Monthly Archives: September 2008

Jane Austen on William Butler Yeats (sort of)

I must admit, I don’t recall reading any of Yeats until recently, when, in the course of Ethan’s schooling, over a week or so, we read through several of his poems together.  (Ethan is in 6th grade;  we homeschool.)  One of the many joys — for me — of homeschooling is that I get to learn all sorts of things that were lacking or inadequate or simply forgotten in my own education.  I discovered, reading with Ethan, that I love Yeats’ poetry, at least what I’ve read.  Not only do I just like his style, I feel like I completely get what Yeats is trying to say, and, feeling similarly myself, obtain even more of… a feeling of kinship (or something) with the author, and a greater appreciation for the poems themselves.

However, that isn’t necessarily a fantastic thing.

I was reminded of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  At one point, Anne, the heroine, meets a fairly minor character in the story, a Captain Benwick.  (This is all from memory, so please forgive me if I have some details skewed.)  At first, Anne is delighted with Benwick, because he so loves poetry, as does she.  It didn’t take too many conversations, though, for Anne to become alarmed about Benwick’s poetry “habit.”  See, Benwick was — very understandably — depressed because of the recent death of his fiance.  Anne’s concern was that, in his state, it wasn’t wise that Benwick was absolutely immersing himself in melancholy poetry.  Rather than the morose verse that was his particular taste, whereby he found sympathy and consolation, Anne encouraged him to at least also read some lighter fare — poetry that would lift his senses, rather than further depress them.

I felt the wisdom of Anne’s/Jane’s words as I read and re-read Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

I have decided that there are a couple reasons why, for me, this is a particularly unwise poem on which to dwell:

  1. By nature, I could be a hermit.  Seriously.  There is definitely a loner-longing in my flesh that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  God has not called me to be a hermit — indeed, I wonder if hermitting is right for any Christian — so much of Christian life is about our participation in the Body of Christ, in the church, both as a worldwide whole, and in the local church.  We need to give, and we need to receive from others.  Not much giving or receiving going on in a handmade cabin on an isle by oneself.  This poem would certainly appeal to hermits.
  2. I need to bloom where I’m planted.  Even though I don’t adore the desert, I have discovered that it is important that I at least appreciate the desert, and not forever ache for green hills and trickling streams and tall trees, for the desert is where I am, where God has me, where my own dear husband loves.  Same with the city.  At heart, I don’t feel remotely like a city girl.  Yet, here I am, on the edges of a gigantic metropolis.  Resenting the city, resenting the desert is not a state of mind where I can allow myself to dwell.  Reading of Yeats continually hearing the lapping of the waters, deep in his heart, whilst on the grey pavement really illustrates exactly what I’m trying not to do. 

I shared all of this with Ethan — how I love the Innisfree poem, and why it isn’t the wisest thing for me to dwell on it, including Jane Austen’s thoughts on the subject.  Although I have greatly enjoyed all the discussions that poetry has brought up between my 11yo son and myself, I don’t know if that was the best thing to be dumping on him, either.  I think he was rather startled at the revelation that his mom has hermit tendencies.  But, it made me feel particularly warm that he totally understood my thoughts on the Body of Christ, and on blooming where one is planted.  He’s a good kid.  🙂


My husband Martin came home with a story the other night, which made me tear up with relief, and with the feeling of just being absolutely protected by the Father.

For those of you who don’t know, he works for a homebuilder.  He’s been there for… I think it will be 18 years in February.  I’ve lost count.  It’s been a long time, since before we were even dating, let alone married.  When he began there, it was basically a mom ‘n’ pop teensy company.  Now, they’re the largest privately-held homebuilder in the country.  He started out at the bottom, like pretty much everyone else, but over the course of the years, has put his skills to virtually all the processes that go into bringing a home into existence, making tons of lateral moves, and a few moves up, too.  For the last six years or so, most of what he’s done is as a designer;  he’s pretty much an unlicensed architect.  Our own house was designed by him.  🙂

Well, about two and a half years ago, when the housing market in Phoenix was still very strong, an architectural firm became interested in him.  They made him a jaw-dropping offer. 

