Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Day in the Life

First, takin' care of BIZness: Yes! That shirt does indeed feature my one-and-only Father-in-Law, a.k.a. KRD, esteemed professor of biomedical engineering and devotee of bowties. Ian actually wore his shirt all day today. I love it. (Note: We have been disallowed from wearing our shirts to our church meeting. Aw, bummer.)

So before I started homeschooling, I found two books which struck me as both realistic and inspiring: Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days and Homeschool Open House, both edited by Nancy Lande. Basically, about thirty families in each volume relate an actual day in their homeschooling life, running the gamut from radical unschoolers to school-at-homers, from the mom who drives a big rig and takes her son along as she criscrosses the country to the family enjoying life in the wilds of Scotland.

I keep meaning to record one of our own days, and I'm finding that, as many of those families remarked, there's really no "typical" day around here. Every one is different! But I thought today* might serve just as well as any to give you an idea of the relaxed learning and sometimes, barely-restrained chaos, that is our life and school.

7:20 a.m. -- Oops, I slept bit later than usual. I'm awoken by three children in my bed, feeling hurt that the Candy Fairy did not take their offerings during the night. Panicked, I nudge Daddy out of bed to go fish my dollar-store purchases out of my purse, while explaining to the children that the sun had not fully risen yet, and sometimes the CF is very busy, and if we stay very quiet with our eyes closed, perhaps she will think we are sleeping and still come. Whaddyaknow, when they check at 7:31, she has come!

7:35 a.m. -- I head to the elliptical trainer to exercise, and spend most of the time praying on the phone with Vanessa. (I don't usually do both at the same time, but like I said, I slept in a bit this morning.)

8:00ish -- Tim leaves to bike to school. I finish exercising and help the children gathered their assorted breakfasts. Breakfast is a challenge here as tastes vary so widely, but we end up with different permutations of scrambled eggs, oatmeal, cold cereal, and smoothie. While we eat, I read our Bible story to them and we briefly discuss the connection between Onesimus as Philemon's slave in the New Testament and the question of slavery that Thomas Jefferson's struggling with in the CD we're listening to. We eventually finish, after repeated interruptions, and clear our dishes. Ian goes off to the armchair to read his Bible, while the girls putter around. I clean up the kitchen.

9:00 I send the kids off to do their morning lists (dressing, grooming, chores) while I shower, read some Bible verses, and get dressed. I do some housecleaning, make the bed, etc. Ian starts his laundry.

10:00 Ian asks me for help uploading some photos of his Lego creations to the Lego website for a contest entry. My Internet connection flakes out halfway through, which puts him in a bad mood. He declares he does NOT want to attend improv class (normally we would be there by now, but Eliza's class was canceled for today). He retreats to the sofa to read his Bible. I help Eliza do some light phonics work and trace some pictures to color during Ian's class. Caroline is doing ??? during this time.

10:40 -- After the usual flurry, we get out the door to improv, which takes place at a theater in a coffee shop downtown. On the way, we listen to Thomas Jefferson's America(again).

11:00 -- Improv. The girls and I have to park a couple blocks away, and a tearful crisis over the prospective walk is narrowly averted by Mom Acting Very Silly. My friend Greta is there, as two of her kids are in the class, and she and I have our usual cozy chat, this time about how to keep our kids occupied during the long hot summer and about interesting books we're reading. The girls color and play a game with their friend Sydney, older sister of another improv classmate.

12:30-- We arrive home again. I make lunch -- hamburgers with organic beef from Costco. Usually the kids have sandwiches, so today is a treat. While I'm fixing food and attending to the girls' various needs and issues, Ian starts on his official schoolwork. He does this all independently of me, until it's time for reviewing his Latin vocab. Just as I finish reading a chapter of "B is for Betsy" to the girls on the patio, he comes out ready for review. I present him with a "roadblock" game, a wonderful idea from Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read that we use a lot for learning reading and reviewing Latin -- anything needing practice, really. He's starting some basic verb conjugations, which are stumping him a bit, so I draw him a pronoun diagram with sidewalk chalk on the patio.

