Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A little bit more

This Advent season calmness is getting a little out of control. I may be flirting dangerously with complacency here. I got out of the shower and thought, " is the twenty-what now? I think there are things to be done..."

It is, in fact, the 22nd of December and Christmas is in three, yes three, days. Shouldn't I be frantic by now? Shouldn't I be feeling ill and dosing myself with steady rounds of ibuprofen, Tums and perhaps even an occasional brandy? Well, I'm not.

And don't confuse my lack of hysteria with organization or preparedness. I am simply not that woman. It's just that I've been doing this long enough now to know that it will get done. And if it doesn't it just won't matter. Someone, somewhere must be praying for an extra measure of supernatural peace for me because I've looked at these past few weeks calmly and logically and came to the following conclusion:

In all the Christmas memories I have, of all of the 34 Christmasses I can remember, is there a single ruined one in the bunch? No. Is there one year I can pull out and go, "Oh, yes, how terrible, that was the year Christmas was ruined"? Nope, can't think of one.

Does this mean all of my Christmasses have been perfect, easy, flawless holidays? Of course not! Some pretty terrible things have gone on right around Christmastime from the irritating to the tragic and yet, somehow, Christmas has never been ruined...

What about the year the tree fell over twice and wasn't finished being decorated until 4:00 Christmas morning? That didn't happen to me, but it did to my sisters and it is still the stuff of legend. It's a favorite do-you-remember story in our family. What about the year we spent Christmas Eve in the ER because an 18-month-old Redheaded Snippet had gotten into Gram's melatonin and ate an undetermined amount of it and needed to be held for observation (FYI, she was fine and it seemed to have the opposite affect on her and she tore around the ER like a squirrel on speed for hours on end)? Another very funny story to share.

What about the year my grandfather died the week before Christmas and his funeral was held mere days before? The year The Viking was out of work and we were depending on the kindness and support of family to keep us off the streets? The years (two of them) I was in the hospital on Christmas Day because of complicated pregnancies? The year our first son had died only two months before Christmas? The year my sister lost her twin daughters just one month before and several of us nearly had nervous breakdowns because of the stress and trauma?

I can tell you, those Christmasses were difficult ones, especially that last one. They were not the visions of Holiday Cheer that you see splashed all over greeting cards and Christmas TV Specials. They were not how we would have wanted them. But when I look back, I don't see them as ruined. I can find precious memories embedded in each of them. When we were homeless, my parents took us in and we had Christmas with those who were giving sacrificially for us. When my grandfather died, the sting of his death was removed by the celebration of the birth of the One who conquered death for all. One year I was in the hospital, I was discharged on Christmas morning and what a wonderful gift that was! The other year, The Viking and Redheaded Snippet brought Christmas to my hospital room and it was probably the calmest, most peaceful, least stressful Christmas ever! The years after my son and then my nieces died, the family rallied once more and it was in those times that our bonds were strengthened.

See? Not a ruined Christmas among them! Despite the circumstances there has always been joy, peace and, most of all, hope on Christmas Day. And those are things you cannot buy or fabricate. They are bestowed on us by God Himself and are what Christmas, through the remembrance of the ultimate gift of salvation sent in a tiny, baby package, is all about. And if I can survive and remember with joy all those Christmasses that should have been heinous, I can certainly survive a few late-arriving gifts, a dried-out turkey, a less-than clean bathroom and a complaining relative or two!

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 'What if Christmas', he thought, 'doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?'"--Dr. Seuss

May you find more in less this Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

This year, instead of feeling the panic of being in a runaway train careening down a mountainside toward an abyss below, I'm feeling the anticipation and mounting excitement of the final week of Advent!

The air feels thick with expectation: It is coming! HE is coming! Come, thou long expected Jesus!

This is our second year marking Advent in our imperfect, faltering way. And it does make a difference. Things are calmer, more peaceful. There are moments of stress, but mere moments, not an entire MONTH'S-worth of it! The tree is up, the lights are up, the house is clean (for now). There are still a few gifts to buy, many more to wrap (haven't wrapped anything yet), and a spectacular feast to prepare and shop for. But I'm not worried. We are getting ready to CELEBRATE!

We went with dear friends to a local church that has one of the most fantastic living nativity displays I've ever seen. Calling it a nativity is quite misleading as the "show" begins with the creation of the universe and ends with Christ's ascension into Heaven after his resurrection. It takes over thirty minutes to view all the "scenes" which include the prophecies of Christ's birth, the angel's visits to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, a stroll through the center of Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn, the manger scene, the wise men's visit to Herod and their subsequent visit to Jesus Himself, Jesus calming the stormy seas and raising Lazarus from the dead, and His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

I had our friends' youngest daughter, a precocious (and, as I appropriately mistyped, precious) four-year-old, by the hand and was steering her through all the scenes and answering her many questions, some hilarious, some profound and some hilariously profound. Just after the crucifixion scene which was simply a tableau of the three crosses of Calvary and a voice-over describing what happened there, she said to me, "Why did Jesus die for all of us for our sins?" I looked desperately for her mother, thinking it would be best for her to field such a question but as she couldn't be found, I took a deep breath and faltered, "He didn't want us to have to die--...He knew we couldn't pay the price and so--...He wanted us to be in Heaven with Him--..."

