Saturday, July 31, 2004

A mom's dry-stacked wall o' life

On the Well-Trained Mind general discussion board, someone posted some thoughts under the topic "Surrendering to responsibilities." That touched off an interesting conversation over there on a topic I've been thinking hard on this summer.

For years I've tried to streamline by removing a few carefully chosen stones from the dry-stacked wall I'd made of my life, when maybe it's better to take it all the way down to the base and carefully choose and place each stone anew.

Whether it's called surrendering to responsibilities, learning to say no, finding balance, following your heart, or learning you can't do it all, I'm right there right now. There are SO MANY things I never get to, and over the last year or so it's mostly been family and household things that I've neglected. Yet that area of my life is much more important than the volunteering I did over the year.

I've tried over and over again to say no to activities and commitments I like — not enough. I've tried extending that "no" to nonessential activities I love — not enough. Must I let go of everything I love, beyond the family?? That makes no sense to me.

So I've been thinking, all summer long. And praying. Feeling my way in the dark to where my heart feels most like singing.

One thing: I started stripping away all of the volunteer and for-fun outside activities that are NOT part of the core of what I need to be about. The one nonfamily core thing is my ministry in faith formation, where my heart also sings. The related activities & commitments that make happy heart music for me get to stay.

Another thing: I want to watch and enjoy the boys, adapt our plans when there's interesting weather, play with them and read to them, and be relaxed enough when cooking, baking, doing laundry, and cleaning to bring them close and teach them.

A third thing: I have two remaining ongoing commitments that I realized I could reorient so they dovetail better with the reasons I took on those commitments. They could be positive in my life rather than neutral/negative. I'm working on doing the same with my nearly flatlined Web design business and my pride and joy Web site, Faith at Home.

This summer I've fallen into a new way to know when enough is enough. In addition to dropping most of my volunteer projects, right now I'm already living my life the way I really want to, as though it's already just fine. My aim is relaxed but busy days, taking care of the household and being with the family in the way I want and hope to be. Rather than struggling to get to this point someday, I decided to live this way now and make choices as the choices present themselves.

Feels sort of Buddhist or something.

As activities and commitments, whether one-time or ongoing, come up, I can choose whether and how they fit in. So far it's going okay. I'm ready to add tasks, long put off, that are family and me-oriented. I intend to declutter and organize my office, get on a meal-planning cycle, and do some mending (gasp!) and my own needlework. Does my youngest even know I love my needlework??

I still have somewhat rushed and hectic days, but it's an interesting feeling, refusing to get overly frazzled. Instead, I totally skip the less important stuff. If the stone doesn't fit, it doesn't. A short yet well-stacked wall can be a pleasing thing.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Tree trimming & such garden stuff

Husband and I neatened up our front yard tonight as the sun set and dusk crept down the streets. We have two multi-trunk river birches in our front yard, but the lower branches were kind of a bother. The kids sometimes ducked between the lowest branches (most of them nearly touched the grass) and into a sort of green semi-hideaway near the trunks. But that also meant dear husband has had a terrible time negotiating those same branches to mow, and I couldn't see what the kids were doing down the sidewalk from anywhere near the house. Hmm.

Tonight's tree trimming actually started with me pulling some baby weeds from the flower bed while dear husband did something play-like with Son1 and Son2. Then I got my pruners and cut out all of the big and little suckers from the I-forget-what bush at the corner of the house. It's tall and yearns to be a huge bush, but some previous owner cut off a lot of 3-inch-diameter limbs so it doesn't have a lovely shape at all. I pruned and trimmed it last year so it does its variegated-greenery thing at the height of my head and doesn't look too bad. I hope to plant a rose bush or some other thing to climb through it and soften the hack job that can't be undone. Cutting out the suckers tonight really opened up the bush. Much better!

That led to asking dear husband if he'd be willing to lop off branches of the river birches now, per our many discussions. Oh yes, indeed, he would. Off he went to change from work gear to ... different work gear.

He and I chose what branches to trim or lop off, branch by branch. End result: we stopped before doing TOO much, and our trees now look pretty good. We realized they'd looked like overgrown bushes before! I'll post a picture tomorrow if I remember.

A previous owner laid out landscape lights, including an uplight at each tree, and tonight they really look nice. The cinnamon-colored peeling bark is my favorite thing about these trees! This autumn I really want to follow through on my plan to create a kidney-shaped island bed under these two sets of trees. That'll remove the mowing bother and visually anchor the tree groupings. I'll be able to plant spring bulbs to come up through the mulch while I keep my eyes open for great, cheap or free understory, groundcover, and grassland plants to tuck under the trees.

