Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A True Confession

Christmas carols make me cry.

They make me bawl. Especially the old old old ones, the ones that have been sung for generations, like Deck the Halls or God rest ye Merry Gentlemen. (My friend Shannon says, "even the Bare-Naked Ladies version?" Gosh yes, the 'star of wonder' part with Sarah McLachlan gets me every time.)

Recently, I got to go to a Christmas concert with friends. Lifelong friends, the kind of friends who it's okay to cry in front of, who've known you for so long that they totally know you're gonna cry, it's just who you are.

And I hung on, without tears, until the third song in the program – I'll Be Home For Christmas. It was sung in that slow sad way, a lovely duet, and dedicated to the gentleman in this choir who had performed it in years past, but who had passed away this year. He always used to dedicate it to the soldiers fighting in our various wars, which of course made us all think about the soldiers who don't come home from our various wars. It was really sad. Everybody cried at that one.

But they all had put away their handkerchiefs by the time the next song started. I kept mine out; for Jingle Bells, for the Robert Frost poem converted to a song, even for the jolly sing–along in the second set.

Now, I am not religious in any sense. (I am spiritual, just not a member of any organized religion.) But these songs get me all the same, and when I cry they're not tears of sadness. They're tears of joy, having as much to do with the beauty of the voices singing together as with the words themselves.

The final song in the concert was the Alleluiah from Handel's Messiah, and the choir did a lovely, lovely job. An odd song for a non-Christian to cry over, you suggest? Maybe. But cry I did; I was thinking about the passion these singers, other singers, and the composer himself all feel for their subject. It was so moving.

My crying over Christmas carols eternally confuses poor Ben, whose childhood didn't prepare him for December in a non-Jewish household. How can I cry about something that isn't even my religion, he wonders? Yet the tears of joy brought forth by the songs of the season make perfect sense to me, because they have everything to do with family, traditions, and love.

And I am lucky enough to have lots of those three crucial blessings.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My New Favorite Leftover Turkey Recipe

Remember this scene from A Christmas Story?

My favorite part of the scene actually comes after, where little Ralphie is listing all the turkey dishes that they'd be missing this year: the Turkey Divan, Turkey Curry, the Turkey à la King, Turkey Sandwiches...

Well, when we arrived home literally groaning under all the turkey and fixings my Mom–In–Law sent us home with (thanks Mom!), I knew I was gonna have to put on my thinking cap. And I did! Tonight's dinner was so yummy, and easy, I'm going to share it with you.

Turkey Croquettes - Now, don't panic! Croquette is just a fancy name for Patty.

1 cup leftover turkey, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups leftover stuffing, any large vegetables finely chopped
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs (or more if the mixture is too wet)
3 eggs
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cranberry sauce

1)Combine turkey, stuffing, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Mix well, and divide into 8 patties.
2) Heat olive oil in skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. When olive oil is hot, add croquettes and cook for 10 min. per side. If it looks like the patties are getting to ground, turn the heat down a bit.
3) Serve with cranberry sauce; this recipe was for it just then and I but you could double or triple it for however much leftovers you have.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Knitted Gifts

I'm so excited, because this holiday season is the first I've ever known how to knit. We always celebrate Hannukah around Thanksgiving because that's when hubby's family gets together. So, while I've been making these babies for the last month, only now can I share them online.

Here's the purse I made for my Mom-in-law:

That bead, used to weigh the flap down and keep the purse closed, is one of those that you feel you can gaze at for hours, like a crystal ball. Soooo pretty....

And, I made felted bowls for my sister-in-law:

Look - they even nest one in the other!

Friends tell me that they'd use these bowls to put pine cones in as a centerpiece, or to put towels and toiletries in at the bathroom sink. For some reason, I can see them on the dining table with a bunch of clementines in them. Which is good because to me, because clementines always smell deliciously of December.

Hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful, just what you feel it should be; I will be found on Turkey Day thanking my lucky stars for this life, and everyone in it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Staring IntoThe Existential Void

Oh, boyhood can be rough.

Recently, Luke and I had the following conversation:
"I can tell you're really upset, if you talk to me maybe I can help."
"Mom, you can't help me unless you can create a real Bakugan dimension."

It wasn't only the Bakugan dimension that he worried about; it was the Pikachu that sits on Ash's shoulder, the owls that fly back and forth to Hogwarts, the wardrobe, now solid, that should lead to Narnia. My heart broke for him; Luke cried and cried as he told me of the death of all of his fantasies.

