A flower bed at the botanical gardens
Last week we chucked our chores and headed to the local botanical gardens on a beautiful, warm fall day. I haven't visited these particular gardens in about five years, and they've made many interesting additions. We spent an afternoon at the gardens and only saw two exhibits... but with membership in hand and only thirty minutes away, we can come back whenever we want!
The first area we saw was called My Big Backyard -- the children's garden. That's where the "flower beds" were.
Living room couch...
Chipmunk and Pip sitting in the "chrysalis swing", clutching the beloved maps...
The Prehistoric Plant Walk was a big hit with my prehistorically minded kids. Magnolias, conifers, horsetails, and ferns grew in this garden. Granted, the horsetails and ferns were less spectacular than the horsetails and ferns we could see in our backyard in New York, where most of the rocks we turned over were fossils. But we did not have a big pit where replica Triceratops horns are buried.
We also saw petrified wood uncovered in a Mississippi site not from us.
And there was a big rock to climb on.
And, oh yeah, we saw some flowers.
And a good time was had by all!
The view from Katydid's rebuilt "hut"
I've wanted to do a "day at our house" post for a while now, but never seemed to have the opportunity, or I thought, wait till we get a routine and things are normal again. Well, I am now admitting that our new "normal" is not exactly what I hoped it would be. On the other hand, it's probably adequate, and certainly could be a lot worse. My biggest challenge is -- as always -- keeping the little boys from injuring each other, themselves, or the house. I didn't know why I thought that would change just because we moved a thousand miles.
So this was our "normal" day, such as it was. If you are a new homeschooler (or an old one), I hope this will encourage you that other people's kids run outside in their pajamas first thing in the morning, and throw pencils at each other, and sometimes husbands get phone calls from wives who are trying to eliminate the title of chief zookeeper from the long list of jobs they perform, but in the midst of all of this stuff, there's a little stargazing and some art, too.
Our morning was pretty typical. I wish I could say it wasn't -- it was a little more intense than usual, but nothing beyond the pale of what has gone before. I didn't manage to get up before the little boys, which got the day off to a bad start. Then, in the first 45 minutes of the day, there was Lego throwing, fighting and quarreling, poking the baby's eyes, a whole bunch of discipline, and the aforementioned call to the husband, at which point the words "I quit" and "preschool" may have been uttered. Or shouted. Or something. The boys were banished to their room. Then they were banished outside because they were destroying their room. And the blue lightsaber was removed from its owner's possession. And Gareth was asked to go outside to keep an eye on the boys while I helped Katydid do her math (long division, which began in a Developmental Math book and then switched to Saxon 6/5 because it wasn't explained well enough). Then I took a shower.
A fourteen year old's idea of "keeping an eye" on his brothers is different than mine, let me just say.
So after that was sorted out, we prayed and started chores. It was 10 AM. ( I have no idea how it took 3 hours for me to eat breakfast and take a shower. I nursed the baby a few times, too, I guess.) The little boys somehow had their clothes changed and got their teeth brushed, in spite of Pip's attempt to flood the bathroom by filling up the sink. After chores, everyone got situated with some work.
Then Pip and Chipmunk started throwing crayons at each other and were banished to the backyard again. I had Katydid show Farmerboy how to use the Flashmaster to practice math facts and brought out the metal (mine are plastic) insets for Pop to help his fine motor skills. Katydid said, "I love these things," and started on her own inset, and so I left the three of them at the table, drawing, and went outside with Pip and Chipmunk and nursed the baby and reviewed some phonics with Pip. When Farmerboy and Pop were done drawing, they came out and showed me their pictures (they drew paleontologists after finishing up the insets), and I gave Farmerboy a short reading lesson in Phonics Pathways and showed Pop how to use the Flashmaster.
And Daddy came home for lunch, mostly for moral support.
Our lunch lasts from 12ish to about 1:30. The kids usually ride their scooters and mess around out front on the driveway. Today they drew with sidewalk chalk. Gareth drew moas, which he learned about from his current science/geography read, The Future Eaters, and terror cranes, which I think he learned about by osmosis.
(We have an interesting driveway.)
(I also spent some time wondering if it would count as a narration.)
The twins began to act up again, which was how I knew it was quiet time. At around 1:30, I call everyone in to clean up lunch and then I read to everyone 7 and under. Farmerboy's "school" books which I've been reading at this time include Aesop's Fables for Children and Minn of the Mississippi , which he narrates. Or at least, which I am attempting to have him narrate. Narration is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Today, however, we just read from the stack of library books: Let's Count it Out, Jess Bear! for Chipmunk; Stars, Stars, Stars for the other boys; Mystery Vine: A Pumpkin Surprise because I felt like we ought to be reading some kind of seasonal book. I'm not sure if the boys enjoyed this one too much or not, but the projects in the back were somewhat interesting to them. We may be growing a sweet potato vine soon.
