Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy New Year! (and where have the posts been?)

There is only so much free time for a mother of five. Even eschewing proper amounts of sleep, there are not enough hours in the day. So, a sort of choice, not really a conscious one, more of an "oops, another day without a blog post," consequence came about, because of an ambitious knitting project, the above stockings plus two. As December 6th (St.Nicholas) approached, the tension built and knitting took precedence over reading and writing. I listened to some fabulous audio books during that time. I took a business trip too, for 3 days, 5 days before Christmas. I also binge-watched (new term in the post-Netflix world) a whole silly series; "Reign," while working on the one knitted Christmas gift that has not yet been completed. In fact, the last show of the series ended last night, but the gift is not quite finished. 

Two weeks later, we were on our way to Colorado for Christmas, our first and only (I'm warning you, kids) one away from both families. It was breathtakingly beautiful, peaceful and fun. Hiking in the mountains, playing Old Maid and Speed, reading, drawing, knitting and eating were our main activities. There was no tv, no movies, just us. We brought the stockings, two small ornaments and a little Christmas tree. It snowed, too; 8 inches overnight from the 24th to the 25th. 

That was most considerate of the mountain weather, as Iowa was entirely without snow for the whole month of December. Still, it was odd; the grandparents and families were in France and Iowa. Though we had our immediate family around us, we function with extended family as the norm, and we missed them greatly.

View from the bedroom window.

Back in (snowless) Iowa, before leaving, the chopper of trees made sure we had a pretty tree for home.

I was still embroidering the names on the stockings (by now known as the "damn stockings") as Christmas Eve approached.

Making Christmas cookies before leaving:

Christmas Morning: (Family tradition; Daddy makes a fire and lights candles before children come down. In theory, very sweet. In practice, it means Mama is at the top of the stairs holding back the masses and holding hearings as to who gets to rush down the stairs first this year. Luckily, Dad also makes coffee while downstairs.)

Leaving Estes last picture as we wish we could remain another day, another week...

Wishing you a new year 2015 full of all life's blessings!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

                                         Martinmas Lantern-Making:

                                        Valentine turned 13, Happy Birthday, Dearest!
                   Not quite French patisserie, but made with love:

Friday, November 7, 2014

From Homeschool to College, Part 2

So, what are college admissions officers searching for in a candidate? What would they see as desirable in a non-traditional applicant's portfolio?

This was my research assignment as I battled with words, memory and with my own inclination to get a bit warm and fuzzy and nostalgic, looking back over all the wonderful years of living with my daughter and watching her grow and become herself. How do you capture that? Is that even what is needed in the situation?

With her brother, during a moment of camaraderie; 

Here are the results, straight from the horse's mouth (though what truck a horse would have with college is beyond me):

1) Academic: an applicant will need to somehow convey the fact that they are college-ready. This could be through teacher narratives about what was studied, reading lists (saved!), information on curriculum used (hmmm), and copies of papers written or projects completed.

From Princeton's website:

"We understand that for many home schooled students there is not as clear a distinction between academic and non-academic activities as there might be for students in a traditional high school.

The Day the Books Fit

The Day the Books Fit is a new holiday in our family. I know so, because I declared it on October 22, as I slid the last remaining volume onto a shelf, with room to spare and TWO free shelves for library books. The dog promptly took a nap in the sun spot on the bottom of these. This is a really big, wondrous deal. No more searching high and low; either for a book or for a place to put it away. No more piles of books in too many corners and on flat surfaces. And the shear accomplishment of what turned out to be a serious project. Not only are there now enough bookshelves, but there is also an extra bedroom in a third of what used to be our playroom/classroom.

Here is what it looked like during the divide and paint phase:

And here is the bookshelf: (dang it, someone left Balzac and Murderous Maths where they should not be... just when you think you've got it all figured out!) And, if you see one that belongs to you on the far left shelf, second one from the top, that's because the gnome is guarding the shelf of "books that belong to other people." Please stop in for a cup of tea and recover your missing volume.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beauty, and Learning to Appreciate It

In the interest of training our eyes, minds and hearts to recognize what is beautiful; a painting, great music, a well-crafted speech, architecture, as well as a desire to take advantage of events in our community, I have made a resolution to say "yes" more often to invitations and opportunities. Within reason. There are, after all, meals to be cooked and little people to tend to. What I have mostly stopped doing, is coercing those who are not interested into coming along. It makes for a more peaceable, enjoyable experience, and they are old enough to pursue their own interests without me.

