Thursday, May 23, 2013


In theory, I'm a big fan of projects. I read the Project-Based Homeschooling blog obsessively, I always have a ton of projects of my own going on at a time, and I love when my kids come up with something, like a toilet-paper roll marble-run or a pizza-box airplane. But when they come home from school with project assignments, I tend to panic and feel like a python has wrapped itself around my esophagus.

Maybe it all goes back to the time when M had to make a model of an avalanche, while C was away at his grandfather's funeral in Vermont, we were in the middle of a blizzard (if not avalanche) of our own, Z had a high fever and we were out of children's Tylenol. 

Whatever the cause, when E and Z came home from school with project assignments the Friday before we left for camping I wanted to scream. With two weekends fully booked and nearly every night devoted to The American Pastime, I had no idea when we would get them made. Especially since Z wanted to carve a prairie falcon for his.

With some drill-sargeant-like time management (one night when baseball practice was cancelled and Saturday afternoon, while M was hanging with his buddies), we managed to complete both projects in time.

Z was not receptive to the idea of carving soap, but after a bit of discussion, he did acquiesce to relief carving, rather than 3-D, for this, his first project. I happened to have a set of little chisels in the basement, leftover from that time I was going to learn to carve, but never got around to it. He did great, and I hardly helped him at all, other than the suggestion of enlarging the bird photo from the book and tracing it for his pattern (and a little painting right at the end, when he ran out of enthusiasm for all that blue). Once he asked me to do the details around the wings, but it turned out that he handled the tools much better than I did, and took them back from me after two attempted feathers.

For something completely different, E wanted to make a stuffed animal road runner. I recommended felt, for ease of use and no unravelingIt ended up being not so much stuffed as flat...and I might put E to work making my Christmas ornaments next year.

I ended up helping him a lot more than I did Z––cutting out pieces and sewing around the tricky parts, like beak and feet, and I glued on the background when E, too, ran out of energy and enthusiasm right at the end. It's interesting how much more I helped with the work I know how to do and am comfortable with, while with something neither of us knew about, Z took the lead. It will be a good lesson to keep in mind for future projects.

They both seemed to have fun and were proud of their results, but I'd really love to make time for them to do more self-directed project work.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Birthday Wrap-Up

We survived the Big Birthday Weekend.

Friday night, we celebrated E and Z's day with pizza and cake (by my baker friend––the first time I ever that I didn't bake my own kids' cakes!) and a friend of theirs among the crazy sculptures at our favorite farm store.

Saturday, M had his band members over and they played some Nirvana and AC/DC in the basement while I made my free-range-organic version of one of his favorite meals––hot wings. I had the genius idea (if I don't say so myself) of serving root beer floats instead of birthday cake. Easy and delicious!

And, yes, I actually did make a purchase from
Which just shows you the lengths I would go to to make this boy happy.

Sunday we went to Boston and visited the Science Museum with my sister and brother-in-law, who were in town for my niece's graduation. Unfortunately, she was sick, so we missed seeing her (and she missed her own commencement ceremony!). Other than a broken switch in the driver-side window that left us driving a wind tunnel from the New Hampshire tollbooth on, we had a great time, and now we have a membership, so we will go back at least once in the next year. I forgot to take my camera, which turned out kind of nice––I could just relax and enjoy watching the kids do the museumy things, without worrying about documenting it all.

Monday night, M's actual birthday, after a quick picnic in the park of gas-station sandwiches and pizza, we all went to M's baseball game, where he scored the only run of the game, by hitting a double and then stealing third and home while the ball was still in play. Can you think of a better birthday present for a twelve-year-old?

After we got home and got the other two boys in bed, and M finished his social studies homework, he and I went out to look at the stars. He had been supposed to sketch the stars and moon over the weekend, which he failed to mention until Sunday night, as we drove home from Boston under the clouds (we should have gone to the planetarium!).

We took a blanket out to the neighbor's field, and lay down, he with his head on my hip, and watched the face in the gibbous moon (looking more like a lady than a man), peer out around a cluster of clouds and grow a rainbow halo. We found Castor and Pollux, Spica and Arcturus, waited while the Big Dipper emerged from behind the clouds, and wondered where Saturn should have been at that hour.