Though professionally flattering, it made for an extremely intense month or so of prayer, thought, consideration, weighing options, discussion, torn feelings, investigation of priorities, etc here at home.  On top of that, my due date for our fourth child came and went.  My husband told me at the time, seriously, that he didn’t think Audrey was going to come until the whole thing was resolved.  He was right;  within a 15 minute window of him, walking out of his boss’ office, after telling him that he would stay, I started the contractions that led to Audrey being born, roughly 15 hours later (and six days late).  So, within a matter of hours, all the familial and professional unrest was brought to wonderful peace.

Even though the Phoenix area (as well as most of the rest of the U.S.) has had a serious downturn on the new-homebuilding front, Martin has kept his job.  Given that the company for whom he works is, right now, having their worst month ever for sales, things still feel shaky, but…  given the circumstances, his job is more secure than could possibly be expected for his vocation.

Anyways, he got an e-mail the other day from the architectural firm, something along the lines of, “Come to the grand opening of our new office!!”  Which sounded suspiciously to Martin like, “We’ve seriously downsized and had to move!!!”  So, he called in to the guy he knows there, with whom he still has a working relationship, and it turned out that, yes, across the board, across the United States, throughout each office, that firm has gone through a major downsizing and restructuring.  Many people have lost their jobs;  given the housing market, this firm just didn’t have enough business to keep everyone employed.

Now, of course, there’s nothing to say for certain what would have been Martin’s fate had he taken the job offered to him by the firm.  And, as mentioned, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to continue indefinitely at his employer’s.  But…  as he told me the story, I got the shivers, tears welled in my eyes, and I felt a tremendous sense of us being protected by God the Father.

No matter what happens, God will continue to provide.  And, actually, this morning, I was thinking about how much I hate conjecture.  I hate rehearsing all sorts of “what ifs.”  (I was thinking about that as my 9yo son Grant was talking about what might have happened if the Teutons had not beaten the Huns at Chalons in 451 AD.  It was endless.  Or, rather, it would have been endless, had my patience endured, which it did not.)  We do the best we can with the decisions that are laid before us, and instead of second-guessing oneself endlessly, hope that history proves that our choices were good ones.  If the decisions led to poor results, maybe some re-evaluation is in order.  But, in this case, bless God, it does appear that the decision for my hubby to stay was the right one, and I found that confirmation a great relief.

Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake (GFCF)

I love carrot cake.  Even better, it is so adaptable as a gluten-free, casein-free recipe.  I have found that, in general, heavier baked goods turn out more successful as GFCF, as opposed to the light & fluffy bread items, like angel cake and hamburger buns.  

Anyways, I have countless cookbooks, and, to my taste, each recipe was lacking just a little something, or had too much of something else.  So, I adapted a recipe, adding and subtracting what appeals to me, also ensuring that it is free of gluten and dairy.  I mostly added ingredients.  This cake has all of the “extra” ingredients, besides carrots, hence the title. 

The results taste fabulous, and no one will guess that it’s for “special” diets.  Well, unless, like us, you can’t have dairy, and have to use a plain white frosting, instead of cream cheese.  Cream cheese frosting is a classic with carrot cake  (By the way, at the time of this writing, both Duncan Hines and Pillsbury vanilla frostings are GFCF.  Some of those brands’ frostings are NOT GFCF, so read labels carefully, of course.  I’m more partial to Duncan Hines, because it is thicker.  Also, NONE of Betty Crocker prepared frostings are GFCF;  they all contain, at a minimum, wheat starch.)

And… like most of my recipes, this makes a big batch.  It makes either a very large layer cake, or a large sheet cake plus a dozen muffins.  (See recipe for details.)

Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake (GFCF)

  • 2 medium oranges
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 4 cups Best Gluten-Free Flour Mix Ever (alternately, use one cup EACH sorghum flour, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, and corn starch, PLUS 3 tsp. xanthan gum)
  • 1 1/2 cups packed, dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground mace (alternately, 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups cooking oil (I use canola)
  • 7 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 5 cups peeled and finely shredded carrots (about 1 lb)
  • 8 oz (2 cups) walnuts, chopped
  • 1 – 20 oz can crushed pineapple (packed in juice, not syrup)
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut  (sweetened or unsweetened)
  1. Prepare your pans:  For a party-sized layer cake, with shortening, grease two 11″ x 17″ jelly roll pans.  For a more moderate crowd, with shortening, grease a 9″ x 13.5″ rectangular glass baking pan, PLUS line 12 muffin tins with paper baking cups.
  2. Wash the two oranges, and finely grate the zest, which will result in about 2 Tbsp zest.  Set the zest aside.  Squeeze the juice from the oranges, which will result in 1/2 – 3/4 cup juice.  Pour the juice into a microwave-proof bowl, and add the raisins.  Loosely cover.  Heat the juice and raisins in the microwave on high until boiling, about 2 minutes.  Let stand about five minutes.  Heat again for about 30 seconds until boiling again, then let stand.  Repeat again, until the mixture has been brought to a boil a total of three times.  (Alternately, bring boil in a small saucepan, then simmer on low heat for five minutes.)  Then, set aside to soak and cool.
  3. If you haven’t already done so, finely grate the carrots. 
  4. Set a seive over a bowl, and pour in the can of crushed pineapple to drain.  (You will not use the drained juice;  only the pineapple.)
  5. Into a very large mixing bowl (6 quart or larger), measure the flour mix, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, mace, and cloves.  With a whisk, completely combine all ingredients.  Use your hands in a rubbing fashion to break up chunks of brown sugar, if needed.
  6. In a large mixing bowl (4 quart size), combine oil, eggs, and vanilla, whisking to mix.  Add the oil mixture to the flour mixture, and stir well with a wooden spoon to combine.  (This is the point where I usually turn my oven on, preheating it to 350* F.)  If you do not have a 6 quart+ mixing bowl, divide the batter evenly into two smaller mixing bowls.
  7. In the “wet” bowl, combine the shredded carrots, raisin and juice mixture, orange zest, drained pineapple, walnuts, and shredded coconut.  After this is well mixed, add the carrot mixture to the batter, stirring gently but thoroughly to mix.  If you are using two bowls, divide the carrot mixture evenly between them, and mix each batch of batter separately. 
  8. If you are making a large layer cake, pour the batter into the two jelly roll pans, dividing evenly.  Bake at 350* F for 25-30 minutes, switching pans between upper and lower racks about halfway through.  Cake will test done in the middle with a toothpick that comes out clean.  Cool in pans for about 10 minutes before inverting onto large cooling racks, if you have them.  (Mine aren’t big enough to accomodate a cake that size, so I pretty much just cool them in the pans — however, you have to make sure that the cake is dry before frosting.  So, I usually invert the bottom layer onto my serving platter, let it cool there, frost the middle, then invert the top layer onto the bottom, waiting at least 30 minutes or so before frosting the top layer and sides, so that the cake is sufficiently dry.  You don’t want the layers completely dried out, but if they are moist, you will have a difficult time spreading the frosting.  I hope that makes sense.)
  9. If you are making a smaller cake plus muffins:  Place a dozen muffin/cupcake paper baking cups into muffin tins.  Fill baking cups nearly full, about 1/3 cup each.  Pour the remainder into the rectangular Pyrex baking pan.  (Pan will be just over half-full.)  Put the cake on the lower rack of the oven, and the muffins on the upper rack.  Bake at 350* F for 20 minutes, then switch the pans.  Bake for another 10 minutes, and remove the muffins, which will be done.  Bake the cake for an additional 25 minutes, or until it tests done in the middle of the cake with a toothpick that comes out clean.  Cool muffins for 10 minutes, then remove from tin.  Frost, if desired, when cool.  Cool cake in the pan, and frost the top when the cake is completely cool.
  10. Enjoy!!     

