Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The photos that might have been...

Today was not the day to be without batteries for my camera (they're busy recharging, which takes something like 18 hours!). These are the things I might have photographed if I had been able to (and you may find yourself silently grateful that this was the case...read on):

My nettle and violet tea.  I was inspired to further expand my use of our yardfull of violets by this lovely post.  It was delicious and as it sat steeping in a ball jar I wished I could take an artsy shot...yes, of my tea.

The fine bones of a bird skeleton.  This has been a bit of a mystery to me - I discovered something hanging in a small bushy tree in our backyard yesterday.  When I got a closer look it was clear it was a decaying bird, and what had caught my eye were the leg bones and foot hanging down from the Y of the branch.  I looked on the ground and found a few bones - the top of the skull, and I'm not sure yet what else.  I wondered why the bird would be stuck there in the crook of the tree, and then I saw fishing line wrapped around the body.  I was kind of stumped for a moment, but I suppose what happened was the bird became entangled in fishing line at one of the nearby lakes or the Hocking river, and tried to fly but didn't get far and died unable to free itself.  That this happened in our backyard brings me sorrow, but I know there would probably not have been much we could have done for it.  Still, seeing firsthand the destruction resulting from the careless release of some plastic line was stunning.

Seven baby opossums. Alas, another sad story, but with a slightly happier ending, we hope! When we showed up for Eliza's piano lesson today, her teacher took me aside and said, there is a mama possum down the road who has been hit by a car.  Her babies are still alive and I'm wondering if you could call the DNR Division of Wildlife and ask if you can take them in? I know this sounds like a strange request, but  in addition to being a busy lady, she gets that we are a homelearning family and that this is a rare and rich opportunity for many fruitful discussions!  So Eliza and I crossed the road with a shovel, gloves and a cardboard box and proceeded to scoop the mama with her babies, who were all still snuggled up against her and in her pouch, into the box.  Wow. Eliza so badly wanted to touch them, but they were newer than new, eyes closed, no fur, making little chuffing sounds.  I could just see the adrenaline rushing through E's little body, her eyes glowing alternately with excitement and tears.  She kept saying things like "I have never been this close to a baby possum before! I can't believe I am sitting in a car with baby possums!"  We also transported a whole posse of ants and at least two ticks, so it was not all that pleasant.  When we got to the DNR they took the box from us, and I could see the skepticism and I don't know...I am wondering if they will actually try and find a rehab for them. They are so small, they might not be strong enough to make it with adoptive parents yet.  I didn't know that it was illegal to take it upon yourself to raise abandoned wildlife - did you? I figured it was the good Samaritan thing to do!  Eliza now wants to look into what it takes to be certified as a wildlife rehabilitator.  

Grey Fox kit.  As we were leaving a man was getting out of his car with a grey fox kit in a box.  Its mom had also been hit by a car and the kit had an injured leg.  It was so so so cute, but young, and not very strong. Not a good time for wildlife along the roadways, with sweet offspring in tow.

Pawpaw blossoms.  The Pawpaw has become the official state fruit of Ohio, I believe, and is celebrated locally by an annual Pawpaw Festival.  We have a Pawpaw tree down the street from us and sidestepped smooshed fruit in the fall and collected the shiny smooth seeds a bit later, but I hadn't thought to look up and see what was happening in recent weeks.  There are beautiful dark maroon blossoms that I will photograph in the next few days and share with you.

Rain today, beautiful soft spring rain. Tomorrow? Thunderstorms.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dear Peepol

Well, do you?
We are loving spring, and E wrote this note for the passersby on their way to church yesterday morning.  You can glimpse my summer uniform - Chacos and a cotton skirt - which might tell you how hot it was (high 80's).  
Some goodies from the Farmer's Market - my favorite
is an heirloom tomato called Mr. Stripey.  It makes me 
want to name all of our vegetables something so friendly.

We had another Columbus-bonanza day yesterday, and we tired ourselves out! I don't know if it was the heat or my mood, or the zoo itself, or a combination of all three, but we were unimpressed with the Columbus Zoo.  The parking lot almost scared me off for its sheer size and number of cars, but we persevered.  I feel like we tried to have a good experience, but really, we were talking ourselves into it.  The animals were hidden behind kiosk after kiosk, food court after cafe, ice cream, ice slushies, puppets, face paints, strollers, wagons, and so many people smoking...and because of the heat, the animals looked miserable, which is really not good P.R. for the zoo, is it?  We'd not been there half an hour when I had to turn us around to find ice cream, in hopes that it would perk us up. It did for a moment, though even the ice cream was an odd adventure - what we found were something called "dippin dots" which looked like some sort of styrofoam packing material; little balls of ice cream that when melted tasted like ice cream.  When I looked confused and uncertain, the guy behind the counter told me, "It's like ice cream, but more fun!"  More fun than ice cream? Hmmm.  Anyway, I don't want to zoo bash and I feel a bit like a snob with our wonderful Woodland Park years to compare it to, but I don't think we'll make that trip again. We listed the bits that salvaged the day for us: the aquarium tank with its beautiful fish, sharks, rays; the manatees, which we'd never seen before, and the sea turtle who was in with them; and the Hammerkop bird in the aviary (well, all the birds in the aviary).  The photo below (which they asked me to take of them!) was one of the only ones taken of something other than a statue of an animal (there were many, and they were cool).  

