Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why is that?

I've been talking to and corresponding with a lot of people since my father died. This has been fun in some ways, painful in others. Some of these communications make me end up wondering why we ever lost touch in the first place, others remind me of the why.

One thing I've been exposed to as a result, is an anti-homeschooling sentiment. Most of my life is spent in a supportive-of-homeschooling world. My friends are homeschoolers, or know my children and know how good homeschooling has been for us. My family is understanding and accepting. So, I don't venture out of this cocoon often, except in public places with my older kids when they "should" be in school. Our doctors, dentists, Trader Joe's, etc all know us by now. Even the kids' dance teacher was thrilled to see Medium and Large for Small's parent observation day.

But lately I've had such things as public school teacher/parents justifying to me their decision to send their kids to school. I've had people tell me it's OK for me to homeschool because I have easy, smart kids. People have asked me how the state can allow them not to be tested, how do I know they are learning, what I do to teach them, whether they ever get to leave the house. The whole gamut of homeschooling questions and insults I haven't heard since we made the decision to homeschool 8 years ago.

I'm not sure I've responded well in my grief. I'd like to issue a blanket, multiple choice response:
  • No, homeschooling isn't for everyone.
  • Yes, it's a financial hardship for me to be without a paying job. It's a decision we made after much careful consideration and have never regretted.
  • No, I don't lock my kids in the basement. They are out of the house doing something with other kids almost every day of the week.
  • I have nothing against public schools. It's an institution worth preserving for those who need it. It is an institution, however, and I want to keep my kids out of it. I pay at least $6000 a year in taxes to support the institution. We live in a good neighborhood with good schools.
  • Educational options are a personal decision for each family. Homeschooling works for my family. We like being together, my kids each learn differently and are free to pursue their own interests. (Oh, and yes, kids do have their own interests.)
  • No, I have not become a born again Christian. Nothing against any religious group, but not all homeschoolers are doing it for religious reasons.
  • Illinois treats homeschools as private schools, and does not impose restrictions on private schools other than attendance is taken and the same courses of study are taught - language arts, math, science, social studies - in English.

I think that may cover it. For now, at least. It's a strange world, viewed from the lenses of a fresh life change.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Watch this!

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, courtesy of my sister:

Friday, November 27, 2009

What I'm thankful for

Although my father's obituary has been in the newspapers all over the country, and even world wide, this one from The Regional is one of my favorites.

Here's the short list of what I'm thankful for today:

  • I'm thankful my father was able to hold and burp the first six of his ten grandchildren, while singing "I've been working on the railroad."

  • I'm thankful that he died in his sleep with pain management.

  • I'm thankful for John Markoff of the New York Times, who wrote a great article that has been picked up by newspapers around the world. It is somehow comforting to know that other people think my father was a great guy.

  • I'm thankful for my ever-supportive husband was able to drop everything when the call came in the wee hours last week.

  • I'm thankful that my children have such fond memories of my father.

  • I'm thankful that my daughter has the patience and understanding to help her grandmother set the table for Thanksgiving dinner.

  • I'm thankful for that neighbor of my mother's, whose name she can never remember, dashed out of his house with a jar of his homemade apple butter as a gift.

  • I'm thankful that my father took the time to show his special carving techniques to Mark, who spent time explaining them to Large yesterday.

Albert V. Crewe should not be remembered only as being a great scientist, artist and father, but as an influential person who worked hard to lobby for research funding and wasn't shy about expressing his rage over the lack of it. He was an intellectual who was as much a fixture in his laboratory as he was at our swim meets, the hardware store, piano and dance recitals.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Complicated Question

I have often been asked lately how I am doing. It's a difficult question to answer. On the face of it so simple, but when you get right down to it, extremely complicated.

Am I really "doing," for example? What am I doing and how am I doing it? A short glance around my living room or bedroom shows that I am not doing much. Not physically anyway. Some days I don't even shower. I am usually dressed by noon, though, so maybe that is something.

The kids get to their scheduled activities. Most of the time. They see their friends, attend their classes, get their basics done most days. They could be doing more. There's that gym class I want to enroll them in, the play dates I never get around to scheduling, the allergy shots that are supposed to be twice a week and sometimes we go two weeks between, the swim team and swim lessons, museum day - all these and more I have failed to organize and do.

My three siblings and I cannot seem to have a discussion over my father's care without someone getting angry and belligerent. We can't agree on the simplest of things and some refuse to even take a part in the discussion, preferring to criticize from the sidelines. I have been unable to forge a truce or maintain the peace. On the contrary, because I am the closest, I am the target.

My mother now needs more help than ever. I am able to help her twice a week. This I can say that I "do." Writing checks, buying groceries and supplies for my father's caretakers, making her appointments, managing her calendar, listening to her fears and worries. I get to go home, to put some distance between me and my dying father. My mother is home and the love of her life, the man she has been married to for 60 years, is slowly dying before her eyes. It's no wonder she needs more help, the emotional and physical strain on her is unbearable.

And then there is my father. I can help him try to stand up, he isn't able to do this on his own anymore. But he wants to try and I can hold one side while an aide holds the other. He was a tall man, but now his legs wont straighten and he is shorter than my 5' 8" frame. Not nearly as wide, though, his body isn't tolerating much in terms of calories. I can try to interpret for him, make sure his medicines are ordered and sufficient, help the aides with their questions, distract him when he is agitated.

So, I am "doing," or at least am active. I am not, however, doing anything particularly well. It took me a long time, probably a month, to realize that my kids were no longer active and engaged in their math program and that it needed to be changed. Little is still not a good reader, he is reading things that his siblings read a full year ahead of his age.

The friends still willing to talk to me - and there are several who cannot right now because their own grief is too fresh to be cut open by mine - are probably bored out of their minds when they ask how I am. I feel I have become a lead weight in their presence. So, when I am in town, I stay inside my house and limit my outings to the kids schedule. Yesterday I took Small to dance and then went to the library to reserve the room for our science class. After those two brief encounters with the outside world of small talk and business, I was exhausted. They simple act of smiling, so natural for me normally, is draining.

So how should I answer? Fine. OK. As well as can be expected. Or just smile.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I feel lately as if I am just floating in the ether. Not really a part of my life or my family's life, detached and floating. Occasionally I touch down for a moment of connection, of reality and the float up again into the amorphous space that surrounds me. Here are some of the things I have managed to touch upon:

  • My father calling for people from his past in the wee hours of the morning. Not frightened, often just calling "Hallo!"
  • My mother weeping with the understanding that her children may be saying goodbye to their father for the last time.
  • My siblings, laughing over a bit of family history and then brought back to reality by a sobering cough from the other room.
  • My completely unresponsive father when I said one day that all his children would be here the next day. Then seeing him the next day insisting on being dressed, forcing himself to stay awake until my brother made it through a storm from California at 3 a.m. He heard me.
  • My children enjoying their science lab while I was able to enjoy an hour with a dear friend who let me babble on and on incoherently in a Starbucks.
  • My doctor, two hours behind schedule, listening to my every word and telling me it was OK to let myself go while my father let himself go. But that it was not OK to only be able to sleep with the help of Tylenol p.m. Me relishing the relief from her acupuncture.
  • My brother complaining about the quarter mile inside the grocery store we had to walk from the meat to the wine.
  • The sight of my mother having her pedicure on a treat spa visit with my sister. Completely relaxed, composed and happy.
  • Me understanding deeply, for the first time, that Mark and I will not likely see the 60 years of marriage my parents have lived through.
  • The bizarre experience of all four siblings showing up at the local fitness center at the same time to sweat off the grief and anxiety. It must be genetic. We paid a guest fee for the privilege.

