Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Sure Foundation

The kids and I have been nibbling our way through the book of Isaiah for months. It's our first venture as a family into the prophets. We wrestle with the message. It's a book for our times.

Isaiah wrote to his people, the people of Judah, at the dawn of a long season of international turmoil. Assyria ran rough shod over the Middle East, followed in quick succession by Babylon, Persia and Greece. According to Isaiah, each empire was brought down because of they were quick to gloat over their achievements but failed to give God the time of day. The sin of haughty eyes he calls it.

I brown the meat and simmer the stew and slice a crusty loaf of Italian bread but do not bow my head before I eat. It's the little red hen complex. I ground the wheat and kneaded the dough and sliced the carrots. I don't take into account that I didn't make the carrots or the wheat grow. I forget to be thankful that there are groceries in the pantry and healthy children around the table. These things are not a right but a blessing. Surely the One who blesses deserves my recognition.

I'm not the only one. We toss groceries into our carts and pump gas into our cars and expect this system to continue without a hitch. When we show up at the gas station and the lines are long and the fuel is limited we duke it out. After all, it's our right to have a full tank. It's our right to drive to work, millions of us, each in our own vehicle.

It's been a long time since things have been difficult for this nation. And when we have it easy, we lean hard on the work of our hands. Our banks, our jobs, our government. They are coated with a thin veneer of stability. We fool ourselves into thinking these things are a sure foundation. We build our towers of Babel and tell ourselves that the bricks of morality are expendable. A little debt, a little gambling, a little greed, a little selfishness. What does it matter? And we push the boundaries, further and further, until the whole house of cards comes crumbling down.

Crumbling is a good thing. It makes us realize that we aren't gods. God is. He will be the sure foundation for our times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. Isaiah 33:6

In church, our worship leader laid down his guitar right in the middle of a song he was singing and knelt on the floor and wept. "Change me! God, change me! I'm sick of playing church. I'm sick of walking into this building on Sunday mornings and leaving again exactly the way I walked in." This is how I feel about the message in Isaiah. I do not want to get to the end of the sixty-sixth chapter and be the same complacent person that I was when we started chapter one. I do not want to have large sections of my life where I don't see the need for God to tread because I've got it covered. I'm learning that my frantic efforts are temporary and ineffective. When I acknowledge that all that I have and all that I am comes from Him, that is the fear of the Lord and it is the key to unlock the door to the sure foundation. I've had plenty of opportunity to test this foundation and have found Him to be rock solid. Trusting God is a whole lot better than depending on the government, the bank, or myself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Before I say goodbye to Bella

Stuart, my darling,

The hours crawl. All thirty-six of them. I count the days and the hours until your return. I know that this is necessary for work and all and I will bear it. I must. I will be strong for you; and I will tend to your children and your home with strength and cheer.

But the hours do crawl and the days run together and I know not the date and this afternoon, while I carried the memory of your sweet smile in my heart, I sauntered to the beauty parlor that I might be made beautiful for your return. But in my befuddlement, I arrived seven days too soon for my appointed hour with beauty. However, my kind worker of magic took pity on me in my forlorn state and she waved her sharp and pointed wand in order to render me worthy of your attentions and affection. (The paint that you showered me with in loving kindness is now nearly gone.)

And in the dark watches of the night, I dream of your deep and even breathing. In my restless sleep I reach for your still and peaceful body. Alas, I am rebuffed by a blow to the head delivered smartly by one of the karate sisters and I rub my aching noggin and cannot find rest.

At this moment, music plays but it is not your pleasant and cheerful whistle. (Darling, I miss your cheerful tunes.) Memories in the corners of my mind...If you had the chance to do it all again...Would you? John practices his lines. Again. And again. He sings Babs like Pavarotti and it is lovely but not as lovely as the six o'clock chirping that signals the arrival of my glorious relief pitcher.

We languish without you. We subsist on grilled cheese and peanut butter. Pond scum grows upon the waters of the pool. And Henrie.  She rolls her mournful eyes toward the door, and waits for her beloved master.  She needs you.  Her water dish is dry and dusty. The children mark the days upon the calendar. How much longer, Mama? We do miss our dear Papa so.

