Monday, April 30, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Life is Good

Ten Things I Love About My Life

1. I married the right guy. And we've built a lovely, active, challenging blended family.

2. I am not bored. Exhausted, yes. Grumpy, sometimes. Busy, always. Completely overwhelmed to the point of babbling and frothing at the mouth, on occasion. But I am never. ever. bored.

3. My house. This house is perfect for our family. Basement playroom, separate office for loving husband, sewing room, second master for the gents to share, wood floors, huge yard with trees just the right size and spacing between to swing a sky-blue hammock. I wish I could dig this house up, yard and all, and move it into the country.

4. We have a puppy.

5. And chickens.

Did I mention that I'm never, ever bored?

6. We have lots of bookshelves. And on those bookshelves, lots and lots of books.

7. Homeschooling. I know it's not for everyone. But it's been such a great match for our family. We get to share the wonders of this world with one another. Today we looked at tiny tiny caterpillars and butterfly eggs under the microscope. Under the microscope the eggs look like tiny blue jewels, like beads you'd string together to make a fairy necklace.

8. Marvelous friends, old and new. I went out for ice cream with two of my oldest and dearest friends last night. I was tired, I had a monster headache, but I went anyway, and it was lovely. I've made some new friends, too, in that sudden and unexpected way that friendships develop.

9. The garden. I love having a garden space and kids who like to garden with me. I'm certainly not a devoted gardener with a perfect garden and yard, I just like to plant things and watch them grow.

10. Every once in a while I get cheesecake. Life is fantastic.

More Poppy Love

Isn't she adorable? Poppy's getting big and losing her puppy face. Most of the time she's got great manners. She's smart, attentive, affectionate, and playful. With strangers, though, she gets a bit hyper and anxious, so watch out-- if you come over make sure not to stand to near when she greets you, or you'll get puppy piddle on your shoes. If we can keep bringing out that lovely calm sweet-natured girl, we're going to have the best dog in the world. The times when she's not the best dog in the world, well, hopefully with training and patience she'll grow out of it. She's enrolled in puppy class, and once she warmed up she enjoyed meeting the other puppies and their people, especially since the people gave her treats.

The gents adore Poppy, even after she nips them too hard. They beg me for treats to give her when she's behaving herself. "Dood dog, Puppy," says two-year-old gent as he gives her a puppy tweat, er, treat. She loves to run in the yard with the little guys, and I love it too. By bedtime I've got a tired puppy and tired gents. Life is good.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Painted Lady Butterflies, Phase Two

Can you see them? Those little blue dots? Butterfly eggs.

I read here, here, and here that Painted Lady butterflies like to lay eggs on thistle, mallow or hollyhock. I found a picture of common mallow, which looked like the weeds growing on the edge of the compost pile, so I dug one up, planted it in a little pot, and placed the plant inside the butterfly habitat.

The next day, this is what we saw:

We released all but two of the butterflies today. They were absolutely lovely fluttering off into the sunny spring afternoon. The ladies and kindergarten gent all decided that they are interested in examining a butterfly but they most emphatically do not want to have to kill one. My sentiments exactly. We'll let the last two die a natural death, sometime in the next week, then look at them under the microscope.

We can't wait to see the caterpillars hatch. There's plenty more mallow over by the compost pile, and a couple thistles in the corner of the garden that I've declared protected caterpillar habitat. We'll release most of the caterpillars onto friendly host plants, and keep a few to feed and study so that we can watch the whole cycle all over again.

More about our Painted Lady butterfly garden here.

Nature journal sketches of the butterflies here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

May Day: Photo Flowers

We celebrate May Day by placing flowers from our yard on the neighbors' doorsteps, ringing the doorbell and running home, leaving a lovely surprise for our friends to discover. The ladies and gents love making a special flower surprise for their grandma too. Two years ago (look at those little faces! those cheeks! those pudgy little rolls!) we made a special May Day bouquet for Grandma who lives in town. She still has them hanging on her wall.

May Day Photo Flower Craft

You Need:

White posterboard, one large sheet per child (approximate, a baby will use less, an older child may need more)
Bright paint colors, your favorites
Green paint
Paintbrushes. The foam kind work really well because they aren't too tickley.
Wooden dowels
Rags for cleanup
Optional, but makes the project easier: Sunny day and a garden hose
Cardboard circles
A photo of your child
Glue stick or scrapbook tape
Green electrical tape (optional)

Step One: Handprints Choose your handprint color(s). Once your work area is prepared paint your child's hands and press the painted hands onto the posterboard to make the handprints. Leave room for 1-2 footprints, or set aside a separate sheet of posterboard for the child's footprints. Set the posterboard aside to dry. Indoors at the table works just as well for handprints, just make sure to cover surfaces and have lots of rags handy for wiping painty hands. As you can see in the youngest gent's picture, footprints might work best with the very littlest ones because it's hard to get those little hands flat enough for good handprints, and tiny baby arms flail around when they get excited, which makes a big mess. We just did baby's footprints the same way we did the older kids' handprints. The other kids took turns painting his feet.

Step Two: Footprints Head outdoors if you can for the footprints. If it's just too nasty outside, the tub is a fantastic place to work. Place the posterboard on a clean level surface. If you don't want the surface to get paint on it protect it with newspaper, allowing enough room to the side of your posterboard for your child to stand. Paint the child's foot or feet green and help them stamp footprints onto the posterboard. Careful: The paint is slippery. Walking on the posterboard creates slippery-slidy prints. For best results, press the foot gently onto the paper then lift, as though you're stamping. Clean those feet immediately unless you want green footprints on your sidewalk or deck or, God forbid, your carpet. Set the green footprints aside to dry. While you've got the green paint handy, paint the wooden dowels green too and set them aside to dry.

Like messy projects? For more footpainting fun, set out a few more colors and brushes, and a large roll of paper. My kids like to paint their feet different colors and make a foot painting.

