Monday, August 30, 2010

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

For the past year, I have been using these letter cards to help teach Elijah to read. We use them to identify beginning and ending sounds, to form words, and for games. Each sheet contains 10 lowercase letters and 2 capital letters (this sheet already had a strip removed).

Perplexed on how best to arrange the cards after they had been torn apart at the perforations, I opted for bunching them together and securing them with a rubber band. Not unique and definitely not very user-friendly, you could usually find Elijah and me fumbling through the stack looking for the letter he needed to form each word.

While shopping at Target for school supplies almost a month ago, I stumbled across this blue, 5 row card holder in the $1 section that I thought would work perfectly for holding each letter as Elijah (and now Alli) learn to form words. So on school day #1, we pulled out those rubber-banded stacks of the alphabet and I eagerly grabbed my new card holder when it was time for Elijah to form vocabulary words. But we encountered a problem. The pockets were too deep to see the letter. I sighed, assuming it would be a worthless purchase until inspiration struck.

With the help of a black Sharpie, I turned the pocket holder into a place to store all the alphabet cards! Now we could separate all the letter cards, thus assuring that we would always have enough "T's" and "S's" for any word the kids had to form.
And since it is free standing, I can just set it up on the table or counter and both kids can pick out whichever letter they need, without my help! Then we fold it flat and it takes up almost no room on the bookshelf. Now you might call me simple, but this really made my day!
Alli had to help tear each letter apart, which resulted in a few misshapen cards, but she loved the responsibility and I loved having her help.

Not bad for a $1 Target find!

First Day of School

Monday, August 23rd, 2010. (Okay, so I'm a little behind in posting these!)

Alli is starting K-4, so she held up her age. The backpack is really just for show. She will probably only use it for our homeschool co-op every other week. But who could resist a purple butterfly backpack?
Elijah is starting 1st grade. And is still mastering the "don't squint while smiling" pose.
Ready for a great day!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mommy's Good Old Days - Expanding my Borders

This post is part 11 in a 15 week series sponsored byMommy's Piggy Tales that encourages women to record their youth.


By the time 9th grade rolled around, I was a full-time teenager. Life consisted in my mind only of friends and boys and clothes. I was outgrowing my homesickness that seemed to haunt my earlier childhood and I was ready to embrace every new and exciting experience that came my way.

One of the best things about being a teenager was our church's youth group. It was a large group and very active, so that meant I had more and more freedom to socialize with my friends than my brothers ever had growing up in the country. We had singspirations at least once a month after church (we would visit some one's house and eat and sing and have a short devotional), I went to Six Flags multiple times and even worked up the nerve to try the roller coasters. We had organized activities every month, but the most exciting part of youth group was the yearly trip we took in the summer.

Our church didn't go to one summer Bible camp every year without fail. In fact, I thought it was really cool that we would try different camps all around the country. So while we had a "winter weekend" every year in Wisconsin at Camp Joy, summers meant a new camp to try. I had a really bad camp experience much earlier in my life and I had decided that church camp was not for me. My parents never made me go, even though the prevailing attitude was that if your kid didn't go to Bible camp, there was something spiritually wrong with them or you or both. They understood my homesickness and never pushed the topic.

Well, about 9th grade I began to want to go to camp, and when the summer camp was in Colorado, I couldn't contain my excitement to attend. We left on a bus for something like a 24 hour drive to Denver and stayed at a hotel with a pool and rode the train to the top of Pike's Peak.
I had so much fun on that trip, seeing a new state that my parents had never visited. I felt so grown up! After sight-seeing in Denver for a day or two, we headed to a remote camp in the mountains. The camp was ours for the week. Our youth leaders did all the preaching and activities and fixed all the food. It remains one of my favorite memories of my time in the youth group.

I also managed to convince my parents that we needed a family vacation that didn't involve visiting old relatives. Since I was the only child at home now, my parents felt that we had enough extra money to take a trip. So we headed off to St. Louis for a long weekend. We did a lot of the tourist-y things, like visiting the Arch and taking a ride on a riverboat.
As we were walking downtown one afternoon, I spied a wax museum and begged my parents to take me on the tour. It was the middle of the afternoon and no one else was in the museum. So Dad paid for our tour and we began walking through the dark halls. We would turn a corner into a hallway that was pitch black and then it would open up to a scene (often historical in nature) of wax figures. I remember seeing Abraham Lincoln and marveling at how life-like the figures were. But the further we got into the museum, the more fearful I became, certain some crazed murderer was waiting for us around the next corner. The wax figures which were so intriguing to me in the beginning became like corpses and frightened me more and more as we passed each vignette. Tearfully I begged my parents to abandon the tour and take me out of the house of horrors. They complied (surely rolling their eyes behind my back) and once we were out in the light of day, my fears subsided and I realized how silly I was to be so scared. Silly, but still not brave enough to go back into the wax museum!

So even though I thought of myself as this brave, adventurous teenager, a few wax figurines proved how immature I still was!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mommy's Good Old Days - Finding my Favorite Teacher

This post is part 10 in a 15 week series sponsored by Mommy's Piggy Tales that encourages women to record their youth.


I dreaded eighth grade. I had nightmares about eighth grade. I knew from the class above me that eighth grade meant having Mr. Campbell for THREE classes, and my class actually had him for THREE HOURS IN A ROW.

