Monday, June 30

Another Day of Moving Forward

When I look out the kitchen windows now, there are handrails peeking above the sills. They make me smile. Zorak got his quotes for deck boards this weekend, too. It's coming together!

The boys found blackberries down by the barn! They're overjoyed. Yep, it's the blackberries we spent three days ripping out last spring. You know, so we could plant... blackberries. (I've never claimed we were farmers, here, folks! As a matter of fact, I do believe I've been completely upfront about the fact that I do not come from hearty farmer stock.) In my defense, we were going to put in thornless berries, and these have thorns. The boys, however, simply do not care. Zorak and I sat on the porch (under the ceiling fan), watching the boys scamper toward the barn, and we both said, "This is why we bought this place!" Good, good stuff.

We went to church today. Made it to the 8:15 service ON TIME. And everybody was dressed. And clean. No, I have no idea how this happened. This is an LCMS church, so it's close to the PCA. Close enough, at this point. They have three services from which to choose, so we opted for the traditional service. Even going the trad-route, it's just a wee bit slick and shiny, but the children all felt at home immediately. Smidge, our church-barometer, asked, as we walked to the car afterword, "Can we make this the church we go to every Sunday?" He has never said that about any church other than the one we have membership at. Zorak and I were both bowled over. Normally, he asks when we can go back to "our church". Sometimes he cries. So, this enthusiasm was huge. Zorak had no major qualms with it, other than the slickness of the presentation. (It's not like the BigShinyChurch we visited last year. This is more the way you can spot someone from Dallas vs. any other town in Texas. There's a slick veneer, a polish to their mannerisms and carriage that's very definitive. But, um, unless you know about the Dallas Effect, this makes no sense at all.) So, in all, it was good.

And now, we begin again with a new week. My Rainbow order is IN Huntsville! *squeal like a leetle guuurl* No clue on my Logos order. I received an order confirmation, but when I login and try to check the status, nothing appears. I'll wait the recommended waiting time before I call and pester them about it. This is a busy time of year for curriculum vendors. Remind me this week to post John and Smidge's year plans, too. (That way I can find them in November, when I can't remember what we were going to do next!)

Kiss those babies!

Friday, June 27

Go, Team Zorak!

Well, the baby survived. James got to feed him, which he thought was Very Cool, Indeed. The kids helped Zorak with Jase and then they worked in the garden and let me stay inside to recover. It was nice to know that all went well while I was away. I love my family - they pull together to beautifully when they're needed.

The dentist visit also went well. He laughed at me for falling asleep. Repeatedly. Yeah, that's weird. I can say that facing your fears through submersion is pretty effective. Ten years ago, I had to blink back tears the minute my butt hit the chair. Now, particularly after the umpteen thousand hours I've spent under that x-files style lighting (what's up with that, anyway?) the last three years, it doesn't phase me a bit. I've got to go in for a root canal either Monday or Tuesday - and then back on Wednesday to cement the two crowns they did today, prep for the root canal crown, and prep on another crown on the other side. I think there's one more visit after that, and then we'll have to make some big decisions on where to go from there. I'm seriously going to have to download the Bionic Woman soundtrack for the drive! (At the very least, that cool running noise she made - remember that?) Oh, and the opening bars of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack. What a way to get psyched up for an appointment!

The boys are now all begging to go see their dentist. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I'll run with it. It's time for their checkups, anyway.

The big-big news, though, is that there's a box winging it's way to us from Rainbow Resource this week, and another one from Logos School, too! So. Stoked about that! Oh, yeah... stuff to do while we hide from the summer heat!

Finished Midshipman Hornblower, and am about halfway through Lieutenant Hornblower. What fun! I love to go to sea. I can hardly wait for James to pick up these books. I need a reading buddy. :-) But I'm not going to rush him - this is all going way too quickly, as it is.

Kiss those babies!


Off to the dentist again in a few minutes. This is going to be another four-hour visit. Three crowns. I swear, by the time I'm done, I'll have the Bionic Mouth.

**girls stuff, skip if squeamish**

I tried expressing for Jase, but as it turns out, he decided he'd like to have a growth spurt this week. So, the well isn't exactly overflowing right now. *sigh* You'd think on my fifth child, I would have those time periods permanently etched in my brain and think to say, "OH, not that week, please" when scheduling appointments. But, no. I'm not that bright.

Hopefully, there's enough to tide him over. Now I'm just praying his recent nurse-a-thon sit-in doesn't yield results while I'm propped up in the dentist's chair!

**end girl stuff, read on without fear**

Love the compressed work schedule, though. Zorak is home today, so we didn't have to bribe someone to watch four big kids and a potentially irate infant. That's always nice.

I'm taking my Hornblower books (Midshipman Hornblower, Lt. Hornblower, and whatever comes after that one), so maybe I'll get a little reading time? There's a silver lining, even if you have to pencil it in, yourself.

Kiss those babies!

Thursday, June 26

Oh, Good Heck

Like we don't have enough of a challenge getting organized, now we have to figure this out?

So, the boys are in Cub Scouts. They love it. They love the kids, the handbooks, the projects. They love the outings and the ceremonies. They love that they get a night out with Zorak. Smidge is DYING to be able to join, too. (Last week, he asked Zorak, "Can I go to Scouts?" Before Zorak could answer, he put his hands out in a negotiating type gesture and added, "I just want to watch." How could Zorak resist that much cuteness?) In general, I've been pleasantly surprised with the experience so far.


