Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Happy Halloween!

Ten Things I Enjoy About Halloween

1. Costumes!
Loving husband is going to laugh when he reads this, but I really enjoy making the kids' costumes. So what if every year, a few days before Halloween, I'm swearing at the sewing machine and spending every waking minute in the sewing room and moaning, "How am I going to make that?" I've made witches and fairies, cats and clowns, unicorns and horses, knights and kings and characters from books.

This year, we've got a blue-haired Vaati and two fine young Links (from The Legend of Zelda), Hannah Montana, and "just a boy named Levi". The boy named Levi has been persuaded by promises of candy to dress up as a cowboy named Levi, which involved nothing more complicated on my part than buying a little cowboy hat and finding his cowboy boots. Which is good, because those Link costumes have been a challenge to my limited seamstress powers.

2. Trips to the pumpkin patch.
Sure, we could choose our pumpkins at the grocery store, but there's something about the hay ride and the pumpkin field that makes it just that much more fun.

3. Carving pumpkins.
Every year we carve pumpkins as a family. Loving husband and I make a great pumpkin team. He hates gutting and I stink at carving, so I gut and he carves. He prefers fancy designs and patterns; I have a soft spot for those crooked little faces the gents draw onto the pumpkin with a Sharpie, so we always end up with a nice variety of pumpkin faces on our porch by Halloween.

4. Pumpkin Seeds.
This year I decided once and for all to solve my yearly dilemma-- salt-water soak, or not? I tried one batch each way. The salt-water soak wins. Non-soaked seeds were a tad crispier, but the flavor of the soaked seeds is delicious. I read a great pumpkin seed tip a few years ago: A twenty-minute dry-roast in the oven before tossing the seeds with olive oil and salt and pepper and returning them to the oven to roast until done makes a nice crispy seed. Yum!

5. Candy.

6. Trick-or-treaters.
They're just so stinkin' cute! I love to hear those little voices saying, "Trick-or-treat!"

7. Trick-or-treating.
We trick-or-treat up and down our street. It gives us a chance to say hello to our neighbors, and the kids get to show off their costumes. It's wonderful to go for a family walk, see the kids enjoying one another and the neighbors, laugh together. We're fortunate that loving husband's mother comes to man the door until we split up and I return home with the fine young gents while loving husband continues on with the lovely ladies.

8. The costumes go straight into the dress-up box.
So the fine young gents dress up as their characters for weeks afterward. What a wonderful way to encourage imaginative play.

9. It doesn't involve cooking a special meal.
No turkey, cranberries, ham, pie. As a matter of fact, we usually get take-out because we need to eat early enough that the fine young gents can go trick-or-treating then gorge on candy and still get to bed at a decent time.

10. It's just plain fun.
Most holidays center around family gatherings, which I thoroughly enjoy. Halloween is a community holiday. We welcome young strangers onto our porches and walks, and we're delighted to do so. It gets us out to parties with friends, or out on the streets meeting our neighbors. We get to dress up as our alter egos, visit the pumpkin patch, wind our way through the corn maze. And we get candy! It doesn't get much better than that.

Happy Halloween! Have an exciting and safe holiday!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Thursday in the Life: Picasso's Birthday


Celebrating: Pablo Picasso's birthday, Thursday, October 25th. What better way to celebrate his birthday than a day of art?

Looking at: Picasso's work. I searched through our art books for examples of faces in Picasso's art and we looked at the pictures together, discussing the lines and colors and shapes. Granted, the fine young gents are six and four and the faces made them laugh. "They look funny!" giggled four-year-old gent. But they got it. They started to see how the shapes went together and folded out, and how the lines and colors created faces that were interesting to look at. They also really got one of Picasso's most famous works, Guernica, a painting about the horror of war. I turned the page and read about the mural. They were very quiet as they examined the painting. "I think that man is dead," said the younger gent. "The people are scared," said his brother. When asked, they both decided that the reason the colors are dark and gray is because it is a sad painting.

Reading:

Picasso (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists), Mike Venezia.
Mike Venezia's famous artist books are some of our very favorites. As with the others in the series, Picasso offers an easy-to-read and interesting story of the artist's life and art.



Usborne The Children's Book of Art: Internet Linked, Rosie Dickins.
We pull this book out about once a week, read a page, and look at the suggested links. It's a nice low-key way to introduce art to the fine young gents. On this particular day, we read the page about Picasso and looked at the painting Three Musicians.


Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail, Laurence Anholt.