Afterward, walking back to the house, drawings in hand, M, my newly-minted twelve-year-old, said, "Thanks for bringing me out here, Mom." I love that kid.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Twelve Today

I was going to say, I don't know how he can be twelve years old, when I'm not twelve years older, but looking at that photo of me, so free of wrinkles and double chins and gray hairs, I see that's not the case.

Happy Birthday, M!

(And won't you please wear overalls just one more time for old time's sake? I'm pretty sure I've never seen anything more adorable.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Eight Today!

Happy Birthday, E and Z!!!

Insert the usual gasps of amazement at rapidity with which time zooms by. Eight! Oh my.

(If I may offer a word of advice to new mothers: when every friend, relative and person you passed once on the street comes over to ogle your new babies, by all means take a picture of them holding your offspring, but then hand them the camera to take a picture of you with your babe. In leafing through old photos, I found that there are virtually no pictures of me holding my babies, especially these two, and I'm pretty sure I logged quite a few hours doing just that.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013


When we made the switch over to digital photography a few years ago (2007, to be exact; can it have been so recently?), I made up some albums of our photos from that year on my digital photo manager of choice, with the intention of doing the same during subsequent years. But time got away from me and I just never got around to it. Two years ago, I made getting caught up on albums one of my New Year's resolutions, but after hours spent shuffling photos that had uploaded crazily out-of-order due to some error I made in naming them, or something with my camera's numbering system, I gave up in frustration. Meanwhile, more time went by, and the prospect of assembling more (five!) years' worth of albums became even more daunting.

I finally logged into my Snapfish account last month and found, to my great relief, that I had one album (2008) completely done, and that recent software changes had made moving around photos and pages much, much easier than last time I tried. I ordered, and received, that 2008 book a couple of weeks ago, and I finished 2009 and uploaded and put into a book all of 2010, which are both on their way to me now, as we speak. Spreading them out, as it turns out, is a good idea, not only to save my wrists from carpel tunnel, but also because they can be a bit pricey, even with the coupons they send out constantly (but, I justify, it would cost at least as much to buy and develop film, right?).

The boys and I love looking back at their old selves (those cheeks! they slay me). I've noticed I tend to take a lot of pictures of certain things: camping trips (when I remember the camera card!!), the beach, the lake, the kids eating ice cream (why do I find this so photo-worthy? I don't know), and I'm glad that I take certain pictures for the blog that I might not have taken, which show more of our ordinary lives (like the kids doing craft projects, or reading or playing, although I haven't put any pictures of dinner in the albums yet).

How do you keep all the photo documentation of your family under control?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Placemat Update

A few of you asked to be kept apprised of the efficacy of the waxed placemats I made last month, and I have to tell you, I've been very pleased with their performance.

Drips, stains and food blops wipe off quite easily with a damp dishrag, and when they seemed a little dirtier than wiping off would cure, I ran them under warm water in the sink, and laid them flat to dry. They dried quickly and continued to work at repelling stains and liquid.

For the ultimate test, I ran them through the washing machine. They ended up wadded in little balls, and as they dried, the wax showed up whitish and cracked-looking on the surface of the placemats. I put them back into a warm oven for a couple of minutes, which smoothed them out again, but I think they're not quite as waxy as they were before, so I may add a little more wax when I have a chance, and just stick to the warm water in the sink method of cleaning in the future.

I might make another batch, sometime after life decompresses a bit, and when I do, I'll put together a tutorial, but if you're adventurous, all you need is fabric, beeswax, a sacrificial cheese grater and a warm oven.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Damp Camping

This has been a stressful month, between near-nightly baseball games, prepping for three boys' birthdays, and trying to get my own school work done, both to wrap up the semester, and to prep for residency. Our kids' school also received an "F" grade last week as part one of the Governor's neo-conservative wet dream of privatizing Maine's public schools (see my letter to the editor here), meanwhile, the same week, I attended a school board meeting to try and protest stripping art, music and foreign language out of our school as part of a misguided and Orwellian bid to bring "equity" to the district. In short, by the end of last week, I was severely in need of a vacation.

We had to switch our regular camping trip back a weekend, in order to attend a graduation next weekend. And due to work and a Friday night baseball game, we could only manage two days (and one night), rather than the usual three days, two nights. Unfortunately, our readjusted trip landed us smack dab on the only two days of rain in more than a month.