It goes on, these brief landings on earth to witness the world around me. Then I am back in the fog. Floating to the next touch down point. I do and do and do. But all I do is touch the surface and disappear. This can't go on forever.

But this ether can be seducing. I haven't summoned the courage for more than a cursory glance at my email in over a week. My father has been dying for seven weeks now. He managed until a week ago to have more lucid moments than not. Now he is in his own hell of incomprehension and hallucination. His brain was so important to him. And to us. He held on to it for so long and now it seems that the Parkinsons has taken the one thing left to him. His increasingly vocal worry since his diagnosis has turned into his whole life. Worry over the weather, his finances (where there is no need to worry), the condition of the house (where there is, but all fixable), his worry over my mother (again, founded in reality), his lab (long since dismantled).

We have much wind tonight and I know Dad will be shaking the bed rails, wanting to check out the damage. I had the aide move the electrical source for his bed to the outlet service by the generator - we had a minor tornado there in August and witnessed only a flicker of the lights. It will likely be a bad night for my father. And a bad night for me in the ether.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My New Heroes

Six weeks since my last blog post. And that post was so full of hope for my father, hope that he just had a broken hip and would get better.

But then he acquired pneumonia in hospital and has been home in hospice care ever since. We have had days where there was much hope. Days when he has walked, used the toilet, spoken coherently. We've also had many days when he did nothing but lie in bed, hallucinating, agitated or just sleeping. It's been a roller coaster.

The worst days were when he first came home from the hospital, terribly sick with pneumonia. The hospice nurses only thought he would last a few days. My sisters flew in. We made plans, he dictated notes to all of us, repeatedly begged us to take care of our mother. We all prepared for him to die. But he didn't, he got over the pneumonia and regained some of his strength.

But now we are back to thinking he only has a short time left. Kidney failure is likely now, his body may be shutting down. He's had hallucinations, anxiety, lack of elimination. I had thought myself better prepared to deal with his death, but it still hits me like a blow to the head. Have I really had my last conversation with him? Will he only be unintelligible from now on? No one can say.

These hospice nurses are unbelievable. Our whole family has received wonderful care, advice, concern, attention. Taking on that job is a true calling. They are my new heroes. Without them we would all be somewhat adrift, relying on doctors or nurses in a hospital. Uncomfortable and unknowing. With them, my father is able to rest in the house he built on top of the tallest sand dune, look out the window at the tree tops and the lake, be as comfortable as possible in his waning days.

Today is another day when the schedule was shifted in order to take care of my parents. No registration for Girl Scouts, no grueling trip to the north side. Instead we have a trip - equally as grueling - to Indiana. I hope my kids don't resent me for this time, and don't think they do. They are sad to give up their activities, but continue with their life learning wherever we are.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Complacency is an evil thing. I've been tooling along the past year thinking things with my folks were improving and that we could continue along this path for a while. It's what I wanted to believe, what my own family needed. Complacency is why I took on the board of directors position for the InHome Conference (well, that and the sheer desperation I heard from friends who needed help), why I started teaching a physics lab for homeschoolers, why I branched out looking for new opportunities for my children.

And it's why I'm smacking myself on the forehead now. Just over a year ago, my father was admitted to the hospital. His EMS ticket read "failure to thrive." One of those medical terms like when I was pregnant with Small and the nurse told me he had a condition "incompatible with life." Last year, however, my sister and I convinced my father to have a feeding tube inserted. His Parkinson's had advanced to the point that he was malnourished and dehydrated. Without the feeding tube, he would starve to death. It wasn't hard to convince him, my mother needed him. And he wouldn't abandon my mother to her dementia. Just as last week he agreed to a partial hip replacement, after a struggle, so he could help my mother continue to have some independance.

My father's Parkinson's was diagnosed 8 years ago, but he suspected a few years prior to that. I remember him being jovial when a neurologist told him there was "nothing remarkable" about his brain. That's funny for a genius. Over time the disease has robbed him of his booming voice, his ability to move predictably, and his ability to swallow. After he had the tube inserted, he became almost robust, gathering strength and a quality of life he hadn't had before. Between that and the botox treatments he receives in his cheek, he was reading, participating in daily routines, taking care of my mother and their enormous house overlooking the lake, debating politics - this frail old man left the house to vote for Obama ("the first intelligent candidate in a long time") in Indiana, a state that really counted!

A week ago he tripped over his feet and broke his hip. It has been a week of anguish and frustration, a week of struggling to get the best care possible and a week of managing my mother. There are a lot of funny things that happened too and I'll try to share them soon, not to make fun of my mother or of dementia, but to point out that there is humor in crisis.

My father and I had what I would consider to be a strained relationship for most of our lives together. Like most people, I have felt not quite smart enough to be sharing the same space with him. Now I can see he has respected me all along, I just wasn't willing to accept his love and admiration. The strain was mainly on my side, this is an unspeakable loss. Now I stand armed at his hospital bed with his DNR and the Power of Attorney, telling everyone who walks in the room that he is not deaf and has no mental impairment. The no mental impairment part often has to be repeated, nurses and doctors just assume some level of dementia in an 82 year old who cannot speak. I hand out the spread sheet of his medication and feeding schedule, translate his concerns and worries from whispers to a roar and generally become a thorn in the side of people unable to adjust their prejudices. I am my father's daughter.

It has been an incredible strain on my own family, this past week. They have rolled with the punches, done their thing, taken time off work and play to help my father out. I've missed out on a week of their lives, and will miss some more in the weeks to come as my father becomes stronger. We have been shocked out of our complacency by this horrible disease and need to become ever more vigilant. And ever more efficient in our work to accommodate for these intermittent crises. They are only going to increase as nature takes its course for both my parents.

I am grateful, however, to be homeschooling my children and including them as active participants in my parents decline and death. Already wise, they are more aware of the world around them because of our care taking role.

Monday, August 3, 2009


A week or so ago, Medium pointed out to me that she did not know what a Twinkie tastes like. We were not in a store at the time, and I don't remember how the topic of conversation came up. My first reaction was to say "You don't want to eat a Twinkie, " but I held it. I described the taste of a Twinkie, told her that I had a boyfriend in college who had toured a Twinkie factory and told me that Twinkies never see an oven and asked her if she wanted to try one. She said she did.

The next time we were in Target, we got her a package of Twinkies. Large and Small opted for Oreos in a big cup that fits into a car's cup holder. Small is still allergic to milk and eggs and amazingly Twinkies have both listed as ingredients. Also amazingly, Oreos do not. Medium did not like the Twinkie, gave the second one to Large, who ate a bite and put the rest in the composter. I now know that a Twinkie will compost.

We try to eat health, whole foods, avoiding processed foods whenever we can. But somehow it feels like snobbery to deny something like Twinkies, particularly as I was brought up on them, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos. Every lunch bag had some chemical reaction in the form of a cake inside. Zingers we discovered in High School when my brother and I had our own car and a gas card. We learned that gas stations sell food and filled up on junk until my Mom put the lid on our spending.

Junk food isn't evil, after all, and it's everywhere. My children are different enough by virtue of their homeschooling. They don't need other badges of distinction, like being denied Twinkies. They will probably never eat another one now. I remember telling Medium's Girl Scout leader that I had never been inside a Dunkin Donuts when she was wanting to take the girls to one, but wanted to clear the allergies first. I felt strange at feeling some pride at that. I have a sister who is proud of never having been in a McDonald's. It's a strange thing to be proud of. It's all wrapped up in that weird food thing we have in our family. I don't want my kids to have that.

Today we got slurpies as a special treat. Small and I have a summer cold, we didn't sleep well - when did his legs grow to the point that his toe nails can scratch my ankles when we are in the same bed? - and I had promised him a treat for skipping going out to breakfast and having to drop the other two off at the art camp in our pajamas.

