Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fate, or Serendipity, or Luck, or Something

This morning, Owen woke me with, "Mom, police officers are bad. I will take my toy lightsaber and fight them!"

No idea where this came from, but I spent the better part of breakfast helping him understand that police officers - at least, most police officers - are good, they help you when you're lost, they catch the bad guys, keep the peace, etc.

So I felt very lucky when, early this afternoon, a neighbor that we haven't seen all winter stopped by: a police officer. Coming off-duty. In his uniform! He spent half an hour shooting the breeze, letting both Owen and Luke check out the baton, handcuffs, radio, uniform, and cheerfully answered all their questions. It was awesome!

Let me say, I felt lucky, but not really surprised. I don't know if this happens in others' lives, but often times in mine exactly the right thing comes along, at exactly the right time. This has happened with things big and small, from the house we live in, to the flowers Owen and I just planted out front, to finding our CSA farm; even to meeting Ben.

It is a nice feeling, when things work out. Maybe not exactly as you pictured them, but as they ought to be.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The bathroom is coming along...

We hope to have it finished this weekend - except, of course, for whatever silly extras I decide we need, like making one wall a rotating art exhibit!

Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Build a Woven Fence

Also called wattle, this kind of fencing is ancient; people have been building wattle fences for ages, because the materials are readily available and free, pluse the fence goes up really fast - and, it's fun!

I got up the guts to do this after reading an excellent article at Mother Earth News, which I found when I Googled "wattle fence". If you want to try this, I highly recommend reading this article first! The link is over to the right, under "Favorite Places on the Web."

Start with 2-3" around saplings, cut them down to about 1 foot longer than you want the fence to end up. Then - the hardest part, for me anyway - use a hatchet to make sharpened ends that will go into the ground easily.

Next, pound the stakes into the ground, about 14 inches apart and a foot deep. It's good to have help with this:

The boys are helping make pilot holes for the fence posts, using an old piece of bamboo that's pointy on one end.

Finally, gather some pliable saplings, less than 1" around at the thickest point and at least 6' long. Trim them of twigs and branches, and weave them in among the posts so that they look like this:

We'll gather more branches this week, and bring the fence all the way to the top of the posts. We also took this opportunity to turn our weedy, grassless front yard into a garden, with plants donated by a dear friend whose garden is about to be turned into a fabulous addition.

I feel so grateful, not just for the plants, but for the help of my boys, and the enjoyment of looking outside and seeing something that we built with our own hands. I am a lucky woman to have so much!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pics of the Week

Keeping guard... over the toilet.

We went to, seriously, the best park in the whole world yesterday. Here's Luke, high up in one of their two Skynets!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Living

Years ago, in an Ocean State Job Lot, I found some hilarious "Complete Idiot's Guide" books for sale at $2 a pop. I bought a few of them for my brother, because they seemed so off-the-wall that I couldn't resist - with titles like "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Alien Abduction," who could?

When I got them home, I realized that they are really in-depth books; whatever the subject, they tackle it thoroughly, and seriously. While most of the titles found their way to their intended recipient, I hung onto "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Living" - and boy, am I glad I did.

This book started us on our current path - the vegetable CSA, anti-stuff, homeschooling, guitar-playing, bathroom-remodeling, blogging path. The trajectory of our lives was totally changed, because of a "Complete Idiot's Guide" book. Can you believe it?

I'm re-reading it (packed away for so long in our basement, I'd forgotten I had it), and felt like sharing a few favorite quotes. So, here goes:

"Education is not the filling of a bucket but the starting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

And finally, from the author Georgene Lockwood: "Simpler living demands that we do many things for ourselves. It's a constant learning process that we can share with our kids and our communities."

I think my family was destined to homeschool from when I first picked this book up, as a gag gift for a relative. It's almost enough to make you believe in Chaos Theory!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Which Would You Choose?

When a member of our family has a birthday, tradition dictates that we eat birthday cake for breakfast in the days following, until it runs out.

So, when Ben and I heard Owen nosing in the fridge early last Friday morning, we figured he'd eventually hit upon the cake.

