Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bookmarks: Homemaking

Let's face it: housecleaning can be boring, mind-numbing, dragging work if you let it. Get some focus. This article walks you through it.

Advice on how your house can make a good impression from the first whiff. It's geared toward house sellers, but a pleasant-smelling house is pretty basic to making a home.

Dale O'Leary's article about happy housewives is an interesting read, and a reminder to me at least of what "an organized woman" can accomplish in her household, that I've got a pretty good thing going--and not to slack off in it.

Props to St. Anthony

My old pastor has told a story of when he was a younger priest, and was in the company of a non-Catholic (I think it was a Protestant minister--we are in the South) who had lost something. Father suggested saying a prayer to St. Anthony. Everybody knows that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things--even this guy knew it, but being a non-Catholic, (I think a Protestant minister,) he was not so eager to invoke St. Anthony's aid. Gently admonishing, he said to Father, "Isn't that superstitious?"

Father simply said, "No, because it works." The guy eventually became desperate enough to try it--Father gave him the little two-line rhyme--and sure enough he found what he needed. He became a believer--not necessarily in the fullness of Truth in the Catholic Church, but at least in the patronage of St. Anthony.

To be truthful, I do feel a little childish, turning to him only when I have lost something and want his help finding it. Because, really, he is one of those awesome saints whose story is full of extraordinary signs and wonders that glorify God. I do believe I will grow up one day, maybe even this side of heaven, and get to know him better.

But I have been talking to him a lot lately, because...I lose things a lot. I am the queen of losing things. "Misplace" is the proper word, but when it happens it happens and I don't necessarily have a lot of patience to spare, because I was doing something just a minute ago with that notebook, and I need my keys right now, and where did that camera go, it was JUST HERE. And I have been very much like a pesty baby sister, tagging after my big brother whining for his help.

It may be a weensy bit different from the usual wording, but I often use this rhyme:
Dear St. Anthony, please come 'round.
Something's lost and must be found.
And like the best kind of older brother, he hasn't failed me yet. Sometimes he unearths the missing thing within minutes, or sends a little helpful thought my way in the middle of the search. Or sometimes he will take God's good time about helping me out. But I always get what I need when I need it. Which makes me think it's really high time I enlisted him in looking after a few lost souls I'm praying for.

Thank you, St. Anthony, for always being there. and to God be the glory!

Monday, September 27, 2010

100 Species Challenge

We're in.

I wanted to do this two years ago when I saw a few other bloggers posting about it, but life was a bit too full then. Life is still full, but now I'm blogging about it, so there you go!

(Aside: is it really silly of me that having the blog sometimes motivates me to do things so I can blog about them? No? I knew I could count on you!)

If you're like me, you feel that you really should know more about the world growing all around you. At first I was going to exclude anything that we've planted ourselves, but there are a lot of things added when we landscaped that I just don't know much anything about. I think that learning about what we have deliberately cultivated should count.

Here's some participatory information, and here are the rules (see the original post for more details):

The 100-Species Challenge

1. Participants should include a copy of these rules and a link to this entry in their initial blog post about the challenge.

2. Participants should keep a list of all plant species they can name, either by common or scientific name, that are living within walking distance of the participant's home. The list should be numbered, and should appear in every blog entry about the challenge, or in a sidebar.

3. Participants are encouraged to give detailed information about the plants they can name in the first post in which that plant appears.

4. Participants are encouraged to make it possible for visitors to their blog to find easily all 100-Species-Challenge blog posts. This can be done either by tagging these posts, by ending every post on the challenge with a link to your previous post on the challenge, or by some other method.

5. Participants may post pictures of plants they are unable to identify, or are unable to identify with precision. They should not include these plants in the numbered list until they are able to identify it with relative precision. Each participant shall determine the level of precision that is acceptable to her; however, being able to distinguish between plants that have different common names should be a bare minimum.

6. Different varieties of the same species shall not count as different entries (e.g., Celebrity Tomato and Roma Tomato should not be separate entries); however, different species which share a common name be separate if the participant is able to distinguish between them (e.g., camellia japonica and camellia sassanqua if the participant can distinguish the two--"camellia" if not).