Oh my dearest, we count the hours until we can touch you once again, until the children can fling themselves at you and wrap their little beings around each of your legs and your waist whilst I hang back and delight in their joy and wait for the tribe to get their fill and then you will once again be mine. All mine.

Hurry home, Sweet Stuart  that the sun may shine in Smallville once again.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Through the Scrambled Looking Glass

The apple on the cover of Twilight tempted. John saw that it was pleasant to the eye and good for reading so he took it from the shelf and waited until a dark hour (because vampire books are best when opened after midnight) and he read through the nights until he was pale and dark purple circles grew under his eyes. Because the first bite was addicting, he passed the forbidden fruit to me and returned to the shelf of knowledge and plucked the sequential drivel, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

When everyone else has turned in for the night, we flick on our flashlights and dive into the next chapter. And we wonder why. These books are pathetic. Trashy romance at its finest. Bella swoons. She bleeds. She breathes. She forgets to breathe. Edward breathes. His icy breath brushes her lips. He is stone. She a helpless disaster. This is a short story bloated into thousands of pages and we must read them all.

We read on our respective sofas and every once in a while I burst out into an impromptu reading with over-the-top-dramatics and excessive sighing.

“Edward, I know who I can’t live without.”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand. You may be brave enough or strong enough to live without me, if that’s what’s best. But I could never be that self-sacrificing. I have to be with you. It’s the only way I can live.

The juicy parts can make you tear up if they are read aloud. Tear up because you’re laughing ‘til you can’t breathe.

John comes in the kitchen and lays a rock on the counter, “Look, Mom. It’s Edward.” We double over, gasping and holding our sides while the rest of the family looks around for our marbles. We’re pathetic.

John is almost through the final book. (Thank goodness. The end is in sight.) He’s named it Breaking Down because, well, that’s what happens. The characters fret and sigh and carry on for long enough to put the reader into a coma. John devised a plan to avoid that pitfall. When the melodrama threatens to overwhelm, he reads through a kaleidoscope.

If you use this trick, "Edward, don't you know that I love you." turns into "I don't know that I love you, Edward" Surprise! Maybe Bella does possess an ounce of common sense. I wonder if there is a market for this. (Do you know any books that might be improved using John's secret decoder method?)

In short, I don’t know how we got hooked but we’re having a one heck of a time with the clueless Miss B. Maybe Edward’s deadly hazardous venom can cross over into the real world. If so, count us among the hapless victims.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Out,Out Damned Spots!

"Honey, you've got something boiling on the stove."

"Yeah, I know. I'll be right there." Smashed potatoes were on the lunch menu. Mostly for Lauren because she has a thing for carbohydrates.

I put down the laundry and waited patiently in front of Stuart. There's a narrow entry way to the kitchen workspace and he was standing in it. He had just finished painting the backsplash and was taking apart the roller for cleaning. I wasn't worried. Stuart is a genius with tools.

It took some tugging to get the roller loose and then the thing slipped and went flying. Paint sprayed across the table and the floor and some cupboards and the oven. And me.

Look at me, people! This is oil based paint! Here I am in my Saturday work clothes and my Saturday hair but tomorrow is Sunday and I can't go out looking like this.

My face is taken care of. But what to do about the hair. A buzz cut is out of the question. Any suggestions or do I need to do my best rendition of Jackie O. until this stuff wears off?

Oh, and Stuart? He escaped unscathed. Not a drop. He said he's sorry though. Fat lot of good that does.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blog, Blogger, Blogging

The Question
How has blogging made an impact on you?

The Answer

We had just moved when I began Small Scribbles. It started as an effort to fight the invisibility that came with being a stranger in a strange land but over a year later, it serves different purposes.

Blogging has created a sense of connection. Dinner conversation includes mention of my air friends. " Mary just bought a new house. I like her floors...We need to pray for Isaac and his family he’s going back to Iraq in a couple of weeks... Even though Ike didn’t do anything here, you should see Xandra’s yard.” I talk about people that I have never met like they are old friends. And in a way, they are.

