Monday, November 30, 2009

Tree blocks on a budget...

This time of year we get a lot of catalogs. Most go right into the recycling bin, but there are a few that are saved and looked at again and again.

One of our favorite toy catalogs is Magic Cabin Toys.

The girls have been desperately wanting these tree blocks.

Cherry Tree Blocks

49.95 for 39 pieces though is definitely outside of my budget. Luckily my pal TJIC was able to help me out with this. TJIC, among many other things, is a woodworker. The more I looked at these blocks the more I suspected that he could make these blocks in his sleep. When I mentioned it to him he said he'd be happy to cut the logs I found- I think he's happy for any excuse to work in his shop.

First I raided my dads firewood pile for a few pieces of wood that were narrow and had not been split and then I found a few more in the woods on the dog walk.

This morning I handed over the bag of six logs to TJIC and asked him to cut them into regular length pieces so that they would each be unique, yet good for stacking. About ten minutes after I handed them over he called to let me know that they were done.

After picking up the blocks we headed over to Michael's where I was able to find a few thin and wide slabs of log to use as platforms for the blocks.

After dinner I dumped all of the blocks on the floor of Lily's room and the girls got busy.

Here's what they did.

The kids loved these! Blocks are always great, but these lend themselves to a different sort of structure. Being able to create a forest or a fairy house using such a raw and unfinished material really inspired them.

I was especially happy to be able to recreate these on the cheap since the girls are really hoping to get these dolls for Christmas!

Magic Cabin Fairies

They want the houses for them too...

Fairy Forest Home

Those babies are $99. Seriously. I think that by combining the blocks, some sticks and some bits of silk fabric the girls will be able to create even better fairy houses.

Now if TJIC would only become a doll maker as well...

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Today while David took the girls ice skating I started putting up my Christmas decorations.

When I was a kid my mother took Christmas decorating very seriously. I would leave for school in the morning and return to pure enchantment. It was like a team of elves had been there while I was gone. The house was completely transformed.

The garland wrapped around the railing had shiny red satin covered balls hanging from it. There were wreathes and nutcrackers and even decorations in the bathrooms. There was a red candle shaped like a sleigh that smelled like bayberries. We never lit it. That smell is Christmas to me, even now, thirty years later.

My dad did the lights. First he would untangle and test all 457 strands of multi-colored lights. Then he would spend five hours putting them on the tree. Every single branch was lit. He taught me that a Christmas tree should look like it grew with lights. They should be plentiful and the wires must be hidden.

One year he completely outlined the house in Christmas lights. The door, the windows, the roof. It made giving directions easy. "Just go to the house that looks like a diner. You can't miss it!"

After the tree was decorated we would go sit in the living room with all of the lights off except for the tree. There we would take off our glasses and revel in the fantastic glowing blur of the lights through our nearsighted eyes.

They taught me many practical things in my life for which I am grateful. What they taught me about celebrating Christmas however, though in no way practical, is pure magic.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You try finding a rhyme for fluids...

I think that I shall never see
A dog as barfy as Sophie.

It started by eating the leg of a stuffed flea,
And ended with a large bill paid by me.

In between there was time spent with the vet.
It was a Saturday so it was an ER vet I met.

First she was x-rayed
and then she had fluids.

The ultrasound was not administered by druids.

The ultrasound was the most expensive test,
But the news it gave was the very best.

There was no obstruction,
no flea leg was stuck.

Though I was happy
the bill made me say, "Oh f......."

Now she is home, terrorizing the cats
We are all back to normal.

How about that?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday updates...

Today I woke up at 6:50 and dragged my long suffering stepmom out for some Black Friday shopping. That poor woman spent Thanksgiving cooking and listening to an endless litany of complaints from Lily who is still sick. By this morning she was coming down with a cold and had no voice but was still willing to go to the Christmas Tree Shop with me where everything in the store was 20% off!

I was extremely restrained, buying only the $1 Christmas wrapping paper, a gift for my niece and some odds and ends. Then we headed over to Snow's where we had a 20% off the total coupon as as well. Again, I showed beautiful restraint and finished up my shopping with little fanfare.

Usually when we go to the Cape for Thanksgiving we stay for the entire weekend so that we can participate in the Orleans Stroll. The Orleans Stroll consists of strolling and singing holiday tunes while holding candles. Santa is there too and it just gets me in a jolly mood. Since the forecast was for rain and wind however it seemed unlikely that there would be any strolling. Lily is still fighting this cold and is not up for much of anything except taking off all of her clothes and then complaining that she is cold. It seemed cruel to subject Nana to another 24 hours of the cranky Lily show.

This all goes to explain why we decided to come home today.

It was a lovely drive home. The children were busy watching Wall-E in the back so David and I listened to NPR which had a program all about how cheese is made. Mmmmmmmm. Cheese.

