Happy Birthday to a Couple of Cool Chicks

Twice in my life, the sun has set on January 16 leaving me enormously pregnant with no sign of delivery…..and the same sun has risen the next morning,  finding me holding a  beautiful new daughter.   It happened once in 1996, and again in 2007.    I have talked about it here before…….(and if you click that link, you’ll see that snake photo Audrey wishes I would stop posting.)

So, tonight we will celebrate Maggie’s fourth birthday, and tomorrow we celebrate Audrey’s fifteenth.  They are such a joy to us all…..Happy Birthday girls!!!!!!

the second week in review

Here, again, is this wonderful passage from John Bunyan’s book  All Loves Excelling.

“The High God is yours;  the God that fills heaven and earth is yours;  the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is yours, yea, the God whose works are wonderful, and whose ways are past finding out, is yours!  Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that contend with you.     It is my support, it is my relief, it is my comfort in all my tribulations,  and I would have it be yours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof.”

This is an amazing concept.    It’s the most perfect antidote to discouragement.   It is so uplifting to consider that this great God is ours, and is our comfort.   Especially since our week here was not very inspirational or inspired.  But we were carried through and cared for through it all.  That is really marvellous!

This is how the outside world looked last time any of us were in it.     I love the look of the dam on our river  when it freezes.   I went for two very chilly three mile runs on Monday and Tuesday,  in temperatures which were something like -11C, and then, along with  my children, I fell ill.

It’s not surprising that our very satisfying start back to school last week…..complete with ball spike and victory dance by me…..was followed by a really mediocre week in which it has felt that we are marching through molasses.   This, thanks to a funky virus that is claiming us one by one and leaving us curled up under blankets and quilts on every sofa, chair, bed and even on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Not all of us have fallen, and the ones still on their feet have loved us and fed us, and kept things tidy and have kept morale up in something like a symphony of cheerful non-complaint.

Maggie has hardly shown any signs of illness, and has flitted from patient to patient wearing her Queen Elizabeth I dress.

Here she is , wearing her uniform, with a bit of war-paint fading from her cheeks, having just donated her mug of milk to good old Cinder.    Gross, but also sweet.    And it’s OK, she knows not to drink after the dog…..

She ministers to us by snuggling up close to her patient of choice, with the rustling crinolines and stiff collar standing tall.   Once she’s nestled in under the covers,  she  tells the most preposterous stories which include dragons, trips to Costco, a creature who creep into houses to steal ginger-ale, hairy spiders taking up residence in people’s noses, and squirrels in bathing suits.   And it’s really encouraging.   It reminds me that health is still close-by……so close I can almost touch it.   And then, later I find her sleeping, curled up like a pinto bean in front of the fireplace, exhausted by her efforts.

As I have said, we are neither inspired nor inspirational.   But we’re really thankful.   I am so very thankful for those blankets, chairs, beds and fireplace.  For Helen singing while she made breakfast for us all this morning.   For my sweet neighbour who just stopped by with a casserole.  For the good words of Philippians swirling around in my head, reminding me to remember my brothers with thankfulness and to look for how the grace of God is evident in their lives.    And for the blessing that comes to us as we remember to pray for one another.

We were all scheduled for the high entertainment of a debate session tonight, in which the three older kids had each taken a different stand on the topic of who should get the vote (as if it were the 1920’s).   One is arguing for an all white vote, another argues for black and white men voting, and another is taking the side of the women’s votes.    But two of my debaters are too dizzy to fight.

We had hoped to rocket  through the early 1920’s in history, and go straight for The Great Depression starting Monday.   Wonder if we can double up and cover all we missed next week and get back on schedule?    I’ll know in a week.

My older kids are doing two courses of Biology this year.  One is Apologia Biology, which seems to be a big favourite among home-schoolers.  The other course is a far more rigorous Biology with Microbiology which is being taught by their dad.   He usually brings them together for science class on Friday afternoon, and science class is always preceded by a day of jittery nervous energy, and three kids who have their heads buried in textbooks and computer screens in preparation.    I wonder if they will have class today……they don’t like to let Jon down, and it’s really beautiful to me to see them trying to rise to his expectations.


