Tuesday, August 31, 2010

house progress

On Sunday afternoon as I was mowing the grass and the kids were all outside playing, a strange car pulled into the driveway. The girls rode their bikes up to see who it was and a man said, "You have such a pretty place here that I wanted to take a picture." I have to say that I agree, but it seems a little strange to stop at someone's farm, especially when the house isn't finished yet.

The inside painting has been progressing along. We changed the color in the foyer from lemon meringue, which turned out to be waaaay too bright (the juxtaposition of the deep green and the yellow made me want to start singing the College of William and Mary fight song, since those are their colors) so I decided play it safe and use all historic colors for the first floor and went with a lighter buff color. The master bedroom is a deep brown/grey which looks very rich, while the schoolroom in the basement is a bright green that pulls your eye right out the windows to the grassy field. Next to be painted are the children's rooms in Honolulu blue and amethyst mist and the music room in a delft blue. It will be so lovely to live in a house where I picked the colors rather than living in rentals where someone with no sense of style decided that bubblegum pink is a good color choice.   

Monday, August 30, 2010

all faired out

On our third trip to the Union Fair for the year our family really scored big. While we didn't get up and out the door in time to sign the little boys up for the pedal tractor pull, Timmy won a bicycle in the free bike drawing. Some might think we have an unfair advantage, being able to get 6 tickets at every drawing, increasing our odds of winning, especially since Maggie won a bike a few years back, but they each only get one ticket like everyone else. This was Timmy's first new bike and he proudly rode it through the fairgrounds to the van so we cold stash it until it was time to leave.

Since the big kids had missed the Kent Family Magic Circus act on Friday we stayed for that and then Will was chosen to participate in the clown act in The Flying Wallenda's trapeze show (he was the "M" in the YMCA song). All in all, we had a great time at the fair, but luckily we had a day to recover before we begin school for the year on Monday morning.    

Saturday, August 28, 2010

you did what?!

We spent 8 hours at the fair.

8 hours filled with rides, eating cotton candy, onion rings, and pizza, getting lost, and finding each other. 2 hours were spent by the children in agony because the generator that powered the rides went kaboom and Smokey's Entertainment had to fetch a backup from the Windsor Fairgrounds.

Of course Will was in his element, getting close to the action and giving us the straight skinny on the cause of the power outage, "They thought it was the fuel line, but apparently the fuel level was slightly too high and they are having to replace the filter. They can fix it and then switch the whole thing back over because the Pharaoh's Fury takes so much power that even the backup generator (the size of 1/2 a semi) can't run it and everything else too." I just felt sorry for the folks stuck in the Zipper and at the top of the Ferris Wheel (they powered it back up for 5 minutes to get them all out).

In the meantime we looked at Julia Ellen's favorite part of the fair: the poultry barn with its quacking ducks and crowing roosters. We watched a magic show put on by a family of 9 (even the mom juggled a spatula, plunger, and baby doll representing what every mom balances: cooking, cleaning, and kids), a horse pulling contest, and a trapeze show.

Finally, after many more turns on the bumper cars and trips down the dump truck slide, the sun set and with the baby starting to fall asleep in her stroller, we slowly walked back to the car and drove home to bed. The plan today is to return for the last day of the fair (but no rides!) and say goodbye to the ducks, cows, and sheep for another year.    

Thursday, August 26, 2010

rainy day, rainy day

Apparently we are experiencing the same weather that has kept Obama from enjoying his $50,000 a week vacation on Martha's Vineyard. Our plans to go to the Union Fair for the day so the children could ride the Sizzler and the kiddy train to their heart's content were put on hold until Friday. With only the garage, the barn, and our tiny apartment to play in, the kids went stark raving mad yesterday. Pillow fights, wrestling, and pony rides resulted in one huge crazy mess. 

This morning promises to be more of the same, but I have tickets to the bowling alley that the kids earned from the summer reading program. We had to forgo the other rewards of a roller skating session and tickets to a minor league baseball game (the logistics of driving 3 hours to Portland for a 7pm game with 6 children were too daunting), but even I can handle bowling. It isn't exactly free with having to rent shoes and paying for myself, but it seems like a good alternative to sitting in 1000 square feet and attempting entertain all the children with few toys, no unread books, and no electronic media devices.    