I'll still cast a wary eye at junk food, chemical food. But I don't want the kids to either fear it or crave it because of my denial. The three of them had slurpies and have lived, so far, to tell the tale.

Monday, July 27, 2009

About face

I promised a friend to try facebook for one week. I always thought myself too old for facebook and it seems so narcissistic. So, I'm trying it.

It is still narcissistic. And limiting to someone who tends to use a whole lot of words. It's also really fun to see what others in the world are doing, a way of quickly catching up.

But I already spend too much time on the computer! I can see this facebook thing could become a huge time suck for someone as undisciplined as me. Plus, I'm not sure I really have the hang of it, learning the lingo and how to navigate has been a challenge. Maybe I'm just not smart enough for facebook. I need to channel my inner Al Frankin.

It has been five days and the jury is still out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Muse, Old Muse

I've started weaving again, after a long hiatus. My return to my old favorite art form was facilitated in part by my massive cleaning of the kids bedrooms. Once all the broken and unused toys, the long unread books, outgrown clothes and general junk was removed, I discovered that the boys room could really use a couple of chairs and a rug. I'm not all that into chair making, but have been saving old clothes and fabric for years, limiting myself to one giant Rubbermaid tub each for woven, knits and denim.

I took five pairs of Mark's old pants, put them in a dye bath so that each is a slightly different shade of denim blue, cut and stripped them, dressed the loom and began weaving. Dressing the room is a daunting task after three or four years off. Despite rereading my instructions, and with many interruptions, it took the better part of a week to get the warp wound and beamed. Even though I checked a few times, I managed to cross some threads in the heddle and did not admit to this until I had a good foot or two woven. Not being a perfectionist, I cut the threads and called it a design element. This left three threads loose at the back beam, so I weighted them with toys I found lying around. They look cute dangling there, don't they?

Another reason or the weaving is that I have two pairs of socks on needles, both knitted from the cuff down, both at the most boring part - past the heel and heading to the toe. All I have to look forward to is the toe and that doesn't hold enough interest. I could have just cast on another pair with different needles (I do two at a time on two circulars), but realized how ridiculous this is. So, I'm weaving when at home and knitting on the instep when I'm not. My blog has been suffering for the weaving, though. I have many, many projects lined up in my head now that I have the weaving bug back!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Getting to Know You

I've been mulling over an article in this past Sunday's Chicago Tribune titled "School's Out. Now What?" My children have never been to school, so I'm not familiar with the trails and anxieties of summer. The third paragraph reads: "Summer is wonderful, but it takes time to settle in."

Really? I guess we have trouble at time adjusting the the abrupt weather changes here in Chicago. And the sudden explosion of children on the block, in the neighborhood and at our museums. But really, summer is just an extension of spring, which comes after a long winter, preceded by fall. It's just a season for us. For some of us, it's our favorite season, for others, it's before or after their favorite one.

The author interviewed a developmental therapist who worked on a TV show I've never seen, "Super-Manny." He says that kids have "very little freedom" during the school year and that "They even have to ask to go to the bathroom." Well, yes. The kids on my block are gone from between 7:30 and 8 and arrive back home between 3:30 and 4. No sleeping late because they stayed up watching a documentary, no lounging around with a book because they have a cold.

But the most disturbing part of the article for me was the description of how the siblings have lost touch with each other, have done a lot of physical and developmental growing and "In a sense, they have to get to know each other again."

If that isn't one of the strongest arguments for homeschooling, I don't know what is. The picture Mark took above on a bike ride this weekend was of Large holding back Small while he was throwing rocks into the canal. Large was protecting his little brother, he wasn't asked to do it, he just knew Small's ability to get into precarious situations and wanted to make sure he didn't slide down the rocky slope to the algae-infested water below. Our kids know each other. Sometimes they know each other too well, they know exactly which buttons to push, and also how to use their strengths to help each other out.

The article went on to explain how to get the kids to know each other again. Who older kids can read to younger kids, how they can prepare meals together, where to find those "teachable moments" to form a community with other children in the neighborhood. Honestly, do parents really need this kind of advice? I'm hoping they don't.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This Credit Free Life

We've been leading a credit free life for 2 years now. We don't use credit anymore. Of course, we still have our mortgage and home equity, but we've been working at paying those off as well.

We followed most of Dave Ramsey's baby steps and were about to pay off over $20,000 in consumer debt in the first 9 months. We were very lucky to have some stocks to cash in, savings bonds lying around, a generous bonus and lots of patience. When our dryer broke, we went 2 months without. When a car died, we went 5 weeks without. Things recalibrated after a year and a half on the plan and we had 4 months in our emergency fund. Four months of basic living expenses saved just in case. I was comfortable with that cushion.

Then emergencies happened. From toilets to trees to cars to dishwashers, we are now down to less than 2 months in the emergency fund. We spent some of the money on non-emergencies (new lighting in the dining room, finishing a bathroom remodeling that began 3 years ago), but most of it was on basic items. The good news is that we used our emergency fund as a credit card, instead of piling on more debt. The bad news is that now we must work really hard to bring that balance back up. We have no more rabbits to pull out of hats and Mark's employer has announced layoffs.

On the other hand, we have that month and a half in the bank and know how to get more flowing into the emergency fund. One of our major decisions this week has been to repair the aging Volvo instead of getting a car loan for a different car. Next bonus maybe we'll plan for a new used car, but that's not until March. We'll just keep plugging along with what we have and stash more away for the future.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Cool Idea

I'll update on the big dance recital when I get a chance to breathe, but wanted to pass along something really cool right now. I'm signing up for several of these.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's Next?

OK, so in the midst of all the craziness my life has become - taking care of my non-compliant parents, the upcoming dance recital, making big decisions about whether or not to have a homeschooling conference next year, etc., etc., etc., I have to suffer through failing equipment that is supposed to make my life easier.

The dishwasher. Would cost a total of more than $400 to repair. We can replace one for nearly that. But we can't find the time to replace it or do the research to buy it.

The vacuum cleaner. Perhaps the most used appliance in the house, my trusty Miele Solaris. We've had it 8 years and this is the first major problem. I use it every day. On Saturday, I called a friend across the street hyperventilating and asking to borrow hers. She made me promise a solemn oath not to break it. She understands my pain.

The car. The Volvo with 120,000 miles on it - shouldn't it just last forever? For over a year now it's been doing this strange thing where the ABS system clicks in when accelerating, turning corners and occasionally while braking. Over the past week it's become loud. And then Saturday it was loud, refused to accelerate and showed that arrow signal that it was time to up shift, even in reverse. Transmission, you say? Likely, we dropped it off last night.

After losing the tree and shelling out a whole heck of a lot of money from the emergency fund for that and other tangential emergencies, our emergency fund is positively groaning. No longer do we have that nice cushion of 4 months living expenses saved in case Mark loses his job. Two, maybe. And we're in a recession here.

Maybe I can send Large out in his double breasted thrifted suit to look for a job? His hair is ever so slightly shorter now...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Back Home, Part Two

Returning home from vacation always leaves me longing to be back on vacation. Reality has a tendency to just smack me in the face. Today I find myself wanting to see some of the friends we made at our campsite and in the state park. The Cooper's Hawk was a favorite, coming by frequently to find a meal, possibly for his young. He started the Orioles off screeching each time and then would just hang out, scanning the weedy area on the slope down to the lake for easier fare. He wasn't so easy to photograph and was majestic when the swooped through the campsite.

Reality hit in the form of a broken dishwasher.