Step Three: Assemble the flower. Cut out the hand- and footprints once they've dried. I labeled each child's on the back of the print as I cut so that I wouldn't get them mixed up. Cut a cardboard circle (I used cereal boxes) the size you'd like for the center of your flower. Cut your photo into a circle the same size as the cardboard circle and glue or tape the photo to the circle. While that's drying, get out your green dowels, green tape, and hand- and footprints. Create a flower by gluing or taping the handprints (petals) and footprints (leaves) to the photo center. Using the green electrical tape, attach the dowel to the back of the flower for a stem.

Step Four: Enjoy your bouquet.

Bad Shoe!

Puppies love shoes, and Poppy is no exception. I don't really care much about puppy tooth marks in the yard shoes, but we do try to gently discourage her because we don't want it to turn into a shoe-chewing habit. But, like I said, I don't get too worked up about it because she's a puppy and I'm more focused on prevention and distraction than correction. Except last night, when we were getting ready for our evening walk and she went for lovely lady's leather choir shoes. Time to pull out the big guns, and try a technique I'd read about in our puppy book.

When Poppy approached the shoe, I tugged her leash sideways. Then I picked up the shoe.

"Bad shoe!" I shouted. At the shoe. I tried not to imagine what I must look like, scolding a shoe. "Bad, bad shoe! No!"

Then I put the shoe back down. Poppy approached the shoe again, a little more slowly with a sideways look. She decided that she still might like to know what a bad shoe tasted like. Another tug on the leash.

"Bad bad shoe! Naughty shoe! No, you bad shoe!" I yelled at the shoe. I must be crazy, I thought to myself. This is never going to work.

I put the shoe back down next to Poppy. She backed away. Started to approach the shoe. Backed up and sat down, looking at the shoe with her head cocked. Backed up again. And decided that she really wasn't all that interested in the shoe after all.

Even when we got back from our walk she carefully skirted that naughty shoe.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Conversations

Tuesday Ten: Ten Things My Children Have Said to Me This Week

1. "Where is my ______?" Math book, shoe, Lego car, iPod, pencil, milk, golf ball. Almost always followed by.....

1- 1/2. "No," in response to the question, "Did you look for it before you asked?" And, my favorite, kindergarten gent, when gently encouraged (yeah, that's it, gently encouraged, uh huh) to go look, "But I don't know where it is." Thump-thump-thump....that's me, banging my head on the table.

I'm sorry sweet darlings, but I am not your personal keep-tracker-of-things.

2. "Mom, when I was playing piano, the girls loved me." Kindergarten gent, after playing a few pieces on the choir piano before choir practice. Yeah, babe, that piano, it's a real chick magnet.

3. "Some farting just went here instead of over here." Four-year-old gent, walking to the dinner table, a little puzzled. He was even more puzzled when we all burst into laughter. Poor guy. It really struck our funny bones. A little later, in the kitchen, he quietly whispered to me, "Mom, are farts big brown bubbles that explode?" When I assured him that they were not, he looked around the corner and shouted, "They are not!" Silence then giggles from the older bunch. Sigh.....

4. "I five. I not two, I five." Two-year-old gent is insistent that he is NOT two. Two weeks ago I told him he could not have a hard candy until he's five. Problem solved. He's pretty mad that I won't give him the candy even though I promised. He also insists that he can drive the car. "I five. I drive now." Oh boy.

5. "You're the worst mom ever!" Lovely lady, 11, having a really rough time this week. Apparently expecting one to brush one's teeth is tantamount to child abuse. I sent her into the shower with instructions to come down and talk to me once she was washed, brushed, and ready for headgear. She screamed about her rotten miserable life and her terrible mother for the entire fifteen minutes she showered, then came down and snuggled with me on the couch. Fortunately two nights later while my lovely lady went to a gymnastics evening with a good friend, good friend's mom and I went to the movies. Good friend has similar issues, and apparently her mom hears the same thing. Actually, the "worst mom" thing doesn't phase me much any more. Good friend's mom and I agreed that it's much easier than this one....

6. "You hate me!" Now that's hard to hear. Skin like a rhino, that's me.

7. "But...." Thump-thump-thump. I'm not sure our table will survive until they're all grown.

8. "May I please...." Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Music to a mother's ears. We've been working hard on this one.

9. "Mom, look at the...." Butterflies, this rock, Poppy, the sky. I love that they want to share the world with me. They're all marvelous people.

10. "I love you." Aw, now. Darn they're sweet. And they have to go and throw in hugs and kisses and all that mushy stuff. All right, I forgive the rotten little stinkers for not being able to find their stuff and talking about farts and saying "Yeah-but" and even for screaming at me.

Next Week: Ten Things I Love About ____________. You choose. Love your neighbors? Pie? Your closet? Choose something you love, or at least really really like, and tell us why.

To link your own Tuesday Ten, or to read more Tuesday Ten lists, click on Mr. Linky!

Painted Ladies

Our Painted Lady butterflies hatched last week. They're absolutely lovely. The butterflies have been a fun project. Last Christmas Santa left on the hearth, in addition to a pile of books for the ladies and gents, a butterfly garden. I marked my calendar so that I'd remember to send the postcard in March, and when the time came off we sent our request for caterpillars.

Finally our jar of caterpillars arrived in the mail. It was fascinating to watch the tiny caterpillars, which arrived in a jar filled with food, grow to many times their size as they consumed the food and spun caterpillar silk. Eventually they started to hang head down from the top of the jar, and they turned into chrysalides. Painted Lady chrysalides are gorgeous in a muted way, a creamy beige with metallic coppery accents. Once all of the caterpillars had transformed, I transferred them into the butterfly habitat. The directions said we should tape the paper circle (from the inside of the jar lid so that the chrysalides attach to something transferrable) to the side of the butterfly garden, but tape wouldn't stick to the mesh. A safety pin worked really well.