The most surprising blogging development has been a closer relationship with family. We are ten hours from our nearest relatives and a half a globe away from the farthest. The blog has given me a way to throw open the front door and welcome family and friends into our days. No cleaning required. One by one my sisters have caught onto the ease of this type of entertainment and now they are joining the blog world in droves. I love when my children and I crowd around the computer to share the details of their lives and I love knowing that they do the same.

It turns out I have a cast full of characters under my roof who love to see their name in lights.

I like watching the little swagger they develop when it’s their turn to star on the screen. I like the way they gather the others around to share their moment, "Mama wrote about me." Even Stuart is not immune.

My kids' baby pictures are thrown into boxes. They’ll never make it into a photo album. I don’t have the time, inclination or patience. Painting word pictures gives me a way to record family history without the clutter. So long, scrapbook guilt.

I love these days when I am but an arms length away from my children. I gather them up and hold them close while I can and I stop time and bottle memories with this blog. I want the children to remember. I write to give future sons and daughters-in-law a chronicle that will help them unlock the mysteries of their spouse. When my children are grown, I want them to be able to browse through this memoir and know me as I know myself and to see themselves through my eyes.

History lives and breathes for me. I can see and hear the people from the ages when I read their stories. I think that one day, this gigantic collection of public diaries will be like Pompeii to a future people. They’ll brush away the memes and give aways and stat counters and find that in spite of our outdated Crocs, and Blackberries and an unexplainable affinity for Diet Coke that we were just like them.

Because I am a blogger, I spend my days turning over the rocks of ordinary in search of the extraordinary. It’s magical when a couple of unrelated events suddenly tie themselves together into a post. Right now I’m trying to figure out how a count down calendar, a wide open freezer door, and a pair of sandals might gel into a story.

Blogs have made this big world so much smaller. I take in the writings of those who are unfortunate, grieving, angry, preening, petty and I am grateful for my life. Conversely, blogging highlights the best of mankind. I enjoy the talents of those who are smarter, funnier, more creative, more spiritual, more compassionate and I stretch to grow beyond myself. It would wonderful if this blog does the same for a reader or two.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

To the Lake with Ye!

As I was clicking through blogs yesterday, I came across this picture and it made me laugh. Those of you who are Sonlighters know that Christmas in September feeling when a carton of school supplies shows up on your doorstep. Wild delight. We've opened many of these in the past seven years and showered a great deal of affection on the contents. Children have huddled around for the unveiling of new curriculum and and then sank in a collective heap, each lost in a different book. Until this week. Delight did not accompany the arrival of this box. John and Lauren intercepted the package from Mr. Fedex and took off toward the lake across the street.

"Where are you going? Come back here with that box. Guys? Come back!"

"No! We're taking this thing to the lake. Frogs and crabs and fish belong in the lake, not in the house."

"Guys, I'm warning you! Come back here. There's more than just the dissection stuff in there." (Really, how much authority can a mom exude when she's hidden behind a camera and chuckling all the while?)

Common sense eventually prevailed.

The microscope was a huge hit. We've looked at everything from rotting leaves to dental floss. Claire and Faith are reading Greg's Microscope and are excited to use their new piece of equipment to see Greg's discoveries for themselves. We are all amazed by the beauty and order of even the tiniest details in creation.

The older children may be biology snobs but Claire and Charlie were very curious about the dreaded creatures.

Frog, fish, crawfish and worm are now tucked on a high shelf in the hall closet. John and Lauren are hoping they fall behind the vacuum bags and cleaning supplies and are not discovered until they are safely enrolled in college studying Anglo-Saxon mythology or Baroque painting or anything else that doesn't involve actual blood and guts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chore Boards and Charts

It's been a wild couple of years here. We get a lot accomplished but our methods are not pretty. The children and I have opposing worldviews. I say to them, "For six days you must labor and do all your work. That means this is not playtime! Get out your math books!"

