Monday, April 30, 2012

Lilacs, discovered

I love lilacs, all the more so for the brevity of their season--they bloom for just a few weeks in the spring.  Right now, the lilacs outside our bedroom window are blooming, and their scent is heavenly. 
lilac bush Pictures, Images and Photos
{Image Source}

What is extraordinary about this is, we never knew these lilac bushes were there, despite our 6 springs here, despite the bushes' 12 feet or so of height.

How, you ask, did we manage to miss the lilacs' existence all of these years?

Well, first of all, weeds and trees had grown up in front of the lilacs, hiding them from us.

Second, we didn't know to look.

When we uncovered them last summer, we didn't even know for sure that they were lilacs.  We had an idea they might be, because Hubby had run into the previous owners a few months before, who asked if the lilacs they had transplanted the fall before they moved had survived.  At the time, we thought they hadn't.  Survived, that is.  Because surely, if there were three lilac bushes outside our bedroom window, we would have seen them.

Apparently not, because there they are.  Not only did they survive, they thrived, gaining 9 feet of height since they had been transplanted 6 years prior.

Our lilacs' existence reminds me that so often we don't realize the beauty in our lives, in our selves, because weeds have grown up, and we don't even know to look. It's only when we clear away the extra junk that we realize what has been there all the time.

For me, that junk takes the form of self-doubt, anxiety, poor self-image, feelings of worthlessness, depression. For MC, that junk blocking his way is his sensory issues, frustration, and anger. For you, it's probably something different. But know this: whatever weeds, whatever ugly junk is in the way, hiding it, there is something beautiful planted in you, waiting to be uncovered. In each one of us. So start looking, friends.

I am astounded that these lilacs exist, just as I am astounded that there could be something beautiful and lovely in me. We don't know if the lilacs have been blooming all these years--I don't see how they could have been, because even with the weeds and that ugly tree in the way, I'm sure I would have noticed. 

But now they are blooming.  And that's what's waiting for me, for you, when we accomplish the difficult work of clearing away the ugliness: a life in bloom.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Craft of the Month--May

Camp Scarlet's May Crafts of the Month include:
Number sequencing caterpillar, footprint butterfly, handprint tulips

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mommy's Day Gift

My Hubby loves to give me presents.  So much so that he gave me a big one for mommy's day a little early.  I didn't even have to buy this one myself.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a trampoline.  Now, thanks to Hubby's generosity (and the "guilt money" his company gave him for making him stay in Peru for 2 days longer than planned when he had already been there for two weeks, coming home at noon on Easter, and sleeping the rest of the day away due to jet lag), I have one.

I have mixed feelings about the trampoline, as the potential for injury is huge.  I wince every time one of my boys attempts a move, and have unbidden visions of broken bones, concussions, and spinal cord injuries.  But they have been having so. much. fun.  And I have been too.  I do believe their favorite is Mega-Bounce, which apparently is my specialty.  And it's great sensory-motor and proprioceptive input (don't ask me what those mean, just take it on faith that they're important inputs to get*).

A bunch of people (including Hubby) blatantly ignoring
 the "only 2 people bouncing at a time" rule.
Well, I suppose, to be fair, only 2 were bouncing at this exact moment...

*Proprioceptive: Pertaining to proprioception, or the awareness of posture, movement, and changes in equilibrium and the knowledge of position, weight, and resistance of objects as they relate to the body. (from here)

*Sensory motor skills are the integrated functions of sensation and movement that result in coordinated responses to stimuli. (from here)

Under the Sea--Crabs

Yesterday we continued our Under the Sea theme with a study of crabs, beginning with reading Crab by Lloyd G. Douglas.

This very short and simple book is perfect for preschoolers.  The text is simple enough that I would recommend it for kindergartners or 1st graders who are learning to read, as well.  We learned that most crabs live in water, but that some live on land near water, that crabs have 10 legs, and they use their claws to protect themselves and to eat.

We also learned that crabs walk sideways.  So the kids spent a little time walking like crabs, and we decided that what most people call a crab walk is not how crabs walk at all!  We also discovered that crab walking on my new mommy's day gift* is kind of...difficult...

