Thursday, March 31, 2011

Break-time

The morning wasn't too unusual, except for the fact that Helen didn't come to our bed until 6:00. By the time I got talked out of bed, it was after 7:00 and four children were awake. At 9:30 the four girls and Grace and I left, I dropped Marie, Katie, and Helen off at Tots, took Grace to the doctor, then took Grace home, then went back to Tots until it finished. And then...

A friend had asked me to come over today to help her put together a stool from Ikea, and since I was coming, to have lunch with her as well. That was already quite an anticipated treat. Then when Elisabeth and I arrived, we discovered that we were getting even more of a treat than expected: Barbie took us out to eat in a restaurant! I have actually been out to eat in a restaurant with just my husband (or just my husband and the youngest child) several times in the last 13 1/2 years, but this is the first time I can ever remember eating out with another friend and no children (Elisabeth was asleep at first, so didn't count), so it was quite a novel experience. Sitting at such a small table, not having to read the menu out loud, only looking for my own food--all cool. Elisabeth did eventually wake up and ate some of my rice and some chips (french fries, that is, or actually potato wedges, I guess--nice, thick ones made from real potatoes) that the owner gave her.

And then...after we finished eating, we kept sitting there, and talking! Finishing whole sentences and everthing! Just enjoying the warm breeze (we were sitting outside), laughing at Elisabeth playing with other customers, and just...sitting. THAT was the most novel part of it all. Wow. Amazingly, my children are actually pretty well-behaved in restaurants most of the time (I suspect because it's such a rare treat to eat out), but we do know when to leave, and that is SOON after finishing eating.

Just as we arrived back at Barbie's place, Jörn called to ask if I'd be home soon. Um...well, we hadn't actually started putting the stool together yet. So we did that, quick and easy (I do enjoy putting together Ikea furniture!), and I headed home. What a cool break in the middle of my day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Greek

I really do want to learn Greek. It's made challenging in general here by the fact that virtually everybody speaks English. (Most of the people I've met who don't speak English don't speak Greek, either, or at least, not more than I do.) Added to that the fact that I'm surrounded by English-speakers (and one German-speaker) and don't really get out much, and it's kind of amazing that I've learned any Greek at all.

Before we moved to Cyprus I did a few lessons on-line, which meant that when we arrived, I could point to a table and say with confidence in Greek, "This is a table!" and to a window and say, "That is a window!" But not a whole lot more. I learned the alphabet from a book and learned some greetings and a few more nouns from Greek speakers at Tots and Co.. After we'd been here for a few months, we took four or five private lessons as a family, but that wasn't really effective for me, as I was already "so far ahead" of the others, nor for the others, because they weren't that interested, and although it wasn't too expensive for what we were getting, it wasn't too good for our budget.

Finally, in October of our first year here (so nine months after moving to Cyprus), I was able to start a beginning Greek course subsidized by the government. An hour and a half each lesson, once a week, from October to May, excluding all sorts of holidays and of course Christmas and Easter vacations of two weeks each, so I think about 25 lessons, in all. I missed the first two classes because I was sick, but as the first six or so weeks were spent learning to read, that didn't matter. Then I missed five lessons while we were in the U.S. and Germany for my parents' anniversary (and my brother's wedding and a bunch of birthdays and visiting lots and lots and LOTS of people), but it turned out to be disappointingly easy to catch up. (Disappointing because it meant that the class was moving VERY slowly.) At the end of the class I got a lovely certificate that I can read out loud but don't understand, which says, I assume, that I completed the first level of Greek.

Then in September I got the news that there were going to be new classes starting, sponsered by the European Union, and that they would be completely free of charge. (The previous class was something like €45, which for 25-ish lessons isn't bad, but free is of course nicer!) Andrea and I went to sign up, with the idea that at least from October until the end of March, she'd be available to babysit during my class. They weren't sure exactly when the classes would start, and we waited and waited. I wasn't sure I'd be able to manage the second level class anyway, as I was going to miss another five weeks with yet another trip to the U.S. (this time for my sister's wedding and my mother's birthday and Thanksgiving and visiting lots, but not lots and LOTS, of people). However, the classes didn't start and didn't start.

At the end of December I finally decided to get serious with the free, on-line Greek course, and talked Marie and Jörn into joining me. We didn't do too badly at first, doing the first three lessons in the last three days of December, and finishing the first 15 lessons by the end of January. We only managed five lessons in the whole month of February, and then the speakers quit working. I got new speakers for my birthday, but we've only listened twice this month, and one of those times was repeating lesson 20. So no longer quite so impressive, although we are pleased to be able to recognize some improvement.

And now, on Monday, the 28th of March, a mere six months after registering for the free program, I received a text message telling me to appear at a certain school on Wednesday, the 30th of March, at 7:30 p.m., to discuss times for the class and to take a placement test. So, this evening, I showed up. The good thing was that the teacher spoke almost entirely in Greek. The problem was that it was veryveryfastandIhardlyunderstoodaword. Nobody else understood either, though, so she did finally explain the paperwork in English. And then she gave us the test paper. No explanations, nothing in any language except Greek. Which I do think is good, but MAN was that difficult!! I'm really hoping that the idea of this test was not to ace it, but to be able to do enough of it to be in the level 2 course. If I have to go back to the beginning course and spend another month reviewing the alphabet, I know that I won't even bother.

Most of the test was matching or multiple choice, and it wasn't made in such a way that it was possible to fill in the answers without understanding anything. (That is why I don't speak any French although I got an A in the one semester of French I took in college: the tests were, first of all, anything but comprehensive, and second, had all the answers within them. So, for example, if one question said to translate "The cat is in the box" into French, another page was sure to have a picture of a cat in a box to match up to the sentence "The cat is in the box." With no motivation to study, I spent the whole semester in the back of the class chatting in Spanish with an exchange student from Spain, who also got an A and also didn't learn any French.) One section was someone describing his house, and then there was a list of statements that we had to mark as true or false. But, for example, where in the paragraph it said "the kitchen is large", the statement referring to the kitchen said "the kitchen is not small." So far so good. (Or not...I left some blank, rather than guess wildly, since the point wasn't to try to get a high score, but show what I actually know.)

The last section, however, was an essay question. Always my favorite in high school, because, depending on the teacher, I could sometimes waffle on for ages and never answer the question but still get a good grade because at least what I wrote was semi-coherent and spelled correctly, etc. (That didn't work with EVERY teacher, but I certainly knew with which ones.) But that was in ENGLISH! For this one, there were two choices. At least it was easy to decide, because I didn't understand at all what the first choice was. The second one, however, was to write a letter to a friend telling about what I do on the weekend. 80 to 100 words. After I'd written everything I could think of (carefully starting with "How are you? I'm fine!" so as to get in four words ("how are you" is only two words in Greek), I counted up, and I only had 43 words!

Then as I started to write again, my cell phone rang. I could just barely hear Marie's voice telling me that Elisabeth was NOT happy, which was pretty obvious, since that was the reason I couldn't hear Marie. I suggested that Jörn bring her to me, and sat down to write some more, this time looking through the reading comprehension questions to get some more ideas of verbs to use, and adding in some things I don't do. I was getting close to finished when I heard some wailing, and Jörn walked in with Elisabeth. She was not interested in nursing, she was just plain furious with me. After she yelled in my face for a minute or two (yes, I did go outside with her for the sake of the other students!), she quieted down, and just sat on my lap while I finished up.

The classes start next week, twice a week. A couple of friends have said that they're willing to babysit if Jörn isn't here, but I'm not sure what to do with Elisabeth either way. If we'd started last autumn, she would have been sleeping most of the time and not mobile anyway, and everyone would have been used to her by the time she got a little more active, but taking her with me starting now would probably be a huge distraction. I'm thinking of taking Marie with me, to go out with Elisabeth when she wants to play, but then Jörn (or a babysitter) has to put the little ones to bed without Marie's help, which isn't much fun.

I really do want to learn Greek, but I'm not willing to make Elisabeth miserable with it. We'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Page 56

There's one of those games or whatever they're called going around Facebook (again), which I didn't intend to participate in publically, but did try to privately. It says to pick up the book nearest to you, turn to page 56, and copy down the fifth sentence.

First attempt: A Fruitcake Christmas only has 24 pages, and they're not even numbered. No page has five sentences. I don't particularly care for this book (I'm being nice), but Helen loves it. She read it out loud to her doll today. "Iggy and Ziggy! Bah-humbugga!"

