Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tigger!

When did this baby: Become this big five year old kid:
with her first bike?

I must have blinked.

And here, for those who were wondering, is the manatee cake:
Prince Charming and I created this, per Tigger's request, belly button and all. It had her name at the top as well, but we've blurred that part for the purposes of this blog.

Hours of work, and we ate most of it in about five minutes flat (20 people can do that). The important thing is Tigger had the cake she wanted. The bad thing is now she thinks her mommy and daddy can make any cake she can think up. I'm already dreading next year's request.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

From The Commonplace Book

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. - Unknown, quoted by Sarah Susanka
Yes, this is true. Some people seem to have the ability to have peace in the midst of any thing. Others of us spend much time searching and desiring such inner strength. Want to know where I think the real thing comes from?

Well, I'm telling you anyway (it's my blog so I get to do that sort of thing):
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165 ESV
Some folks seem to be just naturally placid. And there may be some measure of peace in simply acknowledging God's existence. There is almost definitely some peace in claiming to love Him. Despite those types of peace, we're told that real peace is for those who love His law.

I crave that kind of peace - the kind where nothing can make me stumble. What must I remind myself, when things don't seem peaceful? Love His law.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ma's Advice About Blogging

You know 'Ma' don't you? The kind, patient and wise mother in the Little House books? Ringing any bells?

Of course, I do mean the books and not the '70s era show. Those are two different things entirely, though I won't get into all that just now.

Anyway, Laura Ingalls Wilder's books are some of my favorite ever written. Polly and I are reading through the series and we are almost finished, being now in the book Little Town on the Prairie. In the chapters we read tonight, Laura gets into some hot water at school because of some angry words. After this situation is set right her mother writes in an autograph book a piece of advice that I have no doubt the future Mrs. Wilder would remember until she died:

If wisdom's ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.

Mrs. Ingalls could not have imagined the marvels of computers, the Internet, email, and so on, that we have today. But she, in her wisdom, couldn't have hit a better bit of advice about blogging and social networking if she had tried.

We may not ever meet our readers in person. We may attempt to control just who has access to our pages and sites and whatnot. Howsoever that may be, I know I would do well to remember Ma's advice, not just in the "real" world, but in my cosy little virtual ones too. Just goes to show you: wisdom in 1881 is still wisdom one hundred and twenty-eight years later in 2009.

From The Commonplace Book

The sky didn't fall in. It never seems to do so when one is looking up. - Lynn Freed
and a reminder I need all too often:
Just as a wounded starfish can mend if thrown back into the ocean, I learned my broken heart could mend if I immersed myself in God [and His Word].
- Christina DiMari
And in other news, completely unrelated to the title of this post, I have now finished The Pickwick Papers. Hooray! Onto Oliver Twist, which I have actually read before and yes, I am quite familiar with the story. (And movie adaptations. Just ask Polly. She'll sing you a song from Oliver! Most likely, "You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two". Try not to be horrified.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tale of a Photo-Op

When arranging a family photo shoot, arrange for everyone to be in town. This is the first and hardest step.

Next, be sure to choose colors that co-ordinate with your blog: Just kidding. That's not really how we chose what to wear. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a group of eleven dressed in somewhat complimentary clothes? *small shudder*

Take lots because someone in the family is always a Blinker. (Contrary to popular opinion, the blinker in our family is not me. Or maybe Prince Charming was just really sleepy the day we had our pictures made.) Try to remove pacifiers from mouths (Fennec) and cover under-roos (Sweet Pea). Just give up on everyone looking the same direction. It's not going to happen:
At least pretend to be interested in what's going on: Try to be finished before the cutest, littlest members of the family are tired (I refer, of course, to Fen and not anyone else who may consider him- or herself the cutest): Oh, whatever, just take as many as you can of the littlest before he starts screaming, pacifier or not: That's all there is to it. (Top secret: A red feather boa helps coax some reluctant smilers in the group. Not to name any names...)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Because They're Grand People

Today is Grandparents' Day! Yes, it seems like one of the "Hallmark Holidays", created to sell more cards and junk that no one needs (see also: "Sweetest Day"). Presumably anyone who can be honored on this day would also be honored on Mother's Day or Father's Day. I understand all that.

And yet, it's a good idea to give grandparents at least some of the honor they deserve. After all, our grandparents had the tough job of raising our parents for us. (Yes, I kid.)

I am blessed in my life because I know all four of my grandparents. Each couple (maternal & paternal) has been married for more than 50 years. They all love God and their family. I know they pray for all of us. Each one is special to me for the moments we've shared, the things they've taught me and the characteristics I've (supposedly) inherited from each of them. (The jury may still be out on that last point. Some traits are more likely to be claimed than others...)

