Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fancy Dinner

Come on. You are invited to the fancy dinner.

Place: The Living Room
Time: After the children are fed
Dress: Thrift store fare. Formal (women and girls) Flannel (men and boys)

It's become tradition, this fancy dinner. Tonight is the third edition. Women put dinner in the oven, feed the children, exchange jeans for gowns. Doors are shut all over the house as everyone dresses.

Little girl eyes sparkle delight. Lithe bodies swish, swirl. "Look, Papa, Grandpa!"

"Oooh! You're gorgeous! So pretty!"


Mamas appear from behind the closed doors. Mother bodies swish, swirl. Am I still? eyes ask. Am I still your beautiful girl?

Yes. Oh, yes echoes round the room.

And the men, the men that we love, lumberjack men in soft flannel, bubble over with good humor and cheer.



We sit around the table. Velvet. Flannel. Sequins. Flannel. Taffetta. Flannel. And the children serve. "Would anyone like a glass of wine." Six adults coach five young ones through the art of presenting, pouring.
"No, Lil. You can't have a sip out of my glass. Wait."

"Care for a salad?"
"Enchiladas?"
"Coffee and dessert?"

Dishes come and go with a newly aquired ease and grace. We look at these beauties and see adults on the horizon. Conversation and candlelight. The last dish cleared. Table pushed to the wall. On with the dance.


Cousins clasp hands, circle, step in, step out. Feathers and flannel, a comfortable place in a husband's arms, bodies close and graceful, grace that is polished by time. I dance with my boys. Joy and abandon with the preschooler. We jump, swing, gallop. He joins the cousin circle. It's my teenager's turn. He leads. A new skill, tender, sweet. He guides, circles, stiff and unsure but gains confidence as he goes. The song changes and he steps away to test his accomplishment on another partner, "Grandma, will you dance with me?" The sun is setting on his childhood.

After a time, the dancers wander away. Only Claire and her favorite uncle remain and then even she tires. Dresses return to closets. All climb into flannels and knits. Sleepy heads rest on pillows...relive the evening...make plans for the next soiree. Come October at the beach. A tradition to keep.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Door to Door

"Goodbye!"
"One hug more."
"See you in a few days!"

We pulled out of the driveway, weighted down with two car top carriers, honking, waving to cousins.

"Goodbye!"

Over Virginia mountains. Weaving through truck traffic, recording license plates, reading, sleeping.

And when darkness falls, we leave the highway to the trucks and wind over a ribbon of country roads. John navigates, scatters direction-covered Post-Its, shuffles and reoganizes. We grope tentatively through inky night, stop to read road signs.

"We're almost there!"
" This is the road. Look for house numbers." Eyes squint and strain.

"10057. Almost." Headlights seek treasure, family, at 11164 Frog Hollar Lane.

"Come back!"
"Back up! You missed us!" A flock of children crows from porch and yard.

We do back up, thread though exuberant greeters, burst from the car, trailing empty water bottles and stuffed animals.

"You're here!"
"Goodness, you've grown!"
"We've been waiting for you all day!" Words puff in frosty air, squeeze between warm hugs.
"Come in! Come in!"

A tangle of cousins, aunts, uncles, we step out of the dark into the puddle of light spilling from doorway to porch.

"We're so glad you're here!"

And we are too, glad to be in the warm welcoming embrace of those we love.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Snowflakes

Because you asked. Tell us. Did you make the snowflakes? How?

Yes. We did make these curly bits of paper.
Charlie wrapped some strips of paper round the quiller and handed them over to be shaped and joined. But the other four pairs of hands measured and cut and curled and glued with no help at all. The best kinds of projects don't need a mother hovering directions. I joined in and worked too while City on A Hill provided Christmas ambiance in mid-November.

These are our tools. And waxpaper to save the table. And toothpicks for the glue. If you don't have a quiller buy the kind with the little slit in the top. Much easier to use than the pointed awl kind. Prevent squabbling. Get enough. The quiller design board is a necessity as it forms identical curls. You may want two or three if there are lots of eager hands at your house. Precut quilling paper is inexpensive and is of even, narrow width. Better than I can do on my Fiskars paper cutter. We used two snowflake kits that came with white paper strips.

It is time taking, this snowflake creating. The children worked afternoons by cozy fireside, hands on their work, minds wandering the globe with James Cook as I read from the pages of Stowaway.

