Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's a Schizophrenic Life

Question: Is it pathetic to blog three times in one day?

Don't answer that.

But I need to pose another question to you. First, let me describe two mornings to you. (And I admit, I'm totally plagiarizing this concept from someone else's blog I read months ago!)

Morning A: We got up on the earlier side and ate breakfast. Caroline even slept in a bit. We read our story Bible together, and everyone paid attention. Afterward, the kids skipped off merrily to play some game together on Eliza' bed involving lots of pillows and laughter. That gave me time to clean up the kitchen and even check my email, and post those photos. After a little while the kids got dressed, brushed teeth, fed pets, etc., and Ian vacuumed the family room, doing a wonderful job. We sat on the couch and read a great storybook together about Galileo Galilei, and Ian got a huge kick out of the fact that I, his mother, was actually ALIVE when the Catholic Church decided to pardon Galileo (1992), so we discussed that a bit. Then we went off to the Nature Center (listening to Jim Weiss tell more about Galileo, and Kepler, and Archimedes, as we drove). It was a truly lovely day, notable for its lack of stickiness, and we exclaimed over all the birds of prey and coyotes and other rescued animals they had there, then launched into a healthy and mildly strenuous hike through the woods to find a couple letterboxes, both of which we found. I sang a little bit on the way back to enjoy the Lord, and Caroline sang with me as I carried her. We stopped, at the kids' request, to watch the see-through honeybee hive for a while, and then Ian held my hand as we walked along and described some of what he'd learned about bees in his Insects class at co-op. We were able to leave the Nature Center with no tears about missing the Dino Dig Pit, and went on home (more Galileo) for lunch and nap. They shared their snack nicely in the car. Not bad, eh?

Morning B: We got up, ate breakfast, read the Bible. I didn't get a shower before Tim left for class. The kids went off to play and although I let them do so for a while, I eventually had to ask Eliza at least three times to get dressed, then another 5 times to brush her teeth, etc. ... and she lost her video privilege for the day, which made her pout. Ian complained about the vacuuming chore and wished he could do something different, probably like exercising the computer mouse. During the storybook reading, I had to put Caroline in her room because she was so cranky that no one could hear, least of all me. It took about 5 trips back and forth to the house for Mommy the Sherpa to get ready to go to the Nature Center. The whole time we looked at the animals, Ian was urging us to "hurry up!" When we found the letterboxes, the kids bickered over who got to find them and who got to stamp them and who got to re-hide them. Eventually they had a fight in the middle of the woods, with Eliza launching into full-out meltdown. I had to sing, because it was that or yell at them for being so pathetic (now THAT would be some excellent modeling, no?) My back and arms ached from carrying Caroline, and Eliza whined all the way back about how much her legs hurt, how hungry she was, etc. etc. They shared their snack nicely in the car ... after the girls tussled over the container and spilled walnuts on the floor.

So, which morning was it?
(Option C, "All of the above" is available)

Caroline is giving her stuffed lion a haircut

So a couple days ago I had kicked Ian and Oscar (friend next door) off the computer and they were casting about for something to do under the constraints I'd given them -- i.e. "being outside." I got the kid-of-the-21st-century moan: "But there's nothing to dooooo" that makes me see red. :-) So I handed them the camera and a list of things for them to photograph outdoors (e.g. "something that spins ... something with eight petals ... something yellow ... something with a pattern ... something with wings (not a chicken)). They LOVED it and ended up doing three lists altogether! (And P.S., lest you even be tempted, don't think I'm that creative; I'm just literate! Seriously, I get probably 95% of my ideas of anything I do with my kids from places like Family Fun magazine, or Wondertime.)

Dance Class

(Thanks to Margo for the super-easy slideshow tutorial!)

Monday, April 28, 2008

A simple heart

This morning while reading some verses from book of Acts, I was particularly touched with one phrase from 2:46: "with simplicity of heart." I've been sort of chewing on it ever since. It refers to the believers in the very early days of the church, shortly after Christ's resurrection, when they met from house to house and shared "all things in common." I think the reason it's touching me so much is that I've realized how futile it is to try to simplify my life, my outward approach to things, without first having my heart simplified (which to me means, easily contented, seeking only Him and not the scads of other things, material and nonmaterial, that attract my heart). I may have the diamond, but inwardly I'm distracted by rhinestones. This is why I can't hack the whole "voluntary simplicity" (or maybe in this case, "involuntary simplicity," LOL) lifestyle. This touches something much deeper than deciding to compost, or shop at Goodwill, or ride your bike everywhere you go. There's human nature, and American culture, and the heart is just too complicated! So rather than beat myself up about it, I'm just asking for something simple today ... "Lord, simplify my heart."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Weekend Adventures

I'm going a bit photo-crazy, as opposed to just blog-crazy, since my sister and BIL let us borrow their camera (ours is broken) while they're in Boston (my turn next weekend!). I'm like an addict getting her fix, I suppose, so thanks, K&A.