Pip had been informing me for a while that he was VERY TIRED, so I informed him that it would be best if he would take a nap on my bed and sent him off with a stack of castle books. He surprised me by actually going to sleep. Chipmunk fought his nap tooth and nail for about an hour before he finally succumbed, and the baby (I can't call him Leo, so maybe I will call him "Tank" instead? "Future NFL Linebacker" perhaps?) fussed for a while, too, but finally he also went to sleep and I moved on to helping Gareth with algebra (Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra, which we're using with Fred's Home Companion) and Latin (First Form Latin), both of which have been nudging me in a little over my head. My problem with algebra is that the Fred books really make you think, which is good, but which I was not taught how to do, and my problem with Latin is that I haven't been keeping up with the kids, so they're now ahead of me. But with the help of the workbook answer key and the textbook we are able to come to some understanding of the diagramming in lesson XI. While he was waiting on me to put the little ones down, he read The Future Eaters, but we still have to have a little discussion about time spent and amount of work accomplished. He therefore pulls out The Grammar of Poetry, which he is enjoying much more than I thought he would, completes a lesson on puns, and calls it a day at about 4:30.
Meanwhile, Katydid works on a grammar lesson from Our Mother Tongue, reads Sun Slower, Sun Faster (an historical novel of Church history), Greek Myths, by Olivia Coolidge, and works on Editor in Chief, which she is not assigned, but which she enjoys doing anyway. I'm not sure if she did Latin or not while I was busy with the little ones, but usually this is time for Latin.
Around 3:30, I call Farmerboy down from listening to Harry Potter on audio for the 478th time so he can do his copywork. He's using Copybook 1 from Memoria Press, because it's easier for me to have it all laid out.
At 4:00 it's computer time and I make dinner. Chicken Cacciatore tonight, with spaghetti squash (which 5 of 6 kids think is "okay".)
After dinner (about 5:45/6:00 ish tonight, which is a bit early for us), Andy takes Gareth outside to go through his Boy Scout Automotive Maintenance merit badge book with him. Katydid and Farmerboy tag along, and the little boys ride scooters and bikes and pretend to shoot lasers. It gets dark and we look at the moon and identify Venus and count airplanes. Then it's inside for chores and pajamas and Andy reading Mattimeo at bedtime and me nursing the Future NFL Linebacker to sleep and it all begins again in the morning.
Outside my window: Sunrise. I'm facing west and looking at the trees in my pasture, the small sycamore in the "back yard" area, the floodlight pole. The windows on the back of the house are of the 1980 variety of just not quite big enough. I miss my big dining room picture window. In fact, I miss quite a few things about my old house, but at least this house does not make me wheeze. Being able to breathe trumps picture windows.
Weather for today: Ridiculously warm and sunny. Back into the upper 80's and low 90's again. Temperatures dropped down into the upper 60's this past weekend. We saw people wearing toboggans and laughed. The weather has been a little beautiful, though... the land is parched and so in need of rain. Leaves and grass crunch underfoot. It looks like they are trying to predict a "few showers" for Gareth's birthday next week, so we can hope!
In my yard: The beginnings of a potager ... some unidentified red flowers (from bulbs) that have pushed up through the soil in Azaela Garden ... pecans and persimmons falling... a mockingbird that sits in the magnolia tree in the paddock and sings to us in the morning.
In my kitchen: Oh my, the kitchen. Where do I start? The kitchen has been my focus in one way or another since we've been here. First it was just trying to set things up so we could eat decent food instead of the fast food and convenience food we'd been eating since June. It felt good to cook fresh hulled black-eyed peas bought at a local farm stand on rice, even if most of my kids turned up their noses and only ate the bacon and rice. It felt good to find a farmer's market and eggplant and tomatoes and make ratatouille. It felt good to discover that Hot Chow Chow is one of the more addictive foods on the planet, and a little mournful to realize that the lady you bought it from had just sold out her stock. Cooking, though, has also become a little bit of something else for me in the time that we've been here. It's the one thing I can almost sometimes control.
Here is where I have to begin again, and it won't be anything about the kitchen, except that it all links up in the end. This is where I have to write down what has been ordering our lives -- or disordering them -- for the past two months, and it's not boxes. On the day before we arrived in town, my father-in-law had a heart attack. He did not go to the emergency room. He drove to meet us at our new home the next day to give us the keys. It was 103 degrees and about as humid as a steam room. Andy's mom said that he was having chest pain and his shoulders hurt so he would not be wandering around our new house with us but sitting somewhere in the air conditioning. That Monday, he went to the doctor and discovered he'd had a heart attack.
Then began a month of tests, culminating in bypass surgery, 9 days in the hospital, a few days at home, then 4 more days in the hospital, and -- thank God -- now he seems to be recovering. Andy has spent a lot of time with his dad. I have spent a lot of time taking care of kids late at night. And feeding them. And trying to feed Andy, when he's here. And sometimes making food for my inlaws. And talking to Andy about diet. And reading about food. And thinking about food.
