Thursday, September 30, 2010

our last day in Maine

Between Mary's morning riding lesson and afternoon piano lessons I have a long to-do list to get through today. Get cash for tolls, buy snacks and a few toys for the kids to play with in the car, pack schoolbooks and clothes, clean the apartment, and return 60 books to the Bangor library. Actually, we have been working like fiends for several days now cleaning out the barn and garage and sweeping all the dust bunnies out of the corners of the bedrooms, scrubbing out the freezer, and returning library books to the other 2 towns we visit. We have pulled up the tomato plants, taken 2 bags of veggies to the food pantry, and put all the stalks and stems in the compost, while stacking the stakes and cages neatly in the barn.

It is a lot of work, but well worth it when we return in June to find clean floors and all our gardening supplies ready to begin another season. It isn't an exciting last day of vacation, but a dinner out at our favorite truck stop restaurant might compensate for hours of packing, cleaning, hauling boxes downstairs, and packing it all in the truck. (Hint, hint)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

baby needs new shoes

Actually, Mary and Charlie need new pants, but don't want to give up their old ones. Charlie's camouflage trousers have split down the crotch and both knees have ripped, even after being patched. Mary's pants have been patched once already and now are threadbare to the point of being able to see her panties through the backside seam. But since they are the "favorite" and most comfortable thing to wear, all I've heard this week is, "Pleeeease fix them! Don't throw them away!!"

The question of the day is, should I sneak them into the trash before we leave Maine in a few days or attempt another repair job?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

1st race in over a year

Boy, it has been a busy week here on the farm. Tim arrived on Tuesday, and I started painting the apartment because 3 summers of muddy fingerprints have left a real "impression" on the walls. School is progressing along, despite the 7th grader giving me grief about his workload. Yes, he does have more work than everyone else, but the girls finish first usually because they start to whittle down their stacks the night before.

But Saturday was the busiest day of all, starting when I took the big girls up to Bangor to watch me run in a 5K (23:50). It was a very small race, but a good re-entry into the world of competitive running.  When we got home the sun was blazing so we all worked outside on likely the last warm day of the year. After harvesting the last of the pumpkins, Tim tilled up a brand new bed for next year. The children picked out rocks and spread mulch hay all over the garden beds. The boys made a compost bin for me out of leftover pallets and Tim used the loader on his tractor to combine 3 compost piles into the bin to rot over the winter.

Tomorrow will be a much more relaxed day with friends coming over after Mass to see the progress on our house and to say goodbye for another year.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

cleaning up the joint

In anticipation of Tim's Tuesday arrival, the children and I have been cleaning like mad. Saturday was our official put away day and we began after breakfast by making a list of chores that needed to be accomplished and put a child's name down next to it. By 2pm the barn was tidy, the garage was clean and swept, the tent was collected from the clearing in the woods and put away, the bikes were lined up, and the inside chores were finished as well: laundry, changing sheets, mopping floor, etc, etc, etc.

However, making things tidy on Saturday is a far cry from keeping things clean until Tuesday. For of course, the garage was a mess again after the children creatively turned it into a bowling alley with cardboard blocks substituting for pins and boat lines delineating the lanes. Will, Julia Ellen, and I have been sick so it was inevitable that the baby coughed so hard that she not only threw up two evenings in a row in her own bed, but once in mine. My freshly mopped floors have been baptized with spilled milk several times in the past 2 days, and someone smuggled crackers into bed, leaving a huge crunchy mess on the floor.

I still want the place to look nice for Tim tomorrow, but the only option left seems to be to cancel school on Tuesday, scrub everything before the children wake up, and hustle them out of the house until his plane lands. Yes, it will all be back to sticky floors and piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded soon enough, but there will be that 20 minute stretch of time when he can see that we really did miss him and made an effort to please. Welcome home honey!  

Friday, September 17, 2010

our new pet

The other day, after a good hard run of 5 miles, I saw a little dark spot up ahead on the side of the road. I have been "rescuing" red salamanders from the possibility of getting smushed by throwing them back in the grass, but this was bigger. When I came upon it I realized it was a tiny 1" long snapping turtle. We had stumbled across this little guy's mama several years ago on a visit to our farm before we had built anything and I certainly wouldn't want to meet her again, but this little guy was cute. I picked him up and carried him home calling, "Mary, I have a present for you!" 

