Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Little Helpers

A few months ago, I rearranged our kitchen set-up and moved the dishes to a lower cabinet, easily accessible to little people. The silverware has moved, too, because its former location was squished between the stove and the dishwasher. Now, this is what I see when it's time to unload the dishwasher:

The bigger kids take turns with silverware and dishes, which are Corelle Vive Enhancements (I never thought I'd intentionally buy Corelle, but practicality trumps almost everything when you have small children). They were a huge improvement over our former big box store stoneware dishes (SO heavy, and SO ugly!), and we managed to find 52 pieces -- 12 open stock plates (2 sizes), bowls (2 sizes), and 4 serving dishes  -- for just over $100 with a sale and a coupon code. We've had them for three years, and no regrets! Only one bowl has broken in that time. Sometimes, tile wins... We don't have to keep extra children's dishes, because they are light and durable enough for even a toddler to use. Which is good news, considering that Laddie likes to "help out." That makes my heart skip a beat, partly because he's tottering across the kitchen with our dishes, partly because it's absolutely adorable.

 I'd been wanting to include the littles in more of the household chores, and this was just the ticket. Such a simple adjustment, with such great results.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Success and Failure

This was a success -- leftover steak sliced up, fried in a cast iron skillet with some red onion and smothered in Trader Joe's bacon cheddar. Served over half a naan with some fresh spinach. 

But for every success there is a failure -- and this failure was particularly painful! I realized several inches into the patterning of my White Pine Cardigan that I'd made a mistake with the cabling (I've never read from a chart before...). I decided to go back and repair, rather than rip out. It was kind of exciting to realize that I can now rip out just a few stitches and repair them, rather than frogging back most (or all!) of the project, as I would have had to do when I first started knitting. Then, as I was finishing up the cable repairs, I realized that I had COMPLETELY messed up both side panels. Rather than the seed stitch pattern, I was doing ribbing. It looked awful, and the seed stitch is one of the "features" of this particular cardigan. I was even less thrilled about frogging back all of my pattern work (so many cables!), and decided to tear out just the side panels. This actually "kind of" worked -- I used double-point needles, and had some success with this method. 

But this is a naturally twisty yarn, and by the time I reached the end of each row the yarn was quite taut. Add to that the difficulty of correct tension over such a long section, and it was really just not right. Blocking might help, but then again, it might not. Of course, I only decided this after I had repaired both sections... So after hours of extensive "time-saving" repairs, I frogged back to the beginning of the pattern work. *sigh* 

Fortunately, all of that practice has paid off, and things are going much better now. I'm actually further along now than I was in the "repair" picture above. Quite honestly, I feel that a lot of the problems I've had are due to the way the pattern is written. I actually copied it into a Word document and split up each step, because it's all sort of mushed together in the original pattern, with no clear divisions between steps. There are fewer stitch counts than I've ever seen (which I find very helpful to see if I'm on the right track), and lots of "continue in pattern" when it's not exactly clear what the new pattern is. You're not even told if the first decrease is on the right or the wrong side of the garment! I've spent so much time just puzzling over the pattern (even my revised copy). Right now I'm repairing the seed stitch section (AGAIN!), because I don't like the way the decreases turned out (admittedly, I didn't slip-slip-purl correctly) and I've decided to omit them altogether rather than risk wonky side panels. Hopefully it won't turn out too boxy. I really love this pattern, but between the extensive twisted ribbing and the confusing directions, I'm a bit disappointed. Perhaps I'll feel better once it's done!

Success and failure. There's a balance, I suppose?

Thursday, September 15, 2016


We're now into our second week of "big kid school," as my not-so-big littles like to call it. They were unbelievably thrilled to start "formal" education. Little Man started reading lessons last June, but this is The Real Thing. 

This year will be especially laid back. We sit down together every weekday, but that's primarily because my children would be inconsolable otherwise -- there was almost a mutiny when I explained that we don't do school on Saturdays! We do our work in the early afternoon, because that's when Laddie takes his nap. It's more peaceful that way, even though I'd prefer to have everything done in the morning. 

Now that he's graduated from 100 Easy Lessons, Little Man and I are going through the 1st McGuffey reader (My mom passed on the volumes that I used to read as a child). Somehow I overlooked the primer, but he seems to be handling the 1st reader quite well. We'd encountered some difficulties back in June/July, but fortunately a little break seems to have helped with that. It's been very low stress, and he is gaining confidence with his reading. 

These Melissa and Doug pattern blocks are a new favorite, and I'm using them as a substitute for the manipulative set for Saxon K. I probably should have started with the first grade Saxon curriculum, because Little Man has already mastered many of the concepts -- but we'll focus on the material that's new to him and probably finish the book early.  