Yesterday morning we rode our bikes about 4 miles roundtrip in search of our next letterbox, which was hidden in a lovely cemetery right near the grave of James Michener and his wife Mari (remind me to tell you someday about the time I went to James Michener's house and actually met him!). This may sound weird, but I've always found cemeteries to be so beautiful and tranquil, not to mention so full of mysteries -- I love reading the inscriptions on each headstone and wondering about the people they represent and what their stories are. For instance, right near the Michener plot was a section of the cemetery devoted to babies, who had either died at birth, were stillborn, or died in infancy. Many had little toys decorating them, and it was clear they'd been visited recently, despite being several years old. We wondered aloud about some of them, with moments of feeling deeply moved punctuated by the minor stress of having a toddler wandering among a cemetery plot that almost looked like the toy aisle at Target.

In the afternoon we drove out to Elgin to sort of help out with my in-laws' housewarming party. By "help out" I mean we showed up an hour late and sort of wandered around introducing ourselves to a few people,and then beat a hasty retreat to entertain all the kids (um, unlike my SIL with the sparkling personality, I'm not a great party person, especially in a small country town where everyone seems to have known each other since they were wee tykes. Oh, but at the end we did have a great conversation with someone who reminded Tim and me of Jenny, maybe that's why we liked her so much!). Tim and I took the kids, including our own, down to the pond for some canoeing (everyone else) and photography (me):

Yes, they have a massive dirt pile left over from the construction. The kids will be soooo sad when the pile disappears. Maybe they'll have to start playing on the playscape. ;-)

View of the house. It's really quite a charming little country cottage. ;-)

View of the house from the pond.

Today after our church meeting, Tim needed to study study study, so during Caroline's nap the older two kids and I met some friends downtown at an improv show for kids being put on by a fellow homeschooling mom (who's also a professional clown, actress, etc.) It was absolutely hilarious! If you're in town, you have to go -- it's every Sunday afternoon at 2 PM at The Hideout on South Congress between 6th and 7th -- and IMO, just as much fun for adults as for kids.

Turned out to be a perfect outing for today, where, stop the press, it's actually chilly! And raining! Just when I think I can put away the winter clothes, psyche! Not so fast, Mama!

Oh, and Eliza found a baby bird, which they dubbed Magmar. They made elaborate plans for an indoor resort for the foundling, but finally conceded to letting it go ...

Hope everyone's weekend was lovely too! In fact, to motivate some of you lurkers to leave a comment, write in and tell me one fun thing you did since Friday! :-)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More Demo Day photos

From yesterday ...

Doing the famous exploding-Mentos-in-Diet-Coke experiment

Ian can barely contain his glee

Ian's friend Truman starts off the go-cart race

And they're off!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Review

When I attended that Mary Hood/Relaxed Homeschooling conference last weekend, one of the practical things I heard about was the subject of recordkeeping. I have to admit, I have a pretty loosey-goosey style of recordkeeping, aided and abetted by the fact that the state of Texas requires no accountability from us. Specifically, I tend to start a little system of keeping track of things, and then fall off the apple-cart after a few weeks. But, I'm going to try my best to take her advice to do three things: 1) do a weekly review every Friday; 2) keep a running booklist; and 3) do yearly 2-page summary based on the weekly reviews. I thought I'd use the blog to keep my weekly reviews, not to either try to look supersuccessful or appear pathetically deficient, but just mostly for my own record of learning. Maybe it'll help someone, someday, if for no other reason than to see how ordinary we are. :-) Oh, and if this subject bores you, stick with me (or scroll down) because I'm leaving a gem at the bottom.

So, this week. Let's see, shall I try to break it down by subject? I'll try that and if it's not too artificial, we'll stick with that method.

Bible: In our Egermeier's Story Bible, we're covering some of the kings of Israel and discussing why idolatry is such an offense to God.

History/Literature: We read Johnny Appleseed together, and A Light at Tern Rock. Read three poems from this lovely book. Also read a bit from Beautiful Dreamer: The Story of Leonardo Da Vinci. Listened, for the umpteenth time, to a few chapters of Story of the World, Volume II. Played Professor Noggin's Card Game: Medieval Times. Ian read several library books on medieval knights and castles, and did some very nice pencil drawings of knights on horseback, plus a couple battle scenes.