These leaders are going to be the reason I arrive at the Pearly Gates two or three years earlier than I'd originally been scheduled.

I can sign off in John's handbook, since he's just a Bear. But he has to bring his projects in to show the Scoutmaster. OK, that's fine. We put them by the front door, and he remembers to take them. Every week. And not once has there been any time set aside for the Scoutmaster to take a look at them and okay the whateveritis. Tried going early. Tried staying late. No dice. His Alabama state flag poster has been loitering and hitching rides for a month and a half now, and it's lookin' just a tad less impressive than it did when it was flat. And clean. *snarl* John missed out on getting his Wolf badge, not because he didn't complete the work, but because there was never a point at which the Scoutmaster was available to do whatever he needed to do to get it recorded by the deadline. I don't think John has realized this, yet, but he's going to be quite disappointed. And to be honest, I'm a little torqued. The kid knew he'd come into Scouting late in the year, and he chose to work his wee tail off, all on his own, in order to do double time and get caught up. How is this workin' for him?

And then, there's James. Webelos have to have their Den Master sign off on their things because they are growing up, preparing to be Boy Scouts, and they need to rely less on their parents and more on themselves. Sounds fantastic. In theory. The reality is that there is no time for his Den Master to keep up with a child like James. He's had all the requirements for his engineering badge completed for two months, now. But he doesn't have the badge because the Den Master wants to see the bridges and the pulleys before he'll sign off on them... and, you guessed it, he never gets around to doing it before or after meetings. I've got to give James credit - he does try. But he's not going to get in an adult's face and demand attention when he has already requested the adult's attention and the adult is busy doing something (like, oh, say, rein in a disruptive child, or talk with another adult, or... oh, wait, HE LEFT, AGAIN.) But the guy has no problem sending out a mass email "reminding" parents that they are not to sign off on their Webelos' projects anymore!

And... that was when my blood pressure started to eke up a bit. I have to let Zorak handle this. I really have to, because this is simply maddening. If you're going to insist on guidelines like this, then you simply must also accomodate the meeting of said guidelines. I don't see any way around it, and this current method is making. me. nuts. I'm already post-partum. They SO don't want to see me go all PPD on them at a meeting over this. Yeah. So, I am trying to stay out of it. But I'm such a control freak, particularly when it pertains to my children. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I'm working behind the scenes to find a way to allow the boys to succeed without having to drag my hormonal, irritated, pimply/yet dry (what's up with that, anyway?) self down there for a hashing out session. So, here is The Plan:

1. Stay calm. Stay rational. (Mostly, this involves discussing it with Zorak after the boys have gone to bed. At least this way, they think I'm calm and rational, since I am in the morning after griping, erm, brainstorming with Zorak all night.)

2. I've asked Zorak to email (with cc to me) the Pubah's and ask for clarification and protocol dileantion, as well as what our role in supporting them might be, so that this does not continue to happen. (In other words - we get that you're busy, but this isn't working. How can we help make it better?)

3. Photographs! From now on, I will be photographing the projects that the boys complete on their own. They can type up the documentation. I'll put it together in a nifty two-to-four page spread, print it out, and they can just hand it over. Voila! Project, proof, and woudja-sign-here, please! Also, much easier than transporting blocks and tackles and poster collages that won't make it to the Pubah at any point, anyway.

4. Rum. We're almost out. Not a huge investment, seeing as this last bottle lasted six+ years. No bets on how long the new one will hold out, though.

5. Tally this whole process up under "Life Lessons". This is good training for serving in the military. You have to keep your own copies of your records, or you'll end up getting vaccinated for Measles and Yellow Fever three or four times. Not to mention, you'll never get a bene-sug for the contributions you've made unless you provide thorough documentation.

So, we're good to go. But it's still a bit irritating. Thanks for letting me let off a little steam. If you've been there and have some tips that will help facilitate making this situation better without alienating the boys from their Scout/Den Masters, and without making their jobs harder (I do get that they are volunteers, and they are busy - totally get that, which is why I want to help and not just harrass), I'd love to hear it. Thanks! :-)

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, June 25

This is just gross. (What is it?)

*Edited: These are soldier fly larva! Common in compost. Beneficial to your compost - I actually found sites that SELL these things. That makes me shudder just to type, but, uh, hey, if you want to place an order... Anyway, they eat houseflies. No harm to humans - don't bite, don't sting. Just heinously ugly. Yay. Yay. Yay.*

We get that it's some kind of grub. Something immature and... nasty. (Go, naturegirl!) But I've never seen anything like this before in my life. John found them. He came in, wanting to know what the worm-like things are in our garden. (Um... worms?) No, they're not worms, Mom, come see. (Um, no. I'm going to go with "worms", thanks. It's hot out there. And I have a book. They're worms. It's a compost bin. It's all good.)

Not to be deterred, John went out with the camera. He brought me the first shot. Too blurry to see anything. (OK, they're Loch Ness Worms. Go. Away. I'm reading.) He went back out, fiddled with his settings and tried again. Meanwhile, I moved to another room, thinking he wouldn't find me. He found me. (Oh. My. God. What are they?!?) Yeah, I know, Mom! Come look! (OK, let's go check them out.)

Feel free to click on that and see how many you can find. I'll wait.

So, anyway, back to the story... Riiiight. Like I'm going to be able to offer more input after having seen them up close? Shyah. No. But I can give you more information. They're up to an inch long. They aren't cylindrical, like earthworms. They're somewhat flattened, flexible in all directions, but moreso front to back (I'm guessing on directions, here) - the sides seem a little siff and ridge-like. They have banding from stem to stern. I think I saw something like them in The Deer Hunter. Or on one entry of Steve, Don't Eat It!