Rosa has been showing interest in and aptitude for reading, so we have now started 100 Easy Lessons together -- so far, so good! If the going gets tough, we'll take a step back; she's not quite four yet, so there is no rush!  But as long as she is enjoying it and is mastering the concepts, we will keep going. 

This is what helps me through the (rare) moments when I'm not assisting or giving instructions -- I saw that Ginny does the same, and realized that Yes! Lessons are the perfect time to pull out some knitting. I can usually get out at least two rows during our sit-down session (about an hour in length, I would estimate). Every little bit counts!

Also, the Bible verse sheets (above) have been super helpful. I have a "master checklist" with a checkbox, the verse reference, and the first few words of the verse/passage (mostly for my benefit, if I'm having trouble remembering which verse is which!). There are also empty slots so I can fill in new verses by hand as we add them. Once we memorize a verse, I check it off. I can see at a glance how many we've done. Also, I printed all of our current verses out (in a large font for easy reference), because it's far easier than flipping through a Bible every time we review.

Rosa is doing "preschool" by default, because there is no way I could leave her out -- classic little sibling! Most of her work so far has been some letter-drawing practice and simple worksheets (I love, which has a plethora of worksheets that you can customize!). She adores them -- no matter how many I give her, she always asks if there are more. I'm really not much into "busywork" or worksheets, but at this point it keeps her occupied and she is at least getting some practice with shapes, letters, colors, etc. I've noticed that her coloring has improved already.

History and science will be very relaxed this year -- I plan to teach some basic American history/geography, and a few scientific ideas like the solar system, water cycle, differences between mammals/reptiles/etc. I'll be using story books from our collection or the local library as much as possible for those.

And that's it! No complicated lesson plans, no expensive curriculum. The amount of planning on my part will certainly increase as my children grow up, but right now it's pretty basic. I would estimate that I've spent less than $50 on all of our educational materials for the year (that may increase if we move on to Saxon 1 before the end of the year), and much of that was spent on materials that will be re-used for Rosa and Laddie in the future.

I was nervous about starting this year, which turned out to be a ridiculous fear. It's Kindergarten, Shannon, not rocket science. Every day that goes by I gain confidence and come up with new ideas for this year (or next year!). Also, I am fully convinced that children benefit greatly from imaginative play, time spent outside, and the like. Even though we have our little lessons together, I feel like they are learning just as much from building with Legos or the little conversations that we have together throughout the day. We always have an audio book/drama on in the car (usually Narnia! I should probably expand our collection...), and that alone has done wonders for their imagination and comprehension. If by the end of the year their love for learning is as strong as it is right now, and we've learned a few concepts along the way, I'll consider the year a success!

Sunday, August 21, 2016


We discovered it still clinging to its larval husk, soft verdant wings fluttering in the breeze. It took a few tentative steps, while a chorus of cicadas droned in the background (they rarely let up). 

I'll admit, cicadas do not really make it on to my "bugs that don't gross me out" list -- which is limited to ladybirds, fireflies, roly-polies, sugar ants, and butterflies -- but what a chance to marvel at the result of an amazing metamorphosis! I even had a bit of a workout from lifting up my ever-heavier children to see it...

How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!     Psalm 92:5

Friday, August 19, 2016

Around the House

Summer has brought a bustle of activity out-of-doors!

All things bright... 

Two vines on the side of our house had been cut back during the removal of
some fencing -- only in the spring did they start to grow back. Lo and behold!
Wisteria! And even more surprising were a few late-summer blooms.

...and beautiful,

I have never seen so many varieties of mushrooms and fungi! This one is growing
at the base of an oak tree along the sidewalk.

All creatures great...

This boy still loves his Robin Hood bow and uses it regularly! And miraculously he
still has most of the arrows...

...and small.

The birds are singing, the cicadas are buzzing away, and there's even a tiny green pepper on our pepper plant. Though I'll be able to enjoy the outdoors a little more actively when it cools down a bit!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Up a Creek

A rather impromptu stop on our trip was a little park just off the Appomattox river -- as soon as I saw photos of it, I wanted to go! It's been ages since I've visited a real, "live" creek, and the prospect of going without a small child strapped to my body (and several more in tow!) was too much to pass up. 

And I'm glad we didn't pass it up. I've complained about the heat twice already, so I won't whine about it again (but it was hot! Goodness, was it hot!). But in the shade of the trees, walking along banks that can only be described as "verdant," it was still lovely. Best of all, there were a few large rocks jutting out in the stream -- a perfect photo op.

