Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Beautiful Fall Beach Day

Summer here in New Brunswick can be pretty icky with all the fog keeping everything cool and damp, but Autumn never disappoints with it's warm sunshine and brilliant colours.  As wonderful as Fall typically is, though, what we have enjoyed the past couple of days has been out-of-this-world amazing.  Holy heat, Batman!  With summer finally arriving, the boys and I took full advantage of such a beautiful afternoon and headed to the beach.  I must tell you, we got some pretty strange looks standing on the ferry with all of our beach gear in hand from our fellow ferry passengers.  Or were they looks of envy?

When we arrived at the beach, we were shocked to see that the only other beach dwellers that day were a sunbather, a reader, and this deer.

I don't know how this woman was able to keep her cool?  I would be freaking out if a deer insisted on hovering this close to me.

And he struck around for quite some time watching my boys swim and strolling the beach.

It was so bizarre!

But, eventually we grew tired of watching him, and the boys switched their attention to using their boogie boards as surf boards.

In spite of how cold the water was, the boys dove right in!

It's so strange to see all the fall colours in the background!

After the reader and the deer left, Elliot dried off and waged a secret seaweed attack on his unsuspecting brother in the water.  Muwahaha!


Here is Elliot declaring himself Lord Supreme over Gondola Point Beach:

After which, he turned and told me this was the best Phys. Ed. class ever!

I think he may be getting hooked onto homeschooling as well.

tee hee!

Monday, 26 September 2011

School Uniforms

In order to make the School of Shenanigans more official, we decided to come up with a school uniform.  Nothing says "official" like starched white collared shirts, button up jackets, and carefully pressed khaki's, right? Well, thank heavens we are not that "official".  Here at the School of Shenanigans we like to get dirty, we like to play sports, and we like to be comfortable. 

Oh, and matching always helps too:

1.  Clean underwear is a must.  Sure, many of you are thinking: "Well, isn't that obvious!".  Unfortunately, no, particularly with the seven and ten year old crowd.

2.  Students must wear their Patriots paraphernalia, preferably a new t-shirt recently purchased by two loving grandparents on a recent trip to Utah.  Thanks, nanny and grampy!  And, in spite of the disastrous outcome of yesterday's game, you must wear it with pride.

3.  All students need camouflage cargo pants because the camo comes in handy when you are either planning an ambush on unsuspecting visitors or you are trying to hide from your crotchety, old teacher at test time.  Surprisingly, this has not happened yet, but we still have 30 + weeks of school left so you never know.  Also, cargo pants have lots of pockets which are perfect for concealing weapons in if a mutiny is in the works (again, only a speculation), or for hiding treasured rocks, frogs, or cheat sheets.

tee hee!

I suppose I should confess now that these "uniforms" only happened by chance one morning last week.  In fact, the boys did not even realize they had dressed alike until I pointed it out after lunch, which makes me wonder what they do notice if anything at all.  Hmmmm . . . . something to ponder.

I hope you have a fantabulous, shenanigan-filled week!!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Wonderfully Hard

The problem with not blogging everyday is that my thoughts are scrambled with the million and one things I want to share with you.

 Hmmm . . .  where should I begin?

Well, how about where I left off.

Elliot was being miserable, and I was distraught and exhausted.

Sounds like a great beginning doesn't it?

Unfortunately, this carried on for the rest of our week, and by Friday afternoon, I was done.  I was ready to pull the plug, and take the easy route.  I felt discouraged because Elliot was, well, being Elliot, and I was spending so much time on lesson planning, teaching, cleaning up, and coaching Zoe's school soccer team that I was unable to even think about doing something for myself to unwind, like post on my beloved blog.  With a weary body and an even more weary spirit, I dragged my butt out of the house on Friday afternoon to attend the Regional Women's Conference for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in Halifax with a bunch of friends.  Although this was the last thing I wanted to do because the thoughts of exerting any more energy and leaving all my chores behind only to be completed later did not sound appealing, it turned out to be the best thing I could do.  With each town we passed along the highway, I could feel my spirit lifting as I became further and further away from the concerns I left behind at home.

Ahhh!  Freedom!!

