Saturday, July 31, 2010

a quiet afternoon at the beach

After finishing a bit of school and piano practice (of course it took 3 times longer than necessary), we packed up the van and headed down to our favorite pond. Since I only had the boys and Julia Ellen, the few hours we spent were peaceful, other than the few times I had to pull the baby out of the water after she tipped over. I'm glad we waited until a cooler day, the small beach was all ours until we had to put our chairs and boogy boards in the car and head up to a neighboring town to collect the girls from summer camp. This weekend is supposed to be the best of the summer in terms of weather, temps in the high 70's and light puffy clouds. Our plans include seeing a town parade, swimming lessons, and a trip to another pond which hosts a large population of frogs which the children love to catch and release.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

make hay while the sun shines

The homeschooling family at the other end of our road have goats, chickens, and several horses, so they need many bales of hay to see them through the winter. Our family has many acres of hayfields, but no farm animals yet, so every summer around this time they cut, spread, tedder, and bale our hay. Will and Mary started helping stack the bales on the hay wagon last year and Will has proved to be such a competent assistant that he has been given truck driving lessons as payment.
Yesterday, under threat of imminent rainfall, everyone took turns stacking, driving the tractor, and transporting hay to their spacious barn. Mary is missing out while at camp, but since only 1/5 of the hay has been cut, I'm sure she will have ample opportunity to increase her arm muscles by lifting and toting 20+ lb bales of green matter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

all I want is a little obedience

Tim noticed from the tone in my voice that something was different this week. Yes, a big something was different: Will came back from 2 weeks of camp and the girls left for their turn of swimming, archery, campfires, dining hall fare, and miscellaneous camp fun. I got excellent reports from his scoutmaster on his attitude and helpfulness and he persevered in obtaining 5 merit badges while some kids dropped out. But one of my frustrations with this particular child is the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality switch once he gets home. When I ask the girls to practice the piano or watch the baby they actually follow directions, but Will feels the need to give me grief, attempt to weasel out of it, or say, Yes, Mommy," but then not follow through.

Yes, it is a pain to still have to be doing school at the end of July, but whose fault is that?
Life was so relaxed there for the time, but apparently now I have to revert back into Mean Mommy mode. My mother always said, "I'll get my revenge when you have children who act exactly like you," but I don't want revenge, just cooperation.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

say cheese!

I gave up on professional photographs of the children many years ago when the photographer couldn't get both children to look in the same direction at the same time. I had better luck capturing candid moments and at least a few times a year taking a decent photo of the ever-expanding group of children together. Last year we drove to the top of Mt. Battie and I took at least 30 snaps of the kids sitting on rocks with a beautiful backdrop of the island dotted Penobscot Bay. Not one shot came out where all the children were looking pleasant. Someone was either hidden behind another, scowling, or making a funny face. We did manage to get a decent photo for the annual Christmas card after I made the threat of not leaving until they cooperated, but there was no panoramic backdrop, just green leaves.

Yesterday morning I made the girls all wear pink and dressed the little boys in red, tossing a spare red shirt in the tote bag when we drove up to Camp Roosevelt to collect Will. With the girls leaving for camp today, it was the only opportunity to attempt a group photo in many weeks. However, after I loaded the pictures onto the computer I again discovered that one kid in each shot was not cooperating. I guess we will try again after Mass today for that one elusive picture that shows a cheerful bunch of children enjoying their summer in Maine.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

amazing sea monkeys?

As a child, I never filled out the order form for Sea Monkeys advertised in many children's magazines. The descriptions showed little creatures cavorting around in circles, doing daring tricks, and growing before your very eyes. I was tempted to ask my mother, but I knew that she couldn't afford the $9.95 plus S&H, realizing that for that money, all I would receive was a bunch of shrimp eggs and some packets of food. But as a parent I decided to splurge on a Sea Monkey kit when I spied one a few weeks before Christmas for just $3 at the thrift store.

