Monday, April 28, 2008

The Russian Word for Goose

I thought that my Unplugged post this week would be about the bird's nest outside of our kitchen window.

But we have yet to see any actual birds near the nest, so I am going to talk about linguistics instead.

I've wanted to reintroduce the Russian language in our home, but haven't decided quite how to do it. Although I can speak and read Russian proficiently, I am nowhere near fluent enough for the kids to learn "natively." I have also been reticent to use Russian text because of the similarity (and therefore confusability) of the alphabets.

Agent 002 gave usthe kickstart that we needed.

For the past few weeks, he has been pulling Russian books off of the shelf, demanding that I read them. Never being a mom to refuse the opportunity to read to the kids, I have obliged willingly each time. His favorite story is Колубок, a Russian language version of The Gingerbread Man with a puffy round pastry in place of the man made of cookie.

Given this new-found interest in Russian language books, I decided to pull out some of our Russian picture books.

Inspired by this week's Unplugged theme, we started with the book about birds -- Птицы.

Agent 002 echoed each words as I read it, except without my Yankee accent. I knew that the Russian phonemes would still be accessible to him, but I did not know that he would be able to pronounce words correctly even without a proper model. Mind you, he had no idea what the words meant, but they rolled off his tongue like it was his native language.*

Agent 004, on the other hand, had a very difficult time pronouncing multiple consonants together. Птица sounded more like "puh-pizza" than "ptitsa." But she sure had fun trying!

It was her, however, that was fascinated to learn the Russian word for familiar birds. Here is what she learned:

  • птица (ptitsa) - bird
  • утка (ootka) - duck
  • петух (petookh) - rooster
  • индейка (indeika) - turkey
  • гусь (goose) - goose
I still don't know where we are going with this, but I am glad that we are doing something. I will keep these books in the reading basket, and see if anyone wants me to read any more.

*I guess it is, in fact his native language, although his English vocabulary was better than his Russian ever was by the time he had been with us six months. And it really did surprise me to hear him speak that clearly.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

We Have a Winner

Teri is the lucky winner of Corduroy and Caps for Sale.

It has been a lot of fun visiting blogs this week, and I have enjoyed all of the company here at the casa warillever blog.

I hope that some of my new friends will come back to visit again.

If Teri does not respond to my email by Monday, I will choose another winner.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Beach Party

The girls spyed bathing suits while we were sorting out spring clothes.
Nothing could dissuade them from going for a swim.
Not even the 36 degree outside temperature.
So we brought the beach inside --
and gave those bathing suits a workout.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Monstrous Birthday Cake

Here's what works for me -- using some donuts and a simple cake mix to make a monster of a birthday cake for my 6-year-old gearhead.

Make a chocolate pound cake (recipe below) in two 9x5 loaf pans. Lay one loaf down with the rounded side down. This is the body of the truck. From the second loaf, cut a trapezoid that will become the cab of the truck. Cut the remainder of this loaf into slices. Layer the slices on top of each other to create a small incline that the truck will rest on. If desired, use the last slice to build up the bed of the truck.

Make a double batch of frosting. I used nondairy buttercream, but any thick frosting will work. The frosting is both decoration and mortar. Color 1/3 of the frosting in your desired truck color; color 1/3 brown or black; and leave 1/3 white.

Frost the windshield and side windows white, then frost the body of the truck. Make sure to frost the window frames in the body color. Using decorator frosting, paint details like doors, headlights, and front grill. Then carefully place the truck on top of the arranged slices. You may want to arrange a row of toy cars next to the truck.

Frost four donuts (preferably not powdered donuts, as the frosting does not adhere well to the sugar coating). Place donuts next to truck body, using toothpicks to hold the tires in place if necessary.

Then make plenty of VROOM VROOM noises as you carry it to the table.

Chocolate Pound Cake


  • 1 box of devil's food cake mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1.25 cups water
  • .5 cup oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix ingredients until well blended.

Pour into greased pans.

Bake at 350 degrees until a tooth pick comes out clean. It will take about 10% longer than the package directions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Handwriting Instruction

Agent 002 practicing his letters.

Monday, April 21, 2008

An Ambitious Weekend

The revitalizing energy of spring has hit us. Over the past two days, 11 loads of laundry were hung out on the line,

we turned over the soil in the garden,
assembled three pans of Shepard's pie,
raked our entire lawn, and
laid a slate floor in our once and future mudroom. I just hope that we can carry some of that ambition on to the rest of the week. Over the next two days I need to
get the snowsuits and blankets into the attic,

drag the rest of the detritus into the woods,

spread the (purchased) compost over garden,
grout the floor, and

bake and decorate a monster truck birthday cake.