It's an inexpensive hobby. Three boards, six quillers, two kits. Seventy-five dollars. Most of the money going into the one time expense of tools. Quilling kits generally run between three and eight dollars. A manageable cost.

Of Crops and Christmas

My father is a farmer, no longer one who tills the soil and plants the seed, but a farmer nonetheless, drawn to crops and weather forecasts. I grew up in the corn fields and in the planting and harvest seasons, my five o'clock father came home dusty and tired long after dusk. Memories stirred because a post came across my reading list this week. It my caught my eye as it is of a harvest. The children and I have been following with interest.

"Look at this field of corn. This family's paycheck stands in that field. These are their children. They are all your ages." Internet journals make this big world small and intimate. Tie together the hearts of strangers.

We have been so caught up in this tale I wanted to share it with you. Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Begin at the beginning. Prepare your heart for Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Searching for the Mark

You miss the mark. A wisp of an idea, a whisper, a breath during these happy, creative days. Cookie baking and Christmas carols. You miss the mark. Stories and puzzles in front of the fireplace. Hot chocolate. Presents...storebought and homemade. You miss the mark.

This unrest grows and swells until, finally "How? How am I missing?" I look into the lives of others and am not found wanting in giving or worship.

Child, look to Me.

I look. I fall short. I miss the mark.

In worship. You attend to many things but only one thing is needed. I have this complaint against your family. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! In giving. You bring buckets of water to full wells and spare only a few drops for me.

My heart breaks and into the wreckage He pours out His plan to finish well this season.

For worship: We put aside Isaiah for a time and begin the Jesse tree devotional. A soothing balm. A right turning for our wayward souls.

For giving: Silver words challenge. Confront. Words about the very catalog that I glanced through yesterday with callused heart. The catalog in the trash. I sob at my desk and call to the children. John reads aloud. I cannot.

What do You want for your birthday?

I am thirsty. I am hungry. I am cold. Look after my least.

So we gather again around this screen and make plans to forgo the stocking stuffers and look after Him. And in lightening our checkbook to fill other homes with livestock, books, blankets...in the wrestling with the Word... we fill our own hearts with joy. Abundant, delightful, life-giving joy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Goon Shoes

One dollar! Who will buy us for just one dollar? Down here! One shelf below Timmy the Tooth on VHS. Down. Behind the green press-on nails. Yes! Us! The Goon Shoes!



We'll fit all of your children with these handy straps! We're bouncy! We're fun!

No! No, lady! Don't make your boy put us back. We're not junk! You don't know! You, you middle-aged woman with big feet! Please! Pleeease take us home! Don't leave us here under these big bikini bottoms!

Put down that sweater! Put it down and look at your son sproinging down the aisle of Second Hand Sams in our green and purple majesty. We're made for each other!

Yes? You said yes?! Oh, you won't regret this! I promise!

Watch that first step out of the store, son. We've got bounce but no traction.

Don't fight! You can't all wear us at once. Two shoes. Two feet. That's how it goes. Set the timer. Wait your turn! Wait!

Yes, big brother, we do turn vacuuming into a circus performance. Yes, youngest sister, it is fun to make the springing trip down the hallway. You're tipping! Grab the wall! Yes, little boy, you are taller than your big sister but your turn is up. Pass us on.

One dollar! A day full of giggles and springs and bounces all for one dollar!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Silent Night

Sit with me, here in the dark, in the peaceful dark of my living room. Sink down into the sofa beside the fireplace.

Here. A blanket to throw over your lap and tuck under your feet.


Let the chaos and the busy-ness of the early evening hours fade.


Feel the the warmth of the cocoa mug in your hands. Sip slowly. Savor this moment.
Relax.
Peace.
Breathe.


Be still.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Windy Day

What does a family do when they wake up on the living room floor to a stormy morning? (We were having a sleepover in front of the fireplace because Stuart is out of town.)


7:30 Lay under the covers and watch the wind bend the trees vigorously in every direction. Enjoy being cozy together.


7:52 The wind blows the power lines down somewhere and the clock stops.


8:00 Send a kid to the front windows to see if the broken branch in the tulip maple has finally blown down.


8:01 Pray that the wind will be strong enough to blow the branch down when the report comes back that it is still trapped out of reach in the tree.


9:00 Have milk and cereal for breakfast because the power is not yet back on.


9:00 Instruct the children on the importance of keeping the fridge door shut.


9:30 Read the last two chapters of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Wish that it were a little longer. It's such a good book!