There is something about the sound of running water. I desperately wanted to hop in!

So many wildflowers! I didn't expect there to be so many in the midst of a July heat wave. Purple, yellow, orange, white. Here's just one of them, singled out for its delicate shape and adorable speckles:

I could look at this all day. Which reminds me that I desperately need to find something like this a little closer to home -- I can only imagine how much the short people would enjoy splashing around in a creek like this!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ye Olde Historical Jaunt -- Agecroft Hall

During a recent getaway, my husband and I visited Agecroft Hall in Richmond. Ever since I came across it while doing vacation research, I'd been so eager to see it for myself. An English Tudor manor dismantled and then rebuilt in Richmond in the 20's? Yes, please! 

And a lovely visit it was, in spite of the sweltering heat. We had the tour guide all to ourselves, and she was so friendly! The house was not reconstructed exactly as it was in England (it's now a "mere" 20,000 sq. ft. instead of the original 60,000), but it was built with the original timbers, hardware, and even windows. 

Pablo has never been to England, and it's been almost a decade for me -- so it was a delight not only to experience it myself but also to share a bit of Britain with him. I am quite determined that he will fall in love with England! Whether he wants to or not... *wink*

But really, what's not to love? I wish I could share photos of the inside, but you can find a few on their website or a Google search. So, so lovely! The house is filled with gorgeous period antiques, though the library is set up as it would have been when the original owners lived there. There was even a portrait of Lancelot Andrewes, a gentleman I seem to have been "stalking" since my college days -- first studying him because of his influential role in the translation of the King James Bible, then later stumbling across his tomb (not literally, fortunately!) in Winchester cathedral while visiting Jane Austen's final resting place. And now, an original portrait of the gentleman in Richmond, of all unlikely places.

The grounds were also beautiful! I'd love to come back again in cooler weather -- both Fall, and Spring, I think, to enjoy the particular beauties of each of those seasons. 

Here's the lovely oriel window in the library  -- I am amazed that so many of the original windows (including a massive window with stained glass) survived the dismantling, Atlantic journey, and re-assembly!

So if you're craving a bit of England and a jaunt across the Atlantic is not an option, perhaps you can make it to Richmond -- if you do, let me know, because I'm looking for another excuse to visit!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Demolished, Petersburg style

It had been far, far too long since Pablo and I had taken time for just the two of us. Almost three years, to be exact (and that trip had been the first since we got married back in January of 2010!). And in that time we've dealt with the loss of a child, the birth of another, a long-distance and short-distance move, and a military deployment (our first -- and so glad that it's over with!). It was high time for us to get away. My parents and sister came to the rescue and happily undertook the task of keeping our rambunctious children alive for a few days! 

With no particular destination in mind (but not wanting to venture too far away), we settled on Petersburg, VA. Mostly because we found an amazing eclectic loft on AirBnB. Old town Petersburg is... being revitalized, to put it nicely. But the parts that have been revitalized are great! My favorite? Hands down, Demolition Coffee. I'm not sure how it earned its name, but I can assure you that it demolished any modicum of self-restraint I had in the hot-sugary-beverages department.

Seriously, the best coffee/breakfast/lunch place I have ever tried. And it's not just the super hip interiors swaying my judgment. Okay, maybe just a little. But really, take a look at this:

This is the "Short Fuse." Yes, all of their food choices have cute names like that. Sandwich, chips, and pickle right? Just "homemade" chips, and a sandwich oozing with crispy bacon, caramelized onions, tomato mayo, and fresh lettuce. See the toasty marks on the bread? I'm salivating just remembering it! 

The outside is just as amazing as the inside:

When I ordered a chai tea latte "to stay," this is what came out -- the cup was huge, too, which I was very grateful for as soon as I tasted it! I would have preferred bottomless, but huge was sufficient.

No way was I hip enough for this place -- pretty sure I could not attain this kind of hip-ness even if I had a beard (which I don't, in case you're wondering). I had to try their pumpkin spice latte, because why not, and was astounded to find that it (A) tasted like real pumpkin and (B) was not sickeningly sweet. I love me some Starbucks, but this was the real deal. We ate there four times in three days, if that's any indicator...

And here's a little peek at the loft, too -- the entire place was an eclectic mix of exposed conduit, painted brick, distressed wood, and dental office fixtures (it was a dentist's office in a past life).

I'll share some of our other adventures in the next few days, but please -- do yourself a favor and find an excuse to go to Petersburg so you can go to Demolition Coffee. You can thank me later, 'kay?