I could see by her face that my attempts had only raised a dozen more questions so I stopped and bent down close to her. "Because He loves us." And she smiled, nodded and understood. Later, as we were enjoying hot chocolate and cookies I asked her what her favorite part was, expecting her to mention the angels' choir flying over the tree tops, the cute sheep grazing in the shepherds' field or the drama of the boat rocking violently on the stormy sea before Jesus calmed it. She surprised me by saying, "The part when Jesus died for us."

And a child shall lead them.

Merry Christmas
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Advent Candles

I'm a little late, but I've gotten my Advent candles onto the dining room table!

First let's get a few things out of the way, shall we?

Mom is recovering beautifully. She had several days of significant pain in which she needed a lot of care, but Daria and I were able to manage with no problems at all. Man-Cub and I even took our school things over to her house for a few days (another great thing about homeschooling--it's so portable) so I could be in her room in a flash whenever she blew her whistle. But now she's out and about, feeling stronger each week and optimistic that the procedure was a success.

Thanksgiving was wonderful. Dharma & Co came and spent five days with us, everyone else arrived for Thanksgiving Day, and we had to bring a card table up from the basement and set it as an extension next to the dining room table and we were still crammed in there! But what a nice problem to have!

Many hands did indeed make light work, we sat down on time and everyone agreed that each dish was the best it's ever been! And cleanup was a breeze as I had decided to make things a little easier on myself and use plastic plates, cups, and "silverware". I managed to find nicer things so it didn't look quite so much like a silly picnic and, boy, was I glad when there weren't stacks and stacks of dishes to wash after preparing a feast like that!

I spent all of Black Friday sitting in our comfiest chair by the fire in my pajamas whiling time away with The Viking's laptop. Any time someone came in to ask me anything I simply replied, "I'm not here." It was the most relaxed I've been since August and it did me a world of good! The rest of the weekend we spent playing either Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit or Just Dance II. We'd wear ourselves out dancing in front of the TV and then collapse, huffing and puffing, and play a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit until we'd recovered enough to play another round of Just Dance. And every once in a while we'd take a pie or leftovers break. It was the best weekend ever.

But, as good things must, it all came to an end. The food was eaten and sisters had to go back home. And, lo! It was Advent! I made a few half-hearted attempts at being prepared for Advent before it actually started, but quickly realized I was going to have to allow myself to catch up. I simply needed a lot of recovery time and wasn't ready to switch gears that fast.

But it is now a new week, a new month and a new beginning of sorts. Mom is recovered, hockey season is over, Thanksgiving is gone and now we wait, expectantly, for Christmas. I'm not stressed about it. Two days before Thanksgiving I suddenly stopped caring so much. Not in a bad way, mind, just in a very sensible way. And I'm carrying that attitude into Advent and Christmas. Does it matter if I didn't light the first Advent candle until tonight, three days after the first Advent Sunday? Not really. Will it matter if I don't get the pantry cleaned out before Christmas dinner? Not at all. Will all the necessary tasks get done without me going insane? Yes they will.

So, I went to Michael's tonight to see if, by chance, they had anything I could use to hold Advent candles in a eye-catching manner of display. I'd been looking for wreaths and such for a few weeks and really liked this trinity knot one:

But I really wanted to be able to use five candles and incorporate some greenery so I kept looking.

In researching Advent customs in Sweden (The Viking's native land, albeit three generations ago) I came across several darling little items that I came very close to buying:

This one was the most dangerous.  I love it so much!
Apparently, in Sweden the Advent candles are white and the color red is very prominent.  I was enamored with the whole thing and rather mindful of how well any of these would fit into my red and white dining room.  But I waited, thinking I just might be able to make one of these on my own.

It was the Swedish candleholders that convinced me I wanted a more linear display than an actual wreath.  I also knew I wanted five candles instead of four.  I don't know why, I just do.  So off to Michael's I went with Daria in tow to see what I could see.

In the clearance aisle, I found this!  Can you see the crosses on it?  It's silvery metal, it has spaces for five candles and it was half price, marked down to $9 instead of $18!

It came with these votive cups, which Man-Cub so thoughtfully arranged for the photo shoot.

But I wasn't sure if I was going to use votives or tapers so I grabbed these taper holders as well, which at $1.99 each were the most expensive part of this project!

