Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Morning

The magic of Christmas morning...we are grateful. Where are the older two? Cate, in bed with bronchitis and Duncan can be seen off to the side doing what teens do best; texting. They would hate for me to put up pics in pyjamas anyway, sadly, those days are past. Hope yours was a happy day.

Cooking Children?

I may have a recipe for you, let me look in the would seem that my used microwave was previously owned by an ogre. Fumbling in the dark to warm up a rice bag in the middle of the night (we keep the microwave in the garage), I blindly hit the buttons that should have run the Quick Minute setting, only to see this on the display, in an eerie, pre-dawn manifestation in the total darkness, accompanied by a series of beeps and the impossibility of opening up the door or changing the setting. I guess you would need that particular security feature to keep the little buggers in long enough to quit wiggling. The world and its wonders...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Letter 2013

Really, that's what it comes down to, my yearly December review, doesn't it? When the warm feelings of the season take over, I want to share the joy and well-wishes with friends, family and readers. So, a happy season of whatever you might be celebrating; from Christmas to  Hanukkah (even though I am late with my wishes) to Yule and the rest, humbug or not; may you enjoy whatever beauty you find in life around you.

The children keep growing; they tend to do that. Gael, the baby, 6, is sleepily nestled across my lap as I write under a big, red fleece blanket. He is a bundle of sunshine with more and more contrariness thrown in, that's OK, he is supposed to do that. Charles is in bed, as are his two sisters.

Duncan, 15, has already left for high school, where he seems to have a ball most days, and plays lead guitar for the varsity show choir. He also played football this year, and this mother has mixed feelings on that, but he had a goal, he worked hard and met it. Who knew with raw determination and work he could go from really slim to a broad-shouldered, muscular young man in just a year? When I worry about football, I just remind myself that I was also skeptical about show choir last year, and ended up loving the fabulous production the kids put on...and seeing my kid in the back with his black shirt, white tie and guitar. He is such a good person too; standing up to bullies and ready to soothe a tired toddler or calm down a struggling child.
Cate turned 17 last Friday. She published her first book this year, an incredible work of fiction; Alyssandra, Defenders of the Universe. She took the ACT on Saturday and narrated the Christmas pageant in church on Sunday. She is in love with tall ships, sailing and seeing the world. She spent a week navigating the Great Lakes last summer on the tall ship, Unicorn. Imagine a 2-masted giant from another era, or go here to see photos: Unicorn. Poor homeschooled child with nothing to do and no life. Since she began driving on her own, I have understood the need some families find to own three cars; up until the month of May, we were a one-car family! Her favorite winter activity, besides kung fu and indoor archery, is curling up with a book.

Then there is Valentine; my littlest girl, who turned 12 in November! She is incredible; full of vitality and kind-hearted. When she is not arguing with her younger brothers, she is helping them with their school work or staging plays with them in the basement. She is in 6th grade, and in our world that means the Romans, the Medieval ages, geometry, physics and business math. In reality, that is what she centers part of her day around, the rest is spent reading, playing with friends, dancing and at kung-fu. She is officially the best baker in the house; her cookies are fabulous, especially the ones with white chocolate and dark chocolate chips, or maybe it's the ginger snaps...

Charles is 9. He is my most kinetic learner. Boredom is just another word for "I gotta get up and play Legos." He has a gang of neighborhood kids that regularly show up to play outside. He is thoughtful, knits like nobody's business and draws fabulous pictures. Kung-fu has been something he loves and at which he excels, but he is ready to stop for now. Since this has been a pattern for my children around 9, I no longer why, it is a age of change. Dance, Girl Scouts, ice hockey, violin; these have all had their eras in our house. 

Thierry is well. He keeps himself in great shape biking 9 miles to work, rain or shine. His reading inspires me. He reads such a wide variety of books and articles that he always has something interesting to share with us. He is my exercise partner 3 times a week at the Y. It is so good to have someone else get out of bed at 4:45 too for that early morning class, especially on these dark and cold winter mornings.

As for working out; an exercise class (non-yoga) marks a new era in my life. Or at least it did, until a stress fracture in my foot stopped me in my tracks. It's healing nicely, and the frost bite on one toe is better too (honestly, the heavens have a great sense of humor).

I have only ever broken one bone in my life; a pinky toe, so this experience of sitting more is new. We have played so many games this past month; card games and Rummikub are favorites. I can't knit while playing "speed", but then again, it is so fast, you don't want to do anything else. Gael loves chess, and playing with him is quite the experience. Scrabble is my favorite; words rather than numbers, and hours of time between plays to knit.