I had forgotten just how wonderful it is to spend an evening with girlfriends eating, laughing, and sharing stories to the wee hours of the morning.  It was the boost I needed after such a long, difficult week.

But, it got even better.

Sitting in the Dartmouth Chapel with about 500 women, listening to a beautiful musical piece narrating the Savior's ministry and each of the women whose lives he touched and the uplifting talks given by the inspired female leaders of our Church, I was overwhelmed by feelings of peace, love and hope.  As I looked around the room, I was humbled by the sacrifices that many of the women had made to attend this conference, and I realized that I was not alone in my weariness, but, in particular, I realized I had very little to feel discouraged by compared to the women I sat amongst.  As I scanned the crowd, I saw dear friends who suffer from illnesses such as Parkinson's or cancer, women who had in their past or even very recently suffered the loss of a child, and women whose daily lives were made difficult through poverty or disabilities.  My heart wept for each of them, but what left the most lasting impression upon me was the smile on their faces, their acts of charity, and their displays of faith.  Life is hard, and although we cannot choose many of the circumstances we are placed in during this life, we can choose whether or not we will become discouraged by them or strengthened by them.
As I drove home late Saturday evening, I felt ready to face a new week. I was ready to put the smile back on my face, and to find the joy in this ridiculously hard, but wonderful path my life has recently taken.  And I became determined to turn it into something spectacular!

By no means, was our week perfect, and, in all honesty, I did lose my cool a couple of times, but, all in all, it turned out to be a winning week, quite literally!

To encourage positive attitudes and good behaviour, I started a competition between the boys and I.  Each time they do something notable, like beating their personal best in timed quizzes on math facts, or saying three instead of free (Avery),  or coming up with new homonyms for our homonym bug:

Isn't he cute?  Thanks, Andrea, for the idea :)

they get a point, but if they give me attitude, or act ridiculous when they are supposed to be working, or give me grief in any way, shape or form, I get points.  The winner at the end of the week gets to pick out a treat and the loser(s) have to pay for it. 

And you guessed it, by Friday afternoon, I was winning by 1 point!!  I thought this would be a perfect lesson for my boys to show them that I mean business and that they need to work really hard, but the unexpected happened and they pulled two points out of thin air at the last second.  I thought it was in the bag! It was Friday afternoon, their friends were expected to show up in just over an hour, and all that was left was Elliot's most dreaded subject, Language Arts.  It was a perfect storm!! I was all ready to savor the sweet taste of victory, a Charleston Chew bought by my boys, as we sat down for our last lesson of the week.  We were talking about possessive nouns and pronouns, when all of a sudden Elliot looks at me and squeals: "Cellar and Seller!  That's a homonym!"  And a very creative one, I might add, but he didn't ask for his point.  Hmmm . . . it seemed that he had forgotten about our little competition and had resigned himself to loserdom.  So, I didn't say anything.  I fully intended to give him his well-deserved point, but I wanted to see how the lesson would go without his mind on this incentive.  Much to my shock and delight, his upbeat mood continued throughout the entire lesson.  He was engaged, working really hard, and not complaining. Then after writing a paragraph on what his dream room would look like, complete with an army tank bed and an alarm clock that sounded like the blasts from the tank, he surprised me even more.  I told him he was done, and he pointed out there was an enrichment activity at the bottom of the page that he wanted to do.


Okay, where's the camera hidden?

But he was serious!

After he was finished his drawing of the room he had just carefully described, I announced that he had gained two points for his team. 

He was honestly shocked!

Avery, we won!!  We won!!

Their victory dance!

Their winnings!

(Groan . . . The Charleston Chew was almost mine)

Oh, well! There is always next week :)

And hopefully, more opportunities to blog.

Happy Weekend!!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

And Then There Are Days Like Today

 Well, yesterday, to be exact.