A thorough search of the sprays, picks, garlands and wreaths unearthed this garland with glittery berries and soft, velvety leaves, also half price at $3.50.

I just wrapped the garland around the thing in quite a haphazard kind of way.

And, despite looking in at least three different stores, I could not find the right color tapers anywhere so I dug out the votives I used last year and popped them into the votive cups.  I'm really not sure why the one on the end is shaped so strangely and differently from its neighbors...

And although it's a Wednesday night and the first Sunday in Advent was three days ago, I lit the first candle as well as the tapers at either end of the table.  And then I just sat there at the table, with my chin resting on my hands, gazing at the flame and being quiet.

I still intend to hit a few more places that may have candles (though I'm not sure I will revisit the one where the workers yelled, "We're CLOSED!" at me the moment I walked through the door they were too lazy to lock) to see if I can find appropriately-colored tapers but for now this is working very well (and for less than $25)!

It's beginning to look a lot like Advent!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweeter By The Dozen

We paused during the week's chaos to attend the NJ Group IV field hockey championship game this afternoon. Redheaded Snippet's team is ranked first in the state and third in the nation and has taken the state title for the past 11 years. Straight.

And today, they made it an even dozen.

It was anyone's game for the first 30 minutes which ended with a scoreless tie at half time. But then, our girls pulled themselves together and managed to pull off a 2-0 win against a very formidable opponent.

As an added bonus, the other team was not only talented and skilled, but classy, both on and off the field. There were no shouting matches in the stands, no obscenities screamed at referees, and no obnoxious cheers designed to distract and dishearten the players. And, yes, I've seen all of that happen this season and it's disgraceful. But when people remember this is just a game being played by children and behave themselves it's so much more wonderful!

One of whom I'm just so proud of.
Congratulations, girls!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Just Stepped Out

Mom is having back surgery tomorrow morning, Monday, November 8th. We have great hopes for what the procedure will do for her in the long run but expect her recovery to be long and slow. So, I probably won't be around in blogland for a while as I will be spending as much time as possible helping take care of her. Add field hockey playoffs, Thanksgiving preparations and, hopefully, a visit from Dharma & Co (due in part to both Mom's surgery and Thanksgiving) and my next few weeks are going to be quite the busy ones.

I doubt I'll be back before Thanksgiving, so I'll wish you all a happy and blessed one. Hopefully, I'll be back before Christmas, so I'll save those wishes for later.

Join me, if you will, in praying for Mom tomorrow and in the days to come. And I'll be back in what I hope are just a few, short weeks.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Well, that was one fun-filled weekend and I, for one, am exhausted.

We made fondue, had a fire, made and ate pumpkin scones (with honey--divine!), had a fire, ran ourselves crazy through a corn maze, picked pumpkins, had a fire, had Welsh Rarebit and Witches' Brew for dinner, had a fire, carved pumpkins, put finishing touches on costumes, had a fire, almost hit a deer, had endless cups of tea, had more fire, dressed up and went trick-or-treating, then settled down with beef stew and cider to watch the kids exchange candy in front of yet another fire.

So, first, the pumpkins. Carving them took forever, first of all because Daria's weighed 85 lbs and filled two garbage bags full with its guts and second of all because Man-Cub managed to pick himself the hardest-shelled pumpkin we have ever encountered. It took several blows with a hatchet to get the top off! By the time we were finished, we were too tired to put candles in them and put them outside, let alone get photos. But we did snap this one because of it's sheer genius (no matter what you say, Daria).

It's Chernabog.  I know what you're saying, "Oh, Chernabog, of course, that's right!"  I didn't know who he/it was either until Daria reminded me.

From Disney's Fantasia.  NOW do you remember?  He was one of the scariest images from our childhood so Daria just had to immortalize him on a jack o'lantern.

Next, the costumes.  Sadly, and because I am apparently the worst mother in the history of mothers, I have no photos of Man-Cub in his costume.  I know!  I made the mistake of allowing him to meet up with two of his little friends for trick-or-treating so the entire morning was spent in a flurry of phone calls, text messages and otherwise hysteria over exactly where and when they would be meeting, who would be accompanying them, where they would go and when they would be back.  I never expected that from a trio of boys.  Girl, yes, but boys no.  So by the time The Viking took him out to rendezvous, I was so frazzled I completely forgot to get out the camera!

I can show you what he was and we can all pretend the boy behind the mask is Man-Cub, 'mkay?

That's pretty much what he looked like with one very significant difference: Daria made him a spectacular jet pack out of Styrofoam, cardboard, duct tape and empty soda bottles.  She was up until the wee hours of the night finishing the thing but we didn't get any photos of it either.  Fail.

But, moving on, here is Redheaded Snippet, who went through my stores of costume supplies and decided to wear Daria's old lion costume from when she, Lobelia and two of our cousins did the whole Wizard of Oz thing one Halloween.

