Friday, November 30, 2007

Treasure of Green Knowe

Treasure of Green Knowe, L. M. Boston.

"The fire was burning cheerfully, but over the beam on the rather smoky wall was a large clean patch where previously the oil painting of hte Oldknow family had hung. The space was partly covered up by a smaller picture that Tolly could not even bother to look at.

'Where have they gone?' he said accusingly to Mrs. Oldknow. 'Toby and Alexander and Linnet--where are they?' " (p. 6)

Tolly eagerly arrives at Green Knowe for the Easter holiday, only to discover the family painting and the children quite gone from the old house. Rather than try to re-create the charm of the tale of Tolly and his friends from long ago, Boston creates a whole new adventure for Tolly and the old house, a lovely story just as fresh and charming as The Children of Green Knowe. Granny Oldknow is considering selling the painting of Toby, Alexander and Linnet in order to pay for repairs to Green Knowe, unless Tolly can discover the mystery of missing jewels from long ago. Through Granny's stories and his own explorations, Tolly discovers two more delightful friends from the past and has a marvelous adventure. Boston is a master at spinning delightful tales without tipping into sentimentality, heavy-handedness or predictability.

More Poohsticks posts about Green Knowe, here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pumpkin Gingerbread

Shhhhh, Don't tell cheesecake. I've got an even greater love. Cheesecake is perfect, dreamy and smooth and sweet. But when I go to Dana's Cheesecake at the Saturday Market I order, not creamy cheesecake, but dark spicy gingerbread.

My fine young cook and I pureed a giant bowl of pumpkin last week. What to do? Pumpkin gingerbread? I wonder if there is such a thing?

Ooooooooooo. That sounded delightful. So we got to work. I found a recipe that was close to what we were looking for (here) and we modified it to suit our purposes. Cooking with a just-turned-seven-year-old is delightful too. Sevens are curious, capable, and good company in the kitchen. Old enough to measure and stir, inquisitive enough to put up with a fractions lesson, and chatty enough to carry on a decent conversation about God or space ships or burps or worms or why people die.
And just think.....if he's a good assistant now, how long until we can turn over the apron and the whisk and just enjoy the smell of cookies wafting from the kitchen while we sip tea and read our favorite books?

The gingerbread was delightful. Warm from the oven with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, the mild moist pumpkin flavor mellowing the dark molasses and bright ginger.....oh. Heavenly. I could eat this every day.

Pumpkin Gingerbread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a square baking dish.

Mix in a large bowl:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger

Mix in a smaller bowl:

1 cup pumpkin (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup milk

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Pour into the greased baking dish and bake for 40-50 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack. Most delicious when served still warm with lightly sweetened whipped cream on top.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mabel Rose

Happy Birthday to Me!

Meet Mabel Rose, the homely princess. My family took me to Build a Bear Workshop. I got to build my own birthday bear. Who knew that a forty-one year-old woman would get all mushy about a stuffed bear?

My heart and feet are toasty. I love my handknit socks as much as I love the ones I got last year. They're lovely. And my hands will be toasty too when I make tea in my lovely new Korean tea cup. Thank you, dear ones. I will think of you every time I use them.

It's been a lovely day. It's been a lovely year. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I was out and about around dinner time one evening last week, I forget why. It was dark out and the lights were on in my house. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see inside: Loving husband and the elder of the lovely ladies through the kitchen window, laughing; the eldest fine young gent in the dining room wiping the table while one of his brothers put together a puzzle. It was lovely walking in to a cheerful happy home, humming with life and peace, the routine of the way we get our work done and the way we spend our evenings. A few days later, I was talking to Mom, who told me that a tip she'd read long ago in a household management book about choosing one day each week to empty the trash cans instead of waiting until they were overflowing was a real revelation at that time. Management by routine rather than management by crisis; proactive instead of reactive. Later still, during a phone conversation, a friend mentioned how much easier it can be when her children know what to expect.

