Friday, March 16, 2018

Influenza Do's and Don'ts

Dang; do I need two apostrophes for "don't's"? That looks stupid, never mind. Your list then, ladies and gentlemen:
If a loved one has the flu, thou shalt NOT:

1) Look up the latest news story detailing all of the deaths from complications caused by the flu; whether it be A, B, H or a new one just in. It is a source of unnecessary angst. 

2) Or do your very best to avoid: quickly pull up a window shade, too quickly, breaking it and assuring no more shade for the present, while you took the opportunity to air out a child's room while changing yet another set of soaked sheets. Said grumpy teen was in the shower and had not wanted room aired in the first place. Luckily, dad was working from home and we were able to repair it with packing tape real quick before he even made it back out of the shower.

3) Accidentally laugh whilst announcing that you are very sorry that his elbow turned out to be fractured, not just hyper-extended. This, because, even though you are truly, very sorry for him, the memory that it happened while he was arm-wrestling at the cafeteria table with another 8th grader and it is his own dang fault cracks you up every time. And it really shouldn't, not if he has the flu and you are a good mom. 

However, thou shalt:

1) Provide as many cups of tea as you can force a child to down in a day.

2) Give him whatever remedies will help for pain and fever; honey, oscillococcinum, warm rice bags, back-rubbing, tv, comic books...(I draw the line at video games, they just make your head hurt.)

3) Make a quiet space for her to rest. 

4) Ensure that the parent in charge takes a 30-minute break to stretch or take a walk or watch half an episode of a period show with brave warriors and braver princesses in fabulous costumes, or out of them...while on your trampoline, and another 30-minute break to sit quietly and knit or write.
PS A-ha! Apparently, if we want to be consistent, the correct spelling is: Dos and Don'ts. That looks stupid too. I will keep my grammatically dubious, but more aesthetically pleasing title.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mid-March...and Counting

Grumpy me HATES Daylight Savings Time. To which we just switched, here in the U.S., this past weekend. But I caught myself with a smile as the sunshine poured into my windows at around 6pm last night, and I felt a new breath of energy and optimism for the returning spring. I don't like summer either, much, in case you were wondering. Except when I do, like when things are growing and thriving and green. I'd rather have an extra month of snow right now though.

Show Choir season will end tonight with a banquet. (and an "ooomph" of relief) It has been fun this year, and so crazy that I have not one single photo to post. The above link goes to a video of one of their numbers. If you are unfamiliar with the whole show choir phenomenon; these kids can DANCE and SING. My Valentine had a solo for the first time; and she nailed it! It was not the mournful (soulful?), sweet, sad ballad, but the rockin', deep,  wake-up-the-house song; her style. Parents and teachers are almost as involved as the kids, and I spent one memorable weekend trekking from one end of the venue to another, doing my duty, or "parental volunteer commitment," for 25 hours, give or take. Come to think of it, it was not memorable, it is all a blur.

Boy Scouts has managed to take up another good chunk of my time; to which, as with Show Choir, I have gracefully submitted. It was either that or spend my time grumbling about how much of my life it takes up. This beautiful, loyal Troop 7, all showed up to welcome Gael as a new member, for his bridging ceremony. I was touched. Here, his brother putting on his new neckerchief:

 There I am; third, doting mom from the left, he is third Webelo from same:
 A big chunk of Troop 7, and their parents:
From the memorial service for Dave Hill, Scoutmaster. The saddest day in a sad month. Someone great has passed our way, and passed on. There are not many like him, and he meant a great deal to Charles; mentor, buddy, motivator.

I am dawdling over my screen when I really should be folding laundry or exercising. Don't forget your good intentions when it comes to moving more. Go, get up! I'll see you outside.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Minimalist Winter Fitness

The Midwest, like many places, is not the best place to get in a good daily walk or run, or even play in the backyard, in the winter. If there is snow, it is glorious for sledding, skiing and building forts for hours on end. Provided the wind chill is not in the "you will freeze within 5 minutes if you do not find shelter," range.

But a woman's gotta move if she does not want to go crazy around here (things have been on the wilder side of nuts).  My sweet, active, normally very helpful husband was down with a knee injury, one kid is in a wrist brace after multiple appointments with the same orthopedic people husband saw the week before). The immediate need for restructuring of a scout troop after the death of my sons' beloved scoutmaster, a very important sanctuary project getting underway at our church, preparation for one kiddo's audition for a creative arts academy, and show choir season beginning for another. And the flu; did I mention the flu? They are not all on a par, but they do have one thing in common; they are part of life's messiness that sucks time out of a day and leaves you flabby and cranky because you did not take a nanosecond to exercise.