Obviously, this is a homemade costume.  Mom made that mane (affectionately known as "the mop") in one evening and never imagined it would be used again some ten years later.  Daria did the brown and white makeup and I did the black so it was very much a team effort.

I decided to be a (rather unimaginative but still fun) witch.  We decided to try to come up with costumes from items we already had and other than the very inexpensive makeup kit we used for Redheaded Snippet (bought for less than $3 at CVS), we succeeded.

You can't really see it, but I'm petting her.  And that wig was ruddy annoying!

Daria, who hates having photos taken but deigned to appear in this one so her spectacular costume could be preserved for posterity, was also a witch, but not just any witch.  She made the perfect Professor Minerva McGonagall.  Again, we accomplished this with things we already had.  I bought her McGonagall's hat for her birthday several years ago.  The wand (a replica of Hermione's) was a gift from Daria to Redheaded Snippet one Christmas.  The cloak is from a Christmas pageant of yore and the rest are pieces from Daria's own wardrobe.  I must say, I was quite envious of her costume.

Redheaded Snippet kept hissing and spitting at Daria and she kept threatening to transfigure her into a mouse in return so I had to get a shot of this.

There are a few more shots floating around on our phones but I haven't been able to figure out how to get them onto the computer.  But once I do, you can be sure I'll post them.  So look for those right around the New Year, ha ha.

Anyway, the children had fun collecting sweets and trading them later, we had fun dressing in cloaks and robes and we all enjoyed the annual Halloween tradition of coming back home after curfew to smell the beef stew that's been simmering in the crock pot all day long!  We put away costumes, washed off makeup, The Viking built a fire and we all sat in front of it eating beef stew and reminiscing about the day and Halloweens past.

Another year of Halloween memories.  And now we look ahead to Thanksgiving...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

All Hallows' Eve Eve

It's the night before Halloween! Mischief Night! Cabbage Night as they call it in some parts of the country (New England, I believe?)!

Daria is spending the weekend with us so we can maximize our fun and frivolity and this evening we are making Welsh Rarebit and Witches' Brew (lime punch) and stoking the fire and heating up cider and chocolate and carving pumpkins.

Check out this MASSIVE pumpking Daria got at the grocery store of all places last night!  She was like a kid when she saw it, begging me for it, telling me how awesome it is!  And when I saw the price sticker ($8.99 for a pumpkin that would clearly cost close to $40 at one of those pick-ur-own and pay-by-the-lb places) I agreed as long as she figured out how to get it from the floor into the cart, from the cart to the car, the car into the house and then finally to wherever it was going to be displayed.

I did try to help her hoist it into the cart, but, thankfully, a kind man shopping nearby saw that nonesense and came over to help.  I'm very sorry to all you people who insist that there is very little difference between the sexes but when you need something heavy lifted, you need a man.  They just have more upper body strength and that's all there is to it.  Hmmm...wonder how that happened?  It couldn't have been that someone designed it that way, could it?  But I digress..back to pumpkins...

Everywhere we went in the store, people stopped to gape at or comment on The Great Pumpkin.  We had a hard time fitting the rest of our groceries in the cart (thankfully it wasn't a very big order).  And when it came time to remove Behemoth from the cart and put him into the car, two male employees had to come out to the car with us to do the lifting.

Somehow, we managed to get the thing into the house and onto the dining room table without a male present and are looking forward to carving it and its fellow victims later on.

More to come...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rendered Incoherent

Colored trees...gorgeous, crisp sky...fluffy, cottony clouds...crunchy, raspy leaves...apples...PUMPKINS...CIDER...CRACKLING FIRE...WOODSMOKE...!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Hot Time in The Old Town Last Night

We live mere minutes from Philadelphia: Philly, The City of Brotherly Love, or as we locals sometimes unaffectionately call it, "Filthadelphia" (though I'm sure with this area's penchant for spelling any word that begins with an F and has anything whatsoever to do with Philadelphia with a PH instead--think Philly Phans, Philly Phun, the Philly Phanatic, the Philly Phlash--I should spell it "Philthadelphia" but that is just a few too many "H"s in one word for me).

We call it Philly. It's shorter and to the point. I don't know any locals who call it Philadelphia, now that I think about it. And with our accent it's usually pronounced more like, "Philwy". Only the "L" is silent. The Philly "L" drop is not quite as pronounced as the Pittsburgh drop, but it's still there. Now you know.

So, why am I droning on about this? Well, as you probably know, Philly is known for, among other things, Ben Franklin! We have the Ben Franklin bridge, Ben Franklin parkway, numerous statues and memorials, his grave, countless impersonators and (I'm getting to my point) The Franklin Institute!

Ah, The Franklin Institute: destination of South Jersey first-grade-class field trips for over thirty years! You get to walk through a HEART! While it's BEATING! For some reason that was (and still is) so eye-poppingly cool!