Oh, let's not wash the morning dishes. We can just put them in the dishwasher when we get home. Except that that dishwasher, a trusty 9 year old thing with far more bells and whistles than we need, wont wash. It dies mid-cycle. All that crusted on scrambled egg had to be washed the old fashioned way. The repair guy came out one afternoon and the thing worked just fine for him. Then he left, running an empty cycle and it didn't work. Sputtered through part of the wash and stopped. Red indicator lights angrily blinking "Wash Cycle!", "Energy Saver Dry!", "Rinse Aid Empty!"

When there was no satisfactory response, it would start up again, get to another point in the cycle and start screaming at us again in it's red light way. Next morning the repair guy, Alan, came back and pronounced we need a new heater element/on board computer kit that would cost $310, in addition to the $98 I had already spent for the service call. At least our debt-free living allows us some wiggle room of cash in our emergency fund. It feels wasteful, but I think it's time to get rid of the fancy dishwasher. We bought it when Medium was a baby and I insisted we needed the anti-bacterial wash and sanitary rinse. Hot water = higher gas bills so we don't use it.

See why I'd rather spend my time with a bunch of loud geese angrily defending their many, many goslings? Even the fox snake was more fun, gobbling up caterpillars on the bike path. Gnats are impossible to photograph, but there were lots of them too.

Aside from that I have conference things to do, issues to resolve, decisions to make. All volunteer positions can get so personal, I'm learning. I have been endowed with all sorts of new responsibilities to accomplish with one hand tied behind my back because there isn't an efficient system for knowledge and responsibility transfer. No succession plan. Bad. Would never work in the business world, at least not successfully. There is no doubt that it will all work out, and I have plans to fix the system so that the whole she-bang doesn't depend solely on the dedication of a few kind-hearted souls who eventually burn out from the pressure and burden of it all. That's the plan anyway. We all know about roads paved with good intentions.

So, I took refuge in the comfort of friends and enjoyed that so very much that I organized a whole slew of park days and outings for our little homeschooling community this summer. Turns out everyone had an idea of where we could happily spend our time and all I had to do was gather the information and post it. Now that's the kind of job I like. Plus, I'm ensuring my social needs are met. Oh, and I guess the kids social needs too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Home Again

Because we can't fit all four bikes and Small's afterburner trailer on the back of the Volvo, we took two cars camping last week. This meant we could take more stuff! Here's what our stuff did on our vacation.

Some of the toys mostly stayed in the tent. Happily, they were safely in beds or in pockets when the rain came, so most of them didn't get more than damp.

Swano and Wolfie spent some time working on their laptop. The stump of this beautiful white oak was sad to see when we pulled up into our favorite spot. It affected the afternoon shade, but not enough for us to want to change spots next year.

Bobber fell in the lake within an hour of our arrival. He enjoyed hanging out with the dish gloves for a while, but ended up getting progressively wetter as the days passed and the rain came. He finally dried out on the last day.

The sketch books and pencils got a nice workout, we need to make more time for this activity in the future. We go for five days and four nights after Memorial Day, so at least one day is rained out. Sketching can be difficult in the rain.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Mark, that great stabilizing and equalizing force in my life, the most consistent, calming and confirming husband a woman could dream of, takes a lot of pictures of plants. He can take 20 pictures of the same plant with different apertures, light, focus, until he gets what he wants. He rarely deletes what he doesn't want, however, leaving me with a folder labeled May 2009, insert-your-favorite-nature-spot-here and 53 pictures of the same bleeping Solomon seal from 9 angles.

At least it's digital, right? Before it used to be box after $20 box of prints. But when I look under May 2009 to find pictures of the defining moment of the month, I see file folders of how Mark has spent his lunch hour and early weekend morning bike rides - Arie Crown, Braidwood Savana, I&M Canal, Maple Lake, O'Hara Woods, Ted Stone, Warrenville Grove and West DuPage Woods. There is a folder for Mother's Day and a smattering of dumped, un-foldered photos that I took of my Roots&Shoots group and science lab. But not one picture of the mostly dead tree. Or the plants we are moving underneath it.

Not one shot of a wild geranium or bellflower lovingly transplanted from the woods around my childhood home when my parents moved 12 years ago. Instead, I found this fallen no swimming sign, which I hope is a signal of the future of our backyard now that the rain garden is in. We moved many a wild geranium, hyacinth and bellflower in the past week. I'm feverishly painting one wall of the garage in order to move the scorned and despised non-native hostas and ferns to the only shady place left in our yard. All the native stuff we can salvage has been moved and transplanted to other areas of the yard, but it looks dreadful. And I've spread nearly 2 cubic yards of mulch to protect what we've put in.

I just hope the apricot's enormous stump is ground down soon. That's one image I'd like to be rid of. And once the sanctioned and native Hill's Oak we plant nearby is in the ground, I'll believe our life is moving forward. It's the limbo I can't stand.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Sad Day

We are about to lose our tree. This tree is what sold me on the house, it was so magnificent and beautiful 14 years ago.

It was an overgrown apricot that never produced much fruit. The fruit it did produce was so high and so small that it was just weaponry for the squirrels to lob at us when we spent too much time in their space. The tree shaded the whole back deck, half the yard and much of the house. I used to leave Large and Small on the deck in their sandbox in the comfort of this tree while I went inside to do the dishes.

When we moved it, the tree was already cabled, holding it together in case of a storm. We've had it trimmed every year by the same company the previous owners used. The guy who comes out grew up taking care of this tree, he has admired it, held it together, trimmed it and has done all he can to keep it alive these past 5 or 6 years. Borers moved it and started killing the tree from the middle, there is no insecticide for this. Sap would come out in big globs as they did their work each summer, but we held out hope each year for just one more year.

As a fruit tree, it branched off into segments from one center point. My 80 year old neighbor, who has lived in the same house all her life, remembers that the original house owner chopped it down 50 years ago, only to have it grow back. This is a tree with staying power! The segments branched out over the deck, over my neighbors' driveway, over the addition to our house and over the back yard. The section over the neighbors driveway was the first to go, painfully cut off when nothing grew or bloomed on it. Then came parts of the sections over the back end of the house and the deck. Now the only live portions, which bloomed as beautifully as the picture taken four years ago, are the ones over the yard. These are straining against the cables, leaning on the power line. The dead portions are poised over the roof of the house. It's no longer an option to just nip off the dead bits and hope for another year. We've had our last year.

Part of the mourning of this tree is the digging up of the native (and some rare) wildflowers we planted underneath. Unfortunately, Chicago still thinks it is Bombay and we are in the midst of another monsoon.

Each time the tree was trimmed, it left a little hole in the canopy and took a while to grow back in. It was sad each year. These past few years have been like body part amputations, but we grew used to the new shape and hoped for the best. Now we will have an entirely new space in our lives, as unfamiliar and it will be unwanted.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Could it be?

I am hopeful, really hopeful, that we are done with winter now. Our last frost date here is May 15, but the long range forecasts look pretty good. We did a major spruce up of our outdoors last weekend and have an inviting front porch set up right now.

I like to sit in the rocker and knit. The kids like to sit on the swing or the Adirondack chairs to read. With the birds and the gardens coming in, it's hard to concentrate on much other than the life around us.

This time of year, I have a recurring dream of owning a little place, a hobby farm, out in the middle of nowhere. In my dream we practice sustainable living, no one ever complains about the work and we are happy all the time. After this past weekend of cleaning, painting and putting in a 64 plant rain garden, I should know better. Dreams don't know better.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Beyond Ribbit

We've been doing our amphibian monitoring, now that spring seems to be here and found this lovely specimen recently. It's an American toad, not the most attractive of our native species, and not particularly endangered. It does have one of my favorite calls, though. It's a long trill, lasting nearly 30 seconds. Strangely, this guy was out ahead of schedule. We heard him at night and found him in the morning. Don't these animals know we have a schedule for them, understand the temperatures they like and predict when they'll be around for us to observe? He's about a month early and the frogs I should have heard - chorus frogs, spring peepers, leopard frogs, etc. - were no where to be heard. Oh well, at least he was there.

