31 October 2008

My "aggressive winter hare" and I...

Wish you a most blessed Samhain

And a wondererful new year.

(Gotta love Ladybug magazine -- a new adventure every month!)
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29 October 2008

Little Blue School: Barack Obama and Socialism

Little Blue School: Barack Obama and Socialism

If you enjoy having weekends off, thank a socialist.
If you appreciate the eight-hour work day, thank a socialist.
If you approve of minimum wage, thank a socialist.

If you like living in a country where it's illegal to sell your child to a sweatshop for a dollar a week, you can be thankful that socialists, yes those are anti-capitalist, anti-free-market socialists, worked hard in the face of big business and government opposition to make that happen.

You might want to check this out...Lydia's manifesto is excellent food for thought!

Thanks, Lydia!

One might think...

In reading some of the comments that never make it to the blog, one might think that I am good at keeping secrets.
That is patently so untrue that I am utterly mystified.

Yes, I am a homeschooler. Indeed, I am.

However, I am not associated with the Radical Religious Right, I don't teach Jack at home to teach him creationism, or to protect him from socializing wioth people who might lead him to doubt the Bible.


As a matter of fact, as I thought was very clear, I am a liberal, feminist, pagan homeschooler.

Just for the record.
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28 October 2008

My beautiful Swedish Grand-babies!

Though they have obviously long since stopped being "babies".

They are all dressed up up to celebrate an Internation soccer championship down at the pub. Isabella is six and Oliver will be four at the end of the week.
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27 October 2008

26 October 2008

Harvest season

Back soon ...
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21 October 2008

Back to the drawing board

Oh well. Our annual trek to Tony Packo's is off this year.

Rod has a gig that night and it just wouldn't be fun without him. (And the logistics could be pretty scary now that we're down to one car.)

So now I am looking for something for Jack and I to do on the evening of October 31. Finding any place to go or anything to do where we would be allowed to ignore Halloween seems pretty improbable at this short notice, so I guess we'll just borrow some movies from the library, close the gate, and stay home watching movies and eating popcorn. I know Jack would like that -- and we are almost finished with Peter Pan and I'm pretty sure that's been made into a movie. He also saw a preview for Fly Away Home that intrigued him...actually, back to back movies till Dad gets home would be his idea of the perfect evening.

I am tempted, though, to darken the house and take Rod's laptop into the back bedroom where the lights won't be visible from the street, so we don't have kids opening the gate to knock on the door. And then again, I hate feeling like I'm "hiding" in my own home. That's why I have traditionally gone somewhere.

Halloween is everywhere and those of us who don't want to deal with it are seen as worse than the Grinch. Why is that? Believe it or not, people sometimes get positively hostile when it comes up that we don't celebrate Halloween, and even those who don't get hostile urge me to reconsider. I don't understand. Why does it matter? We don't celebrate Diwali, or Ramadan, or Easter either Nor Cinco de Mayo, Crayfish Day (Kräftskiva), or the Queen's Birthday. We have our own holidays and we're perfectly happy with them. This isn't one of ours, we don't want to participate, why isn't that OK?

On the brighter side, it has proven to be a great time to add to Jack's dress-up clothes collection inexpensively. You've seen his knight suit -- and we found a baseball helmet for $2 the other day, so it's not all bad.

19 October 2008

Almost Monday

I am so happy to report that Mark is home after just less than a week in the hospital!
It was very frustrating for him, because he mostly felt fine, but one misadventure after another meant his stay was extended and extended.

I haven't had the change to find out the details yet, because I was leaping into the shower as he stopped by. But the detail that matters most: Mark is home and feeling pretty good! I am so very, very happy for him and for Matthew.
It has been such a good weekend. I spent yesterday baking and cleaning and baking some more -- and then, Rod took a turn baking and I made a yummy soup. Pretty near the perfect weekend!

Red Barn Lunch -- what a great idea!

Lots of parents would like a better lunch choice for their school aged kids, but right now the choices are:
  • eat whatever is provided in the school cafeteria,
  • Stop at the local Kroger and pick up something that's a bit better and find the time to pack it
  • plan, shop, and find the time to pack a lunch with the highest quality, locally grown, organic foods the kids will eat. That could be a part time job!
Just planning for menu that the kids will eat is tricky enough, without finding the time to research and travel all over the region looking for the highest quality, organic foods.

It's been a headache for years for anyone who actually cares about nutrition. As we learn more and more about the effects that food quality has on our kids, it's become a more pressing question.

So, where do we get the best foods for our kids and how do we manage to get them packed into nutritious, kid-friendly lunches five days a week?

Even families who homeschool have to pack something for the weekly homeschool coop meetings and play dates.