Apparently, and I discovered this from a Homeschooling website, TFI has a free community night every third Wednesday evening of nearly every month. And yesterday was the third Wednesday of October. So Daria took Man-Cub for a fun-filled, excuse me, phun-philled, not to mention PHREE, evening!

One of the best things about going from South Jersey into Philly is taking the PATCO, which we call the Speedline and is just the train line that connects SJ to Philly. This was always a huge treat when we were kids and my kids feel the same way today. Man-Cub was almost as excited about that as we was about going to the museum.

My part was easy as pie: I dropped them off at the train station and then, three hours later, rode as Mom's passenger to drive in and pick them up. Man-Cub got into the car all breathless and glowing, chattering non-stop about the many wondrous things he got to see and do, despite not being able to see Jupiter and its moons at the Observatory because of the cloudy skies. They had a great time (even though the Cleopatra exhibit we've all been dying to see was stingily closed for the evening) and are even talking about going back next month!

And then, as we were making our way to the bridge, Man-Cub piped up, "I'm HUNGRY!" Daria chimed in, "Yeah, me know, I've never had a Philly cheesesteak..." Mom couldn't believe that Daria had lived 20 minutes away from Philly for 26 years and never had an authentic cheesesteak! Then I timidly added, "I've never had one either!" I've had many cheesesteaks, many great cheesesteaks, but only from South Jersey where, truth be told, the cheesesteaks are just as good as in Philly.

Well, that did it. Mom made a sharp turn to the left and next thing we knew we were on South Street where we had to cleverly turn Man-Cub's attention in different directions a few times to avoid giving him the kind of education no nine-year-old boy should have. There are some...unique shops on South Street. You'll know what I mean if you've been there. Or on St. Mark's Place in the East Village.

Anyway...Mom knows a thing or two about Philly (honestly, she's the best Philly tour guide I've ever seen and an historical trip for both my children is being planned even now) so she took us to her favorite cheesesteak shop.

I know what you're thinking, "Was it Pat's or Geno's? Or even Tony Luke's?"

NO! I'm sorry, but a real, authentic, original cheesesteak does NOT have whiz on it! And that's Cheese Whiz in case you're worried and grossed out. Which you should be even after knowing it's Cheese Whiz! Cheesesteaks have been in existence before Cheese Whiz ever was! You get AMERICAN cheese on a cheesesteak (maybe provolone if you're feeling extra fancy) and it HAS to be on a soft Amoroso's roll and nothing else.

We went to Jim's Steaks a small hole-in-the-wall with its own walls covered with signed photos and napkins of the many stars and other notables who have eaten there. They do make steaks with whiz, but you can choose between that, American or provolone. Man-Cub went purist by ordering a steak sandwich, no cheese, no onions, I went Old School with the American cheesesteak and Daria went fancy with the provolone cheesesteak. We made the cashier's day by handing her $14 worth of Susan B. Anthony coins we'd been lugging around courtesy of the ticket machine at the Speedline (they were gold and made us feel like pirates) and Mom thoroughly impressed Man-Cub by leading us through the back of the shop to the "secret" side door near the service entrance.

I gotta tell ya, there's nothing more Philly than eating a cheesesteak in the car while driving across the Ben Franklin bridge into Jersey. We had a blast. And those cheesesteaks were divine!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Still Learning...

I only have a moment, but this poor blog is feeling the squeeze of my new busier schedule and has been sorely neglected. I managed to get the new festive Halloween colors up last night but haven't had the time or mental acuity to actually get a post out.

We're revamping. I hear good teachers do that regularly so I am no longer fretting about it but it is time-consuming. Well, it was. But now it's actually saving us time.

I've been learning about the way Man-Cub learns. I've also learned a smattering of Latin, Marine Biology, Old Testament History and the beginnings of how to play Chess but most importantly, I'm learning about my child.

He's a GENIUS!

Okay, I just said that because I'm pretty sure you were expecting me to! And, of course, I think he's a genius but then every mother does so I know it doesn't count. But really now, he's pretty spectacularly smart. I think he's smarter than me but I still have the benefit of many years' education and experience to keep an edge over him.

I thought he might be a kinesthetic learner and was overwhelmed by that. Then I discovered he's actually a visual-spatial learner and was overwhelmed by that. But then I spent many days letting him "unschool" (highly recommended for VSLs) while I researched and read and clicked and scrolled. And I found some tips that are actually helping!

I would love to explain in more detail but I do have to get school going today. However, you may notice the time stamp on this post and that we are beginning school at around 12:30 in the afternoon. And still ending at 3:00. Chew on that for a while...

Friday, October 01, 2010

When is the weather going to catch up to the calendar???

