Monday, October 31, 2011

open house

After shoveling out the driveway on Sunday morning following the earliest snowstorm anyone locally can recall, our family headed out to attend an open house at the local Catholic middle/high school. We sat through the presentation when students and alumni stood up and extolled the virtues and praised the education available there. We met the middle school faculty and the cross country/track coach who was a proud coach of Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first women's winner in the Olympic marathon. Then, by some freak coincidence, Will won the raffle for $1000 off next year's tuition (we never win anything, except races). 

This is the first school where I felt that my child would receive an education equal to or better than the one using Seton at home. So, it looks like a new chapter in our lives is beginning, sending our first-born off to school. Most parents experience this when their child is 5 or 6, putting them on the big yellow bus and waving goodbye. I asked Will if I could take his photo on the front porch for my album tomorrow as he is going to spend the day shadowing another boy to see what the school is really like as a student. I have a feeling that he is going to come home enthusiastic about his day and want to start immediately. If his homeschool career ends at the close of this year, I know that I and his father have provided him a good foundation for learning and success in our 8+ years of learning at home.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

rethinking this whole "living in Maine" thing

Wednesday I ran 11 miles and wore a tee shirt and shorts, but yesterday I had to wear a long sleeved shirt and tights. Then last night the girls and I went to the mall and Walmart to find Maggie a birthday gift. She had her heart set on a horse to go with Jessie from ToyStory, but as I reminded her, we live in Maine with only a few options for toy shopping. That doesn't bother me, but I realized while we were driving home that it was SNOWING. 

Yeah, I know that winter in Maine means snow and cold, I mean I've already stocked up on sleds, snowshoes, and a pair of spikes that slip over my running shoes, but I don't think it hit me until last night. Snow on the ground in October means that it is cold and it will stay cold for months and months and months. When Mainers talk about the summer as really short, I guess they aren't kidding.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

wedding anniversary

I can't believe that 15 years ago this morning I pulled a fluffy white dress (size 4!) over my head and walked down the aisle at St. John's Church in Portsmouth, Virginia to marry Tim. What a wild and crazy decade and a half we have had: 9 moves, 4 states, 1 foreign country, 8 pregnancies, 6 children, promotions, retirement, and all the ups and downs of normal life. 

As a child I never thought I would marry someone so kind and good as Tim, and I pray that we will have many more years together, but if I never see another moving crew or set of khakis to press I will be grateful.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

carnival of homeschooling

Dewey's Treehouse is hosting this week's carnival, the 304th edition with lots of interesting posts.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just call me Noah...

'cause I swear I'm living in an ark. Last summer we had no animals, but since then we have adopted a turtle (but then we released Skipperdee when we realized he wasn't happy), a Beta fish named Bubba Blue, 2 mice named Peanut and Butter, and 2 kittens named Star and Night (though I realized a few days after they came home that Benedict and Scholastica would have been far better names). This past week the pet population was thinned dramatically. 

Poor Bubba, who survived 1 week-long move from Virginia to Maine in a Tupperware container, succumbed to over cleaning the tank. We have never dealt with a water softener and apparently soft water doesn't rinse out soap or bleach very well. With trace amounts of bleach left in the cleaned tank, the poor fish didn't have a chance. Then the 5 big kids and I went up to the farm for swimming lessons and returned on Saturday night to complete chaos. Apparently the kittens overturned the mice tank, released the mice and killed Peanut. Tim found Julia Ellen in the top bunk holding her lifeless body. He frantically searched for her sister, only to find that the baby had hidden Butter under the sheets so the kittens couldn't get her too. 

We are back up to our home's pet carrying capacity with a new red Bubba and a new white girl mouse named Cream (get it? Butter Cream) A new, secure habitat for the traumatized mice and a policy of keeping the girl's door shut will hopefully protect them from the rapidly growing kittens. We have discussed this summer growing chickens for the freezer and with butchering at approximately 8 weeks of age, I think I can make room on the ark for a short-term feathered flock.    

Friday, October 21, 2011

am I doing a good job?

Last night, due to the remnants of a cold and a heightened state of anxiety I worried about my children's academic accomplishments. We are seriously contemplating sending Will to a local Catholic school in January and I have signed Mary up to take several classes each week at our town's public elementary school. She doesn't have any opportunity to meet other little girls and since she has strong work ethic she finishes all her schoolwork everyday by 11am. But the question of if any of the children could easily transition into a school environment worries me.

To put it in perspective I made a short list of each child's strengths and weaknesses and realized that with a little more time and effort most of these deficiencies could be overcome. Maggie and Mary need to work on the times tables, Mary needs to study her spelling more, Charlie's reading skills would likely improve if I go back to the first grade readers and have him read them aloud again, and with everyone's assistance Timmy will soon gain letter recognition. 