I knew it was coming.  He has done this to me every year since he has been in school.  From his first year in preschool when he sat on the stairs and refused to go in.  To his first year in Kindergarten, when he left his class, stood on his tiptoes peering into my classroom through the window in the door, and refused to leave until I took home.  Or the next year, when he refused to leave the after school program in spite of my pleas and the time.  Or last year, when we sat for four hours at the table on our deck waiting for him to complete the homework he adamantly refused to do.  What did I do in all those instances, the same thing I did yesterday.  I remained calm.  I told him what was expected, and allowed real world consequences to be his teacher.  In preschool, I left.  His teacher watched him and, when boredom finally set in, he joined the class.  In Kindergarten, I ignored him until he grew tired of standing at my door and returned to class.  In the after school program, I pretended to leave.  This one was really funny because Sharon, the after school leader, was in on it with me, and we did not tell him that I was in my classroom waiting the whole time.  After the last child left, she started to lock up.  Elliot looked up at and her and asked "what are we going to do"?  She said I have to go home.  Tears welled up in his eyes, and he exclaimed "I'm going to have to stay here and eat the garbage!".  At this moment, I walked out and he ran into my arms.  He never pulled that trick again.  Year after year, I have to show Elliot that in spite of what he may want, there are times when things just have to be done, and it is better to do them when you have the opportunity rather than to wait.
Yesterday, as he laid on the basement floor refusing to do his schoolwork, I simply told him that he could not do anything else until it was done.  I make it sound so easy, but inside, like all the other times, I was fuming and wanted nothing more than to beat him silly, but I didn't and I never do. I just went about the day like everything was normal, like there wasn't a little lump of a person laying around whining how unfair this world is.  So, no worries!  You don't have to call Social Services.  I did not hit him. I only thought about it  . . . tee hee!
And four hours later, after watching his brother complete his work, play with toys, and watch some cartoons, he caved and began to do his work.  By this time, I was busy doing the housework so he had to do it all on his own, and therefore, it took a lot longer than usual for him to complete it.  Rather than curling up on the couch to have me read a book about New Brunswick to him like I did for Avery earlier, he had to read it on his own and then be quizzed on what he learned.  When everything was finally done at 4pm, Elliot looked up at me, and exclaimed: "I will never do that again, Mommy!".
I know, dear. At least not until next year.
Last night, as I laid in bed telling Mr. Level-Headed all about the day's shenanigans and wondering why on earth Elliot acts so foolish, he came up with something profound.  He said "Elliot does it to test the boundaries, and to ensure that there are indeed boundaries there.  It makes him feel safe". 
Hello!  Light bulb moment!
That Mr. Level-Headed is so smart.  Of course!  Being the first year of his homeschooling experience, Elliot was probably questioning why he had to do it.  At school, there was the threat of going to the Principal's office, and so the fear of an authority figure was what compelled him to do his work.  It's like my boys thinking I don't speed out of fear of being caught by the police rather than a conscious decision on my part to be a cautious driver. Elliot had to learn that work is a natural part of our day, and there is no way around it.  Sure, you can choose to ignore it, but it never goes away, and the longer you wait to do it, the more work you create for yourself.  Life truly is the best teacher!
So, thanks to Mr. Level-Headed, after spending the entire day feeling discouraged and questioning my decision to homeschool, I drifted off to sleep feeling at peace with my decision and reminding myself that the most valuable things in this world are often the hardest things to do, or in this case, to raise . . . tee hee!
I love you Elliot!

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Birth of an Artist (or Two)

On Friday morning, I cracked open a new package of modelling clay and was immediately sent back to my childhood days of early Saturday morning art classes.  I love the smell of art rooms where clay and paint combine to form a unique mixture of earthy and chemical smells.  Mmmmmm!  Unlike my sister Hilary, who is a gifted artist, the smell seems to be the only thing I can remember from these classes  . . . tee hee!

Anyhoo, the boys were thrilled to finally get started on their art project!  They had carefully planned out what their statues were going to look like:



Then they dove into the clay. 

Is there any better feeling than kneading cool, malleable clay in your hands?  I just love art class!

Elliot's sculpture quickly took form:

but poor Avery, who is a terrible perfectionist, found the clay frustrating to work with because he couldn't get it to look just right.

Initially, he wanted his sculpture to sit on a chair,

but after that collapsed, he opted for something more durable, a bathtub:

tee hee!

Elliot's man turned out very cool!

Add a little detail:

and voila, you have a little British Grandfather.  I love him! 

Initially, his sculpture was supposed to carry a briefcase, as his picture suggested, but Elliot later decided it would make a better club.