Anyway, they're in our compost bin. There are thousands of them (possibly tens of thousands). We turned the compost after taking this video, and their movement made an avalanche. Fascinating, yes. But still... what is it???

We had to take the video because the still shots just weren't capture the "ewww" - the "holy crap, the whole ground is moving!" of it. We knew you'd be glad we thought of you.

Just tell me they're good for compost. Tell me they won't escape and invade my home when they reach maturity. Or, shoot me straight and tell me I need to have Zorak pick up a little napalm on the way home this afternoon.

Kiss those babies!


Things that make us smile.

I think this summer we will finally put some photographs on the walls. However, I've rummaged through the ones we have framed and stored, and you know, I just don't think many of the old Sears or Olan Mills or Target photos are going to make the cut. Aside from the fact that we've had a few children since the last one was taken, there's also that they aren't "us". They barely look like us, other than my trademark fang-bearing snarl. (Always a indicative that I've tried to hold a smile for any length of time. Lovely legacy, that. *snort*)

But also, I think we take more fun photographs. Lighthearted, reflective, intuitive. Nobody we can afford can capture Our Home the way we can. Now, don't go thinking I'm getting all uppity about my mad photography skills. 90% of what I take is crap. But there are some differences that lead me, in my more sleep-deprived moments, to believe we could create some lovely artwork for the walls with the genetic experiments we have on hand (namely that I'm not limited by a time slot, and I'm free to capture things the way they are everyday, which they most definitely are not when we're in a studio.)

So, I've decided to get a little out-there and round up some of our favorite shots, mix 'em up in black and white (the ultimate skin tone modifier!) and have some fun with it. Enough of this standard, utilitarian, pre-packaged decor.

We need framed 5x7's like this one, don't you think? (Well, perhaps not this one - it's grainy - I cannot, for the life of me, figure out the right settings for indoor shots with this camera. But you get the idea.)
So, that's my Fun Project for the summer. Perhaps it'll keep me so busy I won't be whining about the hot 'n sticky aspect of it? Maybe. Probably not. But fortunately, I can multitask!
Want to share your favorite photographs? I'd love to see them!
Kiss those babies!

Sunday, June 22

And now we are eight...

I wish A.A. Milne had written a book for every year.
John is now eight. He wanted to go bowling, and so, we did. (Smidge looks sad because it's over, but don't let the expression fool you; they all had a fantastic time.) The boys wore their Official Party Gear: wild print, button-up, short-sleeved shirts.

Also affectionately known around our house as "BBQ Shirts", due to the fact that they're worn to any gathering at which there is food. (The prints hide stains beautifully, by the way.)

For his birthday gift, he wanted one thing, and one thing, only:
A Daisy Red Ryder, lever action BB gun.
(Two things. He also wanted BBs.)
He swore he wouldn't shoot his eye out.
This is our little Jeremiah Johnson, our little Lucas McCain. He had the manual out and read, cover-to-cover, before I could get the waffles made. We knew the wait between getting his present in the morning and waiting for Dad to get off work to shoot it would make the day miserably long, so we took it with us into town and after bowling and lunch, we hit the range. As you can see, here, even a low-flying military helicopter (which had Smidge entranced) couldn't distract him from the task at hand. Not even for a second.
Since Friday evening, he's been down by the balcony, working his own homemade range. Almost 2000 BBs have winged their way into the target. Zorak just told me John got a blister on his hand from working the lever. This is one contented, happy little marksman. And he's growing up into a fine young man, indeed.
Happiest of Birthdays, Sweet John! We love you, and are so proud of you.
Kiss those babies!

5th Grade, The Plan

... because he's all about the planning!

Math: Math-U-See Epsilon/Zeta He's incredibly familiar with all the topics in these two books, so we plan to complete them this year and add enrichment material to go deeper, instead of moving straight into pre-algebra. (Plus Murderous Maths, just for fun - the boys thought they looked like a blast. Yeah, we're geeks.)

Latin: Latin Prep Book 1 - I know, I know! Don't mock me. We still love Latin for Children, but I don't know if we love it $140 worth of love. That's a lot of books we'll never own, when I could just hand him my Henle and Vulgata and turn him loose. So, shush. We'll give this a shot and see how it goes. I plan to order both the Latin and the Murderous Maths from Ray. Heard good things about doin' business with Ray.

Writing: We're cranking things up a bit with writing this year. He will either excel beautifully or beg for death. Possibly even both. In the end, though, it's all good.

Imitation in Writing - Aesop He tried the samples of IW-Aesop and loved them. The plan is to use Imitation in Writing until he's ready for Classical Writing.
Italic Handwriting, Book F I went with Italic handwriting because unless this child becomes a doctor, his current handwriting is going to hinder any hope of future employment. HWT has scads of room for flair, but it wasn't cutting it for legibility.
Spelling Workout E Aaaaand... I think I may have ordered the wrong spelling book. Just dawned on me while I was looking for links. So, um, anyone want to chime in on Spelling Workout 2001, vs. MCP? Anyone? Anyone? I don't know. He's a natural speller, anyway. This is just my neurosis kicking in. Plus, the kid lives for workbooks, and we just don't use them, really. Maybe he won't notice he's writing? And perhaps I won't care that I bought the wrong edition? You never know how things will turn out.