Maggie was thrilled with her gift, but when we tried to hatch the little suckers in frigid January, not one baby brine shrimp appeared. So I sent off for some more eggs and held onto the packets until we arrived in Maine. Maggie added the water purifier (not certain it was necessary with well water, but I didn't want another dud batch) and a day later added the eggs. Within a week we had dozens of itsy-bitsy moving dots in the container, which is equipped with magnifying circles to better see the creature's growth.

We have been the proud caretakers of Sea Monkeys for a few weeks now and while it is interesting viewing every time we visit the bathroom (they prefer a north facing window), I can say that I'm glad I didn't pay retail for the experience. The next pet we will acquire will be an animal for the farm and it will be one that the children can pick up and cuddle, not one that needs a magnifying glass to view.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

its safe to come over now

Our household only comes down with various illness about two times a year, the last being during the Great Blizzard of February '10, but as Tim the clinician points out when speaking of statistics, "A small percentage of a really big number is still a big number." What he means is that if only .2% of a given population gets a certain disease, if the population is say, 10,000,000, that 20,000 get sick. If only 50% of our family comes down with a 24 hour tummy bug, I'm cleaning up vomit out of the car seats and doing load after load of laundry for 4 days. Apparently Charlie, our tough child, escaped unscathed and since I haven't gotten a phone call from camp, Will evaded it as well.

On the positive side, my van is now sparkling clean after a thorough vacuum and scrub with upholstery cleaner. Perhaps on Saturday we can finally collect Will at Boy Scout camp without causing a scene. Just this year we have had to stop a program and send out searchers in the growing dusk to look for Charlie, run through registration hauling a dripping baby and her carseat into the bathroom to scrub down, have a temporarily lost 4 year old returned to us, and been chastised several times to stop climbing on the boulders.

Now that our social schedule is open again, we are having an old friend and his two boys come up for lunch today and are planning a meal to take to a new mommy (her 6th) on Thursday.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the little garden that could

Last summer I bought a few tomato plants, but then a fungus got them (the same fungus that caused the potatoes to rot in the fields of Ireland in the 1800's) and I didn't get more than a few mouthfuls of produce. So perhaps I bit off a little more than I could chew when I bought 12 tomato seedlings and 6 crookneck squash seedlings at the garden shop last month. I didn't really think about what would happen if they actually grew and produced.

We had a bit of a glitch when the baby squash started turning brown, but a quick Google search told me that it was blossom end rot, caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. Maine's very acid soils are great for blueberries, but not so great for veggies. I tossed a couple of handfuls of lime, which supplies calcium and raises the pH, around each plant while Charlie raked it in and Maggie watered. (Note the clover which I interplanted as a cover crop. They are NOT weeds, Charlie is a great weeder.) Two weeks later we are overwhelmed with 4-5" squash, more than I can saute with onion, even if I ate it every night for supper.

This afternoon I'm going to offer some to the drywall guys and hope that they take some home as well as investigate the possibility of giving some to the local food bank. I better hurry 'cause the tomatoes seem to all be poised to ripen next week and while I am salivating at the thought of a ripe tomato sandwich, a girl can only eat so many BLTs.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

everyone pitch in

Maggie was the first to start vomiting on Thursday with Timmy and Mary falling in line behind her on Friday and Saturday. I had to call the babysitter and cancel my race plans only to discover that it would have disastrous to plow ahead and run as I quickly came down with whatever tummy bug the kids brought home. We went from a perfectly clean apartment to complete chaos in less than 6 hours as Mommy was not available to pick up, scrub, and organize. But the good that came out of my illness was the cooperation that the children exhibited. They bathed the baby, cooked dinner, made pallets on the floor to camp out in the living room, read stories, swept the stairs, and brought me ice water. I'm still very weak and stiff, but I think a mere hour of wiping and sweeping will put everything back to rights.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blueberries for Julia Ellen