Karen Myers has been thinking about this for a while and she has an idea. How cool would it be to have access to a prepacked lunch for each child every day? Not lunchables or takeout, but real, locally grown, traditional foods, grown organically and sustainably and served minimally processed. In serving sizes just right for youngsters, and at a reasonable price!

A few weeks ago, Karen and some friends gave this idea a trial run by providing the lunches for sale at a local "foodies" conference, and it was a hit. Rod and I were excited about the idea and even more excited when we tasted the foods! Wow! For 5 or 6 dollars, we got a lunch that was delicious, generously sized, and easy to store.

So, last week, we attended a planning session for Karen's brainchild, Red Barn Lunch. It turns out that while there were quite a few people in attendance with experience and enthusiasm, the idea hasn't quite jelled yet.

It's pretty clear that there is a market out there, and we had some ideas for ways that we could make the lunches accessible to a wider audience by finding ways to make them available to people with specific dietary needs.

So, how good is the idea? Would you and your family be interested in buying such lunches? If you were interested , what would matter most to your family? What price would be willing to pay per lunch?

Feel free to contact Karen.

17 October 2008

Autumn thoughts

Today, autumn has clearly arrived. I woke up to a bedroom that had plunged below freezing. As the sun came up, I realized thta all of the trees in our yard had turned and the grass was crusted with a glittering frost.
Of course, that got me thinking about winter and winter preparations.

Every year, I prepare a winter emergency kit for the trunk. (Having spun off the road in a blizzard while wearing a business suit and pumps - no coat and no boots-- not once but several times was a very convincing argument that they are a good idea.)

In the kit:
(For each person who regularly rides in the car)
  • an old coat
  • old boots
  • wool socks
  • mittens
  • hat
  • scarf
  • Add to that a pair of trousers and a pull over sweater for me, just in case I happen to be in a suit when a blizzard hits.
  • an extra bottle of windshield cleaner
  • an *extra* ice chipper and snow brush for clearing the windows and headlights
  • a big blanket
  • a book for each of us
  • a candle in a jar plus matches or lighter. (A flashlight is also a good option -- but be sure you check the batteries periodically.)
  • A freeze-proof source of calories -- nuts, granola bars, etc, amounting to 1500 calories per person
I have been trying to figure out what to do about water. I recently heard about foil pouches of water that can expand as the water freezes and are pretty easy to defrost by putting them inside your coat, so I'll be looking for those and will add the equivalent of a liter per person.
The candle needs to be handled carefully in a car, of course, but I like that option because it means a tiny bit of extra warmth and no dead batteries. If you go that way, just remember to crack a window when you have the candle burning since the candle is 'breathing', too. If you get sleepy, put out the candle!

Things I have heard of, but don't carry myself (but you might want to):
  • a small snow shovel and traction mats or cat litter/sand
  • a "Please call the police" banner and reflective triangles or emergency flares
  • jumper cables and tow ropes
  • first aid kit
  • tools
  • brightly coloured cloth to tie to the radio attena
  • fire extinguisher
  • money for phone calls (good luck finding a pay phone)
  • tire chains
  • portable battery charger
  • fuel line deicer
  • portable radio
So, what's in your emergency kit?

15 October 2008

Do you Know FlyLady?

Jack has been on a real Chore Wars binge lately.

We've been adding more and more and more chores as he begs for more things to do -- and he does them eagerly and asks for more! At this point we're beginning to add Quests -- one time, major things that we've been meaning to get to for some time. At about the same time, I have been decluttering by getting off lists I don't have time for any more. One of those was the Fly Lady coaching list. And all of this -- the struggle to find more chores and the decluttering of my e-mail -- had me thinking about a day, not so long ago, when finding chores wasn't a problem, but finding a usable surface was.

I think TJ and Corey would be utterly astonished to see how Chez Smiffy looks on an average day. It's far from sparkling, but we can usually be ready for company in an hour or so, and cleaning up is never a two-day enterprise anymore. I didn't know how to accomplish that level of organization when they were living at home. Chores were a constant struggle and the chaos won a lot more often than we did. Once TJ and Corey had moved out on their own and I was living alone, I did find it somewhat easier to keep my apartment clean. Nonetheless, even when it was just me, if life got busy, my apartment started to show the lack of attention.

Then someone mentioned Fly Lady. Now, my place was pretty clean because with just me around the amount of energy I was used to spending on housework had my place so polished that some of my friends were teasing me and calling me "Martha". Still, I was curious to learn more about how to keep it tidy when life got more 'exciting'. When I knew that Rod would be moving in -- and that tidiness was no more in his nature than it had ever been in mine -- I knew I had to get a handle on this homemaking thing. I had become rather fond of living in a tidy home and being able to start a project at a moment's notice with no need to clear a space first.