My children are extremely fortunate to be growing up near my grandparents, their great-grandparents. One of my favorite things to share with my children is my grandparents. I know Prince Charming feels the same way about his own grandparents - three of whom are still with us - although we don't get to see them as often as we'd like.

I wish my own great-grandparents would have been around for me to know. I did have the opportunity to spend some time with one of my great-grandmothers. She was funny and strong, even as Alzheimer's slowly destroyed her mind. She had a large family: lots of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-greats and yet, for awhile, she still knew my name and where I fit in her family.

I really would have liked the opportunity to spend time with the rest. Stories and pictures make me think I come from a very interesting lot of people, to say the least!

And now, I see the grandparents to my children. Yes, these are my own parents and my in-laws. But there's nothing like watching your own children love and admire your own dad or mom (and your husband's parents) to make you realize how truly wonderful your family is.

None of my grandparents read my blog (one set doesn't even own a computer) so I'm not trying to earn Grandchild Brownie Points (Naturally, it's not like I need them...). Anyway, I already know how much they love me. I hope they realize how much that feeling is returned.
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31 ESV

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. Proverbs 17:6 ESV

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Awesome Anniversary Trip - Part 11

So, there we were in Edinburgh: Edinburgh was a bit cooler than London had been. (No surprise there, since it is so far North)
Many of the buildings were constructed of very old looking, very black stone (this was true in Glasgow, as well). Quite different from anything we'd seen anywhere else. And, of course, there were several of these around:
It was early afternoon but our backpacks already seemed a bit heavier than usual and parts of the Edinburgh streets seem to go straight up, so we decided to do our favorite tourist feet-saving thing: we caught a local bus.
It was quite thrill to ride a bus that went past or on many of the things I had read about in Alexander McCall Smith books (the 44 Scotland Street series).
We rode around for awhile before we realized we'd better find our bus to Peebles (where we would be spending the night). We had to wait at our bus stop for awhile. Older ladies with their shopping bags clustered around and gossiped. Younger people smoked and talked rather loudly. We were the only non-locals. Eventually the right bus came along and we got on. It was a double decker so we moved up to the top.

We saw lots more of Edinburgh as the bus made all its local stops:
And then we were out of the city and into the Scottish countryside. Way into the countryside (green hills and lots of sheep, none of which we took any pictures of, which I now regret). We started to wonder if we had made a mistake. We had reservations for a castle in Peebles, which, as Prince Charming likes to defend himself, looked very close to Edinburgh on a map.

Note: Peebles is not all that close to Edinburgh.

We had asked which stop to get off for the Castle Venlaw and someone told us to get off at the first bus stop in Peebles. Which is what we did. There was a car dealership and a little petrol station across from a great big hill with a sign for Castle Venlaw. We walked into a residential area (behind the car dealership) first but we quickly realized our mistake - no one else was walking here and everything seemed quiet. We walked back to the bus stop and then we saw the sign for the castle - up the hill.

Nothing for it: we started walking up. About 1/3 of the way up the wooded hill we saw a farm house with a large gate. This was not the castle. But it was home to pack of enormous, snarling dogs. Now, I am not generally afraid of dogs and Prince Charming is. But I stopped well back from those animals. Prince Charming urged me to keep walking but I balked. I walked all right, right back down the hill.

"Let's just call a cab," I begged. My feet hurt and I just wanted to get to our nice little castle room without being mauled by dogs. It didn't seem like too much to ask. So we walked toward the little petrol station (the car dealership being closed). We walked in and asked if someone could help us call a car. Answer: no. There were two employees, neither of which was inclined to help two Americans. One suggested we "try next door". Brilliant idea, except for the little business next door was closed, just like everything else.

So now we were walking through Peebles. Alone. Tired. Discouraged. We saw a sign for Tesco (a large grocery chain) we thought we might be able to find a pay phone there. So we walked to the store which was: "Opening in one week!"

Not good.

I think it was around this point that I started to think that if I were to die in Peebles the locals would just step around my body. We found another little store, asked for help and got exactly the same response as before. In desperation we asked where the police station was (thinking that at least they'd have to help us. Or arrest us. Or something). "Just down the road," they told us.

So we walked to the police station which was - are you ready? - closed. Open from 9-5 every day and it was, of course, well after five at this point. I may have thought some very wicked things about Scots at this point. We walked around the building, looking to see if there was anyone left cleaning up or anything. There were several police vehicles sitting in the parking lot. (It briefly occurred to me that we could steal one and no one would be the wiser until morning. There is no night crime in Peebles, apparently).

