Wednesday, September 28, 2011

School Open House, or How To Visit Five Kids' Classrooms in 90 Minutes

School Spirit Week and with that comes the yearly Open House at school. Or as I prefer to think of it, The Stampede of Parents.   
Ah, yes.  It's that night when you try to time each classroom so that you don't miss anyone or you have to spend the 15 minute ride home listening to someone complain about how you liked the others better because you only met one or two of their teachers.  While you spend the drive trying to decide where you can safely dump them out and send their older brother down for them later

Well, visiting all teachers has failed miserably in the past as the gang has gotten older and made their way up to Middle and High School. So this year we decided to try something a little different, one floor at a time.  Yes, that's right.  Mom engaged her brain and decided that starting youngest to oldest or oldest to youngest only resulted in sore feet and angry kids, so we began with the first floor.  This meant we began with the youngest's classroom, since he is still in elementary and only had a couple of different teachers to meet.
What makes this particularly hard is that my kids are in a K-12 school.  With that comes the challenge of meeting every teacher and getting a tour of every classroom of four teens and a tween (God Help Me).  Some meet and greets border on rude when the teacher wants to explain their classroom policy and the, of course, perfect behaviour of the two kids they have in two different classes and you look at the clock and realize that teacher has exceeded their time limit so you have to excuse yourselves. (Did I mention this school only has 408 kids in K-12 and the teachers often pull double-duty, teaching more than one subject?)  Hey, before you laugh, may I point out that we have a Gymatorium too.  That's right, our gym has a stage in it.  I'll bet you're jealous now, aren't you?
 One poor teacher was trying to sing the praises of my perfect children when I pointed out that my kids were tightening the circle around him and pinning him into a corner.  I don't call them "My Gang" for nothing, you know.
 Now, for the best part of all Stampede of Parents Nights.  The Special Ed classroom.  As many of you know, I have an Aspie son (Asperger's Syndrome) and he receives services. Well, guess what is one of the things they do in his classroom?  Yup. They cook.  
 They choose menus and walk down to the store, buy groceries and make their own lunch - no cafeteria food for these kids.  Tonight they made us all sorts of goodies.  
 Okay, they didn't make all of these, The Best Teacher In The World, aka Annette, made some of the food and some of the Amish Mom's baked. 
Translation: we died and went to Heaven.
What sent us there?  Baklava. You heard me right. Someone made Baklava.  I can die a happy woman now.
 Before we met all of the teacher's, the evening came to an end and it was time to head home and I got to serenade my gang with whatever songs were on the radio. Hey. If I have to spend my evening at their school activities then they have to listen to me sing all the way home. What's fair is fair, right?
 Footnote: Check out Mandi's cool new Cheerleading jacket that she got tonight:
(No, I don't get very many pics of my kids without the family comedian in the shot.)

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Coming To Amerika

I spent the entire day cleaning and cooking and I really don't feel like writing in my blog.  Through the magic of copy and paste I am going to let my Sweetheart write my blog today. 

Johannes now lives in beautiful Southern Oregon 

after growing up in Los Angeles 

and living in Porterville, California for many years,

since his departure from Holland

When we met, Johannes was involved in a group for fellow Dutch-Indos and this is his story from their website. I added his photos so folks can get an idea of what he saw:  

The Decision
I was ten years old sitting at the dinner table when Dad came “outa the blue”and brought up the idea of going to “Amerika” and asked us for a vote!   Unanimously we voted for Amerika !! 

The next thing I remember we were visiting relatives, Oma & Opa in particular, and then going with Oom Adrie into town and him announcing to the local town folk of Klundert that his brother and family were going to Amerika.

The Ship’s Journey
We boarded the SS Maasdam on June 4 1962.  I don’t remember celebrating our departure. However, I did feel an aura of sadness on Oma’s part and Opa who was always a stern man never showing emotion.  

Off we went leaving the harbor in Rotterdam and going past the jetties, and slowly leaving land 

and family into the distance. 

The next morning I remember looking out on the right side of the ship and seeing the white cliffs of Dover after an overnight stop in France.  

You can imagine, a ten year old boy meeting another boy of the same age, Robbie Reness.  We had a ball as kids do.  We ended up in “restricted” areas, below deck, up on the bridge, etc…how fun. 