9:45 Have a longer Bible time than normal because there are no distractions. Thank God during prayer time that the giant limb that blew down from the top of the tulip maple (not the one that we prayed to blow down) did not hit the car. It missed by one inch.

10:30 Work on Christmas project. (Can't tell you about it yet.)


12:00-12:30. Go outside in the pouring rain and fill the garden wagon seven or eight times with fallen sticks and monster branches. Explain to the neighbors that being outside in the rain with the children is better than being trapped inside without power.


12:30 Drip out of wet clothes in the garage. Yell loudly at Charlie and John for dripping into the living room. Change into dry clothing and corral the renegade wet stuff.


1:00 Eat cheese and crackers for lunch.


1:01 Repeat the importance of keeping the fridge door shut.


1:15 Move puzzle table close to the window so we can see to put a Christmas puzzle together.


1:30 Give a gift wrapping lesson to the three little ones. Shout instructions loudly over the squabbling about what paper to use and who gets to cut the paper.


1:45 Send the beaming children to the walk-in-closet with their wrapped gifts.

2:00 (exactly) Cheer loudly because the power comes back on.

2:01 Groan because it goes back out again.

2:20 Cheer again.

2:21 Groan.

2:21 1/2 Yell at Charlie for unplugging the Christmas tree which fooled us all into thinking that the power was out again.

2:30 Turn on Adventures in Odyssey and sit down at the computer to post this. Type quickly because the power is still spotty.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

bERGRAMU

Yesterday, Charlie got a letter in the mail. The Christmas activity we were working on came to a screeching halt. Letters for four year olds are not a common occurance here. "For me? A letter for me? Look! A letter for me! I got a letter!" When Charlie was done waving his letter around, he opened it.

He pulled out a sheet of stickers. "Ooh stickers! What is this animal?!"

"Move it back a little, Charlie so I can uncross my eyes."

He did and we identified animals from the African plain. "Mama, do you want a sticker?"

"Sure."

"Which one?"

"I don't care. Which one do you want to give me?"

Charlie smacked a elephant onto my chest and decorated himself with a monkey. But wait! There was more in the envelope. A note and a dollar. A whole dollar.

"Do you want me to read this note to you?"

"I got a dollar! I got this dollar! Is it store day? Can we go to the store right now?! (insert much dancing and waving)

"No. Store day is not for two more days."

"Drat!"

"Do you want me to read the letter? It's from Grandma Pugga."

So we read the letter and Charlie was so overwhelmed by his grandma's generosity that he found a narrow scrap of paper and wrote a letter of his own in response. His first letter. He worked through a good part of dinner and smeared a little steak sauce on his work and when he was finished it looked like this.

bERG
RAM
UiLU
VYO
BE
CUZ
YOGA
VThe
mUNe
TOMe
fRUM
CHARLIE
The
Enb
Anybody want to whip out their secret decoder ring and make sense of what he wrote? (It is readable. I promise.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Southern Holidays

1. Stringing up the Christmas lights and raking the yard can occur simultaneously. Today, we divided into two teams and took care of both jobs. These festivities were punctuated every fifteen minutes or so by the reveberation of a shotgun as our next door neighbor scared a flock of Canadian geese out of his back yard.

2. It was cold today as we worked out in the yard so, we bundled up in our sweaters (three or four apiece), our mittens and our toboggans. For those of you who are doing a double take...toboggans are hats down here. I guess the southerners felt left out. What's this, ya'll? A word we have absolutely no use for? I know. Let's change hat to toboggan. We'll show those Yankees.

3. Sometimes it snows. Well, it's only snowed once since we've moved here. The children dashed outside in their pajamas. I didn't call them back in to get dressed. It was a good thing. The snow melted before breakfast.

4. Southerners find innovative ways to create snow. Last night the children played handbells in an antique store at Smallville's annual Christmas festival. Snow drifted down in front of the windows as we played. Snow made by blowing soap from a giant fan attached to the roof overhead. Snoap, the children call it. One malfunctioning machine shot out snoapballs. The snoap fell straight down and covered a few vehicles. We watched the unfortunate drivers of these cars pick their way through the snoap drifts. "Look, Mama. They are snoaped in."

5. Santa Claus is married to Mizzrizz Claus. This one is new to me. I've lived in the South for six years now and it has only been in the past month that I've heard Mrs. pronounced Mizzrizz three or four different times by as many different people.