Don't worry, I'm not about to go all Fly Lady on you. I'm not anti-Fly Lady, by the way. But I'm not exactly in a position to be sharing helpful thoughts on managing household chores either, as my helpful thoughts in this area run along the lines of "Find something more fun to do." But routines are important. As I've been contemplating balance and ways to find and create balance in my life, I've realized that one of the ways this family stays balanced is by creating and maintaining routines that work. Not just chore routines, although those are immmensely helpful. Life routines, the little ways we manage relationships within our family, the kinds of routines that flow from the way we live our lives, the ones that are just the way we do things. Bedtime stories to signal time to settle down, giving goodnight kisses the same way each and every night, consistent discipline and boundaries, the ways we start the day. Those routines make up the loom upon which we can weave the patterns of our days.

Life isn't static. The patterns are always changing. Part of the reason the idea of balance seems pulled to the forefront of my thoughts is because now, as always, the people in our family are changing. The juggling part comes when dynamics shift, needs change, children grow. Our baby days are over; loving husband and I are neither expecting nor caring for a baby for the first time since our honeymoon. We're parenting a just-returned-to-school teenage stepdaughter, a lovely young preteen with autism and the social and behavioral challenges which accompany her disability, an intense bright exuberant young gent who is maturing into a delightful buddy, a preschool "middle child" determined not to disappear in the crowd, and a potty-training two-year-old. When we need to accommodate new activities, different abilities, developmental growth, shifting individual and family needs, life can seem out of balance for a while.

This is the season for me to look at the routines we've created within our family: Are they still meeting our needs? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same? Which routines need our attention, and which can we allow to flourish or die away as they will? We're feeling our way along as we try to create boundaries that allow increased independence and maintain appropriate supervision for our older children; we're creating new routines as the youngest gent outgrows the need for the level of care required by an infant or young toddler. I know we'll find our way. We'll make mistakes and we'll want to tear out our hair and we'll drop some of the balls we've got flying in the air; we'll have our victories and successes and "Aha!" moments too. We'll create new routines and traditions, and old ones will fall away until one day we'll say, "Remember when we used to...?" I will look back on these days and think to myself, "Wasn't that wonderful?" I know this because despite the challenges and frustrations and anxieties I bump into from time to time, I think to myself today, every day, "Isn't this wonderful?" I love my life.

Life is good.

Hug your babies, big and small.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Seven years ago, my Thanksgiving baby was born.
Happy Birthday to my fine young turkey boy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

I am the nicest person in the world....

My sister said so. Normally I'd demur and say, "Oh no, I just like helping out." (Which is true.) But look what I helped do yesterday, out of the goodness of my heart and because I really really like my sister, plus I feel sorry for her when she has to do this without outside help.

I really am the nicest person in the whole world.

As a side note: You know it's cold out when you stick your hands inside a very recently dead turkey in order to loosen the innards and pull them out, and instead of thinking, "This is SO gross," you think, "Aaaaaaaah. Now my hands are warm."


Last night, lovely lady (12) had a good friend over. Good friend is a delightful young lady, charming and sparkly. She and lovely lady are kindred spirits. They like to sing and dance, and play video games together, and talk about clothes and hair and makeup. Good friend is not the least bit shy about letting me know that she thinks lovely lady should be allowed to do things like watch television whenever she'd like, wear a bikini, wear eye shadow and so forth. Tonight, it was the mall.

Good friend: Can we go to the mall by ourselves sometime? I think Hannah should get to go to the mall and shop without a parent watching her all the time.

Me, with a smile because we've been down this road before and I know she already knows what I'm going to say: Not yet. Maybe when you're older.

Good friend, deviating from the script a bit: Is the reason that you won't let us go to the mall by ourselves because we have autism? Because we don't.

Lovely lady, not exactly indignantly but in a speak-for-yourself voice: I do.