So, I guess he is a caveman Grandfather . . . tee hee!

Then, because one art project is never enough, the boys and I made leaf rubbings after Avery and I read A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry.  Unbeknownst to me, this was Avery's first time doing a leaf rub.  My poor neglected baby!  I used to do all these little art projects with Zoe and Elliot when they were toddlers, but I guess life just became too busy once Avery was born.  Not anymore though. 

Now, it is his turn!

He thought I was so cool for coming up with this trick.  Kids can be the best boost to your ego!

We really are having a blast here at the School of Shenanigans, and I can't wait until Wednesday when the boys can finally paint their sculptures!   Mmmm . . . clay and paint . . . I can feel the memories rushing back already.  I am so blessed to have this opportunity to relive my childhood all over again.  Except this time around, I don't have to worry about being outshined by my artsy younger sister . . . tee hee!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Where Were You Ten Years Ago?

As I opened my Twitter account and scanned my favourite blogs this morning, I was bombarded with the same message: "where were you on 9/11?".

Where was I?

It's funny, like most people, I remember the day quite vividly.

It was my first day back at university, and it was a fantastic morning.  A move and a colicky baby had made for one miserable summer, and I was eager for the fresh start a new school year had to offer.  It was exhilarating, after months of consoling a super cranky Elliot and running after my super busy and very inquisitive three year old Zoe, to be finally out on my own once again and having adult conversations that centred upon books.  I sat in my best friend/mentor/prof, Sarah Maier's office drinking tea (pre-Mormon days) and making plans for my Honours thesis that was quickly approaching. It was delightful!! At noon, I practically skipped out of the university and into the front seat of our car, where Mr. Level-Headed was waiting to bring me home.  I hopped in, brimming with excitement and feeling engorged from being away from my little man for so long, but as I turned to Derrick about to bombard him with all my delightful impressions of the day, I froze.  Something was wrong.  Mr. Level-Headed, who always greets me with a smile and a "there's my beautiful girl" (I know, I am completely spoiled), simply asked "did you hear?".  Judging from the sullen look on his face, I immediately knew that whatever I had not heard was not going to be good.  Rather than tell me, he turned the radio back on and stared blankly at the dashboard. 

The Twin Towers have just been hit by an airplane!

I was shocked.  At that moment, fear permeated my body, and I demanded that he get me home to my babies.  For the first time in my life, I was speechless.  Our silence was eery, and the images running through my head were equally disturbing.

As we approached the babysitter's house, Mr. Level-Headed, always being the level-headed one, asked me to act like nothing had happened so as not to scare Zoe.  Luckily for him, I was so numb with fear that I was able to grant him this wish.  I greeted our sitter, the lovely Ms. Taryn Whipple, who by the way is an amazing babysitter if you are ever in need of one, and in one brief glance we silently shared our fears and our anxiety.  

How did the kids make out?

Yes, Zoe that is a lovely picture you drew. Let's help clean up now.

See you tomorrow!

And off we went. 

Having my babies securely fastened in the backseat of the car, I started to feel more in control and more at peace.  When we got home, we continued on with our charade like nothing had happened.  Mr. Level-Headed went back to work, and I nursed Elliot while Zoe played in our back yard.  I remember sitting there with the sun beating down on me, cradling Elliot in my arms, watching Zoe capture grasshoppers and thinking "what is this going to mean to them?".  "How is this going to change our life?".  "Will we now live in constant fear of external threats?".

That night, after I had bathed Zoe and put her to bed, we turned the television on and were inundated with the horrific images of the Twin Towers collapsing.  Bit by bit, reports were coming in and the story started to emerge.  We were introduced to phrases that would quickly become all too familiar to us like: the Taliban, Bin Laden, 9/11, and so on.  As Mr. Level-Headed sat on the couch with Elliot curled up on his chest, I swept.  I swept and swept.  It was all I could do to keep myself from falling apart.  Sweeping my floor made me feel like I was doing my part to put the world back in order.  Crazy? Yes!  OCD? Yes!  But, I kept on sweeping.  All of sudden, our once impermeable nation had become vulnerable, and I did not know how to handle it.