We quickly got the little turtle ensconced in his new home (the burned out stockpot, newly scrubbed) after a short stint in a aluminum pan (he climbed out) and Googled 'how to care and feed snapping turtles'. He seems to be happy in his new home, eating the tomato bits and crickets the children have collected for him. The child most enamoured of our new friend is Julia Ellen, who squeals every time he moves and can now say "tur-tle" with glee. 

As a children's literature enthusiast, we of course named the newest member of our family after a famous picture book turtle. I don't have a prize on hand, but would love to see if anyone can guess the name of our new pet.   

Nope, nope, nope on the guesses. I didn't think it would be this hard. Think classic kiddy lit and a clue: he eats raisins.

Yeah, Zina!

Skipperdee is apparently a Alligator Snapping Turtle, which doesn't seem to eat raisins, but prefers worms, crickets, lettuce, and an occasional cherry tomato cut in half. He doesn't bite, but does have sharp claws and a very long neck.

As for Eloise, it was one of my favorite picture books as a child and our copy has been with me for almost 40 years. Some of my favorite frequent literary quotes are in its pages, such as, "Charge it please and thank you very much," and "____ makes a very good hat." (we, like Eloise, think Kleenex, and many other items made lovely headwear) 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

soup from h&*%

In my effort to productively use the tomatoes we have been harvesting from the garden, I scoured my battered copy of Joy of Cooking for recipes that require fresh tomatoes before heading to the commissary a few days ago. I stocked up on garlic and basil for bruschetta and heavy cream for tomato soup. Since real Italian bread wasn't available, I decided to go ahead and make the soup, which ended up being a huge mistake.

First, I chopped some onion and put the oil in the pan, turning my back for a moment to tell Mary to chop up the tomatoes, only to hear her scream, "Mommy!" Turning around, I discovered that the oil in the pot had caught on fire and was shooting 18 inches above the rim, almost hitting the exhaust fan. I yelled, "Open the back door!" and grabbed the pot, ran out onto the back porch and threw the whole mess into the grass below. After racing around the garage, I found a trash can and filled it with water to dump on the smoking pot.

With my only large pot permanently out of commission, I proceeded to make the soup (I didn't even have to cut up another batch of onions) and put it in batches in the blender. Another mess ensued with even a 1/4 full container swirling up and burning my hand and spattering red goo all over the counter.

Finally after a big cleanup, I served my homemade tomato soup to a unenthusiastic audience. Every child asked for a piece of bread as an alternative to eating my preparation-intensive dinner. Maybe that was a good thing, since eating a large bowl of the stuff made me more sick than I have been in a long time. So... I think in my effort to use up the rest of our garden produce I will refrain from any more culinary experimentation and take it all down to the food pantry so someone who's tummy can handle tomatoes will put them to good use.   

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

sprucing the place up

With less than 3 weeks left in Maine it is time to start the serious cleaning required to put a house to bed for the winter and since Tim only has about a week of "vacation," I'm trying to get most of that cleaning done prior to his arrival. As I tell the children, it isn't fair to make a mess and then walk away, expecting "Mommy, the servant" to clean up afterwards. Every morning I wake the kids up and say, "Take care of your jammies," After every meal I say, "Clean up your dishes," and every evening I order the children to clean up the huge mess they have made outside in their play. But over time the barn and loft and garage have turned into places to deposit all their stuff such as 8 bottles of bug spray, gardening gloves and pruners, Timmy's 14 toy tractors, and everything else one can think of. Tools need to be put away, seed packets for next year should be stored in a cooler (so the mice don't eat them), and the spilled fertilizer needs to be swept out to the grass before Julia Ellen tries to eat it. 

This past weekend Will mowed the entire yard by himself and considering that it encompasses the area around the garage, barn, and new house, as well as a strip all the way down the driveway, $10 is pretty cheap payment. Mary cleaned out the garage and vacuumed out the van for $6 total, and Maggie tidied up the barn loft for another $3. Yesterday I started the inside chores of cleaning out the oven and scrubbing the tub and toilet to remove all the iron stains that have accumulated over the summer. We still have a ways to go, but by the time Tim arrives next week, I want the place looking shipshape so he can enjoy the tiny bit of vacation he certainly deserves.    