This trip was seeming less than awesome at this point. Prince Charming trudged ahead but I lagged behind. He may have been heading back to the bus stop (I certainly thought we should. But he couldn't forget the deposit on our nice castle room. And people say I'm the frugal one!) but I was not really heading any where. I followed behind my husband, tears streaming down my face. I wasn't really crying, not really, but I couldn't stop the tears.

"I'm just going to walk up to one of these houses and ask for help," was Prince Charming's next idea.

"Why would they help us, Americans, strangers, when no one else will?" Seemed like a reasonable question to me.

Neither of us knew what to do next and I was about to throw my backpack in the middle of the road and lay down upon it...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From The Commonplace Book

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that my two children needed me at home more than they needed anything my income would buy for them.
- Jenifer Roback Morse.
and an Einstein quote that I feel complements the above:
Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. - Albert Einstein
When I start feeling like I should be doing more for our family, my commonplace book is a great encouragement to me. I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing. It may not be what you are supposed to be doing, but it is what God has planned for me right now.

(And a small blog note: I've rearranged some things on here and added lots of great new links - especially in the "Homekeeping" category. I hope you enjoy them like I do!)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Which I Seek Your Clothes Related Advice

No, our yard is not yet covered in leaves. It's only September 8, after all. I wore flip flops to the grocery store today. (OK, I admit: I wear them every day to every thing)

But Autumn will soon be upon us. I love Fall: cooler weather, the smell of smoke in the air, bonfires, hayrides, apples, leaves everywhere (and believe me, they are everywhere at our house. We're not much for raking) and warm sweaters for the evenings.

Which brings me to my question for all you wise blog readers:
When do you switch out your t-shirts, flip-flops and the like, for sweaters, striped tights, and so on?

I dislike the clothes switching-around process (yes, that is its technical name). It involves me (oh, alright, I admit I usually get Prince Charming to do it) lugging up multiple Rubbermaid boxes of clothes, having the girls try on the aforementioned clothes, putting the warm weather clothes back into their correct boxes, with the unfortunate exception of all the warm weather clothes that we still need because some days are warmer than others...

It all means days, if not weeks, of wardrobe limbo and it drives.me.nuts. My dream is to have my girls wear their summer clothes until Christmas (with the possible addition of a sweater or two), but I don't think I can get away with it. The little old ladies at church are already wearing sweaters and tights (apparently oblivious to the thermometer reading 70 plus temperatures). I can imagine the outcry if I don't get my girls into actual shoes and socks again sometime soon.

So: when? What works for you?

(And yes, our tiny, ancient little house has very little storage. The Rubbermaid boxes do work for me since I don't have acres of closet space. Cardboard = disintegrated mess in the basement. Closets = non-existent. Rubbermaid boxes = moisture proof & easily affordable.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Candidly Incomplete Guide to Considering Homeschooling

Yes, I know I have not yet finished my Awesome Anniversary Trip series. But it is winding down and I've been thinking about this next one for awhile. Ready for the title? Here it is:

A Candidly Incomplete Guide To...

I'll be calling them C.I.Gs for short. Yes, I'm aware this is what some people call those death sticks they're addicted to. We'll just have to over look that unfortunate association. So without further ado, here is my first C.I.G.

A Candidly Incomplete Guide To: Considering Homeschooling.
There are two things you need to know about homeschooling:

1. Homeschooling is easier than you think.

2. Homeschooling is harder than you think.

That's it.

I hear your protestations from here. "That can't be it! And it's contradictory! Foul!"

Here's the deal: All that stuff that people say they're worried about when considering homeschooling is bunk.

"I don't know enough"? Are you admitting that you don't know more than a five year old? 'Cause that's pretty sad. As I tell parents considering homeschooling, you only have to stay one step ahead of your child (in Grammar, say) and sometimes you can learn something right along with them (that'd be Latin for us). And this isn't even counting all the co-ops, online classes, videos, etc. available for any subject you find particularly hairy.

"I'm not sure about the legality of it." Rest your mind. It's legal in all 50 states and some foreign countries. So, unless you're living in Germany, remove that concern from your list.

"What about socialization?" Please. It is to laugh. If you really want to go there with me we can discuss this one 'til the cows come home. Suffice it to say, my children have friends, cousins, passing acquaintances,
enemiesjust like every other child, only - and this is a major selling point as far as I'm concerned - their circle of influence is NOT just 29 other children their own age and Prince Charming and I have a lot more say in who makes the cut.

