30 August 2012

How to Read to Your Almost-Two-Year-Old

Reading with a toddler is an interesting experience. It usually goes something like this: 

Said toddler grabs a book from the bookshelf (or the floor . . . not that ours are scattered on the floor instead of neatly on shelves). 

He brings it over and plops down in your lap, settling in comfortably. 

Open the book and read two sentences. 

Toddler tosses book aside and leaves your lap.

Agent A in the book-eating days
Toddler finds another book, comes back to you and gets comfy. 

Open the book and read two sentences. 

Toddler tosses book aside and leaves your lap.

Toddler finds another book, comes back to you and gets comfy. 

Open the book and read two sentences. 

(Repeat approximately 27 times.)

Toddler's eyes widen as he admires the collection of books he has amassed.

Pause reading in favor of using said books to build towers.

Does this happen at your house?

27 August 2012

The Real (Slightly Awkward) Reason I'll Never Be a Runner

A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and join a gym for the first time in 2.5 years. It's nearby, affordable, and includes childcare. Wins all around, right? I became determined to finally start running. Oh, I've started a running program at least a half a dozen times in my adult life. Each time, Something Big Happens That Causes Me To Stop: I get pregnant, I twist an ankle, I move out of the country. 

But now I have no excuses. I start slow, just a few minutes at a time.  It's not long before I begin to feel all over-achiever. I'm going to do it this time. I'm not going to hit a roadblock. I'm not going to wimp out. And then it happens.

(Warning: TMI potential abounding from here on out.)

I'm about a minute into my run, and I start to feel a little heavy, um, down there. That familiar pressure, intensified by each pounding of each foot on the treadmill. I slow down. It doesn't help. I stop completely. The feeling is (mostly) gone.

Three words enter my mind: Pelvic. Organ. Prolapse.

Now, I don't see much about this in the blogging world. Oh, we writers in the Mommy Blogosphere don't shy away from delicate and embarrassing topics. How many of you have told your own birth stories in excruciating detail? Discussed all the gory moments of postpartum recovery? Commented on other blogs or pages with meticulous snippets of how motherhood has changed your body inside and out? Commiserated over leaky, saggy breasts? Shared personal information about your post-Mommy sex life?

This, however, is just something I haven't noticed being talked about. I doubt it's self-consciousness or modesty, given the array of topics I do see shared about extensively (see previous paragraph). So it makes me wonder: does it really not affect as many women as is claimed? Or do women perhaps dismiss it as something else?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pelvic organ prolapse (POP) affects nearly 50% of women who have given birth. What is it exactly? The simple answer is that pregnancy and childbirth, aging, being overweight, the onset of menopause, and other factors can cause pelvic floor muscles and connective tissues weaken. This can lead to one or more of the pelvic organs (i.e., vaginal vault [top of the vagina], cervix, uterus, bladder, urethra, small intestines, rectum) "dropping" a bit into the vagina. The resulting pressure can range from relatively mild (or not even noticeable) to drastic enough to require corrective surgery. Most women will fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

The Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support (APOPS) lists multiple symptoms of POP, including pressure in the vagina or rectum, feeling like something inside is "falling out," or abdominal pain. (In my case, it's primarily pressure, and it gets worse as the day progresses, especially if I'm standing a lot.)

I was diagnosed shortly before my youngest child turned one. The type I have is a cystocele (i.e., prolapsed bladder). Interestingly, the most common symptom of this type of POP (as well as others) is urinary incontinence, but I never seemed to be affected by that. Instead, I experienced a feeling of heaviness, a sensation of something pushing down from the top of the vagina. (Kind of like at the end of pregnancy when your uterus is very heavy and you can feel pressure, except you're not pregnant.) 

So, what's a gal to do? Well, for a mild case, this is where those ever-popular Kegels come into play. (Click here for a detailed how-to.) Unfortunately, while doing them regularly may help prevent the prolapse from getting worse, they alone will not "fix" a prolapse that has already occurred. (However, suggested preventative measures include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding heavy lifting, treating/preventing constipation, and not smoking.)

