Friday, December 29, 2006

I could have been writing something fantastic . .

But I spent those hours "upgrading" to the new template so I could access all of the cool new features. I think the features are more cool if you know absolutely nothing about html. I found them a bit restrictive, but have found a way to add my image links for the carnivals and the new one for the winter reading challenge which I will do later (My later list is enormous already).

Hopefully, I will get it all done before we travel to the Delta and before the birthday party for the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Books for the Winter Reading Challenge

I am still working on the Lay of the Land by Richard Ford. I may have to add the first two books of this triology to my list because there are some holes in my memory. Seven or Eight years is a long time to remember book details with only a single reading. I am adding these unrelated books now.

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Known World by Edward P . Jones

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Not Christmas Eve Dinner

For the past forty-something years I have been having Christmas Eve dinner at my parents' house. I may have missed one when I lived in Chicago, but I can't remember it now. Even after all my siblings and I got married, had children, and convenience would demand we stay at home Christmas Eve, we persisted in tradition. This year was different. Mom asked everyone before she actually sent the invitation for the day before Christmas Eve dinner.

The change in date was the only noticeable difference. I still provided appetizers, dessert and kitchen assistance, Baby Bear decorated the mantles and tables with beautiful greenery, Susan produced the perfect salad and reminded us about social intelligence, the sons-in-law and my father manned the grill, sister-in-law brought a dessert, and my brother and his family were late (he always has a valid excuse). Even with the activity of a full house and the chaos of the Christmas season, this cooperative can usually pull off a celebration worthy of a food and entertaining magazine. This year was no exception.

We started with goat cheese souffles in phyllo, cheese ribbons, and a champagne toast. My nephew, who toasted, "Let's bump to the future.", many years back has obviously gained some maturity and made a lovely toast. Because it is a standing joke, Susan toasted, "Let's bump to the future."

Since we have outgrown the dining room, Mother set an extra table in the living room that is visible across the foyer when both sets of double doors are opened. We felt together. For dinner we had Susan's Crunchy Romaine Salad, Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas with Sesame Seeds, Grilled Salmon, and Spoon Bread (a fancy cornbread). For dessert we had chocolate cake, coconut cake, ambrosia, and buttermilk fudge. Delicious!!

Then, a singing and piano performance and the PRESENTS!! I'm glad I took extra time to find great gifts. I like the faces when the gifts are a perfect match. Though the gift that captured the crowd was given by my sister - a set of metal puzzles.

Next, tradition was broken. Mother had a dirty Santa game for the men. A couple of the men wear ties every day and a couple almost never, so the game had that interesting twist. After all the ties were exchanged, maliciously re-exchanged, and exchanged again, the girls and women gathered for the yearly bow picture. Then, everyone gathered around the piano for a sing along - traditional, not so traditional, and down right silly.

As the years pass, the traditions seem to gain in importance. The time with my brother and my sisters becomes more precious. I appreciate my parents' efforts to make special memories, and I know I am lucky.

I am over-filled with holiday spirit, and I still have two more celebrations this weekend.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Gift I Wish Santa had Forgotten in His Sack

There is always one of them - you know, the gift that just shouldn't have been. This year it was the pottery wheel. Santa should have included an art studio with the pottery wheel if he was going to leave that thing here. I have clay or clay water on every surface of my kitchen. I noticed as I walked in the office, which is on the other side of the house, that there is clay on the door knob. I have already shrieked, "Get that thing out of my house. Put it in the shed and leave it there." Later, after I relax, we can figure out a way the children can sling pots without slinging clay onto the walls, floor, table, stove, counters, and door knobs. Right now, I want to throttle Santa.

This is not the first time that he has brought messy gifts. A few years ago, there was a dinosaur excavation kit that scattered small stones and sand everywhere. Another year, there was an erector set that still seems to launch pieces into the most unsuspecting places, only to be found when I kneel to get something and my knee is pierced causing extreme pain.

I will send my own letter to Santa reminding him that I need no help making and maintaining a mess.

Winter Reading Challenge

I saw the Winter Reading Challenge at Mother Crone's. Even though I am late joining, I need an excuse to buy more books and read more, so I accept the challenge.

I have only one book in the house that I haven't read. I received a signed by the author copy of The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford for Christmas. Thanks, husband!! This will be my first book.

After that, I will be forced to buy more books, raid my mother's shelves, or go to the library. The children did receive a few books for Christmas. I wonder if they would count.

I will update the list later in the week.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

We've got a break in the action, so I have a chance to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!!