We went on a bike ride as a family yesterday, using Small's new tag along trailer on the back of Mark's bike. It worked like a charm, mostly Small did no peddling, but got the hang of hanging out on a bike. And I saw a muskrat in the water! That was exciting. It was too windy for our warty friends, and a bit too rainy for some of those on the bikes, but we had a wonderful time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ta Da!

Probably the only good thing about us being sick for so long was that I was finally able to finish Mark's cabled sweater. Just in time for spring to arrive! He has managed to wear it on a few cool mornings, but a nice worsted weight wool isn't going to work again until November, I should think. Luckily he has been the same size and shape for years.
It was a really fun knit - Kathy Zimmerman's Rhapsody in Tweed. My only real problem was in reading the directions. I took Mark's measurements as the finished size and produced a cabled sausage casing.

Before seaming it together - and how I hate seaming - I added this garter edging from both sides and did a three needle bind off. That way I could add a few inches and avoid doing a side seams. It made the armhole and sleeves a bit trickier but was the right decision in the end. Only another knitter would notice my mistake, and only then if looking at Mark's armpit.

I'm not so afraid of seaming now and will keep my mind open to patterns in pieces. Seamless knitting seems so much more fluid, but a busy pattern like this would wind up with a jog anyway.
Go me!

Friday, April 10, 2009

What We Are Doing

Large has not left the compound in 2 straight weeks. He's barely left the couch, and then only to get to the bed. Today, however, he is reading and doing more than just whimpering, so I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Medium has taken a liking to pulling dandelions. This is an excellent hobby as our front patch of grass is mostly dandelions and I'm not interested in putting chemicals on it. As an added bonus, the rabbits and pig love dandelions and the carbon footprint of their meal is considerably smaller when we can forage.

Small has mostly spent his time driving everyone crazy. He's NOT sick, NOT interested in staying still and expends more energy running around the place than I would believe possible. Yesterday was nice enough that he could play outside for a couple of hours. Mostly, when he's in a quiet mode, he's been making get well cards for Large and I. These involve cutting tiny bits of paper, coloring them, gluing more little bits of paper on and presenting them with a flourish. It's very cute, very messy and a little bit wasteful.

I'm hoping that with the improvement today, much coughing but no fever and less of the sunken eyes and ghostly pallor, the kids can be convinced to play cork forts again. I had been saving corks and wanting to make something with them. The kids have taken them over, setting up forts and armies and elaborate rules of engagement.

We'll see. And maybe today is the day I will seam Mark's fabulous cabled sweater together. How I hate seaming. I made a rookie mistake in picking the size to knit (finished size versus body measurements) and had to fudge a bit to widen it. So, the seaming, which I normally hate, is even trickier than normal. Plus, it's a wool sweater just in time for spring. None of these things are as motivating as Brain Age's virus buster game! See, we really have been too sick for too long.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tell Me Something Good

I know spring is just around the corner because I can read the calendar. But it's still cold. And we are still sick. This is our second time around with the flu and this one is even longer than the last.

Aside from that we went to a funeral for a friend last weekend, I got the flu the day after. He was only 50, a gifted musician, a loving father and husband, a kind and generous man. He broke into our house one Christmas morning to feed the cats after the keys were left inside. He spent a great deal of time assembling bunk beds we took off their hands when they decided to downsize and move to a smaller place. Even after they moved, the family remained a part of our community on the block here. Now that family is smaller and our world is sadder.

What else? Oh, yes, my sister has a lump in her breast and my brother just got laid off. And a friend's husband just had lymph nodes removed.

When you are in the midst of things like this, especially with a fever thrown in, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. But spring is coming, we will get over this minor illness, the Harry Potter exhibit will be at the Museum of Science and Industry in a few short weeks, soon we will go camping for the first time with no child in diapers. I'm trying to think happy thoughts.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Not again

Just when we thought we were safe. We had the upper respiratory kind of long flu in February. We had the gastro-intestinal kind of flu in March. I thought we were done.

And then came an awful cold from out of nowhere. A few days before it hit, we were hiking in the Indiana Dunes and saw actual wildflowers popping out of the ground! This cold came with complete exhaustion. No fever, but for two days Medium and Small didn't leave the bed or couch. For two days they ate nothing, drank little and slept 'round the clock.

Now they are better, a bit congested perhaps, but up and dressed for the first time in a couple of days. Large is acting cranky and has those tell-take circles under his eyes. Mostly, though, he's working hard at being in denial. Almost as hard as he pretends not to like math.

Monday, March 23, 2009

We're Throwing the Switch

Last year my family participated in Earth Hour by shutting off the main electrical switch into the house. I'm sure there's a more technical term for that grey box where the fuses and such are. Everything went off and for one hour we played games by candle and camping light. Yhatzee, Medium remembers. This year we have a lot of new games to choose from.

This Saturday, March 28th. 8:30 p.m. Take a stand against climate change.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Dream Come True

We went to see the Aztec exhibit at the Field Museum on Monday. Monday is our museum day, and now that we have a commitment to facilitate a science lab in the afternoon, we push ourselves to get out of the house early and explore our chosen topic. We love the Field Museum, it's vast, interesting, wonderful. Actually, we love all the museums we belong to and our sense of a favorite changes to the one we have most recently visited.

we chose the Aztec show partly because it is leaving on April 12th and partly because we had just finished our car audio book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, which had funny references to the study of Aztecs. The exhibit was really great, full of artifacts and interesting descriptions of daily life and warfare.

As for the dream part, it happened like this: Small is only five and can't read all the descriptions. It was all a bit above his head and he tends to wander off on his own, disengaged from the family. The rest of us were engrossed with the exhibit and I needed to be mindful of where he was. This happens sometimes at museums. At one point, noticing Small had wandered to a corner and was playing an imaginary game by himself, Medium pulled him in and said "Oh look, Small! This is a vessel used to hold a potent drink and it's formed in the shape of a drunken rabbit..." going on to explain all about the drink and what drunkenness is and why it was such a funny, intriguing thing. It was a touching, family, homeschooling moment I've got stored in my memory.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Conference Recovery

Before my boys fell to the gastro-intestinal virus at the InHome conference, we all had a fabulous time. My two may be the only ones who look right in this picture, but they are part of a kid-chain holding an enormous, 85 pound snake. This was one of several entertaining and informative wildlife sessions at the conference this year. At one point, while I was on the treadmill during a sprint, Mark sent me a the text "here comes the hedgehog!"

Despite screams from Large "This is the WORST conference EVER!" while lying in bed watching the Disney Channel all day (we don't get cable, so this was unusual in itself), the conference really was as good as ever. Even Large went to four fabulous sessions - lego robotics, roller coaster making, foam sword making and the reptilian wildlife session - before falling ill. Medium made it to all her sessions, striding off confidently on her own, calling or texting us when she was finished. Her favorite was the session with the resort chef, touring the kitchen, seeing how professionals prepare food. Small petered out early, at five it's a stretch for him to be in a "class" for an hour. And then he was hit the hardest with the illness. I took to calling our room the vomitorium.

My favorite part is volunteering at the Information Table as the conference opens. I love to be able to help people find their sessions in the sprawling Pheasant Run Resort. And I love seeing everyone I know, chatting with friends, catching up with acquaintances. It's stressful as the opening sessions approach - hence the treadmill - but worth the effort. Mark and I worked our schedule smartly this year so that one of us would be available each time slot just in case someone got sick. And two did. Even that wasn't so bad from my perspective - someone else had to wash all the sheets and towels!

