Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Late summer days, chicken soup, and T-shirt Skirts!

The exclamation point is caused by a tone of incredulity on my part...we made skirts?! WE (as in I) made skirts???? COOL. Eliza came downstairs in one of her dad's old t-shirts yesterday, cut to shreds in her mission to personalize it for her own use (um, with permission, of course!).  It got my wheels turning, and I remembered an article in a magazine that a friend left as a joke for me upon our return from Wisconsin.  Have you seen Mary Jane's Farm? While there are some cute ideas in its pages, there are a few too many articles along the lines of "chainsaws for girls!" and "sew diapers for your indoor chicken pets!" (really) for me to take it too seriously, as I am close friends with several real-life woman farmers who would not find such information useful in the least.  However, it makes for some good bathroom reading, and I came across a how-to for making t-shirt skirts! So, we tried it. One old Phish t-shirt and a thrifted $.99 shirt later...
 Cute, huh? With headbands/hats to match! I can see the girls wearing these for days at a time. And I can see stenciling a little something in one corner...
 Speaking of stenciling, here is the shirt I made for Dan for his birthday.  Not as much WOW as the dragon, but I was pleased with it!
And while I'm talking about skirts, I have had the same skirt on just about every day for the past two weeks that I've owned it...My cousin Kelly made me a beautiful skirt to wear well into the fall. There is nothing like wearing something that was made with love just for you...
The last few days have been home-bound, as we've nursed Eliza through a virus that has swollen her tonsils and laid her low. What do you do with a sick one in your home? I feed them, of course. It might come from a feeling of helplessness, but making homemade chicken soup and noodles made sense as good food medicine, and it seemed to make her feel better.  Elderberry tea, echinacea, garlic drops for her aching ears...she is mending quickly.
 And for the caregivers? Jalapenos from the garden, stuffed with cream cheese, onions, cilantro, cumin, baked in the oven till melted....with a beer and a round of Bananagrams. Ahhhh.
 And an evening walk for me, to the garden for more jalapenos and to water the beet babies.
On my way home I watched a doe and two fauns nibble and frolic through a field next to the bike path. Such great rewards for a full day...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Homeschool Evaluations

It's that time of year again, for those of us who are required to do so,  to provide "proof" that we are raising living, learning beings.  We have chosen - for three years now - to meet this requirement through evaluation with a certified teacher, rather than by submitting standardized test scores.  Even though this is by far the less-stressful option, there was a current of apprehension in the house yesterday as we waited for Sherri to arrive.  Eliza and I had sat and looked through the portfolio I'd put together over the last month - samples of things we've done, some of them from last fall, by now a distant memory, brochures from museums, playbills from the theater, notes from Farm School, drawings, notes...I had also used, for the first time, a system of keeping notes that I got from Renee at FIMBY.  I tape a paper labelled "Family Learning Notes" to the inside of my kitchen cabinet, and every time we read something, watch something, play something, make something, go somewhere or talk about something that makes our wheels turn, I try to remember to write it down on the paper.  I've created headings that loosely describe some "study" areas - reading, math, science, world study, art/music, community/other - but I regularly get confused about where to put things, because isn't it all connected? 
 A new paper goes up for every season, and it was great to look back on these notes and remember and acknowledge all that we had done over the past year, and for that reason alone I'm glad to have kept them.  What I really wanted her to do, though, was to read this blog. The good bits and the boring bits and the hard bits. It takes a lot of time to do that though, so I tried to pare it down for her by tagging some posts "portfolio" and sending her that link. I had to go and see what that shift of the kaleidoscope might show someone, and you know what? Life looks pretty awesome.  Try it - click on "portfolio" in the side-bar to the right (under "what we're writing about") and have a look, if you'd like to know, in a glance (ok, it does take some minutes to pour through them), what we've been up to this year...I also, as an extra bonus (grin) sent the link to my "Good Earth" posts about farm school, as we spent so much of our time there this year. Again - pretty darn awesome.

*edited to add: Dan had a look at this post and the portfolio link and thought it really misrepresented "what we do" because it didn't show EVERYTHING! "We're learning all the time!" he argued, which is totally true, but in lieu of asking an evaluator to catch up on a year's worth of blog posts - some 200 posts - I chose to tag a few (more like 30 from the past year) to try to give an idea of what the rest of the year is like.  I did add a few more posts to "portfolio" after our conversation, posts I had intended to add earlier but hadn't remembered to tag, so if you're looking at this a second time (!!), you could have another look!
Wednesday, the day before our evaluation, Eliza woke up bouncing and ready for "School!!!" Out came some new supplies - a binder, some cool folders, a new lined notebook, a clicky pen - all the things I really loved about school!! - and we sat at the kitchen table for a while, working through a book of mysteries that you help solve.  At some point, when she'd done a few of the mysteries, she looked up - "Math?" Um...yeah, we'll get to that too! I know the schooly mode won't last for long, but after a summer of sun and wind and water, we're craving a little inside and structure, so we're going with that for now.
 While waiting for Sherri to come, Eliza looked at me with some anxiety, and asked, "If she doesn't think I'm learning, will she send me to school?" Oh dear girl. Your life is so full, you are so smart, creativity courses through your blood, and your eyes? They sparkle with curiosity and wonder. You are learning. Sherri thought so too.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I mentioned back in July that Eliza had caught on fire with her painting.  Well, she got off the bus on Saturday, got home and declared, "I have to paint!!" Off she went. Many of the paintings grew into collages.

