Wednesday, January 29

Old and Cold

I feel like I'm 97, shuffling about with my cardigan and hot tea, talking about the weather. But not talking about the weather right now is like tossing a slipcover over the elephant and trying to pretend it's a beanbag chair.

Do you know how cold it is right now? It's so cold I don't have to tell the kids to keep the door shut. That's cold! The wind chill is -5 at the moment. I understand if you're in Wisconsin or Maine that's not a big deal. Down here, we have native plants that are staggering about in shock, gasping, "It's the big one, Ethel!"

I-65 was a crazy mess, and we've tried to keep an eye on local friends. But wow. 

Thankfully, this should put the kabosh on the tick population for 2014, and that would be all kinds of wonderful.

School's going well this year. First term was pretty fantastic, once you grade on a curve for all the reasons they can't live on their own yet.

Jase loves his phonics lessons (using Memoria Press' Classical Phonics and the First Start Reading workbooks). I think some of it is peer pressure. Em used that, and she got to make beautiful pictures and read books together with the rest of us. Everyone else was already reading by the time he had any cognizance of the issue. So, to his mind, this is how you learn to read. And it is happy making.

Em's finally over King Harold's death, but I doubt she'll ever be a fan of the Normans. (This makes me laugh. Seriously, I had no idea. When I was her age, I didn't... oh, where to begin. No clue. Anyway, she cracks me up.)

Jacob has thoroughly enjoyed Ambleside Online's Year 5 program. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching him learn, and hearing his narrations. This is possibly the first year (out of... *phew*, ten) that narrations have come easily for any of us. It's a huge relief.

James and John are working together on a modified schedule of AO Yr. 7. James has additional Logic, writing, and programming work, and that seems to be working out well for him. It's hard to tell. John is nailing it. He's engaged and, if not enthusiastic, at least paying attention. Mostly. My hope is that the various developmental highs and lows of growing up hit at somewhat staggered intervals - more for me than for them. They've each only got to get through it once.

And that's about it. Time to throw more wood on the fire and see what we can get done today!

Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, January 28

That was fun.

It was such a cool weekend.

EmilyGirl left a note for the tooth fairy.

So sweet. And she's completely on to me, but doesn't seem to mind.

She also put the tooth into an origami box she'd made. There was a hole in the top so the fairy could document that yes, the tooth is there, but Em was really hoping to keep the tooth. I did not know this at the time, and now have a frankly fantastic addition to my Collection Of Things That Will Probably Freak Out My Adult Children After I'm Dead: a stray tooth in a paper box! But really, it's just too awesome to release back into the detritus of the crafting area and allow to end up in the back end of a vacuum. So I'm keeping it.

The guys made chips and queso to take to youth group, so not only did we get to be helpful, but the kitchen smelled magnificent all afternoon Sunday. (If you think a small Mexican restaurant smells magnificent, which we totally do. Someday, someone will come out with green chile scented candles. I live in hope.)

Z repaired the dishwasher for the happy price of a bottle of Lime-Away. And some creative application of elbow grease and a pointy thing. I don't know. We walked in halfway through, so all I had to do was get a little calcium build up off the sprayer arms and then dance in the kitchen during the test run. He did the sleuthing and heavy lifting. It worked out perfectly, too, as the boys have been doing dishes by hand for a little over a week - just long enough to be pretty appreciative about unloading the dishwasher this morning.

Also, after some particularly disgusting failures over the last several months (and with the help of a friend who said, "Use this recipe, but use that method,"), we managed to make homemade mayo successfully today. When it works, you feel like Penn Jillette. (When it doesn't, the feeling is closer to Gob*.) But seriously, that's a simple thing that's geeky-cool. If you haven't tried it, yet, and you have a stick blender, you've gotta try it. Truly, I don't know how the people in the demonstration videos don't geek out over watching it happen every. time.

Kiss those babies!

*Gob Bluth, definitely not Penn & Teller...

Saturday, January 25


At 9:30 Friday morning, the thermometer read 6 degrees. We tapped it. We stared at it from different angles. Then we looked at each other and decided to wait...

At 11:30, it was up to 11 degrees. Didn't even bother checking to see if it needed tapping that time. We realized we are ill-equipped to venture any farther afield than the wood pile in this weather, so we opted to delay the hike and instead fired up the hot chocolate and read books.