It's the first day of October and I am usually running around, gleefully frolicking in abundant Autumnness but, instead, I am too tired and discouraged to care.

My house is going to suck me down into the depths of despair. I need to do a massive clean. I haven't been keeping up with my normal daily or weekly chores and now the realization has hit me that this place is depressingly bad. It smells in here. It stands to reason. I mean, the house has been sealed up all Summer. I usually do have to do an Autumn airing the way many people do a Spring one, but this year seems particularly bad. I blame the dog. And the terrible September we just had that withheld all its fine, dry days in which I usually would have thrown the windows open and instead behaved more like August-lite.

Ugh. We need to open windows, bathe the dog, pull all the furniture out from the walls, sprinkle the carpet, maybe deep clean the carpet, deep clean the upholstery and wipe everything down! And I have no time in which to do it!

How do I enlist the help of my family without a) sounding like a demented shrew and b) expending more energy in getting and keeping them moving than it would take for me to just do it myself?

Where do I start?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The wonders of soup

I only have a moment, but I just wanted to stop in and say hi.

I had a bit of a hiccup (isn't this really spelled, "hiccough"? Why doesn't my spellchecker recognize it?) this week. After a busy weekend spent adjusting to our worship service schedule, I fell behind on laundry and cleaning and must have also fallen behind in giving the children attention and discipline because they were ill-tempered and ill-behaved and in no time at all, I was ill-tempered!

I woke up Tuesday morning (I have a history of bad Tuesdays that goes back to high school: everyone thinks it's Monday as what gets you, but really, it's Tuesday), anyway I woke up Tuesday feeling like the biggest failure that ever failed in the history of failings. My daughter was sulky and sassy, my son was fractious and sullen, no one had any clean clothes or towels, every dish in the house was dirty and I was exhausted! I was not in a good frame of mind!

I made a few quick adjustments to our class schedule and settled down for some decompression time (read: mindless activity on the Internet) while Man-Cub played with his Legos and caught up on a few cartoons. We had breakfast. We had lunch. And then, after the clouds has passed and my blues lifted a little, I turned to the one who always help me dig myself out such a hole, the one whose methods are foolproof:

Good, old Amelia Bedelia. I loved stories about her when I was little! Even then, there was something that entranced me about salvaging one's day, mood, reputation or even job simply by whipping up the perfect dish! I relate to Miss Bedelia so very well: I try so hard to do what's expected of me and most of the time wind up leaving chaos in my wake. But I can cook!

Yesterday was a perfect example. I was feeling as if I'd just been scolded for tying steaks to the beans in the garden, unscrewing the light bulbs and carrying them outside, and hanging an unbaked loaf of bread up near the ceiling and then punching it down onto the floor. So, I made a short list, hied me to the grocery store and I got to cooking.

I made chicken noodle soup. The chicken noodle soup that everyone raves about and asks for. Once again I was amazed at how cheap and easy it is to make ($5 for a whole chicken and another $1.50 for a bag of egg noodles, the rest of the stuff I usually have on hand) and delighted at how excited my family (extended family included) gets over it.

There is something about a pot of something delicious bubbling on the stove that changes my outlook on life. Suddenly, I am capable, grown-up, sensible. Making soup somehow leads to folding laundry, sweeping floors and sloshing around in sudsy water in the sink. By 9:00 last night I had made soup, washed, dried and folded two loads of laundry, washed all the dishes, tidied the downstairs and swept the floors. Ok, I did have help, but it was nice to crawl into bed early last night knowing the house (and family) was back in order. Sure, the teenager was still a little sulky and the nine-year-old had to be spanked for defiantly disobeying his mother, but still not bad for an average Tuesday.

The benefits held over into today. We were able to have a great day in school (even finished early thanks to our first Latin test: 88%!), the house was tidied enough to have a dear friend over for an afternoon visit, and I was on top of things enough to bring leftover soup with crusty bread to Redheaded Snippet's game so we wouldn't miss dinner. Redheaded Snippet's team won their game, and Snippet played her little heart out so she was all pumped and in a good mood and everyone went home happy!

Ah...the return of order and routine. And to think, it all started with a pot of soup...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning and learning

We've finished our first week of school together and only one day has ended with me crying on the bathroom floor, clinging to the side of the tub! Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? Oh, it was! See, I was trying to clean the tub, in a desperate attempt to accomplish something, anything, after the horrendous day of school we had had. And much like everything else had gone that day, my efforts were fruitless.

I hate my fiberglass tub surround. It never comes clean! And all I wanted was to be able to walk into a room and have some kind of visual, tangible evidence that I had completed something. But, no.

And it was too much for me to bear. I stopped in the middle of my scrubbing, bent over the side of the tub and burst into tears. I sat like that for who knows how long, sobbing my heart out, venting all my frustration and disappointment.