Attempt number two: A slightly longer book, Little Bear's Trousers, has 32 pages. They're not numbered either, but I really like this book, as well as the other Little Bear books by Jane Hissey. A Welsh friend in Germany gave them to Marie when she was little, and I even knitted (without a pattern--I was so proud of myself!) a pair of trousers (if they're red and for a bear, they're trousers, not pants, no matter what my nationality) for one of Marie's bears at her request. Lots of warm fuzzies associated with this book. But no page 56.

Third book: Charlie Needs a Cloak. 30 pages. But I love Tomie dePaola's illustrations, and the sheep totally crack me up all through the book, trying to get their wool back.

I had to lean a bit to get the fourth book, but didn't actually get up: The Cat in the Hat. The first book with numbered pages, AND it has a page 56! But no words on that page.

Fifth book: Alas, Goodnight Moon doesn't have 56 pages either. This copy is just about to disinigrate and has been repaired several times. The year Marie was born (1997) was the 50th anniversary of the publication of this book, so four different people gave this book to Marie when she was born. My grandma wrote in the copy she gave Marie, and put her trademark dragonfly stamp in it, so that copy is kept up and safe. I kept one of the others to be read and chewed on, and gave away the other two copies.

For a moment there, I thought book number six was going to be a winner: all the small poems and fourteen more has 194 pages, but again, no text on page 56. This is the poetry book with Sonlight Core 5, and I imagine one is supposed to get all sorts of deep and cool meaning out of it. I would have quit reading it to Marie and Jacob after the first week or two, but they think it is great fun to take turns reading poems out loud with the funniest dramatic and profound voice they can muster. So we do that.

Book number seven: Teeny Tiny Farm doesn't even still have all of it's original pages--there are 16 left, which does not include the front cover, so I'm not 100% sure of the title. I know the back cover was sighted earlier today, but I may have thrown it away already, since I decided that as much as Marie and I enjoyed this book when she was a toddler, there's no really good reason to keep its remaining shreds.

Finally! It took eight tries, but here's my sentence: "Abraham had a very large family and though he had no money, he was rich." Very cool. (I'll just ignore the next sentences that go on to say that he was rich because of all his sheep and goats and pretend that the author meant what he said in just the one sentence! That is known as "taking it out of context", but it suits my purposes. :-) )

I can reach two more books from where I'm sitting, and one of them does have more than 56 pages AND has text on page 56, but my main conclusion is that we need to get better at getting Helen to put the books away that she takes out!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy 41st anniversary to my parents

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad! These photos are from last year, when they took all of their children and Co. (a grand total of 21 people) to Disneyland for three days to celebrate their 40th anniversary. I hope the 41st is as much fun but more peaceful! :-)
The first day, in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle.

They obediently wore their customized ears, family reunion buttons, and anniverary buttons all three days.

Mom does not exactly like the teacups, to put it mildly, but when Katie asked her, she hopped right on.


Cute.

Jacob looks happy enough, not so sure about Mom and Dad behind him!

Another ride just for Katie, but a lot tamer than the Teacups or Space Mountain.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

more funnies from children's talk

Helen is at the perfect age to provide most of the funny words and mispronunciations and misunderstandings in our house, although she's not the only one. This morning there was a great conversation between Helen and Lukas. At 8:00 I had to go to the airport to pick up Grace, a lady who will be staying in our guest flat for the next month, and since Elisabeth, Helen, and Lukas were all awake, I took them all with me. Helen was quite excited when I said I was going to the airport, and she wanted to go on an airplane as well. I said no, we're going to pick someone up. So then she asked if we were going to pick up Andrea (who was with us from September until the middle of December, and then from the middle of January until three weeks ago, and also visited last year in March/April, so that's three times we've picked her up at the airport), and after she got over the disappointment that we weren't, she asked if we were getting Evie (who stayed with us for three weeks in February), and then asked about Abuelita and Abuelito (my host parents from Costa Rica who were here for three weeks in October/November last year). Finally she said again, "HELEN go in airplane." When I asked her where she was going to go, she said, "The airplane go to the ore-port." She says "airplane" just fine, but says "ORE-port."

In the car then, Lukas tried to get her to say airport correctly.

Lukas: Say AIRport, Helen!
Helen: OREport!
L: Say air...
H: Air...
L: ...port.
H: ...port.
L: Airport.
H: Oreport.
L: The airplane...
H: The airplane...
L: ...goes to...
H: ...goes to..Ikea!

Lukas and I totally cracked up and Helen and Elisabeth joined in the laughing without having a clue why. She never did say airport.

Back at the house, chatting with Grace, Grace commented that one of the children had beautiful eyes, then another, and finally said, "You're all good-lookers!" Marie and Jacob were both still in bed, and Lukas said, with a very wise-sounding voice, "Wait 'till you meet my brother!" Jörn, Grace, and I of course all laughed at that, and then I tried to find out if Lukas meant "wait until you see how good-looking HE is," or if he meant "wait until you see him, then you'll know we're not ALL so good-looking." However, Lukas was really confused about why we were laughing, and I really only got as far as understanding that he had never heard the term "good-looker" before I realized that he was starting to feel like we were all laughing at him, so I dropped it. I never did find out what he had understood or exactly what he meant, but that didn't stop it being funny.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

today, and Re: yesterday's post

It's funny how I can forget something that, even if it might not be all that dramatically important, WAS something that I specifically had thought was cool when I first knew it. Anyway, I was reminded that the official name of Tots is "Tots and Co", to make it clear that it's not just for moms!

A friend of mine commented that when that invisible wall goes up when people hear that I have more than 1.3 children, when they're so sure that I couldn't possibly understand them being frustrated with just one or two children, I could perhaps emphasize some of the more difficult moments. The problem there, though, is that IF they believe me (and they usually don't), it's not like they develop any sympathy--they just make it clear that as far as they're concerned, if I was foolish enough to have six children, then what did I expect?

So...today. My husband is home many more waking hours than most fathers, is very involved in the children's lives and in the household. That happens to be one BIG part of the answer as to "how I manage." I don't: we do. I know a lot of single moms out there doing a great job and I admire them greatly and I don't know how they do it. One mommyblogger I've read regularly for the last three or four years recently posted about how tired she gets of hearing that. She manages because she has to. The options aren't thinkable, so they don't get thought.          

My husband is completely in charge of the kitchen when he's home, which is generally about 12 of the 14 lunches and dinners that happen each week. (He's not home for lunch on Tuesday or on Sunday in a normal week. And every Sunday he prepares something to take to the house church shared meal.) For the last 15 months I've been baking bread regularly, and for the last six months I've done a lot more dishes than I used to, but that's pretty much the extent of my contribution. Even if I set the table, it's usually because my husband asked me to while he's finishing up the meal preparation. If I help clear it, it's while he's washing dishes or (as of a few weeks ago) loading the dishwasher. He also does 99% of the grocery shopping. (The other 1% is usually a child running to the bakery on a holiday or Sunday for milk or eggs, or occasionally even bread if I forgot to bake some. Maybe one out of 20 of those times, I'm the one who does it.) The children are getting better and better at various parts of these duties, the older three all able to completely prepare potatoes and slice vegetables, Jacob often preparing the meat, but it's still Jörn who made the decisions about whether we'll have potatoes or rice and how much meat to buy and so on.

Sometimes, however, he's not here, and I have to keep house just like a grown-up. He was working with a seminar from Thursday evening until tonight, which meant that on Thursday he left right after dinner and got home long after the children were in bed, and on Friday and today left before most of the children were up and got home after most of them were in bed.

Yesterday I did bake bread and put a load of laundry in the washing machine (oh, how I love having a washing machine! After two months of hand-washing everything for six of us in Thailand in 2006, I will forever be grateful for a washing machine!), and everybody got fed, and everybody eventually went to bed. At 8:00 a.m. we got a phone call inviting Jacob to go sailing, so that cancelled thoughts of schoolwork and I texted another homeschooling family to ask if they were in holiday mode. So after I dropped Jacob off at the marina, the four younger children and I spent the morning at a friend's house. Then mid-afternoon Marie left for youth group, and after dinner I took Jacob to meet someone who could give him a ride to the YWAM worship evening. Getting the four younger ones into bed wasn't so easy without Marie OR Jacob OR Jörn around, and I did wonder vaguely how I had managed it when I only did have four children.

