Friday, July 28, 2006

To the clerk at Movie Gallery

I greedily tore open the thin red package from Netflix with great anticipation. After my all my squirrels fell asleep tucked away in their little beds, I popped the DVD into the player and nestled under my own blankets. I pressed "play" with a tickle of excitement in my belly. The cafe scene was quaint and dear- stuffy educated old man joins gorgeous and simple young lady for coffee. Good start. A groggy Buck joined me when gentleman Lawrence invited his new glamorous friend to attend the G-8 summit in Iceland as his guest. Alrighty. When simple yet stunning girl began to spout unsolicited and well-rehearsed facts about international poverty to heads of states, I became disillusioned with the charm of the movie. The story line seemed quite plausible up until that moment. My curiousity waned.

While The Girl in the Cafe captured my attention, I wasn't riveted. My apologies to the chatty clerk at Movie Gallery for not falling in love with this movie. I know it totally rocked your world; it just ever so slightly nudged mine.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gardens as autobiography

I've come a long way in three years. My improving gardens are evidence of my progress.

Though I had an expert gardener and professional chef at my very own fingertips in my step father while I was a teenager, I regret I did much more pulling away and distancing myself than reaching toward an incredibly gifted man for all the wisdom I greatly desire as a grown woman. The consequence remains that I must learn these things hard way, since I refused in my careless youth. And just so you know, I've since spoken with my former step dad over my regrets. He responded with grace and kindness.

Onto the garden tales.

The first year, I learned the ropes about the best locations (by water source, in full sun, etc.) and the basics of tilling and planting. Things grew into a lush jungle, making picking impossible, because I ignored spacing advice. I allowed the zuchinni grow into a mighty tasteless giants. I harvested the corn too soon, before kernels formed, and too late when the kernels became sadly shriveled. My tomatoes got some kind of blight before picking and they withered on the vine. However, we got the very best green beans ever that year. I haven't grown good tasting beans since. That year I also planted an herb garden. It flourished, but I honestly didn't know how to cook with those beautiful green delights or how preserve them like the ones in the jars at the grocery store. I learned much about what sprouts and plants look like when they spring up from the earth which has been helpful in identifying volunteers I'd like to keep. The only successful zinnias have been replanted volunteers. The first year's garden was the most labor intensive both mentally and physically.

The second year, I still didn't space plants well again. Buck expanded the size of the garden for me. I grew one ton of tomatoes, but I couldn't eat enough to keep up with them. I gave away many plump red treats to people, and threw a zillion to the grateful chickens. My sweet peppers went crazy, and I found easy ways to freeze them for future use. I put much energy into learning how to sprout things from seeds. I found myself to lack the discipline of everyday misting and later hardening seedlings slowly. I planted a few asparagus plants which I knew wouldn't produce till the following year. The second year I expanded both my garden and growing knowledge a bit.

This year, I spaced much better though the tomatoes are a bit too close together. I was able to harvest the first asparagus. I didn't pull volunteer whatevers, because I didn't have the heart, so the fung sway (how do you spell that?) is way off. For example, an unplanned sweet one hundred entirely over took my leeks. I grew many heads of fresh cabbage which exhibited a nice display of insect bites, and my previous nasty experience with the electric green worms in our perfectly matching green broccoli in our dinner did me in. Completely. The green beans I planted are somewhat hairy and not too tasty for a palate which recalls grandma's freshly snapped green beans cooked to perfection in dripping bacon grease. The plants turned out to be bush beans instead of pole beans. I bought the seeds because I was attracted to the "stringless" variety, but I'm not buying those again. Sugar snap peas were awesome. We had great zuchinni until some nasty triangle sand colored bugs consumed it.

Also, over the course of this year, I've incorporated all my spices (basil, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, parsley, mint) into my cooking now which has been a huge accomplishment to me. I've even bunched tidy groups spices to dry on the hanging pan rack over the island in my kitchen. Martha Stewart might be proud. However, I silently kicked myself in the grocery store today for not planting cilantro and needing to spend an entire dollar on a not-so-delightful looking sagging bunch of it for an upcoming recipe.