Since I knew that there was no food in the house we stopped at the grocery store which is where the trouble happened. The problem is that unlike my earlier Black Friday expeditions where I had my lists to remind me of what I actually needed, I found myself at the grocery store, hungry and without a list.

I don't completely understand it, but Reader, I impulse purchased a turkey. And some stuffing. And also some brussel sprouts. I threw in the ingredients for mashed potatoes and some gravy as well.

It's also possible that we bought some stinky cheese.

And the pies! They were 50% off! So we bought three.

It was a joyful shopping trip.

Then we came home to our house which was covered in vile winter moths and our dog Sophie who promptly began throwing up the leg of the stuffed animal that she ate. Lily took off all her clothes and whined that she was cold.

So basically, we're home. And tomorrow? I am so roasting that turkey!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


389 years ago....

106 passengers spent 65 days in the dark...

Storms blew their tiny ship.

Many were sick. The smell was terrible.

Some slept in hammocks, others on hard beds.

On November 11, 1620 land was sighted.

The next twelve months brought cold, disease and death. 47 Pilgrims and half of the Mayflower's crew died that year.

In October of 1621 the Pilgrims and Native People gathered together and feasted for three days. They had survived so much and gave thanks.

Today our family visited the Mayflower II, an exact replica of the original Mayflower. It complemented our studies on the Pilgrims and their journey. While the Pilgrims were stuffy and humorless, they were also brave beyond words. Walking aboard their ship on a cold and drizzling day gave us a new appreciation for all that we have.

Though conditions are dark for many right now, we continue to enjoy our life in a country where anything is possible and courage is so often rewarded.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How much is a wife to endure?

David got into my very secret, oh so sacred, gigantic Toblerone bar that I bought at Marshall's for 5.99.

I have been doling it out to myself bit by luscious bit.

All day long I have been thinking about that chocolate.

It was a frustrating day. I had a great plan to make a pumpkin pie, and I should clarify, I did make a pumpkin pie. When I came to the part about adding the evaporated milk I noticed that the milk looked a little weird, but hey, I only use the stuff once a year, maybe it always looks weird.

Anyway, into the oven it went. I began cleaning up and pouring out the remains of the milk in the sink, which is when I realized that the milk was more than weird- it was bad. A huge clump of yuck plopped out into the sink. Then I checked the expiration date on the milk. January 2005. Oops.

That is how I found myself at Whole Foods two days before Thanksgiving to buy a pie that was botulism free. There I endured the whining of one child who wanted a mortgage payments worth of sushi and another child who wanted a cartload of carbohydrates.

Then it was back home to do a big clean and catch up on all of the laundry, which is when I noticed that we were out of cat food. Sigh.

Also, I have two zits.

Was anything catastrophic? Did anyone die? No. These are all the complaints of the middle class housewife.

But dammit I count on that chocolate to be there for me! It keeps me sane! And happy!

Reader, he almost finished it!!!! There was hardly any left!

I am trying to be mature and I am sure I will find it in my heart to forgive him.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Animal sacrifices and free samples!

This weekend the children played "church". It was a little odd because they have never been to church. They do attend Hebrew School so don't worry that their little souls are being neglected. They are getting a sound, if not slightly confusing religious upbringing.

I was raised Catholic, though I have not considered myself as such for many years. See exhibit A: my Jewish Husband.

When we were first dating and already talking about the future, he mentioned that he wanted his kids raised Jewish.

"No problem!" I told him, "As long as we can still do Christmas and Easter."

"No problem!" He said, "As long as there's no baby in a creche under the tree."

And so it has gone along beautifully for almost thirteen years.

The kids started going to Hebrew School a few years ago and it's been very interesting to me to see the similarities and differences between my own experiences in Catholic School and theirs at Hebrew School. In many ways it's very similar- right up until the new testament which obviously is not a part of Jewish religious education.

At Hebrew school they spend a lot of time talking about all of those great old testament stories about an angry god, animal sacrifices and pestilence. I kind of love the drama of God's early work.

Anyway, this is all to give you a little background of the sheer weirdness of my children choosing to play "church".

Lily created a pulpit out of a charming shiny red step stool. Her "bible" was Larousse Gastronomique. She loves that book. When she was four she created a "book" which was a stack of paper stapled together. Each page had the name of a french dish written on it.

For her sermon she alternated between reciting Hebrew prayers and asking people what foods they would like prepared. "Baruch atta Adonai! Who wants beef bourguignon?"

Rebecca meanwhile was laying on the couch plotting a pug sacrifice. I have no idea why.

When David entered the room the children were excited.

"Come to our church Daddy!" they cried.

"Hurry up or you'll miss the animal sacrifice!" yelled Rebecca.

"And the free samples!" added Lily.

I think I may need to have a talk with the rabbi...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Moving right along...