This morning as Jörn was getting ready to leave he said I'd probably want the camera--which is how I got reminded of a birthday party this afternoon. So much for today's thoughts of calling a friend and going to the playground. At 8:10 Marie's violin teacher called to ask if Marie was coming--turns out that her lessons are going to be at 8:00 again every week, which we hadn't understood. I did wake Marie, but agreed with her that there was no point in trying to wake up enough to rush there for a half a lesson, so she went back to sleep. Elisabeth is working hard on her second tooth and was very vocal about it all morning, so I made a new batch of granola mostly one-handed, while carrying Elisabeth around, and I also finally hung up the load of laundry I had washed yesterday. It wasn't until 11:30 that I finally had the four younger children in the car to go birthday gift shopping for twin six-year-old boys. Once they were all buckled in, I ran and picked a couple of grapefruit to take to Sue. Yes, she wanted some, but my ulterior motive was that I got to leave the children in the car for about three minutes while I took the grapefruit up to Sue's house!

And then we went Shopping. My favorite thing to do. Yuck. The children had been raving about Jumbo, and several of my friends and acquaintances have raved about Jumbo, and everyone is just so glad that there's finally a Jumbo in Larnaka and they don't have to drive to Nikosia. Not having any good ideas about what to get anyway, and with Lukas and Katie begging to go to Jumbo (and even Helen telling me that she got me my duck in a waterball at Jumbo and suggesting that we get Willem and Julius ducks, too), I finally opted to go to Jumbo. Yay. It smells of plastic. And then clothes. By the time we finally got to the toys section, I had a headache and my eyes were watering and my nose was itching. The children were amazingly well-behaved, and since nobody was volunteering to help pay, I got to pick out paper and pencils and stickers and a small bowling set, and everyone was happy. It was so wonderful to get out of there. There: I have now been to Jumbo.

On the way home we stopped at Orphanides Express, a small (but not over-priced) supermarket, where I left all four children in the car (Marie and Jacob had stayed home) and ran in to get milk and eggs. That was fast and easy and didn't make my nose itch.

Once home I cut up and fried some chicken and made a casserole with left-over rice, left-over tomato and vegetable sauce, eggs, and the chicken. It was very good, but wasn't ready until 2:00. (And I only used two of the eight chicken breasts that Jörn probably meant to be one meal. I couldn't stand to touch it for any longer than that.) Marie left at 1:50 as she wasn't sure if she had orchestra practice or not--she called when she arrived to say that no, she didn't have orchestra practice, but was going to have her lesson, so that was cool. We gulped down lunch and Jacob buckled Katie and Elisabeth into the car while I got Helen in the car and texted the friends in Limassol that we would be late.

The drive to Limassol went well, helped by the fact that Katie was sitting by herself in the very back seat, and Elisabeth slept the whole way. The party was fine (something like 15 children from the age of 9 months to 10 years), pretty loud, but in a big house with a big outside area, so the noise was distributed and it was nice to chat with the other parents. Yes, I took some photos, but they all have other children in them, and I won't post photos of children without their parents' permission, so no photos here.

The drive home wasn't so great. Elisabeth screamed almost the entire time, and Helen sang at the top of her lungs until about 10 minutes before we got home, when she suddenly fell asleep. I put her in bed, texted Sue and Richard to come for a game, and then read to Lukas and Katie and had them in bed by not much past 7:30. (Daylight Savings Time starts tonight in Europe, so I figured that half an hour early was a fair compromise.) Sue and Richard arrived and we played a five-person game of Settlers of Catan, with Marie and Jacob, as well. Helen wasn't sleeping all that well and Jacob, Marie, and Sue all took turns comforting her. She woke up yet again just as Sue and Richard left, but by that time, Elisabeth was asleep, so I went to Helen that time. She was asleep within about five minutes, and when I came out, Jörn was home.

And now the clock reads 23:18, which 24 hours from now will be 00.18, so I should declare it bedtime and head for bed. I'm leaving at 8:00 tomorrow to pick up someone at the airport, and Katie and Helen have already put in their bids for a trip to the playground tomorrow, but those are the only plans I have. Oops--I just remembered that I have to finish making the bed for the lady that I'm picking up tomorrow. After traveling all night, she's probably going to want to have a nap...

Friday, March 25, 2011

People live here

Every other week I go to a parent-child group known as "Tots". (It meets every week, but on alternate weeks I stay home to visit with a friend from Nikosia who comes down to Larnaka once every two weeks.) I think it might officially even be called "Mums and Tots", but there are regularly several fathers, grandmothers, and babysitters there as well. And lots and lots of "tots", the youngest one ever probably being Elisabeth last June when she was four days old, and the oldest one usually being Katie. Rarely are there any other children over three, as most children here go to nursery school at age two or three.

We meet in a local church, in the main room, which is nice and big and all carpeted. Half a dozen or so play areas (baby toys, toy kitchen, building, dress-up, etc.) are set up, as well as chairs around the edges. It is loosely structured and very comfortable. The first half hour is "free play", i.e. children play and grown-ups talk to other grown-ups. This is very exciting! (The children also appear to enjoy this time.) Then there's snack time, and then the older children go into another room to hear a story or two. This is an even more exciting time, because pretty much only babies are left and the grown-ups even get to hear each other while they talk. Then the older children come back and there's more free play time, with playdough at one table and a craft at another. After tidy-up time, we all sit in a huge circle and sing songs.

Most people probably think I go to Tots to give Katie, Helen, and Elisabeth some social interaction, a chance to play with other children and different toys, and so on. That isn't entirely untrue, and of course, I wouldn't go if they didn't enjoy it. I also like it that they get to play with playdough and do messy crafts, and I don't have to clean it up. But in all honesty, my main motivation is to get OUT and to talk with ADULTS. I do see other adults during the week, getting together with my friend Sue at least once a week, often twice, my friend from Nikosia every other week, and occasional other visitors, as well as house group once a week and often having people over for a meal, and playing games with Sue and Richard once or twice a week. But the children are almost always also fully involved in whatever activity we have, or in the case of playing games, we focus on the game. My main real communication with friends goes on via e-mail. So my only opportunity to interact with other adults (or whatever one wants to call them and/or me...people older than my children, anyway) is Tots. With 30-40 children from newborn to age five playing around us, we have considerably more opportunity to converse than at home with my six. It's quieter, too.

Admittedly, most of this contact is fairly superficial. We sit on the carpet with each other and talk about babies' teeth and whether he's crawling yet or what she said yesterday and so on--our children pretty much tend to stay the topic. But it's companionable and I enjoy it.

I also like it that it's a constantly changing group (although I miss some of the people who don't come any more, now that their children are in nursery), with new faces every time I go. I like meeting new people and hearing about different experiences, and lately, there have been more and more Cypriots, too, some who don't even speak English, which means I get to practice my Greek. (Well, sort of. I can tell them how old my baby is and ask them how old their babies are, but we don't generally get a whole lot further than that.) And the best is when people don't know how many children I have.

It's not that I'm in the slightest bit embarrassed about the number of children I have, it's that the number isn't relevant. Six is just a number. Having six (living) children doesn't make me braver or stronger or crazier or smarter or dumber or more patient or more tired or more energetic or better or worse or anything else-er than someone with two or three or eight or ten or 19. I might BE braver or crazier etc., but I'm still a mommy who goes as goo-goo over my newest baby as I did over my first, and I get just as tired when a baby keeps me up all night, and just as frustrated when the baby is inconsolable and I don't know why. I don't have any more answers than anyone else. Actually, I probably don't have as many. When I had only one child, I knew that the best way to hold a fussy baby was like this. Then I had a second child, and I knew that some babies like this and some like that. When I was pregnant with my third, I wondered if he'd be more like my first or more like my second. Nope--my third is like my third, and like nobody else on the face of the earth. And so it goes. A friend of mine in Germany had this quotation on the birth announcement she sent for their sixth child: Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.  ~John Wilmot

So anyway, I have the idea that most of the other parents at Tots are looking for the same thing I am--friendly chit-chat with people who use whole sentences. The topic doesn't matter a whole lot, but there's a certain amount of asking what others think, and a certain amount of looking for ideas. Mostly, I think, it's about reassurance that we're not alone. I'm not generally too big on "wanting to belong", but I confess that I enjoy that feeling of belonging. Of sitting with other parents who know what I'm going through, good and bad, because they're going through the same thing.

Which is where the problem comes in when people hear how many children I have. We'll be sitting there rolling balls back and forth with our two little nine-month-olds, commenting about how one has more teeth and the other more hair and so on, oh look, isn't it cute how they're looking at each other, nice and easy and companionable. Non-threatening. Then we might even mention something that's less positive, such as the baby teething all night. We start to exchange coping strategies. We both want to hear the other's ideas or feelings, we're curious and we're sympathetic. And then, eventually, I get asked, "Do you have other children?" Sometimes I can deflect a bit, by saying, "See that girl over there in the red dress?That's my two-year-old." I didn't say she was my ONLY other child. But people are persistant and I'm a lousy liar, and invariably it comes out that I have six. And invariably, a wall goes up.