Mr. Campbell was that teacher that loved to intimidate you. And intimidate he did. He had the reputation for being scary mean and his classes were killers. Everyone warned you that he loved to fail students and he would require vast amounts of homework and projects and you'd be lucky if you made it to your eighth grade graduation after a year with him. And, like the silly teenager I was, I believed every story, even though my brother and new sister-in-law assured me that Mr. Campbell's bark was bigger than his bite. I entered the halls of my first day of eighth grade trembling.
My 8th grade school picture. My mom had recently told me that my bangs were too high. I didn't believe her - until this picture. See pictures of subsequent hair changes below.

Our class had the distinction of having Mr. Campbell teach us Bible, History and Science. I hadn't been in his classroom many times, but I recall the larger-than-life world poster framed on his wall, with intriguing army figurines adhered all over the continents. He was constantly in the middle of some big project for his room and currently there was a train track that was mounted almost near the ceiling that traveled a circuit around the classroom, even entering a tunnel made in the wall of a closet. And he had snakes. In cages. And he fed them mice in front of the class. You can imagine what a squeamish eighth grade girl thought of that!

My brothers, Kevin and Erik and my sister-in-law, Trena, pregnant with my niece. We are with my grandfather, who died weeks before Trena gave birth.

We entered his classroom with much fear and trepidation. I'm not sure I knew what to expect, but I figured it would be horrible. One hour with a difficult teacher was bad, but the time frame we had Mr. Campbell was outrageous. How would we survive?

As you might have guessed, I was completely wrong about Mr. Campbell. Our class loved him. He was a difficult teacher, with high standards and tough demands, but he was a gifted teacher who inspired us, joked and had fun with us and treated us like the semi-mature teenagers we thought we were. He was fair and outrageously funny, often devoting the entire 3 hour block with us to working on projects. We had more freedom in those classes as eighth graders than I would ever get in a classroom again until college. And I thrived in it. Gone were the days of sitting still in your seat while you listen to your teacher lecture, and in came freedom and exploration and understanding your subject so well that it was easy to retain the knowledge we gleaned.
Christmas 1992 - excitement over a walkman. . . remember those?

Being the silly girls my friends and I were, we often giggled and teased Mr. Campbell. He put up with it good-naturedly, and after we graduated from middle school, we even invited him to our party that one of my classmates hosted. He came with his wife and talked to us for a few minutes before going inside to visit with the parents. We huddled together and discussed the embarrassing idea that maybe Mr. Campbell thought we had a crush on him. I vividly remember thinking that I didn't want Mrs. Campbell (our choir director) to think we loved him, or something gross like that! So we called him outdoors and assured him that although he had become our favorite teacher, we were not in love with him. He laughed and said "good to know" and the subject was dropped.

The next year, newly minted as Freshman, we told the eighth graders what they were in for. We didn't spread the false rumors that he was a terrible teacher, we told them how great he was and what fun they would have and really talked him up. Unfortunately, most of the eighth graders never felt the same way about him as we had. I guess our class was a little bit special to Mr. Campbell and I've always appreciated the great year we had with him.

Mr. Campbell told all of us students that the day we graduated from high school, we were adults and could call him by his first name. Last year, at age 32, when I saw him and his wife at my parent's church was the first time I greeted him as "Mark."

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mommy's Good Old Days - 7th Grade

The year I turned 13 brought about many new and exciting changes. I felt like my world was finally opening, I shed the chains of elementary school and fully embraced my new life as a teenager. (All sarcasm and extreme drama intended.)

It would be a thrilling year of sleepovers with new classmates, first "real" crushes and entering the youth group, which was a watershed moment for most kids in our church. I found new self-confidence (read :: obnoxious pride) and in all my self-proclaimed maturity, I was probably more silly and immature than in years past. But, as most middle-schoolers are, I was sure I was the coolest 13 year old around and that the world was my doorstep.

But probably the most exciting thing about my 7th grade year was what happened the summer before - my brother got married!

Kevin was marrying his high school sweetheart, Trena, and I think I was as excited as they were! The summer was filled with showers and planning and I even got to search for apartments with them. But the best, most exciting part of my brother's wedding? I got to be a bridesmaid!

What 13 year old wouldn't have jumped at the chance to be in a wedding? I had never been a flower girl, a point of which caused much jealousy towards my flower-girl friends, and I loved the idea of participating in a wedding. So when my soon-to-be sister-in-law asked me, I didn't have to think twice about saying yes.

She chose hunter green bridesmaid's dresses, made of satin with "poofed" short sleeves and a bow in the back (think Laura Ashley - this was 1990). I was able to get my first pair of high heeled shoes (small pumps, really) and we had them dyed to match the dress perfectly. I practiced walking in those shoes around the house, certain I needed to get used to all the thin air my head now occupied. I'm sure I thought all eyes would be on me on their special day.

The day of the wedding came and I carried a single lily, draped ever-so-elegantly over my arm and adorned with pearls and taffeta down the aisle. I cried when my brother said his vows and dreamed of what a romantic moment like this would be for me someday. We celebrated at the reception afterwards and wished the happy couple off into newlywed bliss. It all seemed so perfect and romantic to me.

The only high that would top this one in my young life came a few years later when my first niece was born . . .

post-script: Kevin and Trena celebrate 20 years of marriage this month. Happy Anniversary, you guys! Yours was the first love story I saw first-hand and it swept me off my feet, too! Love you both!

Monday, August 02, 2010

I couldn't resist . . .

If you love all things Jane Austen, then please check out the Brookish Etsy Store. Have fun!