Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Silence Treatment and Giveaway

Things are starting to get a bit crazy in my life, as they always do, with the approach of May and all that it entails––baseball times three, birthdays times three, a camping trip, a Boston trip, workshop stories to write––so my opportunities for library time (where I do my blogging and my writing) are shrinking. Last week, I didn't make to the library at all. But like the calm before the storm, I had one very long weekend alone the week before last. C took the boys down to Rhode Island for part of their spring break, leaving me home alone in a very quiet house. 

It felt strange on the days I worked––my work-space was temporarily shifted to a tiny conference room in a little-used part of the building and C and I had switched cars, and his has no radio, so I went from total silence all day to silent drive to silent house. The first night I watched a movie; the next two I went out with friends.

But once the weekend came, and I could just be home alone in all that silence, I was thrilled. 

I'm afraid I squandered my silent time a bit. I was supposed to write two stories, but instead I spent a lot of time reading The Condition by Jennifer Haigh, which one of my mentors gave me as a present last summer. I enjoyed it very much. I did write several pages of a story that sort of fizzled out and which I'm going to set aside for a while, awaiting inspiration to go on, and I wrote half a book review, and I did some writing exercises. Otherwise I just basked in the oncoming spring and the peace.

I read a book called Listening Below the Noise: The Transformative Power of Silence in which the author begins a practice of total silence one day a week, and how it changes her life. I'd like to give away a copy to one blog reader. For a chance to win, leave a comment here by midnight EDT Tuesday May 7, answering the following questions:

How are able to find silent space in your life and how does it make you feel?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Busy Work

Thanks for all your great comments on my post about M and our frustrations with school and school work. One of the best things about blogging is the reminder that we're not alone

I thought I'd share some of the wisdom everyone shared here in the comments section, in case any of you are going through or will in the future go through something similar, and mostly so I can come back here and find reassurance.

Shannon wrote: "I've been in similar circumstances with my daughter, in regards to the busy work and the lack of organization skills. Now that she is in high school and it all "counts," she has figured out her own system that, though it's not the way I would do it, appears to work for her. She still gets frustrated with some of her teachers, but recognizes that she has to do some things she doesn't want to do in order to reach her goals...Good luck! Hey, at least the school year is almost over!"
Meryl wrote: "It sucks to be doing busywork that's too easy for you when your brain is firing-up for so much more. But, as you say, learning to follow directions and jump through hoops is as much of a life lesson as learning how to read."
Rachael | The Slow-Cooked Sentence wrote: "I remind myself when one of my twins struggles with middle school that this is a good place to make mistakes. In large part, my husband and I have tried to let our son own his problems. He checks his school online account to track his grades, missing homework, etc. He decides when he needs to stay after school for tutoring.... Ultimately, school success or failure is only one mirrored image of a child. Sometimes it's unflattering. My job as a parent is to expect and support my kid's best effort, whether it brings about the desired letter grade is irrelevant."
Lone Star Ma wrote: "I tried to take a middle road with my eldest who was always learning but also rather unwilling to jump through hoops. I insisted on B's and grounded for C's (one in elementary, one in middle school). She was perfectly capable of getting A's with no real effort through middle school, but I did understand about the hoops - her basic philosophy was 'grades and other numbers are just establishment illusions, Mom.' Other than the grounding, I tried not to linger on the C's.... Once she hit high school and her grades counted for her transcript, she became a whole different student. She is 7th in her (huge) class while taking an IB curriculum - the most rigorous in the world and her GPA is well over 100 and I would never, ever remotely suggest that she do anywhere near the amount of work that she does. She wants to go to med. school, though, so she does it, hoops and all."
And a friend of mine (who seems to have a mini-M in kindergarten right now) wrote in an email: "All I can say is I think having a kid like M is the best gift ever, he’s strong, smart, and independent.  He knows who he is and isn’t going to be swayed.  You should celebrate that, and I admit, figure out how to minimize all the school ‘junk’ so he can focus his attentions where he thinks they should go.  He’s motivated, he’ll fit it all in."
So there you have it: kids know instinctively when grades "count" or not––they'll motivate when they feel it's important to them, not arbitrary; the most important thing is to support and appreciate your kid; focus on his strengths, rather than squirting him with "week-killer"; let him take responsibility and ownership. Still I hope he finds a way to get along with this teacher who he'll have for two more years.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nature Journaling: Inside and Outside

Feeling a bit under the weather Sunday, I spent some time indoors, sketching a few of the Signs of Spring I have sighted (or heard) over the last couple of weeks.