The day ended at the airport, picking up Dan before a drive home through the countryside at dusk. That, with its Cheshire cat moon, was beautiful.

And lastly, a bit of the garden.  We walked over this morning to water what might be growing, and were rewarded with some onions and strawberry flowers.  I just confessed to Dan that I was checking out other gardens' pea plants on our way to our plot and though we just planted our seeds a week or so ago, I was dismayed to see nothing over in that corner, so if you had glanced towards Plot 55 you might have seen me on my knees, furtively brushing away dirt in hopes of seeing something sprouting...I felt like an impatient novice, but I found sprouts! So I carefully brushed just a bit of the dirt back and gave them some water...
P.S.  I have to mention that as I am writing this, our cat Charlie is focusing all of his attention on the sounds of a rodent of indeterminate size that is gnawing away at this old house.  Really!! I ran and got Dan and he opened the window, as it sounded as if it were chewing its way into the house, but it seems to be in the wall, between windows.  Ugh.  I'm hoping it gets a whiff of Charlie, who has not left his post in quite a while, and decides to leave - I actually find its scratchings friendly, but I imagine our landlord might not be so happy to hear there are mice (right? cute little tiny mice?) in the walls.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

wild food update

I'm sipping a lovely stinging nettle tea. It's supposed to make my hair brighter, thicker, and shinier, less grey (ok, I threw that one in), my skin clearer and healthier.  They are a good source of vitamin C, beta carotene, and B-complex vitamins - all of which I could use right now with the draggly ends of a cold continuing to hack themselves up (or not) from my chest.  They are 10 percent protein, "more than any other vegetable" and have high levels of minerals and easily absorbed amino acids.  Other than the sting, which is gone in a short time with a bit of cooking, what's not to love? And they taste good! Green, dark, nourishing...

And as for the aftereffects of the ramp saute from last night (in which I also used one stalk of fresh green garlic, if you recall) - upon waking this morning, my sweet angel baby described my breath with her first words: "Mama, your breath is oniony, with a little bit of garlic." Perceptive, ain't she?! At my raised eyebrows and amused smile, she added, "and some coffee, of course".  I think she made that part up.

*I'm getting most of my info on the nettles from Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so Wild) Places by "Wildman" Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean.  I am loving this book and have decided I should probably return it to my friend and get my own copy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A day like summer...

I am pretty happy about this photo.  About as happy as I was to find ramp, or wild leek, at the Farmer's Market this morning.  There are festivals in Appalachia that are held in its honor; this hallowed "King of Stink" is a relative of the onion and garlic, and I've been eyeing it in the local parks (once I figured out how to identify it!) but never felt like I could take more than a leaf or two.  Well, I cooked me up a whole bunch tonight and had it with linguine, and it was spicy and so yummy.  It probably didn't do much for my breath, but my kids haven't complained yet.
I also bought a bag of stinging nettle (from the same stand -  the growers are Art and Peggy Gish, who in my opinion are local celebrities.  Have a look here to hear them talk about the peace work they have been doing in Iraq and in Palestine for the past 14 years.) (disclaimer - I haven't watched this particular clip all the way through - I will later and edit if necessary!).  I am excited to try a bit as a tea, and saute the rest up with some fresh green garlic I also picked up this morning.   I have heard marvelous things about nettles, and seem to remember the mother of a friend in high school making soup from some she collected in their backyard. Delicious.

We spent a good part of the afternoon at the beach, where we found a large American Toad nestled in the sand and this cute baby painted turtle swimming in the water.  Eliza moved both over to a safer area of the beach, near some reeds, as the beach was swarming with OU students and families enjoying the 80 degree weather.  We felt so lucky to see them before they were smooshed!
And I would be remiss if I did not include a photo of my darling fashionista, who figured out that she could braid her own hair.  It did not seem to bother her a bit that that meant the braids were shielding her face - she told me that she has noticed "several African girls" wearing their hair in braids and she thought it was beautiful and would like to try it. I love this girl.
We are sun-weary, and sun filled. Tomorrow we spend in the car again, with a detour to the zoo....

Friday, April 24, 2009

There and Back Again

Oy. What a day. We spent the whole day in the car, and yet only went as far as Columbus. At least that's how the girls felt, I think, but they were troopers along for the ride on our let's-make-the-most-of-a-run-to-the-airport errand bonanza.  

