Thursday, February 26, 2009

Love languages

Years ago, a year or so after Eliza was born, Dan and I decided we could use a little more support in our communication skills (with each other), so we started seeing a wonderful woman every few weeks who helped us talk again. One of the things she introduced us to was the idea of love languages - how everyone feels loved and cared for in different ways, and it is helpful to know in what ways your loved ones receive love best. Between the two of us we usually forget one of the five main languages, but I'll give it a try: acts of service, gifts, words of appreciation (or affirmation?), quality time...oh shoot. Really, now. Oh yes, physical affection. The idea is that everyone responds to a couple of these languages more strongly than the others. It has recently occurred to me (I am kind of slow on these things) that there is a sixth love language operating in our house - the love language of food. And no, I am not (unfortunately) talking about the slow seduction of ripping apart an artichoke and dipping it in butter before feeding it to your lover. I am talking about the drive that takes over when I am feeling like there is nothing practical that I can do to help Dan thrive in graduate school - I can proof-read, but not offer very insightful feedback, and I can't very well do any of his reading for him (my head hurts just thinking about it) - but I can make him lunch, cook him a good dinner, and make the occasional granola bars. I can hard-boil eggs for his walk to school, make sure we don't run out of coffee and half-and-half, and once in a while surprise him by splurging on beer. I am apparently passing along this trait to my daughters (talk about modeling traditional roles here. oh well.), as they have begun making Dan delicious sandwiches for him to take: usually mustard, sharp cheddar, and apple slices (This sandwich makes me drool. Serve it to me with a cup of coffee and I am in heaven. I am a simple woman.), and today Eliza also made him her latest discovery - nori rolls.

This drive extends to the way I feel when I am able to provide food for someone who needs it in some physical or psychological way, like a friend who is going through a hard time. I still get tears in my eyes when I think of the meal a new friend here brought when she learned that we all had the flu. The love is in the sharing, for certain, but it is also in the sharing with someone who likes food. I am sometimes at a loss with my husband who likes food, but is unwilling to give it any brain space or time. He appreciates a good meal, but is reluctant to indulge me with brainstorming hours ahead of time.

There is a definite void in my life right now. I deeply miss some soul sisters in Richmond who speak the love language of food, with whom I would cook, talk, cry, eat, share, create, laugh...I can send emails, write letters, even talk to them on the phone while cooking something we've eaten together, but it isn't quite the same. Our friendships were punctuated by recipes, picnic lunches, and the ultimate - the monthly potlucks where we wove our food magic around entire families. I am slowly building a friendship with a woman here, but it is not the passionate love affair of the ambrosia-homemade tortillas-granola bar-green olives on pizza-and-Superstar sandwich whirlwind that I long for. It is fried tofu and noodles in peanut sauce. Bake sale muffins. It is good intentions and good company, but lots of distractions. It might be that it is a friendship that will deepen over time, as our tastes emerge and our children grow. I took it as a good sign that today...she offered to save me a piece of homemade apple pie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Number Two

Ok, I know the suspense has been killing you - how will she top the Scoop on Poop??? Wait no longer (who am I talking to?!) - today was the day. Today our class focused on animal scat, and specifically the scat of mammals of this region.  This activity was really why I wanted to teach this class, and it went off pretty well.  It began with the making of many many batches of chocolate playdough - there are many recipes online, but this is the one I finally used:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
mix together, then add
1 1/2 TBS oil
1 cup boiling water
stir over low heat for about a minute, until dough pulls
away from sides of pot - remove and kneed into ball (it will be quite warm)
Here are the girls experimenting with the initial batch.  They started with making the usual sumptuous pies and cupcakes, but quickly began cranking out the poo, and got very detailed when I pulled out the fabulous Mammal Scat bandana that we got for Christmas.  Eliza's only concern about the chocolate playdough was that it smells really good; she thought we should find some way to make it smell more like poop, like let it hang out with Charlie in the litter box. I decided it was ok for our faux poop to smell like brownies.

For the class, I added the bits of things that one might find in real scat - we had bones (rice and slivered almonds), insect legs (rice noodles), dried grasses, feathers, eggshells, and, um, fur. I started with a small bag of dog hair from a friend's dog, and sent out a plea for more, and one of the coop parents showed up with a small bag of deer fur, with some very fresh-looking flesh attached.  I tried to play it cool, but it freaked me out just a little as I gingerly trimmed the fur from the skin. But it looked great!  We began with a guest to the class - one of the parents is a nurse and I'd asked her to talk about what they look for in a patient's poop. It was so interesting, and she remembered that one of the kids had had giardia a few years ago, so he talked about that as well.  Then I read excerpts from Jurassic Poop and Poop:  A Natural History of the Unmentionable.