So, I read the Fly Lady web site and subscribed to the coaching list. For several months I implemented her suggestions faithfully until I felt i had internalized the sense behind the system. Then I went "no mail" on the coaching list and went on with doing it my way. Once Jack was born, everything fell apart and I turned the list back on once we got our feet under us again so that we could catch up and then went no mail again until I needed another booster.

One of the most important things I learned from Marla and her Fly Lady methods is that clutter can't be organized. Up to a point, stuff makes out lives easier -- and after that out stuff starts to own us. If we own more stuff than we need, we end up spending much of our time moving it around, cleaning it, trying to find space for it, or just stepping over it. I know that viscerally and once Marla put it into words for me, I began a campaign to simplify my world. Our place is much easier to maintain these days because I have spent the last 8 years jettisoning anything we don't have an immediate need for.

Some day I will teach Jack the Fly Lady system...but meanwhile Chore Wars is going a long way to making him enthusiastic about keeping the house tidy. What a different world my baby boy is growing up in!

11 October 2008

10 October 2008

Just call me 'Grace'

I'm feeling pretty stupid today.
I fell.
I have a bad case of rolling ankles. Usually, I can catch myself before I fall, but every so often - every couple of years, something complicates the catch, and I don't make it. I had to stop carrying Jack on my shoulders after I fell while carrying him twice in six months. Thankfully, I managed to roll him off my shoulders and up on top of me as I fell both times, but I just couldn't count on being able to do that again.

This time, who knows what it was. Maybe I was carrying my handbag and lunch box in a way that unbalanced me. Maybe I tried to right myself while stepping on a stone.

Whatever it was, I wasn't able to get my feet under me, and down I went. In the past, I have had scrapes and bruises to content with for a week or so, but it was never more serious than that. This time, though, I really messed up my ankle and I have been having spasms in my back and stomach in addition to the usual scrapes and bruises. I think that amounts to "Getting older". I know that as small children, we bounce pretty well and as we get older, we get less resilient. I don't think I fell any harder than usual -- I just didn't bounce this time.

Worse, this means I have had to fill out an accident report at work because I am limping like an old wreck, and I foolishly answered the question "Where did that happen?" As it happens, I was on company property, waiting for Rod and Jack to arrive. Company policy says that every accident on company property, regardless of the cause, has to be reported officially.


In brighter news, Jack is still very much enjoying chess.

Rod is still helping Jack to think through his moves, but he is also having to really work to win. They played for three hours again yesterday, and Jack wasn't ready to stop when Rod finally got him in check mate. It led to a meltdown. Jack lost it and then refused to speak to Rod for several hours after it was all over.

It seemed to us that it was less about "being a poor sport" than it was that he had taxed his young brain to the breaking point and while the exertion was exhilarating, it was also exhausting. When it ended so suddenly (from Jack's point of view), it took him a long time to recover and he didn't have words for what, exactly, he was feeling so he retreated into sulking. All was well by the end of the evening and Jack went down to check that everything was OK with Dad before he could sleep last night.

I think he will learn to see the bigger picture rather than focusing on the move at hand and the end won't come as quite such a shock to him. He will also get his synapses stretched so that he's not working quite so hard when they play and that will help his resilience, too.

Oh, and Jack has started holding forth on history, explaining to us all about the Romans and the Gauls and the Barbarians. It's kind of amusing to hear his oversimplified, but basically correct, view of history. It's not unlike "the history of Europe, as written in letters to the newspaper editor".

08 October 2008

Move over Bobby Fisher!

Rod and Jack have been playing chess for three hours now!
Jack has moved from step one, "this is a pawn" to being able to discuss moves and why they're a better idea than some other moves. I honestly haven't been paying enough attention to know how he's doing with the chess part -- but I can report that his enthusiasm hasn't waned for even a moment.

On the domestic front, I finally had the energy to take my turn at cooking. Split pea and carrot soup. Yum.
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Jack has taken a big interest in chess lately.

He evidently read about it in one of his gazzillion library books and has been eager to learn to play for about a week now. He and I went to the library yesterday to pick up a couple of books about chess for children and he started trying to read them, and then decided, at 10 minutes past bedtime, that he wanted me to read them to him. I will -- but by the light of day.

Mark has offered to loan Jack a chess set one of these days so he can actually practice. But in the meanwhile, Jack has been running around the house shouting "Checkmate!"

As with so many things with a five year old super-hero, Jack is sure that he will be very good at chess right away. I wonder how long his interest will last once he realizes how challenging it really is. Then again -- he has persevered with many more things than I expected so far in his short life. (I do wish Corey were around though. Corey actually likes chess.)

In other news, in scratching around Rod found that between our newly simplified ways and the cash he has earned over the last little while, we are able to (just) afford a new washing machine. It will be delivered on Saturday. I have to say that I am very glad that I was in the habit of keeping up with the laundry -- it means that we will be able to get through the rest of the week very handily. Now, I just hope that the fridge will hold on until we can pull another rabbit out of our hat!