They duel with me like Lethargarians, "From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay. From 1:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter..." Oh, the banter. It's been an exhausting battle trying to stay on top of school and chores.

I've come across several posts in the past week that made me remember that chaos did not always have the upper hand. Sarah posted pictures of her chore wheels and Jennifer put up her family schedule. Hmm. We used to operate by charts and schedules. Maybe we should try that again.

Duly inspired by the organization of others, I spent all last weekend making up a schedule and chore charts (I went with rectangles. Circles baffle me.) Stuart leaned over me and offered helpful suggestions. "Why don't you switch Faith and Lauren's piano lesson with science."

"Honey, if I move that this whole thing will collapse in on itself. Now leave me alone and let me think!" After two days of mental anguish and finagling, I finished putting my brain on paper. It now takes up an entire wall in our back hall.

(The kids pretend their chore charts are hotels and every morning Charlie rushes to move the window washers on everyone's boards to the next window.)

The Master Schedule

It's been a great week. The children have plowed through a mountain of school work. The house is in order. Everyone is happier and I feel more like a mom than a traffic cop.

Kate's Guidelines for Creating and Living on a Schedule
1. Create your personal schedule first.
2. Fit your children's activities around your schedule.
3. Don't fill up every minute of the day. (I left myself several empty blocks of time to fill however seems best each day.)
4. Schedule a quiet time for your children. They need quiet even if they have moved out of the nap stage.
5. Schedule activities where your children can work in pairs or small groups. (You can enlarge our master schedule to see how this works at our house.)
6. Alternate calm and active activities.
7. If you have young children, expect everything to be thrown entirely off kilter when little Xerxes strips out of his diaper or dumps over the potted plants. You'll get back on track in an hour or two. Or you can always call it a day and pile all the kids in the car and go to the park.
8. If you have infants and toddlers, expect to have to create a new schedule every few months.
9. You might not want or need a schedule for the entire day. You may find that a couple of scheduled hours is just the thing to eliminate the dinnertime/bathtime/bedtime crazies.
10. A schedule is a tool not a guilt trip. You will have rough days. See number seven. But the good days will outnumber the bad with this tool in place.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Handwriting: There's More to it than Putting Pencil to Paper

My blog was recently added to a homeschooling blogroll. You'll see the new blogroll listed in my side bar as soon as I learn the magic spell. I thought I'd celebrate with a schoolish post.

I was reminded today of how frustrating it was to teach handwriting in my early homeschooling days. At the time I didn't know I was teaching an Asperger's child.

Aspie kids tend to have sensory processing issues and once we nailed down what we were dealing with, Thursday afternoons were spent at the occupational therapist's office working on John's fine motor skills. I learned a great deal about teaching handwriting. John eventually learned how to type.

The first thing I learned was that we were using a writing program that was entirely inappropriate for a child with handwriting difficulties. Originally, I chose Italic Handwriting because it features a beautiful style of writing and the letters don't change much in the transition from printing to cursive. What the occupational therapist pointed out though was there are too many stops and starts in the cursive. The child has to pick up his pencil and think about where to put it back down again rather than flowing smoothly from letter to letter. Goodbye beautiful Italic. (To be fair though, I will say that Lauren used this program successfully.)

Before we began a hand writing lesson, I held John's feet and let him walk around the living room on his hands. This weighted action addressed his proprioceptive dysfunction. (Do take the time to click on these two links. This site has a wealth of information on improving fine motor skills.) He took apart and put together pop beads. He pulled marbles out of heavy plasticine. All of these things helped him to develop strength in his fingers and arms. If you have preschoolers at your house these are fun, developmental things to do with them.

Sometimes I let him lay on his stomach on the floor and prop himself up on his elbows to write. This gave him better control because the pressure from the floor helped him be more aware of where his body was in space. We got him a slant board to help him to see his work better. It's amazing how much better you can focus on something when it's tipped up at an angle rather than lying down flat on the table. I had him write on a chalkboard so he would be forced to move his whole arm. We had him write with weighted pencils so they would provide extra sensory feedback. We did these activities with him when he was seven and eight.