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge. You can make it as quick or as detailed a project as you like.

(By the way, if you have any idea what those things above are, that's more specific than "berries" or "fern," would you let me know?)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Quick Takes Friday--Autumn picture books

Every now and then we have a little bookfest--I buy new books, one for every person, in a particular theme. There are many awesome picture books inspired by the fall season, and we already had a few. These are the ones I added this week to our family library. (I cheated and didn't include the baby in the count this time--the books belong to the family collectively--but at least it fits the Quick Takes format!)








What are your Quick Takes?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's Off!

Small Successes


1. The kids have worked in their nature journals every day this week. Their success is my success!

2. I bought a changing table (assembly required) a while ago. I won't say how long. Putting it together was held up midway by a missing part; but even after the part arrived, the project languished. Well, this week, I finally took this... this. Go me!

3. I let the kids make Jell-O every day this week so far. They loved making it and eating it. Monday they had a sea battle:

Tuesday they prepared leaves for fall.

Wednesday they just mixed red and blue to make purple. (no picture--it would just look black!)

Today's isn't done yet, but we're looking at something like this.

What are your successes?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Hobbit Birthday!

The whole week has been deliberately laid back, as we ease into a slightly unschooling rhythm of education and experiment with some rich and fun new activities. This being the first day of fall, as well as the birthday of the excellent hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, (something I believe was not coincidental,) I am planning lots of reading and outside time today. Also, in honor of J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpiece The Lord of the Rings (including the initially unintentional prequel, The Hobbit), we going to make seed cakes and paint tree pictures, and maybe a few other things. Pictures may follow, but in the meantime, here are some fun links:

Hobbit "cookbook"

For ale (ginger, the quickie version) (H/T The Crafty Crow)

What is your name in Elvish?

How to write in Elvish

Tolkien picture study treasure (Includes coloring page possibilities)

UPDATE: How out of it am I? I didn't even know today is already known as Hobbit Day. Well, so, Happy Hobbit Day!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nature Journaling

This year I decided to start nature journaling in earnest. We'd sort of done this before, rather sporadically. We'd use photographs and drawings interchangeably, and make an entry into a science notebook sometimes when something interesting popped up outside. It was rather half-hearted, in the long view of things. So when I gathered up school supplies and inventoried our learning tools last month, I included notebooks for us to take on nature walks, to practice our observational, drawing, and writing skills.

This book was the inspiration for my own beginnings. I can't remember if I found it in my public library system before or after I found it recommended by other homeschoolers. I have heard it has some New Age or pantheistic leanings, nothing explicit but something to watch out for. I don't know myself--I have yet to read the whole book. Every time I've checked it out, I've kept it long enough to be encouraged, pick up a few ideas, and send it back. It's good enough to buy, I'd say, and I haven't encountered anything problematic yet.

I'm pleased at how easily I have been able to create entries and be satisfied with them because of the advice and examples I found in this book. The technique the author describes as field drawing without lifting the pencil, observing the subject rather than what you are putting on paper--well, I thought that was beyond me until I had considerably more skill. Then yesterday, I was surprised to find myself doing exactly that, and remembering what I read, I trusted the outcome rather than constantly interrupting myself to "correct" my work.

One of the things I have learned about nature study is that it does not have to be exotic. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers talk about choosing a site outdoors to visit regularly, so you can become familiar with it and observe the changes from day to day and season to season. Our home has lots of possibilities for exploration, and we have a trail we will be traveling every day right outside our door.

I'm trying to teach our kids some methods of recording their work artistically that will help encourage their observing skills and give them some successes to keep them motivated to learn more. Their enthusiasm is important, and comes naturally if it is not drowned in too-high expectations (which, I am sorry to say, they can get from me either by infliction, osmosis, or heredity). So we are keeping things very simple and easy at first.

