Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: March, 2009

The artist at work

Although I haven’t been setting out as many morning projects as I’d like these days, they are still a big hit with Anna when I can make them happen.

Sometimes they are a surprising new art supply or activity, but often they are old favorites, perhaps combined in a different way.  And while these days Maggie is often involved in her own self-generated projects, Anna can’t resist an inviting spread of paints and crayons and paper.





Anna is really my wild child, often running around knocking things over and generally being crazy in her body.  So there’s something especially wonderful about seeing her giving this kind of calm and focused attention to her artwork.  These forays into a little morning art are often brief, between bouts of running and some loud yelling.  But they seem to be a valuable centering activity in the midst of it all.


A quick little knit–really.

Although you wouldn’t know it by reading this blog, I love to knit.  The thing is, I’ve been held prisoner by working on what for me was a big knitting project: a Clapotis shawl for my mother.  Which I started with every intention to give it to her for Christmas.  And only finished last week to give it to her for her birthday.  Because it’s my inclination to start many projects and finish few, I was determined not to start any new knitting projects until this one was finished.  I just didn’t realize that it would be so many months!

While my knitting queue is still not empty–my overly ambitious Christmas plans also included a still-unfinished pair of socks for my mother-in-law–I found that finishing this big scarf let me itching for a new, quick project.

But here’s the thing–I’m not a fast knitter.  So most of the patterns described on Ravelry as “quick knits” are not so quick in my hands.  In fact, not quick at all.  But then Anna provided some inspiration.  We were cutting pieces of yarn to put out for bird nesting material, and she pulled out a rainbow-colored skein of sock yarn.

“Mommy! Mommy!  Make me a scarf out of this yarn!  I LOVE it!” she said.

I explained that there wasn’t much of the yarn, probably not enough to make a scarf.

“Well, what could you  make out of it?” she asked.

I told her I’d think on it, and I did.  A cowl, maybe?  But I doubted it would actually get worn.  And then I hit on it: this great little amulet pouch from the now-defunct MagKnits.


Anna loves necklaces and she loves bags, so I figured it had a good chance of actually being used.  I got to play with some different yarn, my beloved size one DPNs, and finish the project less than a day after I started.  Now, that’s what I call a quick knit.


The recipient gave it two thumbs up, and now there’s a second one on the needles for her sister.

Now if I can just manage to get back to those socks….

Do-it-yourself play-doh

I was recently clicking around on Sew Liberated (I recently discovered that Meg and I are neighbors, though we haven’t yet connected in person) and found this wonderful entry on play doh. This is the blog formerly known as Montessori by Hand.

Anyway, the gist of her post was that she came up with a no-cook play-doh recipe that kids in her classroom could mix up themselves.  I thought Anna would love this, and boy was I right.  I copied the recipe onto a big sheet of paper entitled “Anna’s Play-Doh,” listing the ingredients and the amounts.  We collected what we needed and set to work.


There was lots of measuring and mixing.  It wasn’t long before Maggie got involved, too.



Although the texture wasn’t quite as smooth as cooked play-doh, it was entirely satisfactory.  And the thrill of mixing it themselves was well worth it.  As soon as they finished with one batch, they’d make another.  Maggie quickly adapted the recipe to make a double batch, and then Anna followed her example.  I think if we hadn’t run out of flour, we’d have been at it all day.

Anna enjoyed using her play-doh to make a batch of cookies.  One nice thing about this dough was that it air-dried quite nicely.


Maggie, on the other hand, had more entrepreneurial  plans:


Fortunately, she didn’t take it too hard when it turned out her only customers weren’t ready to hand over cash for her dough.  She happily settled for pretend money in exchange for her wares; for her, it’s more about the creation and the transaction than actual profits. Thank goodness!

Drawing and listening

A favorite pasttime around here that’s experiencing a resurgence is drawing  while listening to audiobooks.


Well, technically its only a resurgence for Maggie, since the last time we were doing a lot of book-listening, Anna didn’t have quite the attention span for sitting still and drawing.  But over the last week, both the girls have spent a lot of time with art supplies spread out around them, drawing and cutting and listening to stories.  Maggie has recently started enjoying colored pencils–she’s mostly been a marker girl up to this point–and has been exploring their use.  A favorite theme for her–no big surprise–is animals of all kinds, usually drawn individually and then carefully cut out.  Anna is sticking with her fantastic early stick people–round bodies with stick legs and arms.