The chrysalis turns very dark right before the butterfly emerges. Lovely lady and I were working on her algebra lesson when we looked up and noticed a butterfly drying its wings. We all watched three more butterflies as they emerged. We'd envisioned something similar to the struggle when a baby bird hatches from the egg, but the butterflies emerged very quickly. So quickly that we weren't sure we'd actually gotten to see them leave the chrysalis even though we'd been watching. We dropped our regular science and nature study for the day to draw and observe the butterflies most of the morning, as their wings dried and they began to move around the habitat. It was fascinating to watch them furl and unfurl their proboscis as they dried their wings. One of my favorite things about the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is that you can listen to the pronunciation of words like "proboscis." We were relieved to hear that you can pronounce it "pro-BOS-kiss" or "pro-BOS-sis," which meant that everyone was pronouncing it properly. Almost everyone. For entertainment, try teaching a four-year-old to say "proboscis." Delightful. Or you could just say "butterfly tongue" and be somewhat, though not entirely, correct.

We've gotten to see more of the proboscis as they feast on orange slices and drops of sugar water drizzled on fresh flowers. We've also learned about butterfly meconium, leftover dye and wing material, and we looked at an empty chrysalis under the microscope, which was beautiful. In the late afternoon the butterflies fly to the top of the habitat and slowly open and close their wings, which is both lovely and distracting. We're trying to decide what to do with them now. "Surely it will be warm enough to release them by April," I thought when I marked the postcard-sending date on my calendar. Three mornings ago it was thirty-seven degrees, far colder than the recommended fifty-five. I'm trying to find somewhere to buy small hollyhock, sunflower, or mallow plants so that we can give the butterflies a place to lay eggs and have something to feed the caterpillars, since I have no idea what might be in that specially formulated caterpillar-food-in-a-jar. I'm headed to the garden store downtown tomorrow to look, or maybe I'll find something at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. It would be wonderful to watch the whole process all over again then release some butterflies into the back yard.

A Painted Lady butterfly lesson plan, including pictures of the life cycle, a diagram of the parts of the butterfly, a vocabulary list, and links to other sites on the painted lady butterfly and butterflies in general.

Painted Lady butterfly coloring and information sheet here, and Painted Lady life cycle coloring and information sheet here, both from Enchanted Learning. I was hesitant to join Enchanted Learning but it's been well worth the cost. I use it often, especially for science and geography printouts.

Gorgeous pictures of the Painted Lady butterfly and its life cycle here.

Yukon Butterflies, a fantastic site that includes records of butterfly observations, butterfly activities, life cycle coloring pages, online butterfly games and a resource page.

Piano Lesson

Sunday, April 22, 2007

He's stuck with me....

Loving husband made chocolate souffle tonight. No reason, he just felt like making something. Reminds me of when I decided I was going to marry this guy: He made a chocolate torte just because. Who does that?

If I were a better wife I'd be in there washing the dishes for him. Only I just now realized that he's in there clanking around....yep, just leaned around the corner and he's nearly done. This is exactly the right moment to lean around the corner again and say, "Oh, I was going to do that for you."

So I did. I also mentioned that even though I suck, he's stuck with me. Then I ducked.

Anyway, he owes me forever. Why, you ask? Let's just say that I should have measured his gigantic head before I agreed to have his children.

(Picture and a great chocolate souffle recipe here, at Cooking for Engineers.)

One Good Apple

One Good Apple: Growing Our Food for the Sake of the Earth, Catherine Paladino. Just the ticket for Earth Day reading, One Good Apple is a picture book about sustainable agriculture. The photos are absolutely lovely, and Paldino covers topics from the impact of pesticide use on health and the environment to composting to organic farming, biodiversity, natural pest control and more. Written at an upper elementary through middle school reading level, this book is well worth reading, or at least paging through, for all ages. There's too much text to hold the young gents' interest, so we looked at the pictures and hit the highlights by reading the picture captions and sometimes a quick summary of the text. The book stays very positive, discussing the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers but mostly focusing on the benefits and pleasures of organic farming and sustainable living. The youngest guy liked the pictures of apples, and the other two were fascinated by the worms, bugs and toads, the fruit and the flowers, and the stories of the people. Kindergarten gent took it to bed with him for bedtime reading and looking, a sure sign that it was a big hit.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

To everything, Turn, turn, turn....

To everything - turn, turn, turn, There is a season - turn, turn, turn, And a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to reap. A time to kill, a time to heal. A time to laugh, a time to weep. ~The Byrds, Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)

....and a time for new furniture.

We had friends over to play yesterday, twice. It was lovely getting to spend time with two families that we enjoy. But when we have friends over I suddenly see my furniture. The leather couch and chair that loving husband chose in his bachelor days, and the awful beige recliner (also chosen by loving husband) that the cats used for a scratching post before we taught them to use the real scratching post. It doesn't help that lovely lady obsessively picks stuffing out of a hole she made in the arm and Poppy has been using the recliner handle as a teether. Bitter Apple spray took care of the chewing problem, but now the handle has puppy tooth marks to match the lovely cat scratches on the chair. Our dining table chair cushions are stained with hot chocolate and dinner spills. The tablecloth on the table is vinyl and has paint splatters and scissors holes left over from our art projects.

Not only that, but we've got yoga mats rolled in the corner, puppy toys on the floor, a dog crate in the corner of the living room stacked with old blankets and puppy treats, science projects on the buffet, and books and toys on the shelves.

When new friends come over, I look at my living room through their eyes, and I cringe, especially about the furniture. It looks awful. I think of the friends who have perfectly immaculate lovely neat homes with perfectly matching furniture, and I find my own living room suffers by comparison.

I know that this is the season of our lives when we have to choose our battles, especially with the more spirited of the ladies and gents. Do I want to choose furniture battles? Or do I wait until they've learned better habits and just enjoy the new furniture when we get it? Even if we could afford it, I'd rather not spend my time and energy worrying about keeping three busy boys and a puppy from chewing and spilling on new furniture.

I know that this is the season of our lives when our financial resources are meant to go toward other things-- home, lessons, broken windows, big boy beds, new shoes for feet that are constantly growing and new clothes for kids who are constantly spilling and falling and getting tall.