Now I know exactly how Little Sal's mother felt in Blueberries For Sal as we went yesterday morning to our town's blueberry patch. I didn't know about this opportunity until Tim took the boys for a spin in the Jeep a few weeks back and drove down a dead end road. It ended with a gorgeous view and a sign that implied that town residents could pick berries. We joined a few other folks, but for the most part we had the hill to ourselves. Everyone took turns using the small blueberry rake I bought years ago at an antique shop, while Julia Ellen plopped herself in one spot and stripped the bushes in her vicinity clean before toddling over to another patch. We filled our little baskets full and in less than 30 minutes headed home to clean and gorge on wild Maine blueberries. It takes longer to pick out the leaves and unripe fruit than it does to scoop them up with the rake, but the reward to taking a huge mouthful at once is worth the work. Maggie gave a quart container to our builder, so for our little bit of work, many folks are having a delicious breakfast this morning.

Friday, July 16, 2010

why is it that...

I gracefully receive a complement on the children's behavior at a restaurant only to see the 6 year old spill an entire cup of Hi-C all over the table and the floor?

I put the baby down in the grass for a minute to pick a few raspberries only to hear a mind-numbing shriek because a yellow jacket stung her on the face?

I stayed awake reading until 1am just because I couldn't put down the latest Jodi Picoult novel, only to be awoken at 5:30 to a vomiting 7 year old and a baby who wants to be held?

I mow all the field edges successfully for the first time only to hit the edge of the barn door when backing the tractor in?

Here's hoping that the next 24 hours are less traumatic.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

collapse the system

The Helena, Montana school system has come out with very inappropriate guidelines for teaching sexual education, including explaining homosexual sex in 1st grade and different sexual positions (including anal sex) in 5th grade. Somehow they think that more information at earlier ages leads to better decision making, the exact opposite of what has occurred in society over the past 30 years. Today, with sex education, we have 75% of teens engaging in sex and infected with various venereal diseases. Obviously, staying away from promiscuous behavior would eliminate all these diseases as well as teen pregnancy, but then Planned Parenthood would lose all that revenue from birth control, treating disease, and abortions. Can you guess who helped write this school system's proposed policy?

Yes, many parents are outraged, but once the hubbub dies down, they will willingly send their children in to be exposed to this pro-youth sex propaganda. The solution is for parents to get some guts and pull their children out, homeschool them for however long it takes for the school board to realize they have no students for their teachers and staff to indoctrinate. They would quickly back down and resume covering what they should: reading, math, science, history, writing... and not performing social science experiments. Some parents and children might find that they prefer school at home and never return, but this might be the best thing to happen for those who are getting bullied around by the people who are supposedly serving the community.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

just call me Ma Ingalls

After stopping a few time on my afternoon runs to eat some enticing raspberries on the side of the road, I convinced Timmy and Charlie to go pick berries with me. Mary babysat while Julia Ellen slept and the little boys and I headed through the woods with our berry cartons. A few years ago, a developer got the idea to build houses on 40 acres next to ours and went to all the trouble of cutting down trees and putting in a short gravel road before the economy took a nosedive. Now the property is on the market and unlikely to sell due to the appearance of the land, it isn't wooded and not even close to open pasture, just a mix of spindly trees mixed with scrub. But that scrub contains a whole lot of raspberry brambles which is just perfect for us.
It was slow going, the berries were small and since Timmy is only 4 we had to listen to a constant barrage of, "When are we going back home? There are a lot of berries over here. Is this one ripe? Are we finished yet? Can I eat some of my raspberries?" I also had to keep an eye and ear out for the threat of a bear filling up on the sweet jewels, but luckily I didn't have to face down any wild creatures to protect my own little cubs.