“Look, Mommy, ” she said, indiciating one of her pictures, “don’t you like his smile?”

And despite my intent not to respond with praise or subjective evaluation, I can’t help but say, “Yes, I do love his smile!”

I love my kids’ art just like I love them–unreservedly and unconditionally.  There’s so much of their sweet selves in those precious little creations, how could I not love them?  So while I often say measured things like, “Tell me about this drawing,” or “I see you used a lot of colors” or “You really enjoyed using that sparkly glue,” there are other times that my enthusiasm can’t be contained: “Oh honey, I just love that!”

What I see from my girls is that they aren’t seeking my approval for their work so much as to share their excitement and joy over their work.  And that is something I will gladly hand out, again and again.

A stroll through the solar system

Last Friday, our homeschool group met to do this cool activity modeling the solar system.  Bascially, you collect items that are scale models of the planets–a soccer ball for the sun, a peppercorn for Earth, a walnut for Jupiter–and space them out to scale.  Turns out that with an eight inch ball for the sun, Pluto should be about 1/2 a mile away!

For convenience, I taped each object to a large index card, and Maggie and I stapled them to long garden stakes.

Maggie and I both enjoyed working on the stakes the night before.  Maggie did all the writing, and I took care of the stapling.


We started at one corner of my yard, and followed a path along the creek that borders our property.  We started with the close planets: Mercury, Venus, and Earth, which were each 10 or fewer paces apart.


But bewteen Mars and Jupiter?  A whopping 95 paces.  And then the numbers got really big, often more than 200 paces.


By the time we made it to Uranus, the kids were getting a little antsy, so we sent them running ahead to guess where the next stake would be planted.   Once we hit Pluto, we headed back, collecting the planets as we went.  Maggie enjoyed holding the map/clipboard and awarding the title of “King” or “Queen” to the person who took the sign.


Maggie does love a clipboard.

It was the simplicity of this activity, I think, that really made it work.  By painting broad brushstrokes, it illustrated some fundamental concepts so clearly, and gave all of us a real sense of the scale of the planets and their spacing.  The next time these kids are learning about the planets, I think a lot of them will remember the soccer ball and the peppercorn, and how far we walked between those outer planets.

And the weather was glorious!  In spite of a rather dreary forecast, the warm North Carolina sun came out.  Suddenly the 50-degree day turned into a perfect day for playing outside–which we did.  On the way back to Jupiter, we all took a detour and headed to a nearby playground, where the kids played and played and played.  It was one of those perfect days when I am so grateful for homeschooling and the friends we do it with.   The kids disappeared into the play structures, which gave us moms time to chat.  And even chuckle a little about the joke of the day, which the kids didn’t seem to get:

How far is it to Uranus??


The nursing song

At Anna’s request, I have recently started singing lullabies at bedtime. By far the most popular sleepy song around here is what the girls call “Train whistle blowing”–Raffi’s “Morningtown Ride.”  (Steve and I sometimes still call this song “The Magic Train Song,” as it was one of the few things that would nudge Maggie to sleep during her colicky infancy.)  Last night, though, Anna asked for “The Nursing Song,” which is our variation on Raffi’s version of “Goodnight, Irene.”  In Raffi’s version, he catalogues where various animals sleep at night.  In our version–with changes in part to make all the animals mammals–we list where all the animals nurse.

The only trouble was that all that nursing talk kept us from finishing the song, because we had to move onto nursing before it was over.

img_4855_2(gorgeous photo courtesy of my friend Judith)

At any rate, I thought I’d share the lyrics before I forget them.

(sung to the tune of “Goodnight Irene“)

Lions nurse in the savannah, foxes nurse in their dens. Goats nurse on the mountainside, and piggies nurse in pens.

Chorus: Anna, goodnight.  Anna, goodnight.  Goodnight, Anna, goodnight, Anna, I’ll see you in my dreams.

Whales nurse in the ocean, zebras nurse on land, hippos nurse by the riverside, and camels nurse in the sand.


Coyotes nurse in the canyons, squirrels nurse in their nest.  But when it’s time for Anna to nurse, she likes mama’s arms best.


Wow, I love this book.

I am a library addict.  Typically I have more than fifty books checked out of the library.  A few for me, a lot for the kids.  Now that I’ve gotten into a good library routine, I rarely buy a beautiful hardback picture book.

Until today.