The kids had a lot to say about everything, and there was a lovely moment when one of the kids who lives on a farm where they raise cows, horses and sheep started talking about exactly what I was going to talk about (how cows, who drink lots of water, can afford to produce huge sloppy flops about 10 times a day, whereas sheep, who get their water from the plants they eat, have to eat a lot more than the cows do, and have very dry, conservative poops, but a lot of them).  If only I could be more improvisational and spontaneous - this is a group that seems to need reining in, and I get into the mode of corralling them and if I could step outside of that I think I would notice that there actually is a nice, if very rambunctious, flow happening.  I think this is only frustrating to me, as everyone got to tell their stories, but I did dwell on it for the rest of the day.  So - the main points were that poop looks different because of what the animal ate, and how much water it contains.  Then we were on to making poop.  I had created little field guides for them of nine animals, with a drawing of the scat and some key information - whether the animal was a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore, and what the scat might contain.  They seemed engaged and happy - there was a lot of focus, some more stories, and not too much chaos...
Eliza, with some of her poop.

Scat close up (let's see...there are rather large rabbit pellets in the back, a HUGE muskrat pellet upper right, fox in the middle, and the foreground I think is raccoon.  Did you know that you don't often find bones in raccoon poop? They use those nimble fingers to pick them out before eating their meal...).

The field guides
All in all, a successful class, I think! Next week, bird waste - dissecting owl pellets...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hey twinkle eyes

On Tuesdays and Thursdays Eliza has a class on campus and Dan goes with her - it's kind of her big girl time with Papa. Ani and I usually take the opportunity to play together for a bit and then hit the hay early.  Tonight we were both winding down from a run-around day, a day of mischief and nagging and lost tempers (all of which does deserve a post, but I'm too bushed for it tonight), and I am still getting ready for my class tomorrow, so we found ourselves in the kitchen, me cleaning up and she doodling and narrating as she goes.  At some point she picked up an empty tin of nuts and was playing with it, and we were both struck with some creative genius, and came up with the idea of sticking a magnet on the bottom of it and putting it on the fridge.  It worked and is such a cool little container for...well, anything! Then we found another, emptied of its cocoa, and did the same. This time she called it "Charlie's mailbox" (as in our cat), and the idea expanded:  we decided these little boxes needed to hold some surprise notes for unsuspecting curious minds. She got right to work, and what follows tells the rest of the story (for now): 
Hey Twinkle eyes

the boxes, amidst the chaos of the fridge

aw nuts (Ani's current favorite phrase)

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Scoop on Poop

Supplies for Poop Class #1
You may have noticed our "library basket" list of books in the sidebar to the right.  I'm sure that if you have looked, you have also noticed an interesting variety in the subject matter, quite a spread in our family that ranges from a 3 and a half year old to a doctoral student brain deep in aesthetics.  I quite enjoy the intermingling of books on the cyber bookshelf. It makes me giggle, particularly with the addition of all the poop books, but I thought I should explain.  

It is my turn to teach a month of classes at our homeschool coop, and my first choice was moon journaling. My dear friend Kimmy led this class in Richmond, and I got to assist, and it is lovely - part science class, part nature journal, with poetry and art interspersed throughout, and lots of room for following the interests of the kids in the class.  Then I got to thinking about the weather here in February (my month) and checked out the Farmer's Almanac, and sure enough, there was much Weather forecast.   Then we invited a guest teacher to lead a writing workshop in the elective slot of the day, and it seemed another reason to look for something else to teach. I do not know how I went from moon journaling to poop, but I did.  I was in part trying to find a subject that I thought would be FUN and would appeal to the cluster of 7-10 year old boys that we have.  I admit, I know very little about this age of boy, and was feeling intimidated.  I thought if I could grab them with some juicy (heh) subject matter, we'd have a good time and we'd all learn something.  And so began my journey of the poop.  I am here to report on class one. (If you do not need the details, you should probably just skip the rest of this post. I am LOVING this class, so I will lay it all out here, because who knows, The Universe may have brought you here, to this blog, at this very moment, because you too have been called to lead an Examination of Elimination.)

