.  Why would he want to join the army? He could do anything.  Well, I just found at least a part of the answer.  When his mom tried to convince him not to join, his response was "Mom, I just want to serve."

He's currently finishing up basic training.  I've largely been a slacker of an aunt, just watching from a distance... although I did have the girls make pictures for him to hang in his locker, and they wanted to include some of their Easter candy, which he probably wasn't allowed to keep...

Well, I'm probably still going to be a slacker if I'm honest, but now I'll be able to keep a little more in touch with what's going on in his and my sister's life.  She recently set up a blog to reflect on her experiences as an army mom.  I know she's really scared about the whole thing and trying to figure it all out and adjust.  I just read her first post, and I am so awed by her.  She has so much courage, strength, and grace.  I know she'll get through this period in their lives.  I suspect others will find her reflections to be beneficial, inspirational even.  So, I've added a link in my sidebar (her blog shares a title with this post).

We'll be praying for her, Matt, and all of their family.  A few years ago, our Sunday school children each took a weekday to pray for soldiers from our parish.  We aren't faithful in praying for the soldiers weekly anymore, but we do it from time to time.  Matt is giving us a good reminder to get back in the habit of praying for them and all soldiers.  If you know any soldiers, for whom you'd like us to pray each week, please send me their names, and I'll add them to our list.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Launch Party

A dozen children turned out for today's launch party and had a grand time.  We started with coloring sheets and food as everyone arrived.

After everyone arrived, we played a game of Father Says. The kids really loved this despite the fact that they kept forgetting they shouldn't do the things Father didn't say.

Next, I read the book followed by a rendition from Hummingbird and Maggie.

We ended the structured activities playing "Hot Book."
The music is Gigi (Baba) Shadid: Fruits of the Spirit

Congratulations to Caroline who won a copy of Josiah and Julia Go to Church and agreed to donate it to her church!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

7 Questions from Mat. Anna

1. When you see "children's book", what comes to mind first?
Josiah and Julia Go To Church (shameless plug: if you don't own it yet, run out and buy it)!  I also think Kevin Henkes, and Kiss Goodnight (awesome illustrations).  Okay, before I end up with a long, long list, I'll admit I am a children's literature junky.  I definitely read more children's lit than adult lit these days, and while there are a few books that I'd rather never read again, there are tons that I could read a million more times. 
I promise the rest of my answers will be shorter.

2. Who is funnier: Buggs Bunny or Moe, Larry and Curly?
Buggs Bunny
3. Name a form of music or artist you can't believe you ever used to like.
 All I can think of is New Kids on the Block, but I still have a certain fondness for them actually.
4. Name a fashion fad you fell for in middle school.
Big Bangs!  Fold and Roll Jeans
5. What do you call a car that sweeps past you on the interstate?
6. Have you ever been anywhere with two different shoes on?
This could go under number 4, too.  In middle school I intentionally wore one black & one white tennis shoe.  Hummingbird and Bumble Bee like mix and match shoes, too.
7. Do you have a local accent? Does it match your current location?
Only when I'm upset or talking really fast, and no it doesn't match Chicago.  Definitely not.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Paschal Sermon of Bishop Matthias of the Diocese of the Midwest

Christ is Risen!

By way of explaining his opening remarks, we had a severe thunderstorm roll in just in time for the procession, which, of course, had to be modified.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cat Stuck in a Tree

What will we do with our girls?!

Hummingbird has a loft bed, and Bumble Bee has a toddler bed beneath it.  They were playing around instead of sleeping tonight.  So, we took Hummingbird's ladder away until they fell asleep.  Or so we thought...

Until Hummingbird came out and said, "Bumble Bee needs help.  She's stuck."

"Why is she stuck?"
Using the chair at the right side of the photo and the desk, Bumble Bee climbed up the side of the bed, and Hummingbird pulled her over the rail!  It was sort of funny and amazing that they did it, but of course, they got in trouble because of the danger factor.

What will we do with these two?!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Upcycled CD/DVD Coasters

So, we have dozens of unreadable or obsolete CDs and DVDs sitting around.  When something doesn't burn correctly, DH husband usually laments that he's made another coaster.  I've thought about sending them off to a technology recycling firm. Alas, they charge to recycle them, and then any data that is readable is put at risk.  So, I came up with a way to put all of those "coasters" to use.

So, without further ado here are the directions for making easy and adorable CD coasters.

Trash CDs or DVDs
Super glue
Embellishments (optional)

Brace yourself; this is the hard part... (Not)

1. Gather the CDs you'd like to use and choose which will be the top layer.  This is important because this is the side everyone will see.  Choose enough CDs to fit the width of your ribbon.
2. Super glue the CDs together.
3. Measure and cut your ribbon.  You can wrap it around the CDs if you don't have a ruler handy.
4. Super glue ribbon around the edge of the CD stack.  Add embellishments if desired -- this is particularly useful if you don't want to see the seam.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Late Night

After we were all sick last week, I was looking forward to a normal week.  Tonight was going to be a little off as I had a parish council meeting and Hummingbird had gymnastics.  DH was going to have to hangout with Bumble Bee at gymnastics while Hummingbird did her thing.  Alas, life had messier plans for us.

As we drove home from picking Daddy up from work, Bumble Bee announced that her tummy hurt.  I tried to comfort her by letting her know we were close and she could potty as soon as we got home.  That tummy ache was not what I thought it was.  Moments later she had vomited on her teddy bear and herself.  She seems to have had a relapse of last week's virus, only worse this time.  I'm thankful for the bear because he contained the mess.  Miraculously, nothing got on my car.  I unbuckled her entire carseat and carried her upstairs in it.  That is so much harder than an infant carrier!  DH did take Hummingbird to gymnastics still, but I spent the evening helping Bumble Bee and cleaning up the mess.  It's too bad I had to flake out on the first council meeting of the term, but then Tuesday was a hard day to meet in the first place.

Anyway,  she is finally resting in a sleeping bag on the living room floor.  She hasn't been vomit-free long enough for me to feel comfortable going to bed just yet.  So, I've been working on a few projects at the computer.  I'm putting together a French counting book for her, and I've been working on a story for Hummingbird, as well as trying to finish up my next OCN post about kids, God, and money.  I've hit a creative wall, though, so I thought I'd just share a bit of my night... get the alphabet posts behind me as I know a few people are ready to read something else.  I should read something else, too.  Indeed, I have two books that I need to get finished.  Perhaps, I'll actually complete one of them tomorrow since we won't be going to Bonjour! Wiggleworms and our other Wednesday errands.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Alphabet Collage

I'm not sure which I prefer, but here are two variations on a theme...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Letters XYZ

I know I'm quite late and the party has ended, but here are xyz.

Stencil with marker

Stealing the Eiffel Tower from Mat. Anna:
from a logo I designed a few years ago


I was thinking an illuminated Z would be a nice finish,
but there's too much flourish for a child's collage,
so here's a pseudo-illuminated Z.