Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall Kitchen

Oh, I've been having fun in the kitchen this weekend!

From Fall Blog

Some delicata squash and the first of many, many baked pumpkins...

From Fall Blog

... And seeds...

From Fall Blog

And a year's worth of apple butter.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Return of an Old Friend

Christmas 1977: Karen and Robbie, blearily wandering into the living room way too early for their parents' comfort, find waiting for them amazing, nearly life-sized stuffed animals, left by Santa next to the tree. Karen's is Doggie and Rob's is Teddy, and they would be loved, loved, and loved some more, through good times and calamities, right on into adulthood.

Karen graduates from college and gets married, and though she doesn't really know what to do with her old, stuffed dog, she can't let go. So, poor Doggie gets stuffed to the back of the linen closet, patiently waiting for the day when Karen rediscovers her...

Which turned out to be yesterday. I was cleaning out the linen closet, and decided that, even if the kids didn't want to play with Mama's old, beaten up, stuffed dog, that at least she could be out in the play room instead of jammed up at the back of a closet.

They LOVE her! Although, Doggie, it turns out, has gone through some gender confusion - when she belonged to me, she was a girl but now she's definitely become a boy, a fact which 4 year-old Owen assures me is 'no big deal.'

Yesterday, No Impact Man wrote an incredible column about thrift-shop finds and the warmth and heart they contain; sooooo much better than newly-bought stuff. When I see my guys, especially Owen who hasn't put Doggie down for the last 36 hours, loving a dear friend from my own childhood, I get goosebumps.

From Fall Blog

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thrift Shops and Greek Mythology

Around the corner from us - with better sidewalks, we could walk there - is a fabulous thrift shop. It's run by a church, and at first I had some trepidation with checking it out because I worried there might be proselytizing, when all we really want is a place to donate things we no longer need, and find useful, often fun, afforable things we do. (Thankfully, they recognize that moral people may be of other faiths.)

Also, I have a thing about stuff, so thrifting has become a hobby of mine recently.

Here are a few of my favorite things about this shop:

They have a food pantry, and cheerfully accept whatever we can donate - right now, mostly garden produce but as we get into winter, any baked goods we make will be doubled for the pantry. Math and helping the less fortunate, all in one!

We've found some amazing buys there - a complete Discovery Toy marble track for $1, a Magic 8 Ball for 25 cents, complete play-dough play sets, miscellaneous toys, clothing, shoes...

But best of all are the books - 3 for a quarter! I've found dozens of children's books, and a few 'great idea' books for homeschoolers, when I happened to arrive soon after a newly retired teacher dropped off decades' worth of books for elementary school-aged children.

I'm not sure why, but this shop has an ever-changing, interesting collection of Greek mythology for children. When we found a not-too-scarily illustrated Perseus and Medusa, Owen put on his knight stuff and went off to "fight the Gorgons." The first one we found on the Trojan Horse made little sense to me (they tried to pack too much in, it was badly written and insensible), but both Luke and Owen loved it. This week, though, I found the piece de resistance: The Adventures of Ulysses, otherwise known as the Odyssey, in simple words and many pictures - we're reading it about 10 times a day, and talking about it all the time. Tonight at dinner, Luke said, "someday I'm going to find out the truth about the Greek gods and goddesses, I'm going to climb up Mount Olympus to the tippy top!"

Maybe all thrift shops are like this, I don't know; we sure feel fortunate to have this one, and so close by.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Summer's Last Hurrah

Boy, did we have fun - and, it wasn't bleak and wintry at all, despite the cold.

By accident, we found a little harbor that had everything necessary for a few hours' enjoyment: marshes at low tide (with a little adventure when the tide changed), a playground, a pavilion for lunch. It was awesome! Here are some photos:

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

Could you not eat this little guy up?

From Fall Blog

Some of the grown-up campers.

Then, because we could, we found an ocean beach (as opposed to the marshy harbor) to visit in the afternoon. Notice the utter lack of bleakness in these pictures:

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

Ben even made a little Feng Shuei garden in the sand, with help from the children...