A lovely story about Sylvette, a shy and dreamy young girl in a ponytail, who became one of Picasso's models. Based on the true story of Sylvette David, a young woman who eventually became an artist in her own right, the story is charming and sweet, and includes biographical details and photos of the real "girl with a ponytail."

Picasso and Minou, P. I. Maltbie.
Unknown artist Pablo Picasso is nearly starving himself when he takes in Minou, a friendly stray cat. Eventually things get so bad that Picasso must let Minou go to fend for himself. Minou manages to find food for them both and inspire the artist to paint a circus family instead of the dreary blue paintings he's been painting.


Drawing: Faces. I spent a little time looking for Picasso-themed lesson plans in our art books and in the internet, then let the fine young gents choose which project they found most interesting. They chose this one, Picasso Faces. It's very simple, but it's one of those lessons that you could do just as successfully with a fourteen-year-old as with a four-year-old because the emphasis is on using one's artistic abilities to express what one sees or recognizes in the work of the artist. Materials are also simple: Paper, black markers, and oil pastels. I also printed a few of Picasso's better known faces, including a 1907 self-portrait, Jaqueline with Flowers, Weeping Woman, and Girl Before a Mirror (Girl Before a Mirror coloring page here).

What an art adventure we had. Fine young gent, four, insisted that he could only draw faces with a circle, two dots for eyes, and a curve for a smile, the classic smiley face. I drew a large circle on his paper. On my own paper, I drew another circle. "Look at my eyes," I told him. "Are my eyes little dots?" He shook his head. "What shape are they?" I asked. His little brow furrowed. "Hmmm....." I asked him to trace my eye sockets with his fingers. Then I showed him how to draw an eye shape. I asked him to trace my nose and my mouth and try to draw the shapes. What a thrill to see the "Aha!" Maybe next time I should have him feel my hair too, so that he realizes that it's not a little lump at the very top of our heads. Am I complaining? No way. Giggling a little, maybe. After all, that face is a far cry from a little smiley, which is a huge confidence builder.

His fine young brother didn't follow directions. The horror! "But, but, wait....you're supposed to be drawing faces," I said. He looked crestfallen and as the words were coming out of my mouth I started looking at what he was drawing. I wanted to rewind, or bite my tongue, or kick myself really hard.

What he drew is delightful. Sure, it's not a face. It's a girl in a ponytail, dancing. You can see the movement in the drawing. She's happy.

It's hard to find a balance in art lessons sometimes. Without some guidance and direction kids often don't stretch themselves to try new things. It's important to learn to follow directions. But it's also important to experiment and explore, to try the new things in their imaginations, to see what they can do if they follow their instincts. As a parent-teacher, trying to walk that fence between guiding and allowing exploration, all without discouraging....whew. It's a lot like parenting in general, isn't it?

I backpedalled. Apologized. "You know what? I love it. Keep working on that. Then if you want to keep going, will you do a page of faces?" And he did.

The results are delightful. Not because they're Great Art, I know that. I'm not trying to turn out fine artists, but I do want my children to love art because it is a way to create beauty in our world, and I don't want them to believe that art is something that only hangs on a wall in a museum. In much the same way I believe that music is something that we can create, not just something to which we passively listen, I want my children to believe that art is something we can create ourselves not just something that an Artist creates for us.

On this day, they both took what we'd been discussing and made it their own. They understood a little bit of what they saw, the parts about colors and lines. And they are proud of what they've made. And that's what makes me glow.

At the pumpkin patch

Friday, October 26, 2007

Apples to Apples

The fine young gents and I went to the corn maze yesterday with their cousins. I've never been to the corn maze before and it was dandy fun. Here's a tip: Wear boots. It's muddy.

And go with a group during the day. All of the school groups are going to the pumpkin patch instead, if you have more than 10 people you get the group rate, and you can see. If you aren't fortunate enough to have a sister who popped out enough kids to nearly get the group rate all on her own, invite friends. (How long do you think until I get a nasty email saying, "What do you mean about popping out kids?" Heh heh.) Paying $12 a head to wander around a corn field bumping into shrieking preteens in the dark doesn't appeal; paying $2.50 each to wander around an empty corn field without having to worry that strangers will see you doing the hokey-pokey to choose your way, or about losing the little ones, priceless. Well, technically not priceless. It cost me $10.

What does this have to do with apples, you ask? Well, nothing. We did buy the apples at the farm stand after we went through the corn maze and looked at the goats, but I could have just said "We went to the farm and bought apples while we were there." This saves me having to write a separate post about the corn maze. I'm lazy, er, efficient that way.