I do permit taking photographs, and drawing from the photographs in some situations, but I have for now eschewed using photographs in the journals, because the creative process of committing their own efforts to the page is so valuable in so many ways. Their observations are more careful and their drawings serve as visual "narrations," reinforcing what they observe. They are more engaged in the natural world than if they are simply snapping away. Not to mention drawing practice, color theory, perspective and other art lessons. Their record is something that is uniquely theirs.

(Plus, I think they like getting their stuff on the blog!)

The younger ones dictate a short blurb and I write it in for them. I help the middle ones with spelling and occasionally correct formatting but they write their own. The older ones are learning to compose their own with more and more detail, according to what they think is important. They are beginning to surprise me with what they see and think and know. Well, they frequently surprise me--this is just a new venue.

Rubbing and tracing are easy ways to enter a specimen. We use crayons and colored pencils, experimenting with combining colors to approximate what we find in nature. I hope to add watercolors to our toolbox soon, and maybe pastels, but I also hope to teach them what they can do simply with a No. 2 pencil. I encourage them to draw what they see rather than what they get an idea of. That means if you see an orange butterfly, draw an orange butterfly: 1) See if there is anything else you can notice--black coloration in the wings? bigger at the top than at the bottom? and add it to your drawing, and 2) Save the purple butterfly for another drawing. They can be very critical of their work, which discourages them, so I point out the aspects I like or things they did well. Successes.

Do you do nature journals? What would you say to a novice? Any advice? Or are you a novice too?


Jotted down last year, when we only, ahem, had seven kids.

We went to a family reunion this weekend. Everywhere around us people registered shock (sometimes very loud) at the number of children we had. "Seven! You have seven children?" was THE universal response to the revelation of our family size.

I'm very used to it by now. There's a stock set of chaser comments, too, the most common (to me) being "You have your hands full, don't you?" Every now and then, though, somebody diverges from this set ever so slightly. Today's made me laugh.

One older woman, bless her heart, seemed barely able to get over the size of our family. (You never would know by the attitude of this woman that in her generation large families were not unusual, or that the central family of this reunion--my grandmother and her siblings--was about twice that size.) She patted the baby in my arms and said sentimentally, "And this will be your last one." It wasn't a question, but an assumption. I said, "Maybe. We don't know." She looked as if she would swoon from disbelief. She drew a breath and said, "So you have seven...but you might have...eight?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

10 Surprising Things About Me

Danielle at Faith and Family Live has issued a general tag for this meme, so here goes:

1) Fall--the season of nostalgia and change--is my favorite! This might not be surprising, except to my husband, who upon observing this, says, "Then why are you crying?"

2) I met my husband when I was fourteen. Some of our friends know this, but maybe those who know only that we married at the ages of 22/21 after a four-month courtship (or perhaps didn't even know that much) would find this surprising.

3) I have a wedding flower fetish. I sometimes spend an unhealthy amount of time dreaming up color combinations and coordinating bloom possibilities according to each month of the year. This is probably due to the fact that I never actually had the big floral wedding arrangements.

4) I hate flip flops. Hate them. Old Navy doesn't help when they have their $1 flip flop sale and Jason wants all the kids to pick out a pair for pool shoes.

5) I was both president and valedictorian of my eighth grade class. I credit my beautiful running mate, Michele, for the presidential win, and I just barely eked it out in the valedictorian race--my competitor is now a doctor.

6) I have had three home births. The last one was unassisted. Ten years ago I would never have guessed that would be me, but they were the easiest births of my experience.

7) My favorite frozen treat was Edy's peach flavored Fruit Bars. I bought them once at Publix and could never find them again. Where o where did they go, Nestlé?

8) My writing style, and especially my letter-writing, changes according to what I am reading at the time. This is especially evident while I am reading Jane Austen--my sentence structure gets a bit florid.

9) I bought "Bet on It" from High School Musical 2 for my iPod. Voluntarily.

10) According to classical temperament tests, I am a phlegmatic-melancholic. Straight down the middle. This means, among other things, that I am an organized slob.

If you read this (who cares if you read it somewhere else too?), consider yourself tagged--and please leave me a link to your list of surprising things!