My job has yielded good friendships and opportunities to be of help this year. Reading King Peggy and attending lectures on West Africa have given me more insight into the people I work with as a French interpreter. I wish I could spend some time in Africa; it is a world apart. Maybe someday. 

In the meantime; best wishes of joy, love and peace for the rest of these days of Christmas and for the new year!!! Think kind thoughts and be well,


PS. If you are feeling the spirit of the season and want to help one young lady succeed in her education, the "Donate to Angelique in America" button is an active one to the right. Angelique, whose story you can read at this link, arrived in the area last week from Africa; what a lovely girl! When she has enough for the first semester of college in the US, the button will be deactivated. Thank you!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lousy Photography, Simple Joys

Some days just start out beautifully, and sometimes, if you look, there is always something to find beauty in. Today: a perfect travel mug for my chai tea; leak-proof with a pleasant sippy-sip, and purple to boot, against a background of snow! The Christmas tree sparkling and smelling like pine, and a sweet nature table with a pretty stone spiral, at the center of which stands the candle that, though forgotten last night, did not catch anything else on fire.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Knitting: Shawl Detail

This is a shawl made for a friend with love. I knit and unknit (frogged), ordered more yarn; wrong dye lot, but the last skein available in the USA. I learned to crochet to make a pretty edge, spent 2 hours in a yarn shop looking for just the right color for the edge, as I'd run out of the red I was using half-way through. It lasted for 2 years, it had to be just right! It was a wonderful experience, for this wonderful knitting mentor and friend. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Help for Extreme Eczema

I have been suffering from ever-worsening eczema for 11 years. Finally, after consulting the University of Iowa's top specialists and hearing that they cannot test for allergies on an adult beyond the normal panels (already done) and the patch panels for topical sensitivities (that done too), and that sometimes skin just reacts to something undetectable, I followed the last recommendation. This one came after cortisone creams, allergy pills, glove-wearing and prednisone...oh, and bleach baths. Being super-sensitive to bleach, I did not think this was the best idea ever, but they were the specialists, right? Ouch.

I have also been on every supplement ever tried, some helped for awhile, had acupuncture, chiropractic care and many cleanses, some of those helped too.  Here it is, the last-ditch, MIRACULOUS treatment (it is also prohibitively expensive without health insurance, I am sorry to say.)

Light therapy; wherein you stick your oil-coated hands into a little box, sporting sunglasses and a little patience, and wait for 20 seconds while you toast. You can read about it here: I am up to a 3-minute slot, and if you wish, you may click on a link that will take you to my before pictures. They are rather graphic and I do not want to be reminded of how bad it was just a few months ago, so I am not including them here, see below. I will put in an "after" photo.  If you live around here, Dr.Kumar at: Eastern Iowa Dermatology has the machines and knows how to use them. He has carefully calibrated the therapy from very mild to increasing doses and the results have been life-changing. Thanks go out to him and his lovely staff, especially Heather and Wendy who take care of me 3 days a week.

Here is the inoffensive, little machine in Dr.Kumar's office:

And, here is my "after" photo:
Before photos can be viewed here:

Bennedicto; "Café" An Ant's Eye View of the Coffee Harvest


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Poodles, by Poodles in Provence

In the World of Art/ and Art in my World

Put a thought out there and the universe will answer...and it did! I've been longing for ways to experience more art in my life. I wanted to spend time with paintings, pottery, tapestry and the people who created them. The answer came in real life time this weekend; painting it would be; twice!

Saturday, I spent a lovely evening with a talented painter of two of my great loves; France and poodles. This artist,  Maureen Broussalian, does whimsical portraits of your dog in Provence and Paris. Her aim: "send your dog on vacation." She has had recent requests to send chickens and husbands to France as well. Delightful work, fun colors and images that remind me of Toulouse Lautrec. The above link will take you to her Facebook page and a photo gallery of her work and her beautiful poodle, Benji.

Speaking of art with Maureen is to speak of vision as well as of personal growth, and a thirst to learn. It is also about making space in one's life for what you as a person, a little independent of your children and husband, love to do. I get that, as writing and knitting fill that creative space for me. She makes the world more beautiful through the art she makes and the art she chooses to collect. Her family is really pretty too.