It was a long sick, though. We were housebound from the time we returned on Sunday until Friday morning.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New Toilets

Yes, I'm really writing about toilets. "But Mommy! That's so private!" Ah, well, yes. What goes on with the toilet and the body functions is private, but the toilets themselves are not.

With our bonus money this year, after funding our emergency savings (about four months of living expenses), we decided to finish our bathroom projects from a few years ago. When we started the project, we had no idea how to manage our money, funding it with a combination of credit cards, cash and home equity. And then we ran out of cash, our air conditioning broke down and we were frightened by our HELOC. So, we put it off until we had cash to compete it. Now we are ready for shower doors, a coat of paint, fixing the loose tiles, replacing the fan and replacing two aging toilets.

The toilets were my job and they came first. We wanted to go green, using as little water as possible for each flush. After much research, we settled on two Toto Aquia toilets, and purchased them from the Green Home Experts in Oak Park. Fabulous store, great customer service, wonderful products - I highly recommend it.

It's hard to imagine waxing euphoric over a toilet, isn't it? These toilets give one something to wax over. The are new and clean and shiny, which is undoubtedly part of it. But the fact that they use .9 gallons for liquid waste and 1.6 for solid is a great green boost to our consciousness. Flushing that little water is quiet! No performance problems, either.

But the best, thing and what made me fork over twice the money over a conventional toilet was this:

I live in a house of toilet slammers. Not angry toilet slammers, just unthinking slammers. This has cured them of that habit - there is no way to slam this lid. Smooth, quiet, beyond belief.

I'm easily amused.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I just found this picture of my dad after a Google search. He's the one at the podium. My mom is seated, listening intently to his speech. Here's the description from the photo archive:

Description: middle age; suit; standing; talking at banquet, L-R A.V. Crewe, C. H. Townes, and Mrs Crewe. Dr. Crewe, Director of Argonne National Laboratory, was the speaker at the 'March' meeting banquet of the American Physical Society (APS) Wednesday evening, March 29, in the Grand Ballroom of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, Chicago.Date: March 29, 1967

My Dad was 40 when this picture was taken. Today he turned 82, a whole lifetime in between. I had just turned 3 a few days before this meeting. He was in constant demand as a speaker, traveled regularly to Japan and had yearly trips all over the world connected to his work.

His voice is mostly gone, he rarely gets above a hoarse whisper these days. Public speaking hasn't been part of his repertoire since Parkinson's' hit. A year ago he still had a voice, and was still a big man. Now his weight has stabilized, thanks largely to the g-tube that gives him his basic nutrition requirements. His physical movements are more difficult now, but his strength is good. His mind has not been affected, except for worry and anxiety, also brought on my Parkinson's.

Happy Birthday, Dad! I cherish my time with you more each day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about volunteering lately. Why do some people step up to the plate and others don't? Is there some inherited volunteering gene that compels a person to do more than they can? Is there a corresponding gene that compels a person to let others do the work?

Obviously, I have a bias, as I am part of the former group. I can't even pose a question about the other half without exposing my bias. I have a no-buddy, someone who helps me to say "no" when I cannot possibly do more. I am also her no-buddy, but in true over-volunteering style, I firmly believe my efforts to stop her volunteering are called into play more, because she does more. Which leads me to think I should be doing more, and then I have to call my no-buddy to stop me.

Every year, our fabulous InHome Conference reaches the point where half the required number of volunteers are doing all the work. This year, my no-buddy (some buddies we are, right?) decided we needed to map out the jobs and create a manual for the conference. This is to be a living, breathing, ever-changing document to help new recruits and seasoned veterans perform herculean tasks to create the event that is the highlight of our kids "school" year.

I worked for years in Human Resources hiring, firing, training, contract negotiating, performing labor relations, benefit evaluations, the whole gamut of people related jobs. I worked in the corporate world. We were lean and mean in the engineering profession, or so I thought. Even more lean in the trucking industry, and a quite bit more real. But I never encountered what I have seen in the past few days.

In surveying the current volunteer population, we've found that these 37 heroes are performing the jobs of possibly twice that many. In salary situations, jobs have functions that are secondary or tertiary. In the volunteer world, there are no such luxuries. What needs to be done gets done. What wants to get done is either a need or discarded. There is no cushion, no fall back, no support staff.

I want to believe that a lack of knowledge if fueling the lack of volunteers, both for the big jobs and the small, one or two hour jobs during the conference. We don't want to scare people or guilt them into working something they aren't comfortable with. We want to be a welcoming, warm environment to newcomers and long-term homeschoolers alike. We don't want to be pushy, so we don't tell anyone what, specifically we need. This leads to the few thanklessly performing for the many. And it leads to discontent and burn-out. It happens in places like this particular conference, in homeschooling groups, in habitat restoration, in situations requiring volunteers everywhere.

So what makes people shy away from volunteering? There is the fear of the unknown. This has happened to me. I have a child with severe eczema and was sleep deprived for four and a half years. When I couldn't get a clear picture of what was required in a volunteer opportunity, I said no, fearing it was more than I could handle. There is also a feeling of inadequacy. Others have been doing it so well for so long, how could anyone else measure up? There is also a complete lack of understanding of what it takes to orchestrate the event, group, class, etc. If a Girl Scouts troop, for example, runs like clockwork for a few years, there is a belief that it will always work that way. If a support group has been a safe harbor for a generation of parents, it should just continue after those kids have fledged. But without a fresh crop of volunteers in each of these situations, this wont happen.

And then there are the people who wont volunteer no matter what. They have a stronger "no" muscle than most of the people I know. They sign up, pay their fees, do what is asked and go home. They are one tree, not part of the forest.

I don't really want to know how many of these trees there are out there, I'm too busy meeting the forest. I have no answers to the whole volunteering conundrum, but I get to widen my circle of friends and acquaintances and learn from them. My world is richer. And now that my eczema baby is sleeping through the night, I have more time.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Light Bulb Moment

I had one of those rare moments of clarity recently where I just wanted to smack myself on the head. Now I'm happier with my new insight and more self-forgiving.

I like to make things hard on myself. Today I noticed something I have been walking past every day for the past five years or so. A piece of plywood painted white on one side. It's been on the landing of the stairs to the basement, by the house side door for years. Years. Hmmm, what could I use that for? Oh, I know. For the conference this year, I need to replace the message board we've been using the past few years and was thinking of a cork board with push pins. That way we could use recycled paper bits instead of sticky notes that never retain their stickiness as long as we want them to. A better system and green as a bonus! Except I don't have a cork bulletin board. Why not glue all the corks I've been saving onto the board and use that? I lay them out, determined a pattern and a border and then did a load of laundry.

In my chain reaction world, the laundry led me to want another octopus-shaped clothes dryer from Ikea. It has eight arms, each with two clothes pins attached and is perfect for hanging cloth pull ups, fleece, anything I don't want going into the dryer. It also has a face, which makes it fun for the kids to use. Mark had the kids at the zoo, so I decided to head off for a solo shopping trip - the height of luxury.

Sadly, Ikea no longer carries the octopus. The worker I asked was standing in front of a pile of framed cork boards the perfect size for my information table needs, for $4. Unbelievably, I had to wrestle with myself, weighing the pros and cons of the wasted $4 on an imported cork board with a huge carbon footprint or my spending hours gluing corks onto the scrap wood from my basement. I spent the money, picked up a few other items and headed home.