Sunday, September 12, 2010

a published author

Tim is our resident writer, he has had articles in several Catholic magazines such as New Oxford Review, Angelus, and several Catholic medical publications. But, after taking a writing course, I submitted (and had accepted) an article I wrote to Cricket children's magazine group. Then I heard nothing, for TWO years! This past week I received a letter in my inbox saying that they were sorry it had taken so long, asking me to proofread the edited piece and expect a contract within the next few weeks.

Only a month ago I got another email from an on-line friend asking for a short bio and address because an old blog post, detailing our decision to homeschool was to be published in a new book entitled Stories for the Homeschool Heart. While I am not expecting fame and fortune, book signings at the local mall, or people asking for my autograph, it is nice to think that all my scribbling have contributed to something that people want to read.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

children of the corn

No, I'm not taking the children to a Stephen King film festival (but, I should take them to see the spooky wrought iron fence surrounding his house in Bangor), but cooked up a big pot of corn for supper. Finally, our Silver Queen is ripe, but we were not able to start harvesting until September because silly me planted a 90 day variety. Next summer I'll plant a much faster maturing corn, knowing that they children beg, literally beg me to serve them this vegetable for lunch and dinner. Both nights we have set the water to boil and gone out and picked plump ears, stripping off the husks at the compost pile, before cooking the already tender veggie for only 3 minutes.

Will sets out the plastic holders and Mary pours the milk, while my job is to push each holder into the ends and smear butter in an assembly line fashion. Twice I have had to harvest seconds in the middle of supper because of the clamor, "Can I have another piece, pleeeease?" Julia Ellen refuses to eat the kernels I cut off the cob, but holds the greasy piece in her tight grasp and gnaws them off before attempting to chew off the whole tip. I'd give them corn every night, but our patch has to have a few days respite to produce more ripe ears.

Our next culinary project is to make pumpkin pie from scratch, using fruit we grew ourselves and not from a can. I'm only guessing, but am pretty sure that turning pumpkin into pie is going to take longer and be slightly messier than harvesting and cooking corn.  

Friday, September 10, 2010

incentives vs punishments

The kids have had a fabulous summer going to camp, swimming at the pond, riding their bikes until 9pm, playing in the woods, and helping me in the garden. The 4-7 year old crew really does like hoeing the weeds, laying down hay for mulch, and picking produce. All I have to do is say, "I'm going to the garden to get some lettuce (until the wild turkeys ruined most of my lettuce bed) or pick some tomatoes" and find myself surrounded by eager helpers. Julia Ellen demands to be part of the fun, but she isn't so helpful since she tries to pick green cherry tomatoes and stand in the carrots.

So, when September 1st rolled around and I laid out the schoolbooks in stacks I knew it was going to be difficult to transition from "all fun all the time" to "get your work done before play" time. Of course the little ones seem to understand this best, maybe because they don't do very much work, 30 minutes at most, before they can resume their summer activities. The girls give me a little grief, but they practice the piano without grumbling and they even occasionally start on their stack of workbooks before going to bed to get a head's start on the next day.

Will is another matter. Starting from 7am, when I have to threaten to pour cold water on his head to get him out of bed (I don't wonder when I stumble over books in the mysteriously lighted bathroom every morning), to prodding him to get each subject completed, to getting angry over his messing around instead of seriously practicing the piano, my day is spent trying to give everyone else enough attention while simultaneously keeping him on task. There is nothing wrong with him, no condition or disability that hampers his ability to work on a 7th grade level unless you count laziness as a disease.

So far in the past two weeks I have promised the children to go bowling if "everyone" got their work done in a timely manner (we ALL knew who I was referring to) to yesterday lowering the boom after a particularly bad report from his piano teacher. He now has to practice 30 minutes before each meal until I get a follow up good report, which means he will have logged 9.5 hours of practice before his next lesson, ensuring that result. I've threatened to enroll him the local public school when we get back to Virginia, but with the guarantee of violence and drug activity, I'm not willing to follow through. Something has to change in the way we proceed with homeschooling, I certainly can't see myself admonishing a 16 year old, "If you don't finish 11th grade I won't let you get your driver's licence." He does like homeschooling and doesn't want to "go away to school" but I'm at a loss of what to try next.   

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

1st words

Now Julia Ellen is saying a few words such as "da" for dog and "yes", but who I am thinking about is Charlie, the fourth child I am teaching to read. After an entire year of kindergarten he was still having trouble knowing what sound each letter made so we decided to keep working on a mixture of K and 1st grade work before enrolling him officially in 1st grade.