I don't quite remember what good friend said in response, something like "We don't have autism." I was watching lovely lady, a little floored. As she spoke she glanced at me a little questioningly. I nodded, Yes, that's so.

Lovely lady, interrupting good friend and a little more confidently than the first time: I have been diagnosed with autism.

Good friend, stopping the "Can we go to the mall" mid-thought: You do?

Lovely lady: I have autism, right, Mom?

Good friend: Really?

Me, to lovely lady: Well, I like the way you put it, you've been diagnosed with autism.

Even six months ago the idea of autism just didn't sink in to my lovely lady's awareness. It's come up from time to time, a little like the topics of sex or death or the other big conversations parents know we must have with our children, and so we try to work them in to matter-of-fact conversations as the topics arise. But she hasn't ever identified autism as a part of her own identity, or even shown much interest in the idea.

I see this as a milestone, a milestone with which many families don't have to cope...or dread. I've always wondered, at what point will my lovely lady understand that she has a disability that really does create additional challenges in her life? What will that be like for her to come to that realization? Will my daughter be crushed at the idea that she's different? And, as so often happens, she's astonished me with her matter-of-fact acceptance of what is. She doesn't see herself as "different." She sees herself as a regular kid who has autism. She hasn't been crushed, or even all that concerned. I forget, I think, that for her having autism is like having "impossible" (her words) wavy hair, or a long second toe. It's always been a part of the fabric of her life. We've not made a big deal out of autism any more than we've made a big deal out of combing snarls out of her hair. And she has friends with autism, a whole group of good friends with whom she swims and plays and talks. She sees these lovely friends as girls first, autism is just a part of what has brought them together, and I think that helps too.

I'm curious to see where this will lead. How will she fold this new idea into her own perception of who she is? Where will our challenges lie?

And I am so proud of her.


"What a miracle it is that out of these small flat rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of things you don't get in real life--wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean."

~from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tuesday Ten: More on Finding Balance

Ten More Thoughts on Finding Balance, My Own Thoughts and the Thoughts of Some Mom Friends, OR The Longest Post EVER

1. We all deal with the issue of finding balance, and we all have different ways of dealing....or not.

I asked some mom friends, dear friends I've known in cyber-world since we were pregnant with our just-turning-seven-year-olds, for their thoughts on finding balance. I got wonderful, thoughtful, honest, inspiring, articulate answers.

2. Josie's got so many creative ways to fit things in to her life that I'm pasting lots of her ideas (with some editing for names). You're my hero, Jos.

"Your answer is mine as well... it depends. It depends on if someone is ill, or if it is their birthday week, or if the moon is slightly tilted on its axis and lastly, if the day ends in a Y."

"One thing that I have found balance with is laundry... I do a load every morning... EVERY SINGLE EFFING MORNING. I put one in the washer, move one to the dryer and the one in the dryer I do not put in a basket.. oh no... that was my downfall. I now fold that load as I remove each piece from the dryer. Then if I have to place it in a basket folded I do but I try to get the kids to put theirs up every morning."

"Fun... I have no problem balancing fun. I make a game out of dusting with the boys... who can get the table the shiniest? Who can put their toys away the fastest? The winner gets to vaccuum the loser gets to clean the sinks."

"Ummm extended family. I make it a point to call my Mother and Father at least twice a week if not more. I talk to my Mom nearly daily."

"Sports, this is where my downfall is. The boys are very active in sports and now cub scouts. So dh does practices, I do scouts, and we both do games. Also any school outing such as all school skates, etc we both go."

"Food... dh does the cooking during the week I cook on the weekends."

"Work... (notice I put this last) as my family is always first or should I say second after my faith in God. I do work daily, but that is not necessarily my priority that day. For example today, I must fill out the invitations for J's party. I will do it on a conference call that I am just listening on. It probably should not be this low on priorities but it is."