I made a quick run into an un-named big box bookstore (sorry, Regulator, it was a last minute birthday emergency), and I was faced with this:


I had seen this at various places around the blogosphere, and I did look for it at the library.  But they didn’t have it.  So how could I resist? Cynthia Rylant AND Nikki McClure all wrapped up in one wonderful little package.  With chickens!  And clotheslines!  And pea plants! And it delivers all the magic I could have hoped for.

Although I wish I’d been in our local independent bookstore, I’m not sorry to have bought it.  It’s just the kind of book I want to have on our shelves for always.  This beautiful little book captures the spirit of being in the now that kids seem to understand instinctively.  What we have is today–let’s work and play and sing and yell and love and play some more.  And then start it all over again tomorrow.


In my quest to expand my gardening horizons, I’ve taken on a new challenge this season: starting plants from seed.


Part of my reasoning is my perverse desire to follow the process from start to finish, from seed to fruit.  But there are also more practical considerations.  I wanted to grow some varieties that I could’nt find in plants, or at least not in plants that were very expensive to buy–often from far away.  And I really want to have a LOT of tomato and pepper plants this year, since those were the two produce products that I continued to buy in large quantities from local farmers. Steve is a little dubious that this venture will actually save us money, what with the lights and the electricity and the extra supplies.  But I have his buy-in anyway, since he appreciates my excitement about the project.

So far, so good.  There are sprouting seeds in our front window!  I don’t think they’re getting enough light, even with the supplemental lamps–they’re getting a little spindly–so I’m hoping to get out this weekend and get one more light fixture.  Plus, we’re about to have a week of sun, which I’m hoping will help.  I also made some newbie mistakes like using popsicle sticks–which wouldn’t fit under the greenhouse lids–for labeling.  I tried to prop them in a way that I could tell which stick went with which plants, but it didn’t work so well.  So I’ve definitely got some confusion about exactly what’s growing in which pot.  I’m hoping most of that will be clear as the plants grow.  If not, it will definitely be clear when they start setting fruit!

In the meantime, the girls have been enjoying tending the plants with me.  Anna especially likes misting the seedlings, and Maggie has taken charge of tending the heating pad (which has the safety feature of shutting off after twenty minutes–good for bodies but not for seeds). They also love petting them to help them grown strong.

A highlight earlier in the week was when we did our first round of thinning, leaving us with a nice pile of roots and leaves.  We whipped out the neglected microscope, and we were able to see a lot of cool stuff.  We were able to get a good view of some guard cells, and had a quick lesson in transpiration. The best part, though, was watching both Maggie and Anna make their own slides.  No matter what was on them, their own work was the most thrilling.  “Mom, you have to get over here!” Maggie would holler over to me, “Wait ’till you see this! It’s SO AMAZING!”

Well worth the cost of the lights, I think.  Even if we don’t get a bumper crop of tomatoes.

A day at the beach

We celebrated yesterday’s gorgeous weather by trekking out to nearby Jordan Lake, which has the sweet combination of a playground and a sandy beach (along with clean bathrooms!) right next to each other.  Not quite like a trip to the ocean, but so much closer.

We arrived, and it was amazing to watch the kids–my girls plus my visiting nephew–set to work immediately.  Digging, hauling water, and throwing sand.


It was amazing to watch the focused intensity they all brought to their projects.  I’m not sure exactly what they were working on, but it involved digging some deep pits and filling them with water.  After dabbling in some buried pirate treasure, Maggie set to creating a life-sized model boat out of sand.



Spring is a magical time around here.  It’s a miraculous window between the chill of winter and the seemingly endless oppressive heat of summer.  This spring has been unusually cool, what with snow as recently as a couple of weeks ago.  We’re going to flirt with warm weather this week, though there will still be a lot of days in the 50’s.  I’m looking forward to the days ahead, as they get warmer and invite us to spend most of our time outside.

A glorious mess

Let me set the scene.

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon.  I’m upstairs with my mom hanging out and knitting.  The girls are downstairs painting.  I have been up and down several times, and all has seemed well.

Suddenly, Anna runs by me, towards the bathroom, stark naked (which she wasn’t before).

“Anna,” I ask, “where are your clothes?”

“Oh, Mom,” she calls from the bathroom, “I had to take them off because they were all painty.”

Uh-oh, I think.

I walk into the bathroom.  “Anna,” I said a little sternly, “when I go downstairs, am I going to find a big painty mess?”

“Oh, no,” she says.  “Only a very little one.  Well except on my painting.  My painting is a glorious mess!”


A glorious mess, indeed.  And one that is so, so, Anna.