Reading: I don't have an official list together yet. He wants to work his way through the Chronicles of Narnia again. I have some ideas, some biographies, some historical fiction, some techie type stuff lined up. I think this will be a good year for reading, really. This is one area for which I don't need to plan too terribly much, as he's always on the lookout for a good book.

History: Story of the World, Vol. 3, with additional readings and encyclopedia work. A little outlining here and there. Good stuff. We'll start up... um, right after we finish up the Middle Ages...

Music: we'll be breaking this up into two segments
Theory: Meet the Great Composers
Practical: Regular piano lessons will continue. He's moving along nicely, and loves it. His teacher uses Alfred's books (method? something of Alfred's, anyway) and was explaining that if she'd known he would do as he's doing, she'd have started him at level 1 to begin with, rather than the prep books. So he's gone through three books since he started in March and she did go ahead and jump him ahead. He loves this stuff. Part of me wishes we'd started earlier, but another part really feels he's getting so much out of it because we waited. Don't even get me started on how that can be extrapolated out into other areas of learning. Not. Going. To. Go there, thanks.

Art: Artistic Pursuits I think I can, I think I can, I think... I think someone else really needs to offer a co-op for this one, to be perfectly honest. Until then, this is what we'll be doing.

Greek: easy, gentle intro with Hey, Andrew! and some kind of pronunciation CD I picked up at Rainbow Resource - no clue what it is, and it's too late to look it up now. However, we're on our way.

Kids Catechism, Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ for Kids, and interspersed work from Doorposts, Keys for Kids Daily Devotionals, and maybe-hopefully-sure-would-be-great-if... we could get some PCA action down here in Morgan County. We'll see. Not a high-need area for ministry, I suppose. So, we're still pretty much on our own, as far as that goes. But that's okay. We can hang for a while.

As you can see, there is one glaringly obvious piece lacking... no science. I mean, we'll DO science, it's just that I haven't picked a curriculum yet. I have no idea what I want for this year. Biology, per the WTM sounds good, but nothing has grabbed me and said, "USE MEEEEEE" yet, and that's really what I was hoping for this year. We do need a good microscope, and heaven knows we have plenty of things to look at under it. But I still need a good spine.

And so, there you have it - fifth grade, in a nutshell. Probably a fairly sketchy nutshell. I'll edit in the morning. :-) If it looks like I've missed something, let me know, please. The last thing I want to do is tell him at the end of the term that we've got to do a two-month intensive on underwater basketweaving, or some other important skill, because I forgot to schedule it in!

Kiss those babies!

Friday, June 20

Warts and All

You know how, once in a while you come across someone you just adore, and you hit it off, and even when you don't agree, it's all good...

but still, you think maybe they'd not take kindly to the vice (or two...) you happen to have in the closet...

and then they find out, and they don't care, and you could just send them a Gorilla-Gram or an Amish stripper. Or, something.

But you don't because now you *really* want to remain friends?

Yeah. I love it when that happens.

On the other tidbits around here:
* We were on time to piano for the third week running! WOOT! Granted, we shaved it close enough that I had to slow down and shove the kids out, paratrooper style, so they could run in while I found a place to park. So, we don't quite rock, but hey, we aren't horribly pathetic anymore, either. Yay, us! (And I'm kidding. I came to a full stop. And they jump out on their own. I don't have to push 'em anymore.)
* Didn't get the garden mulched. The rootbound plants are going to die a lingering death. Perhaps we can rectify that tomorrow. Or simply prolong the death. We'll play it by ear.
* Glad to know the snake wasn't poisonous. Kinda bummed that we've been so hard on the non-poisonous snake population in Northern Alabama. But then, again, that's because we haven't yet been accosted by the poisonous ones, and for that, I'm doubly glad.
* What eats poisonous snakes? Whatever it is, I want to raise that. (I've heard a hog will eat snakes - truth? hoax? Someone who just thinks it'd be funny to watch me try to raise hogs?)
* Having a hard time finding that magic frequency 9yo boys can hear and comprehend. He's a good boy. Heart of gold. Extends compassion and aid to those in need. Wonderful, wonderful child in so many ways. However, I seem to speak in a tone that falls somewhere between "can't make out a word you're saying, Mom, so I'll go about my merry way and do what I want" and "yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't have an excuse. Or a reason. But ya know, as bad as I feel right now, I'm probably going to blow you off again in the next five minutes, anyway." I won't quit trying, but so help me, if his internal receiver switches frequencies again when he turns ten, I may take up tweezing my leg hairs in order to find a non-destructive outlet for my frustration.
* When did Smidge quit being a Smidge? He's really growing up fast, guys. Wow.
* EmBaby has barrettes now. We're hoping they'll stay in longer than clippies. So far, the only way I've found to keep her hair out of her face is to brush it straight back after her bath and then hairspray it into place. Helmet head isn't attractive on anyone, not even a 2yo. So, I'm putting a lot of hope into these barrettes.
* And did you know that the active ingredient in "After Bite" (which looks like the latest version of "Sting-EZ") is ammonia? AND that it works!?! I guess there's some truth to the whole backcountry hiking tip to urinate on a bite/sting. However, we'll just buy extra tubes of After Bite and call it good, I think.

OK, way past my bedtime. Busy day tomorrow! Kiss those babies, of all ages. Even the big ones need it -- sometimes more! ;-)

Thursday, June 19

This is why I'm not a master gardener.

We picked up some free plants from the feed store Tuesday. (Yes, the fact that we're waiting until the little seedlings are rootbound and free until we get them probably contributes to the reason I'm not a master gardener. But that's not the point.) So, we weeded the raised beds in the upper meadow, and then I began to turn them so that we could add compost and get the little plants put into the ground.