6. At least once in the next few weeks, someone will sing Christmas Shoes during a service in a small country church. That someone will get too choked up to sing but will stand there tears pouring down her cheeks as the backup music plays. Most of the parishioners will also get choked up, even without the words. For my part, I think this song should be illegal. What do you think?

If you are uninitiated, here's the song in it's four minutes-something seconds entirety. I don't recommend you that watch it or anything but I didn't want you to feel left out. So if you must...



7. Once a girl moves south, she can't move north again. The warm climate thins the blood. I am typing this post wearing three sweaters, a pair of wool socks and a toboggan.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

From Thanksgiving to Now

Stuart came down with a cold the day before Thanksgiving that knocked him out for two or three days.  This is how he he spent all of Thanksgiving Day.  He's a handsome devil.
The rest of us were undaunted.  With Stuart's blessing, we pressed forward with our Thanksgiving preparations.  The girls made sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole and fruit cup (with the bitters).  And all that I needed to do was assemble the stuffing and cook the birds. 
We were alone for Thanksgiving.  I really hate that we are so far from family and friends because I would love for my house to be full of company. I suppose it was for the best on this particular holiday. Our guests would have gone home incubating plague germs!  Anyway, it was just the seven of us so I decided to serve Cornish game hens instead of the traditional (enormous) turkey.  The kids were delighted with the size of these tiny birds and christened them ptarmigan.  Perhaps we were the only family in America that celebrated this Thanksgiving with ptarmigan.
It wasn't enough to celebrate just one holiday on Thanksgiving.  We hauled out the Christmas tree and had it set up before our feast came out of the oven.  (More to come on that later.)
A few days after Thanksgiving, Stuart was on the road to recovery but the children were dropping like flies.  They've been drinking plaudamentum by the pint.  (John stole the name from The Lamplighter and applied it to the gallons of lemon water they've been making for themselves.)  They seem to be on the mend so, today we started our next Christmas project.  Cookies. This one was much easier than last weeks candy canes.  (The candy canes, by the way, went wrong.  Something happened and after we got them on the tree, they began dripping and warping.  They look like a Salvadore Dali creation! They're still tasty so it was not a complete disaster.) 
We made rich butter cookies from The Joy of Cooking.  Here the kids are spreading them with the first layer of confectioner's frosting.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how frosty are your branches. Charlie put about a pound of frosting on this cookie.  He can't wait to eat it! This was definitely a good project for him.  He had a great time helping to mix up the cookies and the frosting.  He frosted about five or six cookies before he got distracted and began to taste the frosting and nibble on the broken cookies.
Lauren used a little more finesse and a lot less frosting and created some beautiful cookies.  The girls really got into this project.  I was impressed with their creativity and focus. 

Here are a few of the finished results ready for a Christmas party in the near future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Candy Canes

We’ve moved into high gear with our Christmas preparations. The kids are at the age where projects are fun instead of stressful. Usually. We learned quite a bit from today’s project but I doubt we’ll repeat it. It’s never a good thing to be wishing you were done instead of only at the halfway point. We made candy canes to decorate our Christmas tree. Not the pipe cleaner-done in three minutes kind. We made the boil the sugar- stretch the candy- twist into ropes kind.  Oooooh. 

We used this recipe. Here’s our photographic evidence that I was foolish enough to attempt this with a small herd of kids.

Lauren, Faith and Claire are reading the candy thermometer. This was a good lesson for Claire as she had never used a thermometer that wasn’t digital before.


Once the sugar was ready I added concentrated food paste to one of the batches. This paste is neat stuff. It makes vivid colors. I like to use it when I make playdough. You can find it in the craft section at Wal-Mart in the cake-decorating aisle. I added about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of red and a smidge of black to make a rich red color.

I poured the sugar mixture onto a couple of cookie sheets and let it cool briefly before beginning to stretch it like taffy. If you are more inspired than overwhelmed by this post be sure to oil the pans and your gloves! This stuff is sticky!


Once the mixture was cool enough to handle, the children helped me stretch it.


It hardens quickly so I ended up putting it in the oven on the lowest setting.


I left the door open and the children used teaspoons to scoop off a portion and then twisted it into a candy cane length rope. They went back to the oven scooped out the other color and twisted a second rope and then twisted the two ropes together and bent it into a candy cane shape.

Our oven took a beating as the children helped themselves. Oh well. The red gook will harden and turn black just like the rest of the ingredients on the oven floor.

Often the candy hardened before the kids were done with the candy cane they were working on. “I feel like swearing…” Faith grumbled in frustration. “…if only I knew any swear words.”