We've had four celebration dinners and one breakfast since Thursday. I have eaten so much garbage I feel sick. I need to fast or at least not eat another mouthful of sugar for weeks. UGHHH. Not yet, though. I have two more celebrations to go.

I'll report tomorrow.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It will turn into a bow if I tell it to!!

The confidence of the seven year old spirit is mind boggling. Immediately after reading time but before sleep we talk in a random way. We talk about the book. Many times we talk about things we need to do or things we accomplished. Last night I mentioned that I needed to make cheese ribbons (a thinner, wider version of cheese straws). My daughter suggested that we make cheese bows, instead. I tried to explain that the dough was not really suitable for anything other than straight lines.

She said, "It will turn into a bow if I tell it to!" Maybe she is right. Today I will, with her assistance, attempt to make cheese bows. As she says, it is all a matter of will. If we want something badly enough we will find a way to accomplish it.

Cheese Bows - the perfect snack for the never say never crowd.

Update: It is possible, but impractical to create cheese bows. Here is the proof.

Tipping Point Meme

I'm not tagging anyone, so you can relax and enjoy the post. I saw this environmentally friendly meme at Poppins Classical Academy sometime in November and I thought it would be a great evaluation of sorts (I couldn't find a way to link directly to the meme but if you want to see hers, go to the Archive that includes November 19, 2006).

Three things I'm happy to be doing now
  • Driving a fuel efficient car
  • Choosing purchased food carefully to provide a healthier diet for my family, while not supporting industrialized food products like High Fructose Corn Syrup, and petroleum based preservatives.
  • Providing pesticide free, hormone free, antibiotic free, naturally grown eggs, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and beef for my family and many others
Three things I want to do starting now
  • Run my car exclusively on vegetable oil
  • Start a local recycling movement so it is easier to recycle glass and plastic
  • Grow more of what we eat
Three things I want to do someday
  • Rely exclusively on solar electricity for our farm (My husband and I are working on this now. TVA says we are the only ones in this power sector who want to hook up an inverter. I like being first!!!!).
  • Live smaller. I want to purge my family of clutter and have only the things we truly love and truly need.
  • Get and use an Oatsmobile for local errands.
  • I know this is 4, but I want a Jersey so I can have preservative free milk. I want to make cheese!!!!, though it has nothing to do with our sustainability plan.

Where is your Tipping Point?

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I haven't been able to access the Internet since early Tuesday evening. The terrible weather in the west adversely affected my satellite connection. I talked to customer service on Wednesday morning, but after that even customer service was out of order. I know my Internet connection is irrelevant on the list of destruction produced by the wild weather, but what a major inconvenience.

I realize how addicted I am to the Internet for weather, news, blogging community, instant messaging, and to deliver ads that I wait until the last minute to produce. I "borrowed," after giving up on my service, quasi high speed Internet to send my somewhat huge 4-color ad mid morning. The entire time I waited for the file to send, the magazine representative was leaving "Where is your art? The deadline is noon." messages on my answering machine which does not rely on Internet connection.

Late this afternoon, Internet connection was restored and I could satiate my appetite for news (9 papers/feeds), weather, quotes and words, blogs, e-mail, and messaging. Since we have chosen not to have a television, not even local service, I felt completely isolated from world, national, and local events. I had not realized that a huge storm had bruised the Northwest and buried Colorado. I missed Iraq and Bush updates. I didn't get to read the BBC updates of the serial killer arrest. I missed the announcement of the title of the last Harry Potter novel.

I missed y'all!!

Cookie Day

Cookie baking day was Tuesday. My sister and I produced hundreds of iced sugar cookies, biscotti, and other treats for gifts. A few of the cookies in various states of the decorating process are at right. After the cookies are done, we spend hours creating beautiful packaging. When we are finished our children are maxed out on sugar and artificial color and we have the most sought after gifts in the area.

This day of hard work has become a tradition. As we were furiously decorating, baking, and packaging we were planning changes for next year's baking extravaganza - always seeking to attain a more beautiful cookie and a more interesting packaging. Next year, we will start earlier in the morning, so more cookies can be produced. Next year . . . .

Monday, December 18, 2006

What we are reading

Even with all the chaos of shopping, cooking, and activity of the holidays we are still reading.

I just finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I love the way Setterfield writes. She writes for a reader about readers. Her language is rich and her story is full of intrigue. She doesn't rely on shock value, sex, or vulgarity. Incest and rape are there, but we don't encounter a graphic retelling in which the writer is proving her willingness to address the language and horror. What we get is a more mature approach to story telling where the writer trusts the reader to have certain knowledge, to intuit, and to enjoy a less immediate gratification.