Today was the end of fall here at Shiny Red Houses.

The Christmas magazines have been showing up in my mailbox, making me very impatient for the holiday decorating season to begin.

You should know this about me. I love anticipation. I spend summer waiting for fall. I love fall, but even as I am taking my children trick-or-treating I am looking over the shoulder of November and peaking at December.

Of course by December 26th I am sick to death of Christmas and all it's fussiness, but for now Christmas is all sparkle and allure.

Today David raked the leaves and I put away all of the fall decorations. After Thanksgiving I want to be able to jump right into trees and holly and whatnot.

I also spent some time with the big black garbage bag today also known as BBGB.

The BBGB is what I haul from room to room when the children aren't home and stash toys in- usually stuffed animals- that are never played with. Once they are in the BBGB I put them in the basement for a few days. If no one notices that they are missing, then off to Goodwill they go.

They almost never notice.

In other news, David continues to regularly beat me at Scrabble. How is this possible? I was an English Major! I read all the time! He watches movies! And football!

Just when I think I know everything there is to know about that man he surprises me. A Scrabble genius...what next?!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seven letter word...

I was all set to rant about my coffee maker but first I must tell you that my husband just put down a seven letter word in Scrabble. Seventy-two points.

It hardly seems worth it to keep playing, but I must. Scrabble continues to be our balm in these stressful times, though a seventy-two point word put down by your spouse does put a bit of grit in that ointment.

Thank you for all of your get well wishes for Lily. I am cultivating a fun little theory about her illness. This theory will be part one in a series I like to call, "On Being An American Cliche".

Part One:

Maybe Lily has swine flu! No, she doesn't have a fever, but I've been doing some internet research. Using my best English Major skills and Google I learned that about 30% of people with swine flu do not have a fever. Her respiratory symptoms are consistent with the swine flu and her general crankiness and whininess are very high indeed.

Resolved: swine flu.

Part Two:

My coffee maker broke and I have no idea how to fix it. I have been loving my Keurig coffee maker for about six months. It's red, it's shiny and it brews a great cup of coffee every single time.

Except for now.

It stopped working today so I did the only thing to be done in this situation. I googled "fix broken keurig". And lo, many many people have had this problem and one person even solved it! Fixing it seemed simple enough. I immediately began taking it apart. I removed all 157 microscopic screws holding the metal bottom on. Then I started clipping all of the plastic fasteners so that I could get to the tube which I needed to clear. This is about when I realized that this project had ceased to be a repair mission and had become war.

Maybe if I'd had a blow torch or a small stick of dynamite I could have pried that thing open, but since I'm just an unarmed liberal I used words, lots of angry words, none of which worked.

So there you have it: I diagnosed my child using the internet, talked to a broken appliance and will surely lose to my husband at Scrabble. Again.

There had better be chocolate in the house.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shiny Red Recipe and why I am going to hell Part 2...

It's nearly winter here in Boston. The car has been covered in frost the last few mornings and the dogs have been very quick to do their business.

You know that I love this weather and I especially love cooking some of my favorite comfort foods.

I needed some comfort food today because Lily has a cold that will not go away. It started Monday with a little cough. Each day the cough has gotten a little deeper and the nose a little drippier. She's still had plenty of energy until this morning when Lily's whining had reached a tenor that told me that she really wasn't feeling well.

Like most children, when Lily is sick she attaches herself to her mother and whines. Healing can only be achieved if a mother is driven to the brink of insanity.

If Lily follows her usual course of illness she will continue to malinger until Saturday morning when she will suddenly spike a fever and develop an ear infection which will require a special trip to the pediatrician on a weekend. Over the last ten years we have seen the pediatrician on countless Saturday's and Sunday's and at least three Christmas's.

Anyway, in an effort to provide some rich savory sustenance to my sick baby I made French Onion Soup.

It's very easy except for the part where you spend an hour caramelizing the onions.

Ingredients -

½ cup butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 loaf French bread
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
½ cup melted butter
½ lb gruyere cheese, sliced
6 yellow onions, finely sliced

2 quarts beef broth

1/2 cup sherry


Sauté the onions in the butter until they are soft in a 6 quart soup pot over a medium high heat.

When all the steam is gone, the onions will begin to caramelize, so turn the heat down to low and keep stirring them often, until they are dark brown.

Add the parsley, bay leaf, thyme, sherry and broth. Simmer the soup for 45 minutes.

Slice the bread into rounds, which just fit inside your soup bowls, then toast them.

Divide the French onion soup between 6 soup bowls and put a slice of toasted bread and some cheese on top of each one.

Broil until the cheese is golden brown.

It was splendidly delicious. Except that Lily didn't like it and Rebecca would barely taste it.

Since my children refused to properly praise my efforts I decided to prepare some for David and Dan who were working late out in the office.

