The Snow Queen - A pretty princess book :-)

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I incorporate Art Study/Art Appreciation into our weekly routine. There is a lot of value in that. But I think for young children, the most important way of "ordering their affections" towards art is to read beautiful picture books. I'm picky about children's books overall and illustrations are a big factor in what I choose to read to my kids. I try to include a large variety of styles of illustrations in our readings: classical paintings, modern cartoons, collage style, anything goes - if it's well done! And of course, you probably know I love a good fairy tale. So when I saw that there was a new illustrated version of The Snow Queen available, I had to have it.

The second thing I'm particular about with books is abridgment. Oh, how I hate to get part way through a book only to discover it has been defiled by abridgment or adaptation. I couldn't find any information before I received this book about whether it was unabridged or not. So when I received it, I nervously picked a couple random passages and compared it to the gutenberg.org version. It wasn't the same but it didn't appear to be missing anything or be watered down so my guess is that it is just a different translation but not abridged. Finally, I was able to get reading!

And it did not disappoint. While I can sing along to every song from Frozen, I had never read the Hans Christian Andersen story that it is very very loosely based on - until now. I'm not quite sure how they got Frozen out of it, but on its own its a very good story anyway. I read it just to myself first since I know now all of Andersen's tales end well but I will be reading it to both Lucy (6 yrs) and Jonah (4 yrs) sometime this winter and I really think they'll enjoy it. They asked about it every time I opened it up and spent quite a bit of time looking at the pictures over my shoulder (no, that's not annoying at all, ahem). It's a chapter book but there are lots of illustrations. And Sanna Annukka's illustrations are great.

They are Scandinavian in style but a bit modern and conceptual and just plain fun. I found myself stopping and really looking at them and thinking about what part of the story she was trying to convey several times. Overall, it's just a lovely book that makes me want to read it, to myself and my kids. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Tree Platform

Our yard does not have any trees suitable for a treehouse, but I (Craig here again) decided to make what I call a tree platform for the kids. It sits on the ground and wraps around a tree in our backyard by the chicken coop.

I took 4x4 cedar posts and notched them (see technique 3) a half inch to help support the girders (the 2" x 10" pressure-treated (PT) boards around the outside). I notched the posts so the floor of the platform is about 4' off the ground in front and 3' in the back (the ground slopes). Digging the holes for the posts was rather difficult, given the rocky (and rooty) condition of the soil. I mostly used a posthole digger, but at one point rented a two-man gas powered auger. I wasn't able to make too much progress with it due to the rocks. I got down to 27" for one hole and about 18" for the others. I put about 4" of gravel in the bottom of each hole and then put in the post and poured in concrete, using a level and one of the girders to ensure that the posts were properly spaced and the notches were level with each other. This was made more difficult by the fact that I built this platform on a slope. I had to trust the level instead of my eyes, because while the posts and boards were level, they did not look like it.

See how the vertical girders rest in a notch and are partially supported by the post

Before I set the posts, I applied these post collars at ground level. You can see them in the photo above right above the concrete - they are dark brown. They are supposed to protect this vulnerable part of the post against moisture, decay, and physical damage. I treated the tops, bottoms, and notches of the cedar posts with copper wood preservative, which I was actually unable to find in stores near me - I bought it at a Menards in North Dakota when I was up there visiting.

After I set each of the 2nd-4th posts, I attached a girder. I used two 4" fasteners on each side of each girder. These bolts are supposedly easy to drive and require no drilling, but in fact they were very hard to screw in all the way. I had to use my power drill like a screw driver, turning it manually while holding the trigger - that is probably bad for the drill. I spaced the posts six feet apart.

Once I finished the four posts, I attached two 6' 2" x 10" PT joists from the front girder to the back girder to help support the floor. I spaced each one about 5" away from the tree, figuring that it will take a good while for the tree to get that much wider. I used metal joist hangers to attach them.

 The joists and a joist hanger (at right where boards meet) viewed from under the floor.

For the floor, I used 5/4" x 6" PT decking cut to 77" long to give a bit of overlap past the girders. I notched the first board at each end around the corner posts. I cut the middle boards to go around the tree leaving a space of about 1.5" - close enough so little feet don't fall in, but far enough to allow a few years' growth of the tree. I figure that, as the tree gets bigger, I can remove these boards and trim them as needed. I attached the floor boards with 2.5" deck screws (the ones with a star drive head - they are easiest to screw in).

I nailed PT 2" x 4" rails around the platform at the top of the posts to prevent falls. I put a second rail on the front (high) side. I left the back side open - that is where I attached a 2" x 4" to the posts a foot off the ground to serve as a step.

In a couple of weeks, I will apply some sort of sealant to the wood (at least the PT stuff - not sure about the cedar posts).

The oak tree around which this platform is built has long, thin branches that hang low to the ground. I asked the kids if they wanted me to trim them back so they could see, but they like the way the branches create a canopy over the platform, so I left them alone.