First grade gent is studying pioneers and the Oregon trail for history. Last week we found a fabulous library book, Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains (Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Henderson). Apples to Oregon is a delightful tall tale, the story of how a young girl named Delicious (along with her brothers and sisters) helps her daddy bring an orchard from Iowa to Oregon. Outlandish as only a tall tale can be, it is based on the true story of Henderson Lewelling and his family, who brought apple and other fruit trees to the Willamette Valley and planted the first orchard in Milwaukee, Oregon. The story is a perfect read-aloud, funny and clever, and the illustrations are wonderful.

The apple facts on the back cover of Apples to Oregon prompted a discussion about apple varieties. Fine young gent and I decided that it would be great fun to have an apple-tasting, and since we were at a farm stand yesterday which offered several varieties of apples, we seized the opportunity. The apples we chose were crisp, fresh, local, and cost less than they would have at the grocery store. With the help of their cousins, the boys chose Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Jonathon, Jonagold, and Marlow. Likely none of those varieties were around in pioneer times, but we had to make do with the varieties available.

They were all lovely apples. Jonagold won for best flavor (3 votes), with the aptly named Honeycrisp, honey-sweet and perfectly crisp, a close second (2 votes). Golden Delicious, with its the milder flavor and texture, was the favorite of the youngest gent; middle gent preferred the Jonathon apple. The poor Marlow variety didn't get any votes, but I suspect that may be because it was a bit past its prime, and though it had a nice flavor it just couldn't compete with those other perfectly ripe apples.

What does this have to do with school, you ask? We learned about the first orchard in Oregon and how it got here (history), we read and discussed a new form of writing, the tall tale (literature), fine young gent read the book himself and wrote a book report (reading and writing). He also wrote the apple names (handwriting and spelling), tallied the votes and colored a graph showing our family's apple preferences (math), and we talked about food groups and the nutritional value of apples and other fruits (health). One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the flexibility we have to just follow our noses. The ladies and gents find something that they enjoy or that makes them want to know more, and I find ways to squeeze the larnin' out of it.


Comparing apples to apples: An apple-tasting


You need:
Apples, at least 4-5 different varieties
Paper towels or paper plates upon which to write the names of the apple varieties and to place the apple slices
A knife and cutting board
People to taste the apples
A pencil and paper and/or graph paper if you'd like to record or graph the results

First, choose your apples, approximately one apple of each variety for every 5-7 people. We got about 14-16 slices per apple, depending on the size, so one apple of each variety was more than enough for our family of seven. Try to choose apples that are fresh and at their prime so you get the best flavors.

Next, label the apples. At the fruit stand I didn't write down the names of the apples we'd chosen, thinking I'd remember them when we got home. Ha! I called the kids' cousins. Can you believe that from the suggestions, "Mabel Rose" and "Marley" and "Marigold" I actually remembered that the last variety was called Marlow?
Last, slice, taste, and vote. We wrote our votes right on the paper towels next to the apple names and created the graph later. That way we didn't have to stop to do the math part until we were done with our snack.

All of the apple slices were gone by the end of the afternoon, and loving husband picked up a bag of Jonagolds at the grocery store this afternoon.

Interested in apple varieties? More than you'd ever want to know about apple varieties on the Comprehensive Apple Variety List. Except I can't find "Marlow" on the list, so mow I'm wondering if I've still got the name wrong. Hmmm.....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Pablo Picasso!


"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." ~Pablo Picasso.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Junk

Ten Things I'd Like to be Rid of Forever

1. Stretch marks.
My first pregnancy, I was so excited that I had no stretch marks. Three weeks before she was born, my lovely lady dropped from high to low within what seemed like hours. I felt like I was walking with a bowling ball in my pelvis, and my belly was striped purple. They got longer and wider with each pregnancy. Of course, if I had the money for cosmetic surgery to erase them, I'd spend it on something else, so I'm stuck with them.

2. The dresser in the basement.
I've been cleaning the basement. You know how doing a deep clean has that stage where it looks worse before it gets better because you've dragged everything out in the open for sorting? Well, that's where I was when I got sick. I managed to haul off bags of trash, recycling, Goodwill items. But the old dresser is still sitting there, right in the way. Every time I want to get a jar of jam out of the storage cupboard I have to move the dresser. I'm leaving it there, though, because the more irritating the darn thing becomes, the more likely it is I'll actually get rid of it.