I know that this is the season of our lives when my energy is spent directing and teaching and organizing little people, who will get a far greater benefit from my attention than the furniture would anyway.

Someday there will be new furniture and big gents to remind, "Keep your gigantic teenaged feet off the couch." The puppy will be a dog, snoozing on the dog bed in the corner of the room and leaving our shoes and the furniture alone. I'll have time to sew cushion covers for the chairs even though they don't get spilled on any more. The ladies will be out building their lives, and the gents will sit still when they're home. The house will be quiet and I'll miss the days when we all had hot chocolate at the table and watched Peter Pan and My Friend Totoro in the evenings and Poppy was playful.

But still....the furniture bothers me. I'm sure that I judge my own self far more harshly than anyone else could. So I console myself with the idea of the turning seasons, and remind myself to count my blessings and wait patiently.

And we really are blessed, because this is also the season of our lives when we're meeting new friends who don't care about furniture. The kind of friends that you keep because you're brought together by similar philosophies, not by the ages of the children. Who have homes filled with toys, and who judge us by our hearts and not by how we decorate our homes. And it's the season of my own life when I don't tidy for guests any longer or try to hide the furniture with blankets. Our home is clean, everything has a place, and we pick up daily, but we live how we live. The science projects and the cat clawed chair, part of our life. Kind of like #5 on my list of things I never thought I'd be at forty, my home isn't perfect either. Go figure. But it's perfect for this season of our lives, and I love it anyway. I need to let go and trust that things will change when it's time for them to change. New furniture will come when we need it, just like wisdom....turn turn turn go the season of our lives. A time for every purpose under heaven.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

If you give a four-year-old a cupcake....

...and some frosting and a knife.

There's more frosting than cupcake.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Procrastination

Tuesday Ten: Ten Things I Really Really Really Need to Stop Putting Off

“Procrastination is the key to prolonging life.” ~Unknown

1. This week's Tuesday Ten. It's Wednesday, so obviously. Don't really need to say more about that one.

“It isn't procrastination if you put it off right away.” ~Unknown

2. Phone calls. I could fill the rest of this list with phone calls I'm not making. Here's my foolish secret: I hate calling strangers. I know, all of you phone-call makers out there are thinking, "It's just a phone call." I know. And I still hate calling people on the phone. I need to call the choir director about chaperoning the upcoming choir trip, the orthodontist about lovely lady's headgear, the vet about Poppy's next appointment...the list goes on and on. The most important phone call: Dermatologist about a mole. I'm going to call tomorrow. Really. (And, if you happen to be a dear friend who shall remain nameless and you need to do the same, get off your duff and call.)

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week. ~Spanish Proverb

3. Clean the basement. You're probably going to be reading about my messy basement until I die. Now I've really got to get it done, though, because once the Poppy puppy is housetrained, or at least trained enough that she doesn't need to go out in the wee hours, the crate moves down to the basement. And there's nowhere to put it. How's that for incentive?

Procrastination is something best put off until tomorrow. ~Gerald Vaughan

4. Weed the front yard. Now really, this isn't my fault. I'm waiting for another procrastinator. A month ago our seventeen-year-old neighbor threw a party while his mom was out of town. Our fence got broken. "I guess things got a little out of hand," he said. Gee, you think? He seems to be a nice kid and I suppose most of us have done stupid stuff when we were young, so I'm not upset about the party or even the fence. People are more important than stuff, and really in the grand scheme of things it's just a fence panel, easily replaced. But it was my bright idea that we should let him fix it. We gave him the fence panel and the paint, and haven't seen either since. Sheesh. I can't weed and chase a puppy and a two-year-old away from the street. And my no-kid time is spent doing more pressing things. So....weeds in the front yard.

I do my work at the same time each day - the last minute. ~Unknown

5. Planning dinner. Nothing sets you up for a wonderful balanced meal like looking at the clock at 4:30 and thinking, "Oh crud! It's my night to make dinner!" My dinner nights have been the same nights for the last three years. You'd think I'd learn. But nooooooooooo.

The Procrastinator's Creed:
1. I believe that if anything is worth doing, it would have been done already.
2. I shall never move quickly, except to avoid more work or find excuses.


6. Painting. The boys' bathroom and the other downstairs bathroom. We have the paint. We have the paintbrushes. I hate painting.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow. ~Mark Twain

7. Weeding the back yard. I don't have a good excuse for this one. I wish I did. I just don't like weeding. And who am I fooling? The front yard would be weedy even with an intact fence. You know....I think an appropriate punishment for throwing a party that breaks the neighbor's fence would be doing yardwork for that neighbor. Lots and lots of yardwork. Heh heh.

What may be done at any time will be done at no time. ~Scottish Proverb

8. Correcting lovely lady's math. Maybe I should do this in the evening instead of ten minutes before "math class."

There's nothing to match curling up with a good book when there's a repair job to be done around the house. ~Joe Ryan

9. Cleaning the litter box. The cleaning part doesn't bother me, it's tracking down the paper bags and trekking up and down the stairs, and finding time. Loving husband and I finally traded days-- now we each clean the litter box on the days that the other person cooks dinner. But I still keep putting it off until the very end of the day. What a lovely way to cap off a busy day, eh?

To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing. ~Eva Young

10. Just about everything else. My name is Cathy, and I am a procrastinator.

Someday is not a day of the week. ~Author Unknown

These procrastination quotes and many more can be found here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The River King

The River King, Alice Hoffman. I picked this off the shelf at the bed and breakfast last weekend. I was captured by the story and stayed up until midnight to finish the story so that I wouldn't have to either leave the story swimming around in my head unfinished, or smuggle the book out and return it when I'd finished. The River King is the story of a small New England town and the elite boarding school at the edge of town. It's a magical and mournful tale about three love triangles, one in the past which sets the tone for the story that follows, and two in the present. The story was compelling and beautifully written. The ending only just avoided being a tad trite and predictable, but the lovely writing and magical realism made it all worthwhile in the end. My favorite part: The black stones and silver fishes Carlin kept finding in her pockets. What a lovely image, one that will stay with me for quite some time. A charming and melancholy light read, perfect for passing the time on a relaxing getaway weekend.