So, in all, it was a great day. We got the living room above 64 around noon, and that necessitated a party. Jase had already begun partying the minute we decided to punt.

Who doesn't love a good party? So that was nice.

Today, it was lovely. But by today, we needed more wood, so that worked out well all around. The woodpile is stacked and the porch is full, now. That leaves tomorrow to play outside and enjoy the relatively balmy weather (supposed to get into the 50's!) We'll hike then.

I visited a friend this afternoon (book party! Love those things!) and upon my return, EmilyGirl showed me her latest Big Joy: she lost a tooth! She loses teeth so slowly that when one finally comes out, we're all vaguely surprised to learn she'd still had it. If this one makes it under the pillow, it will be the first tooth that hasn't been swallowed/lost/irretrievably damaged before it could be redeemed for cash. She's pretty excited. We've got two and a half hours until bedtime and it's still accounted for. Odds are looking good!

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, January 22

So, it's winter...

Shouldn't be surprising that it's cold, should it? But it's not Southern Cold right now. It's just plain Cold. Crazy Cold for Alabama. And it's been that way all month, with one lovely break last week. It happens. It only lasts a month or so, but it does happen. We're rather appreciative of the wood stove, yet again. (I don't think we've ever looked at each other and wondered if that was a good investment.)

However... tomorrow night's low is supposed to be 8 degrees, with a high on Friday of freezing. Yeah, for those of you in Florida, you read that right: it'll eventually, with a good deal of effort and focus, get UP to freezing sometime after noon. This isn't a big deal (there are always books to read, soup to make, you know), except we have our first group hike planned for Friday morning, and I'm thinking we're not likely to have a high turn out with this forecast.

People start hemming about when it's not going to top 50. When the high is 32, they just stop talking to anyone suggesting we go out for the heck of it. And rightfully so. We're all wired differently. I do get that. I mean, they'll be out there in flip flops and tank tops at the height of Summer without breaking a sweat while I'm dragging myself from shady spot to shady spot, working feverishly to stay hydrated.

And then, there's Jase. Poor thing. Not an ounce of insulation on his wiry little frame, and very little enthusiasm for being out in the cold in the first place. (I forget, he was born here. This is his Normal. He's got his flip flops by the front door, just waiting for the chance to be worn.) I wonder if we know anyone who would take the littles for the morning in exchange for letting me take their teens hiking? Hmm... I think I'll get on that and see what we can work out. Jase will thank me, and so will anyone else who decides to brave the cold and didn't want to hear his play-by-play about just how miserably cold it is. (Have I mentioned how articulate he's become lately? Bit of a double edged sword at times, but there you have it. Quite articulate, that one.)

Z and John worked on the forge some over the weekend.

Em and I worked on her room a bit more. (She loves beading, but doesn't like to wear jewelry, so we're taking on projects that will get some actual use around the house. Kind of fun!)

Jacob's been drawing and drawing. If you have a budding artist, and you need a gift idea - the articulated drawing mannequins are phenomenal. Z looked at me like I was nuts when I put one in the basket for Christmas, but it gets used daily. We don't even ask him to put it away when he picks up, now. It just lives on the breakfast bar, like a weird wooden joint fairy. Love that thing.

Oh! And, we've been working on creating a family vision this week. The kids have had some great input regarding what their ideal home philosophy would look like, and what their visions are. The Official Family Vision isn't finished yet, but it's coming along. I'd started out just hoping to make it something that reflected a general perspective that included most of us, but they're working to turn it into something that reflects each of us as individuals, expressed through the family as a whole. Far more than I would have been able to do on my own. Funny how that works, eh? Good stuff, this.

Kiss those babies, and stay warm!

Monday, January 20

Shortened Attention Spans and Gifts

Between Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, my attention span deteriorated quite a bit last year. That was embarrassing, if visually stimulating. This year, I determined it would be better to seek balance and set the example for our home, by bringing life (particularly the bigger chunks and meatier content) back into focus.

We also decided we'd actually do some of the projects we've pinned on Pinterest. The boys insisted we photograph the outcome. I'd love to think they want a record of the fantastic projects we make together, but the truth is they're hoping for something they can submit to PinterestFAIL sites.

