Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Signed Up to Bring the Cookies

Little Mark pulled five 2-liter bottles of coke from our pantry this morning and pretended to bowl. It appeared that he had fun despite not being able to knock the bottles over. When the ball hit the center of the bottle, it let out a dull but audible doing!

I've decided that Little Mark is like a puppy with opposable thumbs.

Today is the first Carolina game of the season. Mark & I went out on a date last night. He decided to turn on football radio. In his Southern drawl, the commentator jovially talked of college football being a strain on marriages, and professional football causing an exponential strain. "Then," he paused, "but high school football--that's a widowmaker, that's what that is." So, to prove the good man right, Mark decided to stop as we were passing our local high school. They were finishing the last 45 seconds of the game. Every long suffering wife knows that the last 45 seconds of any football game is going to last at least 20 minutes. So we sat in the car 20 minutes watching high school football.

My sister and her husband and their two kids are in town for the game. They tailgate with their friends at a 6x10 foot piece of real estate they own in the Carolina parking lot. I never knew they treated parking spaces like real estate until Blake bought one. I don't know why this fascinates me.

My mother took Hadley, Ella & Meggy to a special exhibit at the museum about space aliens. I took the boys to Sonic for a corn dog and a milk shake. This way Mark could mow and trim the yard without the boys chasing him down with the Little Tikes "popping" mower.

I have a friend, Jennifer, who never takes her children to fast food places. Before coming to my house her daughter had never had Cheez Doodles.

Last spring at our mid-year meeting, I was sitting between Jennifer and another friend (now a missionary in Southeast Asia) listening to a talk by a homeschooling mother who is also a free-lance writer and speaker. It was meant to be a pep talk to revitalize us and encourage us in our homeschooling efforts. One of her concluding comments was, "I may never be able to become a missionary, or grind my own wheat, but I know that I am making a difference in my childrens' lives through homeschooling." At that, the seemingly revitalized and encouraged ladies of the crowd smiled and nodded in agreement.

I, however, glanced to my right at Jennifer, who grinds her own wheat and bakes bread three times a week, then to my left at my other friend (the missionary) who also grinds her own wheat. I leaned over to the missionary friend: "...Why are you here?" She replied dryly: "I signed up to bring the cookies."

Here's Little Mark with the Shop Vac. This is why I don't grind my own wheat.

Soup with Attitude

Ella was sick this morning and Margaret wasn't feeling herself.

Because it's what I'm supposed to do, I offered them soup for lunch. Sure, I'll make it from scratch, because I know you love my tomato soup. So about two hours later I place it in front of you. Can I have a grilled cheese sandwich too? We're out of bread except rye. We'll eat rye, Mom. Ok, I'll make it. Fifteen minutes later we find out we don't like rye. Not a problem, Mom will eat it. We're not really feeling like soup either, and Margaret has fallen asleep.

I've been thinking about the Gospel reading from Dormition on Tuesday about Mary and Martha. I wonder whether Martha's problem was just a bad attitude. Did Jesus really want her to put down her bowls and washcloths and have a seat; or did he want her to sit at His feet in her heart as Mary does in reality? Since I'm not particularly well-versed in Scripture or the Fathers, I'm going to say it seems that it should be so; but I'm up for being corrected by my favorite Orthodox priest. I also hope it could be so, because there are people like me who simply can't sit down, because if they were to take a seat the people around them would suffer for it.

Some Sundays I wonder if I was able to pray at all during Liturgy because of the kids. But other times I stand in awe at the wisdom of the Fathers. The liturgical method of prayer is undoubtedly the most conducive for the raising of children in the Church. With my hands coralling the kids or swatting someone's rear end at the end of a metania, I can at the same time know that I am not missing a single note or a line of prayer during the liturgy, as I raise my children in the Church.

If I were standing still, contemplating my eyelids, with my kids in a nursery, I can't imagine that I would feel the same assurance. Though there are those days that I wish for a nursery--or a Latin nanny who stays home with the kids while I pursue my higher spiritual calling. Who knows what a great saint I would be then?

The Lord does, no doubt, which is why no one has shown up to take over the care of mis niƱos.