In these last few months, or weeks, Luke has gotten to that point in his development where a chair is always a chair is always a chair - no matter how much he tries, he can't make that chair be anything else. I remember when he used to have a building basement that he would access through his floor. He would go down in the building basement and he would build, in his imagination, friends and monsters and anything you can think of. When he got a little older, Luke had a watch that became a time traveling watch; it would take him back to the time of the dinosaurs, helping him identify new dinosaurs and be a paleontologist.

But the building basement is now closed, the watch is just a watch.

It must be really hard to know that you're the only one in your head when you go to sleep at night. Especially when you used to be able to go to bed with all your favorite friends surrounding you in your mind.

I remember when it happened to me; we used to go camping, and I would sit on the window well adjacent to the backseat, as my dad traveled at 5 miles an hour in the campground. But I wasn't sitting on a window well; I was sitting on Shadowfax the horse. You know the horse from The Lord Of The Rings? Gandalf's horse. Well, Shadowfax was my horse up until I turned about 12, and then suddenly the window well was just a window well.

Ben and I are thinking about the next step for Luke, and concluding that a rite of passage is in order, some sort of quest that will help him enjoy life and be creative, even now that he understands it's just him knocking around on his own up there in his head. And, just as we were having these concerns and wondering what to do about them, a friend loaned me the most incredible book: Raising A Son, by Don Elium and Jeanne Elium. It's a treasure trove of information just exactly when we needed it.

But I'm wondering if you, dear reader, have any advice for us as well. Do you remember staring into the existential void? Do you have loved ones who have recently gone through this? What did you do to get through it, or help your loved ones through it?

I think maybe I never really gave up Shadowfax. He waited in the back of my head until I got old enough to admit that he was still there.

Come to think of it, that was probably just about when I had children - maybe even just when Luke's building basement opened up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I've Been Nominated...

...for a Homeschool Blog Award!

I am just a bit excited.
Okay, jumping-up-and-down excited.
Well, dancing-around-the-house excited, if you want the truth.

Here's a link to the voting page; I'm in the Best Variety Blog category. While you're there, voting (for me, right?) in that category, here are some of my other faves:
Funniest Blog: Pack of Hungry Snails
Best Encourager Blog: Yarns of the Heart
Best Mom Blog: Home Spun Juggling
Best Super Homeschooler: In The Kitchen
Best Thrifty Homeschooler: Magic and Mayhem
And, now, I'm off to go kiss a few babies, shake a few hands... well, or see who I'm going to vote for in the rest of the categories.
Happy voting!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Base-10 System

You might think he's just a kid, playing with Legos. But you'd be wrong - this activity is helping Owen understand base-10 mathematics, something he wouldn't care to do unless Legos were involved.

So what happened was, our friend Nicole issued a challenge this week connected with our weekly math/science class: to bring something representing the number 100. Of course, Owen's mind went immediately to Legos.

We started by choosing 100 Lego pieces, a harder challenge than it seems. Each time Owen started counting out pieces, he'd lose track somewhere in the early double-digits. I showed him how to keep track, placing the pieces into 10-piece piles:

At which point both kids agreed, that's not a lot of Legos. As Luke pointed out, the minifigs alone are 8 pieces each! Owen wasn't sure we would be able to build the space station he wanted to bring to math this week. Here he is getting started:

And, he used every piece to make a pretty fancy space station.

I loved doing this because of all the math chat we had while working, counting by tens, estimating, seeing the light dawn about how the base-10 system works, and watching Owen realize that each tiny piece counts as 1, however big or small.

Also, once we got going, Owen treated it as a game; how much easier math would be for me, if only I could have treated it as a game.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Walking With Scarecrows

My Mom-in-law comes up with the coolest activities for us when we go to visit, and this latest weekend had one of the best yet. A town nearby her decided to invite ordinary people and business owners to outdo each other with scarecrows, displayed on the town's main street; we spent a fun afternoon wandering among them. Here are some of our favorites:

The Werewolf of London scarecrow. It took the boys a long time to feel comfortable standing in front of him, he was so realistic! And now, the song is stuck in all of our heads, not a bad thing really.

Luke snuck into his favorite scarecrow set-up:

She has a disco ball above her head, too!

Isn't it amazing how creative people can be? We'll put up our usual scarecrow for Halloween - that is, if any leaves have fallen yet to be the stuffing. And this year, we will do it with a real admiration for what you can do with a scarecrow if you put your mind to it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Obladi, Oblada...

Life goes on, rah/
La la, how their life goes on/

Even though it has been a tough few weeks, there has also been much to be thankful for. Here are some pics of our life going on, this lovely, lovely autumn.