Our first project, however, was a total win. We made these adorable play tents for the Littles of some very dear friends:

EmilyGirl handled all the sewing - from threading the machine and ironing the fabric, to sewing the hems and sewing on the ribbons. The guys did the woodwork, which was quick and easy. We sealed the wood so that the tents can be used outside without rotting by August.

The tents are sturdy, but they break apart so that for travel the boards lie flat on the fabric, you roll the fabric around the boards and secure with the ribbons at the corners. They'll fit in the trunk, on the floor behind the seat of the car, or in a footlocker.

I tried to get a picture of the littles inside them, but they moved too quickly. Here, Little M had just chased JakeRabbit out of hers and gone into it when she saw the camera, stepped out to pose, and then her brother had something fascinating to show her. My phone isn't the best camera, and I suspect I'm getting old, with slow reflexes. But the picture was sweet, and it's the only one that shows some detail on the tents without being blurry.

They loved them. EmilyGirl is now ready to make ALL THE THINGS. The boys are on board, but I suspect for different reasons... we'll probably have a little Win and a little Fail this year, but we'll have fun doing it together.

Kiss those babies!

Saturday, January 18

And then, she wasn't so little anymore...

EmBaby should probably be officially EmilyGirl, now. She's eight. And she's... amazing.

I've never lived with someone who was so intuitive and who could so clearly see the beauty in things. She makes us all slow down and really see the beauty in the world around us. If we don't get it, she'll explain it. (And she lives, you know, with Us. So she's very good at explaining.)

Because of her, we have more dancing in our lives.

Because of her, we have more gentleness in our lives.

Because of her, the boys are more empathetic to others' feelings than they would have been with just me as the female of the house.

Because of her, I see how much fun it is to be a girl.

Because of her, we have more sparkle. It's not just glitter, although there's plenty of that, but everything sparkles in her eyes, and we see it.

Because of her, the world is more beautiful.

Because of her, we are more willing to look for the beauty. As much joy as she brings in sharing it with us, it's also somewhat elating to be the one to find it first and share it with her. Because that sparkle? Oh, my.

Happy Birthday, EmilyGirl! We love you so very much!

Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, January 14

That Was Exciting!

A friend on Facebook put out an offer to her local peeps to join them for hiking once a week. Nothing formal, nothing fancy, just a chance to get out there and go. I don't know if it's the winter chill setting in, or the aforementioned reading of trail blogs, or the creeping knowledge that if I don't get on it I'll soon be at a place where I won't be able to get up and go... whatever it was, her words inspired me.

So I offered the same thing here, locally. We're going to go. We're going to hike. We're going to be out there every week. Come hike with us.

And for a very brief moment, I felt like the nerd at a tailgate party, suggesting we all get together to discuss Star Trek action figure history and development. (Which is funny, because I know nothing about action figure history and development, unless you count Lego Ninjago. I know more about that than I wanted to. But hopefully you get my point. I was certain I'd just lobbed a lead balloon over the social wall and everyone would stare at me like I was lost.)

But it was out there. No taking it back. I gave myself a pep talk ("What are you, twelve? Suck it up. You like this stuff. Someone else might like it, too. Go get more coffee and chill out.") And then I didn't check my email for 24 hours.

You know what happened?

Yeah, you're smart. I'm sure you do.

Scads of people want to go hiking! The response has been so positive, and much larger scale than I was anticipating. I'm so encouraged and excited! This is going to be fun! Maybe a little crazy (that's a lot of people...), and a titch chaotic at first (I don't know what I'm doing, really), and I'm braced for a learning curve (on my part - I'm relatively certain they're not all as uncoordinated as I am)... but FUN!

If it wouldn't be entirely weird, I'd drive to each home and just hug each of them to tell them thank you for being willing to do something new. I might just ambush people at the trailhead and hug 'em then.

Or, you know, not. If you're among those going and have a strict No Hugging By Ambush policy.


Still, totally stoked!

I hope you'll let my dorky story serve as a voice of encouragement for any of you who are holding back on putting yourselves out there. Do it. Smile, say hi, say what you want to say. Invite people to share in something that excites you (except MLM sales pitches - nobody really gets excited about people sharing those) to play games, go for walks, learn something new. Even if they decline, you'll have put something good out there. Go for it.

Kiss those babies!

Saturday, January 11

Trail Blogs

This morning, as Z and John were getting ready to head to TN for a youth hunt, I sidled into the kitchen and mentioned that I need to quit reading trail blogs.