"Ummm reading is high on my priorities for my kids so I do make it a point to read to my children daily, whether it be at the breakfast table of to them as they go to sleep. Sometimes it is a very very short story."

I love that fun is high on Josie's priority list, especially fun ways to get some of the un-fun things done. I forget. I forget, I forget, I forget. Then I smack myself on the forehead because if we aren't finding, and teaching, joy in the simple tasks...well, part of this whole balance thing is that it's about getting through all of the little tasks we've got to do. As long as we're on the ride, we may as well enjoy it, right?

3. Maggie wrote: "I am really good at balancing everybody's elses lives. I put myself dead last on a priority list so I have no reason to complain that I don't have enough time for me. I want the kids to live full, happy lives so I make sure they are enrolled in activities, have playdates, we make homework and learning fun and I give them as much quality time as possible on a regular basis. Housework is squeezed in whenever possible." She goes on to say, "I struggle daily with balance. I know what I want to do and I have good intentions but it seems I always get the short end of the stick. I suppose to find balance you have to say no or not feel guilty for making yourself a priority. You also need a partner that is willing to step up the plate and do more when you want to do less."

Michaele said, along that line, "This has been a TERRIBLE struggle with me lately! I am a Mom, Teacher, Wife and person in that order. I need some free time and time alone but don't get it. Whether it's me not making it a priority or it really isn't feasible I don't know."

Maggie and Michaele are singing my song, and far more articulately than I. I have good intentions too, and I feel guilty for not making more "me" time. But time is not infinite. When we prioritize our time, sometimes we just plain run out by the time we get to the bottom of the list, and all of the self-righteous "Well, you've just got to make time" folks cannot make an extra day appear on the calendar or stop the clock for an hour so that Mom can go take a nap.

4. I love Melly because she admitted that she'd like to hide in the back of the UPS truck some days. Plus she's pretty and kind and thinks carefully about what she wants for her family.

She wrote, "What has worked for me most recently is the theory (and practice, lol) that finding balance in life has to be about the big picture. Not each hour, each day, each week or month but about our whole life. Now, I do understand that tomorrow is promised to no one, and I do want to live in the 'now' but I am also a planner."

She continues, "As a whole I feel like finding balance comes down to 2 things (for me). Being creative with what I have, and being selfless. I feel best and "feel" most balanced when I reflect on my days, figure out ways to make them better by doing things in new and different ways, and give of my time, energy and love....No, it isn't easy, and there are days I feel hiding in the back of the UPS truck when it comes and just riding around for awhile. Then I remember I am human and part of balance is knowing that there is going to be bad with the good. "

Lovely. Melly, I am totally inspired by what you've written.

5. Umm....reading my mind?

Lisa says, "I think I spend so much of the time feeling out of balance because I am always taking on new things and don't manage my time well. The uneasy feeling or stress from all of the unfinished items on my personal and/or family"to do list" often makes me short-tempered or grouchy with the kids and dh. But I know when I don't have much on my plate, I tend to start feeling down."

I struggle with this balance as well. Too much to do, I feel overwhelmed. Not enough, I sink into a funk and it's not pretty.

6. Ilka says, "I try to be wonder woman, but it is not working."

Are we trying too hard to "have it all"? Am I? Well....uh, no....heh, heh. Of course not. In my hard-won wisdom I know perfectly well that it's not possible to have it all. Don't I? Actually, when I read Ilka's blog, I started thinking about this July Poohsticks post, which starts out:

"So I'm outside picking peas in the garden and I start thinking about how I haven't gotten much done today. Keep in mind that a) I said to loving husband just this morning, "We've been so busy lately. Let's not do anything today, let's just hang out and have fun," and b) As I'm thinking this, I'm working in the garden."

Why are we so hard on ourselves? I know that, among other things, Ilka works full-time, has three beautiful strong girls, coaches soccer, and does all of the wife-and-mom stuff that we all have to do. You're Wonder Woman to me, girl.