Hiking at a place called King Philip Rock (the name, incidentally, has raised some curiosity about who King Philip was, and finding out has been yet another cool part of this fall):

The tree with the reddish leaves is called sarsparilla, and someday I am going to figure out how to make root beer from this tree.

Here's the view from the rock itself. It's so nice to be above the trees in our very tree-ful neck of the woods!

Here's a preying mantis that hung out on our doorstep for a while one afternoon. He was at least five inches long; I love how he's looking at us in this pic that my Dad took.

I made amazing apple jelly with apples from a friend's tree. Isn't it a pretty color?

We visited friends up in Maine, and one highlight of our visit was a ride in their motorboat:

My favorite bird, the loon. I love how they look, how they sound, and where they live... of course, my family thinks it's because I can really relate to a bird with a name like loon! Heh.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Matters Most

I have had a health scare these last few weeks. Without going too much into it, somewhere in the next decade I'll need to undergo one - or, possibly, two - life-altering surgeries, and it's taken some time for me to absorb the news.

The problem started as a direct result of me being too chicken to get my wisdom teeth out as a late-adolescent, and I am telling you this so that you can run, not walk, your 17-20-year-old to the nearest oral surgeon and save them lots of bad problems later.

At times like this, it comes in really handy to be a yoga instructor; I have some good weapons in the get-to-sleep-even-when-you-are-freaking-out department. Even better, when ten-year-old Luke has trouble getting to sleep, we have a routine of breathing exercises to get him ready for sleep, and mental exercises to give him good dreams.

I don't know if his trouble sleeping recently is from the distinctly panicked vibe I have been unable to hide, or if it's just pre-adolescent angst, but we've been doing the get-to-sleep exercises frequently of late. And they've been helping me, too!

The good-dreams mental exercise Luke favors is actually designed to promote creativity; you imagine a plain old drinking glass, and then you shape it, change its color, what it's made of, turn it into the perfect cup for your needs right then. Once you get it looking just the way you want it, you then have the option of inscribing words or designs on your cup. Finally, you fill it up with whatever liquid you want - Luke's is usually hot chocolate, mine is tea, sometimes hot and sometimes of the Long Island variety - and drink it down.

I always enjoy this way of helping Luke get to sleep, for the relaxation we both get from it and especially for this unusual way of connecting with my boy. He always asks me what my cup looked like, what was inside, and then tells me sleepily about his own before giving my hand a squeeze and mumbling, 'see you in the morning.' It's a window into a child's mind that I think few parents enjoy.

But a couple of nights ago, I designed a cup that changed my whole outlook on this ticking time bomb in my jaw. I should say, Luke and I have done this exercise dozens of times, plus I teach it in yoga class frequently, and I have never had the same cup twice; my brain keeps coming up with new things, which I just think is so cool.

Anyway, this cup: an Old Sturbridge Village barrel mug, in that lovely red clay, with twiny lines encircling the upper and lower thirds. Usually I don't have writing on these mental cups, but my brain chose a question for the middle of this one - "What matters most?" In tiny letters, over and over again.

What matters most?
What matters most?

It's such a simple-sounding little question, and thank goodness for that - it's helped return some perspective to my thinking. It's helped me to remember to be thankful for all that I have, especially for the wonderful, amazing people in my life. It's helped me to try and be strong for them.
It's helping me remember how lucky I am.

Because I am really incredibly lucky.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Month That Keeps On Giving

Since this hasn't been a year in which somebody close to us got married in September, we've had to find other ways to keep busy. And we have! So busy, in fact, that getting time to blog about it all has been hard. Here's a sampling of what us Stone Age Techies have been up to:

We visited Plimoth Plantation, practically all by our onesies because it's too early for field trips yet. And, other than getting attacked by the English Village's chickens as we attempted to eat lunch, we had a great time.

We were all fascinated with canoe-making...

And charcoal-making.

Both boys also loved the Mayflower II, docked in Plymouth Harbor.

They were totally nonplussed by Plymouth Rock, however.

"Mom, it's just... a rock." You can almost hear Luke's silent 'WTF?' ... if he knew what WTF? meant.

And then! Oh, we went on a camping trip to Cape Cod, with friends who know what there is to do on Cape Cod. What a trip!

This, and the following pics, are from Fort Hill on the Cape. The lack of houses and people astounded me, I've always thought of the Cape as a place of ice-cream shacks and little tourist cabins lined up, side by each. But no, there are entire acres pretty well undeveloped:

We were all fascinated with the view, but returned quickly to camera-hamming:

Then we went off to Skaket Beach, timed just right to hit low tide:

Notice that, to take this pic, I am standing way the heck off shore, facing the land. The rock has that orange buoy attached because, at high tide, it's totally submerged. I don't know why I think that is so cool, but I really do think it is.