But we forged ahead. I really, really wanted to get away, and the kids don't care two figs about rain (C on the other hand, was another story, but we dragged him along anyway). We were up and on the road by 7:30 Saturday morning, which is a record, surely, for our family. And we had almost the entire campground to ourselves.

The area of the campground where our "usually" site is was not yet open, so we had to settle for this incredible bluff overlooking the ocean and the sand beach. E and Z were not happy about this to begin with, but after I gave them cookies and convinced them that they could play anywhere in the whole entire campground, pretending any site was their own, they acquiesced.

I planned a more stripped-down, minimalist version of our usual camping trips (no pizza on the grill), and ended up forgetting a lot of things in our haste to get going: hairbrush, M's toothbrush, washcloths, soap––who needs hygiene in the wilderness anyway?––a spatula, the grill that goes over the fire. The worst was the memory card for my camera (C took these pictures with his phone). It took me as long to adjust to the idea of taking memories, not pictures, as it did for E and Z to adjust to a different campsite.

We spent a lot more time in the tent than I would prefer (trapped in 400 cubic feet with three rowdy boys is not my idea of a good time), but we got a lot of reading done––finished Harry Potter and started Julie of the Wolves––and did some drawing and a lot of just general lying around and relaxing in each other's company, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, which is what has been severely missing from our lives lately.

By the time I gave up on the sun joining us Sunday afternoon, and had the car all packed up again and ready to head out for a late Mother's Day lunch on the way home, the boys were engrossed in digging in the sand and running from the incoming tide. They probably could have stayed another week. The sun came out, I am not kidding you, the minute we got home and, except for a brief, drenching shower just after we got the tent and a load of laundry hung out to dry, the skies have been clear ever since.

I knew that, short and hasty though it was, the trip did the trick when I felt my usual low-level anxiety return after we got home––I hadn't even noticed it was gone . I wish I could come up with a way to make baseball, work and school disappear so that next May we can stay for a whole week.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Harry Potter Again (and Again and Again)

It's no secret kids like repetition, especially when it comes to books. When I was little, I always checked out either A Boy, a Dog and a Frog, New Blue Shoes or Harold and the Purple Crayon from the Bookmobile when it stopped at the school at the end of our street. When E and Z were about two, I hid Trouble With Trolls under the bed because I got sick of reading it after about fifty nights in a row.

But this desire to hear the same words over and over again doesn't stop with picture books. C gave Peter Pan and Wendy to M for his fourth birthday (the birthday that fell three days after his brothers were born), and over the next year read that hefty tome to him at least four times. Once he started to read on his own, he read the same books over and over again (I think he's read the Percy Jackson series about ten times).

One of the first chapter books I read to E and Z (after Winnie the Pooh, of course, which I'd happily read again), was Trumpet of the Swan. As soon as we got to the end, they both insisted, "Read it again!" I enjoyed the book, sure, but I didn't want to read it again right away, so I managed to divert their attention to other books.

About two years ago, C and I started reading them the Harry Potter series. It took most of a year to get through all seven books (and I ended up doing most of the reading, because C got interested and read ahead on his own). As soon as Harry put Voldmort to rest in book seven, the familiar refrain of "Read it again!" rang out through our house. By then, I'd had enough of stumbling over words like "Wizengamot," so I refused, instead reading them books like The Secret Garden. C, however, began all over again, reading them The Sorcerer's Stone. They only made it partway through book four, however, when their attention got drawn away by other books, like the Secret Series.

A couple of weeks ago, after we finished Farmer Boy (to which the boys put up great resistance initially, but then got sucked right in), E begged to hear Harry Potter again. It had been long enough since our first go-round that I didn't mind delving into it again. It's been a good opportunity to teach them about foreshadowing––Hagrid borrows Sirius Black's flying motorcycle, "Foreshadowing!" And it has proved kind of fun to read again, and comfortable, knowing what is going to happen to all of the characters in the end. I think I see why kids like the repetition.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Growing Things

As you know, I am not the gardener in this household, but I had to share with you the early shoots and sprigs popping up in our raised beds. 

I thought C was crazy when he planted peas weeks ago, when it was still freezing out, but the peas seem to be on his side, and have sprung up with vigor. Those spindly things in the middle  are the onions sharing the same bed.