Though there is a blight on my tomatoes again, I have plenty to harvest. I promised myself this summer to make a plan other than having the leftover maters become chicken candy. My garden buddy, Hauna, gave me an "easy" recipe for tomato sauce. I hesitate to claim ease of it all due to the fact that one must follow a rather long journey through Oz from picking to freezer:

1. pick 12 pounds of tomatoes
2. wash them
3. weigh tomatoes, pick more if not 12 pounds
4. core and quarter tomatoes
5. wash and cut endless other fresh veggies like carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms
6. Peel and chop 12 cloves of garlic
7. Pick, wash, and prepare 8 combined tablespoons of basil, thyme, oregano, and parsley
8. Roast everything for 45 minutes
9. Cool
10. Slightly food process eveything
11. Pour into freezer bags
12. Click heels three times

Viola! There's no place like homemade spaghetti sauce.

Buck and I have put several bags in the freezer for the winter...if the tastey stuff doesn't get eaten before frost appears.

My kitchen counter is collecting twelve more pounds for the next batch.

Next year, I will:
-expand my spice garden
-plant only tomatoes, corn, mild peppers, good tasting pole green beans, maybe some melons, zuchinni and yellow squash, cucumbers, and of course, flowers- everywhere. I know I will use all the tempting fruit of these.

I have three very successful plots of lavender planted last year but established this year. It is my favorite plant of all due to the magnificent aroma wafting from each stacked purple bloom. I pick stalks for most every flower arrangement I've made this summer to top the tables about my home. I've made a few lavender wands. Have you heard of lavender wands? They are something you may rest on your pillow which smell heavenly and are guaranteed to lead a restless soul to slumber.

Sydney Eddison says, "Gardens are a form of autobiography." In which case, I think mine might read, "A lost opportunity revisited. A few weeds and fencing imperfections, problems with bugs occasionally, though fruit bearing and lovely. Overall a fanciful and splendid place to linger and discover."

Homeschool at it's best

Instead of writing his book report on the Revolutionary War, Peace handed me the following written out on notebook paper this morning:

The Twelve Reasons I Don’t Want to do this Report

1. I don’t like the subject.
2. I think writing a report is dull.
3. I I want to do math instead.
4. I don’t want to write.
5. I think it’s tedious.
6. It has no real purpose I can see.
7. I’d rather pet my cat.
8. I want to go outside.
9. I think we should stop it.
10. It’s not fun.
11. The outdoors call to me.
12. I get writer’s cramp too easily (like now).

But I’ll do it anyway.

Monday, July 24, 2006

True Vyne School of Nature

What sort of cruel person would make her children start school in July? That would be me. With five years of home schooling under my belt, I‘ve realized the need to school earlier every year, because somewhere after mid-March standardized testing, my teaching efforts fizzle. All I want to do in April is be in my garden. Last year, my dear husband gently started school on August 1 for our children while I was in Santa Barbara. This year, I’m happy to announce True Vyne School of Nature is now underway before August.

Last week, Buck and I tore apart the home school room. No more flies, hardened play dough, or turned over potted plant dirt on the window sills, a stuffed vacuum bag of crayons and pet hair later, oodles of part-way consumed workbooks burned (why did I keep those so long?), twaddly books tucked away in a box for the used book store adds a pleasant order to a room meant to store the delicious secrets of learning.