First, here is a photo for Dan, post Trader Joe's, on our way to Target (in Lancaster) (I don't know why I needed to tell you that) - don't we look happier than we did when we left you at the airport? Um, yeah.  Ani was pulling the biggest huge-cheeked sad face I've ever seen - it was heartbreaking.  But a few TJ's mini peanut butter cups and the chance to push around her own cart - good as new. (I took this at a light. A long light, for those of you who are concerned about it.) (And I am aware that I look like a total dork, but to be honest, for those of you who don't know me in person - this is actually what I look like!!)
We then proceeded to get lost in Lancaster, but that gave us the chance to talk to a very nice man, after driving through what looks like an interesting town.  The Ohio Museum of Glass is there, right on the main street - we'll have to look into that.  Finally we made it to Target, but we had to pause in the parking lot to consume an entire box of organic blueberries in the car. 
(Aren't you glad I took a photo of that?!) Our mission to get Eliza a new bathing suit and socks accomplished (plus a new sunhat for moi - maybe you'll get the chance to glimpse it in a future gardening shot?) (I am reeeallly tired, can you tell?), it was now 4:45 and I had promised a stop at Old Man's Cave.  This place really caught their imagination when we went over Dan's spring break, and I was happy to stop, though it meant more driving.  It smelled like the Northwest to me - wet and earthy, cool.  I was amazed to see a small forest of trillium along one edge of the gorge - I wish I could have captured it well in a photo, it was so beautiful.  We had a short visit there, cut a bit shorter by tired kids and an unfortunate stumble over some rocks for E, so we headed home, arriving around 7:30 to a supper of fried eggs (I think this might be the second time in a week that I have served this for supper.), a glass of wine from one of our cheapo bottles from TJ's, a bath, and bed.

(Consumed, but not pictured:  french fries and ketchup; aforementioned peanut butter cups; an entire box of organic strawberries; hummous and sesame rice crackers from TJ's; a terrible terrible latte from McDonald's. Why was I surprised?)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Road to Nowhere

We've had a lot of rain this week, but I had no idea how much until we got out of our car at Fox Lake and found that the trail had been submerged in, well, the lake!  We were all in a silly mood that morning, which was fortunate because we got a little lost, but instead of whining the girls pointed out the deer and the dandelions and the heron and at one point I heard this little chant pipe up, a la Finding Nemo, "just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming..."  So instead of stewing in disappointment at our thwarted plans, the girls wanted to sit in the car, windows down so we could hear the amazing frog chorus, eat almonds and dried mango, and write a poem.
Here it is:
Driving, driving, driving,
we came to the edge of the lake.
The frogs were singing
The birds were singing.
We walked across the bridge
We came to the edge of the path - 
covered in water it was!
Ribbit, ribbit
I wish we were frogs!
And that was the end of our hike.

I think you can probably tell who wrote what parts - it basically went me, Eliza and then Ani, who later wrote another poem while we sat in a downpour, eating chocolate-covered pretzels while waiting for Eliza to finish Irish Dance class.  She said it was for Eliza.

I love you rain.
You make frogs come,
'cause water is a frog's home!
I love you rain.

Evening Shenanigans with Papa

Dan is in the midst of a writing-intensive quarter at school, and is trying to finish a paper which he will present at a conference hosted by Northwestern University, the day after tomorrow. So, he's been a bit busy and noticeably absent; this morning Anika pouted through pancakes, "I want Daddy for SIX DAYS. Six days with no school."  For Anika, she may as well have said one hundred, because it don't get no bigger than six.  She counts higher, and throws out the billions once in a while, but the number to beat all numbers when expressing something truly important is...six. (Is it a coincidence that her beloved sister is...six? I think not.)  We were thrilled (particularly with the day we'd been having) to have him make a guest appearance this evening and we chose to ride on a heavy afternoon snack of oatmeal and take a walk during the dinner hour while we had radiant sunshine and Papa.

Here Anika demonstrates the proper way to ride a tricycle:
She is quite adept at it, wouldn't you say?
And then there's the Papa way of riding the tricycle:
For those of you who don't know Dan, yes he is riding it straight for me.
We discovered that the very fat cow (Mama, that is not a nice word. Honey, she's a cow. She really doesn't mind.  In fact I think she is proud that she is fat and healthy. But...I know, it's complicated.) was actually pregnant and had two shy sweet and very new babies with her.  Here is one peeking around a bush at us...
Eliza mused as she sat quietly watching the babies, "I wish I were a cow so I could lick my nose."  We sat in silence thinking about that for a moment.  "And I could drink my own milk!" Hmmm.

And here is the best moment the girls had together all day.  It was one of those days.  I did a lot of yelling about them yelling, unfortunately.  But this was nice...
Thanks Papa.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Homeschool Coop Part I

My friend Stacy was asking about our experience of being involved in a homeschool coop, so I thought I would babble on about that for a post or two!

