Monday, February 27, 2017

Piano Lesson: An investment

My parents made me go to piano lessons for 7 years.  I pretty much hated every minute of it.  I hated practicing, I struggled to understand and be understood by my teachers, I could never be as good as my older sister.  Somehow I still managed to acquire a minor level of proficiency.  I guess practicing once a week at lessons is enough to learn something.  I eventually went on to get a degree in music, but not in playing the piano.  (Low brass instruments, tuba, euphonium, trombone.  A blog for another day.)

When my kids got old enough and started showing interest I signed them up for lessons.  The teacher I chose for my kids is a friend of mine who has a gift for working with 8-13 year olds.  (I do not have this gift, and that is ok.)  They studied with her for several years until she was unable to teach anymore.  (She put the needs of her children before the income or the self fulfillment.  Good mom.)

My oldest daughter, Alicia, decided that she had had enough lessons for now and didn't feel the need to let me find her a new teacher or, heaven forbid, teach her myself.  That is ok.  She has the basic skills, no problem.  (She can always change her mind later.)  Fast forward a couple of years and suddenly people are contacting me looking for piano teachers for their young beginners.  I don't really want to teach piano lessons.  But hey, I bet Alicia could do it.  A couple of friends took me up on the offer, sweetened by the fact that you will not get piano lessons that cheap anywhere else.  So started Alicia's career as a piano teacher.  Fast forward a couple more years and now she is employed by a home school organization as a piano teacher and she will interview this afternoon for a position as a piano teacher at the local music store. She's 17, still in high school.  She makes $20 an hour.  How many teenagers make $20 an hour?  (When I was in high school I worked as a custodian at the junior high for a couple of hours every afternoon vacuuming and taking out trash.  They paid me $3.80, minimum wage at the time.  I had no idea I had a potentially marketable skill.)  Somehow all the pain and frustration of taking that kid to piano lessons and trying to convince her to practice is paying off, literally.  I'm so proud of her.

Tips to convince a kids to practice the piano (or whatever they don't want to do):
1. Help them choose a time that they will practice every day.  Set an alarm if that helps them.
2. Remind them when it's time to practice, but don't nag.
3. Set a reward for practicing.  What works will depend on your kid.  My 7 year old loves to play on the wii.  He will do almost anything for half an hour of wii time, even practice the piano.
4. If you make a plan and it works for a while and then stops working, don't just toss it out the window. Look it over and figure out where it isn't working and try again.  Refresh the old plan or make a new one.
5. If your child and the teacher you hire aren't seeing eye to eye, for example, the teacher struggles to understand the questions your child asks, or expects your child to sit still longer than they are able, talk it over with the teacher.  If the problem persists consider looking for a new teacher.  That is ok.  The personality of the teacher combined with the personality of your kid makes a big difference in how much they will enjoy lessons and how much they will be willing to practice.
6. Be reasonable about how much time you expect them to spend practicing every day.  If they are able to pass off the songs they are assigned to learn then they are practicing enough.  Some will spontaneously practice more when they learn to love it.  Be careful about setting a timer.  Most kids will jump up and be done the instant the timer goes off even if they would have practiced longer without it.
7. If you know how to read music then invite your child to ask you questions when they get stuck, then leave them alone and let them struggle a little.
 It is in the struggle that the real learning happens.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pizza Pockets

Packing lunch is hard.
Why!?!  Why is it so hard to make a sandwich and put it in a bag?!?!?

Sub title this post: Time or Money

The easiest way to pack a lunch is to grab three ready-to-eat things and throw them in a bag.
Two problems with that plan:
1. Ready-to-eat is as expensive as school lunch. (I have six school aged kids.  I can't afford almost $20 a day in school lunches.)
2. Ready-to-eat is not usually the most healthy.  (I am not overly concerned about eating healthy, this recipe includes the word "pizza," after all, but I think it's a good idea to aim in that direction whenever possible.)

But- making food from scratch is time consuming.  No doubt about that.

So- if you are way to busy for this, It is ok to do lunch some other way.  Your kids will be fine.

This is one thing that works for my family.  Feel free to try it, adapt it, share your awesome improvements with us.

Pizza Pockets

Bread dough (See below for my favorite.  It is ok to use bake-and-serve, just remember to let it thaw completely first.)
Pizza or Spaghetti sauce
Shredded cheese, whatever variety you like on your pizza (We use mozzarella, unless we run out, then we use cheddar.)
Pizza toppings- pepperoni, sausage, olives, mushrooms, etc.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough thin in a big rectangle.  In this picture the dough is about 18 inches by 24 inches.
Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to trim the edges.  (If you are using a plastic rolling mat, use a plastic knife.) Cut the dough into rectangles about 4x6 inches.  (This size seams to be a good compromise between the first grader and the tenth grader.) 