3. Doll parts.
The younger of the lovely ladies was a doll-lover. I bought her first porcelain doll on Ebay, thinking she'd put the lovely doll on a shelf and look at it adoringly. Oh no. She wanted to play with the doll, which she named Julie. I got over my ideas of what one does with lovely porcelain dolls and glued Julie's leg many times, along with Isabelle's arm and Amy's hair. Lovely lady has given up all but one special porcelain doll, which sits neatly on her shelf. Poor thing. Who knew I'd feel sorry for a lovely doll who has no adventures and doesn't get to sleep with her girl at night? Anyway. Those poor no-longer-beloved, cracked, hairless creatures still have salvageable parts. One has a lovely set of arms, another a beautiful face, a third a pretty dress and fine legs, and there's a pretty good head of hair floating around the bottom of the box. I keep meaning to post the doll parts on Freecycle, but I just haven't gotten around to it.

4. Psst! Can I get rid of other people's stuff?
That noisy merry-go-round toy with the annoying repetitive music, the horse clock of loving husband's that he won at the fair when he was 12, a few clothing items belonging to the lovely ladies? I'll bet loving husband would never miss that awful clock. He wouldn't even know it had disappeared. If he asked I could always say, "Oh, I'm sure it's in a box around here somewhere." Which also gives me an incentive not to finish cleaning the basement: No boxes=no excuse for the missing clock.

5. The couch.
I'll admit, I'm a little sentimental about the couch. The very first time I went to loving husband's house, before he was loving husband, we sat on his couch and talked. He was so completely embarrassed by his awful old couch (which I didn't notice, by the way, since I wasn't interested in dating the sofa) that he went and bought new living room furniture the next day, which is very sweet. It was a fine couch in its day. I'd feel even more sentimental about the couch, though, if it weren't broken down, uncomfortable, and impossible to get out of. I'm ready for a new couch.

6. Memories of an old boyfriend. The "what was I thinking?" kind of guy. Don't you wish there were some kind of memory eraser that you could use to scrub out memories like that? Then when I walked by him yesterday at the store, I wouldn't have shuddered and asked myself all over again, Honestly, what was I thinking? At least yesterday I wasn't wearing my baggiest sweats, and my hair looked good. I wonder if he thought, Honestly, what was I thinking? Naaaah, I'm pretty sure he's still pining away for me. (With a ha ha added for those of you who are sitting there thinking, "Geesh, she's really full of herself!" That was tongue-in-cheek, folks.)

7. That stain in the carpet. Even the carpet cleaner guy can't get it out. I have no idea what it is or how it got there. I just want it to go away.

8. Any business name using the letter "K" in place of "C."
Like "Karly's Kut-n-Kurl" or "Kozee Kottages." Barf. I know they're not mine to get rid of, but wouldn't I be doing the world a service? Anyone up for a huge sign burning in the back yard?

9. Bad attitudes.
Whining, moaning, sulking, griping, complaining, moping, and just general pain-in-the-assedness.

Mine, that is.

Oh, and I'd like to lose the kids' bad attitudes too. Then we'd all be happy and so dang cheery you'd want to slap us all silly.

10. My used curricula.
Well, not mine. More accurately, lovely lady's eighth grade books and such from last year. It's all been sorted into keep, sell, give away. "Keep" has been shelved. "Give away" has been given. "Sell," well, I just haven't gotten up the gumption to do it, so there's a huge pile of books on my sewing table. I'm afraid that by the time I get around to it, I might as well just keep it for the fine young gents.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Antonia

My Antonia,Willa Cather.

If I could choose one book I've read this year to take to a desert island, My Antonia would be the book. I fell in book-love within pages; before I'd finished the first chapter, I knew it was forever. My Antonia is the story of Jim Burden, his recollections of his childhood friend, Antonia, and the small town on the Nebraska plains in which they were raised. The story highlights not only their enduring friendship, but the struggles, hardships, and pleasures of farming life on the plains of the American frontier. My Antonia is beautifully written, a story that rings true to the bone, with characters who feel like people you might have known in the past.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tuesday Ten on Friday: What in the World Have I Been Up To?

Ten Things I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging

1. Being sick. Actually, this one pretty well sums it up. We could just make this item numbers one through ten. Two-and-a-half weeks ago I started getting a low-grade fever and chills every evening and an upset stomach. It kind of went downhill from there.

2. Going to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor. It takes time out of my day that I don't have.

The first doctor was an ass who implied it was all in my head. As though I could invent a fever. Oh wait, he ignored the fever part and focused on what I do for a living and whether or not I get a stomach ache when I'm upset.

