Back At It, Also We Had a Good Spring Break

Fritz, upon discovering today is the first day of spring, wondered just why we had spring break last week before spring started. Good question. Of course, living in south Texas the temperature has been quite spring-like since, well, January.

Last week was fun. Cameron went on Trek. This is a thing Mormon kids do to simulated being pioneers. They wore pioneer clothes (plus tennis shoes because we’re not that crazy). Slept outside. Cooked some of their meals on a fire. Were put in groups called families with a Ma and Pa. Pulled handcarts (and in the case of Cameron’s family, also pulled the chariot of their “sister” in a wheelchair). Got sunburned. Walked 26.6 miles over three days. Sang 99 Cartons of Milk on the Wall. Twice. And then sang 499 Cartons of Milk on the Wall. He absolutely loved it.

Back At It, Also We Had a Good Spring Break

Wednesday Ani saw her rheumatologist and got some diagnoses and a treatment plan that is already helping a little bit.

Friday I took the kids to see Beauty and the Beast. We loved it. It was absolutely perfect. We’ll definitely be buying it when it is released on DVD (or, rather, digitally from Amazon because that’s what we do).

Back At It, Also We Had a Good Spring Break

It’s been a year since we started redecorating Ani’s room. We’ve still got a few touch-ups left to do, but now we’re ready to move on to Cameron’s and the boys’ rooms. Saturday we went and got paint chips from Home Depot in pink (Cameron), blue (Cameron and Fritz), and yellow (Adrian) to choose from. Cameron and Fritz separately picked the exact same shade of blue.

Spring Break also included lots of reading (I’ve read 13 books so far in March), youtube videos, video game playing, and Cameron working at spring break camp at taekwondo after he returned from Trek.

Today we went back to school and everything went great. Everyone focused and worked hard and we even got all of our all together work done (rarely does that all get done in one day). Ten more weeks of school and then we’re off for the summer!

My Cleaning Plan

The other day I was talking to my best friend on the phone and mentioned that the room I was in was echoing because I had taken all the furniture out of it. She asked why and I explained that I do that every month so I can sweep and mop under everything. She said I have it way more together than she does. This is not true, however. She’s a single working mom and still somehow manages to feed her kids and get them to school on time and everything. I, however, am slightly neurotic and inherited a love of marking things off lists from my mother and so I have, over time, developed a cleaning plan that works really well for me.

I took the ideas I use from FlyLady, Side-Tracked Home Executives, and some other random cleaning gurus. For a long time I wrote my to do’s out on paper (and even tried the SHE index card system – which did not work for me at all). Now I use some apps on my phone. I use the calendar that came with my iPhone for scheduling, Wunderlist for my to do list, and MealBoard for menu planning, grocery list, and pantry inventory.

I have things I do every day, every week, and recurring on some other schedule. They are all entered into Wunderlist so they show up each day for me automatically. Some things are somewhat silly to be listed as a to do, but, as I said, I really like checking things off my list so I leave them. As things come up (like if a kid is doing a multi-day thing for Scouts), I’ll add it to my to do list temporarily. If I come up with something extra to do (for example, reviewing a book I have finished), I add it as needed. Below are my regularly scheduled chores.

*Pray (I’m great with bedtime prayers, not so much with morning so this reminds me)
*Upstairs Toilet (either wipe it down with a Clorox wipe or use the brush inside the bowl)
*Downstairs Toilet
*Vitamins (I put them out on a shelf so people can pick theirs up and take them any time)
*Read Scriptures (currently reading the Doctrine and Covenants and using a verse by verse book to help with studying)
*Add to Letter (I write to my aunt every Wednesday, but if I write it all at once I forget a lot of things so I add things daily)
*Spot Clean Cage (guinea pigs – pick up their poop)
*Family Scriptures
*Picture of the Day (I’ve taken a picture each day since 2011, plus in 2009)
*P365 Page (add the picture of the day to a digital scrapbook page)
*Finances (yes, I update our finances every day – I actually enjoy it)
*Indexing (I do one batch a day)
*PokeWalk (with Fritz)
*Wash Critter Kitchen (sugar gliders are horribly messy when they eat so we have a plastic container with their food dish in their cage)
*Critter Food 1/2/3 (we always have three mixes of food cubes for the gliders in the freezer and each morning I take one out, put it in a dish, and stick it in the refrigerator so it’s thawed by evening when they get fed)
*Brush Lola (she is such a shedder!)
*Notebook (I check the next day’s meals and schedule and add them to the to do list, noting if I will need to take any meat out to thaw or make bread or whatever in the morning)
*Pinterest (I’m always looking for gluten and dairy free recipes)