From Fall Blog

Rather than the beginning of the long, cold slide into winter, this trip turned out to be a final celebration of summer. It was great, guys - can't wait to do it again!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Great Outdoors

I love this time of year for being outside, more even than spring - pictures right now are pretty fun too, I recently took these in a state park in Rhode Island:

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

I do not know why pictures like this (bleak, almost wintry) appeal to me, but for some reason they do. We're going to the Maine coast this weekend to go camping, and I'm so excited - I LOVE the beach in the off-season, way more than in summer. Weird, I know, but true.

Hopefully (if we survive the cold, and each other) I'll snag some bleak and beautiful photos while camping to post next week!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

2 Cents

Confession time: I am a bleeding-heart liberal. If you're not, I encourage you to keep reading anyway, because I'm also a libertarian-leaning homeschooling mom who'd like to learn how to hunt (and has for a few years, long before I ever heard of Sarah Palin). This will not be a whiny, conservative-bashing post, for I pride myself on not often doing what's expected of "someone like me."

As a former Canadian, I think probably the two biggest issues that make me a card-carrying liberal are health care and taxes, and not necessarily in that order. My many Canadian relatives enjoy free, high-quality health care, encompassing treatments for prostate and bone cancer, mental illness, asthma, ER visits, extended hospitalizations after accidents, heart surgeries... the list goes on. But the point is, they have a great health care system up there, so nobody needs to fear that getting sick or hurt will mean the financial crushing of their, or their families', hopes and dreams. Also, as my brother put it recently, "the political parties do not hate the shit out of each other, and the election season is only 5 weeks long."

I'm sure you know why Canadians' health care is free and excellent: taxes. Yes, they pay taxes through the nose, but collectively they all benefit. I think this CNN Commentator put it best (I found this yesterday on Daily Kos, a recent addiction):

Republicans lowered my taxes, and will keep them low. But the value of my home has dropped 20%, my health insurance costs have doubled, gas costs $4 a gallon, and my investments are in the tank. Please, tax me.

So, here's the part of my political rant where I blast McCain: I was okay with him at first, but I keep reading and hearing things that worry me.

Earlier in the campaign, McCain scoffed when Obama handed out tire pressure gauges at a campaign rally; he said something like 'does he think he's going to fix the problem with tire pressure gauges?..' Well, yes, in fact:

"Keep car tires properly inflated. In our tests of a Toyota Camry, fuel efficiency dropped 1.3 mpg when the tires were deflated by 10 psi." - Consumer Reports, October 2008

Also, Sarah Palin really frightens me. I'm so offended by this, "oh, you're a woman, of course you have to put a woman in the White House..." I'm an in-the-trenches mom - I hope, in fact, to someday be a hockey mom - yet I believe that 'drill, baby, drill' is a really bad idea. I wouldn't vote for anyone, female or otherwise, who stands in such stark contrast to many ideals I hold dear (global warming is real, gay people have rights, too, evolution...).

Also, I worry that should she ever gain #1 status, Sarah Palin will be very similar to Bush (same arrogance, slightly less foreign policy knowledge), and I find that scary, indeed.

But worst, worst of all is the sliminess of the McCain/Palin campaign; they have fallen back on hate and scorn because they have nothing better to offer. Jonathan Alter's article, in the current issue of Newsweek, really helped crystallize my thinking. He writes: "The faith-based community organizing Obama undertook (and that Palin continues to trash) exemplifies the very idea of putting social change before selfish career. Why else take a job for a fraction of what he could have made elsewhere?" When I first heard Palin dis Obama for his community work, I thought to myself, 'what's wrong with working within a community you're trying to help?"

So, do I still have friends out there from the other side of the political aisle? I hope so, and I'd love to hear constructively critical, non-sneering, engaging debate. If we ask this of our political leaders, we should at least be willing to try it ourselves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fortune Teller

When you've got a reluctant writer in your house, here're two things you should also have:

1) Games for Writing, by Peggy Kaye - for kids under 10 or so, Kaye comes up with great ways to get 'em writing without really knowing they're writing.

2) A Fortune Teller - you remember, those little folded squares with the color names on the outside, numbers on the inside, and fortunes under the numbers? They were fun then, and thankfully they still are. Here is how to make one.