1:45 -- Caroline's a mess. I put her down for a nap, rocking her for a few minutes while I read a chapter of Les Miserables. She's not in a mood to sleep today, and listens to an hour of stories on CD instead. Grumpily. Meanwhile, the older two have their quiet time outside, working on their Stick City. They currently have 188 soldiers set up in formation around their city. I pay and file bills, take care of some business for my dad, drink a cup of coffee, answer a couple emails.

2:45 -- Quiet Time's over. Ian comes in and announces that he wants to go help teach the Tiny Texans (preschool) taekwondo class today, which he does once or twice a week. OK, that changes my plan a bit, but I like to support this kind of initiative on his part, so we pack up and go drop him off.

3:15 -- Home again. The girls and I play Go Fish in the front yard, then go inside and make a "rainbow in a jar" with various concentrations of sugar water, an idea we got from our March Book of Days. Snack: apples and mango.

4:25 -- We depart for dance class, a bit late. Got carried away with the rainbow-in-a-jar, plus the usual dawdling over shoes, tights, leotard, etc. On the way, Eliza tries to figure out how to sing "The B-I-B-L-E" in sign language! Usually during dance class, Caroline and I run an errand, but we've had a bit more driving than usual today, so I decide we'll just hang out and read or play in the waiting area. Lo and behold, when we arrive, I have to dope-slap myself because today is Parent Observation Day, which happens only once a year, and I was supposed to find someone to watch Caroline! No younger siblings allowed! The assistant teacher takes pity on me and lets her stay as long as she's quiet and still. We get the crayons and coloring book back out of my purse, and she's an absolute angel during the class. Whew.

5:45 -- We return home, visit with the next-door neighbor for a few minutes, and then head in to make dinner. Caroline and I gather some beets and lettuce from the garden. Both girls help to wash it, then pounce upon Daddy and Ian as they return. Ian sets the table, then they all go out to play outside. Usually, this is when Oscar pops over from next door, but apparently he has baseball practice.

7:00 -- Dinner. Review of the day. Visit to the Stick City for show-and-tell. Status update on Gary, the snail we found and captured during a gardening session on Sunday afternoon.

8:00 -- There's a big kafuffle when Caroline drops a large stick out of the tree fort and it strikes Eliza on the forehead. Neighbors four streets over can hear the results. Many tears, many apologies. I get Caroline ready for bed and help her clean up three things (before bed, they each put away the number of things that corresponds to their age). I read Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly to her, the only story she really has energy for at this point, while Tim reads two chapters of Little Town on the Prairie with Eliza. I can hear Ian doing the GeoQuiz on our LeapFrog Explorer Smart Globe
in the other room.

9:00 -- Tim and I finish cleaning up the kitchen while Ian has a snack and reads his Bible (yeah, he's kind of on a jag these days; no complaints here!). I read a chapter of Johnny Tremain with Ian, feeling a bit bad that this is all the reading we two have done today, then read a bit of Les Miz to myself as he falls asleep.

After hanging out with Tim and writing for a bit, it's time for bed. I wonder what tomorrow will look like ...?

(*written at the end of Tuesday, 3/31)

Monday, March 30, 2009

She Scores!

I'm not sure there are words adequate to convey to you the high concentration of adorableness on display this weekend at ...

dum da DUM ...

Eliza's first kickball game!

I admit, I had ulterior motives for signing her up for the PeeWee division of Little Miss Kickball, Northwest Austin League. It's all part of the Campaign to Boost My Daughter's Confidence (and on that note, let me recount here the gleam in her eye and the lilt in her voice as she informed me after last Tuesday's dance class that during the beginning circle time, she NEVER used to say anything, but now she stands up and says hello every week!). She's never done a team sport before, and it's quite genetically possible that she's not naturally athletic, so I thought it best to address these issues by plunking her in a situation where she can develop some skills (rather than just accept the idea early one that she's "unathletic") while eight other girls, and their parents, chant "GO, ELIZA!"