Girls weekend

We've known one another nearly thirty years. I love these friends, these remarkable women. We've known one another for so long that our girls weekends are like the continuation of an ongoing conversation, the threads just picked up where we left off last. I always learn something from my lovely girlfriends. I've learned about faith and strength in adversity. I am not the only forty-year-old woman who enjoys a good fart joke. Even with gray hair and wrinkles we are still strong and beautiful. Chocolate really can take care of just about anything, and a new pair of shoes and a good laugh take care of the rest. What wonderful qualities my dear friends share: strength, compassion, love, faith, loyalty. If you eat all day long you won't burst, but you'll make yourself and your friends miserable for the next few hours, hence the fart jokes-- it's hard to hide much from friends when you share a room. When you have good friends you never have to grieve or rejoice alone. An afternoon nap and quietly reading in the same room is lovely.

The bed and breakfast was heavenly. There were chocolate chip cookies in a jar and truffles on the pillows. Wine and tea and cocoa at the top of the stairs. Scrumptious breakfasts and good hot coffee served on a spotless table, and quiet conversation with grownups. A library with a window seat. I decided I wanted to live there forever. Loving husband could bring the kids by to visit and I'd drop by home to walk the dog and do my laundry.

I came home feeling refreshed and relaxed. I looked around the breakfast table and decided that if I had to choose one or the other forever and ever, I'd choose the mess and hubbub, the dog snuffing our toes, the laughter and the spills and the sticky fingers and the littlest one climbing into my lap. It was nice to get a break, but if I missed them this much after two days, how much more would I miss them after a week or a month?

Life is good. Dear friends, I hold you in my heart. I can't wait until our next weekend.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wherever you may roam

So, good friends, wherever you may roam,
You are welcome in my heart and home.

My good friends, the gals I went away with in October, for a weekend of tea and fun will be turning forty right along with me. For a fortieth birthday surprise, we all received birthday necklaces with our birthstones. The necklaces are lovely, the thought even lovelier. The more time passes, the more I realize just how precious your friendships are. Dear friends, I carry you in my heart.

It's that time of year again. My dear friends, I look forward to spending time with you, the women I am honored to call friends.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I took the puppy for a walk this evening. To be frank, it was a relief to get out of the house and away from the ladies and gents. My patience was tried to the limit today as we try to slip back into our regular school routine. Kindergarten gent was even and on-task; the rest of the gang, not so much. There was a lot of fighting and arguing today. There were tears. There was yelling, and not all of it came from the kids. So the quiet neighborhood and a good walk in the cool air was soothing to my jangled nerves.

Poppy's such a sweet girl. She's eager to please, sociable, smart, and adorable in that roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble way of puppies. (I'll give you a dollar if you can tell me what book "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble" is from. All right, I won't really give you a dollar, but leave a comment if you know and I'll think you're cool, which is better than a dollar anyway.) Poppy will do just about anything for a treat and a pat. She usually walks well on the leash for such a little one, just trotting along in her own happy little puppy world, but tonight she was pulling and pulling on the leash, lunging against the end until the collar choked her, making her gag. It was so bad that I turned back home, and the walk home took twice as long as the first half because I kept stopping to soothe her. I let her loose in the back yard so that she could run around limited by the fence rather than the leash, and we had a good romp instead .

A bit later in the kitchen, as a content Poppy settled on a blanket in the living room, I remarked to loving husband, "It hit me as I headed home with Poppy pulling and lunging and choking herself that I felt like the entire day with the kids has been like this-- kids pulling and testing the boundaries even though they're gagging and choking themselves. It was like walking five little puppies all barking and lunging. That's exactly what it felt like. I'm exhausted." The kids don't know that the boundaries I set for them are intended to keep them safe, to keep them strong and healthy, to teach them good manners any more than puppy knows that the leash is for safety, health, and instruction. And the consequences of pulling and pulling didn't seem to be sinking in, at least in the immediate moment.

With Poppy it's an easy dilemma to solve. Tomorrow I'll use the little body harness to walk her so that she doesn't choke.

With the ladies and gents...who knows? Of course they're not puppies, and shouldn't be treated like them. But there are lessons to be learned in everything. Sometimes reframing a problem helps us to look at it in a new light, which allows us to find better solutions. I know that one lovely lady might benefit from a day that's a bit more like a romp in the yard than a guided walk. As a matter of fact, her day brightened and evened out this afternoon when I tossed some fruit on the table and asked her to draw a still life as a preparation for our next art study. The youngest two gents would certainly benefit from some time and attention just for them, a game or a puzzle instead of a belly rub. Or maybe chase-and-tickle, a game that puppies enjoy too. Kindergarten gent was praised and rewarded with quarters for the ice cream jar for his wonderful behavior. And the other lovely lady...well, time and patience are the key. Gentleness and trying to find ways to provide instruction that don't make her want to pull so hard in the other direction has been slowly turning the tide.

So maybe they're a little like puppies.

Heeeeyyy...a treat from time to time can help reinforce desired behaviors. I didn't run away screaming, lock anyone in a closet, or threaten to get out the duct tape. Refraining from those kinds of behaviors is desirable, right?

I think I deserve a piece of cheescake.

Read-Aloud: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

"Once, oh marvelous once, there was a rabbit who found his way home." (p. 200, the last line of the book)

Edward Tulane, a china rabbit, is loved and petted and dressed in fine silk suits by a little girl who loves him. But Edward is hollow and spoiled and does not love Abilene back.

Then, as Abilene and Edward set out on a sea voyage, Edward is lost.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, is the story of Edward's journey, recounting not only Edward's journey through the world and his encounters with many different people, but his inner awakening as well, as Edward learns the meaning of friendship, love, and loss. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane brought to mind a children's classic, one of my favorites, The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams). The value of Edward's journey, however, is not in being loved but in learning to love; he becomes real inside rather than outwardly.