They Sure Love Those Scissors

The Unplugged theme for this week is "scissors."

My kids need no encouragement to use scissors; here are are just two examples of self-directed masterpieces from this week.

Agent 004 loves to draw people on one sheet of paper, then rearrange them on another sheet. She tells a story as she works, moving the people like puppets as the story progresses. Scissors are obviously an integral component of her work, as are paper, glue, and felt-tipped pen.

Cousin F, on the other hand, has a more abstract style. Her work is thematic rather than narrative, and is characterized by intense energy. In this work, she uses colored pencil, ink stamps and scissors to create an intricate work of art that only a two-year old could create.

Here is Cousin F working on her "shape books"* With near-perfect accuracy, she pasted small paper shapes into their corresponding book, calling triangles and circles by name. Even after repeated trials however, she insisted on calling squares "shape."

*The shape books were inspired by a fellow unplugged family, but I cannot remember which one. If that mom is reading, please identify yourself so that I can properly credit you for your ideas.

Free Giveaway: Corduroy and Caps for Sale

The cover of Esphyr Slobodkina's classic children's book Caps for SaleImage via WikipediaIn honor of the two birthdays we are celebrating this week, I am giving away two books -- Corduroy by Don Freeman and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.

Classic picture books with an element of fun, these are two of our family's absolute favorites.

Drop me a comment that includes either a link to your blog or your email address.

I will accept entries until bedtime Friday, and will use a random number generator to choose the winner.

*Due to shipping costs, this offer is only available to residents of the United States.*

This is carnival week at Bloggy Giveaways, so there are a lot more free things to be had over there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Blogroll

This is a dynamically created list of what I am reading online. Remember that reading it does not imply that I endorse it, agree with it, or even like every post. If you want to know what I have really enjoyed today, check out the "shared items" over in the right sidebar.

No more Snow Boots

You Are Bare Feet

You are a true free spirit, and you can't be tied down.

Even wearing shoes can be a little too constraining for you at times!

You are very comfortable in your own skin.

You are one of the most real people around. You don't have anything to hide.

Open and accepting, you are willing to discuss or entertain almost any topic.

You are a very tolerant person. You are accepting and not judgmental.

You should live: Somewhere warm

You should work: At your own business, where you can set the rules

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sunny Days

Nary a snowbank in sight. Unless, of course, you look in the shade:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No Tips Today

You know what works for me? Spending every possible moment outdoors enjoying that time-honored New England spring tradition....

....of riding your bike full-speed into a snowbank.

Now that the temperatures have been reaching up into the 50s, we have been outside until dinnertime every evening. Which means, of course, that my posting schedule will need to be adjusted accordingly. Maybe 2 or 3 posts a week from here on out.

Wish me luck on my tan :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Dragon and the Pea

Our Unplugged project -- dragon masks.

After watching an episode of Dragon Tales*, Agent 002 wanted to be a dragon.

Thinking quickly, I pulled out a bag of split peas, a bowl of glue, and a stack of cardboard. With some parental assistance in the placement of eyeholes, dragon masks were soon completed.

Agent 002 was not yet satisfied. "Dragons have wings," he said.

A moment later he had crafted dragon wings from a paper bag and some string. His quick-witted sister pulled a pair of angel wings from the dress up basket.

Her dragon gown was made from an old tablecloth and a pair of safety pins. His dragon shirt just happened to be what he was wearing that morning.

I ended the project before Agent 002 figured out how to get fire to shoot from his mouth. Much disappointment ensued.
*Yes, I recognize the irony in writing about a television-inspired project for Unplugged. But the project itself was, in fact, unplugged. And most people would agree that split peas are food, and thus fit the project parameters. My husband would disagree.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Tough Nut to Crack

You Are a Brazil Nut

To most people, you seem exotic, unusual, and even a bit scary.

But you're really quite normal. You're just hard to get to know.

If people leave you alone and let you do your thing, you really shine.

But you tend to get lost in a crowd, especially if it's filled with big personalities.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Magnetic Phonics

I don't think that this is how the folks at LeapFrog thought the Word Whammer would be used.....but at least the kids are using the letters as well.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Of Scorpions and Other Unplanned Projects

In case anyone gets the idea that we run an organized preschool in this home, let me tell you a story that illustrates how our lesson plans are really designed.

Some months ago we went to a fast-food restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. The food was mediocre, but the accompanying toy (pictured at left) became one of Agent 002's favorites.

Then winter came and the toy was locked out in "cold storage" for the season. The little boy promptly forgot all about his favorite robot scorpion.

Boy and scorpion had a sweet reunion, however, when the three-season porch was reopened for the season. We heard shrieks of "little pooch baby scorpion" as Agent 002 held the plastic creature up to his face to kiss it.