Then, to top off the weekend, we had Flax Pond at Nickerson State Park all to ourselves! And Luke learned how to kayak:

He was so free out there on the water, wandering any old which way he wanted to.

Thanks, Carrie and family, for a great weekend... when we next come up for air, I will be sure to post some pics about our adventures!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Intersection of Math and Art

School, such as it is for us, kind of officially started last week, with an art class at the library and an amazing math/science class offered by a friend.

Historically, my boys have been totally uninterested in art classes, at least those not about making light sabers out of ziti and aluminum foil. But after Luke was on the winning Battle of the Books team and the second place finisher, that same day, in our library's Harry Potter Trivia Tournament last month, he would follow the librarian anywhere, even into art classes.

Last week's was all about lines, and truthfully I did not think either Luke or Owen got much out of it - until math class, in which the kids made geoboards.

I had my doubts about the geoboards, too. Luke was freaked out about hammering, and worked hard to overcome his fear of getting hurt, so I helped him lots more than I would have thought a ten-year-old might need. Owen helped pound about five nails in before running off to play with the other six-year-olds; when we left, with plenty of colorful elastics and two finished geoboards mostly made by yours truly, I concluded that they would not even be looked at before the next math class.

So, imagine my surprise when, before breakfast the next morning, Luke asked, "Hey Mom, what do you think of this:"

I was stunned. When had he made this creation? "Oh, just now." On the other side of the table, Owen was working too:

My awe was complete when the boys started talking about how the lines in their geoboard designs connected with the lines they learned about in art class. They drew comparisons between the two classes that I would never have thought of, just casually, over breakfast.

Reminding me (again) that learning happens when it happens, and even when you think it isn't happening.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fully Grown

So, we've gone from this:

to this:

And, it was really, really good.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Positive Press

Gosh, I've been so busy canning tomatoes and peaches that I've almost forgotten we are homeschoolers! Until, that is, I had this amusing chat with Owen's dental hygienist, who thinks that homeschooling is okay, as long as it is 'school-at-home:'

Hygienist: Well, Owen, when do you start homeschooling? Time to bust out the books soon, right?

Owen (with Mr. Thirsty, the little mouth vac, halfway down his throat): Ungh?

Me: When should we count the beginning of our year, Owen? Maybe, the first museum we visit this September? Our first trip to Old Sturbridge Village? Our camping trip on the Cape next month?

As I tick off some of the fun things we'll be doing soon, the hygienist's jaw drops further and further.

Me again: We like to do more experiential learning while the weather's nice.

Hygienist: Well, I guess you do! Owen, it sounds like you are going to have a fun school year...

Owen (nodding, as Mr. Thirsty jiggles up and down in his mouth): Ungh-huh!

After a few months of nobody asking the boys why they're not in school, I got used to blending in; it was something of a shock to realize that soon we'll be standing out again, two 'big boys' and their mom.

But we won't be standing out quite as much as homeschoolers used to - and we have more and more resources to help us along our homeschooling way. My friend Kerry, author of the fun and funny Topsy-Techie blog until last May, runs one such resource, Recently, Kerry was interviewed by The Detroit Free Press about just this topic; here is the article, More Resources Help Metro Homeschoolers Go Mainstream.

Kerry talks about "accidental homeschoolers... families who never planned on it until a child's health problem, a poor fit with a teacher or a lack of special learning resources led them to try it." This is exactly why we decided to try homeschooling, as you can read here if you'd like.

When we started, I could never have imagined how wonderful homeschooling would turn out to be. Some of my favorite times have been when it was just my 'big boys' and me; other favorite times have involved the large and wonderful homeschooling community we are blessed to live in. Still other favorite times have been totally online, like Jena's Virtual Field Trip. (Isn't it getting on time for another one, Jena? Nudge, nudge? :-)

I am as secular as it is possible to be, and I wake up every morning thanking Goodness for this life I am living, this accidental, crazy, messy, fun life - and the people who make it that way.

8/24/10 Update - I woke up this morning remembering a few other favorite bloggy moments:
Firefly Mom's hilarious chat about the birds and the bees one night at the dinner table (I can't find it, though I have searched your archives - help me, Firefly Mom. You're my only hope!).
9/13/10 - Firefly Mom came through: here it is!
Susan's amazing Revolutionary Road Trip. Favorite bits include Philly, Old Sturbridge Village, and the rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center. And the desk, of course!
This last one's new, from the blog of my lifelong buddy Shannon, noiselessly forth. Her photography is breathtaking, and - I can't believe I am sharing this - she posted video footage of a bunch of us singing karaoke at a party a few weeks ago. I'm on the extreme right of the video; we sound terrible, but hoo hoo, it was fun! (I can't get a link directly to the video, which may not be such a loss... if you want to see it though, scroll through Shannon's posts until you get to the video marked 'karaoke fun.' Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Obnoxious Political Snail Mail, Take 2

Well, didn't this just arrive on the perfect day, with Luke and Owen at Camp Grandma and me with plenty of time on my hands to rant freely...