Birds on The Wires

I saw this a while ago--last year, I guess. The kids reminded me of it.

What a whimsical, wondrous world we live in.

Small Successes


This week's successes!

1. We have three huge boxes of Rice Krispies® from when a certain person in the house was on a cereal and banana kick, plus a store-brand, cocoa version of the cereal. The kids and I made Rice Krispies® treats, a regular batch and a chocolate batch! It was fun and everyone helped.

2. Our new chore system (which is really not so new but recently tweaked and re-implemented) seems to be working. Thank you, Dave Ramsey commission worksheets!

3. The laundry room is almost empty of dirty clothes. This will change this afternoon. But I am as close to caught up as I ever am. (Some of you know that there is no such thing as "caught up" in a big family. If by some quirk of fate you get every single piece of laundry in the hamper washed, you don't even have to wait for the evening's baths--just walk through the bathrooms and bedrooms. Somebody has left theirs on the floor.

What are your successes?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Love...

...because he first loved us.


Fall Candles

The CSI Project is an addicting read for a project junkie like me. I am always collecting inspiration for new things I want to do, either with the kids or on my own. There's a happy medium, which I have not yet found, between taking the time to nurture creativity and taking the time away from other, more necessary tasks. But I am making a deliberate move toward the creative stuff, because, as much as I love it, I tend to err on the side of chores and schoolwork (which has its own fallout, but I'll talk about that another day).

So, here's a project I came up with a time ago that I am reviving with the kids this week. They are itching to do more nature study, and every time we go out they collect these wonderful, interesting shapes. They would love using them for these beautiful handicrafts.

Here's what I did.

Collect and press leaves, flowers or other "flat" nature items. This part should be allowed several days, because the leaves (or whatever you're using) should be dry as well as flat; any discoloration that's going to occur will be done by then. (I did this with fresh poinsettia petals once, and the result was less than ideal.)

Melt some paraffin wax in a baking sheet or similar long, shallow, oven-safe container. Clean up is easier if it's lined with wax paper first. I'd say half a block of the kitchen paraffin wax is enough for two or three candles. I heated it in the oven on 200°F for 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it--paraffin melts at a low temperature, and you don't want to start a fire or burn your fingers working with it.

Pick a pillar candle to decorate. A 4" vanilla candle works well--heavenly scent, light ivory color that shows off the leaves, readily available. Hold the candle by the ends and roll it in the paraffin to coat it a layer of hot wax. Before it dries, press the leaf into the wax and smooth it out.

Let it dry a little on a sheet of wax paper, then roll it again to cover the leaf with another layer of wax. Do this as many times, letting it dry between layers, as it takes to get the look you want. Thicker items (like conifer needles) will require more layers to anchor them to the candle.

The end result will have an uneven look and feel that I find really appealing.

Here are a few that I did, from left to right:
Japanese maple leaf, sweet gum leaf, cedar needles and sassafras leaves, and a grapevine-type leaves. The sweet gum is my favorite--I love the purple color the leaves turn in the fall!

Next to try: some of these viney, ferny leaves that I found by the road, and some red dogwood leaves!

UPDATE: Earlier I referred to the leaves in the last candle on the right as hickory leaves. I don't know why I keep doing that but I assure you it's a habitual mistake. They are most definitely not hickory leaves, which are long and broad at the end, but also turn the most fabulous shade of yellow. I have not identified the type of vine that this pointed leaf comes from, but it grows wild around here in abundance. Maybe I'll post a picture later and someone can help ID it?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Quick Takes Friday--the YouTube Music Edition

It's funny how musical tastes are passed through generations.


I spent summers growing up listening to my Italian grandmother sing things like this as she worked around the house:


This is from a collection of songs about Texas that my mom would plug into the car's tape deck (!) as we ran around town running errands.


My dad would play Best Hits from this group, usually on long trips:


All of these songs are now on my daughter's iPod. She actually bought "Tijuana Jail" for herself.


My dad is also responsible for my other daughter's favorite song, which for some reason cracks me up:


This, of course, is a recent multigenerational pleaser. I showed the kids this video and the little boys especially loved it.