Moments later, the questions began. Does it bite? Sting? Would it make me dead? Can I run faster than a scorpion? What does it eat?

I answered as many of the questions as I could, and then honestly answered that I had no idea about the rest. I suggested that we look up some information.

We started by reading the Wikipedia entry, then hit Google Images for some visuals. By this point, Agent 004 and Cousin F were also huddled around the laptop looking at the pictures.

Once the troops showed signs of restlessness, we headed into the red room to create something with our new-found knowledge. Agent 002 built his own model of a "death stalker" scorpion with minimal assistance. He used an egg carton for the body, twirled wire for the tail, wire threaded through the carton for legs, and construction paper for the pincers. Obviously he also included his trademark smile (just like his fish).

While he worked on the model, I asked him to recount everything he learned. I transcribed the information onto a Powerpoint slide along with some of the images we found online. An instantaneous entry for our animal notebook:

For something completely spontaneous it was quite a thorough lesson. We did some reading, writing, research, geography, creative art, and even a bit of math (figuring out how many wires we would need to make the right number of legs, given that each wire makes two legs).

And so passed an entire morning at casa warillever. Lots of learning, lots of creativity, and a whole lot of fun. Now if only you would believe that every morning went like this....

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Learning to Learn to Read

Sometime in February, Agent 004 informed me that she was ready to read.

Actually, she handed me a book (I wish that I could remember which) and said, "I will read this." And then she asked me what each individual word said.

When we finished reading that book I asked her if she wanted to learn how to read all kinds of books. She said yes, so we started in on a new adventure together.

Due to its glowing recommendations, we started with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Agent 004 thought it was a lot of fun to say things fast and then say them slow, but I wasn't such a big fan. It just felt too stilted and didn't fit into the rhythm of our days. There is no set "preschool" time at our house; I consider each moment of their lives educational. Teach Your Child to Read might well be effective, but I am not quite ready to have my three-year old involved in a formal reading curriculum with structured lessons. We quit within two weeks.

But, as I told you a few weeks ago, my little princess is starting to read. What has worked for her? Word families.

Not simply "sounding it out," word families help children to see the pattens in words (see Literacy Connections for more information). We start with two letters -- a common word ending like "-at." Agent 004 and I sound the letters out together. Then I whip out the "word-o-matic,*" a strip of cardboard with the word ending written on it. The initial consonants are written on a slip of paper that slides through two slits on the cardboard. We slide the paper up and down reading each new word as it appears.

After learning the "-at" words, she read her first book -- a printable from Hubbard's Cupboard called In My Hat. The next day I wrote her a very silly book called The Cat that Sat on a Hat, which she read with glee.

I wanted to make sure that she could have instant success by reading real books. She is very proud of new found ability.

Of course, she is still learning through exploration as well. I recently made her a set of Montesori-style** movable letters following these instructions at ehow.***

Here are some "-at" words that she spelled out on the table.

Here is Agent 002 trying out different initial consonants. Whenever he came up with something that made a recognizable word, he would get excited and ask us all to look.
The cards clean up easily into their very own filecard box with alphabet dividers. As an added bonus, the kids are learning alphabetical order as they clean up.

*I have since learned that these are called "word slides," and are commonly used in elementary school phonics. I was so proud of myself for coming up with these all on my own! Reinventing the wheel again :)

** Yes, I am aware that Montessori purists would cringe to hear these called movable letters since they are on cards. We use a lot of Montessori methods in our schooling, but do not follow the Montessori Method.

***I made two modifications to these instructions -- (1) I made a small yellow dot (ala Handwriting Without Tears) in the top-left corner of each card to prevent letter reversals and (2) I made a template to ensure equally sized letters by cutting a small-letter-sized rectangle from an extra index card.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Literate Cat

Agent 004 thought that Janice would appreciate a book about cats.

The warillever Fan Club

Thank you for your participation in my recent poll. With 11 readers participating, the results were

I really like it when warillever posts:
  • preschool crafts (8)
  • memes (3)
  • anecdotes about the Agents and Cousins (6)
  • poems (3)
  • backyard photos (6)
  • household tips (6)
I don't like it when warillever posts:
  • preschool crafts
  • memes (2)
  • anecdotes about the Agents and Cousins
  • poems (2)
  • backyard photos
  • household tips (1)
It looks like y'all think I should just keep on keepin' on. So that's what I plan on doing. And just because you asked, there is a preschool craft post in the works. About scorpions of all things.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bedtime Book Club

My kids are part of a nighttime reading group. It meets every evening in Agent 004's bedroom, and has three members -- Agent 002, Agent 004, and their Papa -- mr warillever. I am expressly prohibited from participation.