The plan; DO IT FIRST and put the basement/living room/bedroom space to good use. One mini-trampoline, one screen and two DVDs. Cardio: 30-45 minutes on the mini-trampoline while watching the only tv I ever take time to watch, or listening to an audiobook (yesterday I tried to read a novel I'd unwisely gotten caught up slows one down, or makes you nauseous as the words jump around a bit), and a half-hour or so of Essentrics to stretch it out, relieve pain and muscle tension and make my day more comfortable. There are days when I cannot do both, and days when I spend more time on one or both. The only real secret is to do it. Go. Turn off the screen. See you later.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Epiphany...La Fete des Rois

We have come to the last celebration of the Christmas season; Epiphany, or La Fete des Rois; the day the wise men finally arrived after following the star, all the way to the baby Jesus. And we eat cake...must be a remnant of Marie Antoinette in there somewhere. This is my brioche galette des rois: 

But this was nothing, compared with Valentine's master creation of her (she has taken over the tradition, and she is better at it than I ever was); of her buche de Noel;(made from our favorite Julia Child book):

Other Christmas creations, always include gingerbread houses and snowflakes:

Celebrating my two December birthday darlings:

Back to the galette des rois (Epiphany cake)...there are two traditional cakes in France for this feast; I have always made the brioche version; a yeast dough that needs two days to develop: but my ever-patient husband told me last night that he loves the frangipane version; which takes making a mille feuille from scratch, and almond paste. I hate almond paste and not even an excellent French cook would think twice about buying her mille feuille ready-made at the grocery store. Not an option here. I DID once make a mille feuille, from Juila Child's not-so-simplified instructions. Once. But I will give it a try again, soon. He is also waiting for me to finally learn how to make creme brulee...maybe this year! I have made several attempts, even buying my kids' favorite-kitchen-item EVER: a butane torch to burn the caramel. Turns out I am great at the burning part; and I have a bunch of helpers willing to lend a hand, it's the inside that is a little trickier. New opportunities. 

May your 2018 be full of peace, joy, and opportunities seized and lived to the fullest!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Stockings Awaited St.Nicholas...

...and he came, deep in the night, to fill them with care. One was delivered to a college student's apartment, the others here, in the pre-dawn.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanks-Giving Still This Week

I cannot resist holiday is such a happy time, with all of the family here. Waking up to the full feeling of all of my children under the same roof is so warm and joyful. L-R: Duncan, Valentine, Charles (who did smile, only it was when someone else's eyes were closed), me, Caitlin, Gael, Thierry.

Here are a few photos of the day:

 Gael made this sign to congratulate his uncle on obtaining a fantastic grant to redo his very cool pub, The London Underground, a historical building in Iowa.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thankful Bird

Happy Thanksgiving to all, from our family, and from the bird who is not in the oven today.

Friday, November 10, 2017

November:Making Peace with Disruption

The first thing that came to my mind today when I thought of my little blog, was that I keep getting interrupted by unimportant  details that take on a huge significance, sometimes to me, sometimes to others around me.  I allow them to get in the way of the rest of my life. But perhaps those disruptions are there for a purpose. Maybe I should see them as building blocks, places to pause and breathe, instead of simply rushing through them, trying to get on to the next item on my agenda, even if it IS the next project to knit.

I am still trying to figure out how my second car accident in six months could be seem as a guide post from the universe. Honestly. I was driving REALLY slowly both times. 

Another very unpleasant experience took on all of the aspects of an opportunity for learning, once I had stopped being positively furious, a matter of only two weeks, give or take a few days. I have learned how to file a motion, electronically even, which may or may not come in handy in the future. If given the choice, I certainly hope it will not EVER be needed again. I suppose I learned that some things cannot be rushed, even though you were wishing they did not have to happen at all.

One child has a theatre festival out of town this weekend. As I drove home from dropping her off at 6:30am, I took the side streets through the old section of town. There were some stunning old homes in these parts, but most of them are in a sad state today. Families just like mine are raising children here, in the midst of violence and drug deals. Their plumbing probably sucks even more than mine. I bet the roofs all need replacing. I get to wake up every morning in a warm home, with a back yard where the kids can play in safety. My house has a working fireplace and there is a pile of wood to burn. Gratitude goes a long way toward joy and hope returning to one's perspective.