It's situations like this that make it clear how important the cook's role is in a family. My husband (to some extent) and kids don't choose what they eat too much. They depend on what I cook, what I buy. Am I feeding them the right things? Or is what I'm cooking going to contribute to heart disease down the road, to 13 days in the hospital and many weeks of recovery at home?
All my reading has convinced me that real food, real meat, real fat is best. I feel better when I eat it. My husband feels better. My kids calm down. (Give them a slice of commercial birthday cake and watch them zoom into the upper stratosphere.)
But it's hard to ignore all the conventional, "expert" advice about saturated fat. Hard to believe that all the experts are wrong in their touting of a low-fat diet, high carbohydrate diet, but then again, I do a lot of head scratching when I look at the data and wonder why all the "experts" seem to be ignoring it, too. Gosh, it feels like deciding to homeschool all over again.
It leads to a lot of frustration at the grocery store. We're trying to make two house payments right now (and don't even get me started on the situation with the other house). We have some padding in the form of a savings account, but we want to keep the padding, so we're trying to be very frugal. But how frugal do you get when it comes to food? (I've been reading all the saving-money-on-groceries blogs, which usually just make me feel inadequate in completely new ways.) Do you buy the cheap milk that says it contains skim milk even though it's sold as "whole milk"? That has to mean it contains powdered milk. So -- no -- I go out of my way to find better milk. (Note I'm not talking raw milk here or even organic milk, just milk that doesn't have "skim milk" or hormones added to it and isn't ultra-pasteurized.) Do you buy the $.49/lb chicken leg quarters in the 10 lb bag? I tried. I couldn't. They looked horrible. Maybe I'll buy the $1.78/lb chicken breasts, although I stand there at the meat cases and think about conditions on industrial farms and food-borne diseases. When we first moved in, we bought some "all natural" hamburger -- not grass-fed, but we had to eat. The fat that came off that meat turned into an orange sludge. Now I am never tempted to buy cheap hamburger. I often wonder if we shouldn't just be vegetarian for a while, but then I'm nursing a 3 1/2 month old linebacker and there are times when I really crave meat.
Fortunately we have found a nearby farm that sells grass-fed beef and lamb and pastured pork by the quarter, side, and whole. If we can make it to January, we'll have some decent meat in the freezer for less than the price per pound of Whole Foods' grass-fed hamburger (including cuts like Porterhouse steak and all sorts of roasts.) The moral of this story is: support your local farmers!
Coaxing order from chaos: Moving on... down from the soapbox... after a bit of a down point this week as I sniffled through a cold and we had to run Gareth to urgent care and I contemplated all the business trips Andy has planned... I've concluded that the best way for me to cope with the house at this point is to close the remaining book boxes and move them back into the garage. We had to leave our two biggest bookcases in New York because nobody could figure out how to get them out of the hallway. (They were moved into that hallway, but neither I nor Andy could remember exactly how.) We were already pressed for shelf space, although I donated boxes and boxes of books before we left (including a few books I now wish I'd kept!) So now I'm being even more ruthless and donating more boxes. Hopefully at some point we will become proud owners of some new Ikea bookcases.
Are they learning anything?: Well, gee, I hope so. I've been a little frustrated at my inability to keep the little boys to a decent schedule, but then I remind myself that I have a 3 month old baby. He sleeps at night pretty well and with all the other stuff that's been going on, sometimes I forget how little he is. But even happy, peaceful, good-sleeping babies need to be held and nursed and walked and played with and enjoyed. So at those moments when I am frustrated that I am not accomplishing enough, I stop and take a deep breath and remind myself to be patient. We've been saying our prayers every day, and the big kids are reasonably independent with their baskets and shelves of books. For the twins and Farmerboy, I am focusing on reading lessons out of Phonics Pathways. If I pray with them and work on reading, I know I've done the most important things.
We have managed to set up some rudimentary art shelves. The kids were happy to find the watercolors.
A few weeks ago we attended the Hummingbird Migration Celebration at the Strawberry Plains Audobon Center. Considering the hype surrounding this festival, we had high hopes. Unfortunately, we ended up disappointed and somewhat wiser: there were too many people at the festival to actually be able to see birds. Next year, we'll avoid the festival and drive down on a weekday to watch the hummingbird migration sans hoopla.
It also rained -- poured -- which meant that people crowded into the few tents, with little respect for those who hadn't seen birds or for four year olds. If we were disappointed by crowds and expense and the woman at the gate who refused to give us the 12 seater van discount because we weren't a "group"... Katydid was very, very frustrated. She got to see exactly one hummingbird -- a male ruby-throated that was being banded.
Tiny birds -- the bands are so small I'm not sure how he was able to manuever them so well.
One surprise of the day: we got to see a Mississippi Kite up close.
But most of us felt like this by the end of the day.
What you can do when have 10,000 boxes to play with...
(Inspired by Creating Clever Castles and Cars: From Boxes and Other Stuff )