Remember Dan?

He is such a sweet boy. He's also Jewish and keeps kosher. When I brought out the soup he asked what was in the soup and I assured him that it was kosher.

Since there is no pork or shellfish in the soup I figured, no problem.

I am an idiot.

It was only after I took the bowls back in the house that the fact that the broth was beef and that the cheese was dairy crossed my mind.

I led that sweet boy into the land of unclean traife. The rule of not mixing meat and dairy had been broken and there was no going back.

I apologized and apologized and then apologized again.

Dan was gracious and understanding. He's probably used to shiksa's breaking the rules of the tribe.

So for those keeping track, in addition to swearing at a nun, I have fed traife to a sweet boy who keeps kosher.

I am so getting coal in my stocking this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Magic, mayhem and Scrabble!

Have you ever noticed that in most families at least one child is the designated mischief maker?

I bet you can guess who that child is in our house.

I'll give you a hint. She likes the smell of her own farts and spent ten minutes last night running around the house, completely naked except for one of my bras while singing, "I'm a Barbie girl in a Barbie world! My boobs are plastic! It's fantastic!"

Rebecca would never behave like that. Last year in school the teacher sent a note home to let us know that Rebecca had been too chatty in class that day. David and I had a hard time getting angry, because it was the first time she had ever gotten into even the littlest bit of trouble. We were even a little proud. Our little girl was letting loose!

Like me, Rebecca was born 35. She will spend her childhood and adolescence worrying, planning and considering. She will be gentle with the feelings of her friends. Adults will love her for her enthusiasm and good judgement. Becoming an adult will be a relief- finally she will be old enough to be in the role for which she was born. I understand that sweet girl perfectly.

Lily, as you have probably figured out, is trouble. She's not mean or purposefully disobedient. She just lives in her own crazy little world where everything is funny and she's the star.

Today while Rebecca was busy making sure that all of her webkinz were fed and cared for and reading classics of literature, Lily was in the attic/playroom with her friend A.

I heard giggles and happy sounds so I ignored them.

Yes, I ignored them, which is why when Lily announced at dinner that she and A had put glitter glue in the hair of her American Girl doll I was not entirely surprised.

Luckily it was not actual glue, but glitter makeup so it will come out without too much trouble. Lily kept saying how great it looked and Reader? She had a point.

Meanwhile, Rebecca has been playing a little game called. "Messing with Lily's mind". It goes like this: Lily leaves her beloved Teddy Bear somewhere. Rebecca then moves Teddy to another location and will even set a scene wherein Teddy is engaged in some activity. Rebecca then breathlessly announces to Lily that Teddy is magic.

Lily has fallen for this completely and Rebecca is delighting in creating magic for Lily.

Notice the attention to detail? Teddy is both eating fake food and using glue. On the carpet.

David and I have been ignoring the children the past few evenings because we have become addicted to challenging each other to Scrabble games on our iphones. It's how we are coping with a rather gigantic heap of stress right now.

Some couples fight, some drink- we play Scrabble. Oddly enough, neither of us are particularly competitive about it. We play and focus on something small and concrete, allowing the anxiety of life to disappear.

We have each other, we have our kids and we have 100 letters to arrange and rearrange.

Sometimes it's enough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Now that we are homeschooling I don't get to junk as consistently as I used to.

My usual plan would be to hit the junk shops first thing in the morning before the other shoppers had a chance to come and crowd my space. Now I am shopping whenever the rare opportunity arises, which is how I found myself at Global Thrift on a Monday afternoon.

The girls had a joint playdate with their pals J and K so I dropped them off and headed into Waltham.

I don't know if it's because this economy is so lousy or what, but the junk store pickin's have been slim. I did manage to find a few things though.

This sweet little nightstand was 3.99.

It quickly found it's way into Lily's room.

I also found this daisy blanket. I bet someone's grandmother made this.

I think it will be very cheery on the back of my couch.

This little bowl was so hopeful that for .49 I just had to give it a new home.

In other news about the lousy economy, today I did my own acrylic nail fill. I've never done it myself before but it came out okay. Except for one thing. The deep red color that I picked out of clearance at Walgreens seems to be less "Dignified Russet" and more "Shameless Hussy".

There's nothing sadder than a housewife forced into do it yourself beauty. If you see me reaching for hair dye, please do an intervention.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why we love Charlie...

Remember Charlie?

He's very cute.

Lily thinks that he is the bees knees.

He's one of our home school buddies. He and Rebecca were classmates before they became fifth grade drop outs.

On Friday, David took Rebecca and Lily to the Museum of Science and met up with Charlie and his mom Amy there.

After loads of fun, Lily rode back with Amy and Charlie.

Lily felt that this was the perfect opportunity to woo Charlie.

First she wore a dress. Lily never wears dresses.