We happened into a homeschooling coop at the start of our second year in Richmond, and at the time it felt like it saved our lives.  I was still not feeling very rooted there, having spent the summer in California for work, and the group of people we met through the coop quickly became the fiber of our community there.  We were fortunate in that the coop had been running in a slightly different form for many years, and had just been pared down to 10 families with children ranging in age from infant to 9 years old.  We benefited from the structure that was handed down, which was flexible, but a good place to start.  Classes were taught in teams of 2 in 6 -week sessions, and the arc of the year was decided ahead of time.  The year we were involved this meant that in a morning we had 3 class periods - Spanish, taught by a teacher we hired (some kids opted out of this and came an hour later); The Arts (loosely named in order to encompass the various skills that were being shared - culinary arts, drawing, sewing); and Roots and Shoots, which is a "club" that is focused on connecting kids to their local and global neighborhood, encouraging a connection between themselves and people in other parts of the world, and between themselves and the environment.  It was started by Jane Goodall, and the projects had a wide range - walking and drawing the neighborhood surrounding the Quaker meeting house where we met; making models of their houses; creating "About Me" pages; sewing puppets to send to soldiers in Iraq via "Puppets for Peace".  Around the holidays we planned for a Festival of Lights, where groups of kids hosted different winter celebrations from around the world.  The second half of the year we all decided to focus more on science, as well as continue with Spanish.  Science topics ranged from moon journaling (a combination of nature journal, art, and creative writing) to the study of various biomes. 

We decided things democratically, meeting every month, rotating the job of meeting facilitator and minute taker.  We had a treasurer who collected money for the use of the meeting house and for the Spanish teacher. My friend Kimmy, who had been a part of the larger coop before the split and who carried with her valuable insight and a thread of continuity, brought The Box every week, which housed any paperwork we might need to disseminate or refer to.  

Once we had decided on areas of interest to focus on for the coming months, we signed up to teach specific things and/or volunteered to co-teach with someone.  I highly recommend the co-teaching, as it gives you someone to brainstorm with and provides some backup if you end up having a sick child or need to tend to an unhappy kid for a while during class.  Class suggestions seemed to come organically - a puppeteer in our midst suggested the Puppets for Peace, another mom who has experience teaching young kids via the Montessori method volunteered to help teach the sewing for the class, and two of us piped up for a companion science/geography class about Iraq and its biomes (we focused on the alleuvial plain and the desert).

Halfway through the year we decided that it was overwhelming and burning us out to try and teach the 5 - 9 year olds as one large group (of 12 or so), so we split them in two groups, basically along the lines of who was reading and who was an emergent reader, and somewhat along the lines of what combinations of kids might lend themselves to better group dynamics. This worked SO well, but it did demand more of the parents - basically we taught twice in a row, swapping classes as it were.  I didn't mind this at all, as it gave me more time with the material I had worked so hard to put together, and I got more one-on-one with the kids.  My friend Nancy stepped up to teach the preschoolers for one of the class periods every week, a job that had been rotating through all the parents with preschoolers.  The kids loved this, as they really got to know and adore Nancy.

The most obvious benefit to being a part of this coop was the friendship, support, and community we found.  After the classes were over, we would all go to a local park with our lunches and hang out for 2 or more hours.  We were very fortunate in that we all parented within the same part of the parenting spectrum and were comfortable helping each others' kids resolve the inevitable problems.  Of course there were differences and things to be worked out, but all in all it was a really positive group to be a part of.

I don't look to coop time to fill any large gaps in our learning life at this point.  I do expect to be introduced to a lot of new things:  subjects I might not have thought of exposing my girls to, expertise in areas that I don't share, different teaching and learning styles.  There is also the fringe benefit of having a ready-made group of people to go on field trips with.

Ok, that was a lot of babble.  I will write about the coop we are a part of here in another post and will try to be more succinct! 

Monday, April 20, 2009

If you've ever felt helpless...

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog (oh, bless you, a thousand times), you may have taken a moment to look at the links to some of our favorite blogs over there on the right of the screen.  If you have done this, you have met my cousin Jessica (and possibly her brother-dogs, Eddie and Reuben? and human brother Ben?), who is currently doing amazing things and enriching all of our lives and the lives of many strangers in a small village in Niger, where she is in her second year of a stint with the Peace Corps.  There have been many moments in her journey, which she and her mom, my aunt Kerry, have been blogging about throughout the year, when I have had to stop and sob and sob some more and then compose myself in order to finish reading.  This is in part because Jessica has an ability to express herself in the written word in a very effective and evocative way. But it is even more so because of the realities of the lives of the people who have become her family there.  She has written of hunger, real hunger, loss, and hardships that are a part of the way life is in that part of the world, but which throw my little world-view for a loop.  How many times I have wished I could do more than light a candle and say a prayer for her work there, for the daily lives of the women she pounds millet with, walks miles with, sits in mourning with.  For the children she holds hours after they are born, who learn to walk in circles around her legs, who are making her laugh when it seems impossible to do so.  Well, finally there is something I can do, and I invite you to do it with me! Jessica is helping her village raise the funds to build a new schoolroom, and the project has been approved as official through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, meaning that she is able to accept donations to this project.  Please read more about it here and consider sending a donation!  Thank you.

*note:  This photo of Jessica is, ironically, not taken in her village, but I love it of her!  She is right now spending a couple of weeks working as a translator for a group of American surgeons who have traveled to the larger city of Niamey in order to perform surgeries on women and girls with obstetric fistula.  She has access to the internet there, and has been writing daily about this experience, which I highly recommend reading about. Again, I cannot believe what she is able to do there.  She inspires and astounds me.  