7. Lisa again, in response to another post : "None of them are leading perfect lives, and I doubt when they look at you they see you as struggling either."

We forget that we're comparing our insides to others' outward appearances, apples to oranges, how we feel about the complex juggling act that we know to be our lives with the seemly smooth confidence we see in the women around us. I don't think most of us see life as a competition, exactly, but it's so easy to start comparing ourselves with those around us and create an impossible mental picture of what our lives are "supposed" to be. I've fallen into the comparison trap, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek, but it's so easy to start looking at what others accomplish and start to doubt ourselves.

8. A sense of humor is important.

Julie R.: "...and and and...wait, ya, I have no balance."

Dawn: "Balance? ha, ha. I think I live on a see-saw."

And Laura again: "And the floor is never as important as playing with the kids unless one of the kids is actually stuck to the floor and cannot be removed. Then it's time to mop." (Laura assures me that no one in her house has actually stuck to the floor, which is a cryin' shame because I was hoping that I was not the only one.)

9. Julie K. wrote: "My life lately is work and kids. With our schedules, it seems like dh takes one and I take the other and we meet up for a late dinner after practices. We might eat at 8:30 2 or 3 nights/week, but we're all together at a table somewhere."

I love that. Finding ways to stay connected makes things just...balance.

10. Laura, one of the most balanced women I know online or in real life, wrote: "I am an enthusiastic participant in life - this means I over commit and bite off more than I can chew regularly. So does my DH. It's a good and a bad thing. The good thing about balance is it's a work in progress. We're not static, we're more like the juggler guys on the board on tha can - we get to keep constantly adjusting until it works. The down side to that is even when it feels right we STILL have to keep adjusting."

Yes, yes, yes. Even when it feels is a state of constant flux. If we want to keep things feeling right we must shift our balance again and again. Not only are we trying to maintain our balance, we're trying to predict which way we need to shift next.

And the image of juggling AND balancing, Laura, you hit the nail on the head right there. It made me want to laugh and maybe to cry a little too. We have to keep our eyes on what we've got in the air and shift, shift, shift our feet.

It's all...well, mostly... good, but it ain't all easy.

And, dang. I'm going to be bored once this part of the ride is over.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More on Finding Balance

Ever since I titled the last math post "Finding Balance," I've been thinking about, well, Finding Balance. Not in a math-related sense as in my previous balance post; instead I find myself not struggling exactly, but faced with and contemplating the idea of balance in my life, in family life, in school life. That I'm faced with this issue is partly the nature of the choices we've made for our family: I have joyfully and thoughtfully set out on this homeschool path, and chosen to shoulder the committment and planning that it takes to do my job conscientiously and lovingly. It's partly the nature of this season in our lives: I am a mother in a blended family dealing with puberty and potty training simultaneously, with the needs of a daughter with a disability thrown in to boot. It's partly the nature of being a parent: I want to meet the very different needs of each person in our family in a way that is fair and consistent. It's partly the nature of being human: At some point we are all faced with the question of how to best spend our limited time, energy, resources.

How do I balance being Mom and teacher?

How to balance flexibility and routine, free time and structure, planned activities and down time?

How to encourage creativity and imagination while teaching appropriate behaviors and following directions? do I balance the demands on our time? On my time? And on my energy?

How to balance independence, protection, boundaries, freedom for the lovely ladies as they stretch their wings?

And for my growing gents, how to balance rules, boundaries and limitations with love, guidance and freedom for exploration?

What's more important, mopping the kitchen and doing laundry? Or playing in the yard with the kids?

I can't answer those questions tonight. I suspect that if I tried, the answer to each of those questions and all of the other balance questions swimming around in my head would be similar to the answer to the last question. Depends. Then more questions....does everyone have clean underwear? Do we stick to the kitchen floor when we walk across? Maybe the housework, then. Have I spent the last three days reading and staring at my computer? Perhaps I should get off my rear and go play outside for my own good and theirs. And that's a fairly simple question. And the answers would vary from day to day, week to week, season to season.

