Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Day is Coming

The tree is decorated.  The lights are up.  The nativity is in pride of place on the dining table bedroom dresser (high enough that balls enthusiastically thrown by a small boy cannot hit it!).

There are no presents under our tree. 

This is not just because things are rather crowded up there on top of the stereo!

Next year I hope to have a tree just for Munchkin (picked up at this year's post-Christmas sales) - one he can decorate and undecorate to his heart's content without worries about fragile fibre optics or glass ornaments!  Got the idea from someone I know, and I think it is brilliant!

In future years, we hope to buy a family gift.  Next year, maybe a tent.  Then we will head off camping together.  But this year, money is tight and Munchy doesn't know any different.  He's got more than enough toys to last him till his birthday at any rate!  We can read some of his books together, roll around on the lawn and tickle each other, and eat jam on bread.  He will be one happy camper.  He doesn't need more than that. 

Now, I don't want you thinking that we are depriving our child of the wonder and anticipation of Christmas.  I want Munchkin to feel excited, and anticipate Christmas with great joy once he is old enough to get it all!  We have traditions, and fun, and celebration.  We're just trying to avoid too much commercial hype, plastic junk, and an attitude of me-me-me.  Christmas is about giving.  Not getting.  It's about family, not just festivities.  It's about being grateful and being blessed.

We do have stockings.  Well, Munchkin has some fabric.  I haven't quite gotten to the 'make it' stage just yet.  But I will in time for next year, I promise.  Mine and Boyo's hang under our tree.  They are empty.  We were going to put something in them, but decided fruit and veges were probably more important.

I've thought a bit over the past week about how much we all spend at Christmas.  It is so nice to have that special family meal, open gifts together, and 'feel the love.'  But then when things are tight, it feels like we are a bit deprived. 

Now, how on earth have I ended up feeling deprived? 

I don't lack a single thing in my life! 

But there's something about Christmas that screams cheeries, Christmas mince pies, ham, and chocolates!  So I find myself wondering, isn't it possible to have a special family meal without it costing us $50!?  We've opted out of ham this year.  Too expensive.  Instead, I got us some pork spare ribs.  A real treat as we don't usually have them.  We're going to eat them for Christmas Dinner (evening meal) with new baby potatoes (and a large dollop of butter on my part!) and corn cobs.  We will follow this with trifle...my husband's Christmas Day tradition of choice.  Lunch will be pancakes with lemon juice and sugar and maybe a bit of icecream (Boyo thinks there may still be some lurking in the freezer).

BUT, on Christmas Day, there will be gifts under our tree.  Just not for us.  Every year for the past few years I've participated in Operation Christmas Child.  It is now our family tradition to start our boxes for next year on Christmas Day.  We haul out the rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, the shoeboxes, sellotape and sizzors and spend a few minutes as a family wrapping some boxes.  We've already done our Christmas shopping, and came away with three small gifts to start our boxes off (they usually end up with about 6-7 small gifts in each by the time we are done in October next year).


I just finished watching this GORGEOUS clip by Toby Mac about Operation Christmas Child.  I admit it, I cried.  And remembered again just why I do this mad shoebox thing every year.  There's something about gift giving that fills the soul.  Then there's gift giving to someone who really NEEDS the gift.  It is magical.  Special.  Amazing.  And for a gift-giver like me, intoxicatingly addictive.  I love it!  I get to give gifts that are really, truly needed and wanted to kids who have NEVER received a gift in their lives before.  I get to buy lots of cute little things and carefully stack them in a box I have wrapped myself.

Come join us on Christmas afternoon for some decadent Christmas Cake if you're in the neighbourhood (chocolate and fruit - mmm, yummy)!  We'll be here, cake, shoeboxes, and smiles.



Amy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks

I'm thankful that I have a home.

Thankful that the roof doesn't leak.  The floor isn't mud.  The walls don't move in the wind.  We paid our rent last week and we will again this week.  We have fair and honest landlords.  More than fair.

I'm so thankful that today I ate.  I ate really well.  Porridge, Banana, toast, eggs, salad, Watties spaghetti (ah, a treat!), cheese, yoghurt, cake, apple...I ate really, really well.  I am not hungry.  I will not be hungry tomorrow.

My water is clean.  I'm grateful for that.  It won't make me sick.  It is crystal clear, sparkling clean water.  Gushing from my tap.  I didn't even have to go outside to get it.  Wow.  That's pretty amazing, when you stop and think about it. 