Then she told him that she likes the smell of her own....well, you can guess. But it rhymes with parts.

I can only imagine that he was impressed.

Then she said, "Charlie? I need to tell you something about you."


"I have a crush on you," she said.

And this, Reader, is why we love Charlie.

He did not make fake throw-up sounds.

Nor did he pretend to convulse on the floor.

He just accepted her love and said, "That's nice."

Thank you Charlie.

Not only are you are the coolest boy we know, you are also the kindest.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Why am I always the parent who gets woken up with news that one of the dogs has had diarrhea in the crate and is covered in poop?

When David and I married, our ketubah contained many promises. Promises to love, respect, honor and cherish. Promises to protect and care for each other.

Nowhere was there anything about hosing down poop encrusted dogs at 7:00 on a Saturday morning.

So now you know how my day started.

Luckily what followed was mostly sloth. Pugsley inspired us.

Forgive the pug privates. He's indecent.

After David and I devoted several hours to playing Scrabble we all ate bacon. It seemed the right thing to do.

Then I tried felting. Guess what? It's kind of boring. It holds none of the thrill of painting a floor or a piece of furniture. You take a wad of wool and turn it into a wad of felt.

After all of that relaxing I started getting a little twitchy. My people have not evolved to relax for more than an hour at a time. The Catholic guilt starts weighing more and more heavily until the only thing that's left to be done is clean the attic.

After an hour amidst the dust, old quilts and a small fortunes worth of American Girl Doll finery my conscience was restored.

It fact, at that point I felt virtuous enough to challenge David to another game of Scrabble.

And reader, though my day began by cleaning dog poop, it ended with me kicking David's butt at Scrabble.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I think I'll move to Australia...

Readers, today was a terrible horrible no good very bad day.

The news was mostly, well, grim.

It wasn't all bad. But plenty was. I really can't talk about it here.

We are all fine and healthy. Our family is strong.

The girls got fresh haircuts and Lily got her ears pierced. Again.

Usually I am a rock.

Today I am a puddle.

I think I'll move to Australia

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Free junk, a recipe and quiet!

Today sucked the life right out of me.

It was a great day and very fun, but there is something about me you may not know.

I am an introvert. An extroverted introvert, but an introvert none the less.

Today started with a dog walk with friends, then a La Leche League meeting with many babies to admire, then the homeschool park day get-together.

It was a lot of being out and about for me. David has been so busy the last two weeks that I haven't really had any quiet time for myself since I've been on full time kid patrol.

I am not complaining at all, but I am noticing that I am feeling a little frayed around the edges.

This all goes to explain why I was especially excited to find some free junk on the curb.

I don't know if every part of the country garbage picks, or if it is particular to New England where the love of thrift is well storied, but around here people put out their discards on the curb. Often there is a sign saying "Free!" attached, but just as often there isn't. People around here just know that if there is something good on the curb you should go grab it!

Over the last few years I've rescued quite a bit from the curb and I am sure that some of my neighbors are enjoying my castoffs. It's a fun system.

Today on my way home from the dog park I saw a piece of storage furniture that I just had to stop for.

It's solid wood!

See that nice grain?

The back is chicken wire.

I love chicken wire!

I need to clean it up and paint it. I'm not sure what color to paint it though. I have about seven cans of glossy red spray paint I could use, though I like the clean look of white.

You probably want to know what I am going to use it for.

I understand. I want to know what I am going to use it for too! Right now my guesses are either shoes or art supplies. The kids will want to put webkinz into it, but because I am a horrible mother I won't let them.

Anyway, back to having the life sucked out of me...

Today I spent two hours standing in the cold at the park. But here's where I am a weirdo. I love it! I mean it. I love feeling just chilly, not really cold, but chilly enough that my body has to work a bit to stay warm. I think that it justifies all of the chocolate.

When we got home we were all pretty cold so we laid in front of the gas fireplace for a while until we had heated up.

Once I was warm I felt so sleepy, and have continued to feel that way ever since.

I always keep a couple of containers of frozen clam chowder in my freezer for just these sorts of nights. The warm and creamy clam chowder feels like such a treat on a cold day. When I plan ahead a bit I buy a loaf of good french bread, but today I had not planned ahead.

So I improvised.

I decided to make biscuits which I have never done before. The recipe called for shortening. I didn't have any shortening because to be honest with you I think it's pretty gross. The only sensible alternative was to use butter.

I was shocked by how easy they are to make!

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter
3/4 cup of milk

1. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir.
2. Cut butter into small pieces.
3. Add butter to flour mixture, cutting in until crumbly.
4. Create well in flour mixture, pour in milk.
5. Stir with fork until just moistened.
6. Roll out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until smooth.
7. Flatten to about 1/2 inch thick.
8. Use a biscuit cutter or the floured rim of a small drinking class and cut out the biscuits.
9. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 7-10 minutes at 450 degrees.