Which is exactly what happened last Saturday. While we froze in the stands, due to some freakish cold front that moved in, my girl was out there on the field with her teammates, the Cheetahs, giving the Love Bugs a run for their money. At this age, they don't keep score. They work on things like, "When the ball comes to us, we kick it!" and "When we kick the ball, we start running right away!" and "When we start running, we run in the direction of FIRST BASE [not third, as one child learned the hard way]!"

Apparently, the game went exceptionally well, as there were no children making dirt angels in the outfield.

Also, they wear cool socks. What could be finer?

Okay, and speaking of wearing cool things? Our entire family received quite a gift on Saturday night: matching T-shirts. No, that's not the ubiquitous Obama shirt everyone seems to be sporting these days. Can you tell who it is? Leave me a guess in the comments, and maybe I'll do a drawing for a prize!

(Hint: it's the official shirt of the Senior Design class in a certain engineering department at UT.)

(FYI: When I saw the shirt, I laughed harder than I have in a long time. Harder than I do at Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. Almost as hard as I did at Bill Bryson's take on income taxes.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Make the connection

I may have mentioned, a time or two, that our history studies these days have dwelled upon the American Revolutionary War period. 

And one of the bestest things about homeschooling is that you, the parent, get a fabulous opportunity to provide yourself with either the education you missed or the revisiting and deeper delving you've always wanted. 

That being said, Tim and I right now are very much enjoying our set of DVDs of John Adams. The acting and storytelling in the series are superbly nuanced, giving a sense of the great crises and complications facing our country during its birth. 

At the same time, the children and I are listening to a Jim Weiss CD called Thomas Jefferson's America. It basically covers the same time period and plotlines, but from Jefferson's point of view rather than Adams'. Again, great stuff, and what thrills me the most is finding those points of connection. You know, those moments when you're listening and you go, aha! Just saw that on the miniseries! Or, just read Abigail's point of view a few months ago while reading Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

What I've realized about myself as a learner, once I step back and look at why I enjoy this process so much, is that the books and other media I love the most are the ones that are particularly clever at setting up dots for the audience to connect -- and then letting us connect some of them first, getting those aha! moments, letting us feel particularly clever ourselves. Well, clever or surprised. 

I'm reading Les Misérables right now, which is an excellent example of how plotlines and characters converge. So, so-and-so is really that character mentioned ten chapters ago? And he first met the main character in Montfermeil, but now they're meeting up in Paris, seemingly by accident, fifteen years later? Oooh! Delicious. The historical novels of Bodie Thoene do this kind of things delightfully as well. 

It's also, I think, why I enjoy LOST so much. Sure, the twists and turns of the ever-thickening plot are brain-tickling (and cause me to send frantic text messages to my brother, who's several episodes ahead of us -- so-and-so has been kidnapped! so-and-so's trapped in a big pit with so-and-so! -- so he can reassure me without spoiling), but it's the character connections, once again, and the chance we get to figure out some of them for ourselves, that make it all so fun, fun, fun ...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day Care


What do you get when you combine ...

SEVEN children (four extra offspring from neighbor who recently broke clavicle in biking accident)

ONE mother who tends to get anxious, just between you-me-and-the-doorpost as my mother would say, about watching other people's kids, for fear that they will not be sufficiently entertained

FIVE minutes of morning prayer for the day with this dear friend

ONE helpful sister visiting on her Hahvahd spring break

EIGHT colors of Sculpey clay, good for an hour or more of intense artistic exploration

FIVE princess costumes

UNLIMITED divine grace 


... once the sun finally triumphs over the rain ...

THREE playful chickens


ONE tire swing???