**Can you tell I love this woman?! I really miss her!

This and That

A rainy day in April...
I am hoping this is Jewelweed, growing in our backyard. I threw some seeds back there in the fall, and have been watching these leaves grow.  This morning's rain beaded up on the leaves, which I've read is why Jewelweed got its name - the jeweled beads of water adorning its leaves.  While looking, I came across these two in their oozy love dance...and I can't resist a good slug mating.  It's the David Attenborough in me.

I have been amazed at the number of times a day we'll be driving in the car or cooking a meal and Anika will ask, "Mom, do you spell Lily L-L-E?" I don't remember Eliza ever being interested in how things are spelled, not even now, and it is wild how different your kids can be! (I know, you're all going "duh, Debbie", but even though it sounds so obvious, they are so different!)  I was getting ready to throw some potato eyes into this cracked tub, thinking that maybe they'll grow, and Ani offered to be our resident Spud Farmer, and made this sign for the tub.  She sounded the whole thing out, barely stopping to check in with me, so I didn't bother about the E. I mean, who really needs it?
A silver maple branch somehow became our outside version of the seasonal nature table sometime last fall, bearing leaf rubbings and slices of apples for the harvest, and then pinecones and strings of cranberries for winter, and just today I suggested that the girls cut down the wintery things, with the thought that maybe we'd come up with some springy ideas. I'd say they did! It's downright cheery, this little twig.  (For the record, those are flowers and butterflies)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Morning H

Anika is at that age when she sees letters and numbers everywhere - it's like the magical world of Sesame Street or something, come alive.  So she was very pleased to discover that on sunny mornings, she has a gigantic "H" that visits her while she is eating breakfast.  It has become something she and I (often the first ones up) look forward to in the morning..."Mama...h-h-h-h (making the sound of "H")"...
I can't expect this to really translate via a photograph, but that doesn't mean I won't try! Here is our kitchen window, looking out onto the street and the schoolyard on the other side...
And here you can kind of see the H.  It's a shadow - see it?
An H is a good way to begin the day. You'll have to take my word for it.

Other things from the week...we went to visit our friends who live in the middle of the Zaleski forest, in a house they built, with a Real Live Outhouse (my girls have told me on numerous occasions that they would love to have an outhouse.  This one is decked out with a large window, through which one may gaze upon the surrounding woods, and many pictures of Mother Mary and various ages of Jesus. It is quite something).
We met the Linscott ladies plus sweet baby boy out there and had a really nice day, enjoying the very warm spring sunshine and the company of three mamas and many children (ranging in age from 1 year to 17 years! wow...).  Here the girls are heading off to Sault Ste Marie in a wooden boat...

Saturday saw our family running off in different directions for the day - we zoomed through the market, which felt like sacrilege.  It has suddenly bloomed into Summer Market, with People! Produce! Musicians! No longer the little winter market, we now have to hold onto our children and make a Plan. Feeling a bit grumpy about that, but I'm sure I can embrace it when we have time to spend there.  We dropped Dan off to lead a shadow puppet workshop at The Dairy Barn - an extension of the Indonesian puppetry exhibit that his mentor curated.  We could not attend because Eliza had the opportunity to perform on the piano for the very first time! Her piano teacher, with whom I continue to be so impressed, has run a monthly music club called Front and Center for a few years now, and it is an expectation that her studio will participate as much as possible.  The first half hour is a guest performance by a local or visiting musician.  The second half is run as an Open Mic, with her students volunteering to go up on stage and perform pieces they are working on in lessons.  This month her studio is focusing on composition, and the guests were two OU Masters students who played the viola and the piano.  The pianist is a composition student and answered lots of questions from the kids about when he started, how he does it, what he hopes to do with it...And then he stuck around to hear the kids play their own pieces.  It was so neat for them!  I think her teacher was taken aback by the number of kids who wanted to play - they easily played for 40 minutes or more.  Eliza was one of the first to go, performing two pieces she wrote, called "Spring Time" and "Beginners".  I wasn't sure how she would do - she has never performed anything by herself, and she was up on the stage alone, and was poised, confident, though a little shy.  She did GREAT!! I was so so happy for her! As was Anika, who leapt up from her seat and ran down the aisle with her arms open wide for a hug as Eliza came down the steps after her bow.  Very sweet.

The rest of the weekend was busy for Dan - he ran auditions for Oliver, which he will direct this summer with the Ohio Valley Summer Theater, and is trying to get his work done for the week, in addition to finishing writing a paper for an upcoming conference...It is one of those times when I feel useless and unable to help him with all he has to do.  He has clean socks and a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. It doesn't feel like much. So, what do I do but take him on a date, at this time of all times...well, it seemed like a very fine idea a few months ago when I bought us tickets to see Bruce Cockburn! We went with new friends from coop, and had a grown-up dinner out at a beautiful restaurant called Salaam (our neighbor belly-dances there, but apparently not on Sunday evenings...), and then drove to Nelsonville to the Stuart's Opera House, which was a perfect place to see him.  It felt so good to be out and filled with good food and soul-nourishing music...and now of course Dan is upstairs trying to keep his eyes open as he writes and reads and writes and reads and so, good night.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Frog Screamer