More serious instances may require surgery, but there are other options between simple Kegels and surgical repair, including the use of a pessary. For more information on diagnosis, home remedies, and treatment plans, check out the following:

Have you experienced this? What remedies have you found useful?

26 August 2012

Just an Average Day

Not Back to School Blog Hop This is the last week of the Not Back To School Blog Hop hosted by iHomeschool Network. Our final topic: A Day in the Life.

(My past posts for this link up can be found here: Our CurriculumOur School RoomOur Student Photos)

Today I'm sharing a bit about what our days look like right now. It reflects our "Momma only" routine, as Hubby is currently attending school out of state in preparation for returning to sea duty.

Rather than give you a beginning to end synopsis, which quite frankly would probably only serve to convince you we are the most boring people on the planet, instead I thought I'd share a list of random things (in no particular order) that happen around here most days.
  • I used to be a morning person (as were my children). Now, just the opposite: We all go to bed late (well, the baby goes down at 8:00-ish) and get up much later than we used to. This schedule would not fly if we had to be out the door in the morning for public school that starts at 8:00 a.m. But it works perfectly for learning at home.
  • I always start the day with coffee. The Agents prefer to start their morning with fruit. We snack a lot throughout the day. Most afternoons, I have tea. (Yes, hot tea. Yes, even in the summer.)
Who needs toys when you have . . . a kitchen
  • I try to attack mundane activities with a regular schedule. For example, every night after dinner, I start the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen. The kids typically run off to play as soon as dinner is over, so without them underfoot it only takes 10-15 minutes tops. It's much less overwhelming when I do it at the same time each day. And I like to wake up to clean dishes.
  • We joined the local YMCA recently, and we aim to go every day (except Sunday; they're closed). My logic is if I plan to go six days a week I will actually make it there at least four or five, which is what I really want anyway.
  • While the majority of our day could be considered a learning experience (isn't everything "learning" when you're a child?) on any given day we probably do about 30-60 minutes of actual "school work" in the traditional sense. My oldest is six, and I'm not doing anything formal for the younger two (four and almost two).
  • The Senior Agents are awake for at least 14 hours each day; the Little Agent for at least 12. No one naps, but barring any illnesses everyone sleeps pretty well at night. Still, it makes for some looooong days around here, even though they all entertain themselves and each other pretty well most of the time. I consider myself more of a hands-off tour guide than an in-your-face event planner.
  • On a related note, I try not to structure their days too much. I aim to give them as much freedom to enjoy their time as I can, while still encouraging them to participate in the everyday activities that need to happen to keep the household running smoothly and helping everyone learn to coexist peacefully. (I guess that's a fancy way of saying we don't have a lot of rules or chores or must do's around our house, but instead try to model what is expected so everyone can get along and things that need to happen, happen.)
Sometimes we play in the bathtub in the middle of the day
  • I bathe all three Agents at 7:00-ish each night. We don't do the typical bath/pajamas/brush teeth/read stories/go to bed routine I seem to hear about everywhere. While Agent A usually goes to sleep not long after bath time, the girls and I stay up for several hours. We read, we talk, we watch television, we snack. Our evenings are very relaxed. 

What does your "typical" day (whether or not it involves homeschooling) look like?

21 August 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: What's In Our Grocery Cart

Top Ten {Tuesday} time once again. (I swear I just wrote one of these posts! I guess this past week went by quickly.) Be sure to stop over and visit our host Angie at Many Little Blessings.

Today I'm sharing ten things in our (red rocket with dual steering wheels) grocery cart.

I thought about just choosing ten random items that we usually buy, but I knew if I did that I would (perhaps subconsciously) choose items that made me look like a together, wholesome, green shopper. I would have included full meal ingredients, and surely disregarded any disposable products or junk food. So, in an effort to "keep it real" (okay, I can't even write that without giggling) I simply chose a receipt from the pile yet to be organized/shredded/recycled. It happened to be from last Thursday, 16 August. Apparently we had just stocked the freezer for dinners, because there is no meat, chicken, turkey, or main dishes of any kind on this list. (I do have to admit, though, that I'm glad it worked out nicely into ten categories.)