We also added in Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which a friend recommended about 7 years ago when we started homeschooling. Combining this instruction with a foundation and continuation of phonics lessons has resulted in 3 very eager readers who must visit a library at least once every 7 days (I don't know what happens if they go 8 days. We even make it a priority to stock up before blizzards and hurricanes). Yesterday Charlie read his very first words: at, eat, and met. I know it won't be long now before he is reading all the Bob books we own and moving on to more intellectually stimulating fare.

It is so exciting to be a part of this learning process that will lead to fulfillment and a whole world of opportunities. Thank goodness we homeschool, for these days a child who is not reading by the end of Kindergarten is likely to be labeled deficient, when all he needs is a little more time and practice.   

Sunday, September 05, 2010

produce saturation level reached

Even after pulling up the bean plants and several squash vines, we are inundated with veggies. I have been taking a bag or two of produce to our town's food pantry, but it only is open once a week, too long for tomatoes to be sitting out. We picked all the ripe pumpkins in anticipation of Hurricane Earl, so of course we merely received 2 hours of rain, but despite almost no wind all my tomato plants fell over.

There are 8 more pumpkins in the patch yet to turn orange, rows of sweet corn that is almost ready, and over a hundred of green tomatoes in various stages of ripeness. We ate our first home grown cantaloupe and are checking the 5 still in the garden every day in hopes of harvesting another.

So far we have been very happy with our first year of gardening, next summer I want to plant more beans and put some up as well as can tomatoes and sauce. I'm going to try to start the melons inside and build a trellis to keep their undersides off the dirt/damp hay that allows them to rot before they ripen fully. 

Our favorite crop so far? Pumpkins, which grow almost as fast as kudzu and need tons of room (which we certainly have) are the hands-down winner, but the clear spines along the leaves and stem hurt like the dickens. Before we leave for Virginia, I must pull all the vines to compost and I will be sure to wear my work gloves. Ouch! 

Friday, September 03, 2010

hurricane, it's a comin

One of my favorite children's books is One Morning in Maine which shows children the powerful forces of nature that affect the coast. From the morning fog and shifting of the tide to a hurricane that knocks down trees we can only prepare and wait. Luckily in this modern age we can prepare for category 4 storms that 100 years ago would have killed swimmers, boaters, and fishermen. Now we simply batten down the hatches, stay away from the rocks along the shore, and stock up on supplies in case of power failure.

I've been through my share of big hurricanes (no cat 5s thank goodness) from having to sleep on the hallway floor during Gloria, attempting to get back to my dorm during Hugo, and losing electricity for 3 days (with 3 little children) during Isabel. We are expecting nasty winds all day Saturday so I've stocked up on gasoline for the generator (for the well pump, it would be scary to be without a supply of water) and today we will hit the commissary for milk (we typically go through 8 gallons a week) and the library. I don't expect us to be affected much, but I am praying for those who are getting pounded by the wind and heavy surf.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

he's already skipping school

and it is only our second day! With Hurricane Earl on the way and a heat index of 105 we were all a little discombobulated anyway, but proved to be a little more chaotic yesterday with a mixup about Mary's riding lesson, "Oh, Mary was supposed to be there 20 minutes ago? She is still in her jammies, eating breakfast, but I will get here there ASAP."

After I fetched her back home we heard a familiar noise, the chug chug of a tractor, "Will! They are haying if you want to go help!"

So, between babysitting for me and an impromptu invite for the big kids to go to the lake, the only school activity completed was piano practice. (Actually that isn't true. Timmy, Charlie, and Maggie did their school. Mary had woken up early and finished almost everything, but all Will managed to complete was vocabulary and map skills. They are not exactly core subjects so it doesn't count as a school day.) The rest of the afternoon we stayed out of the heat reading books and I watched while they played a game involving riding bikes and a hose. Needless to say they were all dripping and much cooler by the time supper was on the table. This morning I will point to Will's stack of books on the floor and say, "No skipping schoolwork today, Bud!"

edited to add:
with the public school kids sent home at 11:30 due to the classrooms being 104 F (Maine schools do not have AC) and the same neighbor inviting the kids to go to the lake again, Will STILL hasn't finished his work. At this rate he will be in 7th grade until June 2012. But if I let everyone else go and made him stay here to finish his math it would be held against me for the next 5 years. Since I have to work with this child every one of those 1825 days, I just gave him a short break. A short one, for he will have it finished by the time he goes to bed tonight. Got it Bud?