The second doctor told me he'd had several patients complaining of the same symptoms (um, hellllooooooooo, doc number one!!) and it should turn into a respiratory thing soon. I woke up the next morning with a nasty chest cold.

The third visit was with my regular doctor, who told me I have the virus of the month and gave me a prescription for cough medicine so that I could sleep, which is all I wanted.

The fourth visit....fever had returned and I felt even worse, so I finally got antibiotics. The next day I wanted to sit down and cry with relief. I hadn't even realized how awful I'd been feeling until I started to feel better.

3. Coughing.

4. School. Here's how I knew I was feeling better after that first double dose of Zithromax: The next morning I sat down at the table to start school and thought, "What are we doing today? Maybe we'll have time for drawing!" instead of laying my head on the table and thinking "What's the bare minimum I can get away with and still feel that my children are being educated adequately?"

5. Thinking about writing a blog post. The very idea made me feel absolutely exhausted.

6. Feeling absolutely exhausted. The very idea of doing anything made me feel absolutely exhausted.

7. Shopping. High school lovely lady has been invited to the homecoming dance. By a boy. Instead of freaking out and locking her in her room until she turns eighteen, last night I took her shopping and we outfitted her from head to toe.

8. And talking. A lot. Lovely lady and loving husband and I have been discussing all of the things we feel are important to discuss when a teenaged daughter is going to a dance and spending time on the phone with a boy. We are blessed with a genuine and goodhearted daughter who strives for honesty and values our trust. This parenting a teenager thing is tight-rope tricky, and could make a whole blog post in itself. We want to be firm but loving, strict but not too strict, open but not permissive, scary but...well, just so scary that she'd never dream of doing anything we wouldn't allow.

9. More coughing.

10. And doin' the Mom thing. Because the family's life doesn't stop just because Mom would like to quietly slip into bed and stay there for two weeks or so. Can you believe they still need to be fed and bathed (uh....oops, maybe I should give them a bath tonight) and taught? Sheesh.

Loving husband, who has been swamped in the middle of a huge work project, gets a huge nod and a pat on the back for playing Mom and Dad as much as he could so that I could rest.

I'm on the mend. We've done some cool projects (only because they were already on the lesson plan) and I've got some other fun things to post about, so look for more soon as I try to get caught up and get the ball rolling again here at Poohsticks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Chicken Picture For My Young Friend Sean

Hattie and Ethel.

Lucy....well, Lucy is no longer with us. Her leg was injured, and it would have cost at least $50 just to walk into one of those little vet rooms with her. So she made her way into our freezer instead. (Sorry, Sean.)

My kids are fascinated, by the way. For a couple weeks, every time we ate chicken they'd ask, "Is this Lucy?" Ew. I prefer not to name my dinner, thank you very much.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Quilt stories

We've been making paper quilt blocks using Easy Literature-Based Quilts Around the Year(Cigrand and Howard), and we've found some lovely picture book treasures. The art is stunning and the stories are wonderful.

The Quiltmaker's Gift, Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken.
The Quiltmaker's Gift has been our hands-down favorite. This book will go in the Santa's book basket on Christmas morning. The gents simply cannot get enough of this book, and I love it too. The Quiltmaker's Gift is the beautiful story of a quiltmaker who gives her quilts only to the needy, and an unhappy king with too many things. When the king insists that the quiltmaker give him a quilt, she refuses then makes a bargain with the king: Give away all of your beautiful things, and I will make you a quilt with a patch for each gift you give to others. The illustrations are gorgeously detailed, perfect for poring over on a rainy afternoon. One of our favorite activities is looking at the front and back flaps of the books to find the names of the traditional quilt patches we see throughout the story, names like Flying Birds, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, Bear's Paw, King's Highway, Snail's Trail, Double Irish Chain, Lover's Knot. There's even a website: http://www.quiltmakersgift.com/ (The pattern for the Snail's Trail blocks pictured below, is in the right sidebar here.)

The Keeping Quilt, Patricia Polacco.

Anna comes to the United States from Russia with her family. When she outgrows the beloved dress and babushka that remind her of home, the women gather to make a quilt out of fabrics from a basket of old clothes, decorated with flowers and animals and bordered with Anna's beautiful red babushka. The quilt passes to the women in Anna's family from generation to generation, serving as a wedding huppah, welcoming the new babes, and warming the women in their old age. It's a lovely story of traditions, how they change and how they stay the same through the generations.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Deborah Hopkinson, paintings by James Ransome.