You mean I wasn't supposed to snack on the paint?
1. Fresh fruit: strawberries, mangoes, bananas, green seedless grapes. The Agents could live on fruit alone.

2. Frozen fruit: mangoes, pineapples, strawberries. We are on a huge afternoon smoothie kick.

3. Veggies: yellow squash, zucchini, yellow pepper, red pepper, romaine lettuce, baby carrots, frozen corn. The first few mostly for me. Even if dinner is an epic fail all three Agents could survive on carrots.

4. Whole wheat bread. We go through a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches around here.

5. Peanut butter. See #4.

6. Dark chocolate. Everyone gets one small piece for dessert each night. I never sneak more for myself in the middle of the day.

7. Salad dressing. Greek vinaigrette to be exact. I use it for salads and marinating.

8. Sugar-free chocolate pudding. I have decided to stop buying this, as I discovered the brand we purchased has yellow and blue dyes in it. Ugh.

9. Goldfish crackers. I know, I know. But God help us they are the easiest cheap little fishy snacks when you have a house full of snackers.

10. Nonfood items: batteries and baby wipes. Batteries because I always need to have extra on hand for flashlights in case of a power outage. (It's stormy a lot here.) And, yes . . . disposable baby wipes! I'll just turn in my Crunchy Parent Card now.

What's in your grocery cart?

19 August 2012

My Lovely Students: A Photo Post

Not Back to School Blog HopWelcome back to another week of the iHomeschool Network Not Back To School Blog Hop. Today is School Photo Day. Be sure to click over and check out some of the many wonderful posts linked there. A great resource for homeschooling families!

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite photos of my favorite pupils. In the time we've been homeschooling I have collected so many pictures of them "doing" school . . . which can pretty much be anything in our world of child-led learningFirst, while not school-related, I'm sharing a few professional shots from our last round of family photos to introduce you to our crew. Then I've included a few of them "in action" coloring at the kitchen table. (Have I mentioned how much we enjoy coloring as a teaching tool?) Lastly, a cute picture of Eva reading to Julia and Andrew, something she loves to do.

Agent E showing off her flower child side

Agent J expressing her inner hippie as well

Sweet Agent A holding on to Daddy

E found a fossil during our photo shoot

J enjoyed being messy as usual

A being silly hiding behind Momma

Agent E working hard

J couldn't even tear herself away to take a quick photo

Agent A likes to participate, too

Big Sister sharing a story with her siblings

18 August 2012

This Is Why We Don't Go Anywhere

A few posts back I posed a question to my readers who are stay-at-home parents: What does getting out mean to you? Most folks agreed with me that while staying home all day every day would make them nuts, and occasional adult conversation is nice, actually making the effort to take the kids farther than the back yard every day would be a bit much. 

Here, we don't "get out" every day, but even introverted hermits like to make friends every once in a while. Which is why I was so excited to see there is a chapter of Attachment Parenting International in our new hometown. I made contact. I spoke with the leader of the group. I gathered some info on potential play group and homeschooling group action. I was ready to interact with other humans.

The API group had a meeting today. Normally we don't venture too far on Saturdays, but I made an exception. The distance was almost a deal-breaker for me (as in outside of my 10-mile radius "zone") but we have a full tank of gas and Google maps and GPS. I dress the Agents in adorable matchy outfits, pack snacks, and we head out. After 40 minutes we pull into the parking lot. 

At which point Julia pukes all over her dress.

Maybe she just ate too much soap
Now, Julia is a cougher, she coughs a lot and very hard every time she gets the wee-est sniffle. She may or may not have asthma; technically she's been "diagnosed" with it and even took meds for it in the past. Regardless, once in a great while she will cough so hard she makes herself throw up a little. I'm 99% sure that is what just happened, but how do I take her in now?