*Cut chicken (I have chicken issues so I get all the gross stuff cut off at one time and freeze single breasts in ziploc baggies so they are ready to be used as needed; I cut the chicken on Sundays because I grocery shop Friday and Monday is trash day and if the nasty bits sit in the garage in the Texas heat longer than a day it is really gross)
*Sacrament (because of the Celiac we have to bring crackers for taking the Sacrament at church)
*Write to Steven (he’s a friend of Ani’s serving a mission right now)
*FHE (because of the big kids’ work schedule and Jamie taking taekwondo on Monday evenings, we do Family Home Evening on Sundays)
*Skype Jamie’s Mum

*Sweep Living Room
*Trash (Cam) (taking out the trash is Cameron’s assigned job)
*Cans (once they pick the trash up, we have to bring the cans back in)

*Sweep Kitchen
*Taekwondo (I only add taekwondo to the list when I’ll be going there – otherwise it would be on there almost daily)

*Bathe Lola (Cam) (another of his assigned jobs)
*Refrigerator (clean out the leftovers we didn’t eat)
*Sweep Stairs
*Print Letter to Aunt Betty
*Take Cameron to Work (he works Wednesdays, but Ani doesn’t)

*Catalog Food (I go through our cabinets and make sure my food inventory in MealBoard is correct)
*Menus (I plan a week at a time and grocery shop on Friday morning)
*Trash (Cam)
*Mail Aunt Betty Letter
*Sweep Dining Room

*Guinea Pig Cage (I put the girls in their pen on the floor and wash their bedding and clean the coroplast)
*Plan FHE
*Prepare for Sunday School
*Sweep Craft Room

*Prepare for Relief Society (if Sunday will be from the Gordon B. Hinckley manual or Teachings for Our Times)
*Pills (refill the pill containers to make it easy to put them out each morning)

Every 4 Weeks
*Mop in addition to sweep (when I do that I remove all furniture possible from the room; when I do the counters that week I remove everything as well; when I do the dining room I also wash the table)
*Wash Sheets, Dry Sheets, Make Beds

Every 24 Weeks
*Wash and Dry Mattress Pads (when I do the sheets)

First of the Month
*Cabinets (wash their doors and also the center island)
*Change Welcome Sign (my sister gave me a felt sign years ago and each month has a different little picture to go on it)
*Lego Calendar (I have a perpetual Lego calendar that I happily rearrange every month)
*Clean Dishwasher
*Clean Disposal
*Clean Washing Machine (I get little tablets for cleaning those three things each month)
*Lola’s Heartworm Medicine

If I don’t get around to something that is not a daily recurring chore, I just let it go to the next day. For example, I really hate washing the cabinets every month. It’s probably my least favorite chore (well, other than sweeping and mopping the stairs – I HATE that one). I finally got that one done on the 4th even though it was originally assigned on the 1st. Wunderlist puts overdue tasks at the top of my daily list in red so it annoys me until I do it. I never let things go way too long, mainly because I absolutely love ending a day with the entire “Today” list empty. That’s another thing my best friend recently noted about me. I feel the most productive when I’ve got a clean house and have marked things off my to do list. (But I’ll be honest… some days I don’t do much other than school, walk, and read because sometimes you just need a day off.)

Currently, I have an added recurring daily chore of plan school. As long as I do a little each day I get the next year’s plan done before the end of the current school year.

I check our laundry basket daily to see if laundry needs to be done. Usually that happens twice a week (and I add Wash Clothes, Dry Clothes, Fold Clothes, and Put Away Clothes to the list those days because marking off four things is way more awesome than just one). Towels get washed as needed, usually every week and a half or so. Ani and Cameron do their own laundry.

Dishes get washed a minimum of once a day, generally at night (so they get put away, generally by Fritz and Adrian, in the morning). Often the dishwasher needs to be run twice or even three times during the day and that gets done as needed.

I walk 10,000 steps at a minimum each day. Regular movement around the house is about 3500 steps. The PokeWalk adds a couple thousand. Taekwondo days also add a couple thousand. I have a path I walk around the main floor of our house. It’s an open floor plan so I make a convoluted circle of just over 100 steps over and over. It would be boring to just walk around and around like that so I read while I walk. It is one reason why I read so much. I read while I exercise. I also do a little picking up as I walk. Each time around I grab something in a place that doesn’t belong and as I make the circle I put it where it goes (or on the stairs if it belongs upstairs). That kills two (really three) birds with one stone.