It was 7:00 p.m., the perfect time to eavesdrop on the neighborhood spring peepers.  We made our way down to the end of our street and around the corner, heading down the tree-lined hill towards the bike path and its companion creek.  (I noticed along the way that my nose has cleared enough for me to catch a whiff of some amazing flowering tree - maybe a Rose of Sharon? I'll have to find out whether or not those are fragrant. )  As we neared we talked about being quiet enough that maybe, just maybe tonight we would see one of the little guys.  This request does not usually go over very well with our youngest, who usually sighs verrrry loudly and declares, "I dutch neeeed to use my very loud voice right now." (Imagine the middle of the library - not a big deal - or during a concert.) She acquiesced at first, content to lean against me as I peered into the brush next to the creek, skimming the brilliant green cress and the various grasses on the other bank. The older one, who has been brimming with over-the-top energy for the past week (for those who know her, I mean Over The Top, singing, yelling and Irish dancing from the second she shows her bright face in the morning until I wrassle her into bed at night), is the one who is hard to quiet, punctuating the stillness with declarations of how she is to be swung tonight ("I'm ready for an under-duck, Dad! I think you should under-duck me!).  The peepers, for their part, shut their traps as soon as we veered from the path, sensing our stealth in our uncharacteristic "shushes" and tippy toes parting the grass. 

We wait, in our nearly quiet quiet, for long minutes, hoping one will speak up and reveal his whereabouts. Nothing. Not a peep from the peepers.

Ani eventually gives up and starts poking about, venturing a bit further down the creek, when suddenly she comes out with the loudest "RIBBIT" she can manage. We all jump and then realize that there is someone answering her in its loudest voice! She does it again - "RIBBIT! RIBBIT! RIBBIT!" and sure enough, the peepers are answering her back! We are in awe and then hysterics as this pipsqueak gets the peepers to sing their nightly song...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Finding Structure

I have had a version of this conversation with a number of people lately, and thought I would write about it a bit here.  On the one hand being new to homeschooling, and on the other hand being old hands at learning through living, I think we are always shifting and struggling to figure out what kind of structure works for us in our days.  Three or four times a year I go through a cycle of thinking we need more structure - which could mean formal curriculum, or a schedule imposed on our days - and I reach for something outside of "us" to find that structure, feeling dissatisfied and scared, and then rediscover the fullness of what is already there.  I had been feeling some angst again about reading skills and borrowed a popular book about teaching your child to read and as soon as I opened it I knew it was really not for us. I tried to imagine squeezing all of E's energy and enthusiasm and excitement into small scripted boxes and expecting anything but strife to come of it.  I already know that the key to giving her the opportunity to practice her growing skills is to be playful and spontaneous.  I understand that I often fall into these periods of worry when I am feeling depleted, physically or emotionally, and am not connecting well, seizing opportunities, being creative.  

So we pare down the week's schedule, clean the slate as it were, and take time to reconnect - without screen time, without extra obligations, with lots of time spent outside together.  Slowly the classes, coops, library time and the things we do to keep our family fed and clothed fill in the days and we again have a structure of sorts ready-made for us - here are the days we expend a lot of energy outside of the house, here are the days that allow us to move slowly and more creatively. I was reminded in the current Camp Creek post that it is often the mama of the house who sets the tone - she described a "gravitational pull" she has on the rest of the house - what she gives attention to, her kids begin to show attention to.  My goal to be a healthy, mindful, productive role-model for the girls often gets lost in the shuffle of laundry, dishes, bills...none of which feels or looks very productive to the kids (or to me, half of the time!).  I have a hard time doing creative things while the household list looms large, but maybe I'm going about this all wrong - could I find time after they're in bed to do those daily tasks? Focus more attention on the creative and the alive during the day while we're awake together?  At the same time, I want to involve them more in the daily tasks, understanding that it really takes all the members of the family thinking of each other to make our home run smoothly. But I forget something I've known since Eliza was just a few months old - the more time we spend actively connecting early in the day, the more time opens up later in the day when we can all spend a while doing our own projects, happily humming in each other's company.

I have heard time and again that kids like structure, and I'm not sure that that's it.  I think structure makes things easier for me - I have some framework for measuring productivity, achievement, all those things that are drilled into us early in life if we attend school; I can see the skeleton of our week and fill in all the points of progress...But I think that while the girls enjoy knowing where they are in relation to the rest of the day or week or month, enjoy knowing the calendar days, the moon phases, and the weather forecast, enjoy knowing that Mondays mean choir and Wednesdays mean coop, too much structured time wears on them, disconnects them from themselves. Maybe it's because we didn't do things a certain way from the beginning? I think of how intricately the Waldorf philosophy orders things - certain colors, certain grains for each day - and how if you've come to expect things a certain way you might find freedom within that structure....