I don't know how many times I've heard, "Oh, then you're an expert!" Um, no, not exactly. Elisabeth is the only Elisabeth I've ever had. Marie is the only oldest child I've ever had. Jacob is the only first son I've ever had. Katie is most certainly the only Katie of this type that the world has ever seen. People never really believe me that having more than 1.3 children doesn't make me an expert.

They also never really believe me that I'm not super-organized and I'm not super-patient. (That's what separates my friends and family from casual acquaintances: my friends and family are laughing themselves silly at the idea of me being organized or patient.) They laugh off my protests and claim I'm being falsely modest. They no longer have any sympathy to offer on how to juggle laundry and teething, and worse, they no longer accept any sympathy from me on the same subject. They say that I couldn't possibly understand, since I obviously am above that, that they're just being silly, that it doesn't matter. That's the hardest thing for me, when they won't open up any more because they're so sure that I won't have any sympathy on the matter.

Most don't seem to believe that we're not just one big happy jolly family 100% of the time, because that's what big families are. The others don't believe that life isn't miserable with so many children around. Nobody believes that there are great times and awful times and loud times and quiet times (sometimes, yes truly, sometimes even when the children are NOT all asleep and ARE all home!) and fun times and sad times and even middling times. Basically, that we're people, too. And that the numbers don't matter.

We have Marie and Jacob and Lukas and Katie and Helen and Elisabeth. Not numbers.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lukas

Lukas cracks me up pretty often. Those of you with me on Facebook might remember a couple of months ago when he said, "Cucumbers are juicy when you eat them in a tree in the sunshine." The thing is, he wasn't trying to be funny or cute or profound or anything else--he was just so full of joy of the moment that he couldn't do anything except say exactly how he felt. A nice juicy cucumber, sitting comfortably in a tree, relaxing in the sunshine (in December)...ah, this is the life!

Often he only seems to be able to focus on right NOW and is very impetuous, but he also is extremely persistant and never forgets anything he wants to remember. In December 2007 we went to Norway to meet a couple who had been working in Cyprus and later returned to Cyprus. (And have sadly--for us--moved back to Norway again.) Lukas was extremely impressed with Helge's bald head and asked if he could have his hair shaved like that. We just kind of laughed it off. He mentioned it several times over the next year, again admired Helge's head when we saw them again in Norway in October 2008, and then when we moved here in January 2009, he was determined to have his head shaved. I said fine, but someone else would have to do it. It wasn't until August 2009, when we were at Helge's house one afternoon, that Lukas asked Helge, who agreed, and shaved Lukas's head. A year later, he got my brother to shave his head again.

While looking for photos of Lukas to post here, I realized that most of them were either blurry (because holding still is something that doesn't come easy to him) or with other people. All of my children love people, but most of the others will happily smile for the camera on their own, while Lukas always wants to make sure to get someone else in with him. I found one of him by himself with a hat he got from some friends who had moved. When the crown and brim first got separated, he was heartbroken for at least five minutes, telling me how special this hat was because it reminded him of his friend, etc. To say that Lukas can be dramatic is a bit of an understatement. But then he thought it was cool to wear it like this:

 ...and life was good again. He wore it constantly, all day and everywhere (I'm so proud of my husband for actually taking Lukas grocery shopping like this!), for a week or so. I haven't seen it for awhile now, it may or may not still exist.

This next one is a pose that Lukas requested, on the aquaduct about two and a half kilometers from our house:
 He wanted it to look like he's climing up high, which I guess it kind of does, but I'm anything but a photographer. He's actually about 10 centimeters off of the ground. However, if I were to let him, he probably COULD climb straight up that wall. This is the child who was sitting at six months, crawling at six and a half, and cruising at seven months. By 10 months he was pushing a stool around the house to climb up on things, such as the dining room table and the piano.

And here's just a very nice photo (in my opinion) of Lukas with Katie, in the dress-up clothes they got for Christmas from my aunt:
Lukas often wears the tunic and cape just while going about his normal business, home or out. The crown less often

And after all that talk about his hair, all three of these photos have his hair covered!

Lukas ought to be in bed at the moment but just came out to look for Jacob (who is reading to Helen so that I can type this), and wants me to include the "C! L! C!" episode of yesterday. Katie had asked me whether "crazy" starts with C or K, and I answered her correctly, much to Lukas's dismay, because then Katie started chanting "C-L-C! Crazy Lukas Crazy!" Lukas was very upset and for once I had a flash of inspiration and didn't say a word to Katie, but to Lukas said, "Cool also starts with C, you know!" and then joined in with Katie, chanting "C-L-C!! but then added "Cool Lukas Cool!" Katie went off in a huff while Lukas and I giggled and danced around the kitchen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Katie

This is the background I have on my computer:


I suppose I ought to update it with the correct hair-color (this photo is from January), but it is incredibly difficult to get a photo of Katie just looking nice--she usually pulls some crazy face the second she sees a camera, and I really like this photo.

Katie has made me laugh several times today, sometimes that was good, sometimes not so good. (Like when she informed me that she was never going to speak to me again after I held her back so she couldn't pull Marie's hair again. I shouldn't have laughed, but the thought of that being a "threat" was just too funny.) She totally charmed the visitors we had for lunch today, with her friendly, open chatter, and I was enjoying her, too. She's intelligent and creative and has tons of energy. She loves to be read to and has recently started reading for herself. She can be incredibly loving and helpful. She goes to bed willingly and cheerfully almost every night and falls asleep quickly and almost always stays asleep all night. She loves pink and girly and curly and everything else along those lines that she doesn't get from her mother or older sister.

She's also very, very good for my prayer life and the conscious attempt to exibit the fruits of the Spirit in my life. She doesn't have a curl in the middle of her forehead, but in every other way, she's the perfect model for the little girl who did.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Helen's vocabulary

Helen has been going through some serious language explosion in the last months, speaking in more complete sentences with a larger vocabulary every single day, it seems. Not exactly being sure of how to say a word doesn't slow her down at all, much to our delight. Here's a sample.

parasalt: generally used to shade a lady from the sun. In Helen's case, more often used to poke a little sister, which is why her parasalt is more often on top of a high cupboard than in Helen's possession.

However, this morning she did have possession of her parasol and took it with her as we walked to Sue's house.



Not that she could use it very effectively to shade herself from the sun, because she was also carrying several books that she had borrowed from Sue and was now returning. One was about a hoppamus, as can clearly be seen.

Some more of my favorites:

mookbarker: to bark the place in the mook I'm reading, of course. (Okay, to be strictly honest, she only said it that way once, a few days ago, but I loved it.)

She always says fall off whether she actually fell off of something or just fell down, or even got pushed. Marie explained to me that this is perfectly logical, as she has fallen off of her feet.

Also, Elisabeth has had a runny nose for the last several days, so I've been hearing regular shrieks from Helen, "Wipe it baby nose! It run off!" Sadly, she now nearly always pronounces Elisabeth correctly, just occasionally making that "th" at the end into an "s", so the days of Elibbabess are over. She does, however, still wear jimanas to bed.

coobumber: a green vegetable that Lukas, Katie, and Helen all love and eat several whole ones of a day. Each.

hocktockter: slightly less common than airplanes and a lot noisier

bandange: for putting on wounds, which are always loudly announced as "it beeding!!" whether it is or not

Monday, March 21, 2011

Names

I've always read the author's and illustrator's names when reading a book out loud to the children, from when they were babies. That's caused a couple of funny stories over the years, such as when Katie requested the "Bond book". It took me quite awhile to figure out she was looking for "Big-Red-Barn-By-Margaret-Wise-Brown-Pictures-By-Felicia-Bond." And it's been cool when, many times, a child has recognized an author or an illustrator by name. When I started reading The Wheel on the School a couple of weeks ago, Lukas immediately said, "Maurice Sendak? Wait a minute!" and ran to find Where the Wild Things Are. It was interesting to him that Maurice Sendak has written AND illustrated books, as well as "just" illustrating someone else's book.