Our garage was the center for a "please join us, all!" Halloween fest again this year, dressing up is so much fun. And a whole lot of creative effort went into the costumes, from the children themselves. Above: Gaël, as a medieval plague doctor, or something. His mask was a work of devotion and love; papier mache, leather piecing, punching and stitching, by himself and our friend, Juniper, below:

Charles made his costume in the garage, his other dwelling place; he went as SportsMaster, I think, a comic book character:

Valentine, aka Little Red with Toto, visits with the Lion. She recycled her now completed red cape I made her.

Friends who came to play, Jon and Molly:
And, the grown-ups, dressed up, at the Witches' Ball: (Charles graciously loaned his costume to his Dad for the evening).

Thierry had to leave the country again, but this time it was a sorrow as well as a privilege. His grandmother passed away, at the age of 96. Goodness how we all loved her. She was incredible, and very much small scale, fiercely devoted to her family and taking care of them. The rest of the world could go hang; except for the church festival and others needing her knitted layettes. If you asked, she would knit. And yet, as her family grew and grew, she touched more and more lives every day. She did small things with great love, as seems to be the secret of all sages everywhere.

When my grandparents passed away during my time in France, we had not a penny to spare for me to return. It broke my heart not to be able to grieve with my family, but I had my husband who loved me and that made all the difference. It also meant that I had complete empathy with his need to be with his family. What we needed to do to make it happen was going to happen. Easy? No, but then, most things that are worth doing are not going to be easy.

I gazed at the sunrise from my car while waiting in the parking lot this morning. I breathed in the beauty and imagined millions of people all breathing in unison, praying for peace, at that moment, and you could tell; those colors were not easy to mix to make this picture just so. And it happens over and over, every single day. Courage and light to you.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Trip Not to Do Over: 2010 and a Volcanic Eruption

"Are we there yet?" has taken on a whole new meaning. It's been 43 hours, but who's counting? We are still not there, not sure how we are going to get there, but we are trailing around 6 suitcases and various other backpacks, purses, cosmetic cases and knitting bags, and a toddler (no sling, nice going mama.) I am writing from a McDonald’s in a dubious quartier in downtown Paris, while the kids go up and down the escalator of the eerily empty mall we are in.

We have been caught up in one of the craziest natural disasters to hit the western world in a long time. A volcano erupted, in Iceland (it's always Iceland with me.) The volcanic ash from the fall-out, as it were, has formed itself into a giant cloud that has shut down all of the airports in Northern Europe.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Can Fame Beget a Reader? Bruce Coville and the Spark

We sat at a table with HIS table within sight. Gaël took small, distracted bites of his sandwich, but forgot to chew, had to be reminded. He would chew, chew, swallow hard and glance over at the clock across the great auditorium on the wall. "The line is getting longer, Mom."

I was attempting to have a friendly chat with a homeschool mom I had just met. She was brand new to homeschooling and looking for a little reassurance. Gaël barely glanced at them, he had his eyes on the man, the clock, and one hand on the new book. He did not fidget, but his whole small self thrummed with suppressed excitement. When was it going to be the official book-signing time?

"He won't get a chance to eat, that's not fair."
"I know, honey, don't worry. It bothers me too, but I guess he'll make it through." I hid a smile. Poor guy.

Bruce Coville, mentioned in an earlier post, was a guest author and speaker at the children's literature festival here. He had just sat down at his designated signing table, with a boxed lunch in front of him. Gaël and I were passing by, but it was a full 45 minutes before book signings were to start. We (I), rather not nonchalantly, wandered past, shook his hand and Gaël presented him with a well-read copy of one of his books that he had signed for Duncan over a decade ago. "We're fans," the obvious stated, we wandered off to find a table for lunch and to let the guy have a break to eat. The thing was; not everyone felt the same way. There was soon a line of about a million people waiting to have their books, programs or various body parts signed. It was like a rock star giving autographs, except they were swooning school children and teachers.

Gaël was in despair of ever getting his book signed. His strong sense of fairness and respect for rules, and his French-imparted respect for meal time, kept him from jumping up and joining the line with the others. We ate, and talked. A representative of our excellent Home School Assistance Program stopped by to offer a free book out of her program-provided bag of books. Naturally, Gaël chose another Bruce Coville offering. Now he had 2 to sign! 

"Here, put the rest of your lunch back in the bag. You can finish later. I'll be right there, go get in line." I tidied up the table, folded up napkins and got it all put away, and went to stand in line with my child.  There were quite a few kids in line at the next line over for another author, but the Coville line was longer. The buzz of 900 children in one auditorium was louder than ever. The quiet of home was calling, more insistent with each passing moment, but I would stick it out. 