David is away so it was just the three of us enjoying our chowder and biscuits by the candle light tonight.

It was quiet, everyone too hungry and tired to say much. The dogs snorted hopefully underneath the table waiting for someone to drop something they might like to eat.

It was the quiet, the gentle peaceful quiet which really nourished me. I've had my bath, the dogs have been out, and bedtime is right around the corner.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lily's feet...

It was 66 degrees here in Boston and Lily was playing outside in her bare feet. Watching her enjoy the warm weather reminded me of a poem that I wrote a long time ago before I had kids and was still a Peloquin.


Summer Saturdays were the same.
Early pale yellow mornings
and Dad mowing the lawn.
The air
warm and sweet.
Daytime chores,
glass windows washed
and bed sheets pulled tight.
Late afternoon
blues and greens.
Shadows pulling against the lawn.
Mothers heels clicking upon the
yellow hard wood floor.
The perfume and cologne
softly swirling
around the house.
Doorbell rings,
the babysitter from two houses over.
Dinner instructions
and orders for a bath.
A kiss,
Mother's fragrant waxy print on my cheek.
dinner, the bath
pajamas and a story.
Nightlight on, thank you.

Young brother and me,
barefoot creep outside,
back door, jars in hand.
Wet grass and pearly white worms
sticking to our toes.
Moist night smells and insect calls
ears and eyes
growing large in the dark.
Bright eyes searching...
such small brilliant bursts of
fairy flame.
Whispers frantic and important
catching the small creatures
in our glass jars.
Three or four maybe
until some distant forest noise
inspires seven year old terror
of Bigfoot and other Unknown Nasty.
Running on tiptoe,
Jars beside the bed.
Stories and sleepy giggles.
The nightlight off
and quiet slumber in the gentle blinking lights
of fireflies

Monday, November 9, 2009

Some people think it's funny to tell booger jokes, but it'snot.

Today I was poised for victory. I cleaned the house this weekend and prepared detailed lesson plans. Today I was all set to kick off a productive week of homeschooling. With all of the laundry done, the house tidy and the refrigerator stocked there was nothing to get in the way of having a super productive homeschooling week.

You can guess what happened right?

Rebecca got a sinus/ear infection.

I thought that I would be clever and go to the CVS Minute Clinic to avoid the swine flu ridden Monday morning waiting room at the pediatricians.

We walked in and signed in on the computerized kiosk.

Then we waited. Three patients went in for flu shots. Each shot took about 15 minutes which completely baffled me. I kept thinking that the line would move faster and yet it did not. I had already invested 45 minutes into my wait when the nurse practitioner came out of the examination room announcing that there were no more flu shots. Then she spent 10 minutes taping signs to the walls and the front of the store announcing that there were no more flu shots.

It would have been silly to ask one of the people stocking shelves to hang signs so that she could see patients.

Can you tell that I am still not over it?

Finally it was our turn. She looked in Rebecca's ears and said that though there was fluid in them they were not infected yet. She suggested that we come back when they were.

I told her all about Rebecca's background with her ears. Chronic ear infections starting at age six months followed by seven years of ear tubes, adenoidectomy and finally a tonsillectomy. She has never had ear fluid resolve itself. I mentioned that our pediatrician will often give us a prescription to take home in these sorts of cases. If/when the ears get worse we can start the antibiotics.

This nurse practitioner was unable to do this. Finally I told her that Rebecca's face hurt and that her snot was green.

The nurse began to think. I mean she literally sat there and thought.

She hemmed.

She hawed.

When Rebecca blew her nose the nurse asked to see the snot. I was so proud. It was green.

The nurse started to enter information on her computer. When she asked for the name of our pharmacy I got excited. I eagerly told her that we usually use a pharmacy in our town but that I'd be happy to use the CVS pharmacy.

Then she had to consider the dosage. This required the consultations of charts, a call to another nurse practitioner and finally a call to the pharmacy.

By now we had been in the examination room for 45 minutes. And then just as I was paying and getting ready to leave she apologized. She had sent the prescription to our usual pharmacy in our town.

Good god.

So off we went to Walgreens, where Pierre, sweet blessed Pierre, our pharmacist who understands me like no other filled our prescription right away.

Then we went home, had lunch and got some work done before it was time for Lily's acting class and plans with friends in the afternoon.

Rebecca just finished her work at 7:30. Sigh.

We did not get to our animal project. We may still get to history since I can read that aloud to the kids and have that be our bedtime story.

Because nothing gets you ready for sleep better than learning about disease and death aboard the Mayflower.

The greatest lesson of the day? CVS= fail.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cleaning, death and Christmas...

Today I woke up and did not sit down until about 9:00 pm.