Once the agents are in their pajamas I give them each a kiss and send them up the stairs. Mr warillever leads them in prayers and then pulls out the book club selection. They are currently reading Farmer Boy, which is the second book in the Little House series. Agent 002 in particular likes this book -- maybe because it is about a mischievous boy like him.

It takes them about a month to complete a novel. Thus far, they have worked through Little House in the Big Woods, Stewart Little, Charlotte's Web, The Trumpeter Swan, Doctor Doolittle, and the Just So Stories. By next week they should have started in on Little House on the Prairie and then on through the rest of that series by the end of the year.

In addition to the amazing bonding time they get with their father, reading longer and more books (should) enrich their vocabulary, extend their attention span, and expand their geographic and historical knowledge. It also introduces themes that I weave through our "preschool" studies throughout the week.

Sometimes I am a little jealous of the family cuddle time that I am missing, but I love that mr warillever gets his special time with the Agents. It also doesn't hurt to have 45 minutes to myself every evening :)

For more posts about books, visit this week's Unplug Your Kids project.
Next week's theme: Food

Friday, April 04, 2008

What a Difference a Week Makes

...or does it?

I took a slew of pictures of the kids playing on our newly exposed patches of green grass yesterday. I planned on posting them as a counterpoint to last Friday's snow pictures. And then we woke up to this:

As you can see, the kids enjoyed it anyway. And yes, F really is wearing a princess dress over her snowpants.

Here are yesterday's pictures:

Since I know that you all have heard the saying "if you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes," I won't say it. I'll just tell you that it is currently neither sunny nor snowing; it is raining. And Agent 004 begged to jump in puddles after nap.

That is what I call savoring the season.

This post was submitted to the group writing project at MamaBlogga.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I've Got a Few Questions for You.....

There are a hardy few who have been reading this blog since the beginning. Of course, most of them are librarians, which may explain their inexplicable persistence in reading such uninspired tripe for so long.

Not that it is really "uninspired" or "tripe." Unfocused might be a better word. Or meandering. Meandering, like a mountain stream making its way to the ocean, except with words instead of water and with no mountain or ocean. Okay, so isn't at all like a mountain stream, but it meanders nonetheless.

And I love the meandering. I love that whenever I have something to say, I just open the Blogger window, type in my thoughts, and add it to this meandering stream of words. It is a creative outlet, where I am the creator, I am the editor, and I am the queen.

But y'all have a role to play too. Remember way back in my second post, I said that this blog isn't about me, it is about us. That it is a way for us to keep in touch. Which means that it should be a conversation. That I shouldn't ramble on about things that you don't care about, but should instead find areas of common interest.

I'll admit that for the most part, I blog selfishly. Mostly because I am too lazy to keep a journal or a scrapbook, but also because I enjoy the interactivity of this medium. Especially when y'all drop me a comment. That makes me smile. But since no one (except Kate) ever comments, I figured that I would beg for some input. See that poll floating at the top of the page? Please answer the questions.

No, really. Answer it, now. Tell me what you like, and what bores you to tears.

I will stop writing until you have answered. :)

WFMW: One Stop Planning (Reprise)

In a special edition of Works for me Wednesday, Shannon has asked us to "share our very best with the internet." If there is one thing that makes my household "work for me," it is this simple organizational scheme. So here it goes (again):

I have always been a bit of a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to organizational systems. I have never found a commercial product that has all of the features I want in a size or price that I am comfortable with.

In college I photocopied a grid with my weekly class and work schedule drawn in, penciled in meetings as they were scheduled, and then planned homework and my social life around those parameters. I could see my entire week at a glance and know just where I needed to be when. I used some variation of this system for ten years. It was simple and flexible, but thorough. It really worked for me.

Then I became a stay-at-home mom, day care provider, and owner of a very high maintenance home. I had things to be done, but no set schedule -- my time-based organizational system fell apart. With all of the constant (blessed) interruptions, I could not keep track of all of the things I needed to remember and do. I could not remember what on earth I needed at the store, or when I had last vacuumed the playroom. With the help of Flylady, I got daily routines going, but still needed to make the system my own. This January, I finally sat down and made a planner that fits my life. The sheet has a box for everything I need in a week -- appointments, menu plans, preschool plans, shopping lists, and ongoing projects. I also have a checklist of all of the tasks I complete once per week. I even found room to record the kid's milestones and what books we have read together.

I print off a month's worth of sheets, pop them into a soft-covered binder, and keep it in the kitchen cabinet above the computer. The binder rolls up small enough to fit in my coat pocket, which allows me to bring it along to the grocery store and doctor's office even when my hands are busy. Here is what it looks like in use.
That is what works for me. To see what tips others have come up with, visit Rocks in My Dryer.