True Vyne School of Nature has not only a fresh room, but a fresh outlook on academic endeavors from our somewhat delight directed approaches before. I chose books and activities this year which will challenge my children to go deeper than we’ve ever gone into academics. And I have only two moments of slight twinges of regret so far. First, my oldest will attend a co-op one day a week and study his materials for his courses the rest of the week. Once I opened and explored my new and excellent materials in the mail for my other boys, I wondered if I’d could have accomplished the same goals as the co-op with the same supplies I’d ordered for home. The second regret came after attending a meeting with a Charlotte Mason expert. She had an uncanny grasp on CM pedagogy like no one I’ve ever spoken with before. Somehow she imparted a holistic way to accomplish the method to include all the variables I could not figure out. My regret comes from giving in a bit to a few more textbooks than I’d like this year.

My dear home schooling friend Claire helped me tremendously in setting the day to day structure of learning. Every child has a basket with necessary materials for a few weeks. Everyone has been assigned a color; Tator bright green for all his bursting energy, Wise One blue for his placid nature, Pooh Bear pink for extremely obvious reasons, Peace purple for his majestic presence. Children’s baskets have their color of ribbon tied about for easy recognition. Books are placed inside the baskets with colored masking tape on the spine in children’s colors. Days of the week also sort pages of assignments with paper clips in books. Monday=green for a fresh start. Tuesday=blue for the long week ahead. Wednesday=purple for things looking a little more rosy and bright. Thursday= yellow because we‘re slowing down. Friday=orange because our family never really stops. The colors and systems make the education of four more manageable for me.

Friday I spent a few hours organizing Tator’s work with the paper clips. Last night I worked for three hours on Wise One’s assignments over the next two weeks. Peace has a fairly light workload until his intense courses start. He’ll be working on typing, read great books, a little math review, and join us for science and history.

What to do with Pooh Bear? If she could have her way, she’d like to be an only child for me to sit and read to and do endless workbook pages ( please, no) beside her. She quickly has become an “assignment” on each boy’s to-do list. Peace is to draw from Draw Write Now with her. Wise One is to read a story book to her. Tator will do math with her. I’m trying my fourth reading curriculum with her called Talking Letters. Last year, she begged me to teach her to read so I dragged out the tried and true methods from the boys (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Sing, Spell, Read, Write, Reading Reflex). She made her way to the blending part in each curriculum and got completely stuck. I can see she just doesn’t have it all put together in her busy little girl brain to bring it all together, so before she could feel terribly frustrated, I just switched her to something new. I’d wait to do reading with her altogether until next year, if she didn’t want to try so badly. We’ll see how that all turns out after this next Talking Letters go round. Talking Letters attracted me at the home school fair this year with it’s simple beauty. The letters tell stories.

One of my students is coloring on my bed, so perhaps I’d better attend to her while it’s quiet as the boys are all still fast asleep.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Solution to the Middle East Crisis

I decided to see if the writing of Oscar Romero might hold a solution to the crisis in the Middle East. His country, El Salvador, was a trainwreck when he walked this earth, and pondering his activist demeanor I believed he might have had something to say about conflict resolution for nations trapped in the cycle of violence. Romero experienced pieces of heaven and hell as he labored to bring men and women of a war torn nation to peace. Lo and behold, he offered these words in a public speech published in The Violence of Love, thoughts from almost thirty years ago which I see as an applicable means of resolution between Israel and Palestine today:

"Whoever fulfills the duty of love fulfills the whole law,"
says St. Paul.
"You shall not steal,
you shall not kill, you shall do no wrong to another-
all this is contained in one phrase:
you shall love your neighbor."

If there were love of neighbor
there would be no terrorism,
no repression,
no selfishness,
none of such cruel inequalities in society,
no abductions,
no crimes.

Love sums up the law.
Not only that, it gives Christian meaning
to all human relations.
Even those who call themselves atheists,
when they are humane,
fulfill the essence of the relationship
that God wants among human beings:

Love gives plenitude to all human duties,
and without love justice is only the sword
With love, justice beomcs a brother's embrace.
Without love, laws are arduous, repressive, cruel,
mere policemen.
But when there is love-
security forces would be superfluous;
there would be no jails or tortures,
no will to beat anyone.
September 10, 1978

So I pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May Israel and Palestine find the law of love. Can you imagine the day when all arms will be laid down and beat into plowshares? No more tears or sorrow? No more death? Come quickly!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Living Book

I positively love a good story. Up until now, you could not have convinced me to read history just for fun. However this book is fun.