{Image Source}
This is not how crabs really walk!
It was sure fun to try out different crab walk methods, though!

Next, the kids made crabs using the crab template found here.  We used small paper plates instead of the circle from the template, and googly eyes instead of the template eyes, and Roger decided to use pipe cleaners for legs rather than the template legs (so, yes, what I'm telling you is, all Roger used from the template was the claws--why did we even bother with the template?  Not sure).

The kids chose to color their crabs with markers rather than paint. I would highly suggest, if you do this yourself, to not give an option--just have them paint. The kids' hands got very tired with all that coloring, and by the time they got to the body, they were ready to be done and did a less than thorough job. Or you could print the template on red or orange paper and have your kids decorate with markers or sequins or whatever.

We finished our study of crabs by reading Clumsy Crab by Ruth Galloway. This is the story of Nipper the crab who hates his claws because they are always in the way. Until one day, when Nipper's claws save the day!

True story: after all of our fun and crabby exploration yesterday, MC was instructed to crab walk at karate last night...I almost bust out laughing, because that's not how crabs walk :)

(but I guess you had to be there...)

*Pic of my new mommy's day gift coming soon...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Under the Sea--Octopus

This week is week 2 of our under the sea theme at Camp Scarlet.  We started off reading I Am an Octopus: The Life of a Common Octopus by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by Todd Ouren.

This non-fiction book is full of interesting facts about octopuses, and is engaging for preschoolers or elementary age children.  Did you know that an octopus can change colors depending on its mood?  And did you know that an octopus doesn't have any bones and can squeeze through a crack the size of its eye?

Next, the kids each made an octopus.  I used the octopus from here, enlarged as big as I could get it on an 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper.  The kids sponge-painted the octopuses, and when they were dry I cut them out and glued them to a blue background. 

Next, I printed out the numbers 1 through 8, plus the corresponding number words, from this website.  We cut the numbers apart and glued one by each of the octopus' arms.  The kids traced each number, then placed that number of "suckers" (we used paper reinforcers) to the arm.

Next we read Tickly Octopus by Ruth Galloway.

While reading this fun fiction book, we enjoyed picking out true facts about the tickly octopus that we learned from our non-fiction book.

For lunch we enjoyed octo-dogs on a bed of seaweed (you can tint the noodles green or blue and add mustard eyes to your octo-dogs if you think your kids will still eat them).

 Finally, we demonstrated octopus propulsion using a water-filled balloon and a glue bottle top, from Awesome Ocean Science by Cindy A. Littlefield, as described by Almost Unschoolers.

So much fun!  We actually did this when Pal's sisters (who are 9 and 7) were visiting one morning, and they were so impressed and entertained...although G thought our octopus looked more like a duck!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Under the Sea--week 1

Last week we continued our under the sea theme at Camp Scarlet with a field trip to see the IMAX film Under the Sea.

The film is set among coral reefs, so we decided to learn a little more about coral by reading Coral from the Underwater World series, by Deborah Coldiron.

We learned all sorts of interesting things that we hadn't known before, like that coral is an animal, not a plant, coral is related to jellyfish, and coral eats plankton.

Our next project was to grow some coral.  But growing real coral seemed too complicated, so I decided we should try making a salt crystal garden (which we thought looked a bit like coral), using table salt, water, and Mrs. Stewart's Bluing (click here for instructions).

Apparently, growing fake coral is too complicated, too, because nothing's happening.

This is actually attempt #2, after our gloppy first attempt ended with salt crystals forming everywhere but where they were supposed to be, and certainly not looking anything like coral...I'll let you know if anything grows.

Next we made an underwater scene.  The kids each fingerpainted a piece of white construction paper, covering it completely with 2 shades of blue paint.

Next, the kids sponge-painted (using a real sea sponge) coral along the bottom of the ocean (and a little bit floating around, as well :).

The next step was to tear some green construction paper into seaweed-ish (not Swedish) shapes, and glue it on.  The kids finished by applying cute sea-creature stickers to complete their underwater scenes.  As they were working, we discussed where in the ocean one might find each of the creatures.