I got to work today.  Now sometimes, I am not very grateful for the honour of working.  Sometimes, I would much rather roll over and snuggle back to sleep (okay, okay, nearly every morning!).  But I am grateful that when we needed the money, a job was provided.  I'm honestly, truly in awe at the timing and the way my new job has fitted into our already busy lives.  I'm also grateful that I get to sleep in over most of January.  Bliss.  That's really something to look forward to!  Two more early mornings to go.

I'm thankful that I am physically able to work.  I can get myself around just fine.  I might moan and complain about various body aches and pains at this time or that, but right now, I am grateful that I am alive and I am well. 

I'm so thankful that we have family near.  Parents just up the road.  Parents-in-law just 'over the hill'.  It's going to be lovely spending time with them all over the next week.  Plus, my brothers are coming to visit!!!!  Not often that we get all three of us together these days, so I'm totally hanging out for that.  Then there's the BIG party - my 30th and Munchkin's Dedication...lots of friends and family coming for that, yay!

I loved spending time with my family today.  Boyo and Munchkin, centre of my world. 

I love the beach.  So grateful that we live this close to a beach.  A beautiful, windswept, sandy beach.  I realised just how much I take it for granted when the Rena grounded offshore a couple of months back.  Today was our first trip back to the beach since September.  Ah, I've missed it.  Munchkin with a stick as big as he is, dragging it all around, toes wiggling in the sand.  Running and running and running, chasing me and the stroller.  Then chasing Daddy and the stroller while a chubby little hand grips my finger. 

Laughter.  How I am grateful for laughter.  Moments spent rolling round and round on the bed, tickling tummy, nibbling ear, making funny faces and funnier noises.

I am grateful that tonight my man is out working.  Not that I wouldn't love having him at home.  But I'm grateful that he has a job.  And that he's working his hardest at it, trying to provide for us all.  I'm thankful that he's being offered extra work at a time when work is so hard to find.  I'm so proud of him, doing this past year of study!  I do love spending time with Boyo, holding hands, sitting and chatting as we gaze out our lounge windows.  Walking side by side on the boardwalk.  Being a team.  I love that we are a team.

I'm thankful that we have money in the bank.  Apparently this puts us in the top 5% of the world's population or something (owning a computer pushes us even higher!).  Whatever it is, I often forget just how blessed we are to have spare money at the end of each day, each week, each month.  Money for takeaways every now and then.  Money for birthday presents, money for doctors visits, clothes, and playcentre.  Money to help a friend in need.

And finally, I am grateful for my bed.  It is a really nice bed.  Soft.  Cosy.  Doesn't really look all that flash (most of our bedding doesn't match), but does that really matter?  And while I'm on the topic, I'm also thankful that I have blankets.  Lots of people don't, you know.  I not only have one blanket, but several.  I have a blanket for every season (and nearly every occassion!).  If I feel chilly in the middle of the night, I just get up and grab the quilt, the duvet, or the polarfleece blanket (depending on just how cold I am!).  And I just love my pillow. It is so right.  Moulded to me.  Then there's my hot water bottle.  I am totally grateful for hot water bottles!  I would love to thank whoever invented them.  They are the best!  I still use mine nearly every night.  Yup, even in summer.  My poor lil tootsies have trouble getting warm on their own! I so love my hot water bottle.

And on that note, I am heading to bed!  So thankful that tonight I can sleep in peace.  There is no war in my country.  No unrest in my neighbourhood.  Not even any loud parties.  I go to bed without fear of the night, or fear of tomorrow.  Thank you, God, for all these many blessings in my life!  Thank you.

Linking in with Paisley Jade's Things I'm Loving

Amy

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

November Disappeared (and so did my Free Rice scores)

Well, folks in case you haven't noticed it is now December.  Well and truly.  My life has been somewhat hectic.  Surprisingly so.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  I am, after all, working fifteen hours a week and looking after a baby in between.  But I guess I thought I'd feel more relaxed once I finished study.  Nope.  I feel somewhat overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed, exhausted, frazzled, all of the above will do to describe this feeling of life running away on me.  Working through that one at present (like, why? and what can I do about it?).

As predicted, I only did Free Rice on the very last day of November.  But I did at least DO some.

1,100.