And then I made this little Altoids watercolor palette. I had been looking for mini watercolor kits for my forthcoming Ireland trip (despite the fact that I don't actually know how to watercolor), when I ran across several tutorials on making an old mint tin into a watercolor set (one good one is here)

For my set, I used an actual Altoids tin that I found in the basement (and refrained from buying a new box of mints in a prettier tin). I glued down the plastic tray from a package of Peelu gum (after trimming off the edges to make it fi) and squirted some watercolor paint into each little pan. Then I used a wet brush to smush down the little peaks that formed when squirting the paint.

Monday I brought the tin, a few brushes and a spice jar of water down to the river to play around with. The tin worked a treat. Now I just need to get one of those fancy watercolor brushes that holds the water in its handle (oh, yes, and I also need to learn to paint!)

Previous Nature Journaling posts:  
See also Nature Journaling as Meditation for more on starting a nature journal.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Weekend Sights

The weekend started out with more snow than we had on Christmas,

(which isn't saying much, since we had no snow on Christmas).

I snuck out before breakfast for a walk,

camera in hand.

The rest of Saturday was to be gobbled up by baseball (cancelled),

bottle drive (a surprise), ferrying kids to and from friends' houses and an evening out to see "Spamalot" for C, M and me (I definitely got in my week's quota of laughs, at 15/day).

By Monday, a day off for the kids and me (thanks, Patriots!), 

the sun was out and the weather warm.

I dragged one reluctant, one game and one ho-hum kid down to the river,

where they found a little grove of ironwood (aka musclewood or hornbeam) in which to build animal houses (which look a lot like the fairy houses of younger years to me), before I headed off to the post office to send off our jaw-droppingly-huge tax payments.

(Do you see that? Real outdoor flowers! Happy Spring, friends!!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Firstborn and the Trouble with School

I used to joke that you get an easy baby the first time around to trick you into having more.

Not that M was that easy––for instance, he didn't sleep in his own bed all night until a week before his brothers were born (they were born three days before his fourth birthday). But he was a fairly mellow baby, adaptable, easy-going. He talked early, which made communication easier, although it gave him an early start on negotiating and arguing. He's been smarter than me since he was about three, so he only lost arguments when I pulled the "Because I'm the mom, that's why," card.

After two years of hating preschool (too many rambunctious boys making too much chaos and noise; Miss N "Makes me color pictures that are already drawn,"; twin baby brother anxiety), he took to kindergarten like a dragonfly takes wing, and has never looked back.

Until now.

This year––sixth grade––he's on his third language arts teacher of the year. He was fine with the first one, adored the second one, and has decided that the third, permanent, one is out to get him. He's one of those rare, lucky people for whom all subjects––math, science, art, language, PE, music, sports, socialization––come easy to him. He loves dodge ball and takes algebra two years early. He plays baseball, soccer and electric guitar. He's friends with all the kids in his class. He is, in short, the exact opposite of me in middle school.

Yet, we have some things in common. He has a bit (ahem) of an anti-authoritarian streak. He bristles under what he perceives as busy work. He is also extremely disorganized (can I blame his father for that one?) and prefers to work according to his own schedule. His new teacher is very structured and has regular and weekly deadlines and assignments. He has hated reading log since second grade. He has never needed a reading log to get him to read––our main problem is to get him to stop reading and do what he needs to do. He's never been impressed by my half-hearted attempts to convince him of the value of learning to keep track of things––"Some day you'll need to fill in a time-sheet (and be a miserable wage-slave like the rest of us)."

