Monday, September 28, 2009

was the view worth it?

This morning we somehow got all the schoolwork completed in record time so we headed down the coast for lunch and a drive up the Mount Battie Auto Road outside of Camden. By the time we pulled into the driveway at 4:30 I was convinced that perhaps we should have just stayed at home and saved myself the aggravation of taking 6 children anywhere in public.

After swinging through the McDonald's and Wasses Hot Dog drivethrus we pulled over in the shade of the parking lot to eat our lunch and piled everyone back in the car. However, I had parked right next to a pile of dog poop and Charlie had managed to step in it and get it smeared on the van floor. I almost lost my lunch right there, but managed to get cleaned up enough to get to the public bathrooms at the boat ramp in town by using every baby wipe I owned. With the windows all down we headed back down Route 1 and pulled off at Camden Hills State Park.

The view from the top was fantastic, tiny white sailboats darting between islands blanketed in pines and spruces with Blue Hill and Mount Desert rising beyond, all topped with puffy clouds floating in a bright blue sky. I took photo after photo of the kids in hope that one would turn out well enough to suffice for our Christmas cards. With no bathroom I sent several of the children into the scrub, but Timmy managed to soak his pants and car seat cover before we made it down to the bottom gate.

After reading Maine Mountain Guide earlier this summer I knew that there was a pretty nature preserve not far away on Fernald's Neck and Will navigated well enough to get us to the tiny parking area. The kids raced ahead and we found Hanging Rock, a huge boulder that was tipped up by the glaciers of long ago. It looks like it could fall over with just a tiny push, but try as Mary could, she could budge the thing.
Of course the kids were goofing around at the water's edge and Maggie got muddy and as she was reaching for the water to rinse off she slipped and kerplash! she was wet up to her waist.

For the third time of the day I was grateful for my emergency stash (housed in an old LEGO bin) of clothes and supplies I keep under one of the seats in the van. As for my poor van, it got stripped of all the nasty clothes and car seat and I scrubbed the carpet with soap and a scrub brush. Between the stale mouse odor and the particularly nasty scent of doggie doo, I'm thinking a trip to the car detailer would be a smart idea.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

updated tally

It is beginning to look like a mouse graveyard around our front stoop. 4 little mouse memorials. It seems that our van was a mousie condo, every morning I'm finding another little tail sticking out of the trap and the children all race downstairs to view the burial. It is not like our van is a pit of soda cups and fast food wrappers since Tim makes the kids vacuum it out weekly. Honest, you can ask Michelle, she was mighty impressed by the cleanliness. See?

Friday, September 25, 2009

my little flower

Corona means crown in Latin as we have been learning this week in Prima Latina. Julia Ellen's hair is the perfect illustration!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Here lies Mousie
He lived in our car,
He made a huge mess
Now he will not go far.

(it is obvious that I am no poet, unlike my Auntie Ellen who has had her poems put to music and is currently in France on a poetry retreat (all expense paid))

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

some days are like that...

the children have been hateful and sullen, the toilet is still stopped up, Julia Ellen was stung by a yellow jacket on her already chubby face, we apparently have a mouse living in our van, and someone found my secret stash of vanilla sandwich cookies.

I'm praying that tomorrow be a better day with smiling cheerful children, a miracle occurring in the plumbing, and the mousetrap to work.

Monday, September 21, 2009

prayer request

Please ask St. Thomas Aquinas' intercession for Tim as he is taking sub-specialist boards all day Tuesday.

lost on the mountain

No, we didn't go trooping through the woods, but the children and I took the opportunity to listen to Donn Fendler share his story of survival. 70 years ago Donn was on a hiking trip up Mt. Katahdin and lost the trail. This 12 year old was lost for 9 days, crediting his survival to his Boy Scout training and his Catholic faith. I happened to pick up the book earlier this summer at the library and was fascinated by this boy's courage and determination to live. The Cole Land Transportation Museum was packed with folks wanting to listen and shake his hand.

Unfortunately, I didn't anticipate such a large crowd and by the time we arrived it was standing room only. Then, by the time I bought a copy of the book, Lost on a Mountain in Maine, there were over 100 people standing in line to have them signed. I knew the children were not going to be able to wait, especially since Mary had no shoes on (don't ask) and they had already sat quietly for 90 minutes. Luckily the lady at the counter said we could leave the book with them and pick it up signed in a few days. I thought it very telling of this man's character that while he has never made a dime from the books describing his ordeal, he has taken time to speak to children, encouraging them to hike in the beautiful woods of Maine and how to prevent getting lost.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I am blessed...

because I have 6 happy healthy children who do care for one another. Quite often Timmy will hug one of his siblings and say in a syrupy way, "I love you." My husband appreciates my efforts and loves me beyond measure. We have friends and relations who support us and give us joy. We can afford both a new vacuum cleaner and schoolbooks during a pay period. I have the opportunity to live somewhere (at least part of the year) that is beautiful.