While Eliza was still gone, Ani was working on a couple pieces of her own...
By Anika
By Anika
by Eliza
At some point I mentioned that we were quickly running out of precious watercolor paper, and while I didn't want to dampen the spirit with stinginess, maybe we could look at some other materials for holding paint?  I have a large tote bag filled with magazines and clippings for collage work, and there was an old trail guide from Virginia's park system that appealed. Eliza liked the way the words sometimes shows through (so do I).  Once in a while it even adds a bit of poetry to the image...
Lonesome Pine - Site Directions
Fairystone - Site Description
I came into the room at some point late on Monday (that's two full days of painting frenzy) to find the paintings taped up all over the downstairs.  With a little coaxing, I consolidated them into one Wall of WOW...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

happy happy...

 We had the best day yesterday, celebrating Dan's birthday! He and I spent the morning making fruit pies for a potluck we had last night - I am not a pie maker and he saved the day by dealing with rolling out the crusts...they were delicious.  We made food, went for a hike, listened to new music, and had good friends over to celebrate...so lovely. Happy birthday, love!
The shirt he's wearing was a present from us - one of a couple that we drew and stenciled this past week!
 The dragon was one I traced onto freezer paper from a drawing of Eliza's.  We added a few embellishments that we thought would make it look even cooler on an orange shirt - the eye and the flames - and then I cut it out with an exacto knife. Once I had it ironed onto the shirt, Eliza painted it.
There are definitely more of these in our future...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

a week with Ani

Family is home, we are in the thick of transitioning - from being apart to being together and from being on vacation to being Home.  Transitions are not easy for us (are they for anyone??? got any tips???) - we all have high expectations and hopes and are easily pricked and let down.  Anika and I had a good week together, and as we snuggled in bed yesterday morning, she told me she'd like one more day just with me.  This is some of what we did with our together days...

We sewed a bag as a present for a friend - a truly collaborative effort, planning, cutting, sewing up the edges, choosing buttons, sewing them on, braiding a strap...
 Celebrating that friend with a party where she was Queen for a day!
 We hunted for bugs on our way to the garden...
 Milkweed was home for many leaf-hoppers and milkweed bugs, and of course there were plenty more in the garden itself...
 Friday was our last full day together, and after I'd already laid out a plan for the day, I thought to ask what her perfect day might look like..."Well...we're going for a hike, right? and to the library? and we're going to have lunch at Casa? and we're going to get ice cream?" Yup. "That is definitely a perfect day for me." All right, then!
mystery fungus - not poofy, but pretty hard
A closer look at this rock hole revealed a sinister brew of mosquitoes...
 As we sat and ate some dried mango, we noticed several tiny ants carrying large loads, and wondered which of the ants around us, if any, would be interested in some mango.
 One little red ant immediately found the piece we put down and carried it an amazing distance before another came to either hinder or help. It was fascinating to watch.
 We also found this moss-covered tree climbing with caterpillars!

The day was perfect, the week was a welcome gift of time together.  I'm wanting to find a way to secure time alone with each of the girls on a regular basis (and as Ani told me, it is important to have time alone with my husband as well! smart kid.)  as we move into the fall...

Dinner is done with, Tolkien is booming downstairs in the living room (did you know Dan is an actor?!), easily heard over the steady rhythm of the cicadas, paintings are being painted, the day is winding down... It is good to have the house full again.

Friday, August 19, 2011


This was the summer of the reunion for us. Our trip north began with a family reunion (one week after Dan's 20th high school reunion, which he did not make it back for!) and ended with a weekend packed with my far-flung family.  Morfar (my dad) and Grandma Liz, from Sheboygan, and then loads of family from my mom's side.  Aunt and Uncle and cousins from eastern Wisconsin, family from around Madison.  An uncle and aunt I hadn't seen for easily 9 years, up from Kentucky. My cousin and his pregnant wife (sorry, we are really really excited) up from Chicago. All gathered at another cousin's house, the reunion completed by my 93-year-old Big Papa and his sister, Jean. Wow.

All this, and the morning of this gathering, Ani burst into tears, saying, "I just want to go HOME. Why does today have to be our People Day?"  She bucked up, however, and got through the day, just firmly announcing to well-wishers that "I am not really a crowd kind of person. I'm going to be by myself right now."  I am so in awe of her presence and self-knowing and her respect for her experience. I don't remember having that at age six! 

Well, this should be my last post about our trip - Dan and Eliza are taking the bus home tomorrow!!!! They are ready to be home and we are so ready to welcome them back...
Mom and my cousin Ben
Beautiful ladies sharing a porch swing
Big Papa and Uncle David
Ah, cousins!
Fitting Papa with a thunder vest for dogs...
...turns him into a Super Hero, don't you think?

The end of a long trip...