I’m not sure, but I thought some seagulls followed us all the way to the States!   The trip was fun until I became”seasick” which occurred thankfully toward the end on the day before our arrival. I remember watching “Blue Hawaii” at the “bioscoop” ( theater ) with my sister and hearing the announcement that we were going to go through rough seas and, yep, ashtrays and stuff were sliding off the tables, etc…consequently I became sick to my stomach. 

When we arrived I did see the Statue of Liberty but remembered not being so impressed, maybe because of the weather, and it was somewhat in the distance, and it just didn’t look as “majestic” as I had imagined !

The Connection
Many years later Johannes was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room flipping through a magazine.  He saw an article about President Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.  As he read this article it was revealed that Oswald had boarded the ship SS Maasdam in the port of Rotterdam after leaving Russia in June of 1962.  Johannes went home to ask his mother the exact dates and they matched up.  After rummaging through old pictures, they found a photo of his parents in the ship’s dining room and Oswald was in the background to the very left.

Monday, September 19, 2011

After Dinner Family Violence

The entire situation revolved around a simple little water bottle.  It was a mild-mannered water bottle, just sitting on the table, minding it's own business. Someone had placed the water bottle on the table before we sat down to eat and somehow it ended up in front of me. You'd think the story would end there but it didn't.
I will swear to the ends of the earth that I did not intentionally pull the trigger a few times with the bottle pointed at Mandi, then India and eventually Matthew. Okay, so it might not be exactly the truth but I'll swear it to protect myself anyway. 
Getting Matthew wet proved to be my undoing because it was at that point that Matthew, India and Mandi morphed into their alter-egos and over-all Mom-bullies known as Brat Boy, Evil One and Her Royal Meanness. 
The water bottle was wrestled from my grasp and I was thoroughly soaked as I tried in vain to run from the pack attacking me. Somehow an ice cube appeared and it was forced down the back of my shirt and they proceeded to rub my back over the ice cube. At some point I found myself with my back to the sink but when I turned, there was the kitchen sprayer being pointed directly at me. Somehow I was able to escape and hide in my room until they went on their ways.  
One thing I have learned is to never trust my gang when they get that look. But I wouldn't trade this family fun for anything.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Writing For the Soul

Gratitude Journal

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
-Melody Beattie

I always have been an upbeat person, looking for the good in every situation,   but like so many people I would let things get me down on occasion.  Several years ago I read about something called a "Gratitude Journal".  The concept of this is to find three things each day for which you are grateful.  Contrary to diaries where you write about things in general and oftentimes it might be something that brings back bad memories, the gratitude journal brings out the good in your day, reminding you of the pleasant events. The amazing thing about this little task is that in a few months it will change you.  It will help you to see the good in your life and focus less on the bad.  You will be more content and hopeful.  You WILL be a changed person.

To begin the journal, find a beautiful, blank book.  Something that shows your personality and makes you feel happy to hold onto.  A special pen helps set the mood too.  Do you prefer a pencil? A rolling writer? A gel pen? If you feel good about what you are writing in and what you are using to do this then you will have the right mindset.

Each night before bed, while the day is still fresh in your mind, sit down and get comfortable.  Look back at your day and remind yourself of something for which you are grateful.  It will be hard at first but begin at the beginning - morning - and go through your day looking for even the tiniest little detail that made you smile or gave you a moments happiness.  Think hard.  Did you kiss your husband before he left for work?  Were you able to take a hot shower?  Did your car start?  Did you talk on the phone to someone special?  Did your child tell you something interesting? You only need three, you'll remember them, just think hard. Go through your day and record these events.  

If you are having a particularly bad day then this is the day when you really need to be writing what you are grateful for.  Take your mind off of whatever happened to make you upset and turn it onto the happiness of your day. On those bad days re-read what you have already written in your journal. I guarantee it will make you smile. 

As time goes by you will find writing in this gratitude journal so much easier, you may even feel that you don't need it as much because you are a changed person.  You will be more positive and feel better about your life.  But keep writing, especially on those bad days.  