I don’t put school on the to do list, but of course that gets done every morning. We try our best not to run into the afternoon, but on taekwondo days sometimes that is unavoidable.

My kids are big enough that on occasion I assign a random chore to one of them. Fritz is getting really good at sweeping the craft room (it’s the easiest to sweep since it’s small and pretty much empty). I am more likely to assign stuff to them when I’ve been busy doing other stuff and running out of time in the day.

Deeper cleaning projects I do as the urge strikes. Like right now I really want to clean the shelves in the craft room (again), but I haven’t quite gotten around to it. A while back I decided to use a toothbrush to clean the dirt-catching crevices in the cabinet doors. I did one door per day. When I get the urge to do a deep cleaning project, I add it to my daily to do list temporarily. I almost never do any major cleaning on the weekends (unless I feel like it). Weekends are for relaxation and church for me.

It really doesn’t take long to complete all the things I’ve assigned myself. Some of them literally take seconds, but need to be done every day to keep our house running smoothly. I am much more calm and am a much better wife and mother when my house is straight. I hate clutter. Because of that, it is imperative for me to have a “company-ready” house and my cleaning plan helps make that happen.

I’ve found that getting as much done as possible early is best for me. I am a morning person naturally. I have also found that if I do not get on the computer before a good number of my daily to do’s are done things also go better. It’s Newton’s Law about objects in motion staying in motion. As soon as I end up at rest (on the computer) I’m somehow stuck and have trouble getting moving again (the 250 step per hour reminder on my FitBit helps with that, though). Really, if things aren’t done by about 4, they probably aren’t getting done since I’m really tired by then.

The most important thing I have learned through tweaking and adjusting my plan is it will only work if it is customized to me. It’s why I had to take ideas from others, but still make it mine because me and my house are unique. So that is my advice to others who want to make a cleaning plan: Don’t just copy someone else. Make it your own. And, most importantly, make it something that you will do, is realistic for you, and meets your goals or you will not succeed.

The Corn Became an Elephant

Several months ago Ani’s friend Steven asked if Cameron liked corn. And then he showed up at our house with this slightly scary and totally bizarre giant ear of corn.

The Corn Became an Elephant

He had seen it on the side of the road put out with the trash, stopped, took it home, fix a tear it had, and then, for some reason that I still don’t actually know, gave it to us.

The Corn Became an Elephant

The corn amused us for a long time. We left it in my parents’ room when they came to visit and didn’t mention it to them just to see how long it would take for them to say something. It was also in that room when Tony and Roo came to visit because it seemed like something that should be there to greet them. It hung out by the piano for a while, too.

The Corn Became an Elephant

But, with a white elephant gift exchange planned for the last Wednesday night activity before Christmas, we decided it was time to let the corn go to a new home.

The Corn Became an Elephant

The girl who got it was delighted. She laughed and laughed. Her younger sister loved it so much, she said she wanted it for Christmas. And then she laid on it like it was a huge pillow for the rest of the evening.

The Corn Became an Elephant

As silly and slightly scary as that corn is, we did get quite a bit of enjoyment from it and now even more people are enjoying it. I guess it’s really true what they say about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.

Homeless Packs

The first Sunday of this month I taught all the young women (ages 12-18) at church. This month’s Come Follow Me lessons are on Spiritual and Temporal Self-Reliance. I chose to give the lesson on What is the Lord’s way for providing for the poor and needy.

Homeless Packs

We talked about refugees, sharing the statistics I’ve collected in my research (and fact checking) and showing a couple church videos. (Invite a Refugee to Dinner and Refuge from the Storm) We talked about ways we can help the refugees and immigrants in our city. We talked about how everyone can be poor and needy in some way and how even just a smile can make a difference. We talked about the homeless population in our city. And we made homeless packs to keep in their parents’ cars and give out when they see someone homeless when they are out and about. Ani and I each made a pack and within days had given both of them out.

Homeless Packs

Each pack is in a gallon ziploc. They contain a bottle of water, a pair of socks, small pack of tissues, travel toothbrush and toothpaste, hand sanitizer, three individually wrapped wet wipes, sample size shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, bar of soap, package of nuts and two fruit by the foot in a sandwich size ziploc, and a dozen Wint-o-Green Lifesavers in a snack size ziploc. I hope those 24 homeless packs have been useful to the few Starfish* we could help with them and that has helped the young women understand a little better what they can do to provide for the poor and needy.