So much for the nursery; our church doesn't have one anyway. I know in my heart that the only way to make any of this work is with my good attitude. If mine goes sour, so do my kids, my husband, and our little church.

I consider it a blessing that very early on in my motherhood I ran across an essay by G.K. Chesterton entitled, "The Emancipation of Domesticity." If I ever begin to consider the drudgery of my life as a wife, mother, homeschooler, and matushka, I reread the article. I love this essay, not because it is particularly Christian, but because it is preeminently rational in a world where reason takes second, third, nil place to what is popular or romantic. Here's a tiny part:

If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Enough Said

Every now and then I get the itch to have more children. Today, God reminded me why I don't need any more. Suffice it to say it involved potty training and a 20 square foot area. And that's all I have to say about that.

Church tomorrow. The lunar eclipse begins around 4:50 AM and ends around 8:30. I hope to be awake to see some of it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Michael & Elizabeth are in town for a few days. They recently returned from their honeymoon in Thailand and a summer in India for school. They are in town to pack up things at his mother's house and then head back to school in Boston. It was good to see them. To me Michael will always seem about 15 years-old, which isn't entirely my fault, since he didn't stop looking older than fifteen till he was 23.

Rose is back from New York and we will resume her schooling tomorrow. Mark assigned her some reading in Edith Hamilton's Mythology. She has finished it but her teacher hasn't started it. Until the time she leaves for England we're going to do an intensive study to prepare her for the visit. There's just so much I want her to read and to learn that I don't know if we'll have time before she leaves.

The reason for this preparation is two-fold. I truly believe it would be good if she knows a bit of the history of the places she is visiting. So much of the richness of these places lies in knowing (and loving a little bit) the people and the legends associated with them. The second reason is that my aunt (with whom Rose is travelling) is a retired public school teacher/principal I dreadfully want to impress. Maybe I will just settle for Rose conjugating her verbs properly. Maybe I only hope she pretends to know something about those topics that older grown-ups take for granted. On the one hand I am confident she is able to carry on intelligent and insightful conversations. But on the other hand she drops these one-liners that imperil the whole homeschooling movement and threaten to set it back twenty years.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Journey Into My Brain

Today I cleaned the rugs at the church and thought about substitutionary love. I asked my husband about sustitutionary love and apparently it's representational love that I should have been thinking about. It wasn't a big adjustment to switch from thinking about one to thinking aobut the other.So I started thinking about representational love instead.

Then I took the kids to Sandy's for a hot dog for lunch. After that we scraped wax from the floor and used the shop vac to clean it all up. After that I took them to Zesto's for a chocolate dipped ice cream cone because they had been so good all day.

I had a Space Balls moment today as I was cleaning out shop vac filter #1 with shop vac #2. Then I cleaned out shop vac filter #2 with shop vac #1. It didn't take long to think about this as being symbolic of my life. But I don't feel like thinking about that right now.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New World

Things that happened today:
Ella used the words, "stomach bone," as she described a scene to me from Pollyanna.

Little Mark put ice into a large bag of salt & vinegar chips the kids left on the table and got them soggy, but the kids didn't care.
I let the the children mop the kitchen today while I worked on the computer. Then I sent them upstairs and mopped up fifty little gray footprints.
The girls dressed up LMark in a Snow White outfit, and he came downstairs grunting and looking pathetic. I correctly assumed he wanted me to take it off of him.
Ella caught a butterfly. We put him in our butterfly habitat and brought him to the Piggly Wiggly with us. Max wanted to name it "Alice".

We are in the process of refinancing our home, getting new homeowners insurance, and car insurance all at the same time and through the same company. In the midst of all this we found out they are assessing our property tax too high. But because we're working out all the details online it's making my head swim. When it came time to hit the BUY button on the homeowners insurance, it just seemed too simple, so I got nervous. I think I must be getting old. I know people do this all the time, but I feel like I'm crossing a threshold into a new and frightening technological age.

I am at a point in my life where I have made the conscious decision to progress no farther in my understanding of certain things: html is one thing that would be useful but I'm not interested in; text-messaging is another--and all those little abbreviations that go with it. Mark, likewise, has decided that self-checkouts at the grocery store are too complicated and drive-through windows are too intense.