A surprisingly satisfying day. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Also, a white picket fence

A dinnertime conversation with my three year old: 

When I grow up, I'm going to be TWO THINGS! A mommy, and an astronaut!
Oh really? How many kids are you going to have?
[Holds up three fingers.]
Do you know what you're going to name them?
Francis, and Katherine, and ... Lily. 
Oh? Any boys?
Francis is a boy. 
Aha. How old will they be? 
One, and two, and three. 
Wow, you will be such a busy mom! And a good one, too!
Yes. My children will NOT eat candy. 
And tell me about your pets.
I'm gonna have a dog, and a cat, and a horse and a bunny rabbit. 
Will you live out in the country?
Yes, I'm going to live just like Aunt Jenni. 
What about Ian and Eliza? Where will they be?
They're gonna live with ME! And they will be my kids!
What about Mommy and Daddy?
They will live with me, too. Daddy's going to be my husband. 
Oh, you'd better tell him about that. 
I will tell him later, because he's mad at me for getting into my princess costume instead of my pajamas, so I will tell him in a few minutes. 
What will Mommy be?
She will live with us and cook our food!

Oh HURRAY. She must have been demoted due to her failure to prevent her current children from ever eating candy, including the child who begs for it (see above). Does she get to scrub the bathroom floors with a toothbrush too, I wonder ... ?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Fever

We had a lovely welcome-home present awaiting us when we returned from frigid Boston this afternoon.

Our front garden had prepared a colorful show for us during our absence -- proof that splendid 
spring has arrived here in Texas.

Before even unpacking the car, we had to traipse around, snap photos and pull a few weeds. 

(Note: about a year ago, our friend Randolph gave me a little tour of my garden, showing me what I had inherited from the previous owner and what qualified as a "weed" or a "hackberry bush" that really ought to go. About an hour later, gloves in hand, I went to dig in and realized that I should have videotaped his little seminar, as Teflon Memory had struck again. And I feel stupid asking for the whole shpiel all over again. Now I just merrily pull whatever looks ugly to me.)

Ah, home sweet blooming home.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The North End

You really can't appreciate Boston fully without seeing the North End. And when I say "seeing," I mean "tasting" as well. Because the North End, a pocket of Old Italy here in Beantown is chock full of restaurants serving up promising concoctions and confections.

I had some shrimp scampi pizza today at Ernesto's that put to shame any pizza I've eaten in recent memory. The tears of culinary discovery nearly gushed forth, egged on by the fact that our family of five ate to satiety for under $20.

And of course, there are always the pastries at Mike's.

We had to eat frequently during our tour, because although we were ostensibly there to add dimension to our education by visiting Paul Revere's House, Copp's Burial Ground, and the Old North Church (all parts of the illustrious Freedom Trail), it was finger-numbingly, seek-shelter-and-hot-drinks-NOW cold.

A note about the Paul Revere House: the older two kids were quite entertained by what we saw and heard from the history interpreters (I found what I want to be when I grow up!), and afterward, we got to chat a bit about what people might think if, two or three hundred years ago, they were to enter a house that had been perfectly preserved from our own time. "This is the Diller House, where Ian and his sisters grew up," they might say. "And these are real Legos from the actual time period, with which the children may have played." It was fun to imagine what artifacts might tell these future people the most about how we live today. No question, they'd be a lot more complex than chamber pots!

Getting on the T today at Alewife station as we headed into town, I had one of those moments. Ian was walking beside me, and and I had a sudden flashback to the time, nine years ago, when I would enter this very station every day, bound for the office, with a much tinier Ian along for the ride inside me. The fact that once I was finally looking pregnant, there was never a time when a fellow commuter failed to give up his seat for me, tells you something about my native city. Sure, people may be friendlier in Texas, and I love living in Austin. But this place, and the way people look and the way they talk -- not just the endearing accent but also the mannerisms (see the wonderful movie Miracle for some delightful examples), not to mention a certain sense of Yankee decency, have woven themselves into my history in a way that will always feel and sound like home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vacation Dispatch

You know, I'm trying -- really hard, honest -- to raise kind, respectful people. Persons who use their words to connect, rather than divide. Persons of emotional intelligence.

Progress is slow.

For example. Last night, the adults in our little vacation party (namely, husband, SIL, BIL, and self) were enjoying a lovely dinner al fresco on the balcony of our vacation condo. Our position overlooked a golf course, the edges of which were being plumbed for stray balls by a gaggle of frolicking children.