Homeless Packs

*Starfish comes from the story about the child throwing the starfish back into the ocean and making a difference to the one. When helping everyone seems overwhelming, the starfish story reminds us that helping even just one is better than none.

Young Womanhood Medallion

I received my first Young Womanhood medallion when I completed the old Personal Progress program back when I was a Laurel. Unfortunately, I lost that necklace years ago. On Sunday I was presented with a new Young Womanhood medallion for completing the current Personal Progress program. Since I am the Beehive Adviser, I had fewer value experience requirements, but I had to serve in Young Women for at least one year. I completed that year the end of August and I completed my last project last week. I love the Personal Progress program!
Young Womanhood Medallion

Final Thoughts on What We Used

Language Arts:
*Writing With Skill 1 – I love Writing With Skill! Cameron doesn’t love it, but, really, he doesn’t love anything that is school and especially nothing that involves writing. There were things I had to adjust for him due to the dysgraphia (such as reducing the number of words he was required to write and allowing him to dictate if he wanted to) and I had to be more hands-on than it really intends because of the dyslexia (I had to read the instructions to him to be sure he understood completely rather than him reading them himself for example). But the writing he produced this year is incredible. The writing process is taught step by step with lots of practice so he was able to really master the skills. He got very good at note-taking and outlining through the many assignments throughout the year. I am really looking forward to moving on to level 2 next year. My rating: 5/5 stars
*Reading various works listed in The Well-Trained Mind (comprehension questions written by me) – Cameron read quite a varied bunch of books over the course of the school year. The comprehension questions I wrote worked well. Cameron’s always had a high comprehension level in spite of his learning disabilities. He’s ready to move on from reading a chapter and answering questions, though, and next year he’ll just be reading for a set period of time and then narrating what he read. My rating: 5/5 stars for literature selections, 4/5 stars for comprehension questions
*Reading bios (written by me) of authors from the early modern period – Cameron seriously hated my bios. I don’t think they added anything to his education really. He’s one of those kids that if he’s interested in someone or something, he’ll go on YouTube or Google and find out what he wants to know. I’m not making bios for next year. My rating: 2/5 stars
*Spelling Power – This one is mixed. He has retained more about spelling words from Spelling Power than he has from any other spelling curriculum we’ve tried (and there have been many!). I know he’ll never be a great spelling (because of the orthographic processing thing), but I do want him to be the best he can. We’re not going to be continuing with this next year. I think it would be fine, but it’s not great for him (it worked WAY better for Cameron than Fritz as far as retention goes). My rating: 3/5 stars

*Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra – We started the year with AoPS and no matter how much people rave over it, it just didn’t work for Cameron. He was very stressed out and frustrated by it. He learned very little. My rating: 1/5 stars
*Math Mammoth Pre-Algebra – This one was okay, but there came a point where we had to switch because, although the second half of the year was supposed to be released months ago, it is still not out and won’t be released until this summer, way too late for us. He learned fine with what he had. My rating: 4/5
*Math-U-See Pre-Algebra – Cameron used MUS for his first couple years of math, but then we started using Calvert. MUS still works great for him. I think the combination of videos and paper is perfect for him. It’s also great that if he understands a concept immediately, he can just move on, but if he needs extra practice, there are three practice pages plus three review pages each lesson (plus more can be created on-line from the MUS website if necessary). We’re looking forward to moving on to Algebra I in the fall. My rating: 4/5 stars.

Language Arts:
*First Language Lessons 3 – I loved First Language Lessons when I used it with his sister (no levels back then – just one book) and I still love it now. Fritz learned how to diagram sentences and since it’s taught bit by bit it really stuck in head and seemed easy for him. We’re looking forward to the doing the 4th level next year. My rating: 5/5 stars
*Writing With Ease 2 – I am really glad I went down a level of WWE for Fritz. I think the 2/3 of the year he did copywork once a week was very useful for him. He struggled a bit with narration, but got the hang of it by about halfway through the year. He’s still not a fan of dictation, but he’s getting better and better at focusing and remembering what he’s supposed to write. We’re looking forward to doing level 3 next year. My rating: 5/5 stars
Cursive Handwriting – First I tried writing things and having him copy them. Didn’t work. Then I bought something from Currclick. Also didn’t work. He has absolutely no retention of how to form the letters. We’re going to use New American Cursive next year. I hope it works better. My rating: 1/5 stars
*Spelling Workout – After Fritz switched from Spelling Power, which didn’t work at all for him as far as retention of how to spell words, he did Spelling Workout B. He sped through it and he remembered the spellings better with that one, but it still wasn’t perfect. We’re switching to Spelling You See next year. My rating: 3/5 stars
*Reading books selected from those used in Writing With Ease 2 (comprehension questions written by me) – Fritz read a bunch of great books during the school year. Reading a chapter and answering comprehension questions is perfect for him right now. My rating: 5/5 stars
*Brainy Acts – Fritz enjoyed most of the critical thinking exercises in Brainy Acts. He especially liked the math-based ones. My rating: 3/5 stars