I made a bit of progress on David’s sweater.   Here it is last week:

And here it is this week:

Here’s the original drawing, the plan for this sweater.   It’s silly, but I’m filling the drawing in with color as I get it knitted up.

the first week in review

The first week back to school, after any event, is always a challenge.  I think I’ve said that before.  And I have learned not to pin too many hopes on that first week.

So this week, we just aimed at getting everybody minimally back up to speed in math, science and grammar.   And I also planned on doing a whole lot of group discussion so we could all remember what it was we were studying in history  last month.
We all wanted to get started memorizing Philippians 1:1-6 together.
I had a pile of war poetry, written by WWI soldiers,  to read and discuss.
And I wanted to get everybody to work on  persuasive  essay projects that would sound enticing.
One of the kids is writing an essay trying to convince the president to join the League of Nations, another  is  writing a proposal to a friend to join her in a business venture, another is writing a paper to persuade her dad that  a vegetable garden would benefit his mental and physical health…..and Daniel is writing a paper about why Lego should be in the home (and all over the floor) of every 8yr old boy.    I’m leaving somebody out, but that happens all the time.

Persuasive essays are a great favorite.  For a brief moment, they are being told that it’s OK to smear their opinions all over somebody else……and that’s way more fun than writing a book report.

I was also hoping, just hoping, that after the disorganization of the past two weeks we could squeak everybody through piano lessons today without too much shame.  And they did it!    They surpassed all my expectations.    I nearly cried.

So,  Hallelujiah, We made it…..on all points.  This has not happened before, I’m sure.  I always fall flat this first week after the break, and it’s always a bit discouraging.  But not this time.
So, I’m pumped now.  I’m taking this as a sign.  We’re about to have a killer second half of the year.

And on top of all that, we got winter.      Here’s our street this afternoon.
And Maggie learned to ice-skate today.
We all went skiing Monday and we tried to teach Maggie to ski.  And that was a comedy show.   She went up the kiddie hill on the magic carpet, sobbing most of the way.  Then she cried in a howling sort of way,  all the way down the hill.  Three times.   Then she went back up for the fourth run, and when she got off the belt at the top, she amazed us all by reaching back, unfastening her  bindings, stepping out of  her skis and marching down the hill.
I gathered up the skis and followed her.
I wish I had a photo…..just try to imagine a three year old dressed up like a hot-pink astronaut stomping down a snowy hill, grim determination and hot chocolate  all over her face.

She can ski next year.   This year she’ll skate, and that’s enough for me.

Oh, and I even got David’s sweater started.   I have never actually made a sweater that  anyone would wear.   So far, I’m just good at flat items.    So here’s the ribbing for the waistband, and I’m working my way up.   I can tell you now that once I get to the arms, and have to actually attach those babies, I’m going to be melting in a pool of sweaty anxiety.   Knitting Drama.  Stay Tuned!

Hand made Christmas

It’s almost New Years, and before I start talking about resolutions, I want to show some photos of the gifts we made for each other here at our house for Christmas this year.

It was so much fun making these gifts, and such a crazy fun celebration when we opened them all up on Christmas Eve.

Everybody was so enthusiastic and everybody had a couple of things they were just popping to give, and to see how their creations would be received.

Everybody was happy and  laughing, and a couple of people cried.

Here’s a little breakdown of what we unwrapped:

Daniel made a mug for Jon, and some coasters and tiled trivets which we will treasure for years to come.

Maggie glued a hundred buttons onto a basket because she knew that was just what Audrey needed, and she also painted and glued beads and sequins onto a flower pot for Jon into which she planted a Christmas cactus, making him a really dramatic piece of living art for his office.    I addition to these treasures, she made an adorable collection of pompom art animals, complete with googly eyes.   They are almost like a little pompom nativity set.

Helen made a set of festive paper lanterns for Audrey and a painting of a mountain scene which she framed up for Jon to take to work.

Jon made some gorgeous wooden items.  One was a beautiful wooden lap desk for Helen, which he tricked out with all kinds of cool calligraphy pens, paper and ink.  So, you can see the writer wearing her new blue shawl here on the left, and here is here lovely desk just below.

Audrey sewed up a cute bag for Helen.

She also made Maggie a soft pink blanket with satin rosebuds on it, under which Maggie is sleeping  as I write here.

Audrey also made some funny T-shirts for the boys which they are wearing in the photos here, and she made  a beautiful collage of black and white photographs for Jon and me.