I get out of the car, clean her up best I can with the baby wipes in my purse, and sit back down in the driver's seat. 

Eva: Are we going in? Why aren't we getting out of the car? Are there friends here? Is this the playground? This doesn't look like the playground. Is Julia sick? Andrew, stop pulling my hair!

Me: No, sorry, we can't. Julia probably is fine, but she may be getting sick, and we don't want to spread her germs.

Eva: We should have just stayed home.

Meanwhile I'm thinking we drove all this way, and I really, really want to go in. And I know in all likelihood what just happened is a fluke and Julia is fine. But . . . 

So, we go home. And on the way decide to stop at McDonalds for lunch. Because what else would any self-respecting, AP, semi-crunchy parent who just cleaned up puke from her child do? On the way, more exciting conversation ensues.

Eva: Remember that time at Ba and Grandpap's [my parents] house when I ate soup and then it came back out of my mouth later? 

Me: Yep. You were sick. We all were. Even Baby Julia. [This happened a while ago. Eva never forgets anything.]

Eva: Was I coughing?

Me: No, Eva. You had a stomach virus. It's like having germs in your tummy and they have to come out. Sometimes you throw up food you already ate to help the germs get out.

(Pause here to order chicken nuggets and fries.)

Eva: What if they don't want to come out that way? Do you just poop them out?

Me: Yes, Sweetie. Something like that.

Drive back to the house. Eat lunch. Julia is totally okay. And we escaped being social once again.

17 August 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (34)

Well, another Friday is here. Woo! Although my days pretty much all run together now, so weekends are not necessarily cause for celebration. Anyway, it's Quick Takes time. Be sure to stop by Conversion Diary and check out Jennifer's post and the others linked there.

1. I've been trying this crazy idea of embracing a basic daily routine. Nothing is set in stone, but we have a general overall rhythm to each day: Do this, do that, survive next 24 hours and repeat.

Partners in crime
2. Part of what I've been doing is scheduling daily and weekly chores. I don't mean in a vacuum-at-10:00-wipe-down-kitchen-counters-at-1:15-take-trash-out-at-6:00 kind of way, but more creating a habit to take care of mundane household tasks as seamlessly as possible. For example, every night after dinner I start the dishwasher. Sometimes even if it's (gasp!) not packed full. Why? Because I like to wake up to clean dishes. I also (with rare exception) do one load of laundry a night and make sure it's in the dryer before I go to bed. I know every Thursday the bathrooms will get cleaned, so if the kids make a mess of things on Wednesday afternoon I don't panic. I plan two days a week for grocery shopping so we never go too long between visits and the list doesn't get overwhelming. That kind of thing. It seems so simple, but I was not doing this before. I was so much more haphazard with maintaining the house and I never felt like I was on top of anything.

3. I joined a gym. Well, technically, the local YMCA. The Senior Agents and I used to go to the Y all the time when we lived in Virginia a few years ago. Unfortunately one side effect of moving to Italy for just over two years was that I stopped working out. (There was a gym on base, but it did not have child care, and hubby's schedule was such that going before or after work was not going to happen.) So, prior to the last two weeks, I pretty much hadn't worked out since February 2010. Yeah, that's 2.5 years. Sigh.

4. I've been drastically limiting what I follow online. I can only check e-mail and Facebook and blog when the Agents do not otherwise have me occupied, and the less I have to weed through the better. I'd much rather follow a few interesting pages and have time to read, interact, and comment than see 100 random posts pop up in my newsfeed. I still have a bit of work to do in this area. 

5. How long of a day do your kids typically have? Agent A (21 months) can handle about 12 hours. Agents E and J (6 years and 4 years) can both go strong for about 14 hours. No one naps, and for the most part everyone sleeps pretty well at night.

This is so much fun
6. Despite Take #1, at some point every day I realize OMG I HAVE TO DO THIS ALL AGAIN TOMORROW.
7. If you wrote your parenting resume, what job descriptions/skills would you list? I'm pretty sure mine would include Supervisor of Random Dangerous Actions, Professional Fruit Slicer, and Nudist Camp Activities Director.