But when I took my shovel to one of the beds, I couldn't raise it. What in the world? When did I become the 98-pound weakling? Erngh. Huhhhhnh. I finally got the shovel to lift up out of the ground, only to find this...
Well, it didn't look like that when it first came out. I could swear to you it was three times bigger and had glowing red eyes. I'm pretty sure I heard it whisper, "I am here for your soul." So, I did what anyone would do when something announces it's here for your soul. I bashed it in the head with the shovel. Or, I meant to bash it in the head, but I have no depth perception, so I kinda got everything but the head. At which point I called for Daddy to come save me. He came running up the hill, took in the scene, chuckled, and said it didn't look like I needed saving. (But I still felt better that he was there.)

Anyone know what this thing is? Is it a good witch, or a bad witch? Here's the belly. I've tried googling it. Got hits on some fantastic tattoo designs, but nothing on what to call this thing.

So, anyway, I called it a day after that, and we'll have to put the tomatoes in later, after I've had a beer or two. (*snort* Like that's going to help with my aim, right?)

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, June 18

Feral Flora

We have a jungle out there.
Ivies (both decorative and nasty), oaks, fruits, ferns, saplings...
stuff we have no clue what to call...
but do you see it?

Right... there. Yes, that's berries.
Feral berries, right smack in the middle of the jungle.

And not just a random one or two, either. The forest floor is full of them!

I don't know if they'll make it to maturity, but if they do, we're going berry picking later this summer. That's just too exciting to pass up! And I'm out of jam, too!

Kiss those babies!
(I apologize for the fuzzy shots - I had Jase in the sling, and he was not terribly thrilled with the fauna in the woods... darned skeeters.)

Tuesday, June 17

Mom! Come look at Jason!

I heard the cry emanate from the front porch. Smidge sounded so serious. So I ran up the sidewalk, wondering what on earth had happened. I reached the stop of the hill. Panting, I ask Smidge, "What? What is it? What about Jason?"

Smidge smiles, and says, "He's so cute! Come look!"

Ahhhh. Yes. He is cute. And patient, too.

It's good to be loved.
Kiss those babies!

Sunday, June 15

Before and After

(Edited to add: photo glitches have been fixed!)
Main shots, Balcony O' Death...

After the destruction...

As of this evening...

The nasty, gaping holes have been filled. The balcony is taking shape...

I've posted three separate posts in order to accomodate Blogger's cap on uploading images per post, so if you'd like to see more, scroll down. The previous two posts have all the fun details for ya!
Kiss those babies!

Balcony O' Death: Reconstruction

Here, you can see John starting to work on the stairs beneath the door that's been wired shut ever since we quit throwing old cabinetry out of it. The bricks that have already come off are now backfill for the driveway. The rest will come off shortly, and will probably be... backfill... for the rest of the driveway. (It's a long driveway.)

And here is the main framing for the deck that will allow us to unwire the door of death. It will be the door of death no more. Yay!

You can see here how this deck wraps around toward the front, as an extension of the balcony o' not death (still working on a new name for it).

Below, we have piers, glorious piers!

And here, we have glorious piers holding glorious posts. (And, by the way, we are a notoriously messy construction crew. We'll clean up when we're done. Or when we can't find our tools anymore. Please excuse the mess.)


Details and Tidbits

OK, this is the fun stuff. Kind of. Mostly just fun for us, but you get to watch. Think of it as our version of a vacation slideshow.

This is a close-up of one of the concrete piers. Zorak made the forms. The boys mixed the concrete (about three tons of gravel, two tons of sand, and a whole lot of portland cement - 3-2-1, scoop-and-mix!) Smidge did the tapping. Fun for the whole family! We like the octagonal shape - the corners aren't as likely to chip, and they look really cool when you stand back and take in the whole thing. We didn't use round forms because one day we plan to put in a rock knee wall beneath the balcony to create a sun-room off the basement. The wide, flat sides of this design give us a surface against which to build the wall. (They're the same width as concrete blocks.)

Here you see a regular, plain old ledger board bolted to the house (all the way through to the interior of the basement, not just into the bricks - we've seen pictures of how that goes, and it does not go well. So, nice and secure. Yay.) The beam leaning against the wall shows the jointing (made that word up - expect to hear it in construction circles next season - we're cool that way) for the balcony. Stay with me, it'll make sense in a minute.

Close-up of the notches for the beams, boards, and other woody stuffs. These serve to provide additional strength and support to reduce the risk of hard failure (screws shearing off, nails pulling out, and other nasty gravitationally instigated mishaps). Kinda looks like Lincoln Logs meets Jenga, doesn't it? Zorak had way too much fun with this, I can tell you that.
And this is how it all goes together. Zorak is hanging one part of the cantilever beam on the outside notch of the picture you just saw (another board goes on the inside, and then there is a board between the two, so the cantilever beam is three layers thick). You can see on the right hand side, at the corner of the house, where the first notched beam is now bolted to the ledger board, and how the ledger board sits inside the notch, on a ledge of its own. It's a sort of ledge-within-a-ledge schematic. All of the posts along the wall are secured to the concrete piers with base posts, to the house with anchor bolts, and to the ledger (which is also secured to the house). A tornado may take down the house, but this balcony and, the wall it's attatched to, will remain standing.
How do you move a 9' tall 6x6 beam 1/8" to plumb? You break out the Animaniacs tools! This is actually the sledge-o-matic for squashing aluminum cans, but we found it works great for making minute adjustments to the beams without marring the surface. We call it the tweak-o-matic, now. Again, look for this term to surface among all the cool DIY-ers this season.

