Thursday, September 28, 2006

Letters From Eden

I've received my copy of Julie Zickefoose's book, Letters from Eden. It is part nature journal and part art book. I have been experiencing life through Julie's eyes since I found her blog through a National Public Radio podcast. She is a nature artist, writer, NPR commentator, mother, wife, bird watcher, and dog lover. Does everyone feel like they don't do enough, or am I the only one?

I was interested in Letters from Eden because I thought it would be a great Charlotte Mason inspired nature study book. The book is divided by seasons and is then further divided into stories about interacting with species and nature found during that season. Her writing is honest, many times humorous, and filled with great information. Even though Julie's seasons in Ohio don't exactly match my seasons in Mississippi, I am still enthralled with the book as a nature study resource and a beautiful coffee table book. The children and I will begin reading the book together in January so we can start at the beginning of the book move through the seasons. I have to confess that I have already started reading. I just couldn't help myself.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Fall is not usually a great season for Central Mississippi. Instead of having a wonderful harvest season full of typical fall colors, warm days and crisp nights, and amazing bounty, we typically have burned ourselves out by now. The harvest has been stored, the leaves are turning brown from the August heat and lack of rain, and the temperatures don't begin to moderate until October or November.

Lately, though, we have been having some wonderfully cool nights and mornings with amazingly warm but not hot days. This change of normality is pulling a doozy on my work ethic. I want to be outside instead of being tied to school and work. I have been cleaning the weeds and summer plants from the garden and will plant (as soon as it rains) a fall/winter garden of lettuce, herbs, onions, garlic, spinach and other greens. But, basically I just want to wander around and enjoy the breeze and cooler air. I am hopeless.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I wasn't going to share this lovely bit of farm life

But, I suppose you deserve the chuckle.

Sunday afternoon both the children wanted to ride horses. I consented to saddle and "warm up" Dusty, the aging, yet strong-willed horse. The horse in question has not been ridden in a long while because the children stopped trusting him. The horse turned out to be a bit too contrary for the children, but we were attached so kept him and make allowances.

We walked out to the barn and the horse followed. Once he realized we were getting the riding gear ready and not just feeding him, he tried to leave. I captured him before he high tailed it to the pasture and started saddling. He wasn't happy, but endured.

Once the saddle and bridle were on, I lifted my leg as high as I could and still couldn't get my foot into the stirrup. Before you think I am totally worthless, let me assure you that the saddle is adjusted for the children so the stirrups are way up there. Whatever the reason, I still needed a bucket so told Princess to bring it over. As I put my weight on the stirrup, the saddle slipped just a little to the side and Dusty went nuts. He kicked the bucket, so went even wilder. The children dropped the reins they were supposed to be holding and rushed to get out of the way. I hung on for dear life until the horse bucked enough to realize I wasn't leaving and stood still. Screeching, I told the children that holding the reins meant securing the horse even if he bucked.

The horse walked quietly to the pasture, but every time I asked him to do anything - turn, trot, lope - he kicked up his back legs. The more I asked, the more he bucked. I don't give up. If some test of will arises, I clamp on like a snapping turtle. After I was bounced, shaken, and bumped for thirty minutes, the horse realized he couldn't throw me off and I wouldn't give in, so let me and the children ride in the manner he had been trained. A lovely time was had by all.

If picturing me bouncing around on a strong-willed bucking horse doesn't have you smiling, then think about me today - so stiff in the legs that I cannot walk without grimacing and so stiff in the upper arms just thinking of lifting them makes me cringe. I feel parts of me that I had forgotten I owned. I bend to get something from the floor and question whether I can return to standing. I vow to get into better shape every time I put one foot in front of the other.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I didn't torture my children with Shakespeare the entire weekend

We saw Oliver!, too. This was an enormous production - lots of music, people, costumes, and action. The children loved it!! Our seats were not as close as with the other plays and there was not an ounce of wiggle room in the Festival Theatre seats - though they were cushy. Festival Theatre is gigantic, but seemed well conceived.