And sometimes it goes the other way. The kids found it--don't ask me how. And don't think less of me, but sometimes I will put it on the playlist (audio only!) for doing housework. It's just so jiggly-bop!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Small Successes


After my husband spoiled us last week by working close to home, he went back to a more normal work schedule on the same day that my oldest daughter, my biggest help, called in sick and went back to bed. I'm sure there were other conspiring forces. What ensued were a few days that could be called, at best, funky. So I had to dig a little to find these successes.

But hey, that's what this is all about, right?

This week I:
1) swam 1000m in half and hour,
2) discussed plans with my kids for a major year-long project we are undertaking, and
3) cooked a great, fun, hit-the-spot Labor Day dinner.

It's nice to be able to say, "Maybe it wasn't so blah after all."

What are your successes?

Friday, September 3, 2010

If the coat fits...

On watching this, one of the kids asked, "Who is that?"

I said, "Neil Diamond."

My daughter said, "No wonder he wears a sparkly coat."

(My son asked, "Why did he bedazzle his jacket?")

Quick Takes Friday

It feels as if I have been busier this week than I have for the last two years. And I can't even put a finger on any discernible reason for it. I do know that we are changing the rhythm of our days. This is partly the result of another school year, but that can't be all that accounts for it. Somehow in the shift and flow of family life, we are coming to a new way of doing things. I'm not sure if it's good or bad yet--I feel out of pace with myself. I imagine we will settle soon, and I'm sure it will be good then.

Does anyone else feel a hint of melancholy in the air? For three weeks, in the dog days of summer, I could feel autumn in its native wistfulness coming on. I fought it in August, but I see a change in decor coming on. Back then, my beautiful airy clouds and glitter hearts were perfectly whimsical. Now that September is here, they feel a bit flimsy. I think we need a bit of visual gravitas.

The Latin-speaking Harvard valedictorian has been getting a lot of attention, but we have our own dear friend in this group of new members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. I'm not going to identify her because she's still so much a young daughter in my eyes that I still feel protective of her--how very incongruent now that she's gone to be a bride of Christ! We wish her well--and we miss her presence in our community already.

I am wearing a white skirt with white sandals today. One of the last days before Labor Day, you know.

I have the sweetest children in the world.

I know you would say yours are the sweetest, and I would sympathize, but no, really, mine are the sweetest. And they each have their own brand of sweetness. You'll just have to take my word for it, but to whet your appetite I will offer this and this and this. And another sample coming up; check back later.

Speaking of my sweet kids, they have all spontaneously taken an interest in making rosaries. I am so pleased; I was going to introduce this as an activity in October, the month of the Rosary, but I just can't see holding them off until then. I made special rosaries for the older two, who are already regular communicants, and I am planning to make them for the two who will be receiving First Holy Communion soon. But now everybody wants to make their own, and since I have plenty of supplies they have been choosing beads and giving ideas and begging anyone who will to help them with the assembly. I don't know if this will last, but before it's over they are all going to have a rosary they have invested themselves in, which I think will really help deepen our family prayer time. I have already seen that it encourages them in personal prayer time.

This lady cracks me up:

Post your own Quick Takes here!

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, visit Soulemama to leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mary's Birthday Party Mix

I put together this snack mix a few months ago and it was totally addicting. I just bought the stuff to make more, and it occurred to me that this could be a good little addition to a Marian feast: the berries symbolize her fruitfulness, the white chips her sinlessness, the honey roasted peanuts--well, honey has many connotations for the Christian faith, including the virginity of Mary, virtue and the sweetness of God's love. So now I call it Mary's Birthday Mix.

I have never actually quantified the ingredients; I just mixed it up in a little canister by eyeing the layers and shaking it up. Here's an estimate: you might want to play with it a little.

5 oz (about 1 c) dried mixed berries
3 oz (about 1/2 c) dried blueberries
1 1/2 c honey roasted peanuts
1 c white chocolate chips

Mix and enjoy!


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