The tale of Edward Tulane's awakening ability to love is not sentimental and insipid. The characters are charming and spot-on, not overdone. And while Edward learns to love, his is a quiet awakening, and he also learns about loss, real loss, and what it can do to one's heart. Edward's simple thoughts and story make the tale of his journey work without tipping over into maudlin sentiment thanks to Camillo's clean spare prose. Even the most heart-wrenching scene in the novel is bearable because she offers only what is necessary and trusts the reader to bring their own hearts and imaginations to the story. I won't give away the details, but I was able to read that scene without blurry eyes and a squeaky voice, though we all had tears at the edges of our eyes.

My favorite part was Edward's encounter with the old doll in the doll shop. She tells a broken-hearted Edward, "You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash with hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next." And when Edward replies that he is done with love, that love is too painful, she replies "You disappoint me greatly. If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless."

The story is lovely, the message is valuable, the characters are charming, the writing makes it a pleasure to read silently or out loud. And, in the interests of full disclosure, though I made it through the heart-wrenching scene in the middle of the book, I did read the ending with a quavery voice, blinking away tears so that I could see the words. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane has earned a spot on our favorites shelf.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Who'd-a Thunk It?

Ten Things I Never Thought I'd Forty

1. Tattooed. When I was young, I thought tattoos were for people who smoked and rode motorcycles and didn't wash. I don't know where I got that idea. I certainly didn't know anyone with a tattoo, that I knew of anyway. Now I've got two tattoos of my own. I don't smoke, I've been on a motorcycle twice, and I promise I wash.

2. Forty. Well logically, of course, I knew in my head that someday I'd turn forty years old. Duh. But do we really believe it in our hearts before we get there? Suddenly thirty-nine rolled around and I panicked: "Oh my gosh, I'm really going to be forty! I still feel twenty-five!" When I was in my twenties, I thought that once I reached my forties my life was pretty much over. I had my whole life mapped out, but somehow the road disappeared into the mists somewhere around my thirty-ninth birthday. (My road map post here, in which I try to answer the question, "Are you where you wanted by be at forty?")

3. A completely unreasonable grouch. File this in the "I'm never going to say that to my kids" category. I was going to be the fun, nice mom. Sometimes I'm fun and nice, but sheesh, how many times do I have to tell these kids to close the freakin' door and stop picking their noses and for cryin' out loud pickupyoursocks?

4. A stepmom. Parenting someone else's child was not on my road map. I don't see my lovely lady as "someone else's child" really. She's mine right along with the rest. But unlike my boys, she's not all mine, so I have to share. It's challenging and rewarding and frustrating. Parenting a teenage stepchild is full of landmines, from "My mom says...." to "Why are you always picking on me?" I remember when I was a kid my mother was simultaneously my best friend and the most annoying and unreasonable person in the entire universe. (Sorry, Mom.) With my lovely stepchild there's a split: Her mother is her best friend, and I am the most annoying and unreasonable person in the universe. My wonderful stepdaughter is a strong and sweet and loving young lady, so I expect we'll make it through these years relatively unscathed. Eventually. But I may just bite my tongue clean in two before we get there.

5. Impatient, cross, hasty, impulsive, sentimental, lazy, shy, and not very serious or ambitious. Like I said before. Somehow I thought that all of this stuff would disappear. With age comes wisdom, right? I thought I'd have all the answers by now. Well, rats, I'm still not perfect, go figure. But now I like myself anyway. I've come to terms with being human and all of the joys and challenges and flaws that come along with human-ness. I find that I am more tolerant and patient with all of the perfectly flawed messy imperfect humans around me. So maybe that wisdom is coming along after all.

6. Wrinkly, saggy, stretch-marked, droopy. Another "Well, duh." No one makes it to seventy or eighty or ninety with smooth glowing skin and their perky parts still in the right place. Not naturally anyway. And it's not like you wake up on your seventy-third birthday to hear snap-crackle-pop, and all of your parts suddenly turn to jello. It's been happening all along, but it's kind of like turning forty-- you never really think it's going to happen until you look in the mirror and see the crow's feet (in spite of the daily moisturizing), and the girls start sagging (in spite of the appropriate supports), and your belly looks like a road map (in spite of the vitamin E oil rubbed on the belly during each pregnancy).

7. A sushi-eater. Raw fish? Bleah, no thanks! Then I actually tried sushi. Blame loving husband for this one, he took me out for sushi on our second date and being the good sport that I am, I ate raw fish. Ok, I lied, I wasn't being a good sport. I just didn't want to look like a stupid bumpkin on a date so I ate it. Yum-my!

8. Mom to a child with a disability. When I dreamed of having a daughter, I envisioned ballet classes and tea parties, not autism. PTA not IEP. This child has given me back every pre-child "My kid will never do that" in spades. What a lesson in humility, grace, and acceptance. Would I trade? Not a chance. I've been given exactly what I need.

9. Making fart jokes. I mean, come on. When am I going to grow up?

10. Content. Full with the richness of life. Who knew we could be happy even though life isn't perfect? Who knew that little things, this quiet life, could offer so much depth? I thought contentment was settling, that settling was boring and stuffy, that domesticity was inner death. I was wrong. Life is good.

To add a link to your Tuesday Ten: Ten Things I Thought I'd Never...., or to read more Tuesday Ten, click on Mister Linky:


Thank goodness for the digital camera. The Easter bunny remembered where she hid every single egg this year.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What I'm Reading: Book Hunt

I went on a book hunt today. I'm always losing my books (read my lost books post here).