So this evening I read a "Tom and Pippo" book to Helen. I started off, "Pippo Gets Lost, written and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury." Helen interrupted to say, "MY Zenbury?!" We had a much longer discussion about her name being on the cover of the book than it took to read the book! We have four Tom and Pippo books, all of which I have read many, many more times than I care to attempt to calculate, and I've read the author's name each and every time. Strange that my Helen hadn't noticed or commented before! Of course, I myself had never noticed just how many books we have written by Helen Somebody-or-Other, or with characters named Helen, until after our Helen was born and named.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring in Cyprus

If you blink, you might miss it, but I'm pretty sure we now have spring. The last few nights we've left our bedroom window open and not been cold, although we're still using a duvet. We have a screen on that window, which is necessary, as this is also mosquito season. Before long, it will be too hot for the mosquitos.

This morning Katie went to the Anglican church with Sue, and we'd tentatively planned to meet at the playground afterwards. However, as it was sort of raining, I decided not to go, not thinking Helen would know the difference. I shouldn't have been surprised that she did know very well what had been planned. When I said that it was raining, she said, "I have a hood!" so off we went. There were scattered drops of rain, but they were drying as fast as they fell. The playground wasn't even muddy. I found it confusing feeling raindrops and seeing a grey sky but being far too warm with real shoes and a sweatshirt. In the afternoon we walked to Sue's and Richard's house, by which time I'd taken off the sweatshirt and was wearing sandals with no socks. It was raining as we walked back home a little past 8:00, but even in the dark, the raindrops were drying as fast as they fell, and only my toes were a little wet when we got home.

We're in the third month of our third year in Cyprus now and I still find it strange to be colder here in the winter than in Germany (due to the badly insulated house, high humidity, and not having regular heating), and having temperature differences of 10-15 degrees (Celsius) in a given 24-hour period. Having over 20 degrees during the day and then below 10 at night (including inside the house) is still strange to me. Still, I'm enjoying every bit of feeling cold I can get, trying to store it up for summer, which will be far too soon. In Germany, I'd have been wearing shorts with today's weather, not a sweatshirt, jeans, and socks with real shoes!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A puzzle and Cats!

I put together a jigsaw puzzle today! This afternoon I cashed in one of my babysitting coupons from Jacob, so while Jacob, Lukas, Katie, and Helen were out (they went to the playground and to the Salt Lake park), I got a really good start on the puzzle Jacob gave me for my birthday. I had the whole frame put together and quite a bit of the inside pieces sorted by color by the time they got back an hour later, and had heard half of the soundtrack of Cats. I did keep going back to it throughout the afternoon (I had it on a table in the middle of the living room which had been put there earlier when Lukas and I had played a game), but that wasn't overly practical. Once the children were in bed I put on the second half of Cats and had finished Cats and almost finished the puzzle before Jörn and I went out for a walk. Home again, last 28 pieces, and I'm pleased to have done my first puzzle in many years. :-) (I'm not counting the wooden duck puzzle, which has about 10 pieces, nor the 20-50-piece puzzles I've done with Katie and Helen. Over and over and over again.) Only 500 pieces, but it was exciting anyway. With two children old enough to occasionally babysit, maybe I'll even start the 1500-piece puzzle I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. Eventually. Maybe.

The last biggish puzzle (also 500 pieces) I did was a satellite view of Europe, which my sister Ruth and I stayed up most of the night to do when she was visiting us, seven or eight years ago. It's hanging on the wall in our kitchen. My kind of art. And I think it may have even been longer since I had listened to Cats, but I could sing along with almost every word (if far from every note). I only ever used to listen to music while doing puzzles and in the car, but since coming to Cyprus, don't have much opportunity in the car as almost no place I go takes more than five minutes or so.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bedtime

I very much feel that everyone should sleep where everyone sleeps best, and for the most part, it's worked pretty well over the last 13 1/2 years. I suppose I should even include the nearly three years before that, as it was something of a shock to me to realize that German couples have separate blankets (duvets, or quilts, one for each--I don't mean American bedding, with a top sheet and a blanket on top of that, which I never liked), and something of a shock to my husband to realize that American couples don't. This Germerican (as Marie calls our family) compromised: we have one double-wide duvet. :-)

When Marie was born I never even considered having her sleep anywhere except with us, which did make my husband a bit nervous at first, but he quickly realized the advantage of never having to get up in the night. We moved her into her own bed when she was 19 months old, which was much more traumatic for me than for her. It was more work for my husband, though, as she very quickly adjusted to calling "Papa!" in the night.

Jacob moved himself out when he was almost two and a half, thrilled to find out he had his own bed and was "allowed" to sleep there in the night. He never looked back--Marie was still often coming into our bed in the early morning long after Jacob almost never did.

Lukas was a bit more challenging. He was fine with being in his bed if Papa was there too, and I know Jörn spent many more nights going back and forth than I was ever aware of, not to mention the number of mornings I woke up wondering where Jörn was, and finding him asleep in Lukas's bed. Child in our bed was always my responsibility, Child in his/her own bed was always Jörn's.

With the first three, the bed into which they moved had been our old bed, 120 centimeters wide, which we'd replaced with a 180-cm bed when I was pregnant with Marie. It was very comfortable and certainly more than big enoughfor a child and a Papa.

Then when Katie was about a year and a half old, we rearranged the rooms to give the boys one room and the girls another, but to make the "office" (computer desk and cupboards) and our bedroom fit in the same room, we took back our original 120-cm bed and built a "baby balcony": a bed-frame for a baby mattress which fit snugly between the wall and our bed. That worked very well, but when it was time to move Katie out, there wasn't a bed available to move her into, since we were sleeping in it, and the toddler bed wasn't the most practical thing for Jörn to lie down with her. We ended up giving away the toddler bed and replacing it with a single mattress on the floor under Marie's bed (a loft bed), which worked, and then better yet, Katie started requesting that Marie cuddle her, and Marie was happy to do so! All of us slept very well for quite awhile.

When we moved to Cyprus, we brought our 120-cm bed and the baby balcony, as well as Lukas's bed, but sold the others. We were going to get a double bed for Marie and Katie (Marie's suggestion), then went one better and got a bunk bed, with the bottom bunk being a double bed (140 centimeters wide--wider than ours!) and the top a single, the idea being that eventually it would hold Marie, Katie, and Helen. We only got a mattress for the bottom bunk, though, the idea being that we'd get a mattress for the top (for Marie) when it was time to move Helen. As it turned out, we were given a single mattress within a month or two of getting the bed, so Marie has slept on the top ever since--and Katie slept most nights on the top bunk as well, until about five months ago, leaving the bottom bunk, the largest bed in the house, completely empty.

Before Elisabeth was born, we did try half-heartedly to move Helen into the girls' room, but there were two problems. One was that the mattress was horribly uncomfortable for Jörn and when he tried to lie down to cuddle Helen, his hips hurt him for the next couple of days. And the other was that Helen absolutely, definitely, did NOT want to move, no way, under no circumstances.

While I didn't mind, in theory, having her still in our bed, what I knew I couldn't handle was two nursing babies in my bed all night, and if she was next to me, there was no way she was going to quietly accept not nursing. Not to mention that it was going to be a little crowded. So four days before Elisabeth was born, I built a second "baby balcony", on the other side. Helen quickly accepted that as her bed, and from my point of view, this has worked just fine for the last nine months...but it hasn't been so great for Jörn. Helen is NOT a calm sleeper (the others all were, for the most part), and she pretty much wants to be cuddled by Jörn all night long. I still am convinced that everyone should sleep where everyone sleeps best, and Jörn has not been sleeping well at all.

A month or so ago a friend of ours insisted that she was going to buy us a new mattress for the girls' double bed, and she kept bringing it up again and again. So finally, we went and got the new mattress yesterday, and after over 24 hours of airing, put it on the bed today. (It still smells a bit, though.) It is SO comfortable! It's kind of tempting to kick the girls out and take over the bed ourselves. Our mattress is actually very comfortable too (we got a new one just three years ago), but I'm more often than not half lying on Elisabeth's mattress, or rather, on the wood between the two mattresses...

Next, I thought, would come the challenge of convincing Helen that she should sleep with Katie. We hadn't talked about it with her at all yet, and as my husband was out this evening (he just got home in the middle of that last sentence), I figured that we wouldn't even try it until tomorrow. Also, we had cell group here tonight, so the regular bedtime routine didn't happen at all and the children all went to bed late. But when I told Helen it was time for bed, she went scampering down the hallway and I heard her yell at Katie, "Get out! This MY room!" Oops! She did quickly understand when I said that the new bed is Katie's AND Helen's and thought it was cool that they each have their own blanket and pillow, and acted like she couldn't wait to go to bed.