Math: Ian did four pages from his Miquon Math book, which he tolerates pretty well due to its variety. He also did a logic puzzle and the second grade weekly word problems from (a GREAT resource). We also discussed saving money and gave them some real-life math practice by having them calculate how much we owed them for extra chores. ;-)

Writing: Uh, not so much this week. Ian did copy out his Bible memory verse. That's about it.

Science: We fed our silkworms with mulberry leaves and checked the garden for the pipevine swallowtail caterpillars that were all over the place two weeks ago. That led to a discussion of where they all could have gone (eaten by predators? spun chrysalises somewhere else?) We also read the book Forces Make Things Move and played around with the ideas of friction and gravity and how they make things start/stop/slow down. Eliza learned about bats in Monday Co-op (Ian missed it due to illness). Ian made up his own recipe, thinking through the need for yeast, etc., and baked it, all on his own. (Conclusion: "it tastes like eating rotten peanuts through your ears.") The new issue of Ranger Rick arrived and was perused.

Phonics: Eliza read one of her Bob Books to me, and we played that leapin' lily pad game I mentioned in "Evening Snapshot."

Music/Art: Listened to Hallelujah Handel! from Classical Kids. Looked at our daily art calendar and noticed some details together. Ian did his first scrapbook page, about Caroline, and included a bit of journaling (hey, there's some writing).

Other: Spanish class on Thursday, Monday co-op for Eliza, sports, probably some other stuff I'm forgetting ... and Friday Co-op Demo Day, including some great displays of the kids' work, some hilarious performances, and a go-cart race. See below for the highlight of the morning!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The nurse practitioner assures me that it's probably nothing to be alarmed about. She's sending me for an ultrasound and based on the results the dr. will either have me see a specialist or just check in with her in a few weeks. It's very likely either blahblahblah [insert name of harmless growth here] or blahblahblah [ditto]. Whew, I think.

On a lighter note, after my visit to the OB office, I took my kiddos to the dentist (Caroline spectated, and was overjoyed to receive her own goodie bag). As you might guess if you know him or have read some of my older posts, Ian and the dentist are NOT a harmonious mix. It's a sensory child's nightmare, really, and who can blame him for hating the feeling of that pick scraping across his teeth? Eliza cheerfully went first, and as we sat and watched, Ian looked over at me with these unbelievably miserable eyes and announced, quaveringly, "Mom? I would rather go to a museum full of 1946 newspapers than be at the dentist."

I'm really not sure what's particularly agonizing about the year 1946, but somehow, it's made an impression. If anyone knows of such a museum, please let me know so that next time I can present him with a bona fide choice in the matter!


So maybe this is over-sharing but ... yesterday I found a lump. Yeah, that kind of lump. On my right side. I have a 9:30 doctor's appointment, thanks to my dear friend Acacia who was willing to go in late to work so she could watch the kiddos. This will probably require a mammogram, which should be lots of fun, but then again I've done childbirth three times so it can't be that bad. Something similar happened to my sister a couple months ago and it turned out to be a cyst, which this probably is. It could even just be a lymph node thing. Still.

I felt calm enough this morning when I woke up, but right now I'm a little bit queasy. So if you're a praying person, I'd appreciate it. Will update later.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Evening Snapshot

At this very moment, when young children all across America are peacefully sawing logs, only one of mine has yielded to slumberland. The middle one. Her daddy has sent her on her way with a Sugar Plum story, and she's gone.

Caroline, on the other hand, is lolling around in a darkened room, happily crinkling a brown paper bag that she has been carrying around, literally, all day. It's Ian's goodie bag from the party I wrote about yesterday, and would you believe this? She has not extracted a single item from the bag. She promised she would not, and by gum, two years old or no, she's kept that promise (which didn't surprise Eliza at all -- "She PWOMISED, Mom!") The bag is ragged and wrinkled and has been set down only for toileting and bathing times, but true to her word to Ian, "I'm jus' holding it for you." I think she even managed to take it into the library tonight, although she realized at the door that she had forgotten to put back on her underwear after the last potty trip, and at various points during our library sojourn, I'd hear her worried voice carry all-too-clearly through the stacks, "I'm not wearing any underwear!" as Tim tried to shush her.

Ian is poring over his favorite library book, one of many on knights -- such a favorite that we had to drive back over to the library for it after he forgot to bring it to the counter on the first trip.