David made some killer hot-chocolate mix, which is disappearing fast.

Michael made some lovely fragrant candles, and he also  found an old doll sized dresser which belonged to my mother long about 1936.    It was in very poor condition, but he sanded it down,  replaced the mirror, painted it, rebuilt the drawers and made it like new for Maggie.

The queen of all gifts was the wooden knitting box Jon made for me.

It is lovely, lovely.  And I will use it for years to come, and pass it on to one of my girls.

It has three compartments, and one of those has lid with holes especially designed so I can keep yarn in the box, safe and clean, and run it through holes in the lid……and there are three holes in the lid, so I can work with three skeins at a time, if I want.    When I pulled the three boxes apart, I discovered it was packed full of bulky yarn for some great felting project which is yet to be drawn up.   Maybe it will be somebody’s gift next year.

And here is something special Audrey made for me.

It’s a set of twenty one knit markers which she made from silver rings and little blue and green beads.

There’s even an extra large centre marker which I can use for lace knitting, or for marking the beginning of a round on circular needles.

And she’s put them on this funky piece of bent wire which not only looks way cool, it also keeps then from wandering all over that gorgeous box.

Here’s a photo of some knitting that needs pretty markers.  See how boring those little green plastic rings look there.  Imaging that little piece with some groovy beaded markers to set it off.  Maybe then I would finish it!

And in addition to these home-made treasures, there was the annual Christmas slot car stuff, a pile of hockey equipment, an electric keyboard, and various other things that none of us knows how to make, so Jon bought ’em.   Which brings to mind a question that popped into my head Christmas morning:  I wonder how many households have an annual slot-car derby on Christmas Day.   It’s kind of amusing to me that one of the sounds I have come to associate with  Christmas goes along with the sounds of breakfast preparation.

It is the unlikely   sound of those toy  racetracks whining, cars flying off the tracks, and the boys yelling at them while I’m getting the food on the table.  Ruby-red grapefruit, sausage and cheese balls, egg-nog and the sound of those little cars whizzing along and crashing into the furniture.

So much to be thankful for!

Two sweet friends

Wonderful David just handed me a home-made eggnog latte, which is the most delicious way to get into the holiday mood.  With this in hand, I  thought it might be a  great opportunity to hunt through photos and put something Christmassy up on this blog, so as to better set the holiday tone.

But then I got stuck when I found this little item in among the photos from last Christmas.  Here are two dear friends who loved one another in such a precious way.  Neither of them will be with us this year  (though I do get to see my mom in a couple of weeks for her birthday).  Roscoe is gone, and I  miss all his softness and warmth.  But what a lovely thing it was to be his human, for a time.

Makes me want to  get ready to love whoever might be around the  table  this Christmas,  and make the most of our time together.    We’re getting ourselves organized so it can be sweet and fun!

(here are those two old buddies way back in California, being young and silly……)

Book club tonight

Book club has snuck up on me again.  Tonight we’re talking about Kafka’s The Trial and my own husband is leading the discussion.  By the look of things, he has prepared for this in just the  professorial manner one would expect from him.  I, on the other hand, have not even finished the book.

For those of you who have read about our book club dinners before, I think you’d agree that they are really the envy of book clubs everywhere.  My neighborhood is remarkably dense with gourmet cooks and wine connoisseurs, as well as people who disdain television and read voraciously.  American, French,  English and Canadian  chef/readers, and the conversation is always lively.  Tonight’s menu is “Hungarian with a Jewish twist”.  I am making Hot Hungarian Potato Salad, and there’s a mouth watering array of grilled meats, grilled vegetables, and for dessert, pastries which I cannot go near, but that’s OK.

So, I am not finishing the book right now, as I am using the time to write a blog post.  Poor time management?  Yes, probably.   But I also cannot find a quiet place to read anyplace on the piece of real-estate I call home.
People seem to like to hear about our ongoing hullaballoo, and so I will describe today’s episode here.