Friday, June 13

Need Your Best Stories!

OK, it's time to rally 'round a post-partum Mom, and I need you guys to help me. Hit me with your best post-partum, totally overwhelmed stories. The ones you can laugh about now, not the one that may have made you cry this morning. This is for a wonderful friend and mother who is currently having a post-partum ack-attack.

You know the feeling. You've spent the last two and a half months of your pregnancy thinking that as soon as you can eat more than a tablespoon of food without getting heartburn, as soon as your ankles no longer have the same girth as your thighs, as soon as you can roll over without needing the assistance of three acrobats and a crane, as soon as you can go two hours without needing to pee... as soon as you have. this. baby... life will get back to normal. It's an obsession like few others, and a pregnant woman begins to look toward That Day with the glow and expectancy normally reserved for... well, let's be honest, normally reserved for lunatics who await the return of the MotherShip. It's not rational, but in the third trimester, that doesn't matter.

Then the baby comes.

And the learning curve can seem just as steep as it did the first time.

And the baby seems to sleep only when you aren't needed by the other children, or by your partner, or by a jury selection team.

And you can't figure out why you feel so grimy, until you do the math and realize you haven't showered since Tuesday. Or shaved since that first glorious day you could reach your legs again.

And suddenly, it feels like your 24 hours in each day only have maybe 45 minutes in each one. Yet your to-do list has somehow quadrupled.

And that glorious return of the MotherShip seems to have only brought you more demands and less ability to fulfill them. And of course, there's no chocolate, or beer, or help.

Yeah. It's normal. But in the midst of it, you look around and feel like every other mother on the face of the planet has it totally together, didn't blink twice after having her umpteenth child, and would probably snort derisively, flick you in the back of the head and tell you to get it together if only she could see the paralysis taking over your brain.

Would you share your stories to help a Mom-in-Need today? C'mon, let's make her smile. Let's remind her (and maybe someone else who might read this and recognize herself in our stories) that she's not alone, it's not going to last forever, and it's all gonna be OK!

You can post your stories on your blog and put a link in the comments. Or, you can post your stories under the comments, here. It's all good. Just please share your stories with her.

I'll add mine tomorrow. Sometimes, it's difficult to articulate, and we do tend to be hard on ourselves when we can't just snap back into shape like Elasti-Girl and start living like Martha Stewart three weeks after giving birth. (Even if we didn't live like Martha, or have any elastic left *before* we got pregnant!) I've written about it a couple of times here, and here, and here, but in the spirit of full disclosure I'll add more.

Your turn!

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, June 11

A Day in Which...

We accomplish absolutely nothing!

That's on tomorrow's agenda. Today, we were up, dressed, fed, and out the door in time for baseball camp. We took both the recycling and the donations to their respective new homes, washed and vacuumed the Suburban, and brought ourselves back into the good graces of the little local library. We picked up John, hit the Fudge Shoppe (ran into someone we know! That feels SO good, after not having it for such a long time. *happy sigh*), and then ran into town.

I got my hair done. Slept through most of it. Nice Hair Lady let me nap, and when I apologized for my burgeoning narcolepsy, she said if she had that many kids, she'd pass out every time she stopped moving at all. Normally, I'd think that was a weird thing to say, but today I was just glad for the empathy. The nap and the dye job both did wonders for my overall outlook.

From there, we went up to Me-Wa and Me-Tae's place and stayed far later than we should. It was just so. incredibly. nice. It's hard to leave, and we all had a wonderful time kibbitzing and chatting and eating. Gotta love the eating. I need to get Me-Tae's pasta-shrimp-thingy recipe. It was way-nummy. The kids, of course, were on cloud nine to see Me-Wa and Me-Tae, to play in the yard, to love on the doggies, and to have *soda*!! The little boy from up the road came over and ran amok with our kids. He's such a great kid. We'd bring him home with us if we thought his mother wouldn't hold it against us. As it is, however, we're pretty sure that'd be a grudge-worthy adventure, so we'll just see if we can borrow him when we're in town.

Tomorrow, we sleep in, eat cold cereal for breakfast, do a few chores, and then veg like fresh produce for the rest of the day. I think we can do that without feeling the least bit guilty!

Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, June 10

Quick Pics

We did the weekend warrior thing on the balcony, but I haven't organized the pictures for that and haven't had my first cup of coffee yet, either. So, you get pictures of grass, kids, and the birdfeeder.

Do you think the squirrel guard wouldn't frighten the birds if we put a matte finish on it? They haven't eaten a thing out of it since we put that up. Of course, neither have the squirrels, but still... Anyway, it's inspired me to give the boys tin snips and ask them to make giant whirlygigs for the fruit trees. But we'd like to have them come back to the feeder, at least.

Ah, well, it's all good! Kiss those babies!

Friday, June 6

The End of Season Party

We made it. On time, even. Yay, us! The baseball cupcakes were a big hit.

Turns out, they don't photograph well. We ran out of red part of the way through decorating (I know, I know! I thought I had two tubes!), and had to hit three different stores to find more. What we found was a different brand, and had a softer, shinier texture to it. I don't like the way it makes the short stitches. But the kids didn't seem to mind, so that was nice.
In lieu of pouring something wet and sticky on the coach, the coach's wife bought silly string for the kids to douse him with. He took it with such good humor, and, as you can see, the kids absolutely loved it!
Jase hung out a little, passed a lot of gas, and then passed out cold for one of the moms on the team. He was so relaxed, and so deeply asleep, we began to wonder if he'd been drugged...