I can't be the only one who's constantly bumping into thoughts of the need or desire for balance. As a matter of fact, this isn't the first time I've pondered these thoughts myself. As our lives change, as the needs of our families change, as we make new choices and create new routines we must shift and shift and shift again in order to keep from toppling completely out of balance. It's like trying to balance on a plank set on a rolling barrel, or sometimes even like participating in a log-rolling contest, feet stepping and arms whirling madly as we try to keep from falling into the water.

I am curious about how others find balance in their lives, in their homes, in schooling. Obviously in this journey we've got to find our own answers, face our own challenges, find the balance that suits us best, and I'm constantly adjusting to reach or maintain mine. But I find myself wondering about all of you, out there in cyberland as you live your real lives. How do you find balance?

At the fruit stand

Finding Balance

Fun Math Wednesday....or Tuesday, if we're feeling ambitious, or Thursday if we've forgotten, but usually Wednesday, anyway. On this day, we made different kinds of balance scales. Family Math(Stenmark, Thompson and Cossey) and Family Math for Young Children(Coates and Stenmark) have been invaluable in helping me to create hands-on, real-life experiential math activities for the fine young gents. One evening in late August, I sat down with both books and a couple others that I'd picked up cheap at a used book store, and I browsed. By the end of the hour I had a handwritten list of activities to try, complete with page numbers and supply lists. When Fun Math Wednesday rolls around, I look at the list, grab a book and off we go.

The activity on this day: Making balance scales (Family Math, p. 98). Pictured above, our most successful balance scale, made with an egg carton, a wire coat hanger and string. Below, a simple balance scale made with a ruler, paper clips and cupcake papers. I'd recommend those tiny paper cups instead of cupcake papers. The cupcake papers were a little too flimsy, though they had the distinct advantage of already being in the cupboard.

A balance scale makes so much more sense after you've built one. It gave my fine young first-grader a chance to experiment. How do you make a scale that balances? Where does the fulcrum go? Why? We spent a good 45 minutes or more on this activity until one of us got distracted by the shiny buttons.

You can see the younger gents entertaining themselves in the background with our real balance scale and the counting bears. First grade gent started his pencil and paper math. He was a little stumped by problems like 5 + __ +2 = 12. We talk regularly about solving strategies, mostly when first grade gent asks me, "Mom, what's 12+7?" ("What is 12+7, my dear?" I ask. "What strategy can you use to find the answer?" When he gets frustrated I tell him to blame Grandma Karen, who always said things like, "Look it up, dear," even though we both knew that she knew the answer already. Moms.) Knowing how to choose a strategy to solve a problem is a crucial math skill. When we're adding, we can memorize addition facts, count on our fingers, draw number lines, use the cuisenaire rods. Today the balance scale was serendipitously right there. So we made it into an addition balance scale. The problem must balance to make the equal sign true. How many must we add to make the sides even?
Speaking of serendipity and the balance scale, the next day my fine young gents paper-and-pencil math book started a new unit on balance, weights and using a scale.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tuesday Ten: Excuses, excuses....

Ten Excuses for Posting "Tuesday Ten" on Wednesday

1. I forgot.
Alas, I know my lovely lady who reads my blog will say to me, " 'I forgot' isn't an acceptable excuse. The result is just the same whether you forgot or just chose not to do it." Ahem....always lovely to hear your less-flattering self fall out of your child's mouth, eh? Not that she'd really say that, she's too lovely. Maybe she'll be kind and say that she understands, everyone forgets sometimes. Except I do forget to write my Tuesday Ten on a fairly regular basis, which kind of negates the "sometimes" part of "everyone forgets sometimes." Forgetting Tuesday Ten on a regular basis sure feels a lot more like, say, procrastination or willful forgetfulness than just plain ol' forgetting.