When I am in the uncomfortable  part of the cycle, I find myself making lists and plans, outlining our days - math games on Thursday mornings, letter writing on Mondays, hiking and nature journaling on Friday mornings - and while it all sounds really appealing, with a lovely rhythmic flow, well-rounded in a cheerful and productive way, the reality of our flow, of the flow of three people plus the orbiting papa, is anything but orderly. Our natural cycles are brief, the only constant is change.

Just some thoughts...more to come, I'm sure...this is helpful to me, so thanks if you read the whole post!


We had a very dramatic moment in the parking lot of the grocery store:  Eliza was on her way to play with a friend while Ani and I were heading home to rest, and it was lunch time, so we'd picked up some California Rolls for E to eat on the way.  Well, she had the top off the container and as I was loading more bags into the car I heard "ooooh, guacamole!" and I kicked into super-mom mode as I slow-motion lunged through her door with a "noooooooooooooo!", knocking the offending (and large) glob of wasabi off of her index finger.  A long conversation ensued about wasabi and its incredible nose-clearing characteristics and the potential pain an unsuspecting child might find themselves in if they were to unwittingly eat it.  It has really stuck with Ani, and in fact she has talked about it for 4 days, we have visited the horseradish root at the store, bought some wasabi peas for Papa, and when I asked if she had anything she'd like to write in an email to my cousin who is in Niger, this is what she had to say:

dear jessica robin,

we are writing to tell you about wasabi.  cause i'm scared of wasabi, i'm worried that you'll eat wasabi, i'm worried that you won't like it and you can't believe you ate it. it's spicy and it is horseradish and it comes with sushi and it is NOT GUACAMOLE!!

i think you might like M&Ms, because they're yummy.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

happy easter!

While we don't celebrate Easter in church, we can't pass up the excuse to continue celebrating spring, and we'd be nuts to turn down an egg hunt.  It even crossed my mind today that we should do this for every holiday, birthdays included!  I suppose it might lose its novelty, but we have a long way to go before that happens...

During a lull in the seeking, I took the opportunity to photograph the new compost bin in the lovely morning light...have I mentioned that I love this compost bin?
And really, what else is there to do with all the dyed easter eggs, than make deviled eggs? Dan would disagree with me on this, but luckily the girls were on my side (and he wasn't there to give his opinion anyway), so we had them for lunch, and they looked so purty I had to give photographing food another go.  Here they are (I know, I am making way too big a deal out of a plate of eggs), with slices of Ambrosia roll-ups (another recipe that will appear soon) and garnished with violets, redbuds, from our yard, and scallions.  The real reason I am loving this plate of food is that we got in those wild foods and the girls totally dug it. Eating flowers! What's not to love?
After a rest and a thermos of the Cold Elixir, I coaxed the girls to the garden to plant onions. They were awesome, helping spread the composted manure, work the soil, planting the sets, making plant markers (E was quite persistent on this task, sounding the words out and checking with me. I am always so glad to get in some writing on the sly!). 

Farmer A, kickin' it back on a pile of bagged manure, after a good hour's work.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Unschooly Days

These photos don't need much comment - just a day spent decompressing after houseguests - but I will say that it was not the first time that I wish I had better sewing skills to pass down to E!  She clearly has a strong idea of what she wants to do with creating things through sewing, and luckily with the help of a pillowcase and her incredible well of patience with me and the needle and thread, she accomplished in an hour what she set out to - creating a "tunic", in the style of Mabel Rose in her current favorite graphic novel, The Courageous Princess.  She remembered my request that activities that take a high level of my attention and patience happen early in the day (this would include sewing! and piano practice!), and it happened! I made a silent vow to finally learn how to use the hand-me-down sewing machine I received from my cousin a few years ago!
We had cut the tunic a while ago, but she decided to hem it and sew up the sides.  I think she was pretty happy with the results, though we'll have to go over some of the stitches to reinforce a bit.
Then we were off to a hike at the Ridges that we hadn't done since the first week we were here.

It was lovely - a warm day with lots of conversation about plants and smells and snakes, and several close-up viewings of the turkey vultures who live up there - one swung by often during our hike and received the nickname "Pickering" from E, who noticed he had a few feathers missing on his right wing, making him easily identifiable.  We also saw a deer and lots of wildflowers.

Just so you don't think our days are Maria von Trapp idyllic, I think we all had melt-downs before bedtime, struggles over piano practice, violent sneezing from at least two of us, and Mama relented and let them watch a Magic School Bus, even though it was not a "movie" day. There. Do you feel better?!

Squash Muffins

I'm going to start posting a few of my favorite recipes, the old stand-by's that get us through the week.  So, I thought I should start with a long-time favorite, the muffin.  Our muffins are not terribly sweet, made with maple syrup, which is just how I like them! Without all that sugar, I don't feel like I have to monitor the muffin eating the kids do, which is just one less struggle...This recipe used to be made with bananas, which still happens on occasion, but everyone seems to love them even more with squash. Here goes!

Squash Muffins

1 egg
1/3 cup butter (I am experimenting with using flax meal instead of butter - it does change the flavor slightly, but works in a pinch)
1/2 cup maple syrup (to be honest, I pour and drizzle until it looks about right. The original recipe, long lost, called for a whole cup, but I've never used that much)
1 cup cooked squash (acorn, butternut, pumpkin, or use bananas. I have also used soft pears, apples...this is a very flexible recipe!)