I love musicals, especially when they have live musicians playing the accompaniment. Since the audience can't see the orchestra or conductor during the production, I assume that the actors forget about them too. I am always amazed that the timing doesn't get off-kilter with alarming results - you know, someone singing and then the music beginning or the orchestra starting during some non musical dialog. I have professional musician cousins, so I suppose I could just ask how the magic of a well timed musical occurs. If I knew all the answers would there be less magic?

During the intermission you could visit the outside areas of the theatre to get a snack or something to drink. The areas were lovely, but I was distracted from the beautiful flowers and art by something equally wonderful, though much more practical - the recycling program. Guests were given the opportunity to recycle most everything used at the theatre. There was a receptacle for play bills, another for plastic water bottles, and another for glass bottles, and yet another for cans. None of the efforts were touted (or even mentioned), yet the beverage servers were recycling and the guests were recycling. Perhaps, Stratford mandates recycling. I have no idea.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fast Dry

You just can't beat line dried clothes on days like this. Other than struggling to keep them on the line and not blowing about the farm, today is a perfect, fast dry day. A storm is blowing in and as a result all sheets will be dry in within minutes. In fact, I will take them off the line as soon as I am finished here and replace them with pink sheets and a few towels.

Great fresh smell, crisp sheets, and unbelievable energy savings. I'm glad I have a mechanical backup, but the clothesline is a painless way to move toward sustainability.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Early Arrival

Look at our new arrival. Our cows aren't supposed to be calving yet (we plan for November and December), but with our fencing situation what it was we will not have as organized a season as we would like.

We were lucky to find this little calf immediately after he was born. The mother had just started cleaning him with that huge sandpaper tongue. I am always astounded that the calves have any hair left when the mama is through.

The mama nudged and nudged and finally the baby tried to stand. It took him four attempts before his wobbly little legs would hold him. Even so, only fifteen minutes had elapsed since birth. Charolais don't usually have small calves, in fact, having calves too large is frequently a problem with first time Charolais mamas. This is not a first time mama and this was not a small calf. I would guess he weighs 90 pounds or maybe more.

After this calf teetered for a few minutes he started looking for sustenance. Unfortunately, he was looking in the wrong place. His mama kept nudging him to the rear, but he kept coming back to the front. We laughed and laughed. Finally, he figured it out.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Tom Patterson Theatre and Henry IV, Part I

The first play we saw at the Stratford Festival was Henry IV, Part I at the Tom Patterson Theatre. While this theatre is not plush, there was not a bad seat in the house and we were rewarded for our early ticket purchase with seats close enough to feel the action. I felt as if I could touch the actors, but it was an allusion. The set was almost non-existent with only a few metal tables with rough edged vertical sections of willow as tops with similar benches and chairs. The costuming was inspired - combining medieval layering with modern design, natural fibers, leathers, and furs with modern amenities and chain-mail - yet not distracting.

Many times in Shakespearean productions, actors(professionals included) tend to overact. With only one exception, there was no haughty inflected dialect. Shakespeare's bawdy jokes were not over emphasized, yet they were not diluted. No one on stage was waiting for a laugh, an applause, or other reaction. The play was honest; spectacular without pretension; and funny without raunchiness.

Henry IV (both parts) are long and complicated. My children tolerated the 8 to 11:30 p.m. production remarkably well and left the theatre sword fighting with the programs. I toyed with reading this complex play to the children before we left, but decided against it. I told the short-form story to them before the play began. They got confused, but seemed to enjoy Falstaff's antics and the sword fighting. They understood, but didn't love it the way I did.

Oh, Canada!

I haven't really been washing clothes for this long. I have been working, though.

I love Canada, or at least the part we visited. I probably would feel differently in February when I am ready for Spring and Canada isn't. I can't put my finger on the source of my affection, but there just seemed to be a good balance of structure - bucolic with urban amenities, practical Mennonites with cerebral Shakespeare scholars, country cooking with a dash of high cuisine. You've just got to love the diversity. I suppose I am infatuated because the farms were nestled against the art loving, theater loving, and restaurant packed town of Stratford. You don't have to choose. You can see Shakespeare and be a farmer without having to travel more than a few miles.