Eliza and I played a neat reading game today, one which I've used successfully with her brother as well. We drew lilypads with three-letter words on them with sidewalk chalk all over the driveway and she had to be a frog, reading each word before she landed on the lilypad. Then we sort of did our own version of Cranium Hullabaloo, where I'd tell her, "Run to 'box,'" or "Hop to 'van,'" or the like. What I really felt like doing was taking a nice long nap, but since Mary Poppins seemed to be otherwise occupied, it seemed best to bestir myself and my daughter and get the blood moving. But hey, "nap" is a three-letter word, so surely next time, I can work that in somehow ...?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Assorted Traumas

Ian is sick. This is blogworthy because it so rarely happens, despite his limited diet. On the way home from a birthday party this afternoon (which had its own trauma*), he told me that the headache he'd started to have earlier was now "really, really bad" and sure enough, he has a fever to go with it and he's super pale and asleep in his bed at 5 PM, and because I'm this psychotic combination of laid-back and paranoid when it comes to my kids' health, the very first thing I could think of was, "HE HAS A BRAIN TUMOR!" After all, he did complain the other day about having a big bump behind his ear that was sore. Yikes, what if it was a tick embedding itself in his skull, and now he's experiencing the early throes of Lyme disease?? What if it's bacterial meningitis??????

Then again, it could just be a headache with a fever.

But then again, maybe not.

(*OK, if you must know, because I know you're dying to (or more like, I must write about it so I can calm down about it): Everything was fine at the party in these friends' dream of a backyard, complete with two-story Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, brand new (and safe) trampoline, tire swing, blah-dee-blah. Then I took Eliza to the bathroom inside and when I came out Ian was up in the treehouse with his two friends, the two boys of the house, including the birthday boy, and apparently they were (what a shock!) tossing things down from the treehouse. Next thing I know my friend the hostess, who really has just been the nicest friend ever to me, comes charging into the yard yelling at them to stop throwing things and ordering them to come down right now or she'll spank all three of them. (She proceeded to threaten her child, the birthday boy, more along these lines later in semi-private.) I'm not sure what was more bewildering to me or to my son -- the fact that he was being so severely called to task and inappropriately threatened for breaking a rule of which we had no idea (after all, the tree fort was neatly stocked with "grenades", or the realization that my friend was just ... different from who I thought she was. OK, I don't care what your philosophy on spanking is, we don't need to go there, but surely you'll agree that it's, oh, just the tiniest bit jarring to have another parent threaten, at top volume and with no previous "boys, we have a no-throwing rule in our backyard" to give your kid a wallop. She later apologized to me for "freaking out," and I really, really don't want to hold this against her or be one of those moms who can't POSSIBLY associate with people who parent differently, and I know that I"ll get over it and have grace for her but I tend to be a pathological brooder so just bear with me. With apologies to Pumbah, I'm a sensitive soul, and I don't even seem thick-skinned. Writing helps. Honest prayer helps. I'm doing both right now.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Educating the Educator

I just returned home a little while ago from a one-day conference here in Austin presented by Mary Hood, founder of ARCHERS and author of several books on relaxed homeschooling. Oh, and mother of five grown and fully-functional adults. Plus, she used to be in La Leche League! :-)

I almost didn't go to this; I debated spending the money and I didn't know anyone going into it. And I hadn't pre-registered. But I felt an inner compulsion to go, and I realized that this was part of my professional development as a homeschooling mom. My dear husband spent two and a half days traveling this week to a professional conference in Detroit, where he presented his first paper and got tons of networking done, all expenses paid by the unversity and some wining-and-dining industry sponsors. We survived, thanks be to God and some friends, including my brother-in-law, Allen, who is unrivaled in his ability to put my 2 year old to bed, and even my dear father-in-law, who called on his way into town one morning to see if we needed anything. And a friend whose husband is also out of town and was willing to meet at the park for a picnic dinner. And my plugger of a sister. You get the picture.

But I digress. My point was, today was sort of my turn. An investment in myself which was actually an investment in my family (and hey, $30 is much cheaper than the $445 it would cost me to go the scrapbooking "weekend university" I was drooling over a couple weeks ago!). Even though Tim has a big test Monday, he was cheerful about my going, which earned him major points. Thank you dearest!

Mary was GREAT. I wish I could type out all my notes right here, but I'd lose all but maybe one of my readers by the end and get major knots in my shoulders! Her main premise is that your home is a family, not a school, and you're a mom, not a teacher. Dad is a dad, not a principal. And every child is an individual with individual needs. Most everything you worry about, especially academics, takes care of itself as they mature. Before age 12 or 13, she advocates focusing on values, attitudes (including a love of learning) and habits, and saving an emphasis on skills and hard-core academics for when they're older. She even ran through a typical day with us, emphasizing goal-setting, and it sounded totally doable! AND, she shared the little bio of each of her five kids, including a couple who sounded familiarly quirky. :-) Lots of other juicy stuff as well, I know I'm skipping lots, but I also bought a couple of her workshop CDs and ...ta da ... a bumper sticker that says, "It's an HONOR to teach my STUDENT at home." (get it?)