Oh, it was gloriously dramatic. I'm the type of person who needs a good dose of moderate drama every now and then. I'm not talking major stuff like death, disease, poverty or imprisonment; just temporary, rather mundane things like cakes burning, favorite soup tureens shattering, tubs not coming clean, etc. So when I get the chance to do so without damage to my dignity or sanity, I revel in a little wallowing and gnashing of teeth and then I'm good for a while.

Man-Cub was a little monster yesterday. I wanted to throttle him. I probably should have spanked him but I was way too angry to do so properly. He pulled out every trick in the book and nearly made me crazy. He whined, he cried, he stared over my head and simply shrugged when I asked him questions, he pressed his knees up against his mouth and refused to answer, he bounced all over the place, rummaged in his desk, answered me in robot and cartoon voices, it was like trying to teach Calvin! I was poor Miss Wormwood yesterday!

Fortunately, The Viking was home when we finished school and witnessed my emotional break-down. This meant I got some very excellent hugging and soothing from a man who knows how to do it like no one else and Man-Cub got the tongue-lashing of his life. There's just something about a tongue-lashing from Father. The Viking doesn't yell very often at all, and he didn't yell yesterday. But he spoke with that authority that only Father has. The Viking is a very patient, gentle dad and, in fact, he is usually good cop while I play bad cop. But when he steps in and lays down the law, his voice rings with such authority as to make you cringe in your boots at the majesty before you. And Man-Cub did indeed cringe and cower!

Today, a new day has dawned and the outlook is much brighter. To start with, I made sure to get my bottom to bed quite early last night and managed to get nine solid hours of sleep! This morning, I made myself a good, hearty breakfast (I've found that, being hypoglycemic, I need a breakfast loaded with protein to start my day). There is no game this afternoon (we had one on each of the last two days which makes things so much more rushed and complicated) and I clamped right down on Man-Cub from the beginning.

It was Redheaded Snippet who suggested the method I'm trying today. I bought a few small packs of Bubble Tape at the dollar store over the weekend. My intent was to reward Man-Cub with a pack at the end of each school day if he had behaved himself. But, apparently, this was not enough of an incentive as he managed to lose access to the reward within the first fifteen minutes of class each day.

As per my Snippet's devious suggestion, today I brought a pack down, opened it and set it on the desk in front of Man-Cub. I told him that every time he acted up, I was going to tear off a piece of the gum, however long I wanted, and I was going to keep it for myself. At the end of the day, he could have whatever was left, if there was anything left. I then picked it up, showed him the gum and let him smell it...Mmmmmm, green apple, his favorite! He looked a little unhappy at that idea, but I could see the gears turning.

We're halfway through our day at this point (taking a break for lunch and recess) and I've had to take two lengths of gum. I popped them right into my mouth and have been blowing bubbles with them all through class. Toward the end of Latin, he muttered something unseemly about the material and when I asked him to repeat what he had said he quietly replied, as I have instructed him in the past, "Never mind. It was rude." And then he added, "And I don't want to lose anymore gum." We'll see how long this lasts, but if I have to spend $5 a week on gum to keep order in my classroom, it just might be worth it!

I'm learning that my son just might be a kinesthetic learner. Or he's just a nine-year-old boy who just wants to draw comics all day long. But he does get most interested when he gets to draw, color or use manipulatives such as the paper money he won't stop hounding me about. I think I need to get him some maps and timelines to draw and color and possibly rethink my teaching methods. But isn't that one of the things homeschooling is all about, tailoring lessons to your child's learning style and particular needs?

Well, recess is almost over and I need to get some lunch to fortify myself for an afternoon of Math and Grammar, heaven help us all! Math seems to be our worst subject. Man-Cub is great at it, but quails every day at the prospect of completing 26 problems on his own. Hopefully he'll just get used to it instead of giving me grief about it each and every day for the rest of the entire year...

Here's hoping...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A fresh, new start!

Today was Wits' End Academy's opening day! And as no one is dead or in tears (anymore-we had one incident) I am considering it a success!

Man-Cub is enamored with the idea of our school being like Hogwarts. All I can say is he's got a good imagination. Anyway, in that spirit, I let him put together a Hogwarts "uniform" complete with black pants, white-and-grey-plaid button-down shirt and Redheaded Snippet's robe from her old Hermione Halloween costume. At his request, I wore a black skirt, white shirt and a black robe from my old Hermione Halloween costume. It sounds mad, I know, but you know what? It worked. We both felt more serious about it, somehow.

I made us a pot of tea using the silver tea service (the silver-plated tea set someone gave us) and carried it up on a tray to keep nearby in the classroom. I must admit it was nice to be able to sip a cuppa while going over our lessons.

We began with Psalm 1 and prayer, then the salute to the flag, then we were off to Science!