Back to now: I have a bunch more scavenging of the lopped-off branches to do tomorrow. I'm stripping all of the side twigs and leaves off all of the long branches to use in the back yard. My cosmos in one bed are leaning forward over the phlox, so I plan to attempt a wattle-type fence to hold the cosmos back.

Dear husband is happy, I am happy, and our kids and those next door love our tree trimming, too, 'cause we removed one branch that overhung the sidewalk. They no longer have to duck to zoom past on their bikes. The walkers in our neighborhood will probably be pretty happy, too. Also, I can see down the sidewalk better when I'm in my favorite chair at the front walkway/driveway intersection. A plus for mom supervision.

I even conferred with my neighbor about the weedy vine and sapling that are overtaking our joint corner of our back yards. We agreed to attack it separately as best we could. I don't know what it is, but I firmly believe it's a weed and no friend. Outta here!

Severus Snape, gotta love him

Moments ago the boys finished watching the widescreen version of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," acquired from the library today. A bit of background: we've all seen the first two movies on DVD a couple of times; both Son1 and I have read all five books, he multiple times and me once or twice each; and Son1 and I saw the third movie at a movie theater a couple of weeks ago.

For which scene in the first movie did I seriously hush the kiddos today? Professor Snape's dressing down of HP in his first potions class. Love Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. I simply love his character, and I'm pretty sure it has to do with his contempt for students not up to his standards -- I guess it's the closet intellectual snob in me. How terrible is that! Alan Rickman brings Snape to life as far as I'm concerned, though.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

WW waffles & PB = late-night snack

I did get hungry before bed, so I spread a little crunchy peanut butter on a whole-wheat waffle and ate up. Then I put the rest of the waffles in the fridge for breakfast scavengers :)


Rain, rain go away

Is it too crazy that I last blogged about metaphorical rainy days and we got hit with a whole lot of actual, real, wet rain? Outdoors was somewhat flood-ish by midmorning. The kids' swim lessons were held at the indoor pool this morning, and afterward we walked through 3 inches of running water in the street to get to our car's doors (all wearing wash-n-wear sandals).

It started raining sometime before dawn, I think, and poured all morning. Slowed to a steady drizzle, then petered out to a gentle rain and finally a persistent sprinkle before quitting.

Can you tell I grew up in the Seattle area, which provided me with many ways to describe liquid precipitation? Hehe.

No water fights outside today; instead, Son2 (age 4)suited up in shorts, t-shirt, rainboots, and raincoat to splash in the puddles and gutter at the end of the driveway. Yesterday and the day before the boys had fun water fights, interrupted by long stretches spent watching the water flow into the gutter and down the street; they floated bits of leaves and who knows what in the running water. I let them do that for maybe an hour and then made them turn off the water. We have a flat rate water fee around here, but still, an hour of water play is enough...

Today the water was free for all.

Due to the cool weather and gloomy skies, I was willing to "slave over a hot" waffle iron tonight, making whole-wheat yogurt waffles from a recipe by Ken Haedrich in his cookbook Country Breakfasts. Dear husband made scrambled eggs upon my request, and the 3 guys slathered their waffles with all sweet things.

I, mindful of the simple-carb-and-sugar rush (bleagh), ate plenty of eggs and slathered most of my waffles with plain yogurt and a drizzle of syrup. And ate moderately. Probably means I'll be hungry tonight before falling asleep. Good side: I have LOTS of leftover waffles to freeze and, later, nuke or toast. I think tomorrow's breakfast will be toasted waffles with peanut butter. My perfect breakfast, something hearty I can eat one-handed and the kids can fix for themselves, lol!

Monday, July 26, 2004

A rainy day is ALWAYS coming

Are you saving for a rainy day? Putting aside some money, effort, time for a day you'll really need a little more than usual? Re. money, a few years ago I learned some hard lessons in weather. A rainy day is ALWAYS coming, even when it looks like there's no such thing as rain. Around the corner, soon enough, will be a Life Event you weren't expecting. Sure as rain.

I could say more, but Dylan said it so well, and went on to say more and better stuff, in her blog today.
Dylan's lectionary blog

It's not even 80F at 4pm!

What does one do with three days, heading toward four, of balmy, fall-like, cool nights and warm-not-hot days in the middle of summer? 'Cause we've got it! Usually here in our part of the southern Great Plains full-on summer is happening in late July: mid-90s to 100s during the day, low 70s or upper 60s at night, with a blessed stiff breeze to stir things up, and everyone's air conditioner/heat pump cooling our homes from May 'til October. We keep our a/c temp high enough that I break a sweat when I'm doing chores or cooking, but still.