I will take care of you. Now.

Wednesday night, my husband was at Bible study, and I was feeling particularly worn out, crabby, and sick to my stomach.  I kept looking at the clock and thinking, “Can I put the kids in bed yet?”  But, it was only 7:00.  So, I just laid down on the couch.  My three boys were, thankfully, all playing nicely.  I was a bit worried about the toddler-girl hurricane that I have named Audrey;  she seems to know, innately, when the chances of success are the greatest for wreaking maximum havoc.  But I guess I shouldn’t have been concerned.

It’s not like I keep forgetting that she’s a girl;  it’s just that, still, after mothering only boys for nearly nine years before she graced our home, there are things that she comes up with that make me marvel;  they’re just so un-boyish.

There I was, lying on the couch, and Audrey came over and looked at me with concern.  She knit together her eyebrows in thought.  Then, holding up a finger, she proclaimed, “I know!  Wait a minute!!”  She ran off, only to return with her favorite blanket.  It’s a fuzzy striped blanket, complete with a silky tag that she clings to as she falls asleep.  As long as she has the blanket, she can fall asleep virtually anywhere.  Knowing that the blanket is a magical source of sleep inducement and comfort, she covered me — roughly, but as thoroughly as possible — with her blanket, tucking the tag right up against my cheek, as is her own preference.  She stood back, and after surveying the effect with approval, she demanded, “Now, suck your thumb!”

Though I really was feeling cruddy, but I couldn’t help laugh and laugh.  That actually wasn’t what Audrey was looking for;  she was serious about taking care of me.  “Stop laughing!  Suck your thumb!”  I pretended to suck my thumb, which she fell for, for about five seconds, then gave me a withering look that let me know that she was aware of my deception. 

“Audrey, I don’t want to suck my thumb!  Mommies don’t suck thumbs.  But thank you so much for your blanket…”

“Now, I will give you cuddles.”  She then crawled up next to me.  Well, crawled up on me.  I tried to tell  her that my belly was too big, and that she needed to lay down, snugged up right next to me, on my arm, instead of on my 36-week-pregnant stomach.  She finally assented, but then kept trying to sneakily wiggle her way back on top of my body, as if I wouldn’t notice.  Pulling a corner of the blanket over herself, she popped her own thumb into her mouth and relaxed.  For about 30 seconds.  Then, throwing a bony elbow into my stomach, rose up and ran off to other things that probably needed her supervision, too.

This went on for about 20 minutes, until her bed time.  She’d run back, check to see that the blanket was in order, crawl back up for a snuggle, then run off.

Physically, it didn’t make me feel any better.  But emotionally and mentally??  Loads.  Loads were lifted from my heart and mind by the strength of an undersized 2yo, bossy little girl.

After I did finally get all the kids in bed, I tended to an e-mail correspondence I was having with a friend, which, since it was quite an uneasy and difficult discussion, lowered me right back down into the depths.  ~sigh~

Then, my hubby came home.  I fixed up a plate of “second dinner” for him, as he’d had to wolf down a half-sized portion after work, and before Bible study.  As he ate, we talked.  As we talked, I realized the tension was lifting.  A smile grew on my face.  After about a 30 minute chat, I told him, “You have brought me such peace.”   

Families.  Dear God, what a gift they are.  From the least to the greatest, each member is so absolutely important, and every member needs each other.