We had high blue sky days with perfect temperatures - warm, but not hot days and crisp nights. Harvest was in full swing. The golds, yellows, reds, and greens of the vineyards, corn fields, bean fields, orchards, and market gardens were beautiful. The well maintained small farms with their silos and northern style barns just tug at my heart. We visited the farmer's market at St. Jacobs and a few local farms to celebrate the abundance of the local harvest. Obviously, we couldn't keep and transport produce purchased, but we were able to get farm baked treats and apples for our room at the inn.

Stratford seems like an anomaly with its up-scale shopping and restaurants, art festivals, dragon boat races, and perfectly manicured outdoor spaces. Though tourism has certainly driven their economy, Stratford doesn't seem touristy. It seems genuine.

I am in love.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I'm Home!

I have so many stories to tell. . . And, I will tell them as soon as I dig myself out from under this enormous pile of laundry. Today was catch up day with work and ballet day, so I didn't get to keep the washer running. I will write in the A.M.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


We are trying to get everything ready for our Stratford trip. We leave tomorrow. I am madly washing clothes. Drying is difficult because it is cloudy and damp and the appliance dryer has not worked properly since our electrical disaster last month. The children are so in awe by the damp air and puddles(we haven't had rain in a month or more) that I am making little headway in clothes preparation since they keep falling in puddles (accidentally). I have. . .
  1. Finished Friday's payroll
  2. Exchanged some money, yesterday, when we were in the city
  3. gathered birth certificates for the children
  4. made arrangements for the yellow dog, cats, chickens, horse, and egg collection.
Now, all that is left to do is pack and leave. Of course, I have to wait for the clothes to dry.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years

Five years ago we were all shocked to find that we were not relatively safe in our home, the power house of international politics, the USA. We were probably not safe for years before, but we were secure in our conceit that no one would mess with us. There are thousands of cliches that tell us "pride comes before a fall," but when you are full of pride it is difficult to notice the looming disaster.

So many people have been added to the casualty list since the actual day five years ago, yet we have accomplished little in the way of finding solutions to the real problems. In fact, I am not even sure we know all the questions to ask that will lead us to the problem or the solution.

I so wanted to have a perfect post bursting with insight. But, even after five years, I am still full of questions.

Mourning is not enough.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Redneck Mother, who should have been listed in my wish list of yesterday except that her idea was so great that I wanted to save it for today, wrote a post called Assume Nothing. She picked up the idea at a conference and she and her family are working with it. She explains it like this.
This is another way of saying, as therapists are wont to do, that before you address a problem you should figure out who owns it and whether it's a biggie or a smallie. Spotting and challenging assumptions is a handy tool for letting go of some of that should and shouldn't crap folks absorb growing up without knowing why -- stuff that gets in the way of everyday pleasure or convenience for no real reason.
I have another friend who has been working with this same conflict resolution tool in an energy class she is taking. The first time she said, "Someone else owns that problem. That one is not yours." I thought that she was trying to get me to take an easy way out of a problem. I, also, thought, "Maybe, but I still have to live with the other person's behavior and anger." Then, the beauty of the tool was realized. If I am able to understand the assumptions of others, and understand my own assumptions, I am able own my baggage and purge if necessary and not feel guilty if I don't meet the expectations of others. Yes, this is more difficult than it seems. Here are a few of my assumptions:
  • Really, you shouldn't wear white shoes or pants after Labor Day unless they are the proper shade of winter white.
  • Table manners were devised for a reason. Use them so you won't offend.
  • A person has a right to a bit of privacy. Don't show up unannounced or use my stuff without asking.
  • You must give 110% to any project you agree to do.
  • My opinion has value, so I should be able to voice it without interruption.

What are yours?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Wish List

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, who, by the way, is a native Mississippian, did a wish list post that I thought was so cool. I was honored that I made the list, but more over the list made me want to play. So, I thought I would do my own wish list without limiting myself to books. I find that the blogging community is so rich in resources and personalities that I frequently find myself green with envy or feeling lucky to be a part.

I wish for. . .
  • Zilla's freedom and energy in writing that allows her to say what others only dare to think.
  • Jove's gift for the logical argument
  • Becky's calm assuredness in schooling, farm, and life choices
  • Frankie's ability to bargain shop and not end up with a pile of junk
  • Doc's ability to find incongruity in arguments and bravery to expose it
  • Mother Crone's positive energy and contagious happiness
  • Mull-berry's ability to provide the perfect link or added bit of information that completes the picture.
  • Julie Zickefoose's energy and passion for life and her work
  • Meredith's calm spirit
  • Griffin's courage to make change for the greater good, even when it causes personal discomfort
  • Susan's good idea. So, I just took it!!!