David, the oldest, is preparing to begin filming a movie shortly, and so we are in “pre-production” mode here.
Costumes are being drawn, sewn, dyed and (when we’re lucky) acquired from Value Village.  So we’ve spent some of the day realizing they need far more than they thought, and so the scramble for medieval clothing is now at high volume.  My sewing skills are fairly basic, but I can see now that they are about to be ramped up.  Groovy.  We went shopping, hunting, scavenging  and came home with a paltry amount of stuff and low spirits indeed.  On Tuesday, after I take my mom the the airport in Buffalo, I expect I will be hunting in shops down there.  Anybody know of a good medieval costume shop in Buffalo….I should mention this is a low budget film.

So, moving along, we arrived home a little bedraggled, we saw Daniel (who is not quite eight yrs old)  racing down the road with……yes, indeed…..he had a bottle of beer in his hand.  He dashed up to our neighbor Mark’s house.   I was looking around for somebody who might be able to tell me what was going on, when Dan reappeared at the side of the van where he breathlessly broke the magnificent news that he just bought Mark’s old  computer for the paltry sum of one cold beer and a hand tied fishing lure.
Now Daniel is busy upstairs rearranging the furniture in order to create the perfect spot for this gigantic piece of equipment.  This will be our tenth computer, by David’s count.   But the first one we got on a trade for a cold bottle of beer.

Overlapping the costumes and the computer there is Michael in the backyard building and now launching rockets.  This draws quite an ogling crowd, and I find myself calculating the cost of new windows whenever this kind of thing is happening.

And my mom has been here for several weeks, and our visit has been really nice, but I find that this she has been ill for much of her time here, as has become the expected routine.  My neighbor Brigitte’s 80 year old parents were just visiting from France, and her experience was similar to mine.  I so much appreciated her good moral support as we talked about the unexpected changes as we see our parents grow older.  In her delicious French accent she declared “Things are seldom as we might desire or expect.”    We had this chat while rockets were being launched toward her dining room windows.  She was completely unruffled, though her whippet was in a full scale panic.

And then, somebody said something like “Where’s Maggie” which set off an alarmed scramble for the 3yr old.

And here is where I found her.

All alone in Jon’s wood shop with the big loud power tools, she was trying to hammer nails into the headboard of the sleigh-bed Jon’s making.  By the time I had my camera in hand, corrections had been completed and she was on to the next thing, as you see.

Crazy stuff happens when I am not looking, so Kafka will not get finished by me today.    I do love to read Kafka though.  I feel so much at home in his crazy, stream of consciousness world so full of weird and wacky detail.

Introduction to The Institutes (and a little skunking)

I spent the week, during odd and short moments when I could sneak off alone, reading the various introductions to a couple of different editions of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and have also skimmed over a couple of brief biographies of Calvin.  It’s been extra busy  this week, and once I had to lock myself into the powder bath room off my office so I could read undisturbed beginning at 5:30am.    I hid my running shoes so people might assume I had gone off on the trail, and I got an hour out of that little ruse.
Anyhow,  it’s all so very intriguing to me to see how the direction of Calvin’s  life changed and how he developed as a force for Christ as he responded rightly to the circumstances around him.  I am so encouraged and inspired by his struggles and his tireless labors in the face of sorrow and trials and adversity.

He was born into a pious Catholic family, and according to the Catholic websites and one kind of old and dogeared article from an old Catholic Encyclopedia, he was dutifully trained up by his mother to be a good Catholic.  And so these publications ask, basically, “What in the world happened to our boy?”  There is a suggestion that he developed a mental imbalance which manifested itself for the first time when he experienced what  he called his “conversion” as a very young man…..at which time he broke all ties with the Catholic church.

After this,  as French Protestants, among whom were  his own friends,  were being arrested and burned daily, Calvin was writing this treatise on Biblical Christian faith.    The idea in view was that anyone craving  a deeper understanding of true biblical  teachings might find them in his book.   There was nothing of the sort  available to them in the church.

What a bold and beautiful living out of the faith that is!  I love reading this book, and knowing why he put it on paper.  He gladly risked the dangers which were so pervasive  in Europe during the 1530s and ’40s, as he knew that he must stand and make the teachings of Christ plain for every man.

I am so thankful it’s still available to read, and as I have read some of this background material, it’s clear that it’s important for all believers to develop some degree of a similar ability to articulate our faith to whomever we may encounter, and we need to be particularly noisy in doing this when there appears to be persecution of the faithful going on all around us.