We collected about 1/2 a pint of fruit before we got too hot, but, inspired by the offerings at the local diner, we made homemade wild raspberry muffins for dinner. Leftovers will be served for breakfast, split open and broiled with a pat of sweet butter. Yum!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

working vacation

Before we drove up to Maine, I found a piano teacher in town and made arrangements for them to continue lessons sporadically during the summer. Will was complaining about how much harder Miss Ellen is than their former teacher, "She expects 3 times as much!" I understand their frustration, but I know that they have made progress in even the few weeks this month. Maggie and I sat down together every day this past week because she had to say the note names aloud as she played each of her 6 pieces. The first day she cried the entire 30 minutes, but the next day I resorted to attitude medicine: smartie candies that I popped in her mouth if she said the notes well. The difference was phenomenal and by Monday's practice she only had to play each one 2 times to show me her skill.

I have to say that I have learned how to read most of the notes without having to resort to my cheat sheet that Will made for me. She still mixes up B and D sometimes (D dangles off the treble clef), but she is still faster than I am and is playing the right key at the same time. This is homeschooling: learning together and making adjustments in the best way to teach each child to help them achieve their goals.

Monday, July 12, 2010

cute baby alert

This morning, our first day without Will, we decided to hit the road and go to a local pond. After the kids loaded all the gear and I packed the cooler with some drinks and snacks we were down the road by 8:45. The vote was for Knight's Pond, but then we changed our minds and went to a closer lake. Our crew had the park to themselves for almost an hour before the crowds started to arrive (think 50 people at the max). The kids dug holes and chutes in the gravel, swam, hunted for treasure (Mary actually found $1.25), and had a marvelous time. We left at lunchtime to get home in time to unpack and get ready for the babysitter. Obviously, the baby was enchanted by the water.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

well, aren't we lucky?

BANGOR, Maine — The first family will spend next weekend vacationing on Mount Desert Island, according to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

President Barack Obama and his family are scheduled to arrive Friday, July 16, and stay through Sunday, July 18. (I hope it rains the entire weekend, especially since I'm running my first road race on Saturday in almost a year. Should I wear a shirt that reads, "Maine: the way life should be, that is until Obama showed up"?)

Information about where the family would stay and the sights they might take in while visiting Maine was not available Friday night. The visit is a personal family vacation and no public appearances are scheduled, Pingree said. (Yeah, gotta get in those expensive family vacations while the taxpayers are footing the bill. Will someone tell them to stand back and beware of rogue waves that have killed many people here?)

“What an honor that the Obama family has chosen Maine for vacation when they could have gone anywhere in the country,” she said. “I think the Obamas will really enjoy the quiet woods, beautiful coast, wonderful people and everything else that brings thousands of families here every year.” (most folks who come to Maine sniff the pine scented air and enjoy the secluded beaches, I think the Obama clan are more about photo shoots and fancy food, I mean HOW many magazine covers have they done in 18 months? And how many "regular" people are they going to see during their stay? Michelle, the food dictator, might have a coronary over seeing the number of enormously fat people who live here.)

While White House officials were mum about where on the island the first family would stay, Obama has political connections on MDI. George Mitchell, U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace, owns a home in Seal Harbor. Mitchell and his wife, Heather, have two children, Andrew, 12, and Claire, 9. The Obama children, Malia and Sasha, are 12 and 9, respectively.

Last August, the first family visited Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. The Obamas also spent time on Martha’s Vineyard in August 2009. (my guess as to the Obama's next family vacation: Everglades National Park, 'cause those national park fees are a bit steep for someone who only earns $5 million a year)

Information about whether the family would arrive in Air Force One, the presidential jet, was not available. Neither the Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton nor the Portland International Jetport has runways long enough to accommodate the Boeing 747. (Oh, like they are going to land in Portland and drive 4 hours up the coast to Bar Harbor? This is a guy who has to fly from one side of DC to the other.)