I fell asleep Saturday night with thoughts of adding beauty to our living space. A new sofa will be making its debut soon; the first one we have ever actually purchased, quite the event. It was the occasion to give some thought to my environment beyond picking up and cleaning. I did not want a simple vase or poster from the hobby shop down the road, no, I wanted  an object or work by an artist. It might take months, and I always do end up missing art shows for various tend to run amok in the middle of these events, when they do not have something they need to be driven to. I was prepared to wait. However, Sunday morning I walked into our church social hall and saw color everywhere. I recognized the work immediately; it was Bennedicto, an artist from Guatemala with ties to our church.  We were introduced and then he gave me the most fascinating intro to his work over the following hour, in Spanish.

This one is the first that caught my eye. A fish-eye's view of the crabbers hauling in their catch on ropes. If you go to Bennedicto's  blog you can find at least four more sorts of painting, from naive to bird's eye to cubist.  I brought home a wonder of a painting; an ant's view of the coffee harvesting...I am thrilled. He talked and explained and wove stories of his home land and people; those who turned into birds and watch over the town yet today, brothers who turned to fish to save the world. His mother taught him, as a child,  to cultivate the flowers for the dyes she used for weaving. Colors are his world. He is a Mayan artist. His eyes sparkled as he showed me his vision for the future; creating the first cultural periodism in art, a concept that does not yet exist. He wants to initiate conversations about art and cultures from around the globe. He is full of life and the joy that comes from loving what he does. 


Tomorrow I will post a photo of Maureen's work and also of Bennedicto's painting hanging in my house today. (Maybe I'll even shoot the new couch too.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Beyond Doubts: Homeschooling After 10 Years

So, after my last philosophical post about not offering opinions or predictions about your family's homeschooling aside, there are a few things I can say about allowing children to follow their own paths learning at home. It has been over ten years since we first put a big toe into the pond of home education, jumping right out of school and into life. Was it scary? Yes! Did I make many mistakes? Probably as many as can be made, and then some. After all, I do have five kids, all those chances to goof up. 

Did my children turn out to be, as in the words of a slightly inebriated young man at a brewery the other day, "anti-social, nerdy loosers?" Ha! Not likely. Or as he also asked me a few times, "but, um, are they cool"? Yes, they are cool, and warm and lovely people. This, we owe to the community of people who have helped me raise them, from neighbors, friends and relatives (wonderful grandparents, aunties and uncles on both sides of the ocean), to the great librarians, teachers of dance, archery, art and kung-fu and our incredible church family who see and welcome them each week.

Questions like the above might have given me pause ten years ago. After all, the children were very young and I had no idea if education out of school would be the right choice for us. Would I have the patience and fortitude? Would they learn what they needed to learn? Would they be...socialized?

The fact of the matter is, the questions will continue to be asked, sometimes by professionals who may be in a position to make you feel that you are making the wrong choice concerning your child. You will ask yourself more questions than anyone else ever will as well. Most of the time now, the questions take a back seat to the doing and learning and cleaning and cooking. But the questioning is good, it keeps you on your toes and allows your mind to explore the possibility of change, of improvement. Just don't lose sight of reality for the cloud of doubt.

What is the reality? It is this; no matter where you choose to send or keep a child for schooling, there will be good points and bad. There will be conflict and harmony, moments of genius, enlightenment and creativity. For some children, school is a great place to be; they thrive on lots of activity and the interaction or the discipline of a classroom setting. For others, home is the place where they feel safe being themselves or have the time to delve into their passion for music, art, math or reading. When someone outside of the world of homeschooling assumes that your child would be better off in school, you may take their point of view into consideration, but don't forget to weigh it against the truth of all the factors. If conflict at home is cause for angst, should they not learn to deal with stress first at home, where they are loved, before heading out the door to try it out at school? If needing more space seems to be the problem, is a classroom with 30 other children in it the place to find that space? How about a child not feeling motivated to get up in the morning for homeschooling? After the initial honeymoon of school has worn off, I could tell you, from experience, that the lack of motivation will be even harder to deal with. Now, you will need either to answer to school officials for a perpetually tardy student or engage in a daily battle that starts off everyone's day in an ugly way. And the day will most likely be interrupted another time or two for a forgotten item to be brought to school or a ride home from a kido who missed the bus...again.