First, take a square piece of paper and fold exactly in half one way, unfold, then fold it exactly in half the other way, then open it back out. Then, fold in the corners so that they each touch the midpoint of the paper (keep it folded). Turn the whole thing over, and fold the corners in so that they each touch the midpoint. If at this point, you were to unfold the whole thing, it would look like this:

From Fall Blog

Yours doesn't have writing on it, but it soon will! On the four outside corners, write a color. Then, on the 8 inside corners, write a number - doesn't matter what the numbers are, just no repeats and a healthy mix of odd and even. You may want to fold your fortune teller up before writing in it, to keep where the numbers/letter go straight. It should look like this:

From Fall Blog

To finish making it, lift up each number flap and write a fortune in it - stuff like, "You will win an Olympic Gold medal" or "A thousand Ping Pong balls will land on your head after lunch."

Now, to use it:

From Fall Blog

The teller holds it thus, with thumbs and index fingers inside the four "color" parts. When the tellee picks a color, the teller spells it out, moving the Fortune Teller once with each letter (R- it opens north/south, E- it opens east/west, D- it opens north/south...) Next, the tellee picks a visible number; the teller moves the FT in the same way as s/he did for the color, this time moving it while counting up to the number the tellee chose (3 is chosen; teller moves it 1, 2, 3 times.) The tellee picks another number, the teller repeats what s/he just did with the FT. When the tellee chooses a third number, the teller lifts the flap and reads the tellee's fortune (written on the underside of the number.)

Et, voila - lots of writing bundled with silliness, just the ticket for a reluctant writer.

Monday, September 15, 2008


These last few weeks, the strife has not been limited to the national stage. There's been plenty in our home life too; recently I lost my temper (for the 2nd time ever as an adult) and accused a beloved, close relative of "not having a brain." To add further stress, our homeschooling email newsgroup has turned into a knock-down-drag-out forum, first about politics and most recently about religion.

I'm sick of strife.

So, today I'm posting something passed on to me by my brother,which makes light of the upcoming election using... The Golden Girls.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Perpetual Saturday Morning

I can't think of anything more delicious than listening to the buses go by in the morning, while we linger in our PJ's, reading, talking, singing, finishing breakfast.

Unless it's the Not-Back-to-School Beach Day:

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

Recently, my Mom referred to our daily life as 'perpetual Saturday morning;' I can't say I disagree with her.

But who's to say that is a bad thing? Life learning occurs on the weekends, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to Stop Global Warming

Here is the conversation Luke and I had, driving home from a friend's recently:

"Mom, when are we gonna get a clothesline?"

"I hadn't thought about it, Luke, why do you want a clothesline?"

(Serious scorn here.)"To stop global warming?!?"

Tough to ignore that logic - so, now we have a clothesline; one more small step towards a cleaner Earth!

From Summer 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Siblings' Busy Book

We have been enjoying our copy of this book - for one of our first big "school" activities, we're making a Tree Book, in which we go out, find some interesting trees, take bark rubbings and a leaf from each, identify each and then turn them into a book.

From Summer 2008

When children create their own books, they have such a sense of ownership, not just of the book itself but of the knowledge gained through the creation (in this case, about trees). This activity is just one of many in Heather Kempskie and Lisa Hanson's excellent, fun book.

From Summer 2008

Recently, I had the chance to interview Heather and Lisa for this blog; here're my questions and their answers.

1)How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Lisa: Quite simply we were both living in a situation that called for a book just like this. We had both recently given birth to our second children, so there we were with two toddlers to love and entertain and two newborns that needed us as well. As we were poring through books that gave suggestions on how to play and what to do with each age group, we had an epiphany. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have one book that gave ideas for kids of different ages to do together? We decided in that moment (with children climbing all over us) that we should write it! Our goal was from the very start was to support parents, engage children and to help families foster sibling bonds!

2)What are your favorite activities (if you had to choose) in the book?

Heather: That's a tough one to answer. But if forced to, I would say we really loved writing and trying activities in the Team Family and World Family chapters.In very simple ways, the activities in Team Family teach profound lessons when it comes to being a family. To us, that means taking care of each other (Get Well Basket has kids designing a fun basket of goodies for a sibling who is not feeling well); helping one another (Helping Hands activity where a board of hand-cut outs recognizes moments where siblings cooperate and help each other) and celebrating the fact that each person plays a special role in their family (Show and Tell Me is a sort of Show and Tell where family members get to share something special with each other). Where Team Family focuses on the family unit, World Family challenges kids to look beyond to the greater world and the part they play in it. From making bird havens to organizing a charity donation, children can work together to make a difference. It doesn't get better than that! The real cool part is that there is an activity for every occasion, mood, timeframe and even weather pattern. With 200 activities, we're hoping families will find some of their own favorites!