When our turn (um, my kid's turn) arrived, he said, "Hi Gaël, would you tell me how to spell your name? And is this book for your brother?" The fateful phrase pronounced, the result was first a happy, "No, they are both for me!" followed by a, "Mama, we should maybe get a book for Charles and Valentine too." That was such a sweet sentiment of generosity that I said, "sure! Let's go get them a book too."

It was the beginning of a very long journey. The book table was surrounded by crazy hordes of small children, but Gaël made his way up to the Coville section and together we found two books we thought his siblings would enjoy. There was a line to pay, a long line, but we made it, only to learn that this particular line was for cash only, no machine for cards. We would have to go across the way to use a card payment. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, ma'am." 

THAT line was like nothing I've ever seen. From across the way, it made me feel a little ill. My palms went sweaty and I wanted to run away. I do not go to amusement parks, but I have heard that the lines can last forever to get on a ride...this was a bit like that. Except with the jostling, buzzing and shrieking of a million children, their teachers, parents and bus drivers all around us. "I'm looking for the missing St.Anthony's students!" The thought did occur to me that it was pretty cool that there were so many children buying books, but it was a passing one. The irritation was winning out over positive thoughts. I had agreed to this, so, I stayed. I could do no less and no more.

After paying, Gael went back to the line and I sat and knit while he waited. Not only did I not want to appear the stalker fan and hovering mother, but I was pretty much done with the day's lines. The bus drivers were becoming more agitated, their time table was getting all out of whack. Poor Bruce finally had to make an announcement that, sadly, he would only have time to write a name and scrawl his signature in each book, instead of the fun dedications he usually does, because the buses needed to leave. This did not seems to bother the kids; they still got to have their book signed and talk to him for a second. I wonder how many books got read that very same day by eager children, who had just had a little dream come true?

I know that in our house, a miracle happened that day. It has happened five times before, when each of my children, and husband, became avid readers. They went from reluctantly cracking a book because they had to, to the kind of person who is never without a book in their hand. It is known as a "de-clic" in French; a moment of profound and immediate change. Thierry went from being an adult who read for work, but for pleasure, would always choose a comic book/graphic novel. He read books, a Stephen King here or there, but it was not  a truly pleasurable leisure activity. It happened for him with a book that the rest of us were reading. He wanted to catch up on a fad, to see if there was anything to it. It was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," believe it or not. We ended up ordering three copies of the six and seventh books so that there would be no bickering when each one arrived on the day of publication. Cate and Duncan each got a copy. As for the third: I got it during the day, he got it at night.

For my last reluctant reader, it was this experience of making literature a grand thing, something special, meeting the author, participating in the excitement of the day; a million children's noise notwithstanding. He took home his books and read them, one after another, with nary a moment for anything else.

Maybe it is overwhelming to a child to have an entire library of books at their disposal every day. Maybe the very specialness of not owning many books and choosing one yourself makes that book that much more appealing.  I thought I was doing us all a favor by having such a great selection of reading material in the house, and in one way this is true, but in another, it has been the opposite. Because it has always been there, there is less desire to read it. Going to the library and getting fresh books to read is more fun for the three younger ones.

The biggest part of the credit, however, goes to the excellent writing of Bruce Coville. I have been neglecting the laundry and sweeping (ironically) since yesterday, while I finish up reading "Diary of a Mad Brownie." It tells the tale of a wee Scottish brownie sent to live with a messy American child because of a 300-year-old curse. It is a celebration of imagination and sibling cooperation, all wrapped up in a tale of clashing cultures and times between today's modern world and the Enchanted Realm. I not only enjoyed every bit of the story, but my heart was warmed every time I thought of how this book brought Gael into the fold of the readers of the world. He has not been seen without a book in his hand since that day.

The same book has been re-published as part of a series. The above is the new title of the book.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. - William Butler Yeats

Are there some things that you really must know in order to be well-educated, well-rounded or at least functional in our world? This "filling of a pail" is wildly popular in the homeschool as well as the schooling community. Just think of the popularity of the core-curriculum ideas and the hottest selling homeschool book series ever; "What your Kindergartner (1st grader, etc.) Needs to Know." I once owned the whole series, but soon sold them all on ebay and made enough money to invest in a year's subscription to Home Education Magazine, my favorite periodical resource. I did keep the first one, only because it contains the story of The Velveteen Rabbit.

Back to my question. Of course there are some things that are good to know, a lot of them really; hitting is not the way to get your doll back, do you need to take a boat to go from China to Russia, how to hang up a picture frame, change your socks every day, but if you think about it, they are clearly too numerous for one teacher to ever get around to teaching to even one pupil, much less thirty. 

