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Showing posts from July, 2008

Ship Ahoy!

The library basket is restocked with freshly picked stories and last night John and Lauren and I curled up on the sofas and transported ourselves to bookish places. It was peaceful. The three little ones were off in another part of the house. I didn’t question this because they often disappear to their rooms in the evening for a round of pretend.

The keyboard sounded softly in the distance. The little ones can only play a few bars of music but it was really playing because somebody had flipped the demo switch. I pushed the music to the back of my mind and continued to thumb through the pages of my book. Gradually, the music began to get louder. And louder. What I didn’t know was that the threesome was acting out scenes from Zelda and that they were using the piano as background music. Background music that was most definitely in the foreground. The notes reached a deafening crescendo and then the children joined in with some shouting of their own. “Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy! Ship…

Artie and Pico

The kids have been spending the late afternoons in the pool. Last summer, Stuart and I swam with them quite a bit but I guess their closeness overwhelmed us so we don’t swim so much this summer. When I watch my swimmers from the deck, they occupy every corner of the pool but as soon as I tiptoe my way into the shallow end they clump up around me like curdled milk.

For a few minutes I tolerate this kicking, splashing mob but after a while I shake them off and seek solace in the deep end. They follow me. “Back off you guys! Why do you insist on sticking to me?!”

“We have to stick to you, Mom. You’re a dead elephant and we’re the flies.” Faith giggles and gets as close as she dares.

I turn around and pretend to ignore their jabbing knees and elbows. John scooches up right behind me just shy of touching. I turn around quick to give him what for. As soon as we’re face to face, John shoots backward across the pool. Ah, blessed space. But not for long. A second later, I can feel him breathing o…

We Can't Come to the Phone Right Now

This story, the one that I am about to tell, first needs a little background. Our John has Asperger's and this makes him quite astonishingly talented at some things and quite astonishingly inept at others. For example, take chores. He hangs the laundry. He loves to hang the laundry, all in stretched out in neat rows. He drops everything when the laundry needs him and I don't have to check if it's done right. He vacuums. He's the best vacuumer in the house. I always feel kind of like I'm watching Monk at work as he chases the dirt out of the corners and makes straight lines across the carpet. He's good.

But John is out of his element in the kitchen. There are too many decisions to be made and he can't break down the tasks without a lot of direction. A lot. This is too bad because after each meal it is his job to help Lauren with the dishes. Lauren rinses and sometimes John puts the dishes in the dishwasher. Sometimes he makes engine noises and slides the dirt…

Smallville Cooking Column

I'm in the newspaper this week. In a town as small as Smallville, it's inevitable that one ends up on the inky pages. Anyway, my recipes are featured in the cooking section. I think the Lemon Raspberry Muffins were featured on the blog ages ago. Everything else is new and delicious. The muffins are delicious too, just not new.

Sixteen years ago my husband, Stuart, would have choked on his dinner if you told him that his wife would one day be featured in a cooking column. Back then, he did all of the cooking because I was too headstrong and independent to be saddled with such a mundane task.

I eased into the kitchen by degrees when I quit work to stay home and raise our children. At first we didn’t stray far from the standard American fare. Our pantry shelves were stocked with white flour, packaged foods, and sugary snacks. I didn’t think twice about what I fed the kids until Claire came along. She struggled with asthma and had a blotchy rash around her mouth and eyes for several…

What to do for Science?

Note: Even if you don't homeschool, the books that I am writing about today are fascinating and fun to read and worth adding to your family library.

We use many books from Sonlight for homeschooling but after a few years of working our way through the Usborne science books we deviated a bit. The kids and I learn by spending a while on a topic and Usborne’s approach is more like watching television with Stuart. He never stays on a channel long enough to bond. The kids and I like bonding so we switched.

I love the Charlotte Mason approach to education. For the uninitiated, this means keeping textbooks and worksheets to a minimum in favor of reading real books and conversing about those books. So when I need to use a textbook, I look for books that have a conversational tone to them. The Young Explorer Series written by Jeannie Fulbright fits the bill. The author writes directly to the child. Each book covers many aspects of a single topic and each book has many easy-to-do experiments …


Charlie woke up the other day with an upset stomach and as he stumbled pale-faced and gagging into the playroom, four little mothers sprang into action. John helped him to the bathroom, Lauren brought him a cool wash cloth and Claire grabbed a bowl in case of further emergencies.

Somehow Faith knew the best thing to bring comfort to a sick boy. She laid a pillow in a laundry basket and covered it with a towel. Charlie curled right up and spent a very comfortable morning laying in his nest on the living room floor surrounded by doting siblings who periodically dropped what they were doing to bring him an ice cube to suck on.

They were not at all deterred by this little sign that Faith attached to the end of the basket.
Six hours later Charlie was much better and begging for pancakes and cheesesticks and the laundry basket bed was dismantled for more mundane tasks.

Best Friends

My heart swells when I look at these pictures of John and Lauren. They are inseparable. Lauren is an appreciative audience for the thousands of ideas that percolate in John's brain. John needs Lauren for her level headedness; he relies on her organization and structure. She needs him for his boldness, his easy-going, happy-go-lucky personality. Late at night, when I tiptoe through the house turning off forgotten lights, I often find the two of them reading together. They love the same books. They escape to the same imaginary places in their play where sticks become swords and wit sounds best delivered with an English accent.

Mowing is John's job. A big step toward responsibility this summer. Lauren cannot bear to be left behind and so this is how they mow. Lauren works the gears and John the gas and they take turns steering around the yard. And when the riding mower coughs and shudders and is rolled onto the trailer to be taken to the repair shop...

...they start up the push mow…

Math Tools

There are oodles of elementary math programs available for homeschoolers. I have tried more than my fair share of them and have finally settled on books and manipulatives that we all love.