This little exercise in futility made me think of a larger one I've been spending nearly the last two years on. I've been using the Homeschool Tracker, which is a really wonderful free tool put out by some great homeschooling folks. I just needed a method of collecting attendance data to meet the state's requirements, but ended up laboriously plugging in all sorts of data each day. I typed in how long the kids did free reading, math, spelling, what science videos they watched, whether they wrote anything that day, the history curriculum, etc. Each book was entered as a resource and then checked off as having been read. My kids read a lot of books. It became a job in itself. I was diligent, purposeful.

Earlier this year I had my kids take over their schedules, believing this to be a life skill they should master (as I am struggling to master). So, during our almost daily planning meeting, we schedule what needs to be done, when we need to leave, etc and at the end of the day the kids write down what books they have read, what science projects they have done, etc. They are keeping track of their lives. I would then take their planner and copy this information into the Homeschool Tracker.

Double work. I like the format of the Homeschool Tracker, it translates everything into school format. The tracker lists their activities as "assignments" and gives them a check mark for having "completed" something. I printed the information monthly into a binder for a while and then fell behind and would print it out in great bunches. I enjoyed the possibility of having something to show doubting friends and relatives what my children have accomplished, how hard they work, how far they have come.

The fatal flaw in this thinking, of course, is that no one has ever asked for proof that my children are learning anything. They are smart kids, easy kids. They love to learn, spend hours reading, ask for museum memberships for their birthdays. I have no doubters in my life. But I still felt I needed something to prove to some nebulous someone that we are productive. The problem with this is that the only people who would ask for anything resembling proof would be people who don't know my children. State superintendents perhaps, truant officers maybe? And these are exactly the kinds of folks I would never present my nicely labeled binders! Too much information, they would find something wrong with it. All they get is what is required by law, attendance records and a letter of compliance signed by Mark and me.

So, it turns out the only person I was keeping these records for was myself. But even I wasn't reading the stuff. I printed it, punched holes and put it in the three ring binders. There, all done. It should have been a big clue to me how pointless the exercise was when my laptop blew up and I lost all of school year 2007 - 2008's records. But it wasn't.

I don't need to prove to myself that my children are learning, I witness their learning in all its glory each and every day. Some day we will need high school transcripts, I suppose. But Medium and Large are only 9 and 10 now. By the time we need transcripts, they will be able to control what information is recorded in any tracking system on their own.

So, just yesterday I printed out attendance records year to date on each of my three monsters, put them in a folder with our letter of compliance and stashed it by the front door. I have at hand whatever anyone could need, in the unlikely event someone asks for it.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with all those corks. Small used to play with them like blocks. I could drill a hole in them lengthwise and make a sun shade for our front porch, I could make them into trivets if we ever needed more trivets, or coasters, or ....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about obsessions lately. Obsessing about it, even. Not compulsions, not addictive behavior, but the kind of intense interest in something that compels you to focus on little else.

Large has been obsessive about stop animation for the last few days. Brought on by the Flip digital video camera they received for Christmas and a desire to make movies with his Lego guys, he took 400 pictures of Lego scenes and has been working with Scratch to get them into a movie. It's slow going, he's figuring it all out himself. It's highly frustrating at times, but he gets a special joy when he figures something out - even when it means the past few hours worth of work was for naught - and rushes to tell me about it.

Medium has been obsessively baking for a couple of months. While this has the obvious negative effect on our collective waistlines, it's really a wonderful kitchen chemistry project. In fact, it has led to a request that we study chemistry. And the chain reaction searching through the library system and homeschooling resources to find suitable chemistry experiments for my clan. She wakes up in the morning and huddles with the cookbook her aunt gave her for Christmas. Hmm, muffins? Scones? Coconut cream cake? She's learned a lot about substitutions as she makes things our milk and egg allergic Small can eat, and how the different properties of these substitutes affect the outcome.

Small has been obsessed with all things knights and castles. He recently turned 5 (already!) and received many new knights and weapons of mass destruction from the middle ages. We have this set up in the living room, drawing in the older children to his world of imaginative play. His Nintendo DS has been in the car since Friday, probably not good for the device, but he has been unwilling to go out and get it. No need when you have a world full of guys with cross bows, axes, a catapult and siege tower to storm the castle.

As for me, my obsession runs along more predictable lines. I've started a new sweater for Mark. It's an interesting pattern full of cables, no two rows are alike. A fun knit, although I can tell the sleeves are going to be boring with just one mini-cable repeat running the length.

And I've been setting up grow boxes in the basement to reduce our rabbits' carbon footprint. I made them with LED puck lights inside of plastic tubs that came with baby wipes when the older two were babies. The lettuce and herbs are planted in yogurt cups and the water comes from the discharge from the house humidifyer. Very green. I have actual sprouts and plant to clear a shelf, put rope lights on there and grow it all in the basement. It's pretty cool and I hope it works. Now that we've cleaned out the basement and have room to use it as an actual, functioning part of the house, I'm filling it with a cool weather garden.

These healthy obsessions spark our collective desire to continue learning, to expand our horizons and stretch ourselves through frustration and disappointment to mastery of skills we value as individuals. It's a really good life.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slip Sliding Away

The winter is half over. The kids and I love winter, love snow and all the winter activities surrounding snow. We do not, however, love cold. And this winter it seems like every weekend has been too cold to enjoy the great, snowy outdoors. This weekend will be no exception. So, it's likely we'll miss the dog sledding demonstration at the Morton Arboretum.

We been enjoying skating with homeschool friends in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. Likely, the people set it up for the adults to skate around on their lunch hours, or the smattering of preschool aged kids. Before Christmas, our homeschooling groups descended on the place, making it a happy family atmosphere. Being January, less people turned out this week - they are sick, the schedules got full, they are tired of winter. We still had a great time, my wall hugging children are getting more confident and are performing fewer Jim Carey like moves on the ice.

We just want a couple of above 20 degree weekends with snow before it's all over. We'd like to cross country ski, snowshoe, sled and hike. We're taking our snowshoes to the dunes today, hoping for a bit of fun.

Monday, January 19, 2009

House Presents

I like to give our house presents for Christmas each year. Sometimes, like this year, we get necessary things like a set of tires. This was our first cash only Christmas, so we're pretty pleased the house could receive gifts as well. Along with the tires, we got a device to stream Netflix movies in to our TV without needing a disc. It's made by Roku, specifically for Netflix, although it will be able to take Amazon movies once Amazon is ready. This has been a great gift. We do still get three movies from Netflix at a time, but often they are not what we want to watch before bed. Or, as in the case of the Mr. Magoo series, they are languishing, unwatched, but unwilling to be returned.

So, say it's a pledge drive on PBS - and when, really, isn't it a pledge drive on PBS? It's 8:30, everyone is ready to watch something, but there's nothing on. We really only watch PBS, we choose not to get cable for more channels of stuff we don't want to watch. We have three Netflix discs at home - a 2 1/2 hour ballet, an orchestral performance, and Mr. Magoo. We click on the Roku, see what's in the queue, pick one and watch it. If the Internet is wonky, as it has been recently, sometimes it pauses to retrieve it again. And sometimes, strangely, the picture is distorted or the soundtrack isn't coordinated with the pictures. We need to figure out these problems, but we've been able to watch alternate shows instead. And when the kids had the flu last week, they camped out with Nature programs. Great present for the house.

Our second house gift was a polymer clay oven. I wont bore everyone with the details of the combination of coupons that made this unnecessary item worthwhile, it was a spectacular deal. And the kids really love it. At least Medium and Small do. They make new creations every few days. Medium even has a box with many small compartments to store her creatures
in. Here's a picture of her teeny tiny horse collection:

None of these are more than an inch big. She also has more teensy weensy animals and food items (cupcakes and sandwiches with eyes, that sort of thing).