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

the perfect day

It is starting to get cool here in Maine with temps now in the mid-70's so I pulled out a pair of size 10 jeans yesterday before walking out to the garden. The waistband slid down to my hips, making me look like the Saggy Baggy Elephant. Apparently, running 5 miles a day has not resulted in any weight loss, but a redistribution of sorts. So, while the big kids were at their first piano lesson in almost a month, the little ones and I hot-footed it up to the Goodwill in Bangor where I scored 2 pairs of jeans that actually stayed around my waist. Serendipitously, they sported yellow tags, which meant my purchase was 50% off.

We had plenty of time to swing by the commissary and replenish our milk stock before pulling up in front of the piano teacher's house. I was surprised by her commenting on how well the children had played, especially Mary (who goes in my bedroom and shuts the door to practice, making me wonder if she is touching any of the keys at all).

To reward everyone, we hit the road for Craig Pond and had the entire place to ourselves for much of the afternoon. It was the most relaxing trip to the beach I have had in years with the little children happy to play in the shallows and the older children swimming together out to the rocks and not bickering.

To top off my idea of the ideal summer day in Maine, the children all bathed and brushed their teeth without too much complaining and I was able to close my eyes by 9pm grateful for my children, my husband, and all blessings I have been given.   

Sunday, August 22, 2010

ego enhancement

Yesterday after swimming lessons we headed up to the "big city" to run a few errands. Since it was lunchtime the kids voted to go to Burger King even though most just wanted french fries and chocolate milk. As I am a connoisseur of fast food, I headed off of 95 at the Union Street exit because that restaurant is quieter and for some reason has better burgers than the one near the mall. The kids collected straws and napkins before staking out a booth. As I was filling my drink cup, an old crusty Mainer appeared at my shoulder and said, "You homeschool, don't you?"


"I can tell, those are real good kids you got there." 

While we were eating, I noticed a woman looking over at us every so often. After saying grace, we were laughing and blowing straw wrappers at each other, I was handing out cash for Charlie to go get another cheeseburger and milk, and Maggie kept popping up for more ketchup. This lady came over and said, "I have to tell you how beautiful your children are. They are so well behaved too." 

"Well, thank you."

Then the old gentleman came over to our table after he finished his meal and gave us another compliment, "Aye, those are good children. You take care of them."

To top off our 30 minute visit to BK, one of the cashiers also came over to our table to tell us how polite Maggie was when she went up alone to order some extra french fries, "She said, 'thank you'. It shows what a good job you are doing with these kids."

Gosh, if I didn't have to go home and live with these "good, polite, well behaved" children, I might just get a big head. Call me 'mom of the year' and I'll laugh harder than anyone.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

still on my own

Today is the day that Tim was going to come up to Maine for a week's respite. Was going to come up. We will be on our own for 11 weeks, which is the longest we have been apart since he was deployed 7 years ago.

Many military families are separated for long periods of time, of course not voluntarily, but with the great distance between Virginia and Maine neither of us can jump in the car and visit for the weekend. I have friends who can pop their 5-6 kids in the car and travel hundreds of miles without another adult, but I'm not that brave or lucky. I know perfectly well that my tire would blow out on a steep hill in Connecticut, I would accidentally get off the New Jersey Turnpike and end up in Manhattan, would have some sort of panic attack on the Delaware Memorial Bridge. I couldn't even go to downtown Belfast yesterday without managing to get stung by a bumblebee in my own car and almost hit an SUV. So, driving down to Virginia (and back) for a visit is out of the question.

I'm disappointed that Tim can't see the progress on the house, hear the children express thanks for sending them to summer camp, listen to him reading them stories, and express amazement at my lovely garden (and help me eat some of this produce). The builder is disappointed that Tim isn't here to see the furnace room with the neatly labeled copper pipes, the postman will be disappointed that Tim isn't here to talk to him about his son's possible military options, and the children are disappointed not to be able to curl up on their daddy's lap. But he will be up in a few more weeks and then we will go to the lobster pound one more time, walk around the fields and woods, pat the tractor, and close up the place in readiness for another winter in suburbia land. 

Our summers up in Maine are the highlight of our year, full of sunshine and fun, but once we get back to Virginia we are all together again, which is the way a family should be. One day in the not-too-distant future hopefully we will all be able to live year-round in Maine and the summers apart will become a distant memory.   