12 August 2012

Our School Room

Not Back to School Blog Hop
Linking up again with the folks at iHomeschool Network for the Not Back To School Blog Hop. Today we are sharing a bit about our school rooms.

Just over a year has passed since I first blogged about contemplating homeschooling.

This seems like a good place to study
The idea first entered my head while on vacation. We had taken our first cruise, traveling around the Mediterranean and whooping it up (as much as one can whoop with three young and demanding Agents in tow), and I kept teasing my husband that he needed to score a job as Cruise Ship Captain, so the kids and I could travel around with him at deeply discounted family rates and see the world. I thought it odd that, although I had never considered it before, it flashed through my mind: I would totally homeschool them for that kind of opportunity. (For those of you who know Hubby and his current career path, the idea is not all that far-fetched. And, seriously, how much would that rock?)

Anyway, fast-forward a few months and it's time for Agent E to start Kindergarten. We willingly and happily registered her, but something is nagging at me and and I can't quite figure out what. One day it just kind of hits me: What If We Just Don't Send Her? And instead let her continue learning at her own pace and traveling and see what happens? Could this work for her siblings as well?

We soon learned that one of the many advantages of homeschooling is that your "classroom" can be absolutely anywhere. We have a small box we keep our current school supplies in, and we use a binder to organize paperwork and notes, but we don't just "do" school in any one place. 

Oh, yeah . . . where was I going with this? School room. Right. We've embraced the idea of practicing child-led education, and that means we can find learning opportunities anywhere. How about a photo? (Or six?)

With Agent J at the top of the Eiffel Tower
Exploring the back yard
Posing with one of our favorite tools, the giant maps
Agent E in Greece, on the starting line
of the original Olympic stadium
Sometimes we even work in the kitchen
Visiting a carpet-making factory in Turkey
Where do you and your children learn?

07 August 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: But My Online Friends Are Cool

Top Ten {Tuesday} time again. Be sure to stop by our host Angie's blog, Many Little Blessings, and say hello.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet in general and Facebook in particular. Obviously, the connection with family, friends, and other writers is wonderful. Clearly, this blog wouldn't exist if it weren't for the Internet, and very few people (okay, almost no one) would have ever read it if it weren't for Facebook. Yet, I find myself purposely trying to control the amount of time I spend online. And often failing at this.

Following are 10 things I have done recently (or plan to do):

1. Ditch my Twitter account. Technically I "deactivated" it and I have 30 days to change my mind. But I don't think I will. I know some would consider this a huge blogger mistake: Why not embrace this quick and easy way to get your name out there? What about the opportunities for interacting with other writers? What about the folks who only followed my blog on Twitter? Well, the fact that I don't use it, don't understand it, and don't particularly care for it trumped all of that. So, I'm officially Twitter-less. (I even removed the cutesy heart from the top corner of my blog.)

Silliness with hats
2. Limit the number of pages I follow on Facebook. Some pages I may have "liked" simply because of one post, or because I recognized the name from a blog carnival, or because a friend shared something cute. Truthfully, though, my newsfeed is overflowing and I need to tame it a bit. I prefer to follow fewer pages that I actually enjoy reading and interacting with and commenting on. (Full disclosure: Still working on this. I'm down to about 200 pages right now. Um, yeah.) 

3. Avoid the drama. Even if it's a page I generally like, I will delete it if it continually posts articles from conspiracy theory tabloids. My eyes can only roll so much. I also refuse to follow links to shared posts about certain topics because they just get me riled up.

4. Know when to let go. I followed a couple of pages for quite a while, even blogging along with them (blog hops and link ups and such) multiple times. However, I began to realize that I couldn't truly support what they stand for. Posts and comments appeared about women's roles, discipline, religion, and a host of other things I just couldn't get on board with any longer. While I have not deleted these writings from my archives, I have stopped following them and deleted their tags from my home page.