I am at ease today in the choice we made to homeschool all those years ago. There is nothing I would trade for this accumulation of moments spent together, neither all the free time nor all the gold in the world. I am also ready to let go and send an older one to school when the moment comes, after all, our home is based on freedom to learn as best suits each of us. Find your family's happy place and live there...until it comes time to move on. Then rearrange the furniture and settle back into harmony. Peace.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Martinmas Celebration

It was a perfect evening for our annual Martinmas pilgrimage around the dark neighborhood. It was cool, but not cold and it was neither windy nor raining, for the first time in our history of celebrating the feast day of St.Martin. Dinner was improve upon pasta and veggies (see below).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Angelique in America (DONATE to Make it Happen)

There are a few stories that grip you and haunt your days and dreams alike. The story of the family of Angelique is not mine to tell, but this is what I can share with you. When she was quite young, she and her three siblings were caught up in one of the worst wars of our time; the one between the two tribes of a country known as Rwanda, and its neighbors; the Congo and Burundi. This war destroyed life as they knew it for this corner of Africa. The waves of rebel bands would attack and run out entire villages, leaving in their wake the dead, the violated, and the mutilated children (for future reference), as the rest of the population fled into the surrounding jungle. They were left to fend for themselves as best they could, thousands upon thousands of people, for months at a time.

Her father, separated from the rest of his family in the war, made his way to the United States a few years ago, and he is trying his hardest to help her get here to study. The Donate button I just added is to raise money for her plane ticket. She has obtained the necessary student visa, but that procedure completely drained any resources her family had to offer. I have pledged to find the money for her ticket and her first semester of college here. I need your help. Absolutely every cent contributed will be used for those two objectives.

How do I know this for sure? I have known the family member who lives in my community for years. We have worked closely together on many projects and become good friends. Angelique will be like part of the family when she finally gets here. This is not a random volunteer thing-y I decided to take on in my spare time. This is a plea to help change the world, one child, on 19-year-old hopeful student at a time. 

Thank you, from the very bottom of my heart.

Angela...on behalf of Angelique

Thursday, October 31, 2013


This post disappeared twice as I was writing it on my phone the other day. Maybe nothing is what I have earned the right to say about homeschooling. Maybe the message is that each family needs to discover for themselves what it means and how it can work for them. It will be an adventure...your very own. I love ours! What has yours been like?


Our city, one of four in the conglomeration, holds trick-or-treat on October 30th. Last night was the night. Despite a frenetic, joyous sun dance the kids performed on the trampoline in the morning, it was pouring down rain by the time 5:00 rolled around. I thought about trading all of our candy for one other family's and calling it a night. Wishful thinking.

I returned home from a doctor apt. shortly after 5, to find  hoards of short, costumed people in my driveway, skipping up and down to my door while their patient, weary parents trudge along holding umbrellas. I parked on the street and dashed through little goblins and princesses to the warmth of a fire in the hearth and very little desire to leave again. Cate, despite having a fever, sore throat and stuffy nose, was happily handing out candy. We all had a bowl of Thierry's latest chili; with chicken, not beef, followed by way too much candy. The make-up was applied, the costumes were on and they were off (yuck!).

By the end of the night, wet kids were again warm, dry kids, the dog was zonked out (most likely by a dose of illicit chocolate), the fathers who had valiantly taken my place trick-or-treating were playing guitar by the fire and Duncan, who kindly took the little boys back out for a second round, was doing his homework in the basement. Officially, trick-or-treating was finished. Secretly, we were all still sneaking bites of chocolate when no one was looking. It was a good night.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Michaelmas Candle

Michaelmas 2013

I can't help it; this is my favorite time of the year. In deference to those who are mourning summer and dreading the cold to come, I have publicly, at least, tempered my enthusiasm...but it is fall and it celebrating Michaelmas was past due! We held the event at our house and invited our beloved homeschool group. These are the families without which I would be lost; the friends, the colleagues, the wonderful children I love to watch as they grow into great human beings.

The autumn is a transitional time of a special sort. The changes are in the air, the earth, in animals and plants and humans. The humans tend to be too busy to remember to stop and take notice, which is why celebrating Michaelmas is such a lovely thing to do.

This year we made candles of the poured type: into votive glasses or my heart-shaped muffin mold. After and during that we ate and drank, and the day ended with a recital (and acting out of) the Michaelmas story in a lyrical play.

It was simple, but so much fun. It was also the last day of warm weather we had this year. Temps dropped down to the 40s and 50s after that, and it even snowed last week!