I took what I learned home to the other children and changed my approach to handwriting. The first change I made was to not stress about teaching writing at an early age. My kids learn to read fluently before I ever get around to working on writing with them. And when we do get to handwriting, the only thing I expect them to write neatly is their handwriting lesson. It's not worth the battle to turn a dictation lesson into a nit-picking session on which line the letter y should touch.

To help the kids learn how to form letters, we start by walking on them. Notice the silver duct tape on the letter a. It's there to identify the starting place. Here, Don Ho will demonstrate for you.
We drive cars on the letter.

We progress to writing letters in the air. When we start this step, I hold the child's hand and help him until I feel that he is starting to get the hang of it. We move to the chalkboard. At this stage, I am not worried about fitting a letter onto lines.

When we get to positioning letters on lines I make my own lined paper for the kids to start on. I use two colors of puffy paint to make lines. This way they can feel the lines.

"a...Start at the starting dot. Curve up and bump the red line. Curve down and bump the blue line. Curve along the blue line. Move straight up and bump the red line. Go back down the line you just made and bump the blue line."

"t...Start at the starting dot. Slide down. Bump over the red line. Keep going down and bump the blue line. Jump. Cross above the red line from the smile side to the star side.

Finally, we move into handwriting workbooks. At the recommendation of our occupational therapist, I settled on Handwriting Without Tears, a developmentally appropriate, easy to use program. The writing style is simple and easy for little hands to master. Claire (6 3/4) and Faith (8) are learning cursive handwriting together. Charlie (who is four) only modeled for these pictures. He's not learning any handwriting yet but he was quite happy to be featured on the blog.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Poolside Collection

I spent quite a few hours this summer by the pool with book in hand. It was a summer replete with good books and I have some treasures to share.

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley. A story of a young boy raised in North Carolina by his widowed mother and his three upright and understanding bachelor uncles during the depression. The author paints his scenes with a beautiful simplicity.

The Blue Star by Tony Earley. The sequel to Jim the Boy. Jim is a senior in high school. He falls in love against the backdrop of WWII. Teenage pregnancy and racism are dealt with in a compelling and compassionate manner. Honestly, I think the reaction of the teenage father is my favorite scene in the book. The characters in both books are well developed and believable. This will be a book that I encourage my older children to read both for the story and to study the author’s writing style.

The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall . When I first discovered the series, I checked the copyright two or three times because I could not believe it had been written in the last few years. The books have a timeless, classic appeal . The Penderwicks are four talented, personable sisters who share a house with their forgetful, brilliant father and one large Hound (That's his name). The Father spouts Latin phrases through out both books to the delight of my two Latin students. I began reading to myself but quickly discovered that these books were meant to be read aloud. The children fell in love with the Penderwicks. I think they saw something of their own creative selves in the sisters. The first book is good but the author finds her voice and creates a strong, exuberant story the second time around. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a jumping up and down on the sofa book.

Gentle’s Holler, Louisiana’s Song, and Jessie’s Mountain by Kerry Madden are about a large family struggling to make ends meet in the backwoods outside of Knoxville, TN in the sixties. The family faces a series of difficulties with courage and unwavering commitment to each other. I let out a pretty good shout toward the end of the third book when I came across a reference to the town of Soddy Daisy. It’s the town we left when we came to Smallville. The books end with hope but the series is not a rags to riches fairytale. It makes the story feel true to life.

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This is the true story of Helmuth Hübener. At seventeen, he was the youngest non-Jewish German to be executed for being an enemy of the Third Reich. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the circumstances in Germany that made it possible for Hitler to rise to power. This book raises many questions and caused me to wonder how I might react in similar circumstances. The Boy Who Dared goes on the list of required reading for John and Lauren when we cover this period of history. I anticipate it will be the catalyst for great discussion.