And in case you were wondering, the children wore me down--we added water to their under the sea sensory bin last week.

Monday, April 23, 2012

(towel folding) Monster

I've created a monster.  A towel folding monster, that is.

It all started when I noticed something about my sis, Chip.  She is really good at finding things that her little guys, who are 4 and almost 3, can do to help out around the house.  For instance, she has her little one take grapes off the vines and put them in a colander for washing.  Seriously, isn't that a great idea?  I mean, it's totally something that he can do, with little to no supervision, and it's something that needs to be done.
Chip's big and bigger guys, plus Roger, helping AKD feel welcome
Then there was the time she had me help her bigger guy cut up a block of cheese into cheese sticks...but we're not gonna go there.  I'll just say I've never quite figured out how those cheese slicers are supposed to work, and leave it at that.  On the bright side, Ua and I had a rip-roaring, hilarious time--I'm pretty sure they still talk about it at their house, which means it was the stuff of legends.  Right? 
The mysterious cheese slicer

Chip is always on the lookout for little ways to make her boys feel important and contribute to the family.  Always.  In fact, I've seen her in action at other people's houses.  Other people who look at her funny when she asks if her boys can help by doing some small, specific action.  Because Chip knows that it's a great way to keep them busy, and therefore out of trouble, plus build up their self-esteem and confidence because they're helping.  She's brilliant, Chip is.

My own family's supper-time chore rotation was born as a direct result of me watching Chip's big boy take the recycling out to the garage.

MC taking out the trash (22 months old)
So I've had it in my brain that I need to be on the lookout for opportunities like that--little jobs that the kids can do, not necessarily so that I don't have to do them, but so that the boys feel like important and contributing members of the household.

MC helping with the laundry (22 months). 
He's completing the crucially important whisking step,
after which he completed the equally important
dump-everything-out-so-you-can-crawl-into-the-basket step.
So the other day, I was folding laundry while Pal was over.  Pal wanted to help, so I handed her a couple of washcloths and asked Roger if he would like to help, too.  He politely declined, but watched with great interest as Pal started folding.  As I came to more washcloths and hand towels in the basket, I added them to her pile, while Roger started slowly inching closer.  Finally Roger grabbed a washcloth and folded it.  Success!  I asked both of them if they wanted to try something bigger, but they were unsure of their abilities and done for the day.

Fast forward to another day.  I was again folding laundry (never.ending) and Roger asked if he could do the washcloths.  I said sure, and when those were done he thought he'd try the hand towels.  And then, all of a sudden, he couldn't get enough.  He actually unfolded the bath towels that I had already folded so that he could refold them.  I managed to stop him before he refolded all of the towels in the bathroom.
The towel folding monster strikes again!
I've created a monster.

But you know, there are worse types of monsters to have.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Boot Camp Birthday: Training

As promised, here is the final post in the Boot Camp Birthday series: training exercises.

I remember a time when I did it all when it came to birthday parties {I'm not quite sure how I managed that}, but for the past several parties Hubby has been in charge of activities while I've taken care of the food and other miscellaneous details.  Hubby does a fantastic job keeping our guests entertained until it's time for cake and presents, and this year was no exception.

While the recruits were arriving, Hubby engaged those who had already arrived in a game of boot camp basketball, while they waited for the rest of the platoon to report for duty.  When the last boy arrived the recruits swarmed his transport, which must have been pretty scary, considering their warpaint and all.

Next the recruits participated in a training exercise called "catch, don't catch," to practice following orders.  The boys stood in a circle around "it" with their arms folded across their chests.  "It" (the boy in the middle) threw a ball to one of the boys in the outer circle, saying either "catch" or "don't catch," and the boy he threw it to had to do the opposite.

Some of the boys were really good at this game.  Others, not so much.

Next was tree climbing.  Earlier in the day Hubby had one of the monkeys place some cloth targets about 40 feet up in two trees.
The boys took turns climbing up to touch the targets.

Next Hubby took the recruits on a tour of the obstacle course.  After learning about and practicing at each of the stations, the boys spent about half an hour running the course. 