Owen loves fruit, and each night I place a little care package of chopped-up orange or kiwi, especially for him to eat before breakfast, in the fridge - we'd already heard him find that on the morning in question, so we both figured that he'd moved on to cake, which would have been okay. What would not have been okay, was if Owen got into more fruit; too much and he ends up with "a sore bum-bum."

Which is a kind way of saying that our youngest darling's bowels explode if he eats too much fruit.

Ben got up pretty quickly after we heard the sounds of plastic wrap being pulled open, thinking he'd gotten into the cake; but no. Owen bypassed it completely for a grapefruit half, and was chowing down when Ben entered the kitchen.

So, Owen got in trouble, not for eating birthday cake for breakfast, but for eating too much fruit! Poor guy.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Talk about the perfect set-up: I found an old Family Fun article about Spring Science, which includes directions for how to build a barometer. And, Luke's first morning back to real life, he woke up with: "How do weathermen predict the weather?"

Fast-forward to yesterday afternoon. We'd found all the necessaries for the barometer and had it nearly done. Luke jumped in to do the writing - two words, "high" and "low" - and for the first time in a long time didn't ask how to spell anything; he just wrote.

I'd like to pause in my narrative to highlight the importance of this seemingly small act. A major reason for homeschooling was the variety of health problems Luke suffered by being made to do things he simply wasn't ready for in school, primarily writing and spelling tasks. He's really good at input - reading, listening, connecting the mental dots - but output, not so much. So imagine my happy surprise when he voluntarily took up the pencil, and wrote "high" without asking for help, or validation.

He spelled it "hie."

And, what did I do? The dumbest thing I could have - I told Luke he'd spelled it wrong, and how to correctly spell it.

Why did I decide to stomp all over my 7 year-old's newfound confidence, call back into question his (self-perceived) lousy writing? I don't know.

Then, I did a mental head slap, took a deep breath, and suggested, "But it doesn't matter, does it? We both know what it says..." And I waited for the tears, or his rejection of the whole activity; whatever Luke's reaction would be, I prepared myself to reap what I'd sown.

With hardly a pause, he said mildly, "yep, it's okay that way," and turned his attention to reading the barometer.

I think, I hope, the damage is coming undone.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Good Kid

Scene: Grandma's kitchen, yesterday, as we prepared to bring the boys home.

Luke: "Mom, I'm happy, but I'm also... sorrow."

Mom (trying hard not to say what's in her mind, which would be to ask if Luke's sorrow is due to no dessert every night at home, unlike Grandma's): "Why?"

Luke: "Because, I'm happy to be going home, but - I'm going to - miss - Grandma!" This with the most adorable, conflicted expression on his face; how would Grandma get along without Luke there?

He really is a good kid.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Australian Movies

After successfully putting in our new bathroom floor and flushing toilet (wahoo!), Ben and I took a well-deserved rest and watched a movie, Danny Deckchair, with Miranda Otto whom I loved as Eowyn, my favorite character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Danny Deckchair, about a guy who flies away, Wizard-of-Oz-like, from his life in Sydney, Australia, and ends up landing in a tiny, isolated town, was really good - a quirky romantic comedy that Ben initially watched while I was in Colorado, and got from Netflix again because he wanted me to see it, too.

It's up there with Muriel's Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and is nearly as good as Proof, a movie which boasts Russell Crowe before he was Russell Crowe, and Hugo Weaving before he was Hugo Weaving. Also, it is one of the best movies ever made, both because of the acting and unusual, riveting plot. Proof had me alternately wetting my pants laughing so hard, and then pondering life and friendship - and then snorting my drink up my nose from laughing again.

How is it that Australians turn out these movies that, for all their differences, are somehow related, and fantastic? I don't know, but I'll take 'em.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The New Normal

Yep, that's our dish drain. In addition to the dishes from last night's dinner, you may also notice the implements of drywall mudding - trowels, putty knives, and the big yellow thing that the joint compound sits in waiting for Ben to slap it up onto the walls.

While it's taking longer than expected, I must say I'm enjoying this process. It's kind of an adventure, certainly not humdrum - and, you never know what's going to turn up in the dish drain!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Six Phases of a Construction Project

Phase 1: Enthusiasm

Phase 2: Disillusionment

Phase 3: Panic (we are here now, the kids come home in 2 days!)