Before I was a homeschooling mom, I was just a regular housewife and as such, I did the bulk of my housework during the day while the children were at school. Now that I spend my days teaching the children I have to readjust the way I tend to my home.

Saturday seems to be becoming the day that the house gets cleaned.

I must tell you that I miss the days when I could clean the house without anyone in it. I'd make a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and clean. The best part was that the rooms would actually stay clean for a few hours until the kids got home from school. It's a bit of a losing battle these days.

Anyway, my point is that I cleaned and did laundry all day long. I even recleaned the basement and mopped the basement floor.

I don't know what got into me.

I think that the universe decided to reward me for being such a productive little haus frau. This afternoon both of my children were invited to a birthday party for three hours. Three. Hours.

Three hours used to be nothing, but now three hours is a sparkling gem of free time.

Believe it or not I did not go junking. I had other important work to do.

I went Christmas shopping.

I start Christmas shopping as early as possible because of a morbid fantasy I have. I worry that I will die before Christmas and all of the Christmas responsibilities will fall on David. I just picture Christmas Eve rolling around and he finally decides to start Christmas shopping for the girls. He'd think, "I have plenty of time! Christmas isn't until tomorrow!"

He has no idea the kind of pre-production that goes into Christmas. Gifts must be purchased and wrapped. Some must go into stockings, others should be for Hanukkah. Special foods must be purchased. It's a big deal.

Since I can't plan for everything, I like to at least have all the gifts squared away so that if I get hit by a bus or get swine flu, or heaven forbid, both, my babies will still know that Santa loves them.

Speaking of Christmas, I noticed a really weird thing tonight.

People are putting out their Christmas lights already. I can see how it happens. They took down their Halloween decorations and put up the Christmas ones at the same time.

But really, I have to put my foot down about this. It is too early. I can understand stringing them before it gets too cold, but turning them on just seems wrong.

How's that for a post? Cleaning, death and Christmas. What more do you need?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


It may seem a bit cliche, but it's also true. Many homeschoolers are talented crafters.

So when I overheard several homeschool moms talking about needle felting, I was immediately intrigued. Luckily I knew just the place to go to find supplies.

Rebecca and I made our way to the very lovely Artbeat right here in Arlington. Artbeat calls itself The Creativity Store and it's an apt name. They have some of everything, all beautifully displayed, and usually with irresistible examples of different projects.

The proprietress was kind enough to let me take pictures.

There are many, many things to love about this store but one of the best reasons is that every product is of good quality and value.

I was just itching to get these, but I restrained myself so I could run a-muck in the felting area.

Most of my time in the felting section was spent imagining my new life as a felter.

Felt balls are just so wholesome.

I'm going to try to make this little guy eventually.

A felted duckling. So stinking cute!

Felt flower rings!

Maybe I will felt a box to keep my secret stash of chocolate in...

I'll decorate it with these.

And these.

I bought this kit.

I'm sure that my bunnies will look just as professional as these.

We also bought some molding beeswax, but sadly my camera battery died before I could take any pictures.

I think we'll try this project this weekend. If the bunnies come out weird I am totally blaming the dogs!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The spell...

Sometimes it seems that my kids spend most of the day following me around the house demanding things. Food, attention, instruction, hugs, snuggles, more food. Sometimes I must mediate arguments. It can be a bit exhausting.

That's why when one of my girls falls under the spell I do not even consider interrupting them. I've spent the last twenty minutes watching Lily make trips up to the attic. Each time she comes down her arms are full of dolls and dress-up clothes.

I do not make eye contact.

I do not ask what she is doing.

I pretend that I do not notice.

There is some vast and no doubt very messy world being created by Lily in her room. I'm pretty sure that I saw a bridal veil and a cradle go by.

I will let her play this game for as long as she wants.

When I put her to bed tonight I'll ask her about her game. I'll hold her tight and let her tell me all about her secret world. I'll fall down the rabbit hole with her leaving the mess of her room, the bills on my desk and the laundry in the basement far behind.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Calendar boys...

October is brash. He walks in full of swag and vigor, fresh from splitting logs. His muscles are barely contained by his white cotton t-shirt. His hair is full and wild and gleams with red and gold. His beard crowns his full toothed smile. He blows in, lifts you up and twirls you around the room. When you bury your face in his neck his smell is honest strength, wood smoke and spice. People stare at him without shame, their mouths agape. He is tall and strong and loud. His laugh booms through every room in the house, an explosion of good will and a teasing hint of mischief. He holds you until your ribs creak. You dance by the light of the harvest moon and in his arms and in that light you are the most beautiful that you will ever be. He is loved, adored, worshiped…and then he is gone.

The heartbreak is crippling.

You will never survive the loss of October.

And then you see him.