Isn't it better to "light the fire", spark the curiosity and love of learning in a child and let it lead him where it will? A lifelong learner is someone who never grows old, who continues to hold the joy of discovery and novelty in their hearts. 

Does this mean we give up teaching anything at all, and just let children "go for it?" Just go about your business, as John Holt once suggested, and let children see your own passion for what you love. Even Steiner said, repeatedly, that it was not what the children are learning, but how it is being presented. He also prescribed subjects to be taught to each developmental stage. These subjects answer to the soul's needs at each stage and prepare the children for a multi-cultural world in which living in peace with their fellow humans is the ultimate goal. The answer lies somewhere between Steiner and Holt, with a good dose of Yeats in between.

Parents: choose your battles, pick your subjects, the ones you believe in, the ones that speak to your child; her developmental readiness, his interests, and delve into them with all you've got. Let them have your time and energy and enthusiasm for this present moment, this present topic. Let them find their own passion with your help. Go ahead, read the fairy tales, the botany lesson, but give it all you've got. This is what is meant by blocks in Waldorf education, this is what is meant by unit study and by child-led learning. Depth, focus, fire.

Unschooling Meets Waldorf: reposted from 2008

*Respect for the child and observation of his needs, sensitivity to developmental stages, trust in her capacity to learn and grow and lots of love have been the basis of our “educational programming,” since our children were born. Homeschooling made sense to me on this deepest level and unschooling followed naturally. *

“I want to know exactly what I need to do every day so that I can finish it and get on with my life.”

My oldest daughter, having reached the ripe old age of ten, finally eclipsed both of her parents in the organization department. Her room was neat, her work was neat, her ideas about what she wanted and did not want to do were clear. Her request could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.

At heart, I am an unschooler. I chose to homeschool because it meant following my instinct. I get to spend the "good" part of the day with my children (as opposed to the grumpy morning and worn-out afternoon hours before dinner). We learn together and explore the world and its wonders.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cleaning Homeschooling Messes: a Complete Guide

Often, as homeschoolers, we are on the lookout for project ideas and things to do to enrich our dear lambs' education and lives. What has been forgotten in all of the homeschool books and forums, is the fall-out from those projects and the very special methods it may take to clean up after them.

Here is a catalog of messes and how to repair your home after them.


This is a special sort of Waldorf mess, but if you have ever tried your hand at candle, soap or cream-making, you have most likely encountered it. To remove beeswax:
1) From the floor: take your patience and a nice, flat, butter knife and scrape. Be kind to your floor;

Monday, October 9, 2017

Joy From India to Iowa

Any time I could have been writing, has been spent instead, listening, to an incredible interview found in this book, between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; The Book of Joy. It has been profoundly peace-giving and inspiring, a life-changer. So much wisdom, love, joy and compassion are exchanged and offered from these two venerable, elderly men who have seen tragedy, loss, and despair, and come through it with a sense of wonder (and humor) still intact. I listened to it on audio, and it was an incredible experience, (I listened to it twice, as did my husband, who recommended it), but I will get a paper copy to return to as well. 

I am glad that this book was in my life, because the last three weeks have been mostly alone; Thierry has been to India and Germany, and back again to Germany. A shot of a festival he attended, from his cell phone camera:

That same night, Gael woke up sometime in the wee hours with a high fever, sore throat, sore ears...everything ached. The previous day had been busy; homecoming for Valentine, on the left:

This meant an afternoon of preparation, which, thankfully, was beautifully accomplished by her older sister and her friend, the super-talented Michaela. My dining room table, with the extra leaf pulled out, was taken over by beauty supplies. I have never seen such a spread.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fossils, Flowers, Bikes and College Students

Beauty in the quarry

Gael and I took a trip to hunt for fossils here; a quarry near home

My early morning biking partner (cute, huh?)

Gael decided to knit a hot-dog costume for bear...(back of vest; relish, front; bun, hat; condiments)

Love the painting of hands in gratitude behind her; Cate and I had a minute to meet for coffee when I was in town for a hearing. A true joy.

More joy; look at that pollinator garden! I threw handfuls of seed and it grew. 

One tiny kitten unites! It's not always easy or tidy to have so many children. I hesitated before posting this photo of every day chaos, but the spontaneous getting together of (practically) all of my munchkins to spend time with this borrowed kitten was so lovely. Here is my other new college student, back from fishing, half naked. Cate dropped trophies and laundry and backpacks everywhere. The caterpillar in the jar is on the table amid colored pencils and books. Gael is still eating his dinner that Duncan brought home from a local take-out place as a treat. Valentine is helping the animals make peace amongst each other.  And the poor pooch? Simply overcome. Like Mama.