Thursday, August 19, 2010

big pumpkins, little pumpkins

While my 'Baby Bear' pumpkins are growing like gangbusters (we must have at least 15 fruits nestled under the umbrella like leaves), I cuddled up under my down comforter the past few evenings and read Backyard Giants, The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Susan Warren. The book follows the 2006 growing season of several growers/breeders in their quest to harvest a 1500 pound world record winning fruit. I learned a great deal about the joys and heartbreaks involved in such an endeavor, but it did not make me want to grow a pumpkin that I couldn't eat or have to use a tractor to pick up.

Sometime in the next month my dark green orbs will turn bright orange and we will gently place them in the back of Tim's truck with as much care as a prize contender to transport to our Virginia house. There we will cut some up for jack-o-lanterns and some we will eat in pie. Pumpkin growing has been a very satisfying growing experience and I have already picked up a few packets of seeds for next year's crop. With all our open fields, maybe we will try a couple of those giant pumpkins, just for grins.      

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

agonizing about color choices

I have been ripping out photo spreads out of Better Homes and Gardens, scouring home decorating books from the library, studying the Benjamin Moore paint cards intently, and painting scrap pieces of drywall in anticipation of this week.

When we first arrived in Maine back in June the interior of the house was framed, but since then we have slowly seen the drywall crew install, sand, and prime the walls, watched the front porch become a reality, and marvel at the engineering involved in installing our new furnaces (to combat Maine winters we have decided on both a wood boiler for cold days and a propane boiler for shoulder season when the temps get above 30F. This from a southern girl who didn't know that it could get much colder than 30F!).

Having mostly lived in rental housing, I have never gotten to chose colors for a home, put shelves on the kid's bedroom walls for all their dolls and trophies, or have enough wall space in the schoolroom for maps AND a chalkboard. And, since Tim hates any change to his surroundings, once the walls are painted and the furniture placed they will be there for the next 30 years, I better choose well the first go-around. 

I have narrowed my colors to 12, repeating some in several rooms (for example the boy's bath, the music room, and the basement bath are all light blue). The builder bought the first two colors and put the first coat on today, turning the house from a white shell to a preview of what it will look like in less than 2 years with all our furniture placed inside. I'll post some of the rooms with color over the next several weeks, not only to share with friends, but also with my husband, who has left the selection completely up to me. For some reason I can post pictures here with not too much trouble, but attaching pictures to email is an impossibility using dial-up.

Here is the living room/kitchen and front hall (the bottom portion of the walls will be wainscoting in glossy white to match the trim and windows):   

Monday, August 16, 2010

less than a week to go

until Tim arrives for a week's vacation. The Union Fair begins Saturday and it will be lovely to be able to attend as a family, watching the children on the rides, licking scoops of ice cream, and rooting on the participants in the pig scramble. The program arrived a few days ago so Mary and I have decided that Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday are the best days to go. Of course, just buying all-you-can-ride bracelets for 5 children is almost $100, so they know that we can only do that one day. 

I don't want my husband to think that I've been this giant slacker since he's been gone, so the whole place has to be spic and span for his arrival. The children's beds have been stripped and the sheets bleached, the garage cleaned, and the van vacuumed out already, but we still have to tidy the barn, cut the grass, clean off the accumulated papers off every flat surface, and mop all the floors. I need to clean out the oven from a bad baking experiment and iron all the shirts and dresses that have piled up. I'm sure that after a week of all our activities the house will become messy again, but I'm sure Tim will appreciate our efforts for the whole 15 minutes it stays perfectly clean. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

there are few things...

more beautiful than waking to a beautiful sunrise.

more helpless than listening to a child cough for hour upon hour in the middle of the night. 

more satisfyingly revengeful than killing a nest of "ground bees" that injured your children.

more funny than watching a sleeping child roll off the sofa in slow motion.

more terrifying than looking up while driving a tractor and seeing a hornet's nest bigger than a balloon right above your head. 

May the next 24 hours be a little more calm and restful. Luckily, I'm guaranteed another lovely sunrise tomorrow. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

terror in the fields

About 2 hours ago, while I was starting to mow the edges of the fields, the boys were trailing at a distance behind me. All of a sudden I heard screaming and I looked behind me to find the boys racing around, waving their arms. I knew immediately what had happened and turned off the PTO, pushed the throttle down, put it into neutral, and jumped off the tractor. Timmy and Charlie were covered with dozens of yellow jackets, crawling all over their shorts, going up their shirts, and all over their socks. The scene was reminiscent of the drawing in Little House in the Big Woods when naughty Charlie the cousin got stung by a swarm of yellow jackets.