Put about a teaspoon of sauce on one side of each rectangle. Add cheese and toppings of your choice.  It doesn't take much, 5 pepperoni slices or 2 tablespoons of sausage, for example.  ( I always put the cheese on before the toppings because it stays put better that way.)

Lift the empty side of the rectangle up over the side with the toppings.  Fold the lower dough edge up over the top edge and smash it together real good so all the yummy doesn't leak out in the oven.

Stab the top with a fork to allow the steam to vent.  (If I do more than one variety at a time I use one fork poke for pepperoni and two fork pokes for sausage.  If you are 7, this matters, a lot.)

Place on cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until the pockets start to turn a golden brown on the edges.

Allow the pockets to cool, then put them in a freezer proof container and freeze them.

In the morning the kids get a pizza pocket from the freezer, put it in a baggie.  It is defrosted by lunch time.  

Anything you like in a sandwich will work here.
1. chopped up meat, shredded cheese, mayonnaise
2. veggie pizza
3. just cheese

Here's the Bread dough recipe I use:

Basic Bread Dough
3 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening (or butter)
1 Tbsp salt
9 1/2-10 cups flour (I like to use half whole wheat and half white.)

Water should be about as hot as it comes from the tap, a little too warm to comfortably put your hand in, but not so hot that it's going to burn you.
Put the water in a large mixing bowl.  Add yeast and sugar.  Stir just a little and let it set for about 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy. 
Add the salt, shortening and about half the flour.  Mix for a couple of minutes.
Add more flour, until you have about 9 cups.  (If you are using an electric mixer, follow the directions for basic bread dough for your machine.)  Mix until the dough is stiff.  Sprinkle flour on a board, or mat or just on the table.  Dump the dough out on the floured surface and knead it until it's soft and elastic. (Or until you just can't stand it any longer.)  It should take about 5-6 minutes.
Put the dough in a covered bowl and let it stand for about an hour or until about double in size.  Give it a big punch right in the middle and watch the whole thing deflate.  (For some reason I find this fascinating.)  
If you are making Pizza Pockets it is now time to roll out the dough.
To make bread, grease 3 medium sized bread pans.  Divide the dough into three equal parts.  Shape the dough into a large oval.  Place the dough in the pans, cover it with a clean cloth and let it rise for about another hour until doubled in size.  
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the bread for about 40 minutes, until it is golden brown.
Take the bread out of the pans right away and let it cool a bit before you try to cut it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

It is ok! Valentine's Day Edition

It is ok to buy a box of Valentines at the store, the dollar store even.  
He is very happy with his Star Wars Valentines.
On the other hand:  If they LOVE to craft, it is ok to hand them a pile of paper, some stickers and fun pens and let them go at it.  In fact, it is ok to sit down and color with them, if you want to.
She is having fun (and I am not feeling stressed.) 
This is good.

(It is also ok to do something totally crafty and cool, if you want to, and the kids want to.)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Powerful Example

My friend, Katie, said I should write a blog about parenting lots of kids.  I have six.  I guess that makes me qualified.

I remember reading a magazine shortly after my first child was born.  The article was about taking care of yourself after having a baby.  It suggested that you might want to relax some of your cooking and housekeeping standards so you don't wear yourself out.  "Use frozen vegetables instead of having to chop up fresh ones and go an extra day between vacuuming."
You know those moments when you aren't sure whether to laugh or cry?  The only vegetables in the house were frozen and we didn't even own a vacuum cleaner at the time.  (Don't worry, we got one shortly.)
This kind of advice may be helpful to someone out there, but it wasn't very helpful to me.  I lived in a whole different world than the author of that article.

This blog is about how I survive in a house full of crazy, forgive myself when I mess up and appreciate the compulsively responsible, quirky individualist, generous, compassionate, creative, desperate to do good-ness of my amazing kids.

First lesson: Let your children see you change.
When I was a young single adult I met a woman named Suzy.  She had had a rough life from her youngest childhood through her early adulthood.  She experienced abuse which led her to marry an abusive man, and participate in a host of self-defeating behaviors.  Eventually she realized that this was not the life she wanted for herself or her children and she began to make changes.  She made peace with God, got the help she needed and started a new life.  However, her children still felt the consequences of her earlier decisions.  She wondered how she could ever be a decent role model for her daughters.  After all, they knew all about the poor choices she had made.  At this point she was given a brilliant piece of advice that she later shared with me.

It is important for your children to see you change.  Your example of courage and faith that led you to leave the miserable life you were living will be a beacon to them throughout their lives.  They will learn that no matter how many mistakes they make, they can change, they can be right with God, themselves, and the people they love.  They know they can, because they saw you do it.

This was mind blowing to me.  I've been preaching it ever since.
I love the AdoptUSKids campaign slogan:

You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.

So say "I'm sorry."  Admit your mistakes and talk about how you plan to improve.  Let them see what courage, humility and change look like.  That is a powerful example.