Zoe (not Las Vegas Zoe), Ella & Meggy's friend, came to visit today. She is turning 7 on Saturday and having the girls over for a pool party. Zoe's mom is nervous about leaving Margaret to swim alone in water slightly above her head. I've asked Margaret to indulge Miss Jennifer because she doesn't realize how well she swims. To Margaret, however, the quintessence of mortification is that she might be required to wear arm-floaties at the party.

I'm going to clean the rugs at the church tomorrow with the kids.
Rose comes back Saturday. Hallelujah.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Mark found out that they re-released Flash Gordon on DVD, digitally remastered for sound or whatever. So he has been anxiously waiting for it to be catalogued as part of the library's collection. Friday he found it on the shelf and presented it to me like a trophy he had won. The children absolutely love it. We have to skip a few scenes, but it's mostly innocuous by today's standards. So after supper Mark & the kids have been watching and listening to Flash Gordon in surround sound. Sometimes you think already bad movies can't get worse.

Something I Wanted to Remember

I wanted to write down this quotation from Brothers Karamozov somewhere. When I read it a number of years ago I decided that I needed to remember it. I'm not sure why or in what context I have wanted to repeat it.
The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular...the
more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for
Reminds me of Screwtape.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Cookie Mafia

Today I took the kids to our first Girl Scout group meeting of the year. The leader informed me that we aren't allowed to have fundraisers of our own any more unless we sell the cookies and now sell magazine subscriptions and chocolate covered nuts. It seems like a racket after all. It appears GSUSA has to pay cookie, magazine, and chocolate money to keep their high priced lawyers on staff to make sure they write multi-page liability releases so the girls can go step outside:

I/We further understand that applicant may be participating in a "Wilderness Experience" and that the meaning of this term is defined as follows: The pursuit of adventure or activity in a wild, rugged and uncultivated area or region, as of forest and/or hills and/or mountains and/or plains and/or wetlands, which would likely be uninhabited by people and inhabited by wild animals of many types and species to include, but not limited to, mammals, reptiles and insects, which are not tame, may be savage and unpredictable in nature, and also wandering at their will...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Eve of Transfiguration

This evening I was at the grocery store to buy grapes for Transfiguration tomorrow. As I was standing in the checkout line with about six pounds of grapes, the lady behind me says, "Looks like somebody likes grapes!" If I were a better witness for Orthodoxy I would have said, "Well, tomorrow is the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, and Orthodox Christians bless grapes on that day." Alternatively, if I weren't a shy person I would have said (having looked into her basket and seen that she was buying three twelve packs of Miller Lite) "Looks like somebody likes beer!" But I didn't, I just pointed out the grapes were on sale and my kids like grapes.

Sometimes I wonder if I could be any more of a dud.

Mark & I returned from the beach around 3:30 today. We went on quick trip to Charleston to have a few hours to ourselves before heart of the homeschooling season begins. My mom babysat the kids and nothing eventful occurred there except ants in the foyer, but they're all dead now.

For our part, however, there were a few events. Mark was stung by a jellyfish our first afternoon in the water. I don't think it was very big, but it left some welts all the same--and made him yell.

Someone accidentally walked into our hotel room last night, having been assigned the wrong room by someone at the front desk. It made me realize that my first inclination in a seemingly dangerous situation is to hide under the covers, which is what I did. Mark very boldly jumped out of the bed and shouted "Hey!" At which point the intruder left.

Then this morning as I was strolling in the water up to my knees, I saw a porpoise about 30 feet away. I've heard that porpoises and dolphins show up when sharks are around humans so I watched the fin go up and down for a few minutes. Then I turned around right when a wave was crashing over the top of a SHARK about 15 feet from me toward the shore. So I ran like a crazy woman out of the water. It might not have been that big (four feet or less), but this is what my nightmares are made of. Mark was at the car getting the beach chairs, so he didn't see it and doesn't believe I did either.

Rose just left for Niagara Falls with Mark's mom & step-dad. I put Ella on notice that she's the oldest this week so she needs to step up to the plate. At that she announced to the children, "Line up! Single File!" and marched them upstairs for bed. I was pretty impressed.