The first modification I made at the kids' request was to pound some nails into the joists underneath the floor for them to hang their pots and pans. The first use they came up with for the platform was as a campsite, so they built a pretend campfire on the ground in front of it. This may be because I told them we could camp on the platform some night - perhaps this weekend. Lucy also wants me to put a partial roof and some partial walls on it; I may try to do that at another time - I need a break!

I am interested to see what uses the kids come up with for the platform. So far, it seems like they spend as much time under it as they do on top of it.

Mother's Daybook - Oct 19th

Loving - Fall weather. (Except yesterday. It was hot yesterday. October should not be in the 80s, but the cold is back so I'm choosing to block yesterday out of my memory). We've been outside so much. When I originally made my goal, I wrote 750 hours in my bullet journal but used a hashtag on Instagram for 700 hours. I don't know why that wasn't consistent but we've passed the 700 hour goal and are closing in on the 750. I think another week and we'll have it. And we still managing to get a full week of school done! I don't like being cold but I love sweaters and jeans and hot chocolate. I haven't actually had any hot chocolate yet but I've been thinking about it.

Buying - Year 2 books! So much fun receiving books in the mail. I originally thought I'd do mostly ebooks and we're are using many this year and it hasn't been an issue but next year has so many lovely books that I can't stop myself. Especially when I am finding great hardbacks with lovely illustrations for $5-$8. How can I resist that! Answer: I can't. I don't even try. Bring on the books. As of now, we will still be doing a few e-books but the percentage is changing the farther I get into planning so who knows what will happen by January.

Eating - Squash. I have never really been a big fan of squash but if I still say that at the end of this month, it won't be for a lack of effort. So far I seem to like butternut squash better than acorn or spaghetti. I thought Cinnamon roasted butternut squash was pretty good but Lucy and Jonah were skeptical (Craig was out of town).  Everyone seemed to like the Spicy Ground Beef and Butternut squash although I did leave out the "spicy" part aka the pepper and the kids had the enticement of pie for dessert to encourage them to give it a try. The key for me seems to be to cut the pieces very small.  I started doing this because Norah loves butternut squash and I didn't want to have to recut hers smaller later but I found it makes it much more appealing to me.  I'm not a big fan of the inside texture so lots of surface area helps.

 Everyone's very favorite way of eating it was in this amazing Chai Spice Butternut Squash Bread. Its not as healthy as plain roasted squash of course but I substituted 1/4 teaspoon of stevia powder for the white sugar and only used about 1/4-1/3 cup of sucanat instead of brown sugar and it was still delicious. Not very sweet but great for tea time with a big slather of butter. Yum.

Watching - Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on Netflix. I just finished up season 3 and it doesn't appear that they are going to be making a 4th season which makes me a little sad. It really was fun. What's worse is that there are books out there but I don't want to read them. I've heard that for once, the book is not nearly as good as the show and the parts of the show that I really liked (the costumes, jack and phryne's chemistry/banter, did I mention the costumes?!) wouldn't be in the books and the parts I could live without entirely (Phryne's many dalliances) would be more prevalent. No worries though, we are just weeks away from new Gilmore Girls! I'm so ridiculously excited about that I just can hardly stand it. It makes me actually excited about November. Because there are certain other events taking place in November that will not be as pleasant.

Listening - Audiobooks. I can't do audiobooks for myself much these days. I never could before unless I had a hands on project or a roadtrip. They just go so much slower than I read and it drives me crazy. Lucy has so far been the same but Jonah's stopped sleeping much during his naps so I switched them over from classical music at quiet time to audiobooks. She may not want to slow down her play to listen to a book but she'd rather listen to a story than not if that's her only choice. Unlike Andrew Putewa and his intense love of Audiobooks, I know Charlotte Mason circles are torn on audiobooks and I understand the reasoning. If you are using that approach for language arts, they really need to see the words to get the full effect. So we won't be using a bunch of audiobooks for our main school books or free reads. But extra naptime stories - yes please! They have been listening to a ton of Thorton animal stories, Uncle Wiggily books, and others. It takes me a little while to set up playlists of about an hour but after that, it's easy for me to get them started. Then as soon as quiet time is over, they rush in to me and narrate them all of their own volition!

Going - To all the appointments! Its seems like every week has two or more appointments of some kind - eye doctors, dentists, well-child, specialists, evaluations. I don't like this, I'm a homebody! Plus all the brain space I am using as I try and keep track of what paperwork I need to bring to each. But we should have a break soon, I think. Just three more - unless of course, those three lead to more. Appointments tend to multiply. But October was much busier than I had planned! I'm ready for a restful, cold November where I can hiberate in my house.


Happy Birthday Norah Jane!