We began by passing around a bag of castings from my worm bin. I had the kids guess what it was, and do you know, they all guessed dirt? Ha HA! We then read "Everyone Poops", which I thought might be a bit young for this group, but do you know what? Not only does everyone poop, but everyone LOVES a funny book about poop!  Then I read excerpts from a book chock full of great information about the subject, called "The Truth About Poop" (example: a skipper caterpillar, 1.5 inches long, can shoot its poop 6 feet so that no predators can track it down by smelling its poop). From here we went on to talk about how poop is made, and spent the rest of the class going through the digestive system.  There are some fun activities you can do to demonstrate and explore this - talk about the role of teeth and saliva while chewing a soda cracker, pass a hand squeeze around the circle and talk about peristalsis, put some OJ and a cracker in a ziploc bag and talk about the stomach and bile. My favorite, though, was talking about the intestines.  First we stretched a 25-foot string across the room a couple of times to show how long the small intestine is (that is long. super long.), and then I fed a cup or so of cooked oatmeal into the leg of a pair of nylons, and squeezed it through to the toe, while talking about villi absorbing nutrients and water from the food, sending it to the blood stream. This was so EW! It was great. Then everyone picked a part of the system they wanted to portray, and we sent a particle of food on through.  This is an activity I adapted from this website. A boy I am just getting to know immediately volunteered to be the the butt of this project - a job I thought I'd have to bribe someone to do.  Donning the "Colon to Anus" placard, he took his place at the end of the table. This is also the kid who came to me later in the day to announce that hearing about all that poop just made him have to go, and voila! Success!! I was so proud.  At the end of class I suggested that they notice this week how often they go, what doesn't get digested (corn, seeds), what makes their poop a different color...a little poop journal of sorts. I'll let you know how things come out, next week.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I got to take another walk last night. Sigh. It was in-between showers and just before a very cold front that brought snow today.  I was struck by how many more bird songs I am hearing this week, and makes me long for spring. I know, this has not been a bad winter compared to those of you further north, but really, I am longing for the smells and the moisture of spring. Apparently this has been a rough winter by local standards, so I don't know what I was worried about! Anyway, I noticed mourning doves, which I hadn't realized have been absent from the soundscape of our neighborhood, but it must have been months since I have heard more than a cardinal or two and a woodpecker around here.  On our trek to the Ridges last week the girls and I were treated to the screech of a red-tail hawk, circling high over the fields, and just yesterday as we were climbing into the car to come home from coop, we heard what we thought was a seagull but it was definitely some kind of medium-sized raptor (anyone know what that might have been?).

It has been a week of listening to more than the birds.  I am reminded again of how much better our days go when I truly listen. Dan was talking to one of the girls about something he was reading that was reminding him that there is "hearing" and then there is "listening". I do a lot of hearing in our day - our house is loud. Screaming, shrieking, drum-banging loud. So it is easy for me to just tune out and forget to look for opportunities when it is safe for me to tune back in and really listen.  When Eliza was sick we missed a coop day and had some catching up to do with writing a short story so that she would have something to work on with our guest writer this week.  We don't do a whole lot around here that has to do with deadlines. There is little that has to happen in the course of the day.  Eliza has made a deal with her piano teacher that she will practice for 15 minutes on 5 of the 7 days of the week.  It is her own deal, and so she sticks to it pretty well, without much nudging from us.  This is probably the only "have to" in her day.  Occasionally I impose a "have to" in the form of a project I think we will all really enjoy and get a lot out of, and dontcha know, it doesn't usually go very well!!! But the zen of catching those moments and knowing when and how much to push is the subject of quite another post...So - the short story. It was Tuesday and coop meets on Wednesday, so  we were down to the wire and Tuesday is our busiest day, with piano, Irish dance, and a reading tutorial. I took a deep breath and asked E again to sit down with me for a bit, to brainstorm this short story. Ooooh, resistance from a six year old is so very strong. So I suggested that we sit on the couch, and she draw a story from her mind, and tell me about it as she went, while I take notes. We talked about the key elements - character, setting, and conflict - and she was off! It was an awesome lesson for me in not inserting all of my fantastic ideas into her silences - I really had to consciously refrain from saying something every minute or two and just wait for the seed to grow. And it grew. We sat for an hour, and as I worked so hard to just be patient, and still and not fill in the holes for her, I wondered how many times I do that - supply the word, the emotion, the intention, the explanation, when what is truly needed is the silence, the presence, the space for these small people with very big insides to unfurl.