However...after being put to bed by me, by Sue (here for cell group), by Marie, and by me again, I finally decided to wait until Jörn got home. When I started writing this (sitting on the couch, with Helen leaning against me, quietly, but awake), I had no idea how I would end it. But when Jörn walked in, Helen immediately put her arms out to him and said, "Lie down with me, my bed, my room," and went off down the hallway to the girls' room.

Oh wow--and Jörn just came out, and Helen is asleep. That was not even five minutes. Now to see how long she stays there...

Elisabeth, by the way, has started asking to go to bed at night. She doesn't want to go to sleep in the living room or in the sling--she wants to go to sleep in bed. (Well, she happily accepted a beanbag in a dark room at Sue's and Richard's house Wednesday evening.) She's been happily asleep in her bed (the baby balcony on my side) for the last hour and a half or so.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reading aloud

The day before yesterday I actually only meant to write about a funny misunderstanding while reading to Lukas and Katie, but got carried away explaining more background than anybody could possibly need or care about, so ended up cutting out the main point...so here it is as a separate post.

I'm reading (among many other books) The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong to Katie and Lukas at the moment. (Well, not at this exact moment...they're in bed right now, which is a good place for them to be. "At the moment" in this case means over the last week or so.) It's a rather riveting book, and the schedule seems to think it should take us several weeks to read. HA! is all we have to say to THAT idea! Anyway, yesterday I was reading chapter 14 (as well as chapter13 and started 15 but then we had to leave or Katie would have been late to her drama class). The book is set in the Netherlands, I would guess in the mid-1800s, not really sure, and the six schoolchildren of the village of Shora are intent on having storks nest in their town. Not that any of that is really relevant to my point. Anyway, in chapter 14 , "The Tots in the Tower", two of the younger-than-school-age children (I'm guessing around four or five years old) see the door to the belltower standing open and go to explore. The tower also happens to have a single jail-cell, currently unoccupied, which the children look at in awe.

Along one side of the stone room was a cage with bars. It intrigued Linda.

There was an old bare cot in the back of the cage. It was suspended from the wall by two heavy chains. Suddenly Linda remembered--this was the jail where they put bad men! She told Jan. They both breathed heavily. But outside, the other children were yelling nice and loud, and through the open door they could see the dike.

As I kept reading, Lukas interrupted me and asked why there was a bear in the tower. I was confused and said there wasn't, and he said yes, there was, I had just read it--there was a bear caught in the back of the cage!

It took a moment for me to figure out what he was talking about. Then we had a mini-lesson on homonyms before continuing to read the chapter, but I haven't been able to get the image of an old bear caught in the back of the cage, suspended from the wall by two heavy chains, ever since!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Helen's story

I came into the living room this evening after putting Lukas and Katie to bed to find Marie and Helen laughing. Helen had been sitting on Marie's lap when she suddenly started giggling and told this story. Marie even took notes, to make sure not to forget it, which is how I'm able to record it.

Helen: A fwog twy my toes!!

Marie: A frog tried your toes?

H: Yeah! A eat 'em!

M: A frog tried to eat your toes?

H: Yeah!

M: What kind of frog was it?

H: A geen fwog.

M: What did it do?

H: It eat my toes. Ah-ham! Ah-ham! (Sort of an eating sound...)

M:What did the frog do?

H: It quiet.

M: How big was it?

H: It little. (She held up one finger to show the size.)

M: Where was the frog?

H: Outside. A boot.

M: It was outside in a boot?

H: Yeah. Nice boot.

M: What else did the frog do?

H: It eat it toes. Two toes. MINE!! (With an indignant voice.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homeschooling, home-ed, whatever one wants to call it

"Flexible" is an answer I like to give when asked what our "homeschool style" is, and I don't really like to say that we're using a curriculum, because that can give the idea that we're, um, well, using a curriculum! If we lived in the U.S. (or any place else with a readily available library of books in English), I doubt that we'd be "using" as much as we are, but as it is, Sonlight, the way we use it, is a very good fit for us. What it means is that we get to read a whole bunch of really great books, quite a few of which never would have caught my eye either by the title or the subject.

Although most of the people reading this are people I "know" from e-mail lists and therefore know all about Sonlight, here's a quick explanation: lots and lots of real books (not textbooks)! The people who started Sonlight were trying to put together books for expatriot U.S.ians who had little or no access to libraries. Sonlight is now pretty popular in the U.S., I gather, but they still very much meet the needs (or desires, anyway) of us ex-pats. The so called "Core" levels are not grade-based, although they generally do progress in required reading level and/or level of maturity, but they can easily be used "out of order" and for a large age-range. Good books are timeless and ageless, and a significant percentage of the books we read appeal to everyone from Katie (five and a half) to me, and even Helen (two and a half) is often interested. Also, we only use the "Core", which officially includes history, geography, and literature, and sometimes Bible. I did buy Language Arts 1 for Marie way back when and quit using it after about three weeks, traded it a couple of years later to someone for LA K for Jacob, and didn't last a week with it. So much for LA, and we've never used the science, either, although we do have a lot of the "real books" listed in the science sections.

Marie, being my oldest, and the one who was begging to "do school", got the most school-ish schooling for a couple of years, starting with Sonlight's then pre-K program, which didn't even come with an "Instructor's Guide" (IG) at the time, and I personally think it's silly that it does now. (At least, I think it does, or maybe just the second year does--they now have two pre-K programs.) Then she did K, 1, and 2, all mostly following the schedule as in the IG, although I never did use the discussion questions and most often we read considerably more at a sitting than was scheduled. Somewhere during SL-1, Jacob started listening in more and more, and by SL-2, he was fully involved. Core K is a sort of overview of world history, and Cores 1 and 2 are World History.

At some point I thought it was a pity that Jacob had missed out on the K books, so I piled them all up and he chose and I read, and we both enjoyed that very much. So much for the schedule!

Then because of coming way too close to losing custody of the children in Germany, Marie and Jacob went to school for six months, then the next six months we were out of Germany and did what I call "deschooling". Finances (or lack thereof) and travel plans (or hopes for) meant that continuing with Sonlight wasn't an option right after that, but I already owned "Mystery of History" Volume 1, so we read through that, then got Volume 2, then headed for South Africa, where we lived a two-minute walk from a library. HEAVEN! After a couple of weeks one of the librarians asked very hesitantly, if she could ask me something. When I said yes, she asked if we by any chance homeschool. When I said yes, and then asked why she thought so, she said because she'd never seen anyone check out so many books. (Each of the four children, including Katie, who was two years old, had a library card, as did I, which allowed us a maximum of 34 books, and we had to go to the library at least two or three times a week to keep us in books.) While we were in South Africa, I did have a copy of a South African curriculum guide based on Five in a Row, called "Little Footprints", but we never managed to do many of the activities--just used it as a list for books that we might not have chosen on our own.

Incidentally, a few weeks later the librarian asked if we by any chance had a television, and when I said no, she said she hadn't thought so, as she'd never seen children who loved books so much. The positive comments we experienced in South Africa were so encouraging, and so refreshing after nearly having had custody of our children taken away in Germany just because I thought reading to my six-year-old while cuddling on the couch was a more positive and effective learning experience than putting him in a classroom with 25 other six-year-olds.

Back in Germany we were able to continue with Sonlight Core 3 (got away with that semi-legally by not bothering to point out to the authorities that we'd returned), moved to Cyprus and continued with Core 3, finished, went on to Core 4, and at the end of last year started Core 5, which friends GAVE us a couple of years ago. Cores 3 and 4 are American history, and what's cool is that it really is AMERICAN history, not just U.S. Admittedly, it's heavy on United States history, but as that's where I am actually from, that's not so bad, and interesting, and has plenty about Europe, as well. But it also included more about South America and Canada that one would see in most U.S. curricula. (Helen's favorite bedtime song is the Canadian national anthem, thanks to that unit, but oh well, it's a lot easier to sing than the U.S. one!)

And now Marie and Jacob are using Core 5, which is about the Eastern Hemisphere, and is rather different from the other Cores in including a lot of research. So far, they are loving it and doing that portion of it 100% independently. They'd both be perfectly happy to read all of the books themselves, too, but I don't want to miss out on the fun! Also, they just "happen" to have studied Japan over the last few weeks, so when we were looking at the maps of Japan with the news reports about the earthquake and tsunami last week and I started to tell them the names of the main islands, they interrupted me to tell me more than I had remembered myself from being an exchange student in Japan 25 years ago, told me about other earthquakes in the time since then, and knew all sorts of things that I didn't have a clue about...