I couldn't brush them off fast enough, but dragged them away from the swarm, stripped them down to their underwear, and started back to the house. The builder had heard the screams and came to help me. Together we got the boys to safety with a few more stings along the way. I stuck them in the tub with about a quart of baking soda and applied a poultice of baking soda to each sting. Timmy had about 10 stings, while Charlie got it worse with about 20 welts. He also got stung on his lip, which swelled to twice its normal size within a few minutes.

My mind was filled with the memory of my aunt's friend who died last month after being stung by a single bee. However, I didn't detect any breathing difficulties, I got them dressed, wrapped each in a blanket, and gave them cups of iced lemonade, and read them a few stories. Tim was consulted and so I dabbed each red dot with Benedryl and dosed them with grape flavored Tylenol. They both seem to be back to their normal selves, but the memories of being covered with stinging insects will likely never leave them. I hope this episode does not make them frightened of running free on the farm, but it might make them a little hesitant to trail behind the tractor for a while.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

freedom for me, but not for thee

I would never subscribe to such a radical publication, but I do enjoy reading the library's copies for homesteading and gardening articles in Mother Earth News. Why do I consider it radical? Interspersed between articles on circumventing local codes to live off the grid and convert cars to run off of oil or wood, there is an undercurrent of progressivism in  wanting to control the American population that are not as "enlightened" as themselves. From constantly ranting about the evils of "big oil" to encouraging government regulations in every aspect of our lives in the name of saving the planet, the magazine's editors show their true colors. But the worst attitude they exhibit is their frequent bashing of those of us who are raping the earth by having children. Here is a recent snip from a letter they published,

"Overpopulation is the root of all humanity's problems, and family size needs to be limited to two children, one child or no children for a sustainable future. Some of our brothers and sisters disagree with that because of religious ideals and a belief that God will fix it. I am here to tell you that is pure and utter ignorance. We procreate and we need to challenge our belief that it is OK to have as many children as we want. Human population doubles every 40 to 45 years....I would love to have a boy and a girl, but I know too much. I cannot bring them into an overpopulated, overpolluted, overexploited, war-torn planet in good conscience."

I'm sorry, but this man sounds like a certain relative of mine, a pompous blowhard who thinks that he is the smartest person in the room. His dismissive attitude toward those who believe in God and the sanctity of life is typical of greenies. I can't tell you how many times I have been glared at in the fancy-schmancy, super-expensive hippy co-op in town (I go to buy local honey and maple syrup) for having a long line of children trailing after me. I have a feeling that he will one day regret not having children, but by then it will be too late. I recall reading somewhere (perhaps in the Bible?) that there have always been problems due to man's proclivity to sin. Overpopulation wasn't the reason Cain killed his brother, there were only 4 people in the entire world at the time. Noah didn't need to build an ark because of too many people, but because almost all of them were nasty and brutish and full of hate. 

I was thinking of bumper stickers the other day and one idea developed: 

Who is going to experience demographic success if the prolifers have 6 kids and the proabortionists kill all of theirs?    

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

and so we begin...

the most exhausting and longest week of the summer: sailing week. Both nearby (within 45 minutes, since everything is a long drive in Maine) towns where the kids have taken lessons in the past were not offering them due to instructor burnout or the director being away on a ship. So, we signed 3 of the children up for lessons in Lincolnville and knew that it was going to be a haul getting them there and back every day. Class is from 10am to 4:30pm and with the distance, I have decided to stay in the vicinity, rather than make the trip back to the farm and waste all that gasoline and risk a speeding ticket.

Yesterday went well, after prying Mary off my arm due to her sporadic shyness, we went to my friend Jennifer's house until after lunch. Between her and her sister who is visiting for the summer there were 8 other children, so the visit gave my little ones a fun break from their sometimes bossy older brother and sisters. Later we did a little shopping and spent some time in the air conditioned library before heading back to the pond just in time to watch Mary haul wet sails.

We didn't get home until 5:30, where we had to unload the car, clean out the trash that had accumulated during the day, and set everything up for this morning before eating supper and bathing everyone. Will and Mary and Maggie are having a blast at their lessons, learning a great deal about sailing, and out of my hair for a short while, but I'm going to need a week to recover from the experience.   