We are all blessed because we live at a time in history that offers the best standard of living man has ever known. We have running water, flush toilets, machines that let us instantly communicate with one another. We have medical advances that allow us to live longer and healthier lives. We have the opportunity to educate ourselves for free at our public libraries. We live in a country of freedom and opportunity.

Mary and I are in a contest (Will started a day late so he can never catch up) of who can finish the Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events series first. She has the advantage of being able to read in the car, but I can stay up much later than she can (plus I skim much of the text). I think reading these has made both of us grateful, she for not being an orphan who has murderous Count Olaf hounding her every step, and me for not being a parent burnt up in a fire. My problems are minuscule compared to the Baudelaire children and so very slight compared to any one of the 7 million Americans who have lost their job the past few years. Yes, I am blessed and I know it. (but if you call me nasty names in the comments because I complain about my problems they will be deleted)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

speed learners

Starting with a pile of buckwheat pancakes (with a dash of ground flaxseed) we began school this morning at 8am and Will finished up a paragraph describing his Red Ryder BB gun at 1:30pm. Both girls wrote letters to their aunties for creative writing so we mailed off Will's writing, complete with a BB taped to the page for illustration, to his Daddy (who bought him the gun last year).

There might be something to this "early to bed, early to rise" school schedule, leading to making all the children wise, if not healthy and wealthy.

attitude adjustment

When we first started homeschooling 7 years ago, I only had to teach one child Kindergarten. While it took a little more effort because Will was sporting a cast on his left arm, it only took 20 minutes a day to finish the book work. The rest of the day was filled with reading stories, playing games, and trips to the grocery store. As the years progressed and we added more kids to our lives it took a little longer, then a little more, until we were beginning school at 8:30-9:00am and finishing right before lunch. Last year was the first time we needed to take a lunch break and start back up again. Almost 3 weeks into the academic year, I am realizing that our days of having every afternoon free to play are at an end.

5th and 6th grade are hard, Mary has 11 subjects to complete daily including 7 in language arts: English, reading, vocabulary, phonics, spelling, handwriting, and Latin. Tim keeps reminding me that starting in a few weeks their piano lessons begin again. Apparently the days of practicing for 30 minute are over, their teacher wants Will playing for 50 minutes a day. And, while I don't have the stress and anxiety (okay, sheer terror) of having my husband overseas in a war zone, Tim has informed me that his work load has increased to the point of not being able to leave before 6-7pm every night. (The folks in military medicine are among the few in our capital who earn every taxpayer dime they are paid).

I will be taking care of 6 small children, educating 4 of them, running them to activities, doing errands, and cleaning a large house all by myself for the next 2 years. At one time, these were the work of a large staff. What I wouldn't give to be living in Jane Austen's England with a cook, maids, errand boy, gardener, and a governess? Now it is all on one person: me. If I complain, Tim asks, "Do you want to hire a nanny?" knowing perfectly well that we can't afford to hire any help in DC and last year's babysitters were almost more work than they were worth.

What I can do is tackle this problem with a better attitude, knowing that homeschooling for the next few years is going to be harder than it ever has been, but the rewards will be great. If I buckle down and help the big kids learn routines and how to work more independently, then the high school years will be clear sailing. When I announced yesterday evening that the new routine will be breakfast at 7: 30 and begin work by 8 there was some grumbling, but the girls grabbed their books to get a head start.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

book review

I have been reading up a storm this summer, with Tim down in Maryland I turn pages until my eyes won't stay open another minute. Novels, decorating picture books, political tomes, and anything to do with farm management or animal husbandry have been the favorites recently. I found a new library (it took a year to scout it out and 20 minutes of driving around downtown to find it) in Bangor. It is huge, likely due to the generosity of Steven and Tabitha King, and filled with more books than even I can read in my lifetime. The children's department takes up the whole bottom floor and is well stocked with current favorites Hardy Boys (Will) and Magic Treehouse (Maggie). Upstairs is non-fiction with an entire bookcase (8 shelves worth) of horse books for Mary. The only downside is that I have to race upstairs with the baby while Will and Mary watch everyone else so I can find something to read. This week while the kids were perusing the shelves, I got to chatting with another homeschooling mom, both of us gushing about raising kids in Maine.