I'm sure that whoever received that handful of rice (is it a handful, do you think?) is very grateful I took some time to answer a few questions.  I'm trying to remember to go on more often this month.  Tonight I''ve been looking at countries of the world again.  Fascinating stuff.  Like, why is it that pretty much every single time Egypt comes up, I think that it can't possibly be Egypt.  Surely it must be sudan or libya or something african sounding!?  Egypt, in my mind, belongs in the Middle East.  Yet, when you look on a map there it is, on the top of Africa.  With only the tiniest smidgeon of land hitching a ride into the Middle East.  I did it TWICE tonight, in the space of a few minutes.  DUH.  Egypt is in AFRICA, Amy, Africa!

Did you manage to do any Free Rice questions in November?
Amy

Shared Thinking

I wrote most of this months ago...so finally thought I should share it with you all!

I don’t talk much about my studies here. That’s not because I don’t enjoy them. I do. I guess I am usually just so busy studying, that by the time I am done I don’t feel like talking about it all over again. But I was thinking about my Early Years Degree this morning, going over some of the concepts we’ve been discussing in our online forum group. And I had a bit of a revelation. Concepts that I am learning in class do not just apply to teachers! Duh. You think?! The learning we look for as teachers, we can also look for as parents. I know I do. I utilise the things I am learning in my Degree often in my interactions with my son.


So I thought there might be a few parents out there who would be interested in what we’ve been learning in class.

Namely, shared and sustained thinking. In essence, what we’re finding is that children learn in relationship. They can certainly make connections on their own, and often do so. But they learn best and most through relationships with other people and things. They need it.

Daddy and Munchkin involved in a favourite past-time: reading the machines book together! 
Shared and sustained thinking is all about building a relationship of conversation with a child. Not just a quick, “Hi, how are you?” and moving on. Sustained. Allowing a bit of time and space for children to express their thoughts (when you have limited language at your disposal it can sometimes take awhile to get an idea out, you know!). It’s about providing space for them to return to an earlier topic, sometimes again and again.

Shared. Not one-way, or one-sided. Not just listening to them babble and saying “Ah-ha, yup.” (I know, we all do it at times…a very useful strategy when you really have NO idea what they are trying to say!). Not just talking and talking, giving instructions, telling them what to do or how to think. Nope. Shared. Mutually beneficial and mutually enjoyable. Really trying to connect with what the child is thinking and connect them with what you are thinking.

Shared, sustained thinking.

We highly value play as a means of learning in the early years in New Zealand. I totally agree: freely chosen play is essential. Kids need space to be themselves. Play gives them that. They can create, imagine, imitate, negotiate, and relate all in a safe setting that they have some control over…their own games. But alongside this, and equally important I believe, is the need for us to come alongside them and share their thinking. This is what extends their learning, takes it to the next dimension. It is all too easy to tell the kids to “Go off and play,” to get them out of our hair. Who hasn’t done that? There are multitudes of things that need to be done, and limited time in which to do them. The kids will be happy playing for awhile. True. But sometimes they’d gain so much more from playing with you. From having a conversation with you. Asking those hairy questions and just thinking through some answers with you.

I've been guilty of sending Munchy off to play already, and he's only 18 months old.  "I'm cooking dinner, go and find your book."  "Mummy has to hang out the washing."  So now that I'm thinking about it, I'm trying to find ways of involving him more in what I'm doing, in talking with him even when we are engaged in separate tasks, and in expecting him to respond and want to be with me.  This does get messy.  I have discovered that a plastic mat under the chair at the kitchen bench is very useful.  And that I need to remember he can reach almost the entire way across the bench to whip a mixing bowl out from under my fingers!  And sometimes (okay, a lot of the time!) I find it really tediously SLOW.  Oh my goodness, I had no idea how much a toddler's involvement could slow you down. Everything takes twice as long, at least!  But we share together.  Sometimes we play.  Sometimes we work.  Sometimes we do both together.

The breadmaker died (it has since been fixed, thanks Dad!) so Munchy helped with the kneading.
So cute!  Although throwing the tin of screws all over the floor then trying to eat them wasn't so cute.  Sometimes I wonder why I involve my son.  Then I remember how important he looked helping hold that hinge, and I just have to let him help me again. 
Shared, sustained thinking is just that. It is us sharing with our kids. Sharing our thoughts. Sharing their thoughts. Talking. Questioning. Thinking. It's an incredibly powerful tool in building that special bond between us. And, as a bonus, this shared thinking allows us to more accurately see what is going on inside our beloved little one’s head. It’s exciting, getting to share in new discoveries every day!

Cool playdough creations.  I just LOVE playdough!