Right now Mark is at church for Vigil. The catchy melodies of the kids' Geography Songs are wafting down the stairs. These are the songs that plague me in the middle of the night because they get stuck in my head and I can't get them out. When I rid myself of one, it's replaced with another. Songs like "The Southern Africa Song" or "The Russian Federation Song" torment me in my sleep--but I love them all the same because I know the kids are learning something easily. Before this we were singing our skip-counting facts which were much more enjoyable. I'm sure I could teach my kids anything if if were set to music and put on a CD.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Rock

A memorable quotation from Meggy today: "Max stop licking the door!"

Another one from Max: "Mom, why are girls so wiggly?"

Yesterday, Hadley, Max, Meggy, Ella & I went to "the rock." This is an unusual rock formation at the end of our property. It's almost like a chunk of the North Carolina Mountains stuck in our back yard. We call it a rock, but this is really an understatement. It appears to be of the same geological properties as
Peachtree Rock , but it's much, much bigger. It juts out of the ground about twenty feet high, and cuts out at a 45 degree angle from the ground. There is a cave about 15 feet deep and there are paths running over and under the rock as if it were a state park.

Unfortunately it most emphatically is not. There are countless dirty words spray-painted on the face of it. Which is a pity because it is such a naturally beautiful place. Since I don't bring the kids back there very often, they were enchanted with trying to sound out all the letters. Margaret, who thought this was a prehistoric site, said: "The caveman's name was JOHN! See? JOHN!" I thought they would just leave the words alone, but they didn't. Thinking themselves amateur archaeologists, they were sounding out words all over the place. It got to be embarrassing for me, so I just said: "Turn around and don't read them; they're naughty and bad words that you don't want to see." They obeyed, but what do you say when your kids think that cavemen using filthy language?

Upon first arriving at the rock, we discovered weird blue opalescent balls everywhere. I couldn't imagine what they were. I thought of everything from drugs to bioterrorism. They definitely weren't natural (even though it is muscadine season here and the muscadines are big and purple (it's Transfiguration weekend by the way)) and when you squashed them they left a yellow goo. It only just occured to me that they are probably paint balls, although until yesterday I had never seen a paint ball in my life. It looks like they might hurt.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Colorful Creations

I just finished making crayon cookies with the kids. We took a good number of our old broken crayons and put them into a muffin tin and melted them into "cookies". They're really pretty. I took a skewer and made some swirls in them to make them more interesting. I can't imagine how well they're going to color. But it was fun to make them anyway. We had to put them in the freezer to pop them out of the muffin cups, otherwise they would have been hopelessly stuck.

The kids and Hadley are on the trampoline with the sprinkler. Little Mark doesn't like jumping, but Max relishes any time the girls allow him to play with them. They usually shun him as if he were pock-marked and diseased. Right now he's keeping up pretty well. He calls them "Angelica," "Camille" or whatever other play-name they demand of him, and he, in turn lets them call him "Slam."

I trimmed back my zinnias this morning. I think zinnias are the best suited to my life right now. They bloom into big, colorful, and hearty flowers that don't require much more than weekly watering. To add interest, the colors seem to vary within each plant: you can get hot pink and light pink from the same plant; orange and deep red. They're quite beautiful, I think. One of the big deep red blooms has petals seemingly delicate, but feel as coarse as tree leaves. The big pink ones have soft petals, but stand up to the most intense heat without withering or turning brown.

We just began the Exodus section of our History Omnibus. Our quick review of the previous section (Genesis) began with my asking Rose to tell me what God created in the six days. Her excuse, which was to end by her telling me she didn't have them all memorized, began this way: "I know He created a lot of stuff..." At which point I groaned and collapsed with the kind of exasperation known only to parents and teachers.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Not enough

Hadley is visiting from Greenville today. She came back with my mom and Margaret. She'll be here till Wednesday. I had been thinking all weekend that I don't have enough children to make demands of me, to complain and to argue, so I invited another one to visit.

The kids pulled me into the pool with them this morning, fully clothed. Since the summer is almost over I figured it was about time I fall into the pool. They began splashing at me as they usally do, but this time, as I reached down to get a bucket to toss at them, Max dumped a second bucket of water my head. So I gave up and "fell" in. Together they heaved buckets of water over my head and splashed me in the face. Little Mark was funny because the only pouring device he could find was a Dixie cup which he poured on me with as much joy as if he were personally drowning me.