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I think environmental allergies in Austin are like the Borg in Star Trek.

You will be assimilated.

Resistance is futile.

I dodged the bullet for a few years, but it's official, folks. Vanessa, who knows a thing or two about allergies, has diagnosed me with oak allergy. Which is kind of a problem since our entire back yard is dominated by a monster oak tree. But would explain the sniffly nose, the watery eyes, the daily headache, the constant yawning, despite earlier cup of coffee to address the aforementioned headache (it didn't work).

Argh! And it's such a beautiful day, too! My friend Randolph, who brings his kids to our Spanish class, gave me this highly informative tour of my own garden, highlighting all the weeds I couldn't identify. And I stood out under the oak tree chatting with Vanessa while she pushed Benjamin on our swing. And we went back to Bull Creek this morning to find another letterbox (no, I'm not obsessed with this letterboxing thing, why do you ask?). And it was all so lovely and nature-ific, except that I now feel as energetic as a bowl of cold oatmeal.

Why thank you Jeeves, yes, I would like some cheese with that whine.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A spring in our step

Today was one of those days that are so essentially "SPRING" that it seems a shame, an absolute travesty, to stay inside. The kiddos and I hit Bull Creek in search of another letterbox this morning -- hurray that Caroline still fits in the Ergo! Hurray that Eliza lasted the whole hike without moaning that her legs hurt! Hurray that the cup of strong coffee I drank during breakfast beat my migraine into submission!
(Oh, and we found the box!)
Apparently, I'm still caffeinated. Can! You! Tell!?

I'd write more ... but it's been a long day and I just want to do the last couple of dishes (or more accurately, I want to have the last couple of dishes DONE) and curl up with James Herriot for a bit. The author, I mean. Puh-leeeeze.

P.S. Here's the downside of having a history nut for a son. I mean, it's groovy that the boy reads the Usborne Illustrated Encylopedia of World History for fun and all, but then you're making dinner and you hear, "MO-OM??? What's a guillotine???"

Publish Post

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunshine and Shadows

I'm feeling really reflective tonight, so apologies if this is heavy. I was planning, earlier, to blog about little things like the incident I had in the Target parking lot today, when a guy asked me if he could ask me a question and my better sense conquered the people-pleaser in me and I looked at him like he was crazy and said, flatly, no apologies, "NO." (Ladies, remember, you owe these people NOTHING, not even a minute of your time or a hesitation or a modicum of "nice"ness -- better to be borderline rude than dead!)

But there I go, that's not what's really on my mind. This whole day has felt kind of like a walk along a wooded path, where sunlight alternates with shadows so that the whole path is dappled, light and dark, warm and cold. On the one hand, our morning meeting was such a source of spiritual supply to me. And this afternoon, Tim went to play soccer with some labmates so the kids and I tagged along, giving us the perfect opportunity on a perfectly sunny and breezy day to kick a soccer ball around, climb up and down the bleachers, watch birds building their nests around the spotlights at the Intramural Fields, lie on our backs and discuss cloud shapes, and chase each other around. Idyllic. The kind of moments you try to flash back to when they're refusing to brush their teeth or no one can find their shoes and you're already ten minutes late, you know?

And yet ... there's the other hand. My mom passed along the news to me, as I drove into the aforementioned Target parking lot, that a good friend of hers, Becky Danek, a very dear mother of four who was just in our home for an evening last fall, who's known me since I was ten or so, who adores my mom and reminds me of her in every positive way, who never touched a cigarette in her life, was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Only an hour later, I learned that the father of one of my best friends from high school, Jerry Grossman, died last week of cancer. Sadly ironic, since he was president of a major Boston teaching hospital and a great mind in healthcare policy. This, of course, on top of the health issues in my own family and the certainty of my dad's terminal diagnosis. And I'd been thinking about it all anyway because I got one of those Member Emails from Borders announcing a new book called The Last Lecture and containing a link to this: (watch it, really, it's worth it, even if like me you see God's sovereignty at work rather than luck paradigm Dr. Pausch alludes to).

