Monday, May 26, 2008


We leave today for our camping trip. The first of the season, we prefer to go to the campground when everyone else is leaving it. It's peaceful, relaxing and a way for our family to reconnect. Funny that a totally connected homeschooling family needs to reconnect every once in a while, but there you go.

I'm trying not to obsess about how much has to be done before we pull out of the driveway. We did a lot of lugging and loading into the car yesterday, so today it's just compressing the clothes and sleeping bags, getting the perishables in the cooler, packing the medicines and off we go. After tidying up the house - I hate coming home to a messy house - taking the bird across the street and making sure the boy next door has a key to feed the other animals.

We are also trying hard not to think about poor Diamond, one of our guinea pigs, who died yesterday. She had a cold and was breathing pretty hard. I held her for a while, looked up medical care on line and learned there wasn't much to do about it. I knit with her on my lap on the front porch for a while, she just sat in the crook of my arm, breathing. Little Missy held her for a long while too. And then we put her back and continued the frenzied pace of getting ready for a camping trip - laundry, dishes (dishwasher broken), gathering supplies, trips to the grocery. I was making biscuit and cornbread mixes when I asked my girl to check on Diamond. She came running down the stairs saying the wasn't moving. Sure enough, she died between the brick and the side of her cage, under the food bowl. Should have put her pigloo in.

A sad beginning to our trip. But it would have been worse if she had died while we were gone. Worse for the neighbor boy feeding our herd, worse for Little Missy to learn of it when we got back, worse for poor Diamond who needed some extra snuggles before she passed.

We're heading to an Internet free zone, cell phones off, life in the woods. The chance of thunderstorms diminish as the day goes on, so getting out late wont matter much.

Friday, May 23, 2008

8 Kids in a Yarn Shop

I recently received a gift certificate to a yarn shop as a thank you gift. This made me remember a 2 year old, unredeemed gift certificate which I had carefully tucked into Barbara Walker's Knitting From the Top. How I knew it was there and was able to locate the book is beyond me, but gives me hope for my brain's future.

I then happened on to a plan to go to the yarn shop, Chix with Stix, in Forest Park. It's not close to my house, which is why the first certificate had not been used up. That, and I had forgotten it. It is, however, very close to our Writer's Workshop activity at a friends home in Oak Park. I convinced Kim to go with me. She convinced Lori.

So, after my horrible attempt at parallel parking in a spot that a semi could have fit it, the three of us happy, homeschooling moms were lost in the bliss of a good yarn shop. Two of us were spending gift money, adding to our joy. The kids - 5 boys and 3 girls behaved remarkably well. It helps that the shop has a chihuahua and a comfy couch and a play area for the littlest of the bunch. The shop keepers tried not to be panicked by our presence. They weren't completely successful in that. But they were nice about it. And the kids didn't get in trouble until we left the store, laden with our new purchases. They were climbing the brick wall of the doctor's office next door. My little one was playing with the mail slot. Both those things were against the doctor's rules, and he came out to tell us so.

And this is what I purchased! Sock yarn for my sister in law - a yummy bamboo, cotton, elastic blend. After reading reviews on Ravelry, I learned the yarn can be short. Good thing Marsha has small feet! Another ball of sock yarn, and a fabulous sock knitting carry along bag. It's cute and convenient and totally not like me to indulge in something frivilous. I put my boy's socks in there and can't wait to knit in public with this bag. It's a very hip improvement over the zip lock bag. Or the plastic newspaper sleeve I used the other day.

The new yarns are sitting on my poor loom. My loom has been begging me to weave for some time. The rug on there is finished except for the hemming. Knitting has taken over my passion for it's portability, but weaving is something I need to return to. Soon. The rhythm of weaving and physical activity of it is much different than knitting. Soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Mark took over last night. That means I was only woken up twice by itchy boy, but Mark got him to settle down without me and I could go right back to sleep. The luxury of nearly uninterrupted sleep is overwhelming. I was able to flip over when I wanted to, without the little man waking or burrowing his head into my armpit.