Then Rose had to join us fully clothed too. But that's not too unusual for her. She "falls" in the pool almost every other week. If I were a more suspicious person, I would consider the possibility that she does this to avoid her math lesson...Once she fell in with her cell phone in her pocket, but she might say that it was I who pushed her...

She leaves for Niagara Falls on Saturday. She is a favorite travelling companion of her grandparents (on both sides), so she travels more often than your average kid. As much as I need her around for her skills as a babysitter, mopper, duster, laundry maid, and conversationalist, it is always something of a relief to have her leave. It allows me to spend uninterrupted time with the other children, which they need in terms of education, behavior, and play.

Yesterday we were at Miss Anne's pool and we ran into Gwynneth of the gold hoops again. Unfortunately Margaret hadn't returned from Greenville yet to continue her lessons; however Gwynneth seemed to have progressed well enough on her own. She latched herself onto our family (as often happens to us). It seems that she was as not familiar with the word "Papa" as synonym for "Daddy". Since our kids yelled out "Papa this!", "Papa that!" or "Papa look at me!", she began doing the same. "Hey, look at Papa!", she yelled, "Go Papa!" At first it was embarrassing. Then it became very funny. It reminded me of the time Ella was introducing people to a new person at church: "That's Papa!" she said of her father, and then about Antonius (Bridget's father), "...and that's DADDY!"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Managing, Glair and the Sky

Well the glair doesn't glare--more about that later.

Today I cleaned the carpets in the upstairs with the new Bissell carpet cleaner Mark's father gave us on our trip to Savannah. He had bought a heavy duty carpet cleaner which, after one use, he decided he would rather give to us, and pay someone to clean his own carpets. This machine is much better than the cleaner we've had on loan from my parents, the selling point of which appears to be how lightweight it is. But this new one weighs ten times as much and works a thousand times better. All the old one would do (unless I put my foot on it and "skated" on it to help the scrubbing-action) is turn a dime-sized coffee spot on the rug into a quarter-sized coffee spot on the rug.

Since the youngest three are out of town I am trying to get some larger jobs done.

The chore of dusting always gets away from me, although it is one of the simplest jobs to do. The problem is I am afraid to hand it over to a child who might break something in the process of trying to clean it. We don't have many pretty things sitting around, but I know if I hand this job over to someone other than my husband, one of those pretty things will be in the trash before sundown.

It reminds me of another article Mark told me about by Will Manley, who writes "The Manley Arts" for Booklist. He believes that Tom Sawyer is the embodiment of managerial skills. It's not because he is a workaholic, comes in early, leaves late, or works harder than anyone else. It is because he is quintessentialy lazy, and able to pawn all of his work onto somebody else, while making everyone think he is doing them a favor. This is the job of a manager. He is not only paid for the completed job, but he is lauded for his hard work. Tom is able to make his friends want to whitewash the fence while he sits lazily by, chomping an apple and seeming to everyone like an all-around great guy. I want to be able to do that.

Ella & Rose are at a gala at the Village Square Theater tonight. Rose was in Oliver! and Ella was in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever this season, so they were invited to the gala. Ella was asked to perform one of the scenes from her play. It's a hoity-toity event in our little town, so they dressed their best.

About the icon glair. I'm more disappointed than I thought I would have been. The paint didn't crack. A part of me wishes it would have, so I could have seen something more climactic. As it turns out, the glair painted on seemingly well, but after it dried it looked like a window washed with plain water. It beaded up enough to leave the dried look of a poorly washed window (into heaven--I'm tempted to add--but since I've already asserted that this wasn't strictly an icon, I won't). Since it looked this way, I thought, "It only needs another coat to cover it up."

The resulting image looks like it was varnished in a thin coat of flour-water. The depth of the color which is achieved in the light which rises out of the image through the brightening color looks instead like my sink after a kitchen-mopping. I tried to wipe it off, but it pulled off some of the last layer of color, which is the big X on the angel's globe, some of his staff, and a lot of the border. I was going to wax poetic on how amazing the traditional craft will use the whole egg, but now I wish I had used the chemical varnish.