Prompted by a friend who was away this past year and had made the same resolution, I was inspired to catalog the wealth of the past month in terms of what we have seen and learned:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mama Fitness: Don't Stop: Pain or No Pain!

Advice from the doctors when wondering what to do about pain, be it joint, muscle, tendon: keep exercising! Really. See here: When it's OK to Run Hurt.

I had heard this from my GP and also from a rheumatologist, who says even if I have arthritis in my foot, knees and elbow, the best counsel she can give me is to keep going with my weight lifting, walking and biking, "at least 60 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week." Yes, ma'am.

As my elbow bit the dust badly two weeks ago, I had my doubts. I added painting the walls to my list of activities, when it already hurt to knit, elbow was so stiff and sore it kept me awake at night and kept me from straightening my arm or even picking up the car keys without pain. I asked the teacher after class yesterday about modifications in Body Pump and CX Works (my latest add-on to classes). She told me to lighten up, to use free-weights instead of the bar or tube when it helped, drop all weight if need be and just do the movements, but she did not say to stay home and sleep an extra hour.

I think I was sort of hoping she would say to go home and sleep an extra hour. But not deep down.

I went back this morning, followed all of her advice, and I felt BETTER after my morning workout.

As for my questions about why we weigh more in America, I found a super blog post here; DoctorMama, confirming much of what I've suspected and going into more depth on the topic.

Don't let pain or lack of results that the scale can measure keep you from getting out and staying active. You will feel better with each extra step you take, each 2lb.weight you pick up. I promise. And if you don't feel better right away, be patient with yourself. You will. Go slowly, and if that fails, go more slowly, but don't stop, don't ever give up.

Mama Fitness...or This Stinks. Rants and Raves.

Attitude is everything, dah-ling. Yes, quite, and this morning, I am happy for the cool weather, a healthy family and a warm home. So much for the grateful list, I could go on, life is wonderful.

My gut and butt are another matter. This is not the happy weight-loss success story you were hoping to hear. Go to one of those skinny magazines for that. Not that I despise my looks. I love the second takes I get from people when I tell them I have five children. I don't look so bad for a mother of many, and two of them teenagers. I am more fit than I was a year ago, without a doubt. However, bottom line: I have NOT been successful at losing weight and keeping it off. There are fat molecules in the air. My thyroid is off-whack, and maybe I just like sugar more than I should. Burp.

This is a post on the topic of wight in America, by a brilliant writer friend, who, in case you get bored with my posts, has a magical way with words that enthralls and makes you want to read everything she's ever written:
How to Live in LA

Post-European Vacation Update:

I did not gain weight in France. Yee-haw. Not an accomplishment and not a disaster.

Total weight loss in the past year, that stayed off: 9lbs.  I had done away with 6.5 more...but read on.

In France, Italy and Germany, I ate tons of duck, french fries, mushrooms and cheese,  drank too much wine on a daily basis, never said no to chocolate or ice cream, and did not see the inside of a gym even once. I did walk a lot. Still...

I have been back home for a month. I've been to my class at the Y faithfully 3-5 times a week, biked or walked on the days in between and have gained 4 lbs. I have not had one single bite of foie gras nor the merest sip of champagne. I'm not devastated, just mad.

What is making the difference? I wonder if it is never needing to walk anywhere, ever here? Do those daily jaunts across the street to pick up bread and maybe 3 times a week downtown; a half-hour walk and back matter so much? Is it drinking coffee black in Europe as opposed to sugar and almond-milk enriched here? Is it simply not spending as much time outside, in fresh air, which was the norm for 2 months? (Which meant you walked more, which in turn burns more calories?)

My thyroid is practically non-functioning, according to the latest tests. But then, I've noticed all of those symptoms for years, now the blood-work simply matches the reality. So, can't really blame that anymore than I could before.

It's not the fat molecules in the air. My husband, who did not leave his office during the day to walk downtown or even get bread, came home with an extra 12 lbs. He has lost 5 already. Skunk.

Tips and comments welcome...but maybe not if you are a guy, who has never had to lose more than a pound or two in your life. We love you, but you probably don't get us. 

P.S. Last statement does not apply if your resumé includes training Cher, Shailene Woodley or Ann Hathaway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

France and Interior Design

Over the years in France, I have admired many different ways of making a home beautiful, elegant, inviting and warm. I was also born to parents with a fabulous sense of style and the work ethic to make it happen. The French are so good at this art! From France, I have posted photos of places that were prepared for us with love by relatives; 

A blog by a lovely, incredibly creative, French friend:

Among the many castles, modern homes and urban chic that I have visited and soaked up, there is one home that speaks to me more than the others. The reason might just be this; my friend, Elise, lives in a fairy-tale world she has created and brought into reality, just like me, except she is also good at decorating. 