2. I forgot it was Tuesday.
Oh for heaven's sake. Look at the calendar. It's right there.

Although, don't you sometimes find yourself wandering around on one day thinking it's another? When a Tuesday gets a distinctly Saturday kind of feel to it, or a Wednesday has that Friday kind of vibe, it's just hard to keep pulling yourself back into the day the calendar shows.

3. I was tired.
Boohoo for me, huh?

4. Laundry.
Well, that's a legitimate excuse. Too bad I wasn't folding laundry yesterday.

5. I didn't feel like writing a post.
"I understand that you didn't want to," my other lovely lady will say to me, "But Mom, sometimes we just have to do things we don't want to do so that we can get them done." Or, let's face it, here comes less-than-flattering self again...she'll say, "Mom. I don't care if you didn't want to. You just have to do it."

6. The dog ate my post.
I swear, this is like the smartest dog in the world. I say something like, "She's calming down when the cats are around," and the next time she sees one of our cats she starts yiping and whining like someone is dangling rare prime rib three inches out of reach. Or "I think she's stopped peeing on new people," and the next visitor ends up standing in a puddle. (What can I say, she's still a puppy. Don't wear new shoes if you come to visit.) I looked over to see her reaction to my dog excuse and she half-opened an eye and gave me a "Yeah right" look. I swear she did. If I had my camera I'd take a picture and show you....except as soon as I typed that she decided to sleep and look all sweet and innocent. Maybe she's psychic.

7. Eating chocolate.
Thank goodness I dressed up those little kids and sent them begging for candy last week.

8. Kidnapped by aliens.

9. I just didn't.
I am out of excuses. I was unprepared. To those of you (all one or two of you) who waited on tenterhooks to read my Tuesday thoughts, my utmost apologies. To the rest of you...well, I'm just sorry in general, that should about cover it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Making Butter

A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840, Barbara Greenwood (p. 82-83).

As a part of her history studies, lovely lady made her own butter yesterday. She was surprised at how easy and how good it was. "It tastes like real butter!"

To make butter in a jar: Pour a cup of whipping cream into a smallish clean glass jar and shake vigorously until it solidifies into butter. If your arms get tired, enlist the help of your mom, your little brother or a friend. Once the butter is in solid lumps, pour off the buttermilk into a separate container and save to drink or to use in place of milk in a recipe. In a bowl, press the butter into a solid lump to squeeze out the remaining buttermilk and rinse the butter in running water. Mix in a little salt if you wish. Put your butter in a small dish, spread some on a piece of bread and eat. Delicious!

Step-by-step directions with pictures.

It's science! Try this butter-making experiment from Science Kids at Home.

Read about making butter in your mixer at Cooking for Engineers.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Reading: The Last Child in the Woods

The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv.

"...[W]hy do so many people no longer consider the physical world worth watching? The highway's edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, children's early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the back seat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edges-- all that was and is still available to the eye. This is the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie." (p. 62, Chapter 5: "A Life of the Senses: Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind")

"If education and other forces, intentionally or unintentionally, continue to push the young away from direct experience in nature, the cost to science itself will be high. Most scientists today began their careers as children, chasing bugs and snakes, collecting spiders, and feeling awe in the presence of nature. Since such untidy activities are fast disappearing, how, then, will our future scientists learn about nature?" (p. 144, Chapter 11: "Don't Know Much About Natural History: Education as a Barrier to Nature")

"...[A]s the care of nature increasingly becomes an intellectual concept severed from the joyful experience of the outdoors, you have to wonder: Where will future environmentalists come from? If environmental groups, along with Scouting and other traditional outdoors-oriented organizations, wish to pass on the heritage of their movement, and the ongoing care of the earth, they cannot ignore children's need to explore, to get their hands dirty and their feet wet." (p. 146, Chapter 12: "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?")