On a lighter note, or more interesting one anyway, I discovered there is to be a lunar eclipse on the Old Calendar day of the Dormition of the Theotokos. I love when things like this happen, like the grapes in my arbor reaching their peak-ripeness on Transfiguration, and our pet butterflies emerging from their chrysalises on Pascha morning. Tomorrow night are the Perseids between 1 and 5 AM. We'll see if I can get out of bed to take advantage of this educational moment.

Friday, August 10, 2007


In May I went to an iconography seminar at Diakonia Center in Salem, SC, conducted by Fr Anthony Salzman. At the seminar we did an iconographic study of the Archangel Michael and architecture. I call it a study because the prototype was a copy of an icon that had been Photoshopped so it could include some elements Fr Anthony wanted to teach us in the class. So the finished product isn't an Orthodox icon in the strictest sense of the word.

Everyone else in the class knew how to mix and use the pigments, but this was my first time. I've always been intimidated by them because of their toxicity. I think the cadmium reds and the cobalt blue can kill you if you breathe the dust; the titanium white pigment can kill you if it gets on your skin. So for a person like myself, whose modus operandi has always been trial and error, it was too much of a risk to err.

Today, since the boys and Margaret are out of the house, I started working on the varnish that I didn't have time to put on at the seminar. One of the ladies in my class talked about a varnish made of egg whites. I found a sentence or two of directions to make it in the book, The Technique of Icon Painting by Guillem Ramos Poqui. The directions aren't complicated, but the process seems pretty simple: beat egg whites into a foam, let it sit overnight, peel off the dry crust in the morning and the remaining liquid is the glair. The seminar-lady's recommendation of it wasn't that great. She said her paint cracked beneath it. But I'm curious enough about it to risk the cracks.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

When the Duty is Done

Sometimes I wonder whether I'm just living right. Some days the road rises up to meet me and the wind is at my back. Some days begin wrong, but end right. Today is one of those days.

The day started poorly with another morning tussle with Ella. She has, at the same time, the most volatile and the sweetest temper of any child I have ever known. I feel like I have tried everything that a person in this fallen world can do to get over her morning mood. The thing that works best is simply sending her to her room. For the sake of her future, I need to make sure she always has a good selection of library books near her bed. She storms upstairs after an insignificant something has sent her into a fury, and flies into her bed. After a few moments, she leans over to the library box and picks out a book. Years from now I'm sure she will talk about these days as being the time she learned to love reading...that is, if I keep good books near her bed.

Today started getting better when my mother picked up Margaret to take her to Greenville for a weekend visit with her cousins. Then Mark's mom arrived with plans to take the boys for the weekend too. It's like all of the stars aligned and said: Sweetheart, we think you need a break.

Since the children departed, Ella has been angelic. We ate hamburgers and played cards. Rose and Ella began making plans for a slumber party since Margaret won't be in her room tonight.

Then we picked up Pollyanna and read a few chapters. Sometimes it feels good to cry during a good book, especially one that is designed to make a sentimental mother like me cry. The difficulty I had tonight is that the girls were in a particularly good mood. These girls, my bright and beautiful girls, could not stop laughing at the some of the most sentimental parts. Aunt Polly greets Pollyanna with a hand "of cold duty". They were practically rolling on the floor during a chapter entitled "A Question of Duty" where Aunt Polly talks about doing her "duty" all over the chapter, and Pollyanna cries out how glad she will be when her "duty is done!"

They were in stitches, and of course it's hard to pretend not to know what they're laughing about, since I was the person who probably made the joke first. Ella reminded me of this. She recalled to me, when we were reading a book about Ernest Shackleton and the voyage of the Endurance (almost two years ago). I read, "Each sailor had his own duty," at which point (I am told) I leaned over to Max and said, "Max, you do your dooty in your pants."