Celebrate doesn't need to be perfect or a huge party, it is good to gather together sometimes. Coming up: Martinmas, just after Halloween. November 11th.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mama Fitness October Update

5:45 Bodypump class today; a new knot for my tennies, because the top of my foot is killing me; the "Nelson knot" from here: Full cotton gloves under my lifting gloves because the skin on my hands is bad. And happy as a furry dog, who has just been shaved on a hot summer day; I am here!!! Moving, following directions some parts of me would rather not follow; "one more time," is a least favorite, but much better than; "three more." 

Yesterday, I had a longish walk with the younger boys; through the neighborhood, along the bike path and into the woods. Everyone was happy, especially the puppy. 

Today; it's park day, so I will walk around the park a bit with the kids, before settling down to my knitting and chill time, then get in a short ab work-out between French lessons and dinner. 

Anyone else have that annoying pain on top of their foot, made much worse by tying a tennis shoe over it? Anyone with flat feet have a  preference for minimalist running shoes vs. full orthotics? Which kind? Shoes you like? 

Now, for my job; don't let today go by without moving. You will be happier, more energetic, and closer to an ideal you!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Living the Art of Eating Well

Dinner last night was brought to us by; the sun, soil and rain that nourished the fresh vegetables we ate, the pig whose life was given up for our table, coal from the earth, and the wisdom of millennia from one part of India, where tumeric, mint, garlic, cilantro, onions and ginger combine for a fabulous, unique flavor. The recipe I used was from a book loaned to me by a good friend, who also shares spices, advice and help as needed, as I take baby steps into the immense world of Indian cuisine. The menu? Pork chops on the grill, paneer tandoori, nan and a green salad.

Cooking at this time of year is such a pleasure. We are still enjoying the wealth of vegetables and herbs that come straight from the back yard to the kitchen.  I needed green peppers for dinner, I grabbed the one remaining pepper on the vine outside the door, and the specimen with the same color, from the grocery store, inside my fridge. A side by side comparison revealed that we usually settle for utter misery, if we buy our produce this way. The garden pepper was firm, smelled heavenly, and sang with a crispness as I sliced it. There was an actual, joyful noise that came from it. The other one? I'll save the ink, and not bore you. 

The tomatoes were from a friend. It has been a bumper year for tomatoes for some people, I am so lucky to have two friends, willing to share, among those expert gardeners. My garden's other contribution was the mint, which grows even where I don't want it to grow, which means it is always fresh. I can grow chives and basil too. Maybe I should focus on herbs next year and trade them for tomatoes. The kids have been eating them still warm from the garden; sliced and salted, at all times of the day. They want me to buy vitamin C, why again?

Tonight is football night. Only Cate will miss seeing Duncan play, as she has a double kung fu class. We started planning dinner for tonight two days ago, to avoid a repeat of last Friday's post-game "snack" of fast food taco-thingies, fries and sodas. We will have spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce and meatballs from an old family recipe. T. will be home early and wants to make the meatballs. The only thing to cook when we get home later, will be the pasta.  I am giving this up grudgingly, as this is my own specialty. As usual, though, once he learns a dish, T. makes it with such love and attention, that he exceeds my version of it every time. I will drive kung fu car pool and get us all to the game on time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Search, Do: Repeat and Save the World

That is the way life goes here. The research on what changes as we all grow and evolve, and the all-important repetition may seem boring, but it is what allows a dream or a goal to take shape and flourish.

Monday morning at our house: T.and I up at 4:45, breakfast, out the door by 5:55 for our class at the Y, home by 7:12 to get ready for work and school.

A walk/run before school for those awake enough to come along, and lessons at 8:30. Somewhere in there, I throw in a load of laundry, start a loaf of bread, and take a quick shower. Today we are going to practice handwriting, read "Farmer Boy," have a little Spanish lesson, do some math practice and act out the story of creation (the animal and human bit) with puppets. The older two will work on their math lessons, complete a writing assignment, and practice piano.

Same gym class, same subjects, same old, same old. But we thrive on knowing what to expect when. It is what holds together a household of seven.

Of course, yesterday, after writing the above, one child started out the day with a melt-down that lasted all morning, disrupting our lovely, little, ordered world, in a big, noisy way. Did having a routine make it any easier on that child, or on the rest of us, suffering from the fall-out? It did in one way; by the time the rest of us had completed our lessons and were ready for lunch and a trip to the zoo, that one knew they would have to stay home and work on what had not been done that morning, and there was, finally, no arguing. I am not happy about these moments, nor proud of myself as a mother when they happen. I am sure though, that the structure helps things eventually return to normal, because it is what is expected. 