The world is one where it is not insanity to be married with seven children, nor to homeschool them, nor to educate them in music, art, literature and, in her words; "l'apprentissage du beau," or "training in the recognition of beauty." We both know perfectly well that the world thinks we're nuts, and in more lucid moments, we are aware that there is some truth to that, but generally, we go along our merry way and heed not the less enlightened.

Here are shots of their country home, which, according to them, is a work in progress, and this was photographed with 12 children present and active throughout the house:

Entry hall:
Library/game room/extra guest bedroom:

    How's this for an elegant growth-chart? A row for each summer:

                           Two of many sweet little corners:

Detail of new flooring: designed to look as old as the house:

It's all in the attention to detail...and an eye for "le beau."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seasons: It's Autumn Because...I Said So

I woke this morning to a smell that made me smile and dig down under the down comforter for another minute...the heat came on in the night. The smell? It is the first time warm air pushes through the vents; hot dust. With the thermostat set to "automatic", this means it had to get pretty dang chilly for the house to cool down enough to under 63. Yippee. It's fall.

Through the years, we have had many discussions about when you can say it is the next season. We live in a part of the world where there are four definite seasons, and they never, according to good sense and observation, (or me), begin on the calendar date set for them. 

Some of the children (and husband) like to believe in the calendar date in, even if it is 102 degrees in the shade on June 2nd, it is NOT summer. Since daily walks have always been a part of our rhythm, I taught them to look, to listen, to feel the temperature on their skin. Seeing the first returning robin in February was a sign that spring was coming. Not needing a winter coat even in the house is spring in Iowa. (We call them sleepers or big, fat bathrobes inside, same thing.) 

Jumping over the Beltane fires, celebrating our Gaelic ancestry and the return of life, is spring:

Being able to plant outside without fear of frost means it's getting very close to summer. June 21st means summer solstice, the position of the sun and the length of the days. Summer is hot, too hot for jeans and long-sleeves. If it's hot, it's summer. If you can go to the beach and still be hot, it's summer:

And as for autumn, the one that sneaks up on you in some ways, but in others is not so subtle...autumn starts with more leaves than just the August ones falling, a nip in the wind, candles at dinner, and then, bahm! you are freezing your tushy off when you walk outside in the morning and back to t-shirts in the afternoon. The wicked, bad ragweed along the bike path has wilted over-night. Then one day, long sleeves in the afternoon too, the kids put on fleeces of their own accord, and the heat comes on. That's early fall, when the sun can shine brilliantly, but a hat feels nice:

Late fall, we all know; pumpkins and hay rides and winter coats. It's early fall that is the elusive (it can and will warm up, then cool back down again) and lovely seasonal miracle. Autumn is the season that makes me glad to live in the Midwest again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eagle Point Park: A History Lesson, A Family Picnic and A Fascinating Legend; thank you, Ben, my littlest brother, for the photo!

Eagle Point Park; the fish pond. This and the park's buildings were built during the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated the WPA or Works Progress Administration, which funded projects around the United States to help create jobs for unemployed workers. The site had been chosen earlier and named for the legend of Eagle Point. Here it is; a noble story: 
According to the Encyclopedia of Dubuque, the naming of the hill has its roots in 1828-29, when an eagle's nest was found in a tree near Dryden, N.Y. The tree was cut down and the eaglets captured.
A local merchant raised one of the eaglets and gave it to a silversmith. The silversmith banded the eagle with an inscription and set it free. A Native American, hunting along a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, shot the eagle, but he was startled by the silver band, having never seen one before. As news of the eagle spread, the bluff upon which it was shot became known as Eagle Point.
The name of the park, sadly, coincided with the demise of the eagle in Iowa. A nesting pair reported in Jasper County in 1905 would be the last active nest in our state until 1977, when one was spotted in Allamakee County. Since then, eagles have thrived. Once again, eagles are a common sight in and around Eagle Point.
The architect chosen for the project was a visionary; Alfred Caldwell, who created prairie-style structures, in harmony with the land and the natural terrain. The limestone used is native to the area; all of the cliffs and bluffs surrounding the Mississippi here are of limestone. 

As a child, I suppose, picnicking at Eagle Point ruined my appreciation for any other park. The rest of them were just so...tiny and blah. I did love Swiss Valley, because we could go creek stomping...when my mother wasn't looking! 

Thank you, again, my fabulous family, for coming together and getting the next generation out to the park, at least once a year!