If I were a quick-thinking homeschooling mom, I would have turned this into an educational moment about homophones. But instead I have to pray, Good Lord, save me from children with good memories!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Homeschool Relief

I am going to stop berating my decision to homeschool Rose in the way I chose to for the past four or more years. Our first two years of homeschooling were done according to the public school method of teaching: workbooks, quizzes and tests. Then when Margaret was born, and we had some concerns about her health, we had to adapt. It was that year that I embraced a modified unschooling approach. In the ensuing years we had more children, but every time I tried to reintroduce the public school method, we had a break down in the family. The fact is, if we would have used the modern method our family would have suffered.

The reason I have this revelation now is because Rose is starting high school and her work is becoming more demanding and more like the modern method. Not that I'm embracing that approach, I just don't want her to be surprised when she goes to college and encounters a true or false test.

Monday, as we stood in front of my desk looking at her vocabulary work, a naked Little Mark (still potty training: see previous posts
1, 2,) climbed on a stool and proceeded to pee on her leg. Now most people Rose's age would have been so disgusted they wouldn't have been able to proceed. But Rose is so good-natured about her siblings (and particularly LMark's antics) we just cleaned up the mess and moved forward with her vocabulary.

As we sat yesterday discussing our life as homeschoolers and her future college career, I tried to encourage Rose by telling her that she is working amid circumstances that few high schoolers would ever have to. When she goes to college and finds that the only distraction is the stereo in the next dorm, I think she'll be delighted. Besides, it reminds me of The World According to Garp when the plane flies into a house he's looking to buy, Garp announces "We'll take it! What are the chances of something like that ever happening again??" Would that we all could breathe such a sigh of relief.

Rose should never again have to worry about someone peeing on her leg during a vocabulary lesson.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Clubs & the Cookie Mafia

Last night I went to SHIELD's kickoff meeting for the homeschool year. I signed up the girls for girls clubs, Max for the boys club, and Rose for the high school community service group called THRILL. Homeschoolers love clever acronyms.

These are all of the great ideas I have at the beginning of the school year, but when the work actually begins everything changes. This year the youth chorale disbanded, so I need to find a place for Rose to continue working with her voice. I also need to find a place for Max to make friends, since most of the time he's at the mercy of his older sisters, and their social calendars. While my instincts tell me it's neither unnatural nor undesireable for children to enjoy playing with their siblings, I think it's time he make some friends of his own.

I might not pursue the girls club since Ella & Meggy are already in a Girl Scouts troop for homeschoolers. The great thing about our group in particular is that we don't do cookies. After realizing that the amount earned by the group from the sale of one child's cookie sale could easily be written as a check (i.e. 50 boxes of cookies=$10 for the troop) the moms decided that we'd rather write checks than go through the whole cookie fiasco. We probably make more doing our own fundraisers like read-a-thons and bake sales anyway. We send our obligatory tithe to the main office, but otherwise most of the money goes to our group, and we don't contribute to the cookie mafia.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Rearranging & RePollyana

Yesterday I rearranged the girls' room. I turned their bunk bed into two twin beds, and moved things around, moved some furniture out, and organized and purged some of their junk. I try to do that every time we add more inventory (like the wooden hamburger and fries). Margaret received a chair as a gift from my parents. It's bright pink, shaped like a circle, and quite comfortable. Since adding it to the room, and moving around the beds it has really opened up the room, surprisingly. I wasn't sure what to expect since logic told me that the room would feel more crowded.

I just started reading Pollyanna to the girls. When I read it to Rose about 8 years ago, I blubbered and bit my lip throughout the book. For some reason I was embarrassed that she see me cry when I read a book. Recently when I read Boxcar Children to the kids they stared at me like I was a freak when my voice would falter, or tears would run down my face. Pollyanna should be fun, especially since I'm not as sensitive to that stuff any more, and Pollyanna is ridiculously sentimental.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Sunny Birthdays

So today is Margaret's sixth birthday. For sentimental reasons I try to wake up before sunrise because the sunrise was the most memorable moment of her actual birthday (apart from the birth itself). I looked out my bedroom window mere moments after she was born, and saw the sun peeking over the tops of the trees on the horizon. I called everyone's attention to it at the time, because it was such a beautiful welcome. I wanted to nickname her "Sunny" because of it, but apparently there's some Italian tradition that a man calls his eldest son, "Sonny." At the time we didn't have any boys, and didn't seem to have any prospects for more children, but we didn't call her "Sunny" just the same. We don't call Max "Sonny" either, but at least we allowed for the possibility, which might satisfy the 25% of Mark's Italian blood.