One of the hardest things I have found about homeschooling is that my time is so fractured by trying to teach 5 children, keep the toddler fed and entertained, keep the house tidy, cook the meals, keep up with the dishes and laundry, run the errands, be a good wife, and still have some time for myself. Apparently I'm not doing a very good job. My children are not always obedient, constantly fighting, not helpful around the house, and most days I'm not a good example of a Catholic mother. Would sending them all out to school fix some of these issues? Would it make them worse?

Well, I can't sit and dwell on my challenges and deficiencies. Mary needs to practice the piano, Maggie needs to work on catechism questions, Charlie needs to do a book report, Will needs to start his math and I'm the one who has to prod them all to get cracking.         

Monday, October 17, 2011

this one they should have called "Mud in Your Eye"

Last winter I ran in a cross country 3 race series with that title, but since the ground was frozen, there wasn't any mud, just frozen grass. This past Saturday I took the 3 big kids up to the farm in the pouring rain (Tim stayed home with the little ones so they could go to a birthday party) for a race to benefit the local Catholic school and swimming lessons. I also had a page-long list of items to bring back such as a dictionary, atlas, cookbooks, and all the pumpkins we could wedge in between the children and bags of groceries. Bangor now has the only military commissary in the state and knowing that staples such as gravy, pumpkin, and toilet paper are almost 1/2 the price of the local store, I stocked up while I had the opportunity.

We ran into trouble when we finally pulled up the driveway and unloaded our gear to find that Maggie had left her backpack behind. No shorts, no bathing suit, and I found out the next morning, no running shoes. Luckily Mary shared underwear, I contributed a tshirt for a nightgown, and we scrounged in the closet and somehow came up with a slightly too small pair of shorts and a slightly too big bathing suit. I didn't get any sleep after drinking coffee at Friendlys to stay awake on the drive and not getting there in time to adjust the spotlight on the barn so it blazed away all night, shining right in my eyes. But we managed to get up, get some breakfast (we had no bread or milk in the house so I made fresh bread), and get up to the field where the race was located. 

After raining all night, the air was windy and cold and the fields were wet, I went up to my ankle in a puddle within 5 minutes of arriving. Perhaps Maggie was the smartest of us all, for when we got out of the car she was wearing Crocs. At first I wasn't going to let her run the kid's fun mile, thinking that she has left them in the mudroom on the farm, but after figuring out that she left these too at the other house, I signed her up a few minutes before the race began. The priest led the children in prayer and after he said Go! they were off like a shot. 7-8 minutes later the fastest kids started returning, mud streaming down their feet and legs and sprayed all up the backs of their shirts, Maggie right up there in 4th place. I guess the open holes in her shoes allowed the water to just flow out rather than make her feet heavy. Mary and Will tied for about 10th place. 

I heard, "Ready, Set, Go!" myself about 40 minutes later and slid my way over the slick grass and churned up mud to a 5K time of 25:23, my slowest time at that distance, but fast enough to take 2nd place among women. We didn't stick around for the awards, hopefully they will mail mine, because I had to get my crew home for hot showers and fresh clothes before swimming lessons, lunch, and errands. I think for next year the school should promote the event as a mud run, perhaps they would get a much bigger turnout in the process.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

pancakes anyone?

The other day Mary and Julia Ellen accompanied me to the local grocery store to stock the pantry and fridge in our new home. As we were standing in front of the syrup selections Mary and I discussed the price difference between maple syrup and the commercial brands of "syrup." We decided to conduct a taste test comparison and see if boiled tree sap tastes 3 times better than the fake stuff, since it costs over 3 times as much. After reading a book last week about where our food comes from, which dedicates a chapter to the effort in making maple syrup I was eager to pour the real thing on my pancakes. I figured I shouldn't live in Maine, one of the top maples syrup producing states and NOT use it, but at $30 a quart, I've stuck with Log Cabin, which only contains about 2% syrup. So, last night I made pancakes for supper. Each child cut their 12" round in half and, after pouring from each bottle on top, they tasted the difference between "real" and "fake." Everyone agreed that the maple syrup side was much tastier. With 6 kids who love to drench their pancakes and waffles with sweet syrup, I might have to mix the two to stretch it, but we will still be supporting a local industry and eating better tasting pancakes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

the hills are on fire

Now that we packed up the truck with furniture, curtains, clothing for 7, 2 mice, 2 kittens, food, and all the little things that must travel with us such as 5 boxes of schoolbooks, we are now residing at our "winter" home. One of the selling points of this house was the beautiful view of the western mountains. The leaves are at their peak and this morning combined with the pink of the sky at sunrise it was a beautiful sight. (the view from the 2nd floor was more impressive, but I didn't want to take out the screen to be able to take a picture) 