5. Utilize the "add to reading list" button. Sometimes an article pops up that I know I would like to read (say, when I first check the news in the morning), if I only had more time to concentrate. Rather than give it just a cursory glance or close out of it because I can't read it right then, I put it on my reading list. Usually within the week I go through and finally read them. I try not to have too many in this list at any one time, and if I don't get to it after a week or so I delete it, because clearly it wasn't that interesting after all.

6. Redefine "friend" list. I have a lot Facebook friends on my personal page. Some of them I don't even know personally (e.g., relatives of Hubby I've never had the chance to meet in person). I have a general rule of thumb, though: If I ended up seated next to this person on an airplane, would I want to have a conversation, however brief, and catch up with them face to face? If I can't honestly answer "yes" they go, or I don't accept the request to begin with. I admit I bend this rule often. I don't know why.

Watching the rain
7. Clear out the bookmarks. For a while I was a bookmarking machine (prior to using the reading list) and would "save" things and then not even remember what I was planning to go back and check. I did this a lot when I first started thinking about homeschooling. Now I keep just a few specific folders of sites I frequent (e.g., printables we use regularly, travel websites, Disney info).

8. Have a plan. It may seem arbitrary, but sometimes I just decide upfront when and how long I will be on the computer, and log off when that time is up, even if I'm in the middle of something. I do this often at night after the Agents go to bed: I "allow" myself so much time and then shut down and read or (novel concept) sleep.

9. Blog with a purpose. For a while I worried about posting consistently: the same day(s) each week, three times a week, or whatever. Now I just post when I have something to say. I still spend a lot of my "free" time writing and editing, and I still post along with blog hops and carnivals on specific days, but I don't worry about "doing it right." I don't stress over following any kind of routine.

10. Get back to being intentional with my time. In January I tried to get into the habit of turning off the computer completely during certain hours of the day. (As opposed to leaving the laptop accessible on a counter somewhere and just in sleep mode, easy to turn back on for just a few minutes or to check randomly throughout the day.) This worked really great for a while, and then I kind of fell off the wagon. I need to start doing this again.

Do you ever struggle with the amount of time you spend in your online world? Or have you found a good balance?

05 August 2012

Home First Grade: An Update

Not Back to School Blog Hop
Linking up with some wonderful bloggers at iHomeschool Network for the Not Back To School Blog Hop. Today we're talking curriculum.

I shared a few weeks ago that we started first grade earlier than I anticipated per Agent E's request. The three main areas we decided to focus on for the next few months were the 50 states, weather, and Spanish. (This is in addition to basic math, reading, and writing, which are just such a part of our lives I find it hard to even categorize them as "school" . . . plus outside exploration time, computer time, and general life skills time.) 

For the states, we're using some very simple materials, including the giant state map already hanging in our playroom, two workbooks from the dollar section at Target (yep), and some online resources. We're learning basic geography, state capitals, and a few fun facts, as well as peaking E's interest in traveling (again). 

My student
In keeping with our philosophy of E having significant input into our choice of subjects, weather is out and ocean life is in. We're exploring different sea creatures right now and working on a short list of unit studies. I don't know why she lost interest in wind, rain, and clouds and became fascinated instead with whales, anemones, and sea cucumbers, but this is how we roll, so we're going with it. (I don't think the Octonauts had anything to do with it, though . . . cough, cough.)

Having fun with the Spanish; mostly we're trying to learn some basic vocabulary (numbers, colors, animals, months) right now, as well as work on pronunciation. We have post-its up around the house with the Spanish words for common household items, and we're starting on conversational phrases (my name is . . . how are you . . . excuse me . . . I like . . .). 

As much as I love child-led learning, and will continue to follow E's lead in what we study, I think we both need more structure to our days and our curriculum as far as the how. I'm fairly certain this is driven by the fact that Hubby is gone for the next couple of months and when he's not around we all need more of a routine to stay sane. So, we're trying some things like daily assignment checklists and a set time each day to review our work. And I'm working on being more proactive with planning and keeping my own notes. 

Homeschooling friends, what does your curriculum look like this year?