What will be attacked next?

Could the Point Lepreau Nuclear station become a target?

Are we going to war?

Will Derrick have to go?

and so on and so on. 

So, where was I on 9/11?

As it turned out, I, thankfully, was encircled within a protective bubble.  9/11 did not have a direct impact on me or my family.  Nothing changed for us.

Life went on as usual.  Elliot remained colicky, Zoe continued to be inquisitive, Mr. Level-Headed was level-headed, and I?  Well, I carried on sweeping . . . and still do.  The world is chaotic, and our lives, at times, are even more chaotic, but each night I sweep up the pieces of my day, sift through each moment in an attempt to capture the most precious, the most touching, the most interesting and the most uplifting instances and sweep them into a nice, neat pile, where I carefully gather them in and turn them into something beautiful . . . something orderly . . . something tangible,
my blog. 
This is where I make sense of my life.  This is how I put the world back into order . . . one story at a time.

And, thankfully, 9/11 isn't one of my stories.

Our thoughts and prayers here at Shenanigans Inc.go out to all those families whose stories, unfortunately, were touched by the events of 9/11. 

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Homeschooling Perks

I'm hooked on homeschooling!

It truly has been an amazing week.

No, it has not been perfect.  And yes, I have had to deal with uncooperative moods and the occasional melt down, but it has been fun and I am confident that I am doing what is best for my boys.

The best part is that I finally get the chance to do all the things I want to do with my kids, but could not seem to find time for in the day while they were in school.  First of all, reading books with my kids has always been very important to me, but I find that just before bedtime, which is the only time we could seem to fit it in, is never good because after a long day of hands-on parenting and high-maintenance kids, I am stumbling around feeling shell-shocked from the day's events and want nothing more than to crawl in amongst the coziness of my plush duvet.  Ahhhh . . . sweet refuge!  Needless to say, our bedtime stories are often rushed through or skipped entirely.  Also, I found it very difficult to stick with a lengthy chapter book because at this time of day, I never had the patience to read more than one chapter at a time, which makes the whole process of finishing a novel too lengthy and causes the kids to become disinterested.

But now!

Oh, how wonderful it has been.

Each morning, we take a snack break, curl up on the couch, usually under a blanket, and read a couple of chapters from "The Inventions of Hugo Cabret".  The boys are loving it, and I love hearing them talk about it throughout the day.

I wonder who the old man is?

Yikes!  I wonder if he is his father?

No, I doubt it, but I don't believe his father died in that fire.

Do you think we could make an automaton?

Hmmm . . . perhaps.

This is what reading literature is all about.  It is about being lost in the world it creates, becoming intellectually engaged with the characters, and marvelling at the spin off of ideas that erupt from it.

This is what I wanted to teach my boys this year.

Second of all, when my kids were little, we loved going on field trips. Often, we would jump on a bus and head up town to see what we could discover.  Unfortunately, that all ended when school schedules, homework, and extra-curricular activities began to dictate our life.  All of a sudden there was no more time for spontaneous adventures, which is really sad because the older your kids get the more fun these expeditions can be. Well, yesterday, this is exactly what the boys and I did.  Okay, minus the spontaneous part because, yeah, I am no longer that cool and I very much like an itinerary.  Since we are taking the first month of our Social Studies class to learn about Canada, I decided to dedicate this month's art lesson to the study of Canadian artists, and the first one that comes to my mind is John Hooper.  This was really exciting for the boys because they used to go to school with John Hooper's grandson and they were familiar with his statues.   But yesterday, unlike past trips to Market Square, we did not simply walk by them and say "Oh, Sam's Grampy made those!", we took the time to look at them, to touch them, and to talk about them.  Tomorrow, we are even going to try our hand at making similar statues with clay.  I am so excited!!

Although Elliot did not feel up to having his picture taken with the sculptures like his younger brother, the ham, he was intrigued by this lesson and talked non-stop about what he thought was going through Mr. Hooper's mind while making these statues, why he thought Mr. Hooper chose to sculpt with wood, and the possible stories you could make up about each of the sculptures.  Hmmm . . . perhaps we have a little artist on our hands.