I am not a planner, I like to live a little more spontaneously. I have to work at this. And the trip to the zoo yesterday? Zilch, stupid, nada, it was closing as we got there because they had changed to winter hours that day. We did, though, have tea with a wonderful friend who called as I was trying to decide how to distract everyone from the disappointment of locked zoo gates. Great end to the day, thanks, friend!

What are you going to repeat today?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Spanish 101, Waldorf-style

We have incorporated Spanish for many years; singing, reading picture books, counting and using some phrases. I wanted to move forward with the language with the children, so I ordered a new book, and combined it with art to form a Waldorf lesson-a-day in Spanish. Besides the polite phrases we are learning to use with each other, we will draw the lesson from a very concrete sentence. This morning's dilemma? This is not the way ("La manzana esta sobre la mesa,") I ever said; "the apple is on the table," in Spanish!!! Thoughts, Spanish speakers? I would have said, "la manzana esta en la mesa." But I lived in Spain, not Latin America, and it was many years ago now. !Gracias!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Aah, September; School and the Rest

The cool, crisp mornings of autumn are finally here...and I feel uplifted in every way. I've been wanting to write a post of gratitude for the fall weather, but I was too busy enjoying it with my family and friends!

School is back in session; 11th grade and encouragement for my 16-yr.old daughter. She published her first book about a month ago!!!
Here is a link, and shame on me for not posting about this sooner; we are all sort of basking in her glow.
 She is largely on her own for her studies, with a German tutor and a math tutor, but I impose some reading to give her new perspective and look into subjects she would otherwise pass by. Here is the book I have given her to read for science; it is an excellent summary of scientific history for the past 100 years and further back. I enjoyed it, and I think she will too, as soon as she is done grumbling about how long it it.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition

10th grade and public high school for my son who is 15. He is playing football for the first time. I am a mother, I worry. I am also proud of him; he has been so motivated to get into shape, train and run and lift...and learn all about the game. He is giving us lessons this week, as we all gear up for the Homecoming game Friday night. Growing up in a sailing, cycling and rugby-loving home, you get to discover everything about football all on your own.
Duncan; second row from bottom, far left

2nd-year kindergarten is what my 6-year-old guy has going on. He has Super-Gael the Gnome stories from Early Years Curriculum by Melisa Nielson, nature and gardening time, counting and manipulating bigger numbers than last year, cooking and baking with me or with Dad, painting, singing, music and knitting.

3rd grade for my son who just turned 9, has the happy chance to fall on the same year that his Sunday school class focuses on our Judeo-Christian heritage and the Bible. And this is my year to teach that class at church too.

6th grade begins with a bit of a return to 5th grade. My daughter is 11, going-on-12, and we did not finish it "all" last year, but we focused on ancient cultures and botany, as she was very interested in plants and growing them. We will continue with a study of Greece to lead us into Rome. We read the myths of Greece last year, but the parts I do not want to miss are The Trial and Death of Socrates
 and Alexander the Great . Some heavy reading is in store for the week. The Romans are better suited for a 12-year-old anyway. 

We started out the year with local history and geography, expanding to the rest of North America and South America. We learned about the Native Americans who first lived here, and about the settlers from the East who arrived not so very long ago in the big scheme of things. I chose one biography to read together, someone I knew would capture their interest and hearts for a spell; John Paul Jones, in a book called The Pirate Patriot.

Charles, grade 3 and I,  have continued on to follow the story of the family in A Journey Through Waldorf Homeschooling, Grade 3, whose Jewish grandmother comes for a visit. We've begun reading stories from the Old Testament, or as I learned while prepping my Sunday School lessons, it is also called; The Hebrew Testament.  We have already been incorporating Native American stories and fun history books about their way of life, because my boy has been interested in this piece of history for awhile. His big goal is to build a really cool tee-pee, mine is to find a place to store said tee-pee. 

Outings were rather severely limited for the first couple of weeks. A good friend took them to the pool often, which was fortuitous, because it was darned hot. Every single day for weeks on end it was in the 90s or above. The motivation to leave the house was not strong, and they took turns getting a yucky virus for a week or so, as well.  

We joined our local art museumThe Figge during that time, and enjoyed being amazed and creative in air-conditioned bliss.

A trip to the "Tractor Place" was absolutely necessary, because we had a guest with us from BVI; or the British Virgin Islands. No one minded, from the youngest up to myself. This is a museum-like display place for various John Deere tractors, combines and harvesters. You can climb up the biggest machines and sit in the cab, or knit while the children climb and explore the interactive programs.