This is what I wrote in class about shared thinking (remember, from the perspective of an early childhood teacher):

"I believe that in order for this sustained thinking to take place, I must actually BE INVOLVED in children's activities and games, not just a static observer. I like the idea of sustained themes being present for children, perhaps an area of the kindergarten set up that has things collected from last week's field trip, with new library books strategically added, a microscope, some paper, glue, pens, etc for any creating...children can then return to this as they please, teachers can add things to it as children and teachers come up with new angles on things they want to find out or do. (edited: this applies at home too – you could put the takeaway containers from last night’s dinner on the table, with chopsticks and menus and see what happens – you might end up invited to a restaurant for lunch, you might be asked why the containers aren’t coloured, the possibilities are endless!)

Talking with a child about what they are doing, why, what they are getting out of the activity. Adding a new thought, perhaps just one. I do this with my son. His favourite games involve spinning things or rolling things. So we frequently find him with the lid from a jar on his little table, trying to make it spin around. I have often done things like, "What if we try it up this way?" or given him a different object to try spinning, or spun something myself without even saying anything to him. Just extending on the activity he is already engaged in, using some language around it "round and round," enjoying his enjoyment, and sharing in it with him. By starting this now, we are already opening a dialogue that will continue as he grows."

This shared thinking doesn’t mean you have to be constantly involved. You can still pop in and out of games at times, while sorting the washing or tidying the bench. Shared thinking can take place even when we are involved in different activities. Munchkin plays around my feet while I am making soup in the kitchen. I talk to him while we are both busy doing our own thing. “What have you got there, can Mummy have a look?” He hands it to me. I comment on it and hand it back, and return to cutting carrots. I tell him about what is going in the soup. He might be too young still to understand all the words, but he will be taking it all in subconsciously, learning the rhythms and nuances of our language. We are engaging in a form of shared thought, even though we are involved in different activities!

What do you do when you are honestly too sick to move and yet have to look after a small boy (and it's raining!)?!  Set up water on the kitchen floor of course.  And watch from your armchair, hoping he heeds the instructions to 'keep it in the kitchen!'

So for all you parents, grandparents, extended family, friends and teachers out there: Have a meaningful conversation with a child today. Stop. Listen. Engage.  Pass on your knowledge.  Relive some of your youth.

I am passing on my tent-making skills to my son.  My own mother taught me well.  Tent making is an excellent diversion on a wet day, provided you aren't too fussy about your lounge for a few hours!

Then can you come back and share your secrets with me?  I'd love to know how you engage with your kids, your tips and tricks for meaningful conversation.

Amy

Meet my Oxen

There's this funny little verse in Proverbs that I came across awhile ago.  I just keep coming back to it, and wondering what it means!

"Where no oxen are, the grain crib is empty, but much increase [of crops] comes by the strength of the ox." Proverbs 14:4 (amplified version)

So, I've thought and thought (and prayed some) about it, wondering what connection it has to my life. To my gasoline powered, electric lighted, supermarket shopping life.  Anyone know someone with an ox or two?  Nope, not me.  At least not personally.  My sponsored kids might, I guess.  Maybe.  They'd be lucky, anyone with an ox I imagine.  So, what are oxen, what do they do, and why do they increase crops?

My theory is that oxen work the soil.  They prepare for planting.  You can plant without them, but I imagine planting a paddock (field) of maize or barley might be just a tad difficult if you had to plough it all yourself.  Hard work.  Very, very hard work.  I imagine it might take too long and that you'd struggle to get the soil friable enough for seed to germinate and grow well.  I have no proof of this, of course.  I'm just imagining.  Oxen pull a plough.  So my theory is that if you own an oxen or two, you are able to plough a much larger area than you could do by yourself.  Heck, I imagine an oxen drawn plough would do more work than an entire family of strapping young men out there shovelling dirt!

So now that I've thought about what oxen are and what they are for, I'm wondering what I have in my life that could equate to an ox.  My breadmaker perhaps?  Considering I'd otherwise have to knead bread by hand which means I just never would, maybe!?

Then I realised, I do have oxen.  I have three.  Only they are a bit smaller than a real ox.  But then, our garden isn't exactly huge either.  My chookies are my oxen.  They till the soil for me.  They also eat scraps, poop lots, and improve the soil fertility.  And I don't have to stand behind a big baulky plough encouraging them to do so (like I imagine you do with oxen!).  I just give them greens, grain, water and some hay or wood shavings, and they do the rest.  Oh, and the occassional cockroach, leftover fruit, or worms from the compost bins also goes down well.  They like that.  They are three very happy chookies when I come calling!

