Preparing for Christmas a little early

My friend Scott posted on his facebook page last year some pretty inspirational photos of his extended family’s Christmas celebration at which all gifts were hand-made by the giver, nothing was purchased.  In each photo, each recipient is holding his/her gift with such a look of amazed appreciation.  And they were just having the most contagiously great time.

I kept returning to those photographs, admiring the creativity and love in each of the gifts.   I remember that there was a picnic table, a beautiful turned wood light post, handmade interior furniture, tie-dyed shirts, cookies, and so much more.  For a brief moment, I thought I would ask if they would adopt us.  Then, in a flash of insight I thought “Why join them when I can  just copy them in a shameless way?”

So that’s what we are doing.  This year, we are picking up the challenge, and the kids and I have come up with some pretty fun ideas for gifts to give to people in our house.  We won’t do the entire extended family this year, we’re starting with a more manageable task.

I cannot share all the things that are being prepared, though I will do my level best to remember to get pictures of it all at Christmas.   And as I am making and looking for ideas for things to make, I thought I would share that I am getting some ideas from this blog right here, the blog of my friend Paula.

I have also gotten some cool ideas from knitting blogs and books, but if I show those it would spoil some surprises.  It’s been so much fun working on projects for my little gang and then tucking some things away already, knowing that I have  sweet gifts to pull out in December….

Friday, May 7

I sprang out of bed at 5am, ready to do something amazing with this day.  I had it in mind to sit down and write an amusing blog post about how stimulating it is to read aloud (serially, but in one sitting) Winnie the Pooh, Moby Dick, a biography of Christopher Colombus which is of mediocre quality, and Jensen’s Grammar, and then to read Kafka silently when my tiny brain is already over-full.  I thought there might be something funny in that……

After reading Ephesians, Proverbs and a little smack of John Calvin,  I sat down at the computer to write my amusing post.   My ancient, arthritic, obese dog saw this as his cue and threw-up just behind my chair.
So I didn’t write anything….as I was busy cleaning up dog throw-up, with a cheerful attitude.
And, since  I was up, I got the laundry moving,  figured out breakfast for seven, chatted with my burly husband, threw back a couple of cups of coffee ,  and then sat down to write an amusing blog post at 6:15.
Just then,  Two Children entered the room squabbling about something trivial.
I stopped writing, gave a mini-lecture about The Blessedness of the Peace-Maker and then  went straight out for a long run on the trail by the river, while the squabblers made peace and went over their math corrections.

There is nothing as rejuvenating as a run in the green green forest in May, by the way.
Once home, I showered, fed the gang and planned the day with them, cleaned the kitchen up, did  math and grammar lessons, marked a geometry test,  paid a pile of bills, and then sat down to write an amusing blog post.  While I was trying to be amusing, there were four people in the room talking to me and about me, and then the phone rang adding one more talking person which caused my brains to melt and ooze out of my ears.  When I read whatever I had written, I discovered that it was not amusing in the least.  It seemed like a good time to put together the information the Heart and Stroke Foundation asked me to prepare for them to pick up by 9am…as it was 8:45.

Then I corralled a couple of well-behaved kids,  and we popped out to shop for a new toilet to replace the one which was ruined forever when the septic tank reversed itself explosively into my guest room two weeks ago.
While we were out, we decided to   pick up a new  rug to replace the one that was rendered unfit for humanity on the day of the revenge of the septic tank.   It occurred to me that my mother is coming in four days, and I have to get the room all cozy for her.

~~After one’s septic tank backs up, for a few days it’s just immensely satisfying to have the room CLEAN and STERILE again.  Cozy comes later.

We also bought  32 chicken legs on sale, and the makings of cherry pie a-la-mode,  a bottle of gin and some white wine, three DVD’s for the price of one, a can of paint for the shelving in the mud-room (Benjamin Moore, Raisin), and then arrived home with an ache in my head.

Then, I thought I would write an amusing blog post about reading a pile of unrelated books and having not much of a brain, but now I see there is nothing to laugh at in there.   Daniel and I have spent a bit of time talking about how to best love one’s sisters.  And someone just rolled by to announce that a certain written assignment due on Monday is going to cause them to perhaps run away and become a gypsy.
I think that the point of this post is that my brain IS over full and not large enough.

I am thinking of hiring a stunt blogger for Fridays.

Anybody interested? I will be in the hammock…….


Mixing it up with a little physics quiz…

Anyone who has spent any time at all with my kids since August 2009 is aware that the three oldest are staggering toward the horizon under a crushing weight of physics and chemistry which has been lovingly laid upon their shoulders by their father.

Have any of you heard them groan and complain about this?
Yes, we have all heard it…..and I think it’s kind of funny because I know they don’t really mean it.  If you have heard any physics complaints which were particularly creative, you can share them here as a comment.  It might encourage some other mother who’s got kids howling and writhing on the floor over grammar or algebra or something.