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's been like Christmas around here!

Yesterday, a friend called and said, "I know you are purging, but I thought you might like some art books for your homeschool." I knew they would be good because she was an art major in college. I, of course, said I was interested because I never met a book I didn't like. A picture would be great, but unfortunately I have not been able to post a picture in days - you know one of those beta blogger oops. What was I thinking when I clicked migrate? Where was I? There are books on Van Gogh, Cassatt, Balthus, and Romare Bearden. There is a book called The Artist in His Studio and one called That's the Way I See It. Videos of the Sister Wendy Beckett series The Story of Painting are also included. I think there are twelve nice art books, hardcover with lots of pictures.

The best thing about the gift is that gifts from this friend don't come with a lot of strings. I can accept the gift, then regift them any time - including tomorrow. She won't come snooping to see if we are using the books every day for six years.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Rethinking Math

My son only enjoyed Math while all aspects of the proceedings included tangible items - fish counters, cuisenaire rods, number boards - and no pencil. Even though he does an incredible job at mental math and seeing patterns, he loathes math. Just the mention of the subject produces a facial expression that would send any sensitive hearted mother to tears. We have been using Saxon Math all these years. I liked the manipulative approach and the "meeting." We made it through the first three years, not easily. Saxon 5/4, which we used last year, lost the manipulative approach and used a pencil profusely to copy problems, etc. I worried daily that I would be the receiver of the "black spot (Treasure Island)." Math shouldn't be that painful. In fact, it could be great fun.

The first weeks of school we did some fun cuisenaire math puzzles and practiced some math facts. My son enjoyed these weeks, but as soon as the Saxon text appeared on the kitchen table, I lost him. I tried to get him interested, to no avail.

I e-mailed Mother Crone and sought her help which was a very smart move. She had abandoned Saxon Math years before and had some good ideas and, more importantly, support and kind words. I felt guilty that I had waited so long (until near crisis) to make a change. Homeschooling gives you the option to change direction and rethink any time resources are not working. So, why was I so stuck on this one program? Why did I insist that math needed to be endured? Why didn't I trust my son?

It will take me a while to do all the proper investigation to rethink an entire year of math and get new resources. While investigating some of Mother Crone's suggestions, I found and purchased a few ebooks that will get us through until more permanent decisions are made. Funny, the author, once responded to one of my entries lamenting teaching math. If I had listened, I could have saved months of torture for my son and for me. The ebooks appear clear, use sound math logic, and have plenty of practice, but not mind numbing quantities. Even better, you only have to print the pages you intend to use which saves tons of paper. Even though there are many typos (which drives me insane), I feel that these ebooks are a bargain.

Just losing the signal for misery (Saxon text) has made all the difference.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ready! Set! Go! Activities

Last Thursday night was the Boy Scout open house. Yesterday, ballet began for Princess. We eased into school about a month ago. Now the activities are beginning. Neither of my children are over committed, but they usually participate fully in their chosen activities. Ballet lessons are in the city, so a one hour lesson is a half a day and some of the evening ordeal in which I try to shove as much shopping, visiting (my sisters), and library as possible. Auditions for The Nutcracker are Saturday. I may be off the hook. Princess mentioned that she may not want to participate. I told her she had until Friday evening to decide. Nutcracker is a huge time commitment. I am always proud when I see her in such a big production, but would be thankful if we didn't have to do the drive and the umpteen million rehearsals. She is young enough that her participation is not that important. I won't interfere either way. I promise.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Apparently There is a Glitch in Beta Blogger

I am one of the bold who so quickly moved to the new and improved beta blogger. For a few days, I have been having much trouble posting comments. I get zapped to the Beta Blogger sign in which then takes me to the dashboard. This morning, I find out that those posting here are having the same frustrations. I'm sorry, Zilla.

Please leave your comments by using the other radio button, then you may use whatever name you want and link to yourself if you so choose.