The girls of our family… (mostly)

Today, Ethan (my 11yo son) told me that he didn’t know if he could handle another sibling.  After asking a few questions, I realized that his concern was that he didn’t have enough room in his heart for another sister, when Audrey is so dear to him.  It was almost enough to make me cry.  Sweet kind of cry, that is.  He really does adore Audrey.  I told him that I felt like that when he was a baby, and I was pregnant with his younger brother, Grant.  I just wasn’t sure I’d love Grant like I did him.  But, the second Grant was born, my thought was, “He’s perfect.”  He actually had meconium aspiration (even though I had NONE of the risk factors), and they sent about eight doctors over to work on him for 30 minutes, which were among the most heart-excruciating minutes of my life — I just wanted to hold my baby.  Suffice it to say, I tried to tell Ethan that I understood his feelings;  he just didn’t have a grid for a new baby sister, but that I was confident that once he meets Fiala, his feelings will change.  I hope they do, anyways.  However, I will continue to be delighted if Ethan and Audrey always have an especially close relationship.

Being pregnant with my fifth, I often get startled-to-negative comments about the size of my family.  So, it’s always a pleasant surprise when someone has something nice to say.  At Burger King today, a mom at the table behind us started up a conversation asking if I knew if I was having a boy or a girl… and we ended up in a friendly chat for several minutes.  She was there with her daughter, who was about 5, and they were both pretty smitten with Audrey, who kept ‘flirting’ with the both of them, all through lunch.  🙂  The mom said Audrey was “full of personality” which is an understatement.

One of my errands today was to go to Babies ‘R’ Us to get a couple more cradle sheets, and to hopefully find some soft toddler spouts for Avent bottles/sippy cups.  The cradle sheets they had, the spouts they did not.  I checked out the clearance items, too, and found three plain, cute, puffy-sleeved tees for $2 each for Audrey.  Of all the things to be missing in a little girl’s wardrobe, Audrey did not have a plain pink tee, and I’ve been wanting one, especially for a hand-me-down skirt that I adore, that she was actually wearing today with a different (non-pink) tee.  I got a brown one, a white one, and a pink one.  One thing that’s great about living in the desert is that when all the summer stuff goes on clearance, you still have a good 2-3 months to wear it.  Well, from right now, only 1 1/2 months or so, but then, you can usually start wearing short sleeves in late February, and I’m sure she’ll still fit the shirts then.  Later, we went to Target, and ran into the mom who actually gave the skirt to Audrey!!  She’s always tickled when she sees Audrey wearing something that one of her twin daughters (who are now six) used to wear.

We may have a middle name picked for Fiala!!  Martin had wanted Marie, but when I found out it meant “bitter,” he wasn’t quite so enthralled.  It might end up being Gabrielle, instead.  (The deal is that, since he’s basically “giving” Fiala to me, as a name, which is not his preference, he gets to pick the middle name.  I’ve said he can pick ANYTHING, as I’m so thrilled to have Fiala.  Even Marie.)  Gabrielle means “woman of God.”  I like, it, too.

Audrey (and I) have a new favorite book, If You Were My Bunny.  It’s a cuddle-fest, perfect for little girls who take deep delight in baby animals and being sung to.  There are several original lyrics (about a mama rabbit and baby bunny, about a mama duck and duckling, about a mama dog and puppy, etc.) set to well-known nursery songs like Twinkle Twinkle, Hush Little Baby, and so on, that are built into the story of the book.  It starts

If you were my bunny, and I were your mama, I’d pick you out from all the other bunnies and nestle you beside me.  Then, you’d close your little pink eyes and I’d sing you a bunny song.

With lovely watercolored illustrations, and unabashedly tender words, it’s our new favorite.  We found it at the library last week, and I decided that we needed to own it, so I just bought the board book on Amazon.

Speaking of, Audrey is awake from her nap now, so I must run.  Enjoy your weekend!!