And just to give you an idea of the fun side of physics, and by way of cheering us all up and blowing away some of the thick fog of The Faerie Queene…..here are two of the first questions on a physics test from a few months ago.  Please try to work out the answers and leave them as comments below.  Anyone who gets this one right wins a free copy of Gene Veith’s book Reading Between the Lines. In case you aren’t familiar with this book, read the quotes from it below.

Question One:  Peter is driving along the road at 40 miles an hour.  He throws a bag of garbage out the window at 30 miles and hour (he is very strong).  How far away is he from  the garbage when it hits the ground two minutes later?

And Question Two:  John was right next to the car when Peter threw out the garbage.  How far might John have to walk before he would find the garbage ?

(If you can only answer one question, but you get the correct answer, you are still right. )


Seventeen Years of Real Life

There we are.   Audrey took this photo last night, which was the 17th anniversary of the nearly fateful day when Jon and I were, for a few hours,  refused permission to get a marriage license.

We managed to pull that one out of the fire after a couple of hours of racing around downtown Hendersonville, NC where we persuaded a physician we hardly knew to give us each a physical on the spot, fully clothed, in a stairwell.  I believe he said “You both look pretty good to me.” and he checked off all the necessary boxes and signed his name.
Jon and I  ran back to the courthouse just before closing time, snatched our license up and got hitched 48 hours later on a brilliant spring day surrounded by people we love.

Much of the seventeen years that followed have been like that Thursday afternoon.   Just when it all looks one way, something else rears up and changes the landscape.   And I think it’s all working out pretty fine. What a gift this man  is to me.

Men, Women, Heavy Equipment and Flowers

This post is for my cute husband.   Does that gross anybody out?
PDA on the blog.   He gets a blog post all his own because
A) he is in Amsterdam  wretchdly sleep-deprived waiting for a plane to take him those last couple of inches (on my map)  to Oslo, and  I miss him.  And….

B) he told me four times last night that I have to write this on the blog because  he thinks

1)  it is much more funny than it really is, and  2) it reflects the universal breakdown in communication between Men and Women.

So, in order to get to this story you have to lean way back to May 16, 2002, on which day, Jon hopped into his fun little convertible on a flawless blue-sky California morning with the intoxicating scent of jasmine heavy in the air.

(His car would have been just in the driveway at the back of the photo here.)  And  before he drove out across the canyon to Loma Linda, just a little  too casually he asked if I would be home that day….as something was being delivered  and I should be there when it arrived.       I smiled, nodded, and then hauled my 35 weeks pregnant/almost 40 year old hulk towards our house, which was almost entirely in the deep throws of major renovation, thinking “Flowers, he’s sending flowers….what a guy”                                                                                                                                                                                                        So the day droned on, I and my four little darlings doing domestic things………. the things we did on any ordinary California day…….like A-beka Math, fumigating black widow spiders in the  day…….like A-beka Math, fumigating black widow spiders in the Tonka trucks, shooting the odd rattle snake, shooing tarantulas out of the kitchen, and watching coyote packs drink out of the baby pool.

And after lunch I began to fill the large wash tub in the laundry room with water so I could bathe some animal.

Then, I heard the sound of a large truck (Uncommon for us out in the wilderness where we lived)  and I dropped everything and went to investigate.

It was a big giant truck trying to tie itself into a tiny knot so it could fit through the hairpin  turn  with gateposts on either side which was our driveway.   When the side of the truck kissed the gate and kept plunging ahead, the screeching of metal completely liquified my spine.   I nearly fainted.

It was also noticing that  it wasn’t a florist’s truck.

I think the driver decided to off-load his parcel at the foot of the driveway, and bring it up on that machine that is some kind of cousin of a bob-cat, which you sometimes see  clinging for dear life on the tailgate of an 18-wheeler.
I was  thinking “What on earth…?” or something similar and he was hauling  this enormous box, larger than larger than the bob-cat thingy that was pushing it up the 45 degree incline to the house.   Without a word of English, and my not knowing how to understand what he said in Spanish, he drove it into the garage, set it down,  handed me an invoice and left.

I marched down right behind him to see what he had done to the cast iron gate (which I had just finished painting)……..

.and examined the chipped bricks which would need to be filled in and repainted, grumbling a little as I went along.  Here is a photograph of that gate, just to give you an idea.

I read the invoice and saw that  a very, very nice table saw had just been bestowed upon us.
And so I trudged into the kitchen, thinking that a table saw would certainly help us finish the renovations more than flowers would have.

And then I heard water running.  And for a minute or two, I continued to hear water running, until it dawned on me that I had left the washtub filling…..I had completely and utterly forgotten it as I was so freaked out by that truck demolishing my gate post.

Well……the laundry room (where the water was running) was a long skinny room, with the ironing board along one side, and an iron on it, which was turned on.  It was plugged into an extension cord, and the connection was on the floor.

But I didn’t think about that when I saw that the floor was 3 inches deep in the water
which had overflowed the sink.  So I headed straight for the faucet intending to turn off the water,
and planted my right foot squarely on the little bit of exposed electricity just at the connection between the iron and the extension cord.