*Beast Academy – This is another one that people rave over that was a flop here. Fritz loves math and math puzzles, but some of these frustrated him. He wasn’t really learning math, though, explanations were poor, and there was almost no review. My rating: 2/5 stars
*Math Mammoth Grade 4 – Another flop for Fritz. Even though it was labeled grade 4, it definitely felt more like grade 3. It would give multiple ways to solve the same thing several days in a row. This frustrated Fritz severely. He wanted to be taught one way and stick with it. Multiple ways just confused him. My rating: 1/5 stars
*Math-U-See Gamma – The updates to MUS’s “Greek” series are excellent. Fritz loves it. He quickly moved beyond using the blocks much, particularly as his multiplication problems got really big, but when he used them they really helped him “see” how the math works. He’s looking forward to learning division with Delta next year. My rating: 5/5 stars

Language Arts:
*First Language Lessons 1 – It was fun to revisit some poems his older sister learned years ago. The gentle and slow introduction to grammar was absolutely perfect for Adrian. I’m excited to use level 2 with him next year. My rating: 4/5 stars
*Explode the Code – Adrian got through the first Explode the Code book by the end of the year. While the pictures sometimes leave a lot to be desired, overall EtC is great. He’ll continue with the rest of the books in the fall. My rating: 4/5 stars
*Reading Eggs – When we remember to use it, Adrian and I both love Reading Eggs! I don’t think we’ll renew when our subscription expires mainly because we forget about it. But, until February, he’ll use it when we think about it. My rating: 5/5 stars
*The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading – Adrian and I are slowly working our way through OPG. He doesn’t enjoy it and fights it a bit, but he’s gaining reading skills as he goes. We’re continuing with the lessons through the summer and on into next year. My rating: 3/5 stars

*Math Mammoth Grade 1 – Math Mammoth worked fine for Adrian. It was very easy. We really only switched because the older two boys were switching. My rating: 5/5 stars
*Math-U-See Alpha – Adrian loves the MUS blocks. He uses the blocks even when he doesn’t need to. It’s obvious he already knows the answers and just uses the blocks for fun sometimes. He’s excited to learn regrouping in Beta next year. My rating: 5/5 stars
MathSeeds – This, like Reading Eggs, we usually forget to use. He has learned a lot and loves it when we remember it. My rating: 5/5 stars

All Three Boys
*Discover the Scriptures Hands-on Church History and Discover the Latter-day Prophets – I like DtS products a lot, but I don’t love the typos. I mean, really, if you are studying the Prophets, it would be nice if Wilford Woodruff’s name was always spelled correctly, for example (the second f was left off most of the time). The Hands-on Church History was fun, but it still says volume 2 will be available fall 2014. Here it is summer 2015 and it’s still not out. My rating: 3/5 stars
*Memorizing parts of the Doctrine & Covenants Scripture Mastery Verses – This didn’t work out so well. We kind of gave up partway through the school year. My rating: 2/5 stars

*Pandia Press Early Modern History Level 1 – I love, love, love History Odyssey! We learned so incredibly much this year. We’re looking forward to doing the modern history era next year. My rating: 4/5 stars

*Pandia Press REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry Level 1 – I don’t love REAL Science Odyssey quite as much as History Odyssey, but we still liked it. We did tons of experiments and learned a lot. We’re switching to Elemental Science next year, though, because Pandia didn’t announce they were going to be putting out physics until too late. My rating: 4/5 stars

Art and Music:
*Confessions of a Homeschooler World’s Greatest Artists and World’s Greatest Composers – We took it slow and only learned about a handful of artists, the orchestra, and one composer over the course of the year. They are adequate. I don’t love them, but they teach what I want. We’ll be continuing with these next year going a little faster so we’ll finish both by the end of the year. My rating: 3/5 stars