We were offered a zoo membership, for which I am so grateful. It is one of those places that feel as though you do not have time to see enough in one visit. They give mini-lessons on a different animal twice a day too, so we make sure to find the animal du jour and the 2 waiting zoo keepers for the talk when we are there. Like the art museum, the first visit is like an intro for kids; they are too excited re-discovering everything at high-speed that we do not have a minute to settle down and focus. The visits are invariably richer and less frenzied the next time around.

The guest? Funny you should ask. I could either respond; "a charming, quiet, but quick-witted young exchange student, who came to discover the Midwest and stayed with us for a month". Or I could say; "some tall-ship sailor, 17-turning-18, who met my daughter and requested permission to visit and camp out in someone else's backyard." You will remember that Cate sailed upon a historical replica of a tall ship back in July. She spent a week aboard the fabulous Unicorn. Sailing has been a passion of hers for's sort of in her blood. So when she met another young person with as much love for sailing and drive to continue it, they hit it off and became fast friends. They are both writing books and both planning and plotting to get back on a tall-ship as soon as they are able. He turned 18 while he was here, so we honored him with some true Iowa treasures.

With the delicious cooler weather, tea time is once again a favorite moment of the day, replacing iced coffee or smoothies.

We have been very blessed this summer and this fall season. I hope you have been too.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

DIY Laundry Soap: Best-Ever!

There are many variations of this to be found on Pinterest and online, here is a super-easy, effective one. It smells lovely and makes enough for over 600 loads of laundry. The addition of Oxyclean (or its generic equivalent thereof), helps add brightness and removes stains. Changing out the Fels Naptha for lavender soap adds the calming, clean smell of lavender, my favorite. My source? A sweet mother of seven sitting next to me in our kids' kung-fu class!

4 lbs. Baking Soda
4lbs. Washing Soda
4lbs. Borax (20 Mule Team)
3.5lbs. Oxyclean
3 bars of Fels Naptha soap, grated
(I used one bar of this, 2 bars of a natural lavender soap)
Container: one big plastic tote works great for mixing
Smaller containers for storage

Pour in and mix all ingredients. Use 1Tbsp. per load.
The first 3 ingredients come in boxes with close to this exact amount, some are 3.7lbs, some 4.1. I happened to have leftover pouches or bigger boxes of some ingredients; I just used the Borax box to measure out quantities. It is approximately equal amounts of each ingredient.

DIY Laundry Soap

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Crunchy Not-Wanna-Be

Grating a bar of lavender soap into a large bin of mixed natural detergents, I had shed all traces of my previous existence. Really? I have to make my own laundry soap? Yet there I was, enjoying the whole thing too; nuts.

"Crunchy" for me meant a bad hair day, when I needed so much gel to calm the frizzies that the word defined the texture atop my head. The sort of mother I was meant to be was, first of all, loving and engaged with my kids. Then efficient, keeping it all together, teaching them their ABCs, math facts, and in time, world politics and involvement in one's immediate community. Next, elegant and chic, or at least sort of always somewhat put together. Earth mother was not my goal.

Here I am, 16 years later, in an average house in an average neighborhood, having nursed five babies for too many years to count, given birth three times at home, washed a million cloth diapers, making each meal from scratch, growing herbs and 3 tomatoes per season (the clay in our backyard really stinks for vegetable-growing)...and grating soap to wash the family's laundry. Oh...and we homeschool, of course. 

Though my goal was not crunchy per se, it was and always will be, to do things in a way gentle to the earth and in the best interest for health and well-being. To that end, I will cook real food, bike where I can, reuse rather than re-buy and toss, and even grate soap on a Sunday morning.

Life is beautiful. Crazy, but beautiful.  Recipe for the other crazies, can be found above.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Life Lessons

I am sitting calmly with a cup of coffee and my computer, letting my frantic son figure out how he is going to get to school this morning. It's not as easy as it looks. He missed his bus, something that happens a little too often, and his father and I have agreed to let him work it out for himself. I really just want to drop everything and take him, but that would not be such a great favor to either of us. He needs to put down his ipod and get ready in the morning and I need time to prep things before the other kids wake up. On the days when I rescue him, I neither exercise nor write, having instead to jump right into hungry kids when I get home from the 30 minute ordeal of traffic and (mostly) bad music in the car. 