You might think it would be impossible to ignore the sounds of your own child crying in the middle of the night. Or whining, fussing, demanding something or someone. Not so. When you are so sleep deprived that your life is painful, you could ignore a simultaneous earthquake, hurricane and tornado.

The little man is in the throes of full blown eczema, likely brought about by spring pollens. Every year of his little life, his skin has been worse in spring and early summer. This year he is considerably less ridden with itchy spots than in past years, so his body is adjusting on its own to his immune intolerance. But too slowly for our sleep not to be interrupted. And his sleep, of course.

Last year he had to wear a sock on his hand from May to July to cover his wound and remind him not to scratch. This year he's affected primarily on the backs of his knees, his face, arms and abdomen. He can't let his knees scab over and heal, so he scratches them raw a few times a day and then can't bend them to walk or play. He's hobbling around like an old man. Every lotion 'tings him, as he will tell you repeatedly, loudly. Even good old lanolin.

Recently, I've been organizing our medical supplies and turning our linen closet into a medicine cabinet, and towel closet. It's really a ridiculous excuse for a linen closet, the shelvsd being less than a foot deep. But it accommodates shoebox sized plastic tubs. We have an entire tub full of all sorts of lotions, creams, medicates salves, prescription and over the counter cures recommended by doctors, eczema suffers, well-meaning friends and family. None of those have worked for this poor child. Most hurt. Some caused a spread of the condition they were trying to alleviate.

We've gone through every known pharmaceutical treatment for eczema, have eliminated more foods from his diet than one would think possible, tried homeopathic treatments, and for the past two years Chinese herbal treatments. These have worked better than anything else, but he is still in pain and itching all the time. The difference is that with the Chinese treatments and Zyrtec, the child understands what it means to be itch free. He has lived a portion of his life now without itching and is really mad that it has returned.

Now that I've slept a bit, I can feel compassion for him again. It has been a difficult, trying past few weeks. I'm horribly unfocused, cranky and intolerance of minor infractions by the children. Today should be a better day. Sleep is a powerful thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Life is a Beach

We had a great day at the Indiana Dunes State Park last week, despite the shocking $10 gate fee for out of state folks and the 5 to 6 gallons of gas it took to drive.

It was a beautiful day. Sunny, bright, cool. Being a school day, we had the beach pretty much all to ourselves. The kids played, the moms talked. Some people walked, mostly we just hung out. It was everything the beach should have been, relaxing, enjoyable, peaceful. We missed traffic both ways, so all around the trip was wonderful.

Did I mention the sand? It was, after all, a beach trip. I've vacuumed the whole house twice since we got back and am still combating the sand. I've never seen so much sand come out of one diaper in all my 9 years as a parent of a diapered child! We slept in sand, walked in sand, ate sand. Roomba is not effective against sand, swiffer is not effective against sand, even my super-duper Miele is having trouble with all this sand.

We went away for a day just after our beach trip, so we had some sand free time and returned to our sand-enveloped home. I've changed the sheets, got into every conceivable nook and cranny and still have sand sticking to the bottoms of my feet. Another vast right-wing conspiracy.

We'll go back next week and start the whole process over again.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sock Adventures

A wonderful thing has happened in my knitting life lately. I have finally learned to knit two socks at once! After two pairs that came out a row off in length, bothering me greatly, a book I had requested from the our wonderful library came in. I've read books and tried different methods before, but somehow Knitting Circles Around Socks made it click for me. The instructions are very clear and after the first few rows I was hooked.

Those first few rows were difficult. I'm a rebellious knitter and don't read instructions well, skimming over what I think is superfluous but turns out to be critically important. My kids called it torture knitting as I cast on three times before getting it, complaining the whole time. After finishing the leg yesterday, I didn't open the book because I had remembered to do each heal separately. Imagine my shock when I got to the second heel and couldn't knit it because of the direction it was facing. Ripped it.