Here is John, the founder and manager of the candy cane hospital. He discovered that he could melt a bit of candy in the microwave and dip the two broken ends into the melted goo and repair the damage.


There were tears a couple of times, never a good thing for a fun family project so we won’t be repeating this one again. On the plus side, the kids put so much effort into constructing these decorations I doubt any of them will be tempted to snitch one off the tree.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Warm Ups

The weather is cool. We've pulled out the candles and the slippers and long johns. My sweats-clad children do their school work wrapped in reading blankets in front of the fireplace. Afternoons are spent raking heaps of leaves and mulching them into bits for a vegetable garden in the spring. Our cheeks are rosy red from the cold but we shed out of our jackets. Raking is hot work.

The children work with enthusiasm. In the long term, they are earning money for Christmas gifts. A sizable amount for each child. We have a forest of leaves to contend with. In the short term, they look forward to a mug of hot apple cider with whipped cream or hot chocolate topped with a large homemade marshmallow. The kids put away the rakes, the tarp, and the push mower while I head inside to prepare our afternoon warmth.

Hot Cocoa
I adapt the cocoa recipe off the side of the Hershey's cocoa canister:

In a saucepan, mix:

1/4 cup sugar (this is half the amount of the original recipe. I like my cocoa on the less sweet side)

1/4 cup cocoa

1/3 cup water

Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes.

Add:

4 cups milk

Heat through but do not boil.

Stir in:

1 teaspoon vanilla

Serve with whipped cream or marshmallows (recipe follows)


I first started making homemade marshmallows a few years ago. They make the best S'mores! They melt into a smooth, tasty, gooey mess. Mmm. I like to stir my hot chocolate a few times and let the heat melt the marshmallow so I get a little taste of the marshmallow in every sip. If you give away homemade hot chocolate mix for the holidays, you might consider adding a plate of these marshmallows as an accompaniment.


Homemade Marshmallows

Pour in mixing bowl (a Kitchen Aid works really well for this recipe. I have not tried it with a hand mixer but I'll bet it's possible) :

1/2 cup of cold water

Sprinkle over water:

3 envelopes of Knox gelatin

Soak for ten minutes.

Combine in saucepan:

2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup corn syrup

1/4 cup water

Bring to boil.

Pour boiling syrup into gelatin and mix at high speed.

Add:

1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat for 12 minutes.

Blend in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Butter a 9x13 inch pan. Lightly oil hands and spatula as well. This is sticky business! Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Cover the pan with saran wrap and let the mixture dry over night. The next day, cut the marshmallows into squares. Store in a covered container.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Playtime

We have boxes full of Stuart's childhood toys. Matchbox cars and antique trains with hardly a scratch on them. He was such a gentle child.

Not me. All my stuff ended up in the trash. When I was a child, I played with my toys like Toy Story Sid. I gave my dolls haircuts (crew cuts, really) and pierced their ears with straight pins. Poor little darlings. I drew on their vinyl faces with pen. Once I put a plastic handpuppet on a lightbulb, just because. It gave off a lovely smoldering smokey smell as he met his doom.

My children have inherited my destructive gene. They build Barbie catapults out of K'nex and fling Island Barbie off the island. There are dents up near the ceiling of the little girls room that attest to this creativity. We have had Barbie crewcuts and amputations at the knee.

You might think there is only one way to play with a puzzle. Put it together. Take it apart. Put it in the box. Nope. Not if it is a puzzle of the map of the earth. There's the problem of tectonic plates, you know.

I think they've created the apocolypse!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Screeming Mice

Stuart brought home an electronic mouse repeller that emits a high pitched noise. Apparently mice do not find this sound pleasant and will not take up residence anywhere near the device. Our cat is a mouse-hunting sissy and so we resort to mouse deterrents of the manmade kind.

Naturally, the children were curious and we explained how it worked. They let this bit of information sink into their brains and take root. At this very moment, four of them are rolling around with their hands over their ears in front of the little electronic speaker squealing in agony over this deadly painful sound that their human ears cannot hear.
However, their squealing is deadly painful to my ears. And it makes me wonder. Is this the kind of creativity that Mary Grace refers to when she worries about the future employability of our children?
(In case any of you are wondering if my spell checker is AWOL...The child who took these photos loaded them onto the computer under the heading Screeming Mice. This shows I have to add scholastic ability as well as work ethic to my worry list.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

October 31, 2008

The kids carved pumpkins last night.
Stuart cut open the tops and the kids took it from there using a pumpkin carving knife that we found at the thrift store. Charlie insisted that he wanted his pumpkin to look just like the one on the package that the little knife came in. Lauren spent an hour fulfilling his little heart's desire.