Historically, the gaggle of frolicking, golf-ball-seeking children has been our own. But last night, some other children dared to horn in on what, apparently in the mind of a certain three year old among us, is OUR territory.

Said child approached the railing of the balcony and surveyed the horrors below. Strangers! Searching for golf balls! Stealing them from our perspective clutches!

"YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF ROTTEN POTATOES!" she shrieked over the railing.

Excuse me? Rotten potatoes? How does she dream this stuff up?

"Caroline!" I gasped. Of course, we had a little chat about not insulting people. Of course, she immediately hurled the zinger again. Of course, she was hustled indoors. But the point had been made. And we're all resolved to stay on her good side. I mean, rotten potatoes? What's next -- moldy heaps of warm compost?

Yes, it's been a very relaxing time here. And how's your spring break going?

Friday, March 13, 2009

'Tis Friday

... and the beginning of spring break!

Ironically, although my children need not follow a school schedule, our family still adheres to the academic schedule most of Austin follows, because my HUSBAND is in school. Funny, huh?

So tomorrow we head to San Antonio with relatives for a few days of fun in the sun-for-which-we-still-wait, and then we'll spend the second half of the week shivering in Boston and remembering why we usually love March in Austin!

This week we wrapped up our relaxed study of the American Revolution with a mini-celebration. Using Google Images (I'm in looooove!), I created Bingo cards with images of Paul Revere's Ride, George Washington, John Paul Jones, the Liberty Bell, etc. I'd give clues like "I'm famous for saying 'I have not yet begun to fight!'" and the children (mostly Ian) would call out the answer and cover a square.

We also made peanut butter cookies of no historical significance, and watched the old movie "Johnny Tremain." Oh, y'all. SO cheesy. So inferior to the book. But the young'uns liked it, especially the re-creation of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, so there's value in that.

I'm off to shepherd my herd into packing, with help from these lovely things. Does anyone else, even when packing with list, still suffer from this unreasonable anxiety that you're forgetting something very important and irreplaceable? I think once as a kid, I forgot to pack underwear or something, and life has never been the same.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Y'all know I am not one to use this space for going on and on about how perfect my kiddos are. That would be a) annoying, b) misleading -- they're humans! Just like me!, and c) far more pressure than any child should have to bear. They're children, not parenting trophies.

But every once in a while, I get a glimpse of the beautiful people they are becoming. And since I share plenty of the mundane and even some toady moments around here, I can't be stingy with the diamonds.

My kids' AWANA club is having a Penny Drive this month. Eliza's level is competing against Ian's level for the most generous contributions for our AWANA missionaries (folks who serve full-time in our area to support all the AWANA clubs -- that's about all I know).

Eliza decided that she wanted to give ALL her money. And she did. She rounded up all the allowance she's been given for the past several weeks, since she never spends it on anything except loans to her brother, swept it into a business-size envelope, and lugged the clinking thing to club tonight.

"Are you sure?" I asked -- but only once, since a generous impulse is not to be trifled with. And after all, what's our money for? More plastic trinkets Made in China?

She was very sure.

She gets it. More than I do, even. And I'm feeling rather humbled by the simple wisdom of a five year old.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How I do love lists

Today I am ...

- Super excited about the $36-each-way JetBlue Austin-to-California sale, which is making it possible for us to say YES! to my sweet sister-in-law's requests for us to visit them in San Diego in May. Cheaper than driving! Can't wait!

- Wide awake from the coffee I drank while reading Johnny Tremain to Ian at Starbucks this morning. We are the homeschooling ambassadors to our area coffee shops.

- Resigned to the fact that my house will never be as tidy as I'd like.

- Stealing moments to read a book I was complaining about last week and now am totally hooked on -- Les Miserables.

- Singing this hymn.

- Wondering whether to believe that my son really did pull up $13.00 worth of weeds this afternoon (at a nickel per weed, or 260 weeds!).

- Grateful to my brother for revolutionizing my life with the recommendation for this gadget. Transponders are now attached to both key rings plus the TV remote, so my key troubles are apparently over.