Air Force One could land at Bangor International Airport (home of the famous troop greeters who have welcomed every soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Their contribution to the war effort was not for show, unlike Obama's famous soldier bracelet incident where he couldn't remember the guy's name.) and the Obamas could take a helicopter to the airport in Trenton, then take a motorcade to MDI. Last summer, Air Force One landed on Cape Cod, the family took a helicopter to Martha’s Vineyard, then rode in a motorcade to the 28-acre compound where they stayed. (how many tourists had their vacations shortened because of that huge traffic jam? Unfortunately I might get stuck behind the Obamamobile myself since we have to pick Will up from camp on Friday night and drop him back off on Sunday. I'll be sure to have my hand ready to honk if this bozo gets in my way.)

home again

My quiet, shy Mary was a chatterbox all the way home from camp yesterday, "We shot stuffed animals and I got a F on my swimming band. We were cold when we woke up at 11pm for ice cream. My best friend cried every night and had to go home early." She talked so fast that I couldn't understand most of her explanations, but I did get, "If Maggie goes, can I go back?" Apparently she didn't suffer from any homesickness, but did miss Julia Ellen, especially when she heard her baby sister say, "Maaa!" at her appearance. So, yes, we are contemplating sending both the girls later this summer for another round of archery and rifle shooting, crafts and horseback riding, dining hall dinners and late night ice cream parties for winners of the clean cabins contest. She has a few more freckles on her nose and a duffel bag full of dirty clothes, but Mary might be a little less shy than she was last week.

Friday, July 09, 2010

what a load of $#*&

My garden soil is more of a sick shade of gray than a rich black due to a lack of organic material. The fields have been hayed for as long as anyone can remember so all the nutrients have been taken out over the years, with nothing done to improve it. The area is so large that the small amount of compost that I produced didn't make a difference in fertility, so last fall I covered all three beds with a deep layer of spoiled hay and Tim tilled it all in this spring. This year I am determined to raise the quality of the soil as much as possible for future garden harvests. My ultimate goal is dirt that looks like chocolate cake, teeming with earthworms, and able to produce veggies so tasty that even my children will say, "Yum!"

Yesterday after I ran 4 miles I took a quick shower and headed up the road to the riding instructor's barn for a little nitrogen boost for my compost piles. I backed the truck right up to her manure pile and pitched it half full of wood shavings and not-too-smelly horse poop. After supper, while Will watched Julia Ellen, I shoveled it right out and then thoroughly rinsed out the truck bed. Tim doesn't like any of his possessions dirty and would not have been pleased if he had seen the pile of excrement, but my rationale is that the truck is 15 years old and we did deem it a farm truck. One day we will be hauling live animals in it, so this exercise is just a little foreshadowing of what will come. Yes, I will wash it out with soap and make it clean enough to sleep in, 'cause I might be staying in it once my husband finds out what I did.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

slow, slower, and slowest

Yesterday I started running again after I hired a babysitter sight unseen. Last week I posted a notice at the pizza parlor downtown and finally someone called seeking a job. Yeah, it is only for 5-8 hours a week, but that is $50-$80, a not-insignificant sum. Luckily she seems to be a nice girl, was a nanny for a baby last year, and rides from the same stable where Mary takes lessons. We arranged for her to come at 2pm every weekday to have a set time that didn't interfere with any other activities. But boy is it hot, even after a brief rainstorm. I think I walked as much as I ran during the 2.5 mile excursion. A cold shower felt soooo good and hopefully over the next few weeks I will lose those last 5 pounds that are keeping me out of the collection of cute shorts I brought up to Maine.

What is even slower than my pace is Will's progress at finishing up the school year. He still has a tiny bit in 2 subjects, a slightly bigger chunk in 2 more, and 1 more dreaded book report to complete. We could get it done within a week or two, but he is leaving on Sunday for 2 weeks of camp, making the school year drag out into August.

The slowest thing of all is this computer on dial-up, the days of click, click, click to navigate the web have slowed to click, go do a chore, come back and wait some more, then give up in frustration. Checking my email takes an hour due to the long waits for the screen to load. It would be more efficient to do everything on-line at the library, but that involves putting everyone in the car and trying to watch them in a public space at the same time I'm writing or reading. Well, there is no Utopia, so I'll just do the best I can trying to keep up with the news and my favorite blogs.

One day I will be running faster, Will is going to finish 6th grade (only then we will have 7th to fret about), and high speed internet will reach the wilds of rural Maine. Until then, I need to push myself, motivate my child, and have patience for the quirks of small town services.