Claire carved her pumpkin with two front teeth as her own mouth is void of any at the moment.


We've run the gamut when it comes to Halloween... from homemade costumes and trick or treating in the neighborhood...to fall festivals at church. But these both added up to the same thing. Waaaay too much candy and children who turned into fussy, begging urchins until the sugar finally ran out. It turns out when it comes to creating family traditions that the less is more philosophy works best for us.


We finally hit on the perfect way to make the evening special a few years ago. I pack the kids in the car and meet Stuart for dinner at a local restaurant and then we head to Wal-Mart. We grab a cart and start our first round of Christmas shopping. We start the season off by shopping for Operation Christmas Child. It is so much fun to spend the evening finding things we can put in a shoe box to make one little boy and one older girl happy on Christmas day. Wind-up flashlights, sunglasses, chapstick, marbles, dominoes and Tonka trucks all pass through my children's hands into the hands of another child in another country.

Tonight, a Wal-Mart employee was passing out candy as we were shopping and each child took one piece and said thank you and that was it for our crew this year. Tomorrow I don't have to referee how many Snickers each kid can have before breakfast. Bucking tradition has its advantages.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Applesauce Classroom

We took a few days off from school last week to make applesauce. I'm not much for gardening or canning but I just can't tolerate that watery jarred stuff that passes for applesauce at the store. I was starting to panic because our freezer was almost starving. A couple of bags of frozen kidney beans, a few loaves of bread and the last two quarts of applesauce from our last extravaganza. It looked like we were going to have to drive for hours to find an orchard but I finally found an apple orchard just one short hour's drive on the back country roads. We came home with five bushels and got busy.

Here's a clean pile of Arkansas Black apples. They make a good thick sauce and a pretty decent apple pie as well.

John and Charlie on apple washing duty.
Charlie helped a bit but mostly he assigned himself the job of taste testing.
Lauren was my girl Friday during the four days in the kitchen. Without her help, I'd still have four bushels of apples in my closet waiting for attention.
It looks calm here but the children passed the time by singing a drinking song from Lord of the Rings in many different voices. "Let's try it this time in French Pea..."

You can search far and wide,
You can drink the whole town dry,
But you'll never find a beer so brown,
You'll never find a beer so brown,
As the one we drink in our home town,
As the one we drink in our home town...

"Again! Let's sing it as a funeral dirge."

Adventures in Odyssey finally calmed them down. We chopped and steamed and baked while listening to the story of Horatio Spafford, the author of the hymn "It is Well With My Soul."

The little girls soon abandoned their post at the applesauce grinder and went out into the backyard where they discovered an enormous caterpillar. All work stopped while we researched their find (a tomato hornworm) and made a cozy place for the little critter to reside. Faith went over to our neighbors in search of tomato leaves because apparently that is the catepillar's food of choice. We had to let him go after a few days because he was getting awfully skinny even with a whole bug box full of tomato leaves.

John takes a turn. He's pretending he's a galley slave.
And here he rises above his position as galley slave to take issue with the cook.

In the midst of all this the doorbell rang. The mailman delivered John's new writing curriculum, The One Year Adventure Novel. John promptly put in the first DVD and we all got two or three lessons in creative writing. Then he rushed off to the computer to do the accompanying assignments and called me away from the kitchen to check his progress. (This curriculum will eventually get it's own post but not until we've bonded.)

While the apples steamed and baked we read chapters and chapters of Escape Across the Wide Sea. It's a story of a Huguenot family who escaped from France on a ship and ended up in New Rochelle, New York after a stop in Africa to pick up slaves and another stop in Guadeloupe to sell them to the sugar plantations. Claire loves a good "woe is me" story so this one was right up her alley.

I'd post a picture of our final sixty bags of applesauce but they are frozen in lopsided piles and they don't look at all like a work of art. If you need to see beautiful pictures of other people's winter provisions you can look here, here and here. If you want to join me in the guilt trip while you stare open mouthed at their industry, feel free. And then you can also join me in a little praise to the Jolly Green Giant. Got to love that guy. Even if you only get like six peas in a bag.

So, we're back to our regular school schedule. I wonder if we'll cover as much ground as we did during the applesauce "vacation" ?