What I theorise is that crops do not grow well of their own accord.  You have to prepare an ideal environment.  My chickens are helping do that, with as little direct effort from me as possible (plus, I get the bonus of fresh eggs in a few months time!  Beat that!!!).  I think that EVERY backyard suburban gardener should have a chicken tractor on their vege garden.  I know, I know, I am biased.  I LOVE chooks.  But seriously, they are amazing animals!  And don't go telling me you don't have room.  There are always bantams.  You might not get a tonne of eggs, but they still dig and poop enough for your lettuces and beans to be pleased you have them.

So, meet my (recently named!) oxen:


Autumn.  My mother-in-law's idea.  So named because her feather colour reminds me of autumn leaves.  Rusty red and tan.  Only this Autumn is fluffy too!


Ember.  You can't tell in this picture, but Ember's eyes are an amazing golden yellow.  Like embers.  Beautiful.


Tui.  After discarding all manner of names related to black things, I had an epiphany.  This little black hen isn't really black at all.  Her feathers shimmer and shine with hues of blue and green.  So I named her after the shimmery shine of a tui's feathers.  Black and green and blue.  Just gorgeous.

Ah.  It feels good to have finally given my girls names.  They have grown so much since these photos were taken!  It is just rather tricky getting pictures of them, they hardly ever stand still long enough (plus there is the small matter of the toddling boy trying to throw oranges, eat strawberries, and play in the birdbath!).

So, do you have any oxen in your life?  What do you think this proverb means?
Amy

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This is NOT a Hobby!

Our vegetable garden is not a hobby!


Pruning roses, maybe.  Planting petunias, perhaps.  But growing vegetables, that is a household chore.  At least in my mind, it is.  My husband doesn't really agree.  He seems to think it is a nice little hobby for Amy to wander out and spend an hour (or so) in the garden weeding, digging, squashing, planting, and harvesting.  The thing is, he shares in the provision.  While sitting on his bum.  Now, don't get me wrong, Boyo does plenty of other things around the house.  But he hates gardening!  So it always ends up that I do it in my 'spare' time, which of course then means I don't actually ever HAVE any spare time.


I think the vegetable garden should be a chore.  Equal with washing laundry, doing dishes, vacuuming, and mowing the lawns.  It provides amazing food for us, which none of those other occupations can claim, so why is it relegated to a lesser position?!  It might be different if we didn't need the food, if I did just do it because I love it.  But I don't love weeding.  Really.  Who does?  I would rather knit.  Or read a book.  Or just sit and eat cherry tomatoes straight off the vine!  Our garden provides us with wholesome, cheap food.

The vege garden is also a household expense (yes, it has a designated amount put aside for it every month now!).  I've been really slack with this in the past.  I'd somehow expect my garden to produce bountiful food, but without me spending a cent on it.  The soil was terrible, I had no support for climbing plants, and I didn't keep up with the weeding.  It went to rack and ruin, and I wondered why I only got three beans off my bean plant before it shrivelled up and died. 


What I've realised is that if you want to produce a harvest, you need to prepare the soil.  Most important.  Boring, yes.  Tedious, yup.  But necessary.


So this time round I am investing some time and money into our vegetable garden, and I think the results speak for themselves.  I've not put much in really, just a bit of mineral and organic fertiliser, some hay mulch and some stakes (banged in by Boyo).  Boyo and I now have a (tentative!) arrangement that he will do more housework rather than helping in the garden.  He is happier doing that but I'm also happier as I feel like we are giving the garden the value it deserves.  Hopefully that will free up a little more time for me to maximise the provision our vegetables give!


Amy

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Knitting Up a Storm (#21 and 22)!

Two more squares completed!  A lovely deep brown wool this time.  One patterned, and one random.


And in between I've been crocheting.  I'm trying to be a bit clever with this one, and crochet from the centre outwards as I knit bundles of squares, and have to start or stop my row of crocheting as little as possible (which is why it is this funny flower shape at present!)!  Muchkin was as interested as ever in the rows of stitching!


Amy

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Tapestry of Colour


What is this chaotic jumble of coloured stripes?  A blanket, of course!  Or at least the beginnings of one.

This is what it might look like (if I don't change my mind):


And here are squares 18, 19, and 20!


With a bit more work left yet to do.


Never fear, nothing my trusty needle and a few minutes won't fix!  Ah, the pleasure of a quiet moment with my knitting.  Bliss.



Amy

It's Not All Hard Work

Just when I start thinking that gardening is feeling a little too much like hard work, all weeding, weeding, weeding, I am reminded that it's also beautiful.

Very beautiful.




Amy