But Dr. Pausch makes an important point, which is that although we all tend to think, when we hear of premature deaths, that "it's not fair," the reality is that none of us are actually entitled to a full eighty years. Some of us get that time, others of us don't. When I look into the future and wonder whether that might be me someday, being sentenced to death by cancer or the like before I've had the chance to see my children grow up, graduate, get married, produce grandchildren, etc., I realize that I'm not afraid of dying and being with the Lord, but more of missing out on my family's lives and not being there for them -- of having them be "pushed off a cliff" into grief and loss, as Dr. Pausch puts it. That seems, well, unfair, and scary. Panic-inducing, even. But honestly, isn't it a miracle that we wake up each morning? That we draw each breath? That we even happened in the first place, and then weren't miscarried, or killed by all the horrible things that every parent knows can happen before a child reaches age two? Not to mention all the near misses we've all had, often without even knowing it, until this day? That we've been given amazing people in our lives, that we have parents or spouses or children or friends or mentors or blog readers or, I don't know, even grocery store cashiers who smile at us and send us away feeling a bit more connected? And then, that the God who did all this, and made the entire universe, loves us so tenderly? And gives us new mercies every morning? There's a peace in knowing that my days are measured out exactly right. Just like Becky's are, and Jerry Grossman's were, and Dr. Pausch's, and everyone who learns in a shorter time the life lessons some may take eighty or ninety years to get -- and maybe not even then.

So this very same afternoon, on the way home from Target with these two pieces of news weighing heavily on my heart, I saw a billboard that said something like "Life isn't about counting your years; it's about making your years count." And I remembered that while running at two-year-old pace across an open soccer field behind my giggling, scurrying toddler, so full of pride in her abilities ("Daddy, I kicked the ball, and I runned!") And I thought that the road ahead, so unknown, so marked by shadows, might turn out to be shorter than I expect ... and I could fight that fact, fear that fact, or just rest, while running with my daughter in our patch of sunlight.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Today has had its trying moments, to be sure, since among other reasons, my two eldest were suffering from an obvious case of stayed-up-too-late-itis. (On days like this one thanks one's Maker for the third child who, being too young to handle Ratatouille for a family movie night, went to bed at a decent hour and was sunny-tempered all day except for the inevitable dressing angst, made worse by the fact that Big Sister had a (gasp!) New Outfit -- and she did not!)

BUT, there's good news. We embarked on a new family hobby today, sort of a low-tech version of geocaching, if you know what that is. Since the budget does not allow for the acquisition of GPS units, that particular pastime is off limits to us -- but no matter, because we have discovered the joys of letterboxing! Way fun! Basically, all you need is a stamp (make your own or buy one) and a notebook, and some clues from the letterboxing site, which tells you everything you need to know (if the kids are lukewarm at first, have them explore the "Kids" section of the site). We went in search of two boxes today for our maiden voyage, and in the process discovered a charming little lake we hadn't known about, complete with geese, koi, sunning turtles, and a Hispanic wedding party. It took some doing, but we actually found both boxes, using our printed-out clues, and -- get this -- since we happened to be the first ones to find these, we garnered an Amy's Ice Cream gift certificate from each! Woohoo! The kids took turns imprinting our stamp in the logbook and then stamping the image from the box in our own notebook. I have visions of poison ivy rearing its flaming head tomorrow, but at least for now, I would call the trip an unqualified success. And there are boxes all over the U.S. -- so check it out!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Great Book

So I just two hours ago, while rocking Caroline, finished reading the book I've had my nose buried in for the past few days, whenever it's been free to be buried. It's called First Mothers (see Amazon linky thing at right) and it's all about the mothers of the American presidents from FDR to Bill Clinton, and how they influenced their famous sons. Absolutely fascinating stuff! For example, every SINGLE one of these men had a closer relationship with their mothers (who were all Daddy's Girls) than with their fathers. Most of them, except for FDR, JFK, and Bush, came from simple, small-town families who had to scrape just to keep food on the table -- and because many of their fathers were less than successful in life, their mothers leaned on them early on to help support the family and to push beyond the limitations of their childhood by immersing themselves in literature, culture, and debates over the big ideas of the time. They all absolutely adored their mothers and later in life, when that success did come to them, they all made an effort to give their mothers the privileges that had been denied them during their days of toil. There are other interesting patterns too -- the strong faith and piety of every single one of them except Virginia Clinton (and that story is an enlightening one in itself), and the tendency, in families with only two boys, for the one son to become President while the other turns out to be, well, a loser.
It's inspiring, really, and thought-provoking, and surprising in many ways. And available at the public library, where thanks to Library Elf, I'm once again a member in good standing. :-) But this book one of those I might just have to buy for my own library -- it's that much fun!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Solomon's request

Scene: I'm reading our morning Bible story at the breakfast table with the kiddos. Our topic at hand is Solomon's rise to the throne, during which he has a vision of God offering him anything he asks for. I stop to ask the kids what THEY would ask for if God came to them in such a way.

Eliza (immediately): Candy!
Ian: [Long rambling explanation of invention that would boost his strategy in "Stronghold.] And the ability to do anything I wanted. And, that Bionicles could come to life.
Caroline: Candy!