Phase 4: Search for the Guilty

Phase 5: Persecution of the Innocent

Phase 6: Praise and Honors for Non-Participants

Found this on the This Old House website, it made me laugh...

Friday, April 11, 2008


14 bags and boxes' worth of stuff is what we're donating. I was quite ruthless, all by myself cleaning out our 800 sf of living space.

But lest you think I've deprived my family of all their beloved possessions, this picture shows a small fraction of what's left:

So, that's what I did today. That, and I missed my kids.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Where the heck are the kids?

A really, really good thing about homeschooling: we don't follow the school schedule. So when our bathroom needed its' redo (going along smoothly, although slower than we wanted), we appealed to Grandma to have our darlings at her house for awhile. They will end up staying with her for nearly two weeks, with me going down to give the poor woman a break every few days.

I think they're doing more "on vacation" with Grandma than they do at home - and this was also true when we visited the Rocky Mountain grandparents last month. Maybe it's the change of location, or the idea of special time with the grandchildren, but it's certainly the stuff great memories are made of.

They're spending lots of time outside, playing badminton, golf, and hanging out reading the comics (Grandma gets a daily paper, hurray!). Owen has learned to use a scooter in the week he's been there, and now he can speed around, more-or-less safely - it's amazing to see!

They've also been to, in Luke's words, a "very cool book fair" at the local library, started a bird count, visited a farm and a played at a variety of playgrounds.

One homeschool-friendly activity is letterboxing, where you follow clues posted on the internet (see the link over in "Favorite Places on the Web") that lead to a little logbook, stamp, and inkpad hidden out in a wilderness somewhere near you. Luke jumped into letterboxing, back when he was still a Pokemon nut, by finding a series of letterboxes near us with some of his favorite Pokemon characters. My buddy Jen and I were psyched when she found a letterbox series near my Mom-in-law's for us to seek out. Some pictures:

Luke leads this expedition, the rest of us just do what we're told.

Found one!!

For this boy, writing is torture - but he insisted on "blogging" in (as he called it) at each letterbox. Motivation is everything!

In the woods, we found a teepee-style fort! How cool is that?

Painted turtles and a mallard duck that we saw while letterboxing.

Jen, don't look at this next one! It's the snake that scared the pants off us just after we found the third letterbox...

When I go pick the guys up next week, I think we're going to post clues to our own letterbox - a Star Wars series, of course. I get goosebumps just thinking about it - rarely have we found something that's educational, inexpensive, and so much fun to boot.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


This post is an ode to my husband.

Here he is on our honeymoon, almost 11 years (!) ago.

When I met him, I noticed immediately how totally cute he is; he was also funny and friendly. I remember telling my buddy Jen, who said something like "that guy Ben's pretty cute huh?" to keep her labbas off at the party where he and I met.

This party was an outdoor, stay-for-the-weekend graduation thing. We all brought tents to sleep in; Ben's had spent the last 30-plus years in his Mom's garage, where it became separated from its directions. So while the rest of us sat around drinking beer and jello shots, he spent hours trying to put up his tent - which, eventually, he did. All the while he worked on the tent he talked, laughed and drank with the rest of us; I remember thinking how much stick-to-it-iveness he had. It was one of the first things I loved about my man.

Fortunately, Ben's still got this tenacity of his in spades. He keeps going with things long after any sane person would have given up - and it's for this reason that we have our new bathtub surround today.

What my love is doing up there in this picture is, he's chiseling. Because our walls weren't plumb - our house is 50 years old, this should have been no surprise - he planed, and chiseled, and tried out the surround, and planed, and chiseled, and tried out the surround, without end for more than 4 hours on Sunday, and then again for good measure, a few more hours on Monday.

I can honestly say that, had Ben been less tenacious, we would be arranging for a contractor to come and finish our bathroom.

I am a lucky woman.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Setbacks and Kindnesses

We've had some irritating setbacks, most notably that the tub surround we chose, rented a truck to buy, and got home a week ago had a crack in it. Yesterday we arranged with very kind relations to use their truck (and their plumbing expertise - our lack of was another setback) to get a replacement, and Ben spent a frustrating four hours fitting it into place.