I read all of the Core K books to Lukas last year with the "pile method" as I had with Jacob, and am now reading Core 1 with Lukas and Katie, more-or-less following the order in the schedule, but not much else, and we're nearly through. Occasionally I have to go looking for one of the books we're trying to read, because it has been borrowed by Marie or Jacob, so one could say that they're also using Core 1 at the moment. Good books stay good books.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lots of threes

Cheating tonight, especially to those people who have been on Facebook with me for awhile, as not much has changed since I answered these two years ago...
THREE NAMES I GO BY
1. Sheila
2. Mommy
3. Schatz

THREE JOBS I HAVE HAD IN MY LIFE
1. delivering newspapers
2. babysitting
3. veterinary assistant

THREE PLACES I HAVE LIVED
1. North America
2. Europe
3. Africa

THREE TV SHOWS THAT I WATCH
1. ...don't...
2. ...have...
3. ...tv...

THREE PLACES I HAVE BEEN (my favorites)
1. Costa Rica
2. Yosemite National Park
3. in treehouses

THREE PLACES I WANT TO GO (I'm assuming that these have to be places I haven't been yet?)
1. heaven
2. Australia
3. all the Laura Ingalls Wilder museums

THREE OF MY FAVORITE FOODS
1. Chocolate
2. Chocolate
3. Chocolate

THINGS I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO
1. August 2022
2. cashing in my amazon gift certificate
3. eating my caramel chocolate

THREE PETS THAT YOU HAVE OWNED
1. Patch (cat)
2. Taffy (dog)
3. Her (cat)

THREE FAVORITE ENTERTAINERS
1. Helen
2. Katie
3. Lukas

THREE FAVORITE TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Erin's soccer team when she was five
2. Cameroon playing in the World Cup (that would have been 2006, I guess...don't have a better update)
3. worship team at IBCD led by Rob

THREE FAVORITE DRINKS
1. milk
2. fruit smoothies
3. rum and coke (okay, had it like twice in my life, but really liked it, and can't stand Coke otherwise...)

THREE PET PEEVES:
1. people asking if we're "done yet" (having children)
2. apostrophe's in the wrong place's
3. translating "weaned child" as "small child" in the Bible

THREE FAVORITE MOVIES:
1. The Sound of Music
2. Love is Never Silent
3. umm...can't think of another one

THREE FAVORITE BOOKS: (Only three?! Impossible. I'll definitely have to cheat on this one.)
1. almost anything by Madeleine L'Engle, favorites usually being the Crosswick Journals, especially "Summer of the Great-Grandmother"
2. anything by Philip Yancy, but especially those co-authored with Paul Brand, favorite probably being "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made"
3. when feeling lazy, novels by Rosamunde Pilcher

THREE ROLE MODELS:
1. Peter (aka Simon, Cephas, the rock)
2. Joan Walden
3. Cathy Kelly

THREE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
1. packing--I'm really, really good at this
2. spatial thinking (guess that's the same as above)
3. making birthday cakes

THREE GOALS FOR THE FUTURE:
1. learn Greek
2. fit into my jeans from before Elisabeth (had to change the name on this one--it said Helen. I did reach that goal, but not for long...)
3. not telling

THREE WORDS THAT DESCRIBE ME:
1. lazy
2. bookworm
3. weird

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Birthday presents

Much to the annoyance of certain children, I opened my first present before they got up on my birthday last week. I was cold and I knew what was in the package, if not the details, so I didn't wait for sleepy-heads!
Hand-knit socks from my mom! Warm and cozy and no holes. The only downside is that they look so cool and distinctive that if I wear them more than one day in a row, people might notice if I don't change my socks...

They came wrapped in comics (one of the few things I miss from the U.S.) and with a letter from Mom.

Despite all my years in Germany, I still don't "do" German-style birthdays. For one, even though this is my third (?) post about my own birthday, I don't get quite so hyperly excited about it as Germans are supposed to. It's fun. That's cool. But it's not that uncommon of an experience...everyone I know has a birthday every single year. Anyway, that also meant that much to the disappointment of some of my family members, I didn't have a big birthday breakfast (I had a bowl of granola, which took me about five minutes, and best worst of all, I had it almost entirely by myself), and I didn't open my presents early in the morning. I did, however, kowtowing to German tradition, clear off the top of the piano so that I could have a "birthday table"--a place to display my gifts.

After lunch everyone got drummed together again, and I opened my presents, starting with the one from the youngest. (Not counting Elisabeth, who worked very hard on hers all the night before and most of the day before finally presenting me with her first tooth late in the afternoon.) Helen gave me a duck in a waterball, something which I had just on Monday said (truthfully, but NOT meaning to hint!!) that I had "always wanted." More than one child I babysat as a teenager had one and I'd always kind of meant to get one for my babies, but never did. Now I have my very own, but I've been sharing it. :-)


Katie followed, with a candy cane, but the only photo I have of it is while it's hanging on my ear...



Then Lukas gave me a keychain, a McDonald's toy (given to him by someone else), a shell of some sort that he found last summer, and as an afterthought, a box of Belgian chocolate, but "only because Papa suggested it"--the other presents were the real ones. He also gave me a cool note:

Jacob gave me a puzzle AND the time (theoretically, anyway) in which to do it, with a coupon for a total of eight hours of babysitting. Cool wrapping, too:



Friday night during cell group I used part of the coupon, letting Jacob entertain Helen and Elisabeth in another room. Marie wasn't home and Lukas and Katie were already in bed.



Marie spent a great deal of time and effort on a whole pile of babysitting coupons, which I'm likewise looking forward to redeeming:

The card was in two and a half languages: English, Greek, and whatever one would call "thirty-ten". :-)

Jörn, the resident full-blood German, gave me three books AND speakers for my computer AND an external hard-drive:

Only two books are in the photo, the other one is in my bed, since that's usually the only place I get any reading done. And the speakers mean that Marie, Jörn, and I have started up our Greek lessons again, which we'd stopped a couple of weeks ago when the about-to-die speakers finally quit completely.
Jörn also made dinner and cleared up afterwards, which was no less appreciated because of the fact that he does that for nearly every family meal we have, every day of the year.

And in the evening, our friends Richard and Sue came for dinner, bringing with them THREE bars of Cadbury chocolate and my very first birthday card:

The top one is open in this photo, but the top two are now both nearly gone. (I did break down and share them, a little bit!) But I like to save the best for last, so haven't opened the caramel one yet, and it will be eaten selfishly in private!
Jacob made a scrumptious apple pie which didn't get properly photographed before being devoured, and Marie made my official birthday cake, chocolate with cream cheese frosting:

And that's enough birthday for me for this year, although I am looking forward to the card which will eventually arrive from Margaret and Phil in Germany, the only people in the whole world who have given me a card every single one of the last 20 years! It was sent in plenty of time, but mail service is a bit strange here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

statistics

Facebook birthday greetings are kind of weird--lots of greetings from people who have never celebrated a birthday with me (even if I did know them in real life at some point, some of whom I haven't even seen for over half of my life) and would have no idea when my birthday is if Facebook didn't tell them. But it was still pretty cool to get greetings from:

68 people, representing:

18 nationalities, residing in:

9 countries, on:

5 continents.

6 of them are relatives, one of those a cousin-in-law I've never met,
8 of the non-relatives are people I've known for over half of my life, and only

6 are people I've never met in person, but considering how long I've known them via e-mail, it's hard for me to remember that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Helen has a fwog

Since I didn't have much time when my sister Erin called last night, she called again this morning and we had a longer chat, which, as always, was pretty cool. Katie was out running errands with Jörn and Erin wondered what Katie would come home with this time, but she only came home with Jörn, so all good.

While we were on the phone, Helen came in and out of the room, with varying levels of volume. One time she came creeping in with a decided glint in her eye, glancing down at her closed, cupped hands, then suddenly popped them open and said, "I have a fwog! Wibbet!"

I actually got her to more-or-less reenact it for the camera a bit later, so here she is.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I got my first "happy birthday" at 2:40 a.m., from Jörn, since we were both awake anyway with Elisabeth unhappily working very hard at getting her first tooth. (It finally started poking through around 5:30 this afternoon, but it sure was bothering her this evening--I hope it's settled down for the night, now!)