Troll Water

It rained today. Heavy, crashing buckets of rain dumped down all morning and most of the afternoon. Sometimes when we have a short burst of rain in the late afternoon, Charlie dashes out and stands under the gutter and gets soaked to the skin. Then he runs sopping through the length of the house to dump his wet clothes in a heap on the floor in front of the washing machine. He had work to do this morning, so he couldn't escape, and by the afternoon, the backyard had a swift stream flowing through it.

"Can I go out, Mama? Can I go out and play in the rain?"

"No, honey. The backyard is a muddy swamp and I just don't feel like dealing with the mess today."

"Please, Mama. There's troll water out there."

I wonder where Charlie came up with troll water. Does he imagine a malicious fairytale character lurking beneath the murky stream or did troll water come to mind because his mean troll mama won't let him out for a terrific round of puddle stomping?

Poor Charlie.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bonding with Pippi

Faith is in love. I discovered this a few nights ago on my late night rounds. The light in the girls' room was blazing. It was nearly midnight so I reached in and snapped the switch off.

"Don't turn it off, Mama! I'm reading."

Seeing the position she was in ...
...I made a wild guess. (Well, it wasn't an incredibly wild guess because I am a connoisseur of fine children's literature.) "Are you reading Pippi Longstocking, perchance?

"Yes. And I need the light to see."

Look at her. How could I turn the light off?

I'm so excited. It's the first chapter book that she's picked up all by herself and is reading cover to cover. Pippi is the first character she has bonded with all on her own. It's my book. Finally, a child who likes to read what I liked to read in days gone by.
In spite of the late night, she greeted me early the next morning with bits of grass clinging to her hair and back. "Pippi starts her day with forty-three somersaults. I did forty-five." The somersault turning left her with a rash but, fortunately she did avoid our many doggy "landmines." I count this as a miracle.

"Now we're going to make a pancake,
Now there's going to be a pankee,
Now we're going to fry a pankye."

And the day after that, when she wasn't so grassy, Faith made us pancakes. Start to finish. Yes, she sang the song while she worked. She purposely dusted a little flour on herself, "So I look more Pippi-ish." But the flour on her face? (You'll have to supersize this to see it.) That was accidental.

And because Faith and Pippi really do have a great deal in common...

...she showed her undying love for her new favorite book by sprinkling it with flower petals and leaving it to soak up the sun in the backyard. Unfortunately, Gustav, who has been hanging out just south of us for days and days, timed his appearance perfectly with Faith's moment of forgetfulness. He swooped in and pressed wrinkles and watermarks into my childhood treasure. It's alright though. They go pretty well with my own childish smudges and scribblings.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Am I? Wikipedia?

The children and I are on a quest for knowledge. Not on the same quest though. The children are curious and inquisitive about the world around them. I, on the other hand, just want to know where exactly in the world I am. I'll show you what I mean.

Things I spend my middle-aged days wondering about:

Why am I standing in front of the open refrigerator? Have I been here long?
What are we going to eat for breakfast? Do oatmeal cookies count as breakfast?
What am I doing in my closet and why am I holding this spatula?
How come I'm the only one who knows how to change a roll of toilet paper? Should I be glad that I still possess this skill? One day will I forget how?
Why does the van marked Prisoner Transport keep stopping at the house next door? Should I be worried about this?

My children do not understand that my brain is ninety percent cotton and befuddlement and because of this they zing questions at me out of the blue and all day long.

They are such hopeful children.

There is not a chance that I will be able to help them but they keep plying me with queries. Here are a few that I have fielded in the last week or so:

How many miles an hour can a hummingbird fly?
How many squirrels are there in the world?
Does dental floss get bigger if you heat it?
Do you need keys to drive a submarine?
If you are allergic to cats would you be allergic to lions as well?

I have a standard reply for these brain teasers: How the heck am I supposed to know! Go look it up.

It's a one size fits all answer.

Except for the dental floss.

My response to that one was: What in tarnation do you need to know that for? Do you think this stuff up just to torment me? (They do. I'm sure of it.)

So now I've got one for you. Do women regain their mental faculties sometime after their forties or is it all downhill from here? If it's all downhill feel free not to answer.