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, Donald Miller. On the garden shelf. I think I was reading this one in the sky-blue hammock and probably set it on the shelf so that I wouldn't lose it. The book is lovely to read, challenging, thought-provoking. It's hard to read at times, for me, because it makes me think it's nearing time to enter one of those parts of my life when it's time to dig deeper, think harder, work more. I don't necessarily agree with Miller's ideas or direction wholeheartedly, but he makes me think and his committment and passion for Christ are inspiring.
The Good Earth, Pearl Buck. On the kitchen counter next to my purse. I took it to kindergarten gent's gymnastics class to read while I waited. I bought The Good Earth because I thought I should read it. I thought it was going to be inspiring, the all-too-earnest kind of inspiring, and stilted and boring. Instead it is lovely. Buck's story of pre-revolutionary China in the 1920's is compassionate and honest and clear. I'm reading now about wrenching grinding poverty and starvation, with families literally eating dirt in order to survive. I've not even read half the book and I know that this will probably go on my list of top reads for the year.

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis. On the top of my school basket, I have no idea how it got there. I finally finished The Screwtape Letters, and moved on to Mere Christianity. I've barely begun, and I may set it aside for a while, at least until I finish Blue Like Jazz.

Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals, Karen Skidmore Radcliffe. On the buffet next to the science and nature tray, accompanied by our butterfly book and our book on seeds. It's nature time of year. I've already read and reviewed this one, but I've been paging through for ideas. Along with Wild Days, I've borrowed a page from Nina at Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea and we're choosing 2-3 books each week to re-read throughout the week. This week we've got some seed experiments, and caterpillars for our butterfly garden on the tray, so we're reading Where Butterflies Grow, Joanne Ryder and Lynne Cherry, and How a Seed Grows, Helene Jordan and Loretta Krupinski.

Puppies for Dummies, Sarah Hodgson. On the chair outside with the puppy stuff. This book wasn't actually lost. I carry it around with me like the puppy bible. I thought, "Gee, I wonder if I should get a puppy book? I mean, how hard can it be?" Puppies for Dummies has been so helpful. I don't follow it to the letter, but just understanding a little about dog world has helped. The information is clearly presented and easy to follow.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston. On the nightstand next to the bed. When things get chaotic, it's always nice to pick up an old favorite. I've loved this book since I read it in college. A memoir of growing up Chinese-American and listening to her mother's stories of China, it's beautiful, haunting, mesmerizing.

I've put Mere Christianity away until I've finished Blue Like Jazz. Wild Days is back in the nature backpack, and the gents made off with the two picture books after we looked at the seeds and caterpillars this evening. Puppies for Dummies is on the mantle next to Poppy's crate. That leaves me with three books to read...and three locations to remember. Oops, I just realized that Blue Like Jazz is still outside. I'd better go get it.

Phone Call, Part Three: In which a dear friend calls me

Today lovely lady has one friend over, neighbor girl. The fine young gents' six-year-old cousin spent the night. Lovely lady's other friend arrives, and neighbor girl takes her leave while friend #2's mom admires Poppy and I notice a puppy puddle. I throw a clean-up cloth over the puddle and I take Poppy out to potty, which she does, and as we are going back inside the phone starts to ring. Poppy doesn't want to go through the door. "C'mon, sweetie," I coax. Nothing doing, she says, quite clearly for someone who cannot speak. Ring. I scoop up Poppy and maneuver my way past the screen door to grab the phone. It's a dear friend. "Hello, dear friend!" I say, as I start to grab a roll of paper towels to clean up the puppy puddle. No paper towels. Rats. Figures.

Dear friend and I had a nice long chat. As we talk, here's what I'm doing:

I get a new roll of paper towels from the garage and clean up the puppy puddle. Pet the puppy. The fine young gents come shouting into the room-- they're playing knights. I stop chatting for a short moment to ask the boys to be quiet. I pick up the toys off the floor and rescue another Hot Wheels from the puppy by offering her a chew toy instead. Gents come shouting into the room again-- there's a dispute brewing. Poppy is pulling on my pant leg with her tiny puppy teeth. I gently disengage her then I ask four-year-old gent to wait until I'm done talking on the phone, and motion "Shhh" to all with my finger to my lips, and out they go. Poppy starts chewing on my pant leg. In roar the gents again, so I go close myself in the bathroom. Dear friend remembers that her mom used to hide in the bathroom too.

"At least I'm not trying to frost cupcakes this call," I said. "So I'm not trying to monitor three kids waving knives full of frosting while I talk." Dear friend laughs. "You missed your chance," I told her, "We were dyeing eggs earlier. That would have been a fun conversation, interspersed with 'Oh! Ack! Stop! Oh no, quick! Grab a towel! Not everyone can use the pink cup at the same time. Eeek, it's overflowing! Oops! Please give that back to your brother. Don't pour that in your hair!'" Dear friend laughs again. She thinks I'm joking.

We continue to chat while I look out the window. Loving husband is doing a project instead of making a list of projects to do. The shock leaves me feeling temporarily dizzy. (Loving husband is a hard worker, so I am mostly poking fun.) I take puppy out to loving husband and head in to the kitchen to empty dye out of the coffee mugs, now all pink or blue on the inside. I put away Easter eggs, look outside and run out to rescue my red rubber boot from Poppy. I hide in the bathroom again while dear friend tells me about her kitchen remodel and we talk about our upcoming girls' weekend. It's so quiet in the bathroom. I can actually hear what dear friend says to me.

Dear friend and I finish our talk as the gents pound out into the back yard for a round of backyard golf. I knock on the window, point and shake my head as I mouth "NO" at one misbehaving young gent. I wander out into the sun-between-showers. For the most part, though, they settle in to back yard play so that I can really focus on the conversation. A conversation with a real live grownup, and this time there's no pink or green cupcake frosting smeared on the phone.

It was lovely to talk to you, B. I can't wait to see you next weekend.

Part One, In Which I Make a Phone Call But Not Really

Part Two, In Which I Actually Dial the Phone and Make a Phone Call

Friday, April 06, 2007


Lovely visual-spatial learner, 14, is in the process of creating a word wall. In addition to her word roots study, she's slowly working her way through the Houghton-Mifflin word list, "100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know," creating a vocabulary cartoon for each word, which we then post on the wall. I first encountered the word list at Mental Multivitamin.