With the children I am reading these:
  • The Ancient Egyptian World is our current book in the The World in Ancient Times Series. I still like the primary sources provided with the series in the reference volume. The pictures are wonderful, the writing lively, and the history verifiable. Egypt is such a fun study because of the possibilities. We have made Egyptian sandals, papyrus paper, and will make a sculpty step pyramid with individual blocks.
  • The Cat of Bubastes by G.A. Henty is part of our Egyptian study. We are only a few chapters into the book so will reserve judgment until later. This book may be a bit mature for my children. I am not sure what the recommended ages are.
  • The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss is our bedtime story. The children love the book. I, though I like the story, am curious about the messages I am sending by reading this book. The shoot everything in sight regardless of whether it will make a good food or not mentality is not comforting. I am inspired by the family's resourcefulness and positive attitude. We have been attempting to identify the point of shipwreck globally and find it positively frustrating. The animals are too diverse to make it believable - kangaroos, buffalo, jackal, onager, penguins, flamingos, and, eagles . . . The flora is just as elusive. Being unable to pin down the location will make it difficult for us to ship wreck there, which is what my children long to do.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I've been shopping in stores. I, even, went to the mall. This is not typical behavior for me. I, frequently, persuade one of my sisters to visit stores for me, but this year they both seem too busy for me to burden them with the weight of my most hated pursuit. I will have to go to the city one more time before I can be truly finished, but most of the Christmas shopping is done.

I enjoy thinking about what each of the people on my list might want or need. I am always in search of that perfect present. Honestly, I rarely find it. The problem is this. Most of the people on my lists have too much stuff. If they want something badly, they usually buy it unless it is something that I wouldn't be able to afford to give in the first place. Even so, I went to the stores in the hopes of ferreting out the elusive perfect gifts.

Gift items are a plenty in the stores - impersonal gifts that could be given to anyone or everyone. Unfortunately, I wasn't looking for the one size fits all Christmas present. So, I wandered from store to store, shopping area to shopping area trying not be lured by the displays promising the perfect gift for everyone. How can a gift be perfect for every single person on your list?

The answer is that it is perfect in that if you buy a gift like a car emergency kit, foot warmer blanket, or holiday coffee mug, you will have spent the exact same amount on every person so there is no chance of offending someone, your shopping will be done quickly and painlessly, and since the gift is impersonal it may be re-gifted easily. Though, I would love to buy into this plan of shopping, I cannot.

So, this elf is off to the market! Again!

BTW, I wrote an entry about trash when I first started blogging. Funny, the quote by Dorthy Sayers I thought a true fit for that entry is what I have been thinking about while shopping.
A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.

Do we really need all this stuff?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Insert

Last week, in the middle of the cold snap (cold for us), we finally installed the cast iron and soapstone fireplace insert that has been sitting in our dog trot since last March.

You ask, why would it take nine months to install something that only needed to be moved 25 feet and would improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions? Good question. We ordered the miracle insert that should heat one side of our house last November, before it got seriously cold. It did not arrive until the end of February when everyone was thinking Spring, so when it arrived it sat while the garden was started, fences were repaired, and Spring sprung. It sat in the hall when we were harvesting vegetables. It sat there when the temperatures rose over 100 F and no one wanted to think about something designed to warm. The heater sat in the hall when we sold the calves. It sat there while pumpkins were carved, turkey smoked, and the Christmas tree was chosen and decorated. No one forgot that the heater was sitting in the exact place the delivery men placed it. I was more than a little annoyed by the 1500 pound contraption occupying space in what I visualize as a totally open hallway. We did a mapping project for school and Pink Panther drew the heater as a permanent fixture in our home - sitting in a crate in the hall. I kept mentioning it to my husband. OK, I did more than mention it. He assured me that the heater would be installed before our temperatures dropped below freezing.

A few days in November the temperatures fell to almost freezing, lacking one or two degrees. I reminded, offered to help, and threatened to do it myself. The week of the Bull Sale, when no one could even think about installing anything, the temperatures dropped below freezing. The wind was blowing and our house, though we insulated well, is not exactly a show house of heat efficiency. We were COLD. We felt like the Ingalls in The Long Winter though we obviously didn't get that cold. We didn't build a fire in that fireplace because we didn't want to clean the coals and ashes again when we installed the insert (like it was going to happen in the next 24 hours). We moved all activity to the kitchen which has a portable electric heater and living room which has another fireplace.