3)Did you do any of these activities as children?

Lisa: Absolutely. We look back at our childhood and are completely impressed with our parents, first of all for the whole raising twins thing but also how they managed to give us a great mixture of imaginative play and structured learning opportunities. The Let's Pretend chapter in our book was pretty much our summer time play as children. The kids in our neighborhhood were non-stop with pretend school houses, post offices, hair salons and more.
Also, Heather and I were masters of the 5 minute scrambled eggs!

4)This book seems like it would be extremely useful to homeschoolers, because the activities are for siblings of all ages; would you talk a bit about your hopes for how parents might use it? (I mean homeschoolers and parents of schooled children alike)

Lisa: A wise man once said, "We can teach our children to have courage, faith, and endurance and show them how to learn, and they can teach us to laugh, to sing, and to love." In other words, each family member has valuable lessons to teach the family. ~ Pamela Connolly

While writing, we did research using many settings that multi-age children are a part of. We designed each of the 200 activities to be done together as a family unit with high detail being paid to the developmental stages of each child participating. We wanted it to be simple for a parent/teacher to facilitate and for each child to be active at their own level of learning.

Our hopes is that the book is used in any way that is right for each family or childcare setting. We hope it is handy for the parent that is packing for a long road trip or on the counter for a parent that needs to cook dinner and wants to involve her children. We are hoping that whether a child is being home-schooled or learning outside the home that parents use the book to reinforce what is happening in lessons or even use to begin their own unit. In short, there are so many ways that The Siblings' Busy Book can support a love of learning.

5)Could you tell what the process of getting a book published was like for you two? The nuts-and-bolts, but also, what was it like to juggle family, work, and writing?

Heather: It was an amazing process. At first, we had to be our own self-motivators which was easy because we really believed in the idea. We just had to convince a publisher to believe in it too. Lisa immediately launched into writing activities and I took on the book proposal component. Our roles on the project came naturally. We live next door to each other so it was fairly easy to get together. We worked independently for the most part but as the process continued we'd meet during naptimes or escape for a few hours during weeknight and weekends. Our husbands were very supportive! Once Meadowbrook decided to publish the book, work began in earnest. To balance family and our own work schedules, we had a set schedule every week: Lisa would write a set amount of activities; I would edit/complete them; our husbands would review them; we'd test them and on and on. There were definately some exhausting stretches. We took breaks when we could and we always remembered to enjoy the journey. There was nothing a little laugh couldn't cure. We couldn't have done it without our husbands and kids. We look back now and wonder how we did it all. But don't all moms wonder the same thing?

6)Is there anything you'd like to say about either the book, or about parenting, or being twins, or life in general?

Heather: We started writing this book for parents. We wanted to share simple ways to entertain and engage kids of different ages. But as we continued the process we realized that this book really benefits children too. The sibling relationship is the most significant relationship any of us will ever have. Before you panic, I say that because it's the longest any of us will ever have. We meet our spouses later in life and we outlive our parents. At a young age this relationship is especially important. When they play and interact they are learning valuable life lessons. Lessons such as, how to socialize, negotiate, stand up for themselves, and find their strengths and weaknesses. It's lessons that will serve them over their lifetimes.

From Summer 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


It doesn't happen often, but sometimes I am at a true loss for words... this is one of those times.

Seriously, if you care about the state of public education in this country today, you need to click that link!

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Little Obsessed

Recently at the dinner table, newly 4-year-old Owen announced, apropos of nothing at all, "I'm voting for John McCain!"

This remark floored us - he's four - also, we are Democrats who feel like the last 8 years have been worse than the fabled Reagan years. Owen continued:

"Mom, you're voting for Hillary Clinton. And Luke, you're voting for Barack Obama. And Daddy, you're voting for....

Long pause, while we all tried to figure out who Daddy would be voting for.

"... George W. Bush!"

As if. But how steeped in politics is a kid who can name all the major players in politics right now? Think we maybe talk about this just a bit too often at the dinner table?