Lovely lady fills out a word sheet that includes the word definition, the part of speech, synonyms and antonyms, a sentence using the word and a preliminary sketch of a cartoon illustrating the word meaning. The words are visible, a part of the visual landscape as she takes a short mental break from math or science or reading. The cartoons engage her visual and artistic style, and allow her to bring her sense of fun and humor into her word study. She's more comfortable using the dictionary, and more likely to look up new words she encounters in her reading. Visitors admire the wall, boosting her investment in the product she creates, and they read the definitions of words unfamiliar to them, which means she gets to hear the word used again and again.

I don't know that either lovely lady or myself, if offered a million dollars to recite, say, the correct definition of abjure (the first word on the list) could recite it flawlessly. But I'll bet she could use it in a sentence, and I'm certain that she'll understand the word in context the next time she encounters it in her reading.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Boys and Girls Forever

Alison Lurie's Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter is a collection of essays about classic children's literature, from writings on particular authors including Hans Christian Andersen and Frank Baum, to more general topics such as modern fairy tales, children's poetry, illustrations in children's books, the role of nature in children's literature and more. Boys and Girls Forever is interesting and informative, and in places utterly charming, particularly the last essay, "Enchanted Forests and Secret Gardens." This book helped me to remember some old favorites and see some of them in a different light. And the pages are dog-eared in spots to mark stories and writers that I'd like to add to my want-to-read list, most notably John Masefield's The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights. I'd never heard of Masefield or his stories before, and Lurie's essay devoted to him and his work have certainly piqued my interest. As if my want-to-read list needs to get any longer!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Obsession

Ten Things with which I am Obsessed

1. The obsession de jour. Right now it's the puppy. Before Poppy came along, it was the chickens.

2. Moving. I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaally want to move to a house in the country. I look at the open houses in the paper, talk to people who might keep an eye out for our perfect house, search the real estate sites. I badger my poor loving husband, who doesn't really care where we live. I want to move right now. Yesterday. Magically of course, because one thing I am very not obsessed with is packing and unpacking.

3. Pee and poop. Well, those aren't obsessions, exactly. With a new puppy and a two-year-old around pee and poop are just part of daily life. So what if I have to mutter under my breath constantly, "It's just pee. It's just pee. It's just pee." Really, I'm obsessed with potty training. Unfortunately, so far I'm the only one.

4. The garden. What will I plant? Where will I plant it? Should I put the peas here? What about the tomatoes? If I plant corn here, where will the beans go? And what about the pumpkins? Hmmm....I can spend many of my free minutes, sometimes all ten of them, obsessing about the garden.

5. Cheesecake. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Cheesecake.....

6. The UPS guy. He's nice, he brings me stuff, he looks good in shorts, he likes my new puppy. What more could a gal ask? Good thing loving husband is the greatest guy on the planet.

7. Books. I love books. Shelves and shelves and shelves of books. If I could, I'd live at the library. The new library with the stairs and the nice bathrooms and the comfy seats. Loving husband asked me last year what I wanted for an anniversary present. Did I ask for diamonds? Fancy dinner? Nope. I asked for a bookcase and a night out at the bookstore. I love it when the UPS guy brings me books. Maybe that's why I love the UPS guy-- behavioral conditioning. He's been paired with one of my major obsessions. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I see the UPS guy and think, "Ooooooooooooooo. Books. Oooooooooooooooo." Kind of like when you shake the treat cup at the puppy and she pees: Pee=treats. To the puppy that is. I promise I don't pee when I see the UPS guy. I just think about books.

8. Homeschool curricula. I love books. Have I mentioned that? I love teaching, and I love school materials. Put those all together.... Curricula is an ongoing topic of conversation with Cristy. Our poor Irie Meg, she just rolls her eyes. Or maybe she's just grateful that we're no longer talking ad naseum about the endless variety of cloth diapers available.

9. Cheesecake again. Still. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Cheesecake. I must be hungry. There wasn't any cheesecake in the fridge last time I checked, but maybe I should go check again just to be sure. Be right back.


10. Did I say what I meant? Surely I can't be the only person who replays conversations in my head. Did I say what I meant to say? Did I inadvertently stick my foot in my mouth and not know it? I only meant.... What if they thought I was trying to say.... Sheesh. I need to get a grip.

11. Cheesecake. I wonder if there's some cheesecake hiding behind the leftover spaghetti?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fun with Poppy

Kids and puppies. Poppy is settling in so nicely. She's a very sweet girl, very gentle and well-mannered for such a young puppy.

Here's what she did most of her first day. A long drive, very recent spay surgery, and a completely new home can wear a girl out. Isn't she adorable? Plus she was worn out from crying all night long. Poor baby. We're working on finding a solution that isn't bringing her into our room, but doesn't leave her feeling so lost and lonely. I'm exhausted too.

She spent some of her time yesterday and a lot of time today playing with the ladies and gents in the back yard. I'm so impressed by her manners-- except for a short time this morning when she was getting tired, she doesn't nip or jump when the kids are playing chase with her. And this morning some quiet time and a short nap restored her to her sweet gentle self.

She seems most comfortable in the back yard. That's when her playful nature comes out. But she likes to spend a lot of time just laying near me, ears perked, watching the kids run around.

The kids are all using their best manners. On Puppy Day, before we left to get our puppy, I set down the Puppy Rules:
1. Please be quiet and gentle. We talked about how scary it would be for us to leave our whole family and go to a completely new place far away. What loving hearts they have. They've all been so sweet and welcoming to our new little one.
2. Teach puppy good habits. This is more about me training the kids than the kids training the puppy. I want our puppy to be a pleasant companion as she grows, and the kids are my partners. Now when I offer a correction to the kids, I preface it with, "Remember, we want to teach Poppy good manners so that she grows up to be a good dog. Let's try it this way."
3. Mom is the boss of the puppy. I set the rules. There is only Mom's way with the puppy so that no one gets confused. We have "puppy class" in the morning where I tell the kids what I'd like them to say if Poppy nips or jumps, and let them know what I've noticed them doing right.

It's really hard getting a good picture of an active puppy! Most of the pictures I took are variations on this theme.