A French proverb reminds us that "Gratitude is the heart's memory." 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Supper-Time Fun

Once upon a time supper-time was bland, dull, boring.  No, I'm not referring to the food itself (I play with too many recipes for that to ever happen). I'm talking about the small talk around the dinner table.  
Our conversations have included some bizarre language spoken by my oldest.  Some call it computer-speak, I call it gibberish.  Matthew rattles on and on about gigabits, and apparently some new and improved storage terms, and various other words that I can't remember as soon as they are spoken. Now don't get me wrong, at no time does Matthew actually think I understand him.  He tells me that I seem to follow along very briefly before a glaze comes across my eyes and I develop a vacant, long-distance stare.  That's when he knows he has lost me, despite my head-nodding and occasional words of agreement.
With the rest of my gang consisting of four teens and a tween, much of our other conversations center around school and arguments. Often arguments about school.  Mostly involving differing opinions of teachers or classes.  Also, with so many of us surrounding the table, there are generally two or more conversations criss-crossing each other.  Growing up in an Irish family I am used to this but I thought maybe it would be nice to see if suppertime could be reduced to a dull roar.
Enter "Table Topics".  I found this on the internet and couldn't resist. Table Topics consists of several cards which come in a clear box.  Each card has a thought-provoking question on it like: If you could talk to animals what would you try to find out? Is it more fun to be a parent or a child? What is your favorite family tradition? This has turned into so much fun and we have learned  a lot about how the others think and feel. 

Is that good enough for this Mom? No. I was cleaning out a cabinet and found some old Mad-Lib books. I dropped them on the table and left them there next to the Table Topics and they have now become part of supper-time fun. Andrew in particular has become a big fan.  I love that my kids are actually learning the difference between an adverb and an adjective. Perhaps we can progress to my favourite High School English activity, sentence diagramming. Seriously, it was. I know. Don't judge me.  Mad-Libs began simple enough. The blanks were filled in by the first words that came to mind but, as with all rowdy families (and mine is one of those) just giving an answer wasn't good enough. We began coming up with weirder and nonsensical words to make the final stories totally off the wall. The weirder, the better and anything to create a laugh. Which in my household is of utmost importance. 
Will this be a supper-time staple for now on? Perhaps. But now that we've discovered how much fun we can have, there is nothing stopping us from looking for newer and better mealtime entertainment.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Toilet Paper Pumpkin Craft

I love crafts and am always looking on other blogs for something new to make.  With Autumn being my favourite time of year, I've learned that I have to make most of my decorations to celebrate this beautiful season.  

I found this adorable toilet paper pumpkin at

What you’ll need:

  • 22″ x 22″ square of fall patterned cotton fabric
  • 1 Double Roll of Toilet Paper
  • 1 yard thin rope or paper cord
  • Batting 14″ by 14″ square {or paper towels or a plastic grocery bag can be substituted}
  • 1 brown paper grocery bag
  • Tape {hot glue can also be used}
  • 2 silk fall leaves

Lay out the fabric and batting. Place toilet paper roll in the middle.

*If you don’t have batting, you can substitute semi-crumpled up paper towels, or even plastic grocery bags to add texture.

Begin pulling up the fabric and tucking it down into the center of the toilet paper roll.

Once it has all been wrapped up, it will look like this…

Now, you’ll want to take a brown paper bag and cut out a section that is 12″ long by 4.5″ wide.

Roll it up and then tape it.

Take the rope or paper cord and twist around the “stem”. You can tape the ends of the cord, or hot glue it on. It will look like this…

Insert the ‘stem’ down into the middle of the toilet paper roll.
Add the two silk fall leaves, and you’re done!! So simple, and so adorable… for years to come!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thrift Shop Finds

As I've mentioned in a previous blog, my gang and I started volunteering at the local Thrift Shop.  One of the benefits of working there is that we get to see what comes in.  Being a weak person, I have very low resistance for a deal. Especially if it's something we can use around the house.  

Andrew and I discovered this CD rack for fifty cents.  It was originally supposed to be for him but he ended up deciding it would work best in the living room.

This was my take the last time I worked.  I am always on the lookout for baskets to use in my organizing.  I also found a vegetable grinder for $2.  The shoes were also $2 each (you know about my shoe fetish) and the tea cups were seventy five cents each.  I got the little dutch couple for $1.25.  Not Delfts Blue but still cute. The cookbook was thrown in.

Finally, the pièce de résistance.  This was unburied on the loading dock while we were sorting.  I snatched it up right away.  The chair set is in perfect condition and when I laid eyes on it I knew it would be just what we needed for our remodeled sun room.  It is amazingly comfortable and I think it was $10.00 well spent. 

I can't wait until next week.  I am still in search of a side table and lamp for the sun room...