An actual summer cold front thing-y (note the technical meteorological term) came through a few nights ago, with a nice thunderstorm and an appropriate amount of rain. In its wake, it left us with daytime highs barely bumping 80F and nighttime lows dipping near 60F. I don't hate the summer heat, really, I just sort of figure out how to deal with it or hide from it. Yet this is a blessing! A few days of respite in which to fling our windows wide to the fresh air and outside sounds.

So, what do we do differently in a cool spell? I'm having a ball listening to kids playing in the park behind us, my own kids playing outside, and the more distant sounds of the housing construction and the oil rig disassembly happening a block away. I hung out outside with the kids several times this afternoon, when normally it's just too hot. I'm doing some loads of laundry that take a lot of drying so I usually do them late at night or first thing in the morning. I made a stove-and-oven dinner last night (pasta and red sauce, sautéed local zucchini, homemade bread) that I just couldn't face on a hot day. I'll do a very-hot-oven dinner tonight (homemade pizza, with toppings -- for me -- of local bell peppers, tomatoes, and onion slivers).

I hear we should have two more lovely cool nights. By Wednesday morning I'll close up the house and its lovely coolness as the day heats up, and remind the kids to close the doors to the outside as they go in and out. Until then, as I go to sleep each night I'll savor hearing someone shooting hoops at the basketball hoop in the park, and the nearby dogs talking to each other. If last night was any indication, it's time to toss the spring/fall coverlet back over the bed. A little pause in our summer.


Oops! I just spent 10 minutes ushering two sopping wet kids through the shed-sandals, shed wet clothes, dry off, etc., that's typical after a midsummer water fight -- but one of the two was shivering and they wanted to get dry. Hmm!

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Secret revealed: Frontier, Colonial House fan!

My husband knows I'm a totally sucker for the two most recent PBS/Brit collaborative historical reality TV shows Frontier House and Colonial House. I cannot explain it, I'm just gaga for these two shows. Frontier House gets me with the "do it yourself, there's no one else to rely on and there's no electricity" and Colonial House gets me with the "do it together, there's no one else to rely on, and there's no Industrial Revolution yet," with real people like me and real families with older kids.

Colonial House was set in 1628 on the coast of Maine.
Colonial House at PBS
Behind the scenes CH articles from the source, Plimoth Plantation
Unofficial CH site
Old links for CH
CH discussion board at Television without Pity
Colonist Jeff Lin's journal
Colonist Don Wood's email group
Links to interviews with the CH colonists

Frontier House was set in 1883 in Wyoming.
Frontier House at PBS
Old links for FH
My boybarians! Son1 (age 8 1/2) and Son2 (age 4) Posted by Hello

Friday, July 23, 2004

Food, frugality, NO coupons

It's occurred to me lately that my kitchen interest is shifting to eating fresh produce, eating more toward the whole-grain end of things, stocking my pantry and freezer with basic foods, and learning skills that will make my cooking easier and less stressful. I've lost interest in clipping coupons and matching them with ultra-lowest sale prices in the local grocery store flyers, even though that's been a way to really stretch our money.

I'm going farther. Fresh fruits & veggies, more meatless meals again, more interesting meals (Chinese, Mexican, Italian are always favorites), more homemade bread and homemade breakfasts, and more from-scratch everything. Starting this spring, I also made a commitment to eat more vegetables and fruit and improve our family eating habits overall.

When I'm doing fairly well with this, every couple of weeks I inventory the fridge, counters (!), freezers, & pantry; then I plan about 12-14 dinners and a bunch of breakfasts & lunches based on what we have. The opposite would be to think of what to have for dinner tonight and go to the store to get what we need; I try not to go that (expensive, rather a hassle) route, though I sometimes do! Instead, I aim to shop to stock my pantry-freezer-fridge by using those sale-flyer lowest prices and other good deals. When I keep a good stock of basic foods at home, I can "shop" at home for our meal fixings.

The tough part is that it's summer and I don't want to cook very much! So, I'm trying to think ahead and plan ahead so it's all easy, easy, easy. Our summer meals are more about grilling burgers (thanks, hon!) and veggies, and serving a salad and beans. Or making a pasta salad in the morning and fixing a green salad to go with. Or maybe homemade bread, baked in the relative cool of the morning, and a green salad topped with slices of previously grilled chicken.

To make it easier to put together creative but simple meals, I'm trying recipes and ideas from the book with the crazy title, How to Cook Without a Book (recipes and techniques every cook should know by heart).