So, these socks will be identical in length, if not in pattern. The oldest picked out the yarn, mainly for its camouflage colors. It's mainly cotton, though, so not elastic at all. It's growing on me.

The other wonderful thing in my knitting world lately is Ravelry. I had signed up for a spot and got a password in February, but never spent the time to see what it was all about. Oh my. What a valuable resource for knitters! I looked up the sock yarn, got advice, saw pictures of completed projects and read reviews. I've looked up patterns I want to knit and have seen pictures of completed projects to determine if they will work, what yarn worked, etc.

All this has kept my mind off of the Little Man's complete, full body flare up. Looking through our pictures, I realized that it hits every year at the same time, his diet isn't the culprit in this case. Some kind of pollen. He's miserable. He's not sleeping, he's scratching all night long. We have a plan, it's improving slowly, but she's still waking up with bloody pjs. Sigh.
I need a Ravelry for eczema.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother Stories

My mother's life is full of stories, and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. This is a picture of her taken in 1955. She was 28 years old, 16 years younger than I am now. Wow, that's a mind warp.

She and my father came here in 1955 for what was to be a one year stint at the University of Chicago. That one year has stretched to 53 and going at this point. At 28 she was teaching at the University of Chicago Lab School, learning about life in this strange country, meeting all sorts of new people who would become her friends and community, and she was childless.

My mother really has had a remarkable life. She was the last of seven children, born when her own mother was 48 years old. Her father was a policeman in London. She lived through the war, including being at her aunt's house when it was bombed. She schooled in the country for protection, went to college, met my father bringing in the harvest in Cornwall and moved across the ocean.

After her children were born in 1956, 1961, 1964 and 1965, she was very busy in our lives and had an eventful life of her own. My brother and I went to a baby sitter's house after school two days a week, and my mother didn't have a job!

Mom was always running for or on the school board of whatever district her oldest child was in at the time. She volunteered in our schools PTA, as the Picture Lady, chaired many a committee for many a fundraiser, drove us all over town for dance, piano, swimming. She also recorded books for the blind - even after all these years her voice still has a lovely British accent. And in my high school years Mom ran for a seat in the State House.

As we got older, my mother took up tennis and exercise in general at the age of 53. She traveled the world with her famous physicist husband - China, the Sinai desert, Japan, Russia, Europe, New Zealand (where she had a sister) and Australia (in-laws). My mother also founded a battered women's shelter and fought for services for disabled children across the state. When I went off to college, she was appointed by the governor to be on the Illinois State Board of Education. At the age of seventy, she became a Master Gardener after much, much study and work. She just never stopped. Even now, in her 80s, she is caring for my Parkinsons ridden father, learning about his condition, adapting to life.

All these accomplishments led to stories of her successes, struggles and failures. As grown offspring, our return home for dinner was joyous. Mark loved the story telling, the jovial nature of our two hour (at the table) dinners, full of stories and laughter. And I remember happy, laughing times around the dinner table as children both when people were over and when it was just us. We couldn't make it through a meal without consulting the Oxford English Dictionary.

Mark and my sister-in-law used to number the stories when they were repeated. Grape scissors in Japan - #14, painting the furniture to the floor in Liverpool - #9, hitting the 8th deer on the way home from a late night school board meeting - #23.

Growing up, I always wanted a life like she had. And I guess I do. We have happy, loud, jovial meals in this house too. Our stories may not be as exotic, but they are lively just the same. And some of our stories are about our parents, just as some of my Mom's stories were about hers. Of course, as a homeschooler I don't have the school board issue - I wonder if those meetings still go so late? There were so many expulsions in the drug 70s and 80s!

I'm grateful my mother taught that life is an adventure and a celebration. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mother Goose and Other Birds

Oh, the healing powers of Mother Goose! Last night as things were winding down, we had a show on PBS. It was about an ancient Peruvian civilization I had never learned of, complete with pyramids and other fascinating artifacts. Archaeologists are currently studying this civilization and exploring why it vanished.