Finally, the day came, a cold day with a brisk wind. The expectations of a warm house were high. An appliance dolly was borrowed from the local hardware store, a friend was invited to help move the 1500 pound contraption, and instructions were read. The project we had been dreading for nine months only took a few hours of actual work. We didn't have to do much since we had a working masonry fireplace with a good draft.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems. A piece is missing and I will have to make that embarrassing call nine months after the purchase to let them know. The insert does not heat as well as we would have liked or as was advertised. I know few houses have 17 foot ceilings, but the insert designed to heat an entire house should heat one room of a drafty old farm house when the temperatures are just below freezing. Many say that once we get the thing going and keep it going that it will heat better. We do have much to learn, but keeping the fire going in our variable temperature winter is not realistic. Today, the temperatures are supposed to be around 72 F. You don't exactly require or want a heater for those days.

I wonder if we would have been as disappointed if we had not built expectations of a toasty house through all the cool and cold days the heater was sitting in the hall.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do you ever wonder what they will remember?

I saw this article yesterday in the Washington Post. Though I don't feel that test scores are a real measure of knowledge or future success, I can see how cues - visual, auditory, or emotional - can effect performance. Of course, I couldn't stop there. I wonder what messages I am sending to my children. What will they remember and what things will effect them as they make their own way in life? Am I imprinting stereotypical roles on them without my knowledge?

Will they remember the bad days or good? Will they remember the mistakes or successes? Am I totally ruining them?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Back from blogger hibernation

My life was out of control so I had to put something aside! Blogging was that thing. I am the free labor for my husband's bull sale, The Heart of Mississippi. I produced all the ads, mailers, and the 46 page catalog, wrote the computer software to run the sale, ran the office during the sale , and reconciled the sale and produced seller's checks. In addition to all this I still worked my other jobs, taught the children, and prepared meals. I'm exhausted! Life should go back to normal soon.

I know ya'll didn't want to hear all that!

I have been tagged by Griffin at Wheel Revolution, so I decided to come out of hiding. The task at hand is to confide six weird things about myself, then find six other people who will confide six weird things about themselves. I thought at first that the task was impossible. I am sooooo normal and sooo regular. I have no strange deformaties of the body and no cool, but somewhat strange skills like twitching ears and independently moving eyebrows. I, even, asked my husband and mother. They both said, immediately, that there is nothing normal about me. I guess that makes me really weird since I don't even realize I am strange. Here are a few of their suggestions:
  • I have the concentration of a snapping turtle. Once I tackle an interesting or difficult task, I will not stop until it is finished - no matter what. I have to be careful with this one now that I have children because while I can go without food, bath, sleep, and . . . they cannot.
  • I have read every (known to me) published word written by William Faulkner including letters, stories, and novels. I didn't do this for a grade at school. I was just curious and liked his work, except some of his whiney letters about finances.
  • I can discern minute ingredients and flavors in food.
  • I can visually rotate things in my mind so that I can see how they fit together. I have a few hang-ups about arrangements in homes so will mentally rearrange the cabinets, appliances, and furniture so they will fit my image of "correct." I will not move anything physically (how rude would that be). To take this further, I can see how mechanical things are made and I can pack the trunk so that all space is utilized and can do it on the first try.
  • I have a high pain threshhold and a low tolerance of pain medication. I have had two root canals, reconstructive thumb surgery(had a beta block-local with a band to keep the local from entering my body) , two babies, and hundreds of stitches(I ran through a patio door) without the use of anesthesia. The doctors and dentists were very strange about it, but I persisted and they let me go without.
  • I have saved by brother's life 3 times. I could hear him calling me even though he never yelled or had the chance to yell. By the way we are not twins.
    • I heard him after he was accidently locked in the freezer by one of his playmates. The mother of the playmate arrived and the playmate got distracted. I heard him calling even though I shouldn't have been able to hear him.
    • Then, when he was a little older he fell between a Six Flags' log ride log and the wall and I pulled him out before he was dragged down and away.
    • Finally, Dad let us jump out of the boat at a sandbar while he loaded the boat on a trailer. My brother's friend said he could swim and flailed himself out of the boat. Brother realized said friend couldn't swim and tried to save him. Friend pushed him under and I came from the shore to drag the friend and brother to safety just in the knick of time.

Do I win the weird prize?? Or can these unsuspecting victims do better? BTW, this was difficult because I have seen this meme done at many of the blogs I frequent and there are some who just don't want to be tagged. Becky at Farm School, Angela at Mother Crone's School, Mull-berry at One Jelly Donut (please), Frankie at Kitchen Table Learners and Doc at Doc's Sunrise Rants. If someone else wants to play, please feel free. Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, I didn't want you to have to sully your super polished children's book blog or I would have chosen you!