"Why's that?" Z asked.

"Because it makes me want to drag you all out there and do some HIKING!" I explained.

"Heh. Yeah, you do need to stop."

But I couldn't. And as I kept reading, I realized I have at least a couple of potential hiking buddies in the house. Let's take a look, shall we?

Z: Not a hiking buddy. He will go if there are deer, elk, hogs, or varmints he can shoot. But for general Going Into The Woods Just For The Heck of It hiking, he is not the one. As a matter of fact, he can go long periods of time without making eye contact just to assure he's not asked to participate. The up side of this is that I know someone will feed the children while I'm gone.

James: Ohhh, not so much. He'll go, if I ask. And he'll try very hard to find something nice to say about the experience. He's a lot of fun to be around, and he's the most likely to say yes to trying a new restaurant or campfire meal, or venturing off the beaten path to see if there's something new around the corner. But on his go-to list of things to do "for fun", hiking does not factor in anywhere on the list, at all. So, he's a good emergency call, and I would gladly throw a few extra bucks on his Starbucks card as a thank you for going, just because I really enjoy spending time with him. (He would say that if I really loved him, I wouldn't make him go, at all.)

John: He'd go. He'd out-hike me and have to worry about leaving me breathless and dehydrated somewhere on the trail. But he'd have coffee and dinner made when I finally got my sorry, out-of-shape self into camp. Actually, he'd likely come back for me. And maybe would bring chocolate and jerky to share. John's a definite hiking buddy. Plus, he remembers the first aid kit. I always forget a first aid kit.

Jacob: He has never turned down an adventure. There have been a couple he's asked afterward if he could not do ever again, but for first time attempts, he's usually game. And, he scampers. He still gets that rocks are for climbing and stones are for skipping, and that exploring is the bulk of the fun. He might not go more than a few times, or he might go with me anywhere, any time. But I can almost guarantee he'd be willing to give it a shot at least once.

EmBaby: She's really more of a Let's Make Something Pretty girl. She loves walks, and nature, and pretty scenery. But I'll have to tread carefully introducing her to hiking as A Thing. And not ever let on that she could be home, crafting, instead, because that will always win out. Always.

Jase: I don't know. He hates everything new, but as soon as it's over he wants to do it again. He complained through the entirety of Swallows & Amazons, but the night after we finished it, he staged a protest that we weren't reading it for bedtime. When I explained that we were done with it, he insisted, "Well, then just start over again from the beginning! It's my favorite book, ever!" He did that when we visited the Nina and Pinta replicas, when we visited a new church, and when he had to get new shoes (because he had outgrown the previous pair), and when we watched A Town Called Panic. (For the record, it's an adorable movie, but we are now thoroughly sick of it because every time he gets to pick, that's what we watch.) So he might go. And he might love it. But there is a likelihood that we'd end up hiking the same stretch of the Pinhoti over, and over, and over again... Of course, he's five. Maybe if I get him hooked now, he'll be a hiking buddy for life?

Buddy: When I used to hike, I thought it was so neat to come upon other hikers who had a trail dog with them. The dogs are generally friendly and well-behaved, and of course they're healthy and active. It seemed like a great way to live life, if you're a dog. Well, Buddy didn't start out as much of a traveler, but he's come SUCH a long way this year! Over the Summer, we took him for a well check, and he didn't throw up in the car. Then, last month, we went to hike with friends and he jumped in the car. Considering our previous means of getting him in the car involved treats, bribes, Benadryl, and a pulley system, this was a shocking turn of events. So we took him. And he hiked. SUCH a happy trail dog. I think we'll ease him into trail hiking this year so he can enjoy the outdoors, too.

And so that's the plan for 2014. We're going to hike! Get out there, and have fun! At least, until the ticks are active. Then we may default to water-based activities. We'll see. I'll bet James has some helpful alternative suggestions...

Kiss those babies!

Thursday, January 9

Library Day

When we first moved here, we got library cards. Of course. The Madison County library system is wonderful, and it made the loss of the St. Mary's library system sting a bit less (although that's still the most amazing library system I've ever seen in action).

Well, when we bought this place and started tearing it out, and tearing more out, and rebuilding, and... next thing I knew we were on the Most Wanted list of offenders for late fees. Oops.