- Listening to my children, and a friend or two, playing in the back yard.

- Wearing a pretty new top that I found for $7 at a resale shop last weekend. This was a terrific weekend for shopping. At four secondhand shops within five minutes of our house, I netted one top, one sweater, one skirt, and three pairs of capris for myself, plus two pairs of shorts for Ian, all for less than $50. Woohoo!

- Noticing a large tattoo on my right arm made by a three year old with a ballpoint pen.

- Planning to make sweet potato and black bean burritos for dinner.

- Praying for Melissa, and for Sam at his new job.

- Sad that several of my friends' and acquaintances' husbands have recently lost their jobs. Feels like Austin's getting hit with a plague.

- Thankful for ordinary days in the divine dispensing.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Green and Blue

My computer ended up being in the CompuZone hospital for the second half of the week, and then in rehab (getting back all our files from Mozy; so glad we backed up!). The breakdown happened COMPLETELY miraculously after a tall person in our house took apart my computer to install new memory. Sooooooo, I'm late in posting my green and blue photos, which come from a lovely morning we spent on the grounds of our state capitol, attended Day Four of NASA Space Week. 

The event was quite well done, with lots of hands-on activities and lively presentations for the kiddos, and once the school buses departed, things got saner. Oh, except for the vociferous ACORN rally taking place on the Capitol Steps in two languages; that was fun. We even bumped into a few other homeschooling families whom we haven't seen for months (that's the thing with hs'ing friends -- you bond, you hang out together, then your children stop doing the same activity/co-op/whatever and since you live completely across town from each other, it's too easy to lose touch. Especially if you stink at keeping up by phone, like me.) 

We got to see a demo of the liquid-cooled astronaunt undergarment that my father-in-law invented. That was cool. Literally. 

Now Caroline wants to know how soon we can fly into outer space. And Eliza, who initially wasn't keen on going, made me promise we'd "go to NASA" again soon. You think they're taking applications for the Year 2035 mission?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Yellow is ...

1. A pair of boots, perfect for stomping around in the neighborhood creek.
2. Ugly formica countertops, probably original to my 1968 house.
3. Signs of artists at work.
4. Industrial strength sandbox toys, nearly outgrown by the one who most cherished them.
5. Napkins on the line.
6. A boy, armed with outsized water balloon.
7. Same boy, arranging his history event cards to beat the stopwatch.
8. Flourishes on our broccoli garden.
9. "House" collage culled from old National Geographic magazines, inspired by the wonderful Blue Yonder Book of Days and the terrific A House Is a House for Me.
10. A notch on a belt rack.
11. Some post-mud-play sister lovin'.

And I can't show you, but I suppose yellow is also the color of surrender today. Conscious surrender on my part to the reality that my son was not going to finish his academic requirements of the day, was not going be anything resembling focused, but was instead going to make mud pies in the yard with his sisters. For all my belief in a happy childhood, this decision was harder than it sounds. A good parent is supposed to be consistent, right? Help her child develop good habits? Learn to work before play?

But in a stroke of master irony, my son managed to turn the experience into his own sort of academic exercise. I give you this analytical recipe for good mud, typed by Himself.

Needed:1 sive*.1 large bowl.1 strong stick. Step 1: put the sive over the bowl. Step 2: take a large shovel; gather some dusty dirt. step 3: pour the dirt into the sive and mousache** and shake until most of dirt is in bowl. Do this repeatedly until there is a good amount of dirt in the bowl. Let as little sticks and rocks in as possible. Step 4: pour some water in. step 5:stir well with stick. Step 6: you are done!

(*sieve. ** massage.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Spring in Austin is a good reminder to focus on the present. Why fret over what it portends (long, hot, humid summer) instead of enjoying what it is (balmy, blossoming, early)? "Today is a gift," I reminded my daughters today, "that's why it's called the PRESENT." (There's no such thing as a cliché for a five year old.)

A couple shots from our yard, plus one from the kitchen:

Monday, March 2, 2009


I'm participating in this project this week. Anyone care to join me, a day or two late? Sam? Jenny?