 First, the recruits climbed up a rock wall into our play fort, and crawled across the top of the monkey bars to the other side.  Then they either slid down the slide or jumped off the slide and rolled, depending on their comfort level.

 Next up, the recruits army crawled under an electrified fence (which was really rope strung up between wooden stakes).

 Then came a balance beam,

 followed by a board placed over a stump, teeter-totter style.  The boys had to walk up one side and down the other.

And then they did it again.  Over and over and over.

After the obstacle course, the recruits played tug of war.

We didn't even have time for grenade launching (water balloons launched toward a target) or flight training (throwing foam gliders through a hoop hung up as a target), because the boys had so much fun wearing themselves out on the obstacles.

Next it was time for lunch in the mess hall, followed by cake and presents. 

After that, the recruits enjoyed some R&R checking out the tree forts and climbing trees around the training area while waiting for their transports home.

And that's it.  I think the birthday recruit enjoyed himself, and the other guys did too :)

This is the last of four Boot Camp Birthday posts.  Click here to see them all.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Two free song downloads

It isn't often that I post about great online deals, but I think this one is worth noting. is offering a free $2 credit that can be used on anything in their MP3 store.  They have tons of songs priced at just $0.99, which means you can download 2 songs absolutely free!  Amazon also has lots of songs priced at $0.69, which means you could score 3 songs for $0.07.

All you need to do is go here and click on "Enter Your Code."  Enter MOMROCKS and click the "apply" button.  That's it.  So easy!  The credit can be used immediately, and expires April 22.

To use, just find the song you want, then click on "Redeem a gift card or promotion code," and follow the instructions.

Not sure what songs you would get?  Well, these free credits show up a couple of times a year, so my oldest son keeps a list in his iPod of songs he or someone else in the family wants.  Then we just check the list.

This time, we're getting City on Our Knees by Toby Mac.  MC wants to get Chasing the Sun by The Wanted, but it won't be available on Amazon until April 24, so I guess we'll have to find something else.  Last time, we got Courageous by Casting Crowns and Blessed Be Your Name by Tree63.

You could also check out the current list of best sellers.  Just go to the MP3 store, scroll down, and you'll see them on the right.

Another option is to download some of the songs that I've featured on my blog:
Strong Enough by Matthew West (click here for my post)
Beautiful by MercyMe (click here for my post)
Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath (click here for my post)
While I'm Waiting by John Waller (click here and here for my posts)
While You Were Sleeping by Casting Crowns (click here for my post)
More Like Falling in Love by Jason Gray (click here and here for my posts)
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns (click here for my post)

(Note to self--this would have been a whole lot easier if you would use tags...)

Happy shopping singing along and dancing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Off to Kindergarten

Pal was late this morning because she had kindergarten orientation.  I knew that Roger and I were going to miss her next year, but this morning somehow made it more official.  Our little Pal is going to kindergarten.  For real.

Pal is just 6 months older than Roger, which means really, they're the same age.  That's the way I've been thinking about them all this time, anyway, since almost 2 years ago when her mom brought Pal over for the first time to discuss me caring for her part-time.  In the two years since, Pal has become an important part of our lives--we've learned from each other and grown together, and Pal and Roger have become best friends.

It has honestly been as close to an ideal situation for both of our families as I can imagine.  We were both so fortunate to have intersected paths in this way, and to have enjoyed this season of our preschoolers lives together.

But at this age, four, a 6 month age difference is huge, and today just really brought that home for me.  Suddenly, she seems so much older, so much more mature, so ready for kindergarten. 

Pal's going to do awesome in kindergarten.  We're going to miss her.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Boot Camp Birthday: Party Favors (I mean uniform & supplies)

As promised, here is the next installment in the Boot Camp Birthday series: uniform and supplies.

That's the birthday recruit on the right
Upon arrival, each recruit was issued a personalized Dog Tag and Helmet (use a silver or black sharpie to write the child's last name on the helmet), and applied Camo Face Paint.  I thought about giving them all buzz cuts, just to make the experience a bit more authentic, but I figured some of the parents wouldn't be too happy about that (actually, there are a couple I'm sure wouldn't have minded :)
I managed to remember to get a picture of about half of the recruits in their standard issue uniforms before they went and got all muddy and sweaty and stuff.