The Devil in the White City does not teach history, it brings America to life. Larson brilliantly parallels the lives of two very real men, one building a fascinating white fairytale city and another exploiting residents and visitors who come to explore the wonderland of exhibits created for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

I am not especially interested in architecture, but Larson's writing of Daniel Burnham and associates drew me into the lives of "Whose Who" in terms of history making architects and their work. Also, it tied together contemporaries for me like Wild Bill Cody and Susan B. Anthony. Did you know they met at the fair?

The intrigue carefully woven into the story about the one of America's first serial killers, H. H. Holmes kept me page turning. And Larson did a terrific job focusing on the humanity of each of Holmes victims instead of gore.

This would become required reading if I were teaching a course on the turn of the 20th century.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What have we been up to?

The Smoky Mountain Invitational Swim Meet

All three boys swam their little hearts out. However, Pooh Bear wasn't up for such a gigantic and daunting pool. Honestly, she still can't go 25 meters without stopping yet, but I think she could save her own life if she accidently fell into a pool. I never expected her to even join swim team this year, but those Weeki Wachee mermaids from vacation dropped a sparkly seashell of love for water straight into her admiring heart.

I don't know the results for all of today's races. Tator and a friend, Charlie, could have scored some points for our itty bitty little team.

SMI doesn't invite year-round-swimmers, so ordinary children have a great chance in the races. One family I see there every year has several children who win most events.
I asked, "Why not swim year round then? You have some talented swimmers in your family."
To which the wise woman chuckled in reply, "We have too many other fun things to do than swimming. That year-round stuff just takes over your life."

Peace DQed in the IM for who knows what reason, but the other races he did his best.

It was as hot as blazes both days, and I'm perfectly salty from all the sweatin'.

We brought home two swim friends and I stopped at the store to pick up frozen pizza, chips, icecream for a celebration ( I know that's a little lame, but it's the best I can do while my dh is at work and I'm in charge of 5 boys and one princess). Only once did an employee have to snag my attention and gently point out that one of the boys was climbing up mountain stacks of soft drink cans.

While six children picked out one movie, which can be quite harrowing and take an awful long while, I spoke with the chatty clerk. He was a twentyish guy who looked like he was waiting for his break into professional soccer. It amused me terribly when he decided I must immediately borrow The Woman in the Cafe and then come back and tell me how I liked it. Didn't he notice my brood of children swarming his store? Just as he was about to dash to the shelf to hand me his one beloved copy of the DVD, he looked absolutely crushed as I stopped him, "It's on my Netflix queue, and I don't know when it's due to come to my house." He moaned, "You have to come back and talk to me about it with me though after you've watched it." Maybe I should ask him to join my book club too? Nah, I don't have a book club.

The children picked an Ernest movie. Now that's classy!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Swimming Lesson

Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.

Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering the medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,
Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back

From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace,

--How to survive in any place.

Mary Oliver

My mood is melancholy today. I'm wanting to reach one of my son's heart, and I just can't seem to find it. Oh, God, it's got to be there somewhere under all those hard glares and sighs of disgust. But where? How did I lose the path?

For me, parenting seems to be like the first swim lesson, only it's as succession of new and sometimes frightening first dives and frantic rising all along the way.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How could I? I missed my very FIRST blogiversary. I hate to admit that I'm not great with dates. Ask my dearest friends if I can precisely name their birthdays- it's a shame I cannot sometimes.

As a late celebration, I'm giving myself a bouquet of Lily of the Valley, my favorite flower. It's been a gloriously documented year.

Change of career

Wise One spent the fifth year of his life being a cheetah. I can empathize, because as a child, I was a horse for an entire summer. I can't remember much about Wise One's cheetah time, because it was four years ago, but I vaguely remember him growling, prowling, crouching, stalking, pouncing after invisible foes.