Once my eyes were properly open (6:20-ish), I opened my present from my mother: wonderfully warm and comfortable hand-knit socks. Breakfasted, showered, put my socks on (and rest of my clothes, including hole-less jeans in honor of the day), hung up laundry, started laundry, started bread, enjoyed a phone call from Margaret in Germany, cleared off piano, enjoyed a visit from Jane and Matthew from Nikosia, enjoyed the oatmeal cookies that Marie made, put the bread in the oven, had lunch, opened presents from the family, played with my duck-in-a-waterball (gift from Helen) with the children, did more laundry, read to Katie and Lukas, phone calls from Barbie, Mom, Vern, and Heike (Vern and Heike on my cell phone while on the house phone with mom--didn't talk with Vern until later and didn't get Heike at all), read more to the children, did more laundry, backed up everything from my computer onto my external harddrive (gift from Jörn), picked up Jacob from drama class, read 40-something e-mail/Facebook birthday greetings, welcomed Sue and Richard and got my very first birthday card and opened MY chocolate (I might, maybe, perhaps, share some of it, but NOT the caramel), dinner, children to bed, phone call from Erin, game of Thurn and Taxis with Richard and Sue, chatting, and now going to bed.

Tired!! Photos may follow tomorrow, no guarantees.

And, just to be exact, although this time-zone thinks I have 21 minutes left of today, the first day of my fifth decade, in reality I have one hour and 26 minutes left of my fourth decade, according to California time and the time I was born! I think I thought being 40 would make me feel grown-up, but it hasn't happened yet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Katie's hair

Erin asked to see photos of Katie's hair dry, as the other "after" photos were taken while her hair was still wet. So here you go:

One of her less-goofy smiles, believe it or not.


It looks kind of pink in this photo, but it's actually almost a normal-looking red. Except for the fact that the under-layers got virtually no dye at all on them, so when her hair swings around or is in a ponytail, it does look a bit weird!

Katie is still very happy with her hair, and not having read Anne of Green Gables, isn't interested in hearing that red-heads shouldn't wear pink. (Ha! Like I would notice! That came up because on Sunday a non-pink-liking friend commented hopefully that Katie should learn this "fact" that "everybody knows", and I agreed, but based only on Anne's opinions. And then I said that at least she wasn't wearing pink at the moment...which spawned more discussion than I thought possible on the color of Katie's shirt, which I maintained was RED. I think Jacob agreed with me. Everyone else thought it was pink.)

Interestingly, an older girl at church on Sunday commented that she's thinking of dying her hair, and Katie very seriously said, "No, you shouldn't do that--your hair is beautiful the way it is!" This girl's hair just happens to be the EXACT color of Katie's hair before it was dyed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Not really what one could call a slave to fashion

A friend was visiting yesterday, and while we were chatting she mentioned a talk (or a book or an article? I WAS listening, really, I was!) in which it was mentioned that we shouldn't be "slaves to fashion." Rather than changing our wardrobe because of what's "in" or because we're tired of it or whatever, we should actually wear things out. I couldn't help myself--I had to laugh, and I had to laugh HARD. Without moving from my seat, I was able to show her the tear in the left knee of my jeans, the holes in my socks, and the ragged apple appliqué on my sweatshirt. And my left sandal, the strap of which finally broke through completely Sunday evening and I repaired myself:

Mom? Sibs? Feel free to show this to Dad--don't you think he'll be proud of me? :-)

The reason, by the way, that I'm wearing my duct-taped Fakenstocks is because my back-up pair of Birkenstocks that I kept for an emergency look like this:



Lest anyone think we can't afford new clothes or my husband is stingy, neither is the case: I simply detest shopping! My husband has been trying to talk me into new shoes (well, sandals...my one pair of close-toed shoes that I'm occasionally willing to wear, which are at least five or six years old, are still in excellent condition) for at least six months. In fact, my friend Barbara was trying to talk me into new sandals last year in March and has pointed out to me that if I tell her exactly what model and size of Birkenstocks I want, she can even get them for me at a discount through the pharmacy where she works in Germany. Considering that her daughter Andrea flew here in September and again in January, and that we visited her in December, it's not like I really have a lot of excuse for not taking her up on the offer. I just hate shopping (for anything except books), even on the internet.

Yesterday was a holiday, so at least I had a good excuse for not shopping in real life, and this afternoon I did go to the shoestore around the corner. It's March. Knee-high boots are on sale, but the only pair of Birkenstock-type sandals were men's sandals with two wide black straps. While I couldn't care less what the fashion is (nor what the weather is doing), I do care about MY opinion, and I thought they were ugly, so I didn't get them. I have to give credit to the saleslady for not laughing out loud at me (or my Greek--I was pleased to get the one who doesn't speak English!), but I'm sure that she and her colleagues laughed plenty after I left. I might go downtown tomorrow and try a shoestore where I saw a pair of sandals last summer that I liked, but they didn't have any in my size. But they might now. Jörn is going to Germany in April, so maybe I'll just have Barbara get me some.

And there's no point in shopping for jeans, because although only one of the three pairs I have that fit me are in one piece, within another month or two, jeans will be put away completely until next October or so. (And maybe by then I'll fit back into the next two or three pairs of hole-less jeans...hey, at least I've finally put away the maternity jeans...) As for socks, my feet were getting rather too warm today, so socks will soon be unnecessary as well.

Slave to comfort, maybe, but certainly not to fashion!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Toddlers talking

When Marie was around a year and a half old, she pronounced quite a lot of words like an eighteen-month-old. One of my favorites was "bubbon" for button. One morning she was touching each of the buttons on my shirt one after the other and saying "bubbon", and I, well-informed and pedagogically correct and all that, didn't directly correct her, simply repeated the word correctly in conversation. So when she said, "Bubbon!" I replied, "Yes, that's a button." Then she pointed to the next one and said, "Bubbon!" and I said, "Yes, that's another button." And so on. But it was SO cute, that I finally couldn't help myself and said, "Yes, that's Mommy's bubbon!" Marie wrinkled up her forehead, looked at me severely, and said, "BuTTon!" She never did say "bubbon" again after that.

Jacob had so many strange words that I can't even begin to remember them all. I do have quite a lot (from both Marie and Jacob, and a few from Lukas) written down in a little book...but that book is in a box in an attic in Germany. One I remember is "lah-dah-gub" for "ladybug", and he called cars "shoes" for the longest time, I have no idea why. All footwear, on the other hand, was referred to as "newshoes", one word, after he got a pair of new shoes when he as a little over two. (Helen is wearing those shoes now!)

Unfortunately, I haven't been so good at writing down the funny words the children have said since Lukas started talking, or at least, not writing them down to keep. Part of that can probably be blamed on busyness, and part of it on e-mail, as I DO write about funny things the children have said, but I don't have a record of them. But I don't find them less fascinating or funny with my fifth toddler than I did with my first! One of Helen's today was what reminded me that I wanted to write about their funny words.

Elisabeth sits in a rear-facing seat in the front passenger seat of the car, and Helen sits in the middle seat of the first bench, so can see Elisabeth perfectly and often plays peekaboo, which Elisabeth finds hysterically funny. So all the way home from the airport today (goodbye to Andrea, another story, which I'll write when I get a chance to upload photos, which is not tonight), Helen covered her eyes, said, "Where baby?" (but "baby" pronounced "bay-BEE" for some reason), uncovered her eyes, and said, "Keeb-ba-boo!" A little while after we got home I wanted to video Helen doing that, but she would only say "peekaboo", absolutely perfectly. No fair!

One of my favorites of her words is "jimanas," as in clothing to wear to bed. I also love how she says "Elibbabeth," although she's occasionally saying "Elisabess". (She can't seem to get the "s" in the middle AND the "th" at the end in the the same word.) And if you'd asked me, I would have said that she says "frog" just fine, but this morning she was pointing out all the frogs in a book with a lot of frogs, and I realized that she was saying "fwog" every time.

Katie at five and a half doesn't give me a lot of funny language material anymore, but did have one today. I wrote it down right away, too, to make sure I'd remember it: she was using a my-i-fagning glass to make things look bigger.

Elisabeth, by the way, at not quite nine months, is already saying FOUR words consistently, which is a little scary! We're not sure if her first word was "hi" or "Jacob" (Jacob of course thinks it was "Jacob", but I didn't hear it spontaneously until after "hi", only repeated), but she says both of those often, as well as "Mama" and "Andrea" (not that clearly, but a consistently repeated group of sounds that referred to Andrea), and yesterday or the day before she looked at Jörn and said, "Ba-ba-ba-PAPA!" and then grinned, so I can almost count a fifth word, I think. She also waves whenever she hears "bye" or "tschüss", but I'm pretty sure all of the others were doing that by around nine months, too.