This morning the children came down, as they do on every birthday, ready to help Margaret find her hidden presents in the den. I discovered some new hiding places, so she didn't find them as quickly as the kids usually do. There are only so many places to hide something in a 12x20 foot space.

Then, as part of the tradition, after Papa leaves for work, we make pancakes in the shape of the birthday-child's name. We light candles, sing Happy Birthday, and then eat. So this morning, I accidentally sang "Happy birthday dear Ella...uh...Meggy...happy birthday to you!" Margaret was patient with me and gave me a weak smile. Rose said, "Make a wish!" But in the ensuing seconds where Meggy was getting a big breath to blow out the candles, Little Mark blew out one and Max blew out three. That left a two pathetic flames sitting unceremoniously amid five smoking pink & yellow candle butts. That was all Meggy could handle and she stormed out. She came back a few minutes later and she tried it again, but the magic was obviously gone.

Which is why I consider this our run-through for birthday cake tonight. I can't remember how many times I have come close to spanking a child over birthday cake. Several times they have become suddenly shy and withdrawn and have refused to blow. Grandparents and cousins sit and wait with bated breath for the big moment. The "Happy Birthday" melody fades into the ether, the moment arrives, and the child slaps a hand over her mouth and runs from the room.

Also part of the tradition, is my wishing that I had never given a single gift. If I don't monitor all of the activity, someone falls or runs over somebody else's fingers. This morning all was well until they began "taking turns" to ride the scooter around the house. If I don't use a timer, there's bound to be an argument. But then there's the added element of the scooter actually belonging to Margaret which throws a monkey wrench into all of the turns and sharing. Meanwhile Little Mark is walking around the house with the voice modulator repeating some gobbledegook in a high-pitched Munchkin Land voice over and over and over and over. Apparently if you hold down the "play" button, you can make it repeat the phrase until kingdom-come or someone throws it out the window.

I didn't realize until I saw the photo up close that I accidentally put 7 candles on her cake. What a mother I am.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Farmers Market

My mother and I took all the children to the State Farmers Market today. This is an outdoor market where farmers drive their pickups, small trailer trucks and other vehicles filled with vegetables to sell their produce. The children seemed to enjoy themselves, especially when we entered the area where they sell watermelons & canteloupes. I've never seen so many watermelons in my life. They were piled in every way possible to keep them in the beds of the pickups. There was a gutted schoolbus loaded to the roof with watermelons, but there was no glass in the windows. I can't imagine how they kept them in the bus while they were driving.

I bought a huge box of Roma tomatoes for $6, which was a bargain even at the Farmers Market. We got some boiled peanuts, corn, a seedless watermelon, and a big basket of peaches.

When we got home my mother and I blanched and peeled the tomatoes and the peaches to freeze them. Max accidentally pushed the watermelon off the counter, so it split and splashed all over the kitchen floor. Time to mop again.

Hamburgers and Voice Modulators

Friday is Margaret's 6th birthday. Tonight Fr Mark and I went out and bought her a scooter, a checker/chess board, and a wooden hamburger and hotdog set with wooden fries and a wooden juice box and straw. Now, there is a part of me that would like to say that I am earthy to buy wooden toys for my kids. There is also the more dominant part of me that likes to have my younger church friends come to my house and compliment me on my earthy approach to parenting by buying earthy wooden toys.

Of course I am no more earthy than anybody else who buys these kinds of toys. The fact is, it is always easier to throw away plastic than it is wood, even though they might cost about the same. The wooden toys are also much more attractive. I have bought plenty of plastic hamburgers in my time (and thrown away just as many), but none of them have been as attractive, and seemingly as durable as those made of wood. It's a pity I have only two more children to run them through. Undoubtedly I'll pass them on to my earthy friends.

Rose bought Meggy a lime green voice modulator. It records your voice and changes it to either a "Munchkin Land" voice, or a "Nightmare on Elm Street" voice. We had fun singing "Happy Birthday to You" to her, and no doubt she'll have fun modulating it in whichever way she pleases.