Now this boy who took to reading the way moss soaks in snowmelt in the spring has an astonishingly low grade in that very subject. And I'm very conflicted about what to do about it. We've withheld some privileges (garage band practice) until the grade improves. We're going to do some helicopter parenting for the first time ever––keeping our eyes on assignments and that evil PowerSchool. I remember being in middle school and having to do word-finds and cross-word puzzles to learn vocabulary words and thinking it was stupid because I already knew the words. I hate enforcing the same regime on my child––a kid who has a more extensive vocabulary than most adults I know––but I'd also hate for him to end up in the dumb-ass English class in high school like I did because I couldn't be bothered with eighth-grade busy work (thank goodness for Mrs. Gibson who recognized something in me and made sure I got moved to honor's English after sophomore year––although maybe dumb-ass English is where I belonged; it just took me three attempts to spell "sophomore").

I would love for M to be in an environment where he could work on his novel––and write more novels––in the context of learning vocabulary and writing skills. But public school is our only option financially and geographically, and I am committed to public school on principle. Also, in another environment (home school––perish the thought), he would miss out on the dodge ball and algebra and socialization. And then there's the thing of learning to deal with people who you do not necessarily get along with (I should mention here that at both parent-teacher conferences and during a phone call, his teacher seemed both perfectly nice and reasonable and did not show any signs of personal dislike of M). It's an important life skill, right?

So what am I dealing with here? Typical preteen boy stuff? A smart kid too smart for his own good? And what do I do about it? Discuss.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


When we moved into our house, a family friend gifted us his mother's antique mahogany dining table with claw-footed pedestal legs and three leaves. I've tried keeping it nice over the years of messy kids by using table-cloths and place-mats, and waxing it occasionally.

Our place-mats have consisted of various plastic and laminated things that we had also been gifted. After many years of use, they're pretty much worn-out, with the paintings of farms and spacecraft worn off of the some and the laminate peeling off of others. It was time for something new, and we needed something wipe-off-able (my children are famous for spilling something the instant I put a clean tablecloth on the table), but I wanted something both prettier and more sustainable than plastic.

So I decided to wax fabric. I looked all over the internet, but as far as I could tell, no one has made waxed place-mats (and reported it online), however, I found many tutorials for waxing fabric for other purposes and figured, what the heck, give it a try.

My mom gave me several half-yars of fabric, all in bright, cheerful colors, which is just what we need this time of year (okay, all times of year), and which complement my dishes beautifully. I cut out rectangles, sewed two together and pinked the edges, then sprinkled them with grated beeswax (destroying our cheese-grater along the way) and warmed them in the oven to melt.

The wax darkened the fabric, particularly with the lighter colors, and if/when I were to do it again, I would put the same colors back-to-back, or use a light-colored solid as a backing––for these I put mis-matched fabrics together for whimsical and reversible mats, but the darker color shows through on the lighter side, muddying the fabric a bit.

With the scraps, I made a little table-runner, eyeballing approximately 3-inch strips, making them as wide as a 1/4-yard of fabric I had for a backing and as long as a piece of flannel I used for a batting––now that it's done (almost––I still need to sew down the binding) and on the table, I wish I had taken a bit more care, rather than rushing to get it done.

They've only been on the table a couple of days, but they seem to be working well so far––water beads up on the surface and they don't appear to have that magnetic attraction to spills that plain fabric has. The proof will come after a big spaghetti dinner.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Creeping In

Sometimes I grow impatient with the sluggish and halting pace at which spring makes its way to Northern New England (and by "sometimes" I mean every March/April/May). Our few warm days last weekend gave way to more cold and wind all last week and through this weekend.

And yet, a few brave yellow souls have poked their heads above the sleepy soil, promising that spring is indeed on its way.