I'm not even halfway through Last Child in the Woods. I find myself thoughtful, challenged, alarmed, and even occasionally near tears as I read Louv's thoughts on the implications of the increasing lack of direct meaningful experience of nature for our children. A more thorough review to come when I finish the book, though it may take a while for me to finish. Last Child in the Woods is serious, scholarly and thought-provoking, and I need time to absorb one chapter before I move on to the next. Not only is the book providing me with much food for thought, it's striking an emotional chord as well. I come away from reading these first chapters feel immeasurably blessed to have grown up in the country, climbing trees, poking ant hills with sticks, making mud pies from molehills, gardening, coming in tired and dirty and ravenous after a day of running in the woods and the fields. I find myself saddened a little that the kinds of childhood experiences that I was given are simply not available for many children, for my own children even.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Nature Journal: Apples

"101 Nature-Oriented Things to Do This Fall," #59: While eating an apple, locate the seeds and remants of the flower's calyx and stamens, as shown halfway down our Fruity Orientation Page.

From Backyard Nature with naturalist Jim Conrad:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Dorris Ranch

Yesterday was a perfectly glorious fall afternoon, clear and sunny with just a nip of chill to the air. So I promised my fine young gents a nature outing the next day. Today was freezing. Well, not literally, but it was cold out. I whined and I waffled, but in the end I found gloves and coats and hats for all, and off we went to Dorris Ranch. The reason we went was to see the Masterson Homestead Cabin, a recently-built replica of the original cabin built by the Masterson family, pioneers from Kentucky who settled here after following the Oregon Trail. I wanted first-grade gent to see that a family of seven had settled in a house smaller than our own living room.

Unfortunately, the cabin has been constructed so recently that it's not on the maps yet. Instead, we went for a nature walk through the filbert (hazelnut) orchards to the river.

There's plenty of old farm machinery along the trail. The fine young gents were fascinated by the tractor and the old nut harvester.

As the sun began to peek out of the fog, fine young gent read us tidbits from a walking guide for children, and we saw grey squirrels, black walnuts in their green casings, and a giant maple tree that provided a home for many animals. By the time we'd reached the river the fog was gone and the day was still cold, but gorgeous.

Things to do at the river on a fine autumn day:

Walk on a log.

Throw sticks in the river.

Balance on rocks.

Sit on the log listening to the river and watching leaves fall.

Sing a song.

We returned from a slightly different direction than we'd gone in to the park, and there it was, the homestead cabin. I didn't get pictures, as I'd dropped our things off at the car, but there are some neat pictures of the homestead in progress here.


Thursday, November 01, 2007


Pumpkins on our porch. One of the great things about a larger family is that we can line the walk with our carved pumpkins.

"Link, he came to town. He came to save the Princess Zelda." No one over the age of eighteen had a clue about the fine young gents' costumes. Robin Hood? Elves? Peter Pan?

A huge group of preteens started cheering. "Link! Love the costumes!"

And the library lady, the one with a preteen son, knew who they were when we visited the library earlier in the day.

"I just a boy name Yevi who is not a towboy." (Levi--cowboy) This fine youngest gent was not sure whether or not he wanted to be a cowboy. The idea appealed to him, as did the lure of "tandy," but the whole costume idea......not so much. We compromised, and he carried the cowboy hat for his treat bucket.

Man. That kid needs a haircut. I put them off because he hates them so much, but it looks like it's time to bite the bullet, arm ourselves with a pocket full of Smarties and take him in.

We still trick-or-treat around the neighborhood. It seems that since the lovely ladies started trick-or-treat there have been fewer and fewer groups of trick-or-treaters, fewer and fewer houses lit up, fewer children coming to our door. But we still go, and we have a fabulous time showing off costumes and meeting the neighbors and getting candy.

Link in the leaves.

The lovely ladies are "too old" to trick-or-treat. They dressed up, but decided to stay home. I knew this day was coming, but it felt funny going without them. I wasn't quite ready for it.