Large had thus far only had one foray into the kitchen to work with the polymer clay and cook something up. This is his creation, which has left me speechless:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Allergic Change

We went to the allergist for skin testing yesterday. Large has been allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, legumes and peas for his 10 years. We gave him frozen peas as a teething baby, but in the past year or two he's been developing hives from peas.

Allergy testing is always just a snapshot in time. The good news is that his current snapshot indicates no allergies to tree nuts. This frees up a lot of foods "made in a facility" and some vegetarian options. He is also not allergic to soy, although he doesn't like it. And not allergic to pinto beans. There was no little vial with the essence of garbanzo, navy, black or kidney beans. I don't need a doctor's diagnosis to know he is allergic to garbanzo and/or fava beans, though. That sent him to the ER in anaphylactic shock a few years ago.

On a scale of zero to 4+, Large tested 0 for all the tree nuts. He tested 3+ for peas and 4+ for peanuts. So, it's a mixed bag. We could have gotten a blood test, not as reliable as the skin test but improving, for lentils, but it seemed silly to go for just one allergen. They didn't have the other beans either. We'll try them slowly, adding beans is important to the environmentalist in me.

We won't add nuts unless Medium's test on Monday comes back with the same tree nut free results. She's had some mild reactions to nuts, but has never been tested. We've just avoided everything with her.

Small, I believe, is too small to go through the testing. It is really barbaric. Pricking the skin with an allergen and then being unable to scratch it for 10 minutes. Nearly 24 hours later, Large's peanut spot still has an angry red bump. And Small is the perfect example of the problems with allergy testing in children. A year ago he couldn't eat wheat without breaking out in a rash, cranberries made his eyes water and itch, eggs made him vomit. Now he still can't have eggs, although his reaction is a face rash. And his milk reaction is a bit more severe in that his rash goes to other spots of his body along with his face. But he doesn't' have the almost instant full body rash reaction to milk anymore. Small has always had skin issues, not anaphylaxis issues. None of our children, however, have had peanuts.

I'm not quite holding my breath for more mixed good news on Monday. As the older two get more independent, it's more important that they understand what they are and are not allergic to. It's important that they let go of some of their fear of foods and try new things with confidence. And it's important for me to let go of policing their food intake, to transfer the monitoring to them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Get It

Only now do I understand. I've knitted 8 or 9 pairs of socks in the past year or two, happily giving them away to people who oohed and aahed over them. (Never knit something for someone who doesn't appreciate hand knits.) And then I read somewhere that a knitter really should knit every other project of so for themselves. What a concept! I decided to try it and these were the result.

Now I find myself looking in the clean laundry baskets, digging for the socks. They could have been a row or two longer to make them absolutely perfect, but the fit of hand kit socks is a real treat. No seams, no tightness, just the right amount of hug on both ankles - despite one being significantly wider than the other. I want to fill my sock drawer with hand knits! Save the store boughts for the gym.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I think one of my more important jobs as a parent is to help my children understand how to use their time. Not in the manner I learned, which was to create endless to-do lists of tasks that couldn't be accomplished in one day. The longer the list, the more important I felt. Until the end of the day, that is, when I felt like a complete failure. Keeping with my goal of finding the flow of balance in my life, I'm working to get the kids to take over their own schedules.

Each morning we have a family daily planning meeting. Sometimes it's short, sometimes long. Today we went over what needed to be done by when in order to take a trip to the Field Museum. Small woke everyone up in the night, so we didn't really get rolling until 10:30 or so. Working with the time schedule and priorities, we determined we needed to get our homeschooling and accountable kids tasks done by 12:30 to get to the museum by 1 to leave by 3 and not hit traffic on the way to the gym. That would leave time for playing with friends before dinner when we got home. It was an aggressive schedule and we didn't make it. That, in itself, was a lesson.

Yesterday I made up planner pages for Medium and Large, took them to Office Depot and had spiral bound books made. We've been working with a planner page for a while and came upon one we can life with. The first section is for homeschooling: reading, spelling, vocabulary, writing, math, science, history, art and music. Not very unschool-y, I know, but the kids choose their reading, math topics, science topics, history selection based on what we've read in The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 2: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance, Revised Edition ... the World: History for the Classical Child), art and music. They asked for spelling and vocabulary. The second section is for Accountable Kids, the program we use to keep our house and life in order. Next is a section for exercise - they chose what to do and write it in. Then comes activities and classes with the time we need to leave and an Extra section for things like play dates. We are pretty pleased with how it's working so far, and are keeping ourselves open to tweaking it in the future.

It's been a struggle for me to learn to manage my time as an adult. I've never had a good notion of how long something takes to accomplish. I think it should take half an hour to install a ceiling fan, when it takes the better part of a day. This past weekend I never imagined I would have my basement overhaul project 75% complete in just two days, it seemed it would take an overwhelming year of weekends.

I've been working through the The Life Organizer: A Woman's Guide to a Mindful Yearbook by Jennifer Louden. It isn't a planner in the traditional sense of filling out blocks of time, you still use a calendar for that. The book's purpose is to prompt you to focus on what is important to you. It poses questions for each month and week to guide you through to your goals. My favorite weekly circle to fill in is "Let Go Of." I'm not through to that point yet, but am looking forward to it!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Maybe mine are just not big enough, or not as clearly articulated. This video shows a project beyond belief in it's scope and beauty. Get a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Monday, January 5, 2009


It took me forever to come up with a new year's resolution this year. I like to do just one or two, make it attainable. Yes, I could resolve to lose weight. I've been losing weight all my life and it's a bit old and boring after nearly 45 years. I could resolve to save more money, get a job, quit coffee, do something virtuous. Last year I resolved to do something creative each and every day, even for a few minutes. That worked and has helped me to be happy. There were just a few weeks this summer when my Dad was in the hospital that I couldn't do anything but tread water.

So, I've decided that my resolution this year is to achieve balance in my life. Balance my parents and my children, my husband, my house, my interests and my passions. It's a tall order, it's going to take a lot of baby steps, many false starts to find the right path.

Yes, my parents need me. They need me to be there once or twice a week, to check on them, make sure their medicines, appointments, house arrangements, etc. are all in order. But do they really need all of me? Do I need to spend a full 8 or 10 hours with them twice a week? How about shorter visits with and without the kids, hurricanes of activity surrounding my father's off times when he naps and my mother's daily hour and a half long trips to the grocery store.

Yes, my children need me, but not all of me. Yes, they need to learn, but they do better most of the time without me. With Medium and Large, at least, I need to set parameters and walk away. Small needs to become a strong reader, then he'll be fine on his own too. They are on their way to becoming life long learners, I don't want to mess that up with too much structure. I usually impose structure as a result of my own worry or panic over their progress. I need to let go.

Other people need me, too. But mostly, I need them. It's time to nurture my relationships - with Mark, with my friends and family. These past six months I've been more of a dead weight in the mix, I need to create space to live with them.

Today, we went out to my parents'. I arranged their calendar, actually hanging it on the wall. Made sure their appointments were on it, asked their aide to go over the calendar with my mother every day, called various doctors to get the appointment dates and times correct. When the dentist office called because Mom wasn't there, and asked her to come in at 3:30, I said we had to leave at 2. Instead of bagging my workout again, for the fifty third straight time, because someone else needed me, I made it a priority. And, unbelievably, the world did not fall apart. Mom was able to reschedule for a few mornings out when the aide could be with my father. It felt selfish to put myself first, but I'll get over that.

Probably these aren't baby steps for me. They are big steps. It's as if I worked long and hard to become my own self, achieved that for a good 20 years and then had it all swept away from me when my parents declined. A dear friend, who is caring for her mother heroically through many worse health problems, said once "My life is not my life anymore." I need my life to be mine as well as my parents' and my children's. I need it all to mesh just a little bit better than it has been.