November lurks in the shadows. His hair is black and hangs over his eyes. He watches from the back of the bar. When Leonard Cohen comes over the speakers he looks at you, into you. He knows everything about you with that single look. His eyes are dark and filled with clouds. He is lanky and his fingers are long and troubled. He moves quietly, deliberately, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his battered leather jacket. He sips whiskey and keeps a notebook. Nothing but truth and shattered hearts are etched in it. He finally comes over to you, takes your hand and without a word pulls you outside into the dark smoky night. The wind blows dead leaves at your feet and you feel grief and lust and tragedy. The nights will grow longer and colder and you will deny, you will deny with every glance, with every kiss, until the last shriveled oak leaf falls, that November cannot stay.

One day the snow will fall and November will be gone. You will be left alone with December perched awkwardly on the sofa in his reindeer sweater, drinking eggnog. Your aunt set you up. "He's perfect!" she trills. You will try to love December, but he's too predictable. After a few rides in his fancy sleigh you'll be happy to see him gone and you'll bid your time, you'll try to breathe for ten more months until October and November return.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Homeschool hallway...

The last two days have brought a flurry of cleaning over here at Shiny Red Houses. It was becoming Squalid Red Houses and needed a deep down clean.

Even David got in on the act.

He's usually too busy to get involved in deep cleaning, but I suckered him in at just the right moment. I started by asking him to wipe down the counter.

David is incapable of just wiping down the counter. He removes everything first and then wipes it down. Once he was moving the coffee maker I knew he was on a roll so I mentioned that the refrigerator really needed a complete scrub down.

Reader, he completely emptied it, removed all the shelves and cleaned the entire thing.

It was hot.

Married women, you understand.

Today the cleaning continued. I cleaned underneath the furniture upstairs, wiped down the baseboards and scrubbed down the bathroom.

I also addressed something that has been driving me a little nutty for the last month. Our homeschooling supplies lacked cohesion. I knew that we had books, puzzles and games that would be appropriate for our lessons, but none of them were in the same place. I needed to pull them all together and organize them by subject.

I think I have mentioned that our house is small. 1,400 square feet of cozy. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room. We have one completely terrifying basement with damp rock walls and a cramped attic which is part playroom and part storage. The closets are tiny and we only have a few of them.

It's a great house, but we have to get very creative with the way we use our space. Alexandra Stoddard's wonderful book Creating a Beautiful Home has been an inspiration to me as I try to find new ways to make my home meet our family's needs. She talks a lot about making a home that it both beautiful and practical and this ideal has inspired my own design aesthetic for years.

I was thinking about this as I roamed the house trying to imagine where I could squeeze in a few bookshelves for our homeschooling materials. I considered downstairs, but we do our work upstairs. It's far more practical to have the items we are going to be using close by. I considered my own room, but really couldn't think of a way to add more books without the room becoming intolerably cramped.

That's when I thought of the hallway and remembered a pair of bookshelves that we've had for about ten years, but which have been in the basement for the last five holding 47 cans of spray paint.

I did some quick measuring and got to work emptying the shelves. Up two flights of stairs they came and into the hallway they went.

After cleaning five years of basement grime off of them I got to work collecting the different books and materials from around the house.

That was without a doubt the most fun part! I created a history shelf for all of our Egypt books and pioneer books. Another shelf holds all of the life science books and another holds the physical science books. Each girl has a shelf with their workbooks and textbooks. Another shelf holds reference books and one holds my supplies. We even have a shelf devoted to the puzzles and games which will reinforce our studies.

I love how the books aren't all crammed together. It's easy to see exactly what is on each shelf.

On the opposite wall I put up a great big map of the United States. I need to get a world map too so I don't embarrass myself when the kids ask where Bulgaria is.

Did you know that dog washing is an important part of our curriculum?

Pugsley does.

It's such a lovely feeling knowing that the house is clean. Even the dogs smell great!

The only bad news is that my basement is back to being a mess. I need to get down there and start weeding through all 157 pitchers and get rid of some.

I am totally keeping my spray paint though.

Progress not perfection.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October Farewell

This was the most lovely October I can remember. Cold when it should be cold and warm for Halloween.

These pictures were taken on October 11. It was just as the leaves were starting to really turn.

We walk the dogs around this pond.

The dogs like to walk down in the mud.

I adore heaps of strange looking pumpkins.

I always get at least one strange pumpkin, though they look best if surrounded by $200 worth of equally unusual pumpkins.

This one may actually be a gourd.

Or maybe a squash?

I have no idea. How can I possibly be homeschooling my children when I don't have the answers to these critical questions?

I do know that pumpkins are fruits! Maybe that redeems me a little. I also know that pumpkin pie is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food. During the fall and winter pumpkin pie is often the breakfast of choice.

This blog has gone a bit rambly lately hasn't it? Hang in there people! I'm bound to redevelop some sort of narrative cohesion any day now.