And I felt the most astonishing sensation of electricity in my face.  It threw me back, and I grabbed the cord and pulled it out of the wall

A few of us spent the rest of the day wet-vaccuuming the lime green carpet of that laundry room.  And later, I ripped the carpet out, before heading down the driveway to plaster over the missing chunk of my gate-post.


He  heard the story last night for the first time, and now he sees this as some kind of metaphor for all marriage miscommunication.
In addition, he laughed his head off.
It was one of those things where his laughter was funnier than the joke.

So then I was laughing at him, and he was laughing at this thing that’s really no funnier than a whole lot of other days I can remember at that address in the desert in California.

I often look around myself in Canada, and California seems like another universe, entirely.

What brought THIS on?

I write this as I am freshly returned from a gigantic homeschooling convention.

I am home, full of hope and promise and ambition.

I have managed, by the grace of God (No kidding…) to covey this hope, promise and ambition to my victims, who are my offspring.

I’m saying that my sweet children are all cheerful and in the game with me as I’m pep-talking them about transcripts and essay writing and reading a million pieces of classical literature in preparation for the Scholastic Aptitude Test
and the one thing all kids want most , cultural literacy.

This does sound like a fantasy story.  And it’s only happening because I have the nicest kids.
And for anyone who knew me as a teenager, how bloody likely is any of this?

I must say that , as a lazy underachieving highschool student in 1980, I did not knowlingly prepare for the SAT in any way.
I just walked in and took the test…. and aced it.
When I received my score, I read it as if it were permission to retire. I thought, hey if I can ace the SAT….and then use it to enter university a year early (which I did….) life must be a breeze.
So, of course, I was an idiot.

Life is hard.  I floundered around for a few years.  Then I kind of found my way.

Then, in a move much like my triumph at the SAT, only way better, I married Jon.

What a guy. Miles out of my league.

How did this happen?
The only answer is that God is just way gracious with me.

So, I am spending the September years of my life getting the education my parents wanted me to get between ages 17 and 21.

And I’m hauling my kids along with me, and they are apparently coming willingly.    They actually look enthusiastic.

And I have compiled most of a book list which can be viewed on the page bookmarked…..Book List.

Opium and the High Middle Ages

My life is one of effortless ease, with the soft lyrical music of songbirds lilting in the near distance as I educate my princely children and we all dance joyously towards their future mastery of the universe.

But, once in a while, or perhaps daily, something will occur at my house which delivers me to earth with a resounding thud.

As I have been giving oral quizzes over the whole year’s material in history, I asked the question “Why was this period in history called the High Middle Ages?”

The response I received:  “Because of all the Opium the Crusaders brought back to Europe.”

WRONG!

Too much fun at our house

Dinner tonight was a celebration of something like the return of spring, and the finale of our girls birthday partying.

After a weekend of gymnastics, ice-skating every day, a bit much icecream cake, friends visiting, and rising temperatures, we grilled steaks in the garage and had a lovely bottle of Chalone Pinot Noir from 2004. It was delicious. Go out and get some.

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Mom’s 75th Birthday



Here are some pics of us last Saturday. The first is of Jon and Roy, the next one is Maggie loving her cousin Burke Almand. Then there’s one of Jon and David, and the last is a picture of my mother and my daughters and me.

Yesterday we drove from Clarksburg, WV to Toronto. The best part of the trip was having Jon along. After so many trips from here to Asheville driving solo, it was just too much fun to hand the wheel over to him when driving got old. And he read bits from Liberal Fascismand the NY Times to keep me alert during that long spell through Pennsylvania.

We had a great visit in the South! Miriam and Bill and their 3 lively kids came down from DC and we had so much fun with them. We hardly ever get to just kick back with them, so that was maybe the highlight of the trip for me.

Our kids got to run like crazy through the woods with cousins and Solms boys at Highland Lake Inn for the week, and they all (12 kids) wound up inside the large goat enclosure at one point. So when nobody on staff at Highland Lake came out and yelled at us, I decided that it’s my favorite place to vacation with kids on the planet. I’m told that Daniel walked halfway out onto the dam, which means he was on the waterfall over rocks yelling back at his brothers that he couldn’t hear them calling him back…..we’re always thankful to bring that boy home alive!

We had a big party to celebrate Mom turning 75 last Saturday, and that was lots of fun. We all saw people we had not seen since we were young and thin. There are a few pictures here. Somehow, there are not any good shots of Mike and Dan, so they will have to appear on the blog later.

I only got halfway through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as I was too busy goofing off with the family. Jon is well into Liberal Fascism, and wants me to read it as soon as he’s done. The pressure!

We’re off to Norway in 16 days, I want to be done with Uncle Tom, well into Idols for Destruction, and we’ll decide later what goes on that trip.

So, Jim….I wonder if you are reading Idols yet? And Kathy, I will give you my copy of Uncle Tom so maybe Santa can bring you something more fun. Scott, we missed seeing you….I had a hat with me that I wanted to get a shot of you wearing. I think you were off at Clemson that day.