Clara is a young slave, a seamstress. One day she hears of freedom to the north. From scraps and bits of fabric and information she begins to piece together a quilt, a map to freedom. "We went north, following the trail of the freedom quilt. All the things people told me about, all the tiny stitches I took, now I could see the real things. There was the old tree struck down by lightning, the winding road near the creek, the hunting path through the swamp." Eventually Clara reaches freedom, and she leaves the quilt she made behind so that others may have a map to the Underground Railroad to study. Based on a true story, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt is an inspiring story of perseverance and patience and freedom.

The Quilt Story, Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

A little girl's mother sews her a beautiful quilt. The beloved quilt is the little girl's treasure and comfort, especially when her family crosses the country in a covered wagon to a new home. Eventually the quilt is folded and packed away where it makes a comfortable nest for some animals until it is rediscovered by another little girl. She begs her mother to repair the quilt, and the quilt becomes a treasure and comfort for a new little girl as she moves to a new home. It's a beautiful story, lovely to read out loud and has beautiful illustrations.

The Quilt, Ann Jonas.

Sweet and simple, perfect for younger readers, a little girl's quilt becomes a fantastic landscape in her dreams.



A Cloak for the Dreamer, Aileen Friedman, illustrated by Kim Howard.

A Cloak for the Dreamer isn't a quilt book, but it does deal with the geometry of piecing together fabric. A Cloak for the Dreamer is the story of a tailor's three fine sons and the cloaks they make for the Archduke. The first son wishes to become a tailor like his father, and pieces together a beautiful cloak using rectangles. The second son also wishes to follow in his father's footsteps. He pieces together a beautiful cloak using squares, then because he's got so much time to spare, he makes a second cloak of triangles. The third son, the dreamer, longs to travel the world. He wants to please his father, and pieces together a beautiful cloak of circles, which he discovers upon its completion to be completely impractical because it will not keep out the wind and the rain. The story has a happy ending: The second son made an extra cloak, so the Archduke gets the cloaks he ordered, and the tailor and his older sons solve the problem of the circles to make a beautiful rainbow cloak for the youngest son to wear as he sets off around the world.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What if.....

When you're forty, you don't want your boobs doing weird things, and two months after you lose a dear one to breast cancer is not the best time to find a mass in your breast, even one that's almost certain to be a benign condition. Because even when your doctor says that it seems to be fibrocystic and that most breast lumps are not cancer, and even if you already knew that before you walked into her office, here's what happens over the week you're waiting for that mammogram: "What if?" starts hovering like a pesky mosquito. "What if?" is a sly sneaky creature. It likes the "almost" in "almost certain." Preys on the "1-2 percent chance." You can swat it away but pretty soon it's back, buzzing and whining in your ear: What if it's me this time? What if I do have a serious illness? How will I manage? What would happen to my children if, God forbid, I died? Not that I'm going to, you say to yourself, but what if? See that's the part that gets me...my babies. Who would raise my precious babies? I can spin down that spiral real fast. Not a good idea to go there.

Actually, "What if?" is not a bad game to play. It jolts us out of our comfort zone and reminds us that we can't predict all of the turns in the path. But play "what if?" with your head. Be reasonable. What if I did die tomorrow or next week or next year? What if loving husband becomes seriously disabled and unable to work? Do we have a plan in place? Playing "what if" helps you to remember to be patient with your precious treasures, to kiss your babies twice instead of once and to watch them sleep.

I'm really not a drama queen, except for my too-vivid imagination late at night. I didn't have a brush with death, or even illness. I had a brush with discomfort and a little anxiety, that's all. But it made me think. Finding a breast lump is frightening because even if we are ninety-five percent certain that there's nothing to worry about we also know what is at stake. By the time you're forty(ish), it's likely that you know of someone who has been lost to breast cancer; you may have lost a friend, a relative, a neighbor. It's always in our faces: pink ribbons on bumper stickers, articles in magazines, posters in the doctor's office, specials on the nightly news. And thank goodness for that. Thank goodness for breast cancer awareness and education. Thank goodness we know to do monthly self exams. We know that if we feel a lump we should call the doctor to schedule a visit. We know we should be getting our mammograms. If the price of awareness is a little anxiety, it's worry well-spent.

My mammogram was fine, by the way. Now I can check it off the list for the year.

Life is good.

One last word: Ladies, schedule your mammograms. Don't put it off because it's uncomfortable, inconvenient, frightening, not at the top of the priority list.

Outside the Dining Room Window

We looked up from our books to see a spider spinning a web on our front porch. The books had to wait while we watched the patient worker. Life is good.