And then, I forgot. And when I did remember, it was usually at eleven-thirty at night, and it was really embarrassing. So I forgot again. (Not intentionally, however well that may have worked out.) So I just bought books as we needed them.

The main library in our county has the monitors on the unfiltered computers facing toward the children's section, readily visible to anyone who is unfortunate enough to glance up at an odd moment. And our wee local library really isn't the place for people who read a variety of things. It tries, but it's small, and it has some organizational issues. So, we stopped going to the library in general.

But after a while, I ran out of bookshelves, and Z seems reluctant to take up what little square footage we have left with yet more bookshelves... (Something about moving and books and heavy and books and boxes and books.) What are you gonna do? In my case, I wrote myself a note about the fees and started saving bits here and there to repay.

By December, I'd pulled together the funds to repair our reputation with the big library system, plus fees for membership since we live outside that county now, and we went to the main branch. It was worth it just to see the kids' faces when we walked in: three beautiful stories, an atrium, a dedicated children's section, a huge variety of resources and options. Plus, it's just a beautiful building. The aesthetics are delightful. James whistled lowly and whispered, "You weren't kidding about real libraries!"

Yeah. :happy sigh: It's beautiful, isn't it?

We're on our third round of checkouts, now, and no late fees. (Knock on wood.) The older boys are quite comfortable venturing out on their own, finding books and curling up somewhere to peruse them at leisure. James has found a happy spot somewhere quiet, where he can read in peace, and it makes him very contented. Em and Jase are a little overwhelmed with so many books, and we spend a lot of time exploring the shelves as well as sprawled out at the tables reading and talking. They're having fun.

Returning our books today, Em leaned over and whispered to me, "The Bearskinner was a really wonderful story." The librarian smiled.

Is there anything quite like a great library? I don't think so. There are many delightful things in the world, but a home for books is something special.

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, January 8

Not Since May??

I knew I hadn't blogged in a while, but since May? Wow. That's going to leave a dent in the kids' memory album (because honestly, I gave up on keeping those about two weeks after John was born, so the blog is pretty much it).

2013 wasn't a great year. It wasn't horrible, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't even A Bad Year. It was just hard. It was a year of upheaval and disappointments, of finding out people don't always care about your children like you thought they did. And that you weren't as diligent about protecting them as you thought you were. It was a year of remaining in limbo. There wasn't much positive I could say about much of what was going on.

That year, my entire family decided to take it in turns so that when I sat down at the computer someone took it as the Prime opportunity to talk to me, or sit next to me and eat things that make a lot of noise when you eat them, or just sit and stare at me (oddly, that wasn't the most bothersome of the three choices. weird.) Since I couldn't write about what was going on in general, and it seemed weird to make them Go Away so that I... didn't write, I turned off the screen and spent more time with them. We talked. We ate. We sat and stared at each other. It was good.

That turned out to be the best thing possible, and it contributed to our getting through 2013 without alienating each other or running off to Juarez to apprentice as streetside bootmakers. I'm glad for that. Not that some of the boys wouldn't make excellent bootmakers, but if that's the path one of them chooses, I want him to be driven by passion rather than a desire to get away.

I did get to take a road trip for my birthday (complete with stops at interesting places, a schedule that only needed to coordinate to grown up bladders, and really great travel food). It was a week filled with lovely people, a fantastic seminar, and so much wisdom and beauty that my brain wanted to explode. That was an amazing experience. I am so thankful to Z for helping to make that happen.

As of right now, we're still in limbo. Z is still looking for openings out West. The house is still a work in progress. The boys are no longer in Scouts (although it has nothing to do with the national membership changes - it was local and general issues - the timing of it made the whole thing a little bizarre, though). Jacob completed his Arrow of Light, and James and John managed to earn Life rank, although they didn't have it awarded to them before they left the Troop. I don't know what that means for the future, or for their plans. If it's important to them, they'll let me know.

The positives we have on our side are in droves, however. The house is keeping us warm and safe during "The Polar Vortex of '14". Everyone is growing and maturing beautifully. Z and I are on the same page most days and having a great time with each other and our family. We have a somewhat-viable-kind-of-sort-of-plan (with a thousand contingencies) to deal with the choices that remain. (Ha! Limbo!) We have beautiful friends, many blessings, and hope for the future.

That's not a bad way to start the year. Not bad, at all.

Kiss those babies!