Gallery II

Oh my goodness, this made me laugh. We read "My Map Book" by Sarah Fanelli and, inspired by this post at Playful Learning, I set out to suggest that the girls make their own maps.  It being the week of the valentines, I felt pretty certain they would choose to make heart maps, which Eliza did and is still working on, but without a moment of hesitation, Anika chose to make a map - of her sweet tooth. I helped by drawing a tooth (come on, it kind of looks like a tooth, doesn't it?) and outlining her words in black pen, but the rest is hers, all hers. It really tickles me.
I had to include a picture of this present E made for a good friend at coop.  She came up with the design and did all the sewing herself. I particularly enjoy the fringe...

by E - fairies, flowers, and a beaver, 
which I thought was a dinosaur. 
Detail of those lucious flowers

Gallery I

Eliza's attempt at capturing the elusive Charlie...

and a much more cooperative subject.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Feeling better!

Yes, as soon as the bodies were healed, we headed outside, to heal our souls...some wet swinging... 

an unexpectedly lovely day in the sun (short-lived, but we caught it)...

and our weekly habit - the Athens Farmer's Market, which runs year-round, folks, really it does. The girls bring a dollar and find a place to huddle with a warm cup of steel-cut oats from their friend Konstantin - this perch beats all others, in the back of Marge's truck (she sells fabulous apple butter and is a kind cheery soul those cold saturday mornings!).

On valentine's day the girls and I went to an event hosted by the Sierra club, where we made edible valentines for the birds and critters in the woods, and then took a hike to distribute them.  On our way we spotted these wee snowdrops peeking out from under a rock...can it be true??
Our week ended with a family date at "Indonesian Night" on campus, complete with spicy chicken, various forms of dance, including an Indonesian version of the electric slide, which of course meant audience participation much to the glee of the girls (sorry, no photos), and romantic ballads (of the American variety) in honor of the day.

Knowing the love

My babies were sick last week - flu sick, lots of, well, vomit.  And while there is little worse than watching your child be sick, I really appreciate the downtime, the long hours of reading and snuggling, the sweetness of being quiet together. Anika is a particularly lovey, cheerful sickie; at 3 a.m. she told me that all she needed to feel better was to get some of her love back. I asked her if she could feel me loving her and she waited a moment, and sighed, nodded.  As she was sitting on the potty, in-between heaves (sorry) I reminded her to spit it all out, and she said "mmhmmm, mama, it is my desire to spit it out. what does desire mean again?" and when I reminded her, she blew me kisses. Blew me kisses.  So, when it came time to get up and make a bed on the couch in the morning, it was clear that she needed the loviest shirt she has:
Mormor Loves Me

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


One of our strategies for surviving this quarter of graduate school (quarter by quarter...) is that Mama gets exercise.  Dan thoughtfully arranged for a membership to OU's recreational facility for me as my Christmas present (completely off-topic - my other gift was a second floor to the worm bin. my husband knows and loves me really really a lot.), which I have really enjoyed (groan, wince, sigh).  I am the type of person who needs lots of encouragement while exercising, so the winsome young (really really young) ladies who lead the classes I've been to earn their keep with me.  But some days what I really need is a long walk.  Today was one of those days.  It began with the long morning scramble of breakfast-making and lunch-making and child-dressing and bag-packing and carseat-buckling (oh, wait - schooling families have to do this five days a, dropping off a forgotten book to Dan on campus, and off to our homeschool coop in a teeny township about a 15 minute's drive from here, through a beautiful snowfall.  Coop is lovely, lively, and lots of fun, but it wears me out.  So by 5 I was ready for a long walk in the long shadows of the day, listening to the crunch and snap of the ice underfoot and the sudden stillness when I stopped...I love walking for the rhythm, for the flow of thoughts, for the privacy of an animated conversation with myself, for the figuring of a poem or an idea, and today for the chilly cheeks, the brisk freshness of the air, and the amazing colors of winter at sunset.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February thaw

We were treated to a beautiful day of melting ice, running streams and slushy snow, so we bundled into the car with waterbottles and the requisite bag of snacks and headed to nearby Stroud's Run for a tromp with Papa! There were some memorable quotes from the day...I was cautioning Eliza about a particularly wet patch and she turned to me quite seriously and said "Mama, I am from Mother Nature".

Crossing a little iced-over stream, I admit I shrieked a little bit, watching Anika teetering on what seemed like the very edge of an arctic ice floe, ready to plunge into the depths of the freezing water...(ok, I'm that kind of mama too. which is why there are Papas to balance things out, right?)  Eliza shared her thoughts with me once we had all crossed, something to the effect of, "See, Mom, the glory of the day, the sparkling icy branches, the smell of the wind, the waving of the trees..." inspiring me to look up once more to capture all the wonders around us.