But, no. He awoke shortly and finished the afternoon playing peek-a-boo with the boys on the team. (Eight year old kids are so cool, you know that? Even they can't resist the lure of making a baby smile. Stuff like that rejuvenates my hope for mankind. It really does.)

And hey, the lumber for the balcony is *scheduled for delivery*!! Tomorrow! It's paid for. They know where we live, and what we need. Wee-ha, it's coming together!

Kiss those babies!

A Beautiful Blanket - and a Thank You!!

When LB came to visit, she brought a gift that she'd been teasing me with for a while. It is gorgeous. It's a joint project, done by two beautifully talented ladies: LB made the squares and the prairie points; Amy put the back and the trim on and then hand-stitched the whole thing.

Is that not just a gorgeous, gorgeous blanket? It's hard for me to use it. I want to hang it in the foyer. But LB said I had to actually use it or she'd take it back home. She said if I'd use it, and wash it, it would get softer. Being a bit tactile, anyway, that was all it took to talk me into it. We love this blanket. Normally, there's a Smidge on one side of JT and an EmBaby on the other, but I had to chase them off for this picture so that you could actually *see* the blanket, itself. :-)
Another belated, but very heartfelt THANK YOU!!!
Kiss those babies!


I tried the "schedule a post" thing - set it for last night at 7:45 - and as of this morning, it's not there. But now I can't get it to just post immediately, either.

Just when I think I'm catching on to this whole technology thing...

Kiss those babies!

*Nevermind, it posted, now. I wish I could say I knew how that happened.*

Thursday, June 5

Fifteen Minutes a Day

You really can do just about anything in fifteen minutes a day. John learned that this week.

The boys' piano teacher got into the habit of scrunching up her face when she talked about how "average" John is, only to absolutely explode with enthusiasm when she dove into how "exceptional" James is. Kinda-sorta irked me, to be honest. I don't claim to think the boys' gifts lie in the same areas (heaven above knows they usually don't even lie in the same general realm!) However, I do expect a child's instructor to be encouraging, kind in both word and attitude, and at least try not to pigeon-hole the children. So, I talked with her about it, and explained that I do not believe a child must be "gifted" to enjoy music, nor do I believe that a special talent for any particular skill necessitates a love-fest at the drop of a hat. I want both of the children to work hard, do their best, progress as well as they can. I want them to be able to be proud of their hard work and accomplishments, and I was worried that they might fall into the tendency to either think they can't do something, or that they don't need to work hard to do "well" (respectively for each child). She took it well. She quit with the face-scrunching.

Meanwhile, we kept practicing and learning and doing those things we do. Every morning, the boys start their day with piano and typing. Fifteen minutes is all I ask that they do, on each one. I set the timer, they work, timer dings, they switch. Easy as pre-made pie crust, for those of us pastry impaired. The piano is free for anybody to use at any other time during the day, but they're little and I figured the Zen-like "one arrow" approach to practice would best suit their current needs.

That was a month ago.

Today, their teacher just about beat John out of the room, and she was beaming. The first thing she said was, "This was a FANTASTIC lesson! He played so well!" He grinned from ear-to-ear. I think he actually blushed. That was so incredibly cool. He passed all the songs, and she assigned him eight new ones for next week. He's feeling pretty darned competent this evening.

After James' lesson, she was still beaming when they entered the lobby. I asked if he'd done his work (we have had questions about that this week, as everytime he's supposed to be practicing, he's making up songs or playing other things that aren't in his book). She said, "Oh, yeah. He's mastered things I haven't given him yet. This book is just too easy, so he'll get new books next week."

Yay. They're working, she's meeting their needs, and I don't have to deal with bad attitudes all the way around. I love it when it all comes together!

Kiss those babies!


You. Are. Getting. Dressed.

(child runs back down the hall for the fortieth time in ten minutes)

ACK. I realize I've left off a pertinent piece of direction, so, breaking several of my house rules, I yell (in the house) to someone (who is not in the room with me)...



No wonder they're confused. At least I didn't use a specific name, so there's hope that each one of them thought I was talking to him, specifically, and I won't have to repeat that last part.

Kiss those distracted, smelly babies.

A Quiet Thursday

I haven't been taking many pictures lately, at all. You're not missing much. We've all been so busy with domestic tasks, and shots of the kids picking up the living room, while perhaps inspiring, aren't that interesting. Or cute. Trust me. I liked this one, from Tuesday's game. Those little eyebrows are so expressive.

Today is a Quiet Thursday. The boys have piano, and that's it. That's all. Can you believe it? No games, no Scouts, no nuthin'. Sweet, sweet slow-down!

We have grass! Less than a week after we put the seed and mulch down, we have little plugs of grass sprouting up through the straw. I can't believe it survived the party. Very exciting. We've dubbed it the Chia Lawn.

We re-hung the birdfeeder after the squirrels chewed through the cord that held it up. Zorak and James made a very cool Squirrel Guard and installed that above the feeder to keep the squirrels out of it, but I think it's scaring the birds, too. They haven't come to it since we re-hung it.