Upon completion of Birthday Boot Camp, each recruit was given a certificate of completion along with some goodies.
Each bag contained a camo foam glidergreen paratroopertoy soldierscamo bouncey ball (from Party City), water grenades, and Boot Camp Survival Snack Mix.  Of course they got to keep their dog tags and helmets as well.

The certificate reads:
This is to certify that
{Lastname}, {Firstname}
has completed
Basic Birthday Training
at Bluefield Boot Camp
Thanks for coming!

Click here for a free printable that you can download and edit.

This is the third of four Boot Camp Birthday posts.  Up next: training exercises.  Click here to see them all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Boot Camp Birthday: Rations

As promised, here's the next installment in the Boot Camp Birthday series: rations.

We scheduled the party I mean boot camp over lunchtime, partly to take up time--if the recruits are eating, you don't have to entertain them as much.  We served a basic menu that we figured most of the boys would enjoy: hot dogs, chips, carrots & dip, keeping in mind that when you've got eight 3rd grade boys together, they don't tend to want to sit and eat for very long. 

I wanted to serve them baked beans because that seems like a very boot campish thing to do, but I didn't think most of them would eat them and didn't want to waste some perfectly good beans.

We made a lovely army green punch to serve, just using a basic punch recipe: mix together 1 qt sherbet and 1 12 oz can frozen lemonaide concentrate.  Then add 2 L of lemon-lime soda.  I heard that if you use rainbow sherbet, the punch turns out in a drab, army-like shade of green, and we found this to be (sorta) true.  If you're planning to try it, I would suggest using 1/2 rainbow and 1/2 lime sherbet.

The centerpiece of any birthday celebration at the Bluefields' is always the cake.  I enjoy the creative process of baking and decorating a special cake for the special birthday boy.  For this boot camp, MC requested a tank cake.
I used two cake mixes, a butter cake (because the grocery store was all out of white cake in the variety that was on sale) and chocolate.  I used food coloring to dye half of the butter cake batter army green, and then swirled the cake batters in the pans. 

I used a 9x13" pan, a 9x6" pan, and a ~4" round oven-safe soup bowl.  I also made 6 cupcakes for the family to eat on MC's birthday.

Roger "helped" clean up.

After the cakes were baked and cooled, I leveled the cakes and stacked them in a tank shape like this:
See how the cakes are all marble-y and camouflage-y?

Next, I started frosting.  I used vanilla frosting dyed green with food coloring (add a bit of red to the green to get a drab color) and chocolate.
If I were to do this again, I would frost the whole cake green first, allow the green to sit for a bit to harden, then add the chocolate on top of the green.  I was afraid I would run out of green, though, so I just kept alternating frostings, trying to make it look somewhat camouflauge-ish.

Next I added the tracks and wheels.  I used Fritzie Fresh Black Bites for the tracks, because that's what my grocery store had (I was looking for Twizzlers.  You could also use chocolate sugar wafer cookies, cut in half, or squares of Hershey chocolate), and milk's favorite cookie for the wheels (because it's also my favorite cookie and they were on sale and I had a coupon--but any black or brown round cookie would work). 

A note on the wheels: you may want to frost the cake a day ahead of time, because it's a bit time consuming, and there may be other things demanding your attention on the day of the party.  You can certainly add the wheels and other embellishments ahead of time as well, but be aware that they may get soggy overnight.  Also, you might want to lay the wheels out before you start placing them on the cake, just to make sure you get the spacing right.  I used 7 wheels per side, but I think I could have gotten away with just 6.

For the final touch I added a pretzel rod cannon (you could use Pirourettes or a black licorice cigar if you prefer) and a plastic soldier gunner (he looks awfully small, doesn't he?  Cheap dollar store army guys...).  At the last minute I decided to cover the cannon with chocolate frosting, and I'm happy with that decision.

And there you have it--looks good enough to eat, eh?

I think the recruits thought so!

Stayed tuned for more boot camp birthday fun--up next: Uniform & Supplies.

This post is the second of four Boot Camp Birthday posts.  Click here to see them all.
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