I was so much looking forward to putting this post together, and I wrote something up ahead of time and had to save it as a document because our internet was out for a time.  Then when I went to find it, it was all scrambled and full of what looked like cartoon character profanity….tell me you know what that looks like.  I thought, Oh….God is sovereign and would prefer that I write a different post on this, perhaps.

So I did.  And then I went to work a bit on this website, but as I am from the wrong generation and am at all times stumbling in the dark on this business of doing tricky stuff on a computer, somehow I lost post #2….it had to do with trying to cut and paste and change the font.

So that was all on Friday, then our weekend was a bit special with many many extra people, perhaps I had a total of 20 extras around my table from Friday to Sunday.

So this post was left until today.
And stuff was going on as it always does on Monday, so an hour ago I sat down to write here.  I put my little doggies outside for the last “visit” of the evening and turned my attention to this little project.  And as I settled into the chair……just at that moment,  both of my dogs were skunked right outside the dining room door.  Since all our windows are open, the aroma made a beeline for the interior of the house.  And of course,  the entire family was immediately pounding down the stairs to inform me that there seemed to be a skunk in the house upstairs.

The reason this happened is clear.  It’s because I said to someone here this morning “Can you believe the dogs haven’t been skunked even ONCE this spring!”    As the words left my mouth, I knew I should have just kept quiet.

Flying by the seat of my pants

This post is for all you mothers out there.

Do you ever sit down, probably on Sunday evening, and make a gorgeous plan for your week?

My only real gift in life is  that I can make the most fabulous schedules which are broken down into half hour segments, each with its own little box for a proscribed activity, the accomplishment of which will move  the day along like a Swiss railway.

These schedules are like oxygen to me.  And if anyone wants to hear where I got my itch to create them, see me after the lecture….oh…. sorry….. you can just click on this link to find the program that I love the most.

But anyway, because Monday was a holiday in the country where I live now, and because my husband, an anchor and a rock of northern European orderliness, was in Barcelona, and because I am mothering a baby raccoon in addition to the other six humans, two dogs, two cats, two giant lizards and a snake, and because my mother is here and wants to chat for much of the morning, and because I am by nature a flake…..I am just way off kilter.  I never made a schedule, and it appears that I cannot operate without one.

The garden is screaming at me to pull more weeds, plant more clematis and periwinkle, and divide the overbloated hosta.  So I have spent an outrageous amount of time working on that.
And there is a gigantic neighborhood yard sale this Saturday, and there’s a pile of stuff to get ready to sell.
And next  Monday our backyard will be dug up so that I can have a beautiful new patio, and that means there are plants to be moved, saved, and watered, watered, watered.

And then there was that  two hour badminton tournament yesterday.

It’s as if we have been overtaken by a kudzu growth of paralyzing spring fever.

So the punchline to all this blather is that we have hardly done any schooling at all this week.  Like, almost nothing at all!   I heard Helen tell my mother in law on the phone that we were having spring break this week.  That was a sweet way to put it.   But Helen’s like that, she would be the perfect diplomat.  Some kids might have said “Mom seems to be turning into a hippie surfer dude, please send help.”  But Helen makes it sound respectable.

I would like to open a homeschooling mothers confessional here….I have an idea I’m not the only person  for whom this has occurred.

Next week, we will hit the books hard, and I expect it will be a beastly chore to get those kids back in the house after this week outside.

Grendel’s Den

We have just finished celebrating Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada.  It’s one of those weekends that’s most commonly celebrated with tons of gardening work followed by  flopping theatrically into lawn chairs.  We got to go to a party too.  Even though we are only Americans, we followed all the rules and partied like Canadians, and we celebrated Victoria just right.

But we had a cute little cherry on top.  And here he is:

This is a five week old baby raccoon which I found wandering on a busy road.  He had no mother in sight, and I really did look for her.  We have named him Grendel   We are having good success feeding him, and he’s living in the old rabbit hutch and doing quite well.  His favorite meal is warm condensed milk with a bit of raw egg yolk.

My ambition is to release him, when he’s old enough to fend for himself, into the wild just a few miles north of us, where there is an abundance of corn, lots of streams, and very few houses.

I have been amazed by the variety of opinions held upon the subject of raising abandoned baby raccoons.
Anybody reading here ever done this?  And if so, do you have any good advice?