Me (silently to self): I'm with Solomon. Wisdom, Lord, wisdom - please!

Monday, April 7, 2008

For you, Dad

Yesterday, April 6, was my dad's 59th birthday. Another reminder of the near-miraculous grace of God, because this month also marks the 6th anniversary of his devastating diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS). We quickly learned that 75% of all ALS patients die within 5 years (and we've learned a lot more since then, none of it particularly pleasant) -- but here he is, another year has gone by, and he's still able to talk easily with us and, even though singing, his favorite, is now very difficult, he did an admirable job of the "Watermelon Song" when I called him up a couple weeks ago and asked him to help me with the lines. I think he has a good shot at the big 6-0 ... but no year, or day for that matter, is taken for granted.

So Dad, if you figured out how to get my blog URL back into your bookmarks and are reading again, here's a story you'll appreciate. Remember when we visited in March and Eliza and Caroline were chanting that "Moses Supposes His Toeses are Roses" song from Singin' in the Rain? You thought it was so funny to hear Caroline, at 2, ennunciating so carefully the word "erroneously." Well this morning, she and Tim and I were out on the back patio and we pointed out to her the bud that's about to open on our rosebush. "It's about to turn into a rose," we told her. She immediately got that faraway look that tells you the gears are grinding and synapses are firing. "Roses? ... supposes his toeses are roses? Err-on-e-ous-ly?"

We cracked up, and here's the Gene Kelly original for you and everyone else:

Stop the Press!

Breaking News! Scrumdiddlyumptious snack just discovered by non-gluten-eating daughter and self!
Take a slice of apple, smear it with almond butter, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Ay ay ay!
(Going back for a teeny bit more ...)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Feminine Mystique

Great! Just when I think I've lulled our neighbors into thinking we're semi-normal people, I pick tonight to decide that I can't wait another evening to exfoliate my pores with facial masque, and within minutes the doorbell rings, my husband is too involved in a computer game with my son to answer, and when the bell rings AGAIN, I have to slink the door with a glowing white face. Obviously, we have a reputation to keep up! (Scroll down)

But now the main topic at hand, in which I muse upon the mind of a certain four year old. The thing is, at this age, they seem to vacillate between amusing (or infuriating) inscrutability and delightful transparency. Example of the former: I drove today to pick up Ian from a playdate, and brought Eliza along for the ride (we logged lots of quality time today; she had a cold so I kept her home from our church meeting and we lounged on the bed and read the most charming Happy Little Family from cover to cover, plus walked in the sunshine and let her talk to me in her slow, deliberate way without getting drowned out by her louder, faster-talking siblings). As we neared his friend's house, I commented on the narrowness of the road. "What's 'narrow' mean, Mama?" she asked. "It means, 'thin,' honey. Not wide." "Oh. Like I am thin." (Oh good, she still thinks so; I dread the day when she believes otherwise!) Pause. "ESPECIALLY ... my little toe." You know? Those logical leaps -- they're dazzling!

Example of the latter: Eliza is very into determining whether things are "true" or not. If we read a story, she always asks me, "Is that TRUE?" I think what she means is, "is that a work of fiction or nonfiction? Fact or fantasy?" so I try to answer her at that level, but of course there's a part of me, the English major part I suppose, that always wants to point out that the question is much more complex. The story of Charlotte's Web, for example, can't really be TRUE, since as far as we know animals don't talk to each other and spiders can't spin words into their webs. But though the premise may be somewhat fantastical, the story, as all good works of fiction (and art/music/etc.) do, illuminates some universal truths about the human experience (the nature of love, loyalty, friendship, sacrifice, community) that are just a different breed of "true" than the simple fact that water freezes when its temperature hits zero Celsius ("true," in the mind of a four year old.) At this point, I'm holding my tongue, though. For everything there is a season. But anyway, a couple days ago we were listening to the "A, You're Adorable" song as we pulled into a parking lot and I anointed the kids' ears ;-) by caroling along at unapologetic volume. As I helped Eliza from her carseat I sang to her, "U, you make my life complete, V means you're Very sweet ..." She lit up and asked me eagerly, "Mom, is that song TRUE?"