I thought that we'd just open up the surround box and drop the pieces into place, perhaps while sipping a tropical drink; I was wrong. Really wrong.

But still we persevere - as the sun sets on our project tonight, we'll have the surround finished, the electrical all done, the plumbing mostly done, and more than half the drywall up.

See that teeny, tiny piece of ceiling drywall, in the middle of the picture up there? I put that one up all by myself - meaning, I measured, scored, snapped, and screwed it in, with no one's help at all! As a woman who can do a lot in her own sphere but hasn't spent much time using tools of any kind, I am proud of myself.

As for kindnesses, we have had more than our fair share. My husband's mom put aside whatever activities a free and easy retiree would normally do to care for Luke and Owen. When friends found out we would be many days, if not weeks, without a shower in our bathroom, several offered their own. In fact, over the weekend we used the shower of our dear friends Debbie and Bob, while they were away getting engaged!

The most surprising offer was from neighbors on our street. We've met them in passing during our two years here, and wave whenever we're out in the yard, but we don't know them well at all. Anyway, after chatting over our dumpster yesterday morning, they brought a key to us and said, "please feel free to use our bathroom during the week, we'll both be at work all day and you can have a hot shower whenever you want."

So, we're two days behind and feeling somewhat panicky about that. But we're also blessed by the kindness of friends, relatives - and strangers.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bathroom Demolition Superlatives

Favorite Tool:

The cat's paw, for pulling out nails and busted trim - this tool takes out a lot of the frustration because it gets into tighter spots than a crowbar or hammer.

Favorite Music:

U2 - Especially from War, Joshua Tree, and other older albums.

Jerry Garcia's Lonesome Prison Blues

Lou Reed's New York - loud, angry, good for demolition!

Weirdest Find:

Hundreds of old-fashioned razor blades, in the walls behind the demolished vanity.

Evidence of Potentially Dangerous Results of Past Homeowners' Stupidity:

Melted wiring from an old fire in the lights above the vanity - lights that we've been using!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Best Show on Television

Ben and I are in mourning.

The Battlestar Galactica season 3 finale was just mind-blowing...

And season 4 starts on SciFi this week. But, we don't have cable, and so won't be able to watch until it comes out on Netflix in, oh, maybe 2010. Urgh.

This show is better than Star Trek: Next Generation - even the Borg episodes - and that's saying something.

I know, I am a complete geek.

True Insanity

Hello, this is Robbin Sneach with "Lifestyles of the Exhausted and Overwhelmed!"

Meet Karen...

And Ben!

Their bathroom - their one bathroom - looked quite normal, perhaps badly appointed but still passable.

Unfortunately, over many years water got in behind the walls and brought along its crazy pals mold and mildew - so our lucky homeowners are about to take on a redo!

This morning, Karen took the kiddies to Grandma's house, while Ben got out his trusty tools, and began demolishing the bathroom. Did I mention that our happy homeowners have only one bathroom? Here's what it looked like when Karen got home from dropping the kids off:

Watch over the next few weeks to see their story unfold; as the sun sets on day 1 of the project, the bathroom is down to the studs except for the ceiling drywall and the toilet - rumor has it that New England might see weather in the teens tonight, so no peeps outside for these two!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Saga Continues

Yesterday, I wrote about Luke's obsession with new Star Wars stuff, and how what's at home doesn't really count when faced with a birthday party's worth of new, especially when your birthday is many months off.

Above, a sampling of the Star Wars stuff we have... to see more, look at yesterday's post, Toy Envy.

Today, though, brings a happy ending to the saga; one of our favorite stores re-opened today after taking the winter off - and they have miles and miles of penny candy! Actually, it isn't really "penny candy" anymore, now what you get is dollar candy; still, Luke's $4, painstakingly earned through such demeaning chores as laundry-folding and floor-sweeping, went pretty far.

So he felt like a king, what with his choice of good stuff that he could afford. Also, adding up how much loot he could buy with the money he had took math skills, like addition and estimation - a nice bonus. Best of all, from my perspective, Luke felt gregarious enough to share some candy with Owen! Joy.