The boys surmise that this statue is waiting for his wife because he is holding flowers.  Awww!  They are going to be fantastic husbands someday.  They were also intrigued when I told them that up until a few years ago this statue was a security guard and used to hold a walkie-talkie in his hand rather than the flowers.  I went onto explain that the Hooper family decided to change his identity since he was taking a lot of abuse from delinquent passersby.  Ha! Ha!

So, in spite of my evenings spent making lesson plans and my afternoons spent making sure the boys, who have spent the entire day together, do not kill one another, it is these moments that are going to make our homeschooling year so memorable and oh, so very enjoyable!



Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Our Back to School Feast

The first day of school has always been a big deal for us here at Shenanigans Inc., but over the past two years we have taken it up a notch.  What was once a simple cake and a belting out of  "Happy School Days to You" (sung to the tune of Happy Birthday) has become a full-blown feast thanks to one of my favourite bloggers Nie Nie.  She has the best ideas, and I love stealing them!

The first thing I had to do was figure out the evening's menu, and this took some time because I knew it had to be something special but also something that could be whipped up between our homeschool lessons and piano lessons.  Well, I did it, and, thankfully even though it was not lobster as Elliot had requested, the kids were thrilled.  Everything was made from scratch except for the mozzarella sticks, which I bought from M&M Meats.

The kids did not find out what I was making until they read their menus.

Then I had to come up with our theme for the year.  This year I chose a quotation from the book "Stand For Something" by Gordon B. Hinckley, one of the past presidents of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

"Work is the miracle by which talent is brought to the surface and dreams
become reality . . . The process of stretching our minds and utilizing the skills of our hands lifts us from the stagnation of mediocrity.”
-President Gordan B. Hinckley

I chose this quotation because 1) I love the line: "stagnation of mediocrity".  Doesn't that just make you want to get up off the couch and do something with your life?  LOVE IT!  And 2) because Mr. Level-Headed and I always stress to our kids that God has blessed them each with unique talents and it is their responsibility to seek them out and to nurture them.  I also love how this quotation points out that talent is only part of the recipe, and that you need to work hard to get what you want in this life.  Dreams can come true if you are willing to put the work into it.  Yes, us Mormons do believe that life can be all sunshine and unicorns.  Aren't we annoying?  Tee hee!

Then I found some scriptures to enhance our theme.

“Neglect not the gift that is in thee . . .”
(1 Tim 4:14)

“For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.”
(D&C 46:11)

“Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known”
(D&C 60:13)

And proudly displayed it as our centre-piece.

Okay, do you love my candelabra or what?  Funny story:  When I was a little girl, I went on a shopping trip with my Allie (my mom's mom), and I begged her to buy this candelabra. She asked, "Krista, what am I ever going to do with it?".  To which, I responded: "Use it for our Christmas dinners, and when you die, give it to me because I really want it!".  As a testament of just how awesome my Allie was and how much she really loved me, she did buy it, and sure enough, when she passed away, it became mine.  Thanks, Allie!  I miss you.

Anyhoo (as I wipe away my tears . . . sorry about that) . . .

I also made smaller versions of our theme, laminated them, and gave one to each of the kids as keepsakes for the year.  I am such a geek! 

Although the theme is always my highlight of the evening, the kids' highlight was having their very own can of pop!

Even Zoe was excited for our feast to begin!

Beautiful like her mama . . . I can't stop myself!

Poor Avery was having a hard time waiting for Mr. Level-Headed to finally sit down and offer a blessing on our meal.

In spite of my countless attempts to make this a fancy affair with civilized discussion, there were plenty of shenanigans going on at the table

A little chicken drippings in one's hair never hurts . . .
What am I going to do with these two?!

Finally, it was time for dessert.  Zoe had made the cake the night before, and Avery decorated it.  I have the best kids!

Mmm  . . . rainbow cake.

Then Avery provided the accompaniment to "Happy School Days":

Really?  Is it too much to ask for just one night of civility?

tee hee!

Here's to another fantabulous school year from your friends at Shenanigans Inc.!

Happy school year to you . . . cha cha cha

Happy school year to you . . . cha cha cha

Happy school year

Happy school year

Happy school year to you  . . . cha cha cha!