So far I think it's really helpful if you want to be able to take what's in your kitchen and put together a sauce for your veggies or a relish for your meat, or put together a salad with homemade dressing. The book also gets you started on omelets and other egg dishes, searing meats, sauteeing, roasting, and other stuff, but I'm more about veggies and grilling right now because we're in the middle of drop-dead-ripe, fresh, local produce season here.

I've joined a local food co-operative to buy fresh, local food nearly straight from the growers and producers. Delivery day was yesterday, and my kitchen counters have bowls of cherry and pear tomatoes, armfuls of cucumbers and zucchini squash, a bowl of beautiful orange-red bell peppers, the remaining pound of fat green beans, and a big coffee mug holding an overflowingly huge bouquet of basil (great price!). The 10 pounds of yellow onions are in a grocery sack on the floor. The heirloom tomatoes are lined up in the window.

I'm trying not to bust the budget, though — that's ALWAYS a factor for me. If I'm spending more on produce and, maybe, high-quality beef, I need to spend less in the long term on other grocery items. For me, that means even more from-scratch cooking. More snacking on veggies and fruits and homemade snacks, and less crackers and pretzels. More homemade breads and pizzas (my husband will be so happy!) and fewer soft white bread sandwiches and expensive fast-food dinners. More homemade breakfasts (muffins, coffee cake, eggs & toast, hot oatmeal) and less cold cereal. I'm reading recipes for granola and directions for making yogurt; I think I'm finally ready to try making them both.

I'm also ready to add some things to our freezer. Shredded zucchini squash, 2-cups in a quart zip bag. Quartered medium onions. Quartered bell peppers. If I get peaches tomorrow at the farmers market, maybe this week I'll blanch and freeze enough peaches to attempt to turn into jam in early fall when the weather is cooler. At the market or through the co-op I'll buy lots more green beans to blanch and freeze. If I do this stuff before we go anywhere in the morning, the whole day feels more accomplished from the start!

Tomorrow, though, I'm having tomato sandwiches for lunch, and tomato-cucumber salad with our grilled burgers for dinner, YUM! Oh. I promised the boys I'd make a peach pie — first time in years — so I need to make pie crust in the morning. Gotta get the butter out of the freezer!

Book stack changes

We did a library trip yesterday, and came home with a whole new armload of books. Well, okay, nowadays I'm making the boys carry their own books! I turned in Mom's Big Book of Baking, a few other things, and the books the boys were done with, including A Street Through Time, by Anne Millard. Wonderful book.

I wasn't really looking for anything, but ended up borrowing several books on display that caught my eye — Landscaping for Wildlife: A guide to the southern Great Plains, From My Mexican Kitchen, by Diana Kennedy, The Lord Is My Shepherd: The healing wisdom of the twenty-third psalm, by Rabbi Harold Kushner — and some homeschooling books. Maybe the Diana Kennedy book will inspire me to try some recipes. I've always wanted to read something by Rabbi Kushner -- and the Good Shepherd is such a central theme for young kids in Godly Play. Double reason to take a look at this book.

I snapped up other displayed books for the younger son, including a read-aloud I think we would all enjoy: If the World Were a Village: A book about the world's people, by David J. Smith. For the older son I got books to continue the series he's reading (WW2-era adventures, and Narnia) or the same type of book (adventures at different times in American history); he was busy in the comfy kid reading area with a Goosebumps book.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Where were you 35 years ago tonight?

Friends tell me that on the west coast, the moon walk started at 7:56 pm.

I called my dad last night to tell him that I have a vague memory of him waking me and my younger brother up -- we were 6 1/2 and 5 1/2 -- to see the moon walk. We lived in Seattle by then. He was very surprised I remembered! I remember not understanding how important it was, but definitely understanding that my dad thought it was a very big deal. That I remembered ever afterward.


Monday, July 19, 2004

Summer eating & kids

It's mid-summer, plenty hot here in the southern Great Plains, and time for new ideas in the food arena. In other words, everyone's gotta eat but I don't want to cook or prep! One solution is to involve the boys in veggie prep -- such as snapping beans (they love that). More fun for everyone, and then I simply steam the veggies and toss with a simple dressing or leave them raw and set out some dip.

I love this article: "The Summer Diner." I found it at The Dollar Stretcher last year, printed it for my "favorites" cookbook binder, and reread it several times a year.

Here's a bonus: "200+ Ideas for Summertime (or Anytime) Fun!."

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Why a blog?

Now that I've told some people that I have a blog, and I might have some visitors (!), I suppose I might explain why I am writing a blog.