Then I went home and read Momzillas by Jill Kargman and was doubly grateful that we will be escaping the competitive suburbs in a little less than 2 years. It "chronicles the lives of New York's ultra-rich and ultra-ambitious," in a funny and introspective way. While this homeschooling, thrift store shopping, rural advocate mama would sooner jump off the Tappan Zee Bridge than stick one toe in Manhattan's Mommy wars, it revealed some hysterical terminology that I had never heard before. The glossary helped me make sense of many terms, including MNJ (middle name junkie, mother who always calls her child by both their first and last names (and I thought it was just a Southern thing)) and Competitive Birther (racing to have more kids than anyone else (the example of this in the book had 6 kids under 6 and 3 nannies, man am I envying her the help)). I only wish that my Sperminator husband (guy with 4 or more kids) thinks that I am a Yummy Mummy (sexy, attractive mother). I recommend this one if you want reassurance that you are better off outside the competitive mommy circuit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

lords and ladies

Saturday morning found our little clan driving to Fort Knox, a granite citadel situated on the Penobscot River. I had clipped an article from the local paper proclaiming that this weekend the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) was putting on its 8th annual Medieval Faire and after comparing the entertainment alternatives (an antique car show or staying home), decided to attend.

Maggie surprised us all by her prowess at the cross bow.

Will and Mary were fascinated by the sword fighting.

Julia Ellen fell asleep listening to Old English drinking songs.

Of course the girls were entranced by the costumes and hounded me until I relented and said I would look into making them some costumes (they could double as All Saints garb) for next year's Faire. Yes, the displays of garb, herbs, and crafts were all very lovely, but the children's favorite thing to do was take their flashlights into the dark corners of the Fort and scare each other to death. I'm not so sure I got a lot of educational value for my $17, but they did all go to bed before 8pm, the worn out little buggers.

Friday, September 11, 2009


am I awakened every morning at 6:07am by the little ones and have to poke and shake the big kids (who could actually be helpful) to climb out of their bunks before 8am? I know I shouldn't complain since Julia Ellen sleeps between 10-11 hours a night, but I have a feeling that in 2 years I'm going to have to wake my lazy crew with a cow bell to get them to do their farm chores.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

think then post

Yes, I have heard umpteen times that emails can be easily misconstrued and feelings get hurt. Sarcasm doesn't read well on blog comments and typos can simply be that and not poor spelling. But then I blazed into the Seton Yahoo group board with 1 beer under my belt and misread some one's question and let her have it.

Like many homeschoolers, I take my children's education seriously and assume that others who teach their own do the same. I don't like slackers who show up on-line or on Oprah saying, "Well we homeschool, but our 14 year old can't quite read yet. Our 16 year old has never studied history or spelling. We just didn't get around to teaching our 11 year old any math. But we ARE homeschooling." Sorry, that is NOT homeschooling, but a plan for having your children live in your basement for the next 40 years because they can't function in society or be employable. So when a new homeschooling mom with a 7th and 8th grader described how they were sooo far behind and they were just finishing up the 1st quarter's work, I misunderstood and thought she had taken over a year to get 9 weeks worth of work completed. Then I proceeded to say some not nice things. Only after I hit "send" and go out for an evening stroll with the kids did I realize my error. She said they started school in March, not that they were supposed to finish this past March. (I guess if you are saying, "What's it to you? you would be right as well.)

I did get up early this morning and post an apology, not even reading the other comments for fear of flames. However, the damage has been done. I hope that I haven't killed her desire to share her problems and concerns in what is supposed to be a supportive environment. For homeschoolers need more kindness and assistance from each other since we are usually slogging it out in relative solitude. While the internet has been a wonderful thing in terms of finding like-minded souls, it is easy to be mean because the person we are writing is not sitting in front of us. So, I again say that I am sorry and promise to think twice before I post.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

carnival of homeschooling

The Homespun Life is hosting this week's carnival with lots of great posts, even if they messed up on my link. I'm not so overwhelmed that I would put "barely controlled chaos" as the blog title!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

the last weekend of summer

Saturday morning the kids woke bright and early and voted to go swimming at Knight's Pond, our favorite local swimming spot. Mary wanted to go to Craig's Pond with her bucket since hundreds of frogs make their home near the beach, but I didn't want to fight the crowds (think a few dozen people, not thousands, at say, Daytona Beach) and the 1/4 mile walk from the parking area. So off we troop with life jackets, inflatable boat and all, only to turn around when Will asked, "Did someone pack the pump?"

We didn't realize until we got settled on our blanket that we also forgot to pack towels and the air was a little nippy to say the least. But despite blue toes and shivering the children jumped and splashed, paddled and swam for over an hour.