Sunday, August 08, 2010

creepy crawlies

I'm not particularly fond of insects, but I'm not a ninny who freaks out everytime she sees a spider and expects her husband to smash it. Bugs are expected in gardening and someone has to pluck them off, spray them, or smash them underfoot. The past few summers our two young peach trees (which have never produced a single peach) are the favorite food and breeding ground for Japanese Beetles. I go out several times a day, collecting my Mason jar off a bench, and go to work knocking the bugs into the jar. Despite my best efforts, I usually can capture only 1/2 of the insects that are on the plant, allowing the rest to fly away or burrow into the grass. I should buy a trap, but haven't managed to get around to it, perhaps I find killing the nasty suckers therapeutic. I can't do anything about the economy or my Senators' voting record, but I can drown dozens of shiny beetles that make the leaves in my orchard resemble lace.

(not to disparage anyone who doesn't aspire to being an entomologist, I screeched and jumped pretty high the other day when I found a beetle crawling in my hair. They tend to go every which way after shaking the peach trees to knock down any hidden bugs onto a sheet I spread on the grass.)

Friday, August 06, 2010

whoohoo, we are finished!

Today we finally wrapped up the very last question on Will's religion test and he wrote the last paragraph and copied over his entire book report neatly. All we have left to complete is the California Achievement Test which arrived yesterday. I have been nagging and coaxing him through the last few weeks of 6th grade for a month after everyone else finished and am so grateful to not have to do that for... oh, about 3 weeks before we start all over again.

While he was writing, the UPS driver rapped on the door and handed me two boxes: Will and Maggie's books and lesson plans for the new year. (Charlie and Mary are taking another 4 months to finish up their current grade) Not one to twiddle my thumbs, I already have the 1st quarter's lesson plans in the little binders and the remainder in huge 3" auxiliary binders. Julia Ellen helped me put the new books on the bookshelf and now we are all ready for the new year to begin. 

Of course, within 30 minutes of sealing his quarter's work in the manila envelope, Maggie and Mary decided that they really wanted to get some of their schoolwork out. I just wanted to scream, "Girls, please allow me enjoy my summer vacation for just a few moments before I have to contemplate starting our 8th year of homeschooling."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

a girl with an appetite

My grandfather used to joke that I had a hollow leg when I would eat 3 helpings of vegetable soup and still manage to scarf down an ice cream parfait for dessert afterwards. But I don't hold a candle to Julia Ellen, who at 17 months of age ate for supper tonight: 1/2 container yogurt, 2 slices of canned pears, 1 bowl applesauce, 1/2 of a hot dog, and 6 slivers of watermelon, with milk to wash it all down.

Note that she is not the neatest eater, but 90% of the food did make it into her mouth.

Monday, August 02, 2010

growing plump

No, I'm getting fat, in fact, I've been running about 5 miles a day and am within 1 pound of my pre-pregnancy weight. My watermelon and pumpkins, on the other hand, are growing bigger every day. We had two volunteer watermelon plants this year, my guess is that they were seeds that failed to sprout last summer. So far we have about 10 tiny melons, the largest is the size of a large eggplant.
The pumpkins are about the size of a softball right now, I think they are Baby Bear variety and will mature early.

Somehow my peas are within days of harvest, despite planting 2 months too late, and I must have 10 tomatoes that will be ready this week. The squash is overwhelming in productivity, on Friday I gave away 13 and gave put 5 more in a box at the pool for someone to take on Saturday morning. No can eat that much squash, despite my efforts at eating it sauteed with onion and pork sausage several times this past week. Julia Ellen is my only co-patriot in eating the stuff, but she can't eat more than a few slices. I already have tons of ideas for next year's garden, including many more peas and much fewer crooknecks.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I should have realized...

that going to the town's ecumenical service instead of driving up to Bangor for regular Mass was a bad idea, but I made the executive decision for us to attend. The service was divided 3 ways by the Congregationalists, the middle age Catholic lay women who run the local parish (the rotating priest declined participation at the last minute), and the town's Evangelical holy rollers.

Not only did the service drag on, but the Catholic "performance" (because that is all it was) was off key, warbling, and invoked snickering in the back of the church. Our family quietly snuck out during a 10 full minute rendition of How Great Thou Art, and while driving home, I asked God to forgive our attendance. I told the children afterwards that I was sorry I put them through that and if I ever suggested such a thing again to remind me of this day and tell me, "no!"