Some of you may remember, back this winter, I got several pieces of mail from one of our illustrious political parties in which the tone was depressing, oppressing, and threatening all at the same time. It really got me down, enough that I turned to you all for support, and felt much better reading your comments and thoughts on the political climate in this country. At least I am not the only one who thinks that this type of mailing might perhaps be detrimental rather than helpful!

Fast forward to yesterday, when I got a large-ish envelope marked up in red shouting, "SECOND NOTICE --- REGISTERED DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED". My first thought was that I'd done something wrong, forgotten to pay an important bill, but I wised up when I opened the envelope and read the post-it stating impatiently, "we have not received your response to the survey sent to you earlier. Please complete and respond right away." Of course, it was in a font meant to look like somebody had hand-written this little reminder, which just bugs the crap out of me, especially since there was never any first notice.

This irritating mail came from the political party currently in power, and as a result it wasn't quite as foam-at-the-mouth rabid as the snailings I got in the winter. Which was good, I guess. But how many "leaders such as [me]," "especially chosen" to "provide input" - and inject cash - will they really get when they treat us awesome 'leaders' like scofflaws who need second notices marked up in red to get us to contribute?

I am probably just getting old, but this mailings pays me, the recipient, so little respect, and I just find that infuriating. They get you to open the envelope by making you think you've done something wrong, and then they tell you how they need leaders like you? When it turns out that what they need, of course, isn't your leadership or your input. Except for the input from your bank account.

This is no way to run a country, that is for sure. It's so divisive - each party wants you to believe that the other side is not looking out for you, your family, or your best interests. Each party is so invested in knocking the other one down, it is easy to forget that, as President Lincoln said, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

Humbug! (That's me, feeling old :-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Very Harry Summer

So, we are all obsessed with Harry Potter. Again.

Only, this time Owen is old enough to enjoy, too; it is just so much fun. Here are some pics of our particular brand of Pottermania:

That's the Hogwarts Owen and I made early on in the summer - when we found out that they're re-releasing Harry Potter legos! Notice the Durmstrang ship in the lake? Owen's.

That's Owen as a Death Eater, a costume he made with the help of his Auntie Lena. Check out the eyeliner veins!

Yes, I knitted them owls... they 'arrived' on the mornings of the boys' birthdays with certificates from Eeylops Owl Emporium.

Here's Luke with his new screech owl...

... and Owen with Barney, the barn owl.

Lastly, here are a few Potter-related links -

Owen was super-sick last week, with a high fever, the most lethargic I've ever seen him. Usually when we listen to Harry Potter on CD, Owen is jumping around, or playing with lego, or something; I couldn't stand just watching him lie on the couch, so I thought back to my own childhood. When I was sick, it was all about paper dolls. A quick Google search brought up Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, a virtual universe of paper dolls with clothes and accessories for all four Hogwarts houses! It is awesome, there is simply no other word.

We also used these directions to make our own fantastic Marauder's Map.

And no paper doll collection would be complete without this, the Severus Snape paper doll. I got a total kick out of the gray skivvies (Luke theorized that maybe there's a Permanent Sticking Charm on them, hence the color) and the Hawaiian beachwear. Imagine Snape at the beach!

Once again, J.K. Rowling's amazing universe is making us muggles feel better, even when we are sick.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Our Latest Addition

Oh, made you look!
No, we haven't taken on any new children, or pets or anything like that... but check out this little beauty:

See that tiny round ball in the middle of all the foliage? That's a watermelon, growing in our front yard.
But it's not just any watermelon; it's a seed from one of the best heirloom-variety watermelons you ever tasted, and I've been saving the seed since 2007, waiting for conditions to be just right. This year, for the first time, we finally had three important things coincide: a table in the sunlight during spring, good, deep soil in the sunniest, best-drained spot in the yard, and the time to attend to both the baby seedling and the growing plant.
Also, thanks to our hot summer so far, it's growing like crazy. I'll keep you posted as to our new arrival's progress, and I hope that you are enjoying the summer too.
(I'm back by the way... probably going to be slow on posting for a while, but back nonetheless. Did you miss me?)