I love the extra time with him, and even the bad music. Subjecting me to it in the car is his way of sharing with me what he loves most; music, in all its varieties and with all the horrors it can also engender (screamo, anyone?) I love seeing his taste evolve and become more complex with years of listening and playing. 

I also love to be home and ready for the littles, the house straight and school things out and ready. It's nice to have fresh muffins or bread made when they wake up. Life is full of choices, and some of them tear you right in half.

Ah, one down for today; he just went out the door; he found a ride with a friend. Perfect. Now I can make blueberry muffins with Charles, get the paper unrolled for our timeline and even spend a minute on the trampoline. What a great start to the day.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Living the Word

Living the Word:

Or lots of words: kind, helpful, generous, creative, active, inspired, polite. I have to take stock once in awhile, and look at how what I am doing and my vision of the world can affect my family. It may not be fair to put so much on one woman, but as mother goes, so goes the household, or; if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. This can be a good reason for everyone else to tiptoe around and appease mom, or it can be a wake-up call for me to be aware of how my mindset influences my children and husband. I can choose to blame their behavior for my bad temper, or work on being at peace within, in order to bring peace without.

Manners is one area in which my kids seem to do well when out in the world, but at home things tend to fall apart.Tone of voice, using polite words, kind words; we leave no room for negociation here. But do I give the right example every single time I speak to my kids or husband? Do I face each new situation with an attitude geared toward a successful outcome? 

I think my work over the next days, months and years, has been cut out for me. Steps to follow:

1) Think; take time to think before speaking
2) Give myself time to relax/knit/exercise/read in order to be able to be available to my family and generous with my time
3) Meditate every day to cultivate inner peace and harmony

Next up: planning our days

Sunday, August 4, 2013

One of my Favorite Walks Ever: Rockies

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Mama Fitness: Time for a Walk

Except that my computer holds so many fascinating tales this Sunday morning. Hard to tear myself away, I want to tell you how much I love my readers and want to encourage them to get up and move too. The dog is moping over in his, armchair, with his little furry chin reposing sadly on the arm rest.

Why am I still sitting here?

My feet are tender. So what, I'll put on my cushy tennies today. My elbow is not the size it should be, so I'll ice it later. My head is fuzzy; the fresh air will clear it, if I will only get up and go. My hands are killing me, but I have a remedy for that too; a pair of cotton gloves with the fingers cut off under biking gloves to hold the leash...or barbells on alternate days. My running clothes are in the laundry, which is OK, since I will be mostly walking.

I guess that's it then, time for a walk, enjoy yours today!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

3 Steps to Craving Fruit for Breakfast

1) Step One: define your parameters

I am up, with 2 hours to go before my workout today. My old routine; make a pot of tea, have a bowl of cereal...write or read while I eat, have another bowl because the box is there, drink my tea, maybe eat a banana or apple too. I used to follow the regime in Fit for Life; nothing but fruit until noon, no mixing of carbs and protein. It shaves off pounds like mad, but I am hungry in the morning!

Even though I am working to lose weight, I had gone back to my breakfast cereal routine, since it was just so simple; bowl of granola and almond milk, saving the morning smoothie for later, when it had defrosted. This morning I came downstairs determined not to have grains today. What options were there? I was out of smoothies and the trainer told me to have protein after working out.

2) Step Two: examine your options

Non-protein (no eggs, protein powder or sardines), non-grain (that left out the granola and the rice cakes), so I was left with fruits or vegetables. 

3) Step Three: enjoy and love what you CAN have; decide to do it and it will be so

The peaches in the bowl suddenly looked absolutely fabulous. While the water boiled for the tea, I rinsed and carefully peeled the peach, putting it on a pretty plate with a fork, to be savored while my tea cooled.

It was a beautiful, juicy, ripe peach with all the best flavors of the summer bursting out of it. I am happy I could call it breakfast.

Quick Remedy for a Yeast Problem

It is summer, and it is hot and humid, and these things will happen. In case everything else has failed, or if you just don't feel like messing around this time, this is a tried and true way to deal with yeast.

Boric acid (keep it in a safe place, it is also, after all, rat poison) (do NOT ingest, ever)
Clear capsules (size 0)

Fill capsule by scooping the powder in. You know where to put it. Twice daily, or just at night, for 3-7 days. 3 days usually does it, but stubborn cases may need 7 days to be sure of resolution.

That's it, these should both be available at a pharmacy, though, like gentian violet, you may get raised eyebrows when you ask for them; you will need to go see the pharmacist and request them, most likely.