Tidbits for the week

  • I have crafted — or started to craft — a theory about women and dieting.  I think it may have a lot to do with personal power and control.  I have found myself with the unexpected satisfaction of knowing that, since I’ve been successfully more-or-less South Beach Dieting for five or six weeks, if I have an “off” day, I can easily get back on track.  I’ve only had one real off day… well, off weekend — this past weekend where I went to a ballgame, then went to lunch plus the afternoon at my in-laws.  Both days were pretty much a loss for the whole carb-count thing, and in those two days, I put on nearly two pounds.  But, on Monday, I hopped right back on the diet, and the extra weight (not that it was loads or anything) came off in three days.  That felt good.  It felt strangely powerful.  That led me to some more reflection about dieting in general.  I have mentioned before that I am NOT normally a dieter.  As well, I’m not the kind of person who is interested, at all, in acquiring power or position for myself.  I like my life, and don’t normally feel a need to micromanage it.  There are ups, there are downs, and I think I weather most things fairly well.  But, I can see how easily dieting could become (for some, anyways, and at least theoretically) all about the want/need for power and control.  Whatchya think?? 
  • Our washing machine broke on Saturday.  (This simple six-word sentence led to three hours of mayhem and mopping, with tensions flying, and lots of apologies issued afterwards.  Words just don’t do justice to real life, sometimes.)  This, after I had done exactly two loads of laundry, with another six or so to go.  I’ve got a good 10-12 loads to do, now.  My hubby, Martin, tipped the washing machine over and found the piece that was obviously broken, which, thankfully, was quite accessible.  He then found the part online and ordered it.  The part arrived yesterday, and he put it in last night, about 10 p.m., after he came home from Bible study.  Woo hoo!  I’m very proud of him because, though he is extremely competent in a vast number of areas, he’s not exactly Mr. Fixit.  Him fixing the machine saved us at least the $90 trip-and-labor charge levied by a company we’ve used in the past, plus whatever markup they’d put on the piece itself.  The washer and dryer have been humming nonstop since late last night.  🙂
  • We were going to have a big worship team meeting at our house on Saturday, but after about 3/4 of the people were legitimately unable to come, Martin decided to cancel it.  This is actually a great relief to me.  I truly love having our home filled with friends, but what with being heavily pregnant, and a host of other things going on, it was stressing me out a bit.
  • I have been awarded a bloggy award by the friendly and helpful Jamie from Looks Good in Polkadots.  However, I must say that I absolutely do not understand the award at all.  Maybe because it was originally written in Portuguese, and has lost something (or maybe gained something?) in translation.  I do appreciate the thought, though, Jamie.  I will happily claim the rather ambiguous award, but don’t feel like I can pass it on if I don’t understand it.  🙂  I hope you understand.
  • If you are an expert potty trainer, please visit my bloggy-friend Helen at A Was Alarmed.  Her nearly-3yo is giving her fits, and while I read her post with a great deal of sympathy, and found myself just wanting to give her a hug, I have absolutely no advice.  Can you help her???
  • After happily exhausting the works of Jane Austen this year, I thought I’d take on other 19th century women novelists, starting with the Bronte sisters.  I rather randomly picked out Villette, by Charlotte, largely because I was completely unfamiliar with the story.  I’ve seen and loved the PBS/BBC version of Jane Eyre at least twice, and while the book always varies from the movie/TV production, I felt like I knew the plot line well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised at all.  I like to encounter the unexpected when reading.  Villette took me a good 50+ pages to warm up to, but now, I’m enthralled with the story.  Charlotte Bronte is much more dramatic, vivid, and theatrical than Austen.  Wordy, too.  Verbosely wordy.  Inflatedly wordy.  I’ve laughed several times, because she’ll fill a paragraph with florid description, then end it with, “in short, _______.”  Here’s a small example:  “A heated stove made the air of this room oppressive; and, to mend matters, it was scented with an odour rather strong than delicate:  a perfume, indeed, altogether surprising and unexpected under the circumstances, being like the combination of smoke with some spiritous essence — a smell, in short, of whiskey.”  I have the happy circumstance of not having any idea where Charlotte Bronte is heading.  Many of the events in the story seem fairly random, and I’m very interested to see if she’s going to tie them together in the end, or what.  The only thing that has been a major dissatisfaction with the story is that I absolutely cannot figure out what happened to the heroine’s family.  It’s like Charlotte Bronte is excessively wordy when I just want her to get on with it, then withholds vital details like, “Did her family all die?  Or what??  Why is she suddenly all alone with no family and no friends??”  I read the page or two that referred to this transition at least three times, and could not, for the life of me, figure out what happened.  It’s my best guess that the author was being purposefully vague, so as to be able to re-introduce various friends/family members later in the story as a surprise.  I really don’t know, though. 
  • Lastly:  If, like me, you have a habit of unintentionally supporting your local library’s aquisition budget by accruing fines, please visit Library Elf.  You pick your library from a surprisingly extensive, world-wide list of libraries, and enter your library card number and e-mail addy.  Then, you set your notification preferences, and you’ll receive e-mails (and/or texts messages, if you’d prefer) when you have items out that need to be renewed.  It doesn’t renew the items for you, though.  🙂  Maybe that’ll be Library Elf 2.0   