Early Sunday morning, Z and I went bird watching. At only 27.5 degrees, the birds weren't especially active. I did hear the occasional crow and woodpecker and we flushed a woodcock from its leafy hiding/nesting place. I was more interested in watching my boy than the birds, anyway––sitting on a log, training his tiny binoculars at the treetops, using a long stick to try and knock the rotten old carpet off of a rotten old tree stand, leading the way down through the woods and to the river, then back home the opposite way than we usually go, pulling a bag of trail mix out from among his bird-watching and survivalist necessities he had packed in his backpack. I don't have any pictures––binoculars and cameral would be a bit much to tote along, even for me, and besides, Z hates having his picture taken, so I was trying to honor that for a change, although he looked so cute in a gray cabled sweater over orange fleece, green knit gloves and a man-sized camouflage stocking cap that covered his whole head gnome-style, that I was tempted more than once to run back home for my camera.

Saturday, the boys planted peas and the red-winged black-birds started making a ruckus.

Sunday we got sleet. But today the sun was out, and during a short walk, I saw in the little pond that was still frozen just over a week ago lots of tiny fish swimming around and a lazy turtle hanging snout-up in the brown water. I wouldn't be surprised to hear wood-frogs any day now.

The spring cleaning bug has also arrived––I tore apart and vacuumed and dusted my closet on Sunday. Friends arrived before I had a chance to finish, so half the room is tidy and dust-free and the other half is a mountain of books and clothes and half-finished projects. Like I said, sluggish and halting pace.

Has spring found its way to your world yet? 

P.S. This post makes me feel much better about spring this year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


We were treated to three days of almost sixty-degree weather last weekend, which almost made winter feel like a distant memory. Saturday the boys spent all day outside, making syrup, while I burrowed down with my homework (I just sent my draft essay––three times longer than it needed to be––off to my mentor, so I'm looking forward to a weekend of catching up with neglected friends and housework!). I took one little break and snuck down to the river, where I was rewarded with the sight of a beaver sliding into the water and trying to swim upstream against the strong snowmelt current (I didn't have my camera!). 

As usual, we got to around to egg-dyeing last-minute, after dinner Saturday night.

E and Z were so excited to hunt for eggs Sunday morning...I love that they're still excited about sweet simple things like that (especially when they keep trying to trick me into confessing that I'm the Easter Bunny).

I got them each one of these jump ropes, which I confess I only bought because of the pretty rainbow colors, but they are indeed very good jump ropes––flexible and just the right weight and length, much nicer than the plastic ones they get for free from "Jump Rope for Heart." And, I got a bonus fourth jump rope, having won a giveaway on My Bit of Earth, so I upgraded to a double rope, and now the three of them can practice cooperating (ahem).

For breakfast, I made these vegan Tropical Lemon Cranberry Coconut Chia Bars the night before, and fruit salad, and, of course, hard-boiled eggs (hey, I said I was going to be flexible with this plant-based thing). I love lemony things on Easter, for some reason (must be all those years my mom made lemon merengue pie), and these were perfect, tart, not too sweet, and full of lots of healthy things to counter-balance all those jelly beans.

After much coaxing, I finally got the troops onto the trail, and we headed down to the river, 

Which is almost ice-free.

Z, M and I bushwhacked our way downstream to the grassy meander area, probably our last chance to do so without getting covered in ticks.

Just a tiny bit of snow remains in the woods (and we didn't even get our usual April Fool's Day snowstorm!).

For Easter dinner, we went to C's dad's house. I brought this vegan version of spanikopita, which I like even better than the traditional feta cheese version I usually make. It had great texture and lots of complex flavor with the olives and artichokes. I might add more spinach next time––it's amazing how much a whole pound of spinach shrinks down when you cook it. For dessert, i brought these Zingy Lemon Custard Bars, which were so lemony-tart and delicious. I liked them even better than lemon merengue pie and regular lemon bars, and will definitely make them again, although next time, I'll make the graham crackers into an actual crust (maybe using coconut oil?) and spread the whole thing out in a larger pan, so the bars are thinner and might firm up better (it did end up being more like lemon-graham-cracker slop on a plate, but such good slop!). The best part about taking vegan and tofu-containing foods to a dinner is that no one else wants to try them, so there was plenty of both left over for me.

Hope spring is finding its way to your corner of the world!
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