I was happy to assure her, with no ambivalence whatsoever, that the song was indeed, in all senses of the word, true.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Co-ops and socialization

I'm having a dilemma about the two co-ops in which we participate (homeschool co-ops, that is). There's Monday Co-op (hereafter MC) and Friday Co-op (FC). We've been members of MC ever since we moved to Austin, so this would be our fifth semester -- and my being the treasurer for the past four semesters has helped cover one tuition (Ian's) - very helpful. However, my term will expire at the end of this semester, and unless I can fit myself into another board position or job, I would have to pay full tuition for both the older kiddos -- a total of $650 per semester. Not bad, of course, but not pocket change for us either. This co-op is more academic, at least for the 7 year olds and up -- the parents and kids submit class ideas for each semester, they're voted on, and the top three ideas are chosen, provided there are teachers we can hire for the designated topics. For the past semester, Ian's cohort (the same kids are together all day) has taken art, science and history. Oh, and although we're expected to volunteer in the classrom twice per semester, most weeks parents are free to drop off their kids and go.
This semester we decided to try out Friday Co-op, which is run quite differently. It's not a drop-off; all parents are expected to either teach a class or assist in teaching. Most of the classes are less academic -- my kids are taking, as a brief sampling, such offerings as Young Einsteins, Insects and Bugs, Wonderful World of Art, Field Games, and the Dangerous Book for Boys (and Girls). The idea is that having the whole family on site all day encourages a sense of community (which it does, and it's heartwarming to see some of the older kids mingling and playing with the younger ones; there aren't age cliques). I thought that financially speaking (the semester cost $150 per family) it made more sense to do FC, but I wanted us to try it out before dropping MC altogether. However, although I've enjoyed it, I have to say I wasn't prepared for how thoroughly exhausted I am by the end of the day on Friday. Maybe it's because mine are all young, including a toddler who misses her nap, and the facility we use is very spread out so we're constantly running back and forth between two buildings to round up our herd, or maybe because it involves bringing more STUFF (and I'm not even teaching, just assisting!), but most weeks I come home and just want to crash! I talked with a couple other moms today who also have three young ones, and they said they felt exactly the same.
Furthermore, my kids are, understandably, more attached to the Monday group. I think it's an issue of having been there much longer, of course, but also of being with the same kids all day (Friday classes are you-pick-and-choose-from-what's-being-offered) and of having a great playground to run around on during lunch. I know if they could choose, they'd stick with Mondays. With me, I could go either way -- I know the Monday crowd better, but Friday gives me more of a chance to actually interact with the other parents, instead of just the few that I'm close to -- and I haven't met a Friday person I haven't liked yet! But, it is so nice (and non-draining) to have that break most Mondays, when most weeks I can go grocery shopping with just Caroline, or volunteer in the bigger ones' classes while Caroline's happily occupied in the nursery.
Pros and cons, pros and cons. In the fall I really think we should just stick to one co-op, but which will it be?

Oh, and I hope it isn't in horrible taste to bring this up, but you know the general public always criticizes homeschoolers for not giving their kids ample opportunity for "socialization?" (And by the way, just this week as a sample, in two days I had calls/emails from three different moms asking to arrange playdates for my son and theirs -- so you know how well I keep him locked in that closet!) Well, did anyone catch on the news this story about nine third-graders in Atlanta who were caught plotting to attack/kill their teacher with a knife? Check it out --

I think this is the kind of "socialization" that my children can do quite well without, thank you very much!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Parents' Night Out

Parents' Night Out, not Moms' Night Out ... because we have an honorary mom, a dad who homeschools his kids fulltime and is (and I mean this in the best, most respectful way) sort of "one of the girls." That is to say, it was the night of the monthly Austin Area Homeschoolers support group meeting, where our topic was "dealing with stress and keeping your sanity," and we had the rare treat of a visit from a veteran mother whose two homeschooled kids are now attending Stanford. She was a fount of wisdom, and as always, I return home from the meeting determined to RELAX about things -- specifically the academics. The "formal" meeting was followed by the "informal" meeting of five of us at Starbucks, where we ended up having this very deep and poignant discussion about parental death and the illness and dying process. One gal's dad just died of emphysema, two of us have terminally ill fathers, and the other two had been through similar processes -- isn't it weird, this sandwich generation? We went through a considerable wad of Starbucks-napkins-masquerading-as-Kleenex. But that led to a discussion of the fragility of our kids' beautiful childhood, and of that instinct we all share to value these precious moments we have with them -- the ones where they crawl into bed with us, the ones where they open up and talk, even the ones where they're a bit annoying -- and not parent simply with the goal of making them exemplary adults, because some of them never get there. If, Lord forbid, our child were to be taken in a car accident at age 18, as two local teenagers recently were, we wouldn't want to feel that our lives were wasted because we worked so hard and nagged so hard just to survive until they made it the "finish line" and left the nest as decent people. We all agreed we'd want to feel that we made something lasting of those moments and days and years in between. You know, those ones that go whirling by.
Heavy stuff, but somehow made more tender by cups of warm decaf mocha and a round table with friends who also find their cherubs amazing, exasperating, exhausting, hilarious, and ultimately lovable.