Zorak said he thinks he's ready to schedule a lumber delivery for the balcony-that-may-one-day-be. He might. We may work on it this week. I don't know. I don't think I'm going to say anything certain until I see the wood being unloaded in the lower drive. After a while, one starts to doubt one's own sanity when going back and re-reading all the times one wrote, "This week we'll..." or "Today we're going to..." and realizing that one's prediction rate is a whopping 8%. OK, I'm assuming we all already knew I wasn't a prophet, right? So we're good on that one? Very well, then.

And that's about all the news that's fit to print this morning (I hate morning-blogging - my brain isn't up yet).
Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, June 3

At The End of the Day

The game tonight was a real nail biter. (Finger biter. Whatever works.)

The kids played hard, and they played well. In the end, they took second in the Eastern Division Regional Championship. That's a mouthful, isn't it? Can't complain. Not one bit. This was truly a season well-played, and that little medal was earned with a lot of hard work and team effort.
But this is why he'll be playing again in summer league, and again next year -- there are no sour grapes, no bad attitudes, and no losers on this team...
Well played, boys. Well played!
Kiss those babies!

Two Down...

Smidge's team finished tournament play yesterday. They ended the season undefeated, and then took the tournament in a wobbly, distracted, four-year-old sweep of some sort. I'm not sure how it happened. He is convinced the guy on top of the trophy is him, specifically. And, of course, they got nax, which he shared with his friend, Emma (another sideline sibling, whose brother is on John's team). He's already excited about next year, and machine pitch, and playing with his friends again.

James' team lost last night, which puts them third in the league tournament. That's not a bad showing for such a young team (meaning most of the players are first years in this league). We're mostly just relieved that the season is over. It was a good season and a good experience for him -- he had fantastic coaches, a good team, and wonderful opportunities. But he didn't get out of it all that he could -- namely because he didn't put into it all that he could. Funny how that works, isn't it? One day, that'll "click", and it will make a world of difference for him. And that's okay. We'll keep modeling the philosophy, guiding him along the way, and encouraging him to do his best, no matter what he's involved in. (Well, as long as he's not making meth...)

John's team, however, is still in it. They won their five o'clock game last night, so they played again at seven. They won that one. Zorak stopped on his way back from James' game and picked up pizzas for the kids. He figured if they won, it would be a good way to celebrate. If they lost, it would be a good way to soften the blow. Zorak is so cool like that. He remembers what it's like to be nine, or seven, or four. He's got this Dad thing down pat.

Tonight, John's team plays the Falkville team. These kids are tough, but then, from what we've heard when the coaches open their mouths, they have to be. We may not be undefeated in the regular season, but I wouldn't trade a perfect score for the way the Falkville coaches treat their kids (LB - this is the team we heard getting a "pep talk" while you were here!) If John's team can beat them, twice, they'll be the champions. Truthfully, if we can keep the boys from mentally rolling over the minute they see the other team's jerseys, I think they have an excellent chance. These little guys have a lot of heart. Regardless, it was a great season for John's team. And it was fun for us, too. The bleachers aren't terribly uncomfortable when you're watching a child who wants to be there, and is doing what he loves.

I'd like to say this is it. I'd like to say that now we drink lemonade and do commercial-style summery things. But we don't. John's got his eye on second base for next year, and pitching for the following year. There's a clinic that starts Monday, which he is dying to go to. And then, summer ball. That's okay. I can take my lemonade to the ball park and put my chair under a tree. That's summery, right?

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, June 1

Weekend Recap

Our borrowed teen turned out to be a delightful help. He tilled the big garden down by the barn, learned how to use a chainsaw to cut up deadfall, how to build a horseshoe pit, and many other things. I'd thought he was 15, but he's only 13 -- wow, a 6'2" thirteen-year-old! But you know, he really hung in there pretty well. He went home and collapsed. The next day, he couldn't wait to come to the party and enjoy the fruits of his labor. His help made the rest of our preparations go more smoothly, too, so that we could look forward to the party and the fruits of our labor, as well.

We got done about 80% of what we'd hoped to get done. It wasn't stellar, but we made the intentional choice not to let it bother us. Cousin T and her husband came from NC - they were fantastic company, and T was such a great help with the food prep! The canopies we rented were perfect, and Zorak is ready to make one so that we'll have it on hand anytime. He loves his new grill (we got this one), and it did a bang-up job on Saturday. The feature we loved the most? There are two warming drawers, and the bottom drawer can hold buns and tortillas without melting the wrappers. (Well, he may have loved other features more, but that's the one he told me about with the most enthusiasm, so, there ya go.)

I took maybe two pictures, and neither one was very good. We all kept pretty busy, and when folks started heading out, I was completely surprised to find it was after eight o'clock! Wow. It was so much fun to get to know some of Zorak's co-workers better, and it's always nice to visit with our homeschooling homies from this side of the river. The two groups were a nice mesh. We lit a bonfire when dark set in, and enjoyed the last few guests - more like family than guests - until way past our bedtime. Everybody who came made it a lovely day, and in the end, Zorak enjoyed it tremendously. There were a few notable missing persons, and we missed them, but sometimes things get in the way, and we get that. No worries. We'll definitely be firing up the grill again.

There were a ton of kids, and they had a BLAST. One little guy told his mom as they left, "You know, I really don't like carrot cake, but the party was so much fun that I didn't even care about the cake." Yay.

We spent today resting. Slept in - even the kids didn't budge until ten o'clock. We got the gear loaded, grilled lunch, picked up the trash, saw P and T off, then crashed on the floor with the kids to watch The Incredibles and nap at random. It was a great day of rest for the family.

And tomorrow, it's back to work!
Kiss those babies!