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
optional: nuts

Mix the wet, mix the dry, put together - at this point I will often add a small amount of water, if the consistency is not just right -  and bake in lightly greased muffin tins at 325 for 25 minutes et voila! The beloved muffin.

(My forays into photographing food have not been very successful, so I didn't even try to make my dear muffin into a glamour puss for a press photo.  I tried that with a chicken soup with dumplings a few weeks ago and it really really looked like a pot of vomit. Needless to say, I won't be sharing that picture with you...)

From Ponds to Pixies

We had our second spring class out at the Waterloo Aquatic Educational Center today, and though Ani and I are slogging through day 2 of a deeply snottirific cold, we did not want to miss it, 'cause it was about amphibians!! We've been listening to peepers for a month now, and remember the wee little salamanders we found in the fall, so we (well, at least I) have been looking forward to this. WAEC is partnered with the Raccoon Creek Watershed, and is housed at an old ODNR lab about a 15 minutes drive SE of here. It is beautiful, and I co-led a class there last week on wildflowers, so I knew there might be even more open and ready for ogling this week. I was right! The trout lilies were beautiful (though my pictures might not show it), with their gracefully nodding heads and mottled leaves.  Dutchman's Breeches were out in droves, but I think I'll have to save my photos of those for the 100 Species Challenge which I keep meaning to start in a more formal way here on my blog!
The kids were outfitted with boots for wading, nets and collecting boxes.  Eliza looks less than thrilled in this picture - I think it was because her collection box was full of worms and larvae and not newts and frogs.
Ani hung in there, and perked up when I dug the old Sutemi pack out of the back of the car and gave her a ride.  Oh man...it got me all nostalgic! I was amazed that it was comfortable for either of us, but it certainly extended our hiking stamina.

Collecting newts, water striders, dragonfly larvae (have you ever looked at those JAWS??? Holy cow.) and one very large spider at the big pond.
Trout Lilies
Now we're at home, and the girls immediately got busy setting up a "hiding place" on our front stoop (they really miss the large front porch we had in Richmond) and are now playing pixies, searching desperately for fairies, and eating muffins, with our next-door neighbor Sid.  And I am going to make myself another cup of tea, blow my nose, and maybe even help myself to another ibuprofen.  Or a muffin.  Probably both.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Love, Love, and More Love

We were so blessed with this visit from my sister, niece, cousin and cousin-nephews, or whatever odd title we should give those wonderful boys! I was blissed out (ha - this is funny - the maternal family name for all of us is Bliss) pretty much the whole time, even in those moments when Ani and I got to practice the difficult listen-and-use-your-words skill that is so very trying.  Getting to practice while in the presence of a little boy who is well-practiced at using his words, in articulate and compassionate ways, and in the presence of his loving mama, was really good for us! I'll take that kind of practice any day over the two of us haggling it out over and over.   Lucy and Eliza were glued together from the moment she leapt from the car, and thankfully Cole and Ani immediately engaged themselves in creating lego creatures and flying things and playing "Jack and Annie" to the fullest of their imaginations.  Which left wee little Niles for me to get to know...oh man. Talk about Love.  He wanted to wash the dishes for every meal (and his patient mama somehow helped him do this, without breaking a single dish), he sharpened every pencil in the house, he helped me make pancakes in the morning, and he overcame his fear of our cat Charlie, finally helping feed him on his last morning here.  I don't know how long it had been since my cousin Kelly and I got to sit and have an uninterrupted conversation, but it happened this week! More than once! My sister would deny this vehemently, but she is the glue for this kind of gathering.  She is the trusted, beloved auntie who is there...for everyone.  She was the way this week even happened, offering to drive with Kelly, even though they were just here 3 weeks ago.  She is the person the frustrated, tired, lonely and left-out kid goes to for a snuggle, a book, a walking companion.  I am so grateful for her and for her determination to keep our families interwoven!

I could really go on and on about the days we had - we spent a day at the beach! got sunburned! yes, yes, then it snowed, but!! - and how awesome it was to parent with TWO MAMAS while D got some extra work done, instead of doing it alone - but I know that the particulars are probably only interesting to our immediate families!  What I will say is that it is really being brought home to me how terribly important it is to have women friends in my daily life.  Life has not gotten easier as a mom, as a wife, as a woman, and when I talk to other women at the weary end of day, I find that their struggles and their swings between deep gratitude, joy, wonder and confusion, panic and anxiety are so similar to mine.  It is healing to know that, even if we can't share The Answer, we are able to share the daily path and not feel so darn alone.

My brother-in-law would quickly quip that there is an easy answer to further healing for me - move to Wisconsin! And Ani would agree - she talked for hours about moving to another house - a house in Wisconsin! oh, oh, a house NEXT DOOR to Aunt Lissie! On "Don't Ever Leave Aunt Lissie Avenue" (I kid you not, spoken with absolute teary seriousness).  The Love was here this week. We were filled.