I'm not blogging to write a diary or journal, in the sense of writing to myself. I think of this more as an opportunity to muse about things enough to have something to write. And put that writing where friends, family, and anyone else can stop by to catch a sense of what I've been thinking about lately. I suppose it's a journal or diary in that the thoughts tumbling around -- whatever I want to set down for others -- will often relate to what's going on in my life and my family life. Oh, okay, I guess it could be simply a journal! But I deny any commitment to be here daily or whatever; I'm bad at that long-term stuff.

My typical "hmmm" topics that might show up here: life with kids, managing a household - a family - a budget, simplicity, frugal living, gardening, cooking, baking, needlework, and enriching the boys' schooling ("afterschooling") with an eye to perhaps homeschooling someday. I also like the idea of giving you all a peek into our book stacks -- mine, the reading son's, the family stack.

More faith-oriented things will be over at my other blog, Faith at Home & other such things.

Coffee for two

My husband bought these two mugs for me Friday evening at a fair here in town. They really caught my eye, and he bought 'em. How sweet! The dark blue mug is a nice big size, and the cream/brown one is more... petite, I guess. I really like them! Posted by Hello

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Whoa! Greek time

Silly me. I picked up The Story of the World and read aloud to the boys during snacktime this afternoon, and they made me keep reading -- more, more, more! After eating all of their food they got out the playdough and made me read on.

We learned a bit about the (return of the) Assyrians & Babylonians, about Crete, and about the Minoans, capped off with the story of the Minotaur. I refused to go on to the early Greeks until tomorrow! Very fun.

I enjoyed acting out the Assyrians' battle tactics against city walls while reading aloud, with one-handed gestures for the basket shields, the earthen ramp against city walls, the assault tower on wheels, etc. Son #1 thought the highlighted Assyrian king, though terrible to those he conquered, was good to his people because he built canals to bring water to his city. I thought that was an interesting assessment.

Ancient history meets the Olympics

Since last fall the boys & I have slowly read our way through The Story of the World, Vol. 1: Ancient Times, by Susan Wise Bauer (see the sidebar, under Family Reading). It covers 5000 BC to 400 AD, "from the earliest nomads to the last Roman emperor."

It's a homeschooler's history survey, meants as a read-aloud for the younger set or as solo reading for independent readers. Son #1 could read it easily now, but I read it aloud. Both boys really enjoy hearing a chapter or two over afternoon snack, or whatever.


I must have had my fill of all things Egyptian in my childhood (I vaguely recall enjoying ancient Egypt), 'cause this time I got weary of reading about the Egyptians oh, about February. Son #1 had enjoyed writing in cuneiform "code" to Dad when we were reading about the early ancients. Babylon, Assyria, Sumer, ancient Africa, ancient China, etc., all fun, but Mom got tired of Egyptians. Hope I didn't let on to the kids other than sort... of... fading out of reading the book to them.

We picked up the book again at the end of the school year, and I discovered that we were done with the Egyptians in just two more chapters! Now we've read some about the Phoenicians, the return of the Babylonians and the return of the Assyrians. We're poised to read about early Crete and encounter the early Greeks, just in time for the Olympics in Athens this summer.

Over the last year and a half we've encountered the Greeks several times. A great video of the Iliad, with kids playing all of the parts. An excellent, wonderful-to-hold, series of three small books by Mary Pope Osborne that covered main episodes from The Odyssey in an early chapter-book style that Son #1 could handle before his reading turbo-chargers kicked in and surprised us all.

Thanks to a wonderful set price through the Scholastic book club, we have the following two books laying around, and they are awfully nice to read. Wonderful illustrations to great stories.
coverFavorite Greek Myths, by Mary Pope Osborne.
cover Favorite Norse Myths, by Mary Pope Osborne (Son #1 finished the Greek myths and immediately picked this up. Who am I to argue?)

I also found The Greek News at the library. It looked like great fun, and Son #1 seemed to agree. cover

Time to get into the Greeks in The Story of the World, Vol. 1, and crack the waiting library book full of photos & other visual stuff about ancient Greece.

Balancing act?

Parents seem to talk about finding balance, or the great juggling act of time, energy, responsibilities, etc. Of course it's not restricted to those who have children at home. I've concluded that the balancing point is never a resting place, but something you experience and then it's gone, around the time you realize where you were.

It has something to do with being present to the moment. Playing dominoes or board games on the floor with your kids. Chatting with the neighbors while your kids all play together, sometimes basketball or chalk drawing on the driveways, other times bike riding on the sidewalk, water gun fights, or flashlight tag in the gathering dusk. Singing silly songs together in the car. Watching your kids play some game of their own creation together, having a great time.

It's just a moment or two, maybe longer, and then it's gone. Kind of like the flash of a firefly in flight over a summer-warm grassy place. Savor the memory. Be ready for the next one.

Testing 123

Hope this works okay.