I am partly sad at leaving the farm, but a little excited about living in a new place and finding hidden treasures such as pretty hiking trails and new friends. On the down side I have to find a piano teacher, which is proving harder than I anticipated, as well as get into a good routine for getting school done as well as household chores. Every time I turn around, listening to the radio, overhearing chitchat at the apple orchard, and talking with the neighbors I am reminded that winter is 'acoming and with it snow and frigid temperatures. "Enjoy the warm weather and pretty views of leaves now, because white and brown are the only color we will see for the next 6 months," they tell me. So for now, I'm looking out my window at the fiery hills every chance I get.    

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Wilder Life

I love all things Laura Ingalls Wilder. My copies of the original series, the faded yellow paperbacks and my hardbound copies of the first 2, inscribed from my grandparents as a Christmas gift in 1976 are precious mementos I have packed and unpacked in over 12 military moves. My favorite book is the most depressing, The Long Winter, because it amazes me how anyone in that small town survived 9 months of blizzards and biting cold with very little to eat. Apparently not one settler went mad, though Charles Ingalls did raise his fist against the wind and yell that it would not defeat them. 

Many thousands of other have been similarly touched by the Little House books and so there are spin-off books, cookbooks (I still have my copy that my mother and I used to make a Little House dinner when I was in 5th grade), crafts and touristy trinkets, and museums at all the homesites where the Ingalls family lived. Wendy McClure is a writer about my age who has recently published a book, The Wilder Life, about her obsession with all things Laura. She churned her own butter, twisted a hay stick in South Dakota, contemplated filling her pocket with pebbles on the shores of Lake Pepin, spent the night in a covered wagon, and marveled at the tiny houses that the Ingalls family of 6 lived in. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit these places in her book since I have little desire and no reason to drag my family across America to see these sites myself. 

However, I do have one gripe with Ms. McClure and her recollections. Her liberal political mindset permeates her book to the extent that it is uncomfortable to read portions. She lambastes homeschoolers, libertarians, and all things Christian in every chapter. Her determination extends to rewriting the Ingalls family's story to imply that Ma and Pa were only churchgoers for the social aspects of living in deserted, lonely places on the prairie. She forgets that Ma insisted on the Sabbath being a day of rest throughout the whole series. She forgets the reference in Little Town on the Prairie when Mary won a competition at college for knowing more Bible verses than any other student. She forgets the relief Ma showed when DeSmet finally gained a church of its own. No, it wasn't just a social outlet and deep down Ms. McClure knows this, after all she could tell the guide at the DeSmet museum how many acres were included in a homestead claim and the name of Laura's corncob doll. 

There are many, many Laura books out there and this one gives something new, an overview of how meaningful the Little House series is to so many people around the world, if you can just mentally skip the author's bias against the very values and beliefs the Ingalls family held dear.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

slow blogging

It isn't for a lack of something to say, but my laptop is dying a slow death by shutting down between 5 and 60 minutes after I turn it on. It immediately crashes if I go onto so I'm waiting to research new laptop models until I have access to Tim's computer at the other house. I'm leaning toward an Apple, but don't know if I'm capable of figuring out how to use one. They do seem to be more sturdy than my dying 3 year old HP, I accidentally washed my IPod and it still works fine.  

our town had a fabulous dump

or, I should call it by its proper title: transfer station. Instead of curb-side pickup of trash and recyclables that is common in suburbia, most small towns, at least the ones in Maine, have a unobtrusive location to bring all the household trash, plastic milk jugs, cardboard, paper, and yard waste. Some small cities, such as uber-liberal Belfast, charge $5-10 for a sticker and then $2.50 per bag, but our conservative town only charges $1 for a sticker for your car and no fee for dropping off garbage. The best part of our dump was the piles of shredded leaves and tree branches, horse manure and bedding, and other organic matter free for the taking. It was all neatly organized and I could fill up the back of my truck with my handy-dandy scoop I bought specifically for this purpose, but apparently now I can't. Early on Saturday morning I left the children all snug in their beds and headed over to the dump and found nothing- all the piles were wiped clean. When I went back later with my garbage in the back I asked the attendant and he said the town decided to not offer this service any longer. With only 1/4 of my garden prepped for winter with a coat of horse bedding/manure, I will have to find another free source of "fertilizer" this week.