And one day during that year I got a surprise.

I asked him, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

His answer puzzled me, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a raptor."

I think if he really accomplishes that worthy goal, he'll be worth millions. Don't you? I mean, look at how dinosaur movies come and go like Jurassic Park, Little Foot, and Dinosaur. Wise One could become Hollywood's brightest star!

I've been coaching my oldest son, Peace, who wants to sell vegetables by the side of the road as a career to think a little larger. Perhaps he can aspire to become a Brachiousaurous. Now that's big thinking!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Patches, our beloved no longer stray cat with one usable eye and precious few teeth, misses his dear boy, Peace. When Peace pulled out his trunk to pack for scout camp last week, Patches sat on top of the trunk in protest.

Patches and Peace became fast friends the day Mrs. P. from my church auditioned us as a possible adoptive family for the cat. She didn't want him to send him off to a house full of terrorizing boys, so we had to prove ourselves as nice cat folks. Mrs. P. stared slacked jawed when Peace had Patches rolled onto his back completely enjoying a heavenly kitty rub within a minute of their first meeting, "I've never seen Patches allow anyone that close!"

Peace is not just a chicken whisperer, he can charm the socks off most any creature.

Patches tolerates everyone else in the family, but Peace is his true best friend. And the feline is pining for his boy terribly this week. So much so, that Patches has let me pet him for a short time, a privilege he reserves strictly for his boy pal.

I particularly noticed the cat's deep longing today when I found him crawling into the front loading washer to sniff Peace's dirty clothes. I pulled his furry body out to begin the wash cycle (aren't you glad to hear that?), and he peered suspiciously at me with his one good eye as if to say, "What have you done with my buddy, woman?"

The reunion Sunday will be a beautiful thing to behold. Picture in slow motion, a gaunt 12 year old tow headed boy running arms flung wide toward the "yeoww" (would need proper fitting for kitty dentures to say "meow") visually and dentally impaired, belly draggin' old cat. Bring a tear to your sentimental eye?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A mundane summer day post

I began my day when my little girl opened my bedroom door and snuggled up next to me. She patiently waited for my eyes to focus, "Mommy, you can go back to sleep. I'll go eat some breakfast." Oh, yeah. More sleep. It never works like that, but I wish it would.

Pooh Bear ate a frozen waffle and jumped back into bed with me asking to turn pages for me during my morning devotions. I've never mastered listening prayer with a bunny girl in the curve of my arm before, so I moved on to give Pooh Bear my full attention.

I read The Lady and the Lion- a Brother's Grimm Tale retold by Laura Long to my book loving girly. The luxurious illustrations are practically edible. It made me want to break out the paints and canvas one homeschool day soon. When we finished reading, I knew Pooh Bear felt as awed by the art due to her response, "Mommy, I just wish there were more pages of the story."

A few weeks ago, I bought this particular book online, because the public library insisted, by mail even, that we had failed to return the loaned copy before our vacation two months ago. I instructed my husband to carry the newly purchased book into the Farragut Branch with apology. Upon his return to our van, his expression and book still in hand told me things did not go as planned, "They found the book on the shelf, so we get to keep the one you bought." I was irritated then, but not today. And as a bonus, I can hold my head up proudly when I enter the library once again.

Pooh Bear joined Wise One in a game of Monopoly, so I made my morning phonecalls. Then I hit the sidewalk outside our back door with the hose to remove chicken droppings. The funny birds mill around the back door during the summer, because that's where the glorious appearing of chicken scratch comes forth each morning.

Onto the next chore. I've begun milling my wheat outside, because I do not own a costly but tidy Whisper Mill. I own a free flour spewing Grain Master which is much easier to clean up after outside. After the chickens had run for their lives because of the very noisy grinding process, I carried in large jar of fluffy brown wheat which may last two or three days. I'm on a muffin making kick. Ever tried fresh hot blueberrymuffins with lemon curd?