School update — week 4

I have made an amazing discovery I’ve had a total “duh” moment:  We get school done thoroughly and much more quickly when I don’t turn the computer on in the morning.  And, why is that?  Because then, I don’t get distracted by e-mail.  It’s rather like me not answering the phone when we’re doing school.  Also, I’m not tempted to “just check out this one thing” online during the kids’ breaks, which inevitably turns into 20-30 minutes on the computer, which is way more time than I can/should devote to the computer during school hours.  Instead, I’ve been using their breaks to do one-on-one school with another child who is not on break, or simply read a book to Audrey, or unload the dishwasher, or something else constructive.  This way, we are consistently getting school done — every subject, every day, by 12:30.

Speaking of Audrey, I must say that, at this point, the most difficult part of homeschooling isn’t the actual schooling.  It’s what to do with a toddler who isn’t in school yet.  I’ve gotten a lot of comments along the lines of, “I don’t know how you’re going to do school with a newborn!”  Actually, it’s pretty easy to school with a newborn.  They nurse, they sleep, and they’re a delight to hold when they’re awake.  It’s a lot harder with a toddler.  (However, I’m not stupid.  I have planned on taking at least three weeks off when the baby comes, and have already extended grace to myself if I need more time than that.)  Anyways.  For Audrey, I started the schoolyear out with stand-bys like Play-Doh (requires too much supervision) and puzzles (now all mastered) and counting bears.  But, the counting bears were all mastered, too, within a week or two.  She can now sort all the bears into their proper cups and name the five colors colors.  She can count up to five as she puts the bears in the cups.  There are 10 bears for each color (minus the few that have been lost), but I’m not quibbling with her skills.  The girl is 2.5 years old.  So, now that the counting bears are no longer an interesting challenge, she just throws them around the family room, and then highly resists instructions to pick them up.  So, no more hard plastic projectiles counting bears.  For now.  Coloring with crayons works, sometimes, but even with the plastic art trays that we use, she is still apt to color on the table;  I have a suspicion it’s on purpose.  She’s not dextrous enough to make coloring really interesting to her, so her attention span for coloring is right at about four minutes, which isn’t really enough time for me to get anything done with the boys. 

The idea, if you haven’t yet picked up on it, is to find an activity in which she can be amused, by herself, yet stay out in the main part of the house with the rest of us.  I haven’t found one.  I’m open for suggestions.

So, to sort of make up for the fact that, during school time, I just don’t spend that much time with her, after breakfast, while the boys are doing their chores, I usually snuggle and read with her.  After that, when we start school, she plays by herself in her room.  Other than the fact that she makes a disastrous mess, that actually works pretty well.  And, it works for up to an hour.  I keep her door open, and she does come out every 10 or 15 minutes to tell or show me something.  I give her about 30 seconds’ attention, and send her back to her room.  I also give her the option of reading with us, but the catch is, she has to sit quiet and still, which she can only do for about 30 seconds, then she proclaims, “I go back to my room!” and away she goes.