What does the savy momma do with 5 cold and wet children? "Let's go into town and buy some new towels," I suggested, "We'll leave our stuff here and come back." Fortified with chili cheese hotdogs we returned to the pond (which saw a steady stream of kayackers, swimmers in wetsuits, and the tacky campers who had moved in for the weekend with 4 cars, bikes, an ATV, a paddle boat, and 5 tents) and didn't leave until it was time to head home for supper.

Monday, September 07, 2009

2nd anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of my mother's death from ovarian cancer. I had a Mass said for her yesterday (thank you Tim for taking care of it) at our parish in Maryland. I must call my grandmother and stepfather and share in our feelings of grief at losing the center of our family. Mother was the person that kept everyone connected. I often want to tell her what the children are up to, our plans of raising sheep (she was a master knitter), and the latest family gossip. I miss her fiercely.

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and I urge you to aquaint yourselves and your mothers with the subtle symptoms of this disease.

If the following symptoms occur almost daily for more than two weeks, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance advises that women see a gynecologist. These symptoms include:

• Bloating
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

There is no definitive test for ovarian cancer so experts suggest a combination of pelvic/rectal exam, a CA-125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

one dead dinosaur

Those kiddy placemats from restaurants are good for something...

Friday, September 04, 2009

a host of compliments

Every week I look through our weekly paper for cultural opportunities, but am not inclined to shell out $$ for tired plays, travel over an hour for children's shows, or shuffle around a bunch of wine-drinking snobs at gallery openings. Since we have been up in Maine we have visited the aviation museum, the Penobscot Indian museum, a classical music concert, and last night went to an organ concert.

St. John's Catholic Church in Bangor boasts of a 1860 pipe organ and a very talented organist. While the pieces selected were a little too Russian (think melancholic and depressed composers trapped on the steppes in winter), it was good to hear what a magnificent instrument play something more elevated than "Gather Us In," and it was good practice for the children to sit still and listen. They have had a lot of practice at this since we usually attend the Traditional Latin Mass which requires much sitting, standing, and kneeling while being silent.

I combined the trip with a visit to the city's library which boasts an impressive children's collection. We then hit Dysarts for supper with the promise (or bribe) that we would return for ice cream sundaes after the music if they were good. Two waitresses (one with her own brood of 5) said how well behaved the children were during the meal and another patron caught me on the way up to the cashier, saying, "I have to tell you how impressed I am by your children. They have been so good." With an hour to kill beforehand I spied a park near the church and gave them the chance to yell, roll down a hill, climb on the swingset, and wrestle. This free time might have been what saved us since it was already approaching bedtimes as we entered the sanctuary. Julia Ellen was the surprising "naughty" child, screwing up her face and threatening to let out a howl every few seconds during the first piece. She wouldn't nurse until I finally realized that the low and loud organ sounds were too much for her tiny ears. I moved over to the stairs leading to the basement and fed her almost to sleep. The little boys were squirmy as they could only be given the circumstances. During the last 15 minutes I took them downstairs and let them silently run around the parish hall. Afterwards we took a close up look at the organ itself and reaped a few more comments from attendees, all positive.

When we streamed back into the truck stop restaurant several of the ladies said, "They must have been good!" Julia Ellen slept soundly while we shoveled ice cream into our mouths, traded maraschino cherries, and gulped down cups of ice water. Another round of compliments followed us out the door and we decided to attempt this outing again next summer, with the promise of dessert for obedient little boys and girls.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

carnival of homeschooling

Home Grown Mommy is hosting the carnival this week. Lots of posts of why different folks homeschool if you need a little psychological boost or fresh ideas.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

barely controlled chaos

Well, we made it through 2 mornings of the school year and I am beginning to feel that I have lost my mind. Why? 4 children who constantly call,"Mommy I need help right now!" A baby who wants to be held non-stop. A growing pile of clean clothes spreading across my bedroom floor. 2 children who feel that the house should be perfectly silent until they finish their work and resent someone younger even coming inside for juice. No clean cups because they are all in the dishwasher. A toddler who tries to help by emptying his urine filled potty into the toilet, spilling all across the bathroom floor. A fridge full of food that no one but me will eat. Dishes coated with oatmeal goo piled next to the sink.

But the floor was swept and mopped yesterday and slowly all the children are attended to, the chores done, and everyone fed. Julia Ellen is sitting on my lap cooing, Timmy is napping, and everyone else is playing outside. The peace I have been searching for all morning is finally here.

At least for the next 30 seconds.