In addition to chess, Jack has gone on another Chore Wars binge...and I have to say, it;s very amusing to watch him scour the list of chores for something he can do and then tear around the house cleaning up and putting things away! At his request, we loaded that page into the places he can visit from his own computer, with the promise that he won't claim any chores unless he has adult confirmation. He has been checking his list several times a day, which has Rod and working hard to come up with new chores to add to the list.

The game has also lead to seeral discussions about the nature of chores and what is and is not a chore and what it means to be a member of Team Smiffy. Jack wanted to add "eating my dinner" and "obeying an adult" to the list, and we talked about how some thinsg we do for ourselves and some things are just expected in civilized company, and other things have to be done for the family to be comfortable, but it doesn't matter so much *who* does them, except to be fair. I have to be sweet to Jack eve when I have a headache. He has to obey his adults. That's just being a good team member. But while the laundry needs to be washed and dinner cooked, as long as it happens, it doesn't matter too much who does it. Those are chores. He seems top get it -- and when I mentioned Team Smiffy, he has taken to giving a HUGE roar that would do Uncle Trevor proud at a Geelong Cats game, which first astonished and alarmed Rod and then caused him to topple over laughing.
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06 October 2008

When it rains, it pours

So, last night, Rod and I were hanging out in the kitchen, he was cooking on our brand new stove while I whined about how sick I felt.  But we were both feeling relieved to have mastered the recent challenges.


We had successfully made the transition from a two-car family to a one car family, we had replaced the very nearly dead stove and had the repairs done on the one remaining car so that it wouldn't go belly up, leaving us no way to get me to work.  We were waiting for the part we need to repair the vitamix back in action, and it looked like life was moving forward.


Then the refrigerator growled at us.


"Uh oh.  That's not a good sound.  Never heard a fridge say that before."


"Maybe it can hold out until refund time...?"




Then, this morning, i did my usual routine.  I carried yesterday's laundry down to the basement, stopping on the way to start a pot of coffee.  I took the clean clothes from the dryer, tossed the wet clothes in, and started another load and then went up to have that first blissful cuppa.  Rod had gotten the kitchen sparkling last night, which made that first cup even more blissful!


But a while later, Rod and I heard the drains in the kitchen and bathroom, gurgling. 


"Wierd nooise.  i wonder what that is..."




It went on and on.  Eventually I went up to take a shower.  The water was running ice cold. 


"Uh oh.  Honey, would you go down and check on the water heater?"


I went on getting ready for work, sans shower.  Eventually Rod called up the stairs.


"The water heater is fine.  The washer, however, has lost its ability to sense when it's full and is overflowing.  That noice we heard was sump pump -- which is also working fine."


OK.  Now what?  The fridge may hold out for tax refund time, but we have to have clean clothes.


Back to the drawing board.

05 October 2008

The Story of Stuff

Jack and I have been watching these videos and we think you might like them, too.

ever really loved a bathroom?

I am so pleased with how this room came out -- even if it is just the loo.
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04 October 2008

The art game...

We have a new passion. "The art game".

The rest of the world calls it "Child Sized Masterpieces."
Jack says

" The game is very fun. You try and get the most matches, if you want to win."
And he's quite right. It's a blast!

We started by matching identical art cards. Even with a vast collection, he was bored pretty quickly. So we moved on to the artist match. We have a collection of art cards and we try to match two by the same artist -- extra points if we can name the artist before we check the back of the card. ;)
Jack is really, really good at it! Some artists I can tell -- Carl Larsson and John James Audubon are plain obvious. But there are others that are similar enough that weeks later, if they're the only ones left, I really am guessing. Jack never seems to be guessing, and I really need to get up the courage to move onto the next step -- matching four less similar pieces by the same artist.

I did get the books - but thank goodness Dover has books of art cards at a fraction of the cost, so we can make it more challenging without spending a fortune! (And without *having* to rush on to the next step.)

Yeah, I know, Mark. We have wierd hobbies. *grin* We have to do something to keep you guessing.

Banned Book Week

Every year we celebrate the Freedom to Read during banned book week.

Founded in 1982 by the American Library Association, this event is intended to remind us not to take our precious intellectual freedom for granted.
During banned book week, we celebrate our freedom to choose and the freedom to express our opinions, even if that opinion is unorthodox or unpopular.

This event also stresses how important it is to ensure the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to anyone who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2007

  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • TTYL by Lauren Myracle
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Any books you love on this list?

01 October 2008

One of the best things about the new schedule

One of the best things about our new schedule is that we have the time to sit down to a hot breakfast together.

I love that part!