During breaks, especially if I’m occupied with another child, the boys spend at least part of their “free time” playing with her.  Pillow forts get built, the wooden ABC blocks turn into a wall into which she crashes her Little Tykes bus, etc.  Each of the three boys take turns playing with her, each for only 10-15 minutes at a time, which is enough to keep her occupied, but not so much that the boys feel like they’re being forced to be babysitters.  Actually, most of the time, they all like playing with Audrey.  Maybe it’s just because she’s so playful and silly.  And cute.  And active.  She really makes a good playmate, and they all adore her.  Until she gets demading and squealy, but that usually kicks in after naptime, in the late afternoon.  In the mornings, for whatever reason, she’s almost always pleasant to spend time with. 

Finally, at 11:30, I turn on the TV for her.  As stated above, we usually finish at 12:30, so that means she’s getting a full hour of TV, but I figure that’s not too bad, although I do loathe the idea of using TV as a child-minder.

Depending on the day, we start anywhere between 8:30 and 9:00, though 8:30 is the goal.  So, three kids get a full day’s schooling done in under four hours.  I’m quite satisfied with that.

I still haven’t written up schedules.  This is the first time in…  I think three years… that I haven’t used a written schedule.  I’ll probably resort to a schedule later in the school year, but for now, every day after school is done, I just review the boys’ work, check the Sonlight instructor’s guides, look at the next day’s math and English, and put out the stacks of the appropriate books for the next day.  That only takes 15 minutes or so, which for right now, sounds a whole lot better than using up the two whole afternoons that it usually takes to get a month’s worth of scheduling written out for the three boys.  As long as we all stay on track, I’m going to continue to not use a schedule. 

~sigh~  Now, it’s nearly 3:00, and both my current book (Villette, by Charlotte Bronte — more on that, later) and chores are calling.  Chores will surely win out, especially since we’re having a bunch of people over on Saturday, and I want the house to be clean without killing myself on Saturday.  🙂  Right now, I’m working on getting all the wood blinds dusted and polished, which is NOT my favorite task.  I would grouse, but a while ago, after doing so to a dear friend, she gently set me straight by saying, “I don’t have any wood blinds to complain about.”  :blush:

It figures (or, adventures and misadventures at the peanut-free baseball game)

Before I start grousing about the Diamondbacks, lemme just say that, other than the baseball part of it, which ended with what is becoming all-too-familar disappointment, Saturday’s game was fantastic. 

We’ve known Wesley (who will be 7, later this month) to be allergic to peanuts since he was one year old, but it wasn’t until nearly three years ago that he developed anaphylaxis to peanuts — meaning, he stops breathing when he comes into contact with peanuts, even when he’s not actually eating them.  Mostly because I homeschool and because our church (bless them) is peanut-free (on Wesley’s account, mostly), we’re able to pretty-well control his environment, so he’s only had two major reactions in the last two years.  Unfortunately, one of the ways in which to limit his exposure to peanuts is to not take him to ballgames.  😦  That’s a blow to a sports-loving family like ours.

So, when I heard that the Diamondbacks decided to host a peanut-free suite, we jumped on it.  Wesley and I went there, and Martin and our older two boys sat on the other side of the field in the nosebleeds, courtesy of the tickets earned by the boys in our library’s summer reading program.  (Grant, our extremely-literal 9yo had a problem with this, because the free tickets are supposed to be just for the kids who have earned them.  He felt it wasn’t right for Martin to use Wesley’s ticket.  But, we explained to him that Wesley couldn’t use his own ticket, couldn’t sit in the regular seats, so, in essence, Martin and he were swapping tickets.  We bought two full-price tickets and used the three free tickets, just as we would have if we had all been able to sit together.  But, Grant just went on, and on, and on, and on about how he didn’t think that was exactly honest.)

On the elevator ride up to the suite, there was a guy grousing and mocking people with “supposed” allergies.  I almost cried, and I almost slugged him.  Thankfully, a chef (in his regalia) spoke sternly to the man, and I limited my outburst to, “Please don’t mock peanut allergies.  They can be life-threatening.”  I was trembling when I got off the elevator.  I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have to deal with such attitudes on a daily basis, like