Claire and Faith are using Miquon Math for their math program. It offers an intuitive approach to mathematics as it stresses finding patterns and breaking down problems in ways that make them easy to solve. The girls are learning their multiplication tables by skip counting. They are just in first and second grade and have been working through fractions, decimals, division, multiplication and some simple algebra. I often need to sit with the girls and ask them questions to help them think their way through their work. This helps them to do math that is far beyond their natural ability. I am amazed at how quickly the two of them grasp each concept. We only do a page or two a day because this is hard stuff but I feel like they are making progress. Besides being extremely effective, this program is chea…

Before and After

We moved into our 1970s ranch almost two years ago. The logistics of transferring seven people and their gear from a house in one state to a house in another state with the majority of the help coming from the Ark Bearers Incorporated (that would be the children) was rather daunting. We chose to minimize the stress by just moving into our outdated house without doing any upfront remodeling. We've been chipping away at the 70s decorating scheme ever since.

It feels so good to walk through our rooms and begin to see a reflection of our decorating personality. I often stop and stand outside the children's bedrooms for a minute or two just to take in the changes. The kids just laugh at me.

This is a before picture of the kids bathroom. Some of the kids couldn't see over the top of the sink when we moved in without the help of a stool. The walls were painted a lovely shade of poop brown. We called it The Cave. What began as a quick coat of paint morphed into a remodel.

Four months…

Please? Can We Keep Her?

A cat climbed over the fence and settled in our backyard. A kittenish cat. Orange. Orange fur and orange eyes. We let the dog out to shoo her along. Henrie skipped out into the yard; the cat arched her spine and ruffled her thin fur. Henrie backed up and then lay down in a Hey, everything's cool. This yard is big enough for the both of us position. The cat maintained her offensive stance for a few more minutes and then she, too, relaxed. Henrie is fired.

The Big Guns stepped in, "Go, cat! Shoo!"

"No, Papa! Don't send her away. We like her. We named her!"

"I'm sorry! We don't need one more animal. Shoo! Shoo!"

The cat sauntered away...around to the front of the house.

"Grout's back! She doesn't want to leave. Please can we keep her?"

She slept on the front porch all night and I was awakened in the pitch black by horrific hissing and barking. Our cat had discovered the marmalade intruder and her hissing scared the dog who joined …


Stuart and I were getting ready to go for a walk after dinner. "Listen, guys," I said. "I want you to be sure to clear the table, sweep the floor and do the dishes before you play." I looked sternly at the three children dressed in Stuart's button-down shirts and baseball caps. "Do you understand? You may not play spies until after your chores are done. And one more thing. No mustaches! Do you hear me? You may not draw mustaches on your faces!

"Why not, Mama? Is it dangerous?"

"No, Faith, it's not dangerous but this morning when you were spies somebody rubbed their mustache off on the wall in Charlie's room."

"Oh. How 'bout crayon? Can we use crayon to make mustaches?"

"Nope. Nooo mustaches." And out the door we went, stepping around Charlie who had fallen flat on his face while trying to walk in a pair of Stuart's shoes.

When we got home, the chores were done and all of the children had added sunglasses t…

Summer School

This... a big motivator to get a lot of this...
...done during the summer months.
Lauren is hot on John's heels in Algebra I. This keeps John working frantically in Algebra II to stay ahead of her. They both use Teaching Textbooks.

Charlie is really reading! He's catching on quickly. This is a relief the fifth time through. Here he is on lesson 40 in Reading Made Easy. The toy knife in his hand is for when those unexpected bad guys spring from the pages. You know like, "Run Dick! Run! See Spot. See Spot bite Sally. Stop, Spot! Stop!"

Killing two birds with one stone. Faith and Claire read together. Faith is more fluent but Claire can keep up and Faith corrects her when she reads chore for choir. Here they are on chapter 14 in The Year of Miss Agnes. One lesson I can cross off my teaching list. After a few hours of math and reading and science, it's time for a rousing game of Underwater What Am I. Can you guess?
Answer: The bodies from the Dead Marshes in the Lor…


There is a new billboard on the edge of town that greets the motorists. Welcome to Smallville: A Smoke-Free Community. I know you are probably scratching your head and wondering, What's so newsworthy about that? Our public spaces have been smoke free for a decade!

Smallville is last in everything. Health, wealth, education, you name it. We're last on the list. So it stands to reason that we would be the last to reduce, reuse and recycle as well. It's green in my neck of the woods, but, only because of the woods. Some citizens in my fair county do embrace the concept though. In their own way. Done with that fridge? Move it out to the porch. Car won't run? Push it on out to the back lot to rust alongside the Dodge Dart and the Ford Pinto.

There are NO options for recycling here in my little community. Every disposable item that comes into the house goes out to the curb in this:

Techically, I guess this container is green. The picture doesn't do this thing justi…

Fairy Salad

Because the fairies still drop by. Claire and Faith had to write a how-to assignment for school today. Here is Faith's: How to Make a Fairy Snack First you need to get tiny dishes. Make a tiny snack to go on the tiny plate. Here are some ideas: 1 blackberry 1 slice of apple, diced 1 cherry (leave the stem on so the fairies can carry it home.) 1 or 2 chocolate chips (1 chip for a small fairy family, 2 for a larger family) A half of a cookie (You get to eat the other half) You could make a tiny peanut butter and jelly sandwich Fairy Drinks juice water hot chocolate chocolate milk plain milk Leave the snacks on a window sill. Make sure the room is neat or the fairies won't come. You can leave a little note if you want to. The fairies will be pleased and they will write back to you about how good the snack was. You will know that the fairies came by the note and the fairy dust that they leave behind.