Don't worry, I am not going to do this every day, but we learned about benthic and sessile creatures, zooplankton and phytoplankton and I was never more glad for Man-Cub's Spongebob obsession! Never did I imagine I would ask the questions, "So, what type of animal is Mr. Krabs, benthic or sessile?" or, "Would you say Plankton is a zooplankton or phytoplankton?" in a classroom setting! Man-Cub was thrilled that he got to use his colored pencils to draw pictures of both characters in his notebooking journal!

Grammar was a bit of a chore as it was all about setting our goals for the year and the difference between short-term and long-term goals! YAWN!

But then! Then, we did Math, which is a subject I've kind of been dreading. I have a long and bloody history with Math and I just know all of my old math teachers would feel somewhat avenged by the knowledge that I am now having to teach the stuff to a squirrelly, little boy who is a lot like me. I can handle addition, subtraction, multiplication and division just fine, but I still have issues with fractions and don't even get me started on measurements!

Surprisingly, Math was the best subject today! He got straight 100s on all his assignments and on his pre-test. His memory astounded me; I think he might have a photographic one! He would complain and complain about having to read from his book, but then when he had to give oral answers to my questions, he would answer almost word for word! What a stinker he's going to be!

History was, sadly, a bust. I was very excited when I first got the curriculum. It came very highly recommended and it's one of the subjects I'm most looking forward to teaching (and learning). Well, they say it's unavoidable for homeschoolers to wind up wasting time and money on curricula that simply don't work or are a lot more stupid or annoying than you could have known and it's already happened. I was actually apologizing to Man-Cub through his lesson today. And I have to find a new curriculum! There is no way he is going to like history if we stay with this one!

My Latin stuff hasn't arrived yet (I keep checking the front porch every 15 minutes to see if the mail's come) so I don't know what that will be like. Man-Cub was very much opposed to the idea of learning Latin at first, but once he realized that most of the spells in Harry Potter are based on Latin, he warmed up to it (he and The Viking are reading through the series at bedtime right now--hence the fascination with all things HP).

Right now, Man-Cub is in his play clothes, lolling on the couch, watching Tom and Jerry. I don't think he can believe that he's doing that at 1:55 on a school day and he's not sick. I'm not sure what to do with myself either, but I've got a few unmade beds that are calling my name.

So far, so good!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Sharpening pencils, filling bookshelves and planning lessons...

We're almost ready!

First, the new-school-year haircut!  The Rocker/Hippie Hair is no more.  He finally got sick of it and what better time than right before a new school year (and a new school) to make such a change?

To refresh your memory: here's my shaggy-headed babe, just prior to getting shorn...

A blurry side view of The Faux-Hawk.  He wants me to buy him gel now.  But it looks just as cute when it's just lying flat.  And as Daria said, "He just looks like a different brand of trouble now."

I've had two shipments of books and other school supplies arrive within the last two days and it was just like Christmas! And I called Daria and told her and she raced right over so we could put together the 600-piece puzzle that is a map of the world. All the pieces that pertain to land are in the shapes of the country or state (or in some cases where they are particularly small, countries or states) they depict! It's pretty darn cool!

There is our classroom. We have always called this room The Library. It used to be an 8 x 12 second bedroom that first Redheaded Snippet slept in and then both children shared when they were young. When The Viking built a second-story addition seven years ago, part of this room got re-purposed into a linen closet and Man-Cub's bedroom closet. The remaining space was too small and not private enough to be a bedroom but too large to simply be a hallway. It was kind of a large landing that wasn't directly at the top of the stairs.

Can you believe I've had this space for over seven years and have never known quite what to do with it?

This is Man-Cub's desk. It struck me, as I was arranging and rearranging furniture in there that this space, about which I have always been at a loss as to its best use, makes quite a satisfactory home classroom! Why did I never see it before? If it weren't for this space, we'd be very cramped and cluttered in our dining room, something both Man-Cub and I would hate with a passion.

This area, which has photographed very poorly, is where I will likely spend most of my school time. Mom is lending me her dry erase board which will go on the wall to the right and I still have to hang my calendar. I promise you it does not look that cave-like and gloomy in real life.

Man-Cub and I are having a bit of fun deciding exactly how we're going to run our school. The big things have already been decided by me and The Viking, of course, but Man-Cub is enjoying having a say in the littler things. He wants me to make a pot of tea every morning and bring it up to our classroom under the tea cozy so we can sip tea throughout our classes. He wants to wear a uniform like Harry Potter's. He very carefully chose his folders, pens, pencils and other supplies today.

I have no problem with the tea idea, or even the HP uniform.  I actually have an old robe from Redheaded Snippet's Hermione Granger costume that fits him and what do I care if it helps him get into the spirit of the thing?

We'll just have to see how excited he is once we've gotten started.

I must be off!  I have curricula to review and lessons to plan!