Monday, July 05, 2010

boy is it hot!

Even up here in Maine where no one has air conditioning and few folks have a backyard pool (why do all that work for the 4 days a year it would be useful?), the thermometer topped out at 90 degrees today. While we have lots of space to play and stuff to do outside, I have never bought the children even a wading pool up here. There has always been the option to go to Knight's Pond or go to the beach in Stockton Springs. However, I just didn't want to deal with a likely sun burnt and cranky toddler (yes, Julia Ellen started walking in earnest this past week) so we drove up to ToysRUs and bought a hard plastic pool and a SlipNSlide that Will talked me into. Good thing he did as the kids had a blast running and flinging themselves down the wet plastic while Julia Ellen got to sit in the still water all by herself.

As for my method of keeping cool, I pulled out a sleeveless floral cotton shift this morning that I picked up at the thrift store a few weeks back. Somehow it makes me look skinny and doesn't constrict at all. I even planted some more corn, sunflower, and bean seeds to fill in the gaps in the garden without sweating. I feel really sorry for all the people in hot places such as Virginia, like my husband who decided to stay inside in the air conditioning and read a book all by his lonesome.

one kid short

If I don’t already have proof that my children are growing up, I only have to dress the baby to know for sure. “I bought this sweatshirt for Maggie,” I mentioned the other night when we went to the lobster pound for supper. “Grandmother bought this dress for Mary when we got back to the States,” I said when getting her dressed for Mass yesterday, “There is certainly no way she could fit into it now!”

Mary and I had a girl’s day out a few weeks ago, buying that first support undergarment (even though she really doesn’t need any support right now), and celebrating with lunch. Now she is at camp with a multitude of other girls doing whatever they do at summer camp. We talked about what to expect and what I need her to do: be sociable, eat enough so she doesn’t come back skinnier than she is now, participate, take showers, and brush her teeth. I do worry about her since she still hides behind me when asked a question, but I know deep down that she will be fine. In fact when we were pulling away from cabin #10, she and her new friend Lizzy were racing toward the bath house with bathing suits in hand to take their swimming test. It reminds me that soon enough she will be at college and not have me to nag her to do her schoolwork, practice the piano, and practice basic hygiene. One day I won’t spend every moment of the day trying to get someone to behave, but since Julia Ellen is not quite 16 months old, that day still seems very far away.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

on my own

May St. Christopher, patron Saint of travelers, pray for Tim on his journey back to Virginia. He didn't want to leave and we didn't want to see him go, but his leave is over and someone has to work to pay for all the swimming, sailing, riding, and piano lessons. The farm looks well kept and hopefully will look even tidier in the next few weeks. The neighbors started haying their fields with a little help from Will and Mary with plans to soon start on ours.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

tractor queen

Tim has been giving me tractor driving lessons this week and I have to say that I am a LOT more confident than I was on my first lesson several summers ago, I was terrified of tipping over on practically flat land! Driving a 40 horsepower farm tractor is much different than driving a car or even a riding mower (I can't believe that I was once scared of driving one of those) because you have to remember to put it in the right gear, remember at which speed to put the throttle on depending on the situation, use the 4 wheel drive in the fields, but not on the pavement, and constantly adjust the mower height. The machine is huge and is very dangerous to children on the ground as well to the driver. I have mowed around some of the fields, but when I was caught in a huge downpour Tuesday evening, I quickly pulled up the 7' mower, cut off the PTO, and put it in 3rd gear to get back to the barn. Of course by the time I carefully backed it in, the rain had almost stopped.

To make mowing the edges of the fields safer for Tim and myself I have resumed my pruning of the trees that stick out. A local man died last year when a branch whipped back into his chest while he was mowing. Well, three hours using heavy duty loppers and a pole saw has worn me out so badly that my muscles ache just sitting still. I can't lift anything more than a teacup, but no branches are going to slap me when I get back on that tractor.