The garlic, which I did plant, gardening being so much more appealing to me in October, when there are no bugs, baseball or boys' birthdays, is coming along beautifully. I don't keep records, but I tried to plant a lot more than I did last year...and I will harvest it earlier, too, so the bulbs don't split their skins like last year's crop did. 

And a few rows of spinach, also reveling in its early planting. I do believe the potatoes are in the ground as well, but they wouldn't be much to look at.

As usual, I have big plans for a sunflower/morning glory hideout garden for the kids, but as usual, I probably won't get around to it. If only gardening season was in February or March, when there's nothing else going on (and no blackflies).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Friday Light

Last Friday, we had the evening blissfully free of baseball.

So, after a quick and easy dinner of pizza from Sheepscot General,

I coaxed the family outdoors for a short walk to bask in the springing springiness of it all.

The light this time of year is absolutely incredible.

Each evening the sun sprinkles the world in a coating of gold dust as it makes its slow descent.

And all of the trees and bushes that have looked like nothing but clusters of dried, dead branches for the last six months are budding and bursting with weird and wonderful life.

I'm pretty good on trees and wildflowers, but I don't know my shrubs.

I should have asked C what all these are, but whatever they are, aren't they amazing?

This is the first time I've every noticed them, at this stage. Funny the things you miss if you don't take the time to slow down and notice.

I can't think of how many years it was winter, then it was spring and I missed out on that whole transition phase, the opening up into life.

It all happens so quickly (after a very long, slow time of not happening at all), so it's easy to miss––one day sticks, the next day leaves. Amazing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chair Refresh

Shortly after we moved into our house, we were gifted an antique mahogany dining room set, with an expandable table and eight chairs. It fit perfectly in our dining area, and, though it has suffered from the ravages of three kids, it has served us well.

When they came to us, the chairs were covered in green leather, which was worn and cracked. I found some pink and lime and orange upholstery fabric on the remnant table and recovered six of the eight chairs (unfortunately, my remnant wasn't big enough to do them all). After ten years and three kids, they had gotten quite faded and stained, so this past weekend, I covered four of six remaining chairs (I said kids have been hard on them) with this fun, bright orange fabric I bought at Ikea when we were in Colorado the year before last (I meant to do this project last spring, but never got around to it).

Unfortunately, I didn't have enough fabric for all of the chairs (I think I was just going to make a table runner or something with it originally), and you can't order Ikea fabric online. But E was very unhappy with me that I designated the two chairs with the old fabric for him and Z, and he keeps rearranging the chairs, so I guess I better get something for the other two, quick (I'm thinking either this to coordinate, or this to be totally wild and crazy. What do you think?)

The fabric is just a little lighter and brighter than our orange walls, but since the chairs are usually in the shadow of the table, it goes perfectly. I should probably have ironed the fabric first, and waiting until C could help me pull it tight when stapling it to the bottom of the chair (the covers are a little loose and wiggle around a bit), but sometimes I just get something in my head, and I have to do it immediately. You know what I mean?

Back when I bought my red cabinet, my friend Liza teased me with the Put a Bird on It Portlandia episode, and I realized I do have a lot of little birds on things, and this adds another dozen more. But you know, I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Bit of Culture

I have to admit, the boys don't get exposed to a lot of culture 'round here, but this past Saturday, we packed in enough for at least the next few months. 

An elderly couple we are friends with had offered to give us a tour of the Readfield Union Meeting House, which has rare trompe l'oeil paintings on the walls and ceilings.

On our way to the Meeting House, we stopped for lunch at our favorite sandwich spot, Bagel Mainea, where we had the dining area all to ourselves, and listened to a young man singing and playing the guitar.

Afterward, we went to my friend Helene's art gallery, where she was having an event, collecting colored pencils to send to Ethiopia with The Colored Pencil Project

We drew self-portraits, and listened to more live music, this time an older guy on keyboard.

Sunday, C took the boys to the beach. I have to admit I was jealous to miss the first beach day of the season, but I had work I needed to be doing (those stories I didn't finish the weekend before!!).

I got some writing done––the second half of a story I had been laboring on for a while––and did some more extracurricular reading (David Sedaris this time).

And I got out for a quick walk, to capture some gorgeous evening light and some more signs of spring.

Culture and nature, a good combination. 

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