Today I tried zuchinni bread recipe in my bread machine which I've never done before. I'll let you know how it turns out. It's cooking now. It stunk- stuck to the bottom of the pan and recipe just didn't appeal overall.

I pulled some meat from the freezer to thaw for dinner. I have some laundry to do.

I'm waiting, tapping my watch, for the homeschool materials to arrive I ordered a few weeks ago. I'm itching to set up my plans for each child and get started now that I've decided which direction to go. Peace will be attending a once a week co-op and studying for his courses there for the rest of the week. I'm a bit nervous, because he'll be accountable to someone other than me. He's at the point where he needs to develop independent study skills, and I think this is the place for him to learn.

I'm doing something completely new for Wise One and Tator- some courses through Bill Bennett's k-12 online school. Comprehensive but very pricey. I only wish Tennessee would join other states in funding homeschool with this type of excellent curriculum, but instead homeschoolers here are fighting state support in fear of state control of the home; I personally believe fear need not rule decisions which would benefit children.

Pooh Bear begins kindergarten, and I bought yet another reading program to try- Mountainwood Talking Letters. I enjoy the premise in that each letter has a sweet story to help remember the sound. I will be a reading specialist when I successfully get this girl up and reading.

I pulled out my satellite homeschool records to finish for this year and next year. I dread filling in the 180 days and grades. It's a drag.

I hope to make plans to go pick up a free Nubian buck from my dear goat farming buddy in Nashville. We'll never have milk unless we kid again, and kidding is the best of farm life so far. Then what will I do with the stinky billy when he's done his duty? Yours truly does not wish to contend with male animals on the pretend farm. See previous posts on my nemesis rooster, Frankenbelle.

A homeschooling neighbor dropped by a while ago to give my children yet another box of Sonlight books. What a blessing! Now Tator can't say he's read every book in the house for at least a week.

Onto laundry and more phonecalls. And the children could use a little mom time. Hopefully I can still sneak in my pleasure reading a bit later- still a great book.

Monday, July 03, 2006

To run or not to run

All morning I've sponsored an ongoing dialogue in my head, "Should I run my miles today at the gym?" I may have the edge of a headache, or maybe it's just an excuse. I also feel like someone pulled the drain plug on my heel and let all the fantastic energy flow out, leaving me with just barely enough energy to lie on the couch all day and read my fabulous new book, Devil in the White City. This book is hard to put down, and I stayed up too late reading last night. Or maybe I'm all worn out from all the banana pudding, creamed corn, asian salad, snow cones, and burgers from the two consequetive holiday picnics. Yes, I should run.

Last week I mentioned preparing for a sponsored 5K race with my gym buddy, Cecily, because our gym schedules have diverged completely of late. She's a 6:00 am workout, and I've fallen into a much more sleep friendly schedule of arriving after 9:00 am or later in the afternoon. So, I really ought to run considering I've issued a training invitation.

My dear friend Helen is completely unavailable for a fitness pep talk as she's on a family vacation in Europe. She said I could call on her cell, but I bet she's sipping wine by a perfectly blue pool of water by her vine covered Italian villa. I had to work hard to suppress a green monster jealous eye roll when I typed that last sentence. My whining just might not fit her mood today.

I'm going to have to put my running shoes on my lazy feet, set my ipod on shuffle and hope for the best.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Does anyone else out there drive their husband crazy in this ever so annoying way?

Often, I take out my eye contacts rendering myself blind as a proverbial bat. Only I don't have have sonar waves to help me locate my misplaced spectacles. I run my Helen Keller hands smoothly over the bookstacked nightstand, paper covered computer desk, sink, cosmetic littered vanity, the tile side of the garden bathtub, the dusty dresser, and then affectionately yell to my sweetheart,

"Honey, can you help me find my eye glasses?"