"It takes so much discipline". Well, to my mind, it's no more than it takes to get your unwilling child up, out of bed, dressed, fed and to the bus, then to soccer, then to music lessons, then home to four hours of homework. We get to sleep in, if we wish. And set our own schedule for the rest of the day, too. Sending a child early in the morning to another building, to be on someone else's (the school system's) schedule for nine months out of the year - now that's discipline.

Now for the hard part:

1. It's every day. All day.
2. Your discipline problems with your children are all yours. No one else to blame. No one else to depend on for a fix.
3. Your house will be full of books, papers, educational videos, and board games. And maybe dirt, rock "collections", leaves, origami animals, etc. Martha Stewart will not be coming to check up on you, so who cares?
4. You will feel the need to defend your family's educational choice to everyone. And trust me, everyone will have an opinion.
5. You will want to buy every single item in the Rainbow Resource Catalog. (And don't worry, you won't actually do it. It's possible to homeschool for free, if you're really strapped for cash.)

Really, the support system for homeschoolers is amazing these days. Feeling burnt out? There's someone who's been there before. Feeling overwhelmed? Yep, someone has felt that too, and overcome it. Here's the secret you've all been waiting for: we homeschool parents don't have some educational superpower (cape & tights optional). We're just parents. And isn't that the hardest job anyway? The way I see it, once you're a parent, you're in for a wild ride no matter what your kid does for Kindergarten.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Books of 2009 - August

1. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. Fiction by Winnifred Watson. Love it! This is an older book, republished as a Persephone Classic Book. The characters are unforgettable.

2. How to Buy A Love of Reading. Fiction by Tanya Egan Gibson. Nearly all the characters in this story are unlikeable. Somehow, I kept thinking it would get better, but it never did. Avoid.

3. Why We Make Mistakes. Non-fiction by Joseph T. Hallinan. Interesting look at errors, mistakes, and biases (especially the ones we don't know we have).

4. The Unseen. Fiction by Alexandra Sokoloff. A creepy but not thoroughly frightening ghost story. I wanted more resolution at the end than the author provided.

5. Colonel Brandon's Diary. Fiction by Amanda Grange. This is part of an entire series of Austen heroes' "diaries". This particular book is OK, but I still like Mr. Knightley's Diary the best.

6. The Creative Family. Non-fiction by Amanda Blake Soule. You may have heard of her Soule Mama blog. This book is decent but hardly groundbreaking.

7. Washington Square. Fiction by Henry James. The first James book I've ever read. It was unexpectedly funnier than I thought he would be, but I can't help feeling sorry for his heroine.

8. Stuff White People Like. Non-fiction by Christian Lander. Based upon the blog of the same name. "Stuff Yuppie Rich Folks Like" would be a more accurate, if less succinct title.

9. The Counterfeit Guest. Fiction by Rose Melikan. A series mystery, but I somehow missed the first book in the series. Intriguing characters, slightly convoluted plot. I'll be watching for the next book in the series, due for release next year.

10. Feed Your Family for $12 A Day. Non-fiction by Rhonda Barfield. Some good money saving ideas here and a few recipes (although, to be honest, I already feed my family for less than $12 a day).

11. Forbidden Fruit. Non-fiction by Mark D. Regnerus. Prince Charming and I both read this eye-opener in August. See his review here.

Fiction: 6
Non-fiction: 5

I've started on a new reading regimen as of September: I'm working on reading through all of Charles Dickens' novels (in publication order), which is something I've never done. At the moment I'm about half finished with The Pickwick Papers (the first novel). Also, I'm attempting to get fewer library books as I have so many here at home that I've never read. I'm going to be reading books I already own, to determine whether to keep them or not. So that may bump up my fiction numbers for the immediate future.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Awesome Anniversary Trip - Part 10

(Last installment here) Well, we'd sadly come to our final moments in London (actually, we'd be back for one more day, but we wouldn't have much time to spend and we'd be staying in a different hotel). This is the front of our beautiful hotel:
And this is what our bedroom looked like (just remember: it was nice but it was small):
And this is the the type of money that we lavishly spent:
Funny thing about the money, I didn't have any trouble with the pound notes but their coins absolutely drove me nuts. There are about twice as many as American coins and they just don't look different enough. One shop keeper got rawther short with me over it. Prince Charming used the "just avoid coins and get change" method, so he didn't get in as much shopkeeper trouble as I did.

But never mind all that: Saturday morning we got up early and caught the train to Edinburgh, Scotland. From the train we saw sights like this:

And then this:
And then this (these yellow fields were all over England):
And, the site that most excited me, nearly five hours after our trip started: That's the North Sea. The North Sea! I'm not sure why, but it was seeing this that really made me feel like we were far away from home.

And then, there we were in Edinburgh:

Saturday's Adventures in Scotland To Be Continued...