 Happy Birthday Baby Girl,

Whew, we made it all the way to 12 months with these monthly pictures. But this might have to be the last as you are not willing to sit still anymore. This is the one and only kinda-decent shot I got of you. The rest look like this:

First up, the stats. You are 18lbs, 10 oz, so not too big. You have a couple words but only use them sporadically (mama, baba (daddy), nigh-nigh (night-night) and ba-BEE (puppy. it's similar to daddy but with a totally different infection). You love to point. You can sign more and all done. Until a couple days ago, all done was exclusively used for mealtimes but we were playing outside and you fell and rolled a bit down the hill then as you were picking yourself up, the chickens came over to investigate and you started signing "all done, all done." You normally love outdoor time but just then you were ready for the safe indoors again.

Guys, are you gonna eat dessert in front of me again, because, really, it's just not nice. 

Wait, did I hear that right, for me?!
Mmm, bean brownies! These are good!
Don't even think about it - they are mine!

You also communicate pretty well without words or signs. Just earlier today Jonah tried to take your birthday card away and you yelled "ahh" in his face, clutched it tight and pushed him away. Then opened it up again to look at it. It's not always easy being the baby but you hold your own. Overall, you're a tough little thing. You didn't even cried that much during a blood draw. The all-done fall aside, most falls don't even phase you. You're always climbing on or into something and about as soon as one bruise heals, you find a way to give yourself another. But your pretty good with your motor skills. You can climb up and down stairs on your own. You like to walk backwards. Sometimes this is to be funny. Like when you walk backwards into the wall over and over again bumping your head to get people to laugh. I really love it when you want to sit on our laps, for a book reading or if you need shoes. You walk up to about a foot away, turn around and then back up until you are close enough to sit down.

 You try your hardest to get onto the field and play soccer with the big kids and don't seem to understand why we insist on holding you all game long. You love to play wrestle with Lucy and Jonah and again, don't understand why we are always stopping that game.

But you really love to do anything with them. Earlier this week Lucy found a caterpiller so we were all looking at it while you played int eh sandbox. Suddenly, you realized we were leaving you behind so you marched over, squatted down and started looking at all our faces with this "okay, what are we looking at" expression. You love to give them things. Even when they don't want it. You insist Lucy takes her doll with her places. And when she tries to put her away, you'll go get her and take her back to Lucy. So helpful!

So, what's going on here?

Okay, I think I got this.

You also are starting to like dolls. You give them hugs and carry them around. You also love balls and the sandbox and the cozy coupe, especially if Lucy or Jonah is willing to push your around. I saved you when Jonah thought it would be fun to push it to the top of the hill and watch you go down but I think you might have be disappointed I stopped that too. When you aren't moving or chasing them around, you like to read books and snuggle. You naps are changing so you've started joining us for the table time portion of our school day. You love to dance in your high chair to all our folks songs and hymns and this of course makes Lucy and Jonah laugh. You'd probably do anything to make them laugh and the same could be said about you.  I can tell you are starting to realize that Lucy is better if you want to look at books or hug someone and Jonah is better if you want to climb on someone. I love watching you form relationships with everyone else in our family.

Of course, you aren't quite perfect. You do have a nasty habit of biting. Especially noses, chins and if you can get a hold of them, cheeks. But you do know what "no" means and most of the time, you listen. You also spit things out on command which is still one of my favorite baby "tricks." Very useful.

So, despite your few teeny tiny flaws, we all love you to pieces and I can't imagine this past year without you!


The STL Debate Night Experience

A friend and I (Craig here) decided to venture down to Washington University to soak in the atmosphere surrounding Sunday night's presidential debate. While there was no way for a regular Joe like me to get into the debate, or even near it, I figured there would be enough activity on campus to make the trip worthwhile.

Before I headed out, I made a map in order to orient myself and find the festivities:

The roads highlighted in yellow were closed down, and I denoted the Uber dropoff point (top center) and the locations of the media sets (in the green areas).

Upon arriving, I first encountered the C-Span bus, the Fox News set, and the MSNBC set.

The CNN set was off by itself on the other side of the library.

The Fox News set was the only one that was set up for an audience to watch the debate. It had chairs, a large elevated TV screen, freebies, and ice cream. Here's a news story on the debate-watching crowd.

 Anderson Cooper on the big screen

A T-shirt, pin, and magnet

Here are some of the characters and sights I encountered:

This was at the MSNBC set, of course.

Not sure what this is about.

There was a line at the Trump cutout, but not for Hillary.

Chris Matthews
There wasn't a huge crowd out and about during the debate, though a lot of students and signs were present during the weekend's pre-debate coverage. Maybe I will check that out next time (Wash U hosts lots of debates). Beyond the group at Fox News, there were only about a dozen people watching at MSNBC and 2-3 dozen at CNN. I think most students joined the rest of America and went back home to drink during the debate. About an hour into it, I took another lap around campus to see what was happening, and then left a bit before the verbal duel ended. Therefore, I did not get to hear the crowd react to the Ken Bone moment.

In all, it was a fun night. I like to involve myself in events like this in whatever way I can, as long as I don't have to fight a crowd or wait in a long line (it was for the latter reason that I did not attend the Trump rally here in March).