Carnival of Homeschooling

I'm at the Carnival of Homeschooling!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Day of Labor

I have been laboring and I must say that it feels good to purge. I may regret the purge once my things are transported to the Salvation Army tomorrow, but right now I am looking at a stark closet and feeling satisfied. I didn't donate the boots. I really thought I could this time, but I am obviously not ready to part with them.

I, with the help of the children, cleaned under the children's beds. ACK!! I was shocked and amazed at the junk. I vowed to not let another junky plastic floor flinger in the the house. Both children thanked me for "making" them purge and clean. Their drawers will close easily and they can find the toys they want.

I need to go further, but I am content for the moment.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Clothes I Know I Should Own Verus the Clothes I Like to Wear

I've been going through my wardrobe lately, culling clothes that are ugly, don't fit, don't make me feel great, and are in disrepair. I thought I might improve my image - you know, polish up a bit and become a role model for my daughter.

My plan included a very French approach to clothes purchasing. I wanted a few good well fitting pieces in basic colors so I could mix, match, and accessorize to change looks. This is part of my we don't need so much stuff, yet, love your stuff mentality. I have been looking for the perfect clothes for a month or so, but haven't found exactly what I want - comfort and adaptability and a polished look.

I went to this old country store to get cheap, yet stylish shoes for Princess on Friday. This place is an amazing piece of local culture and deserves a blog entry of its own so I won't give all the details. Anyway, in addition to having great shoes they have clothes - nice clothes and farm type clothes. As soon as I entered the clothes section, I saw a rack with casual clothes - khaki work pants, flannel jackets, and fleece vests - in beautiful Fall colors. They looked like me - the real me, the comfortable me. I passed the rack after longingly touching every piece and started looking at the dressier more socially thoughtful clothes. I scrutinized piece after piece. The children got bored. I bought Pink Panther's jeans and Princess's shoes. I scrutinized more. I kept thinking, where will I wear this? Is this fashionable? Will this fit the plan? But what I thought the most was I really want that nice flannel jacket and those heavy khaki pants.

So, I left all the nicer, "fit my plan" clothes on the rack and picked the comforting "fit my life" clothes in those nice fall colors. No, I can't wear a flannel/fleece jacket and khaki pants to all the places I need to go, but I just had to have something I wanted. Now, I still need those black pants and jacket. I will have to call my sisters who know how to shop and seek help. Though, I imagine they are tired of this hopeless cause.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My Beetle is like my Mac

I promise to stop effusing about my new car soon, but when I was driving home I thought, "I like this car for exactly the same reasons I like my Mac." When I said this to my hubby and my mother, both looked at me like I was insane and said, "Only you would compare a car to a computer." I may be a bit off kilter in my comparison, but I think it is valid.

Both products are intuitive to use. You don't have to read the owner's manual to find what you are seeking. Even driving in the dark in a brand new car was not stressful, because resources were at my fingertips in places I thought to look, and highlighted in multi-colored glory. The Mac is the same. When I finally switched to Mac computers about 7 years ago, I was able to be super productive immediately.

My Mac and my Beetle both have an attention to quality that leads to a sense of dependability. Safety and security is engineered, not added as an afterthought. Quality components are used. Even with the image of stability and quality, both Apple and Volkswagen Beetle give equal attention to style. The lines and angles are soothing. The design and features are intuitive.

Unadvertised cool stuff reinforces the unbelievable attention to detail image. Stuff like:

  • The ceiling installed light above each make-up mirror. On my last cars lights were available on only the driver side visor and the lights on the sides of the mirror caused much glare. The sensor in the rear view mirror that dims the lights of those rude people who drive behind you with their lights on high beam is a perk, not a selling feature.
  • In Mail, Apple's mail application, when you change the size of the date field the format of the date changes. In the Microsoft mail program, the date is just whacked off. Who thinks of such cool stuff?!

Another logical comparison between my Beetle and my Mac is the similarity in their advertising programs. I wonder if they use the same agency. Both use subtle humor and reliance on staunch individualism to create an appeal. It is just plain cool to be a Mac user and a Beetle driver. Though I am not usually hip and cool, quality and ease of use never go out of style. I am proud to have joined the Force of Good.

Now, I promise not to mention my car, again.