Unfortunately, this civilization practiced human sacrifice. We discovered this while learning how archaeologists are deciphering pictographs on pottery. A reenacting of a throat cutting scene, complete with detailed description of how the jugular was fashioned into a funnel so the blood could pour into a sacred vessel, just about ruined any chance of sleep for me and Buddy.

Fortunately, we hurried to turn off the TV and started reciting Mother Goose. This lead to his retrieving a Mother Goose from Little Missy's room, sitting on the floor in the hallway and reading them out loud to the three of us still awake in the house.

My girl was appalled at the variations. "It's not 'all the babies in bed, for it's now 10 o'clock?' but "all the children in bed for it's now 8 o'clock'!" I don't know how long it's been since she read Mother Goose, but she provided different versions for many of those we read. Some of them I hadn't remembered at all. She has a strange mind.

But Mother Goose did work. We are a squeamish bunch. Actually, I'm more squeamish than anyone else, I think. Can't watch violence, blood or mayhem on the screen. Don't tolerate suspense well. I've been known to watch the scary bits through a reflection in a window and to bury my head in a pillow until someone tells me it's over. I have to really trust the person to watch a movie with them.

Mother Goose made me think of other birds and this is the newest addition to our family. She's a six year old peach faced lovebird, abandoned by a previous owner and passed on to us. She's a great companion, but is taking her time warming up to us. We got her a new and much larger cage, encourage her to fly around when we are home and Mark even clipped a really long toenail she had.

We named her Aphrodite because she didn't come with a name. Because she was ditched by her previous owner for being mean to his other birds (lovebirds can be pretty aggressive), we'll not get her a mate. All of the books we've read say that it's not necessary to get a mate and introducing a mate later in life is difficult. We are just used to seeing images of lovebirds in pairs, preening each other adorably.

Aphrodite will land on an outstretched finger, step up onto our fingers and hang out on our shoulders when she feels like it. Getting her back into her cage before she's ready has been a challenge for us, but we'll get there with practice. And so far we haven't been able to find the fresh fruit or veggie she will eat.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Many Thanks

I'd like to thank everyone for their nice comments both on and off blog about my little guy's disastrous hair cut. It's been a heart wrenching, soul searching kind of a week for me and everyone has really helped pull me through.

I still don't like it. Yes, he looks cute, but I don't like him bald. OK, bald may be a BIT of an exaggeration, but that's how I think of him. It doesn't help that his eczema has returned to the backs of his knees, wrists, elbows and more on his face. This keeps him up at night scratching, he gets an hour or two of sleep at a stretch and then whimpers through a scratching jag. He's tired. I'm tired.

So, what really pulled me through and changed my mood around? A combination of three things: my library which orders books from me whenever I want them, my husband who picked it up for me, and reading this fabulous book! Yes, a knitting book made me see the brighter side of life for the first time in a week. I'm seriously sick. This knitting thing if a force to be reckoned with. In the past week I've also read a great book called Knitting Lace, which shows all 91 patterns in a 19-century sampler. When I have time, I want to do the sampler, but I checked on Amazon and the book is out of print with the price at $131. Ouch. I also read Lace Style and have picked out a few patterns to knit in there.

Big Girl Knits is a wonderful book. I read the Knitty blog and magazine, so I knew a new book was out, but this one arrived at the library first. Now I need to own them both. I have an 80 pound weight swing, have been yo-yo-ing my since my late 20s and have never wanted to knit something like a sweater for myself until I'm at the right weight. Even at the right weight, I'll still be bigger than most patterns allow for, and the advice in here for fit is fabulous and funny. I highly recommend the book for all knitters, big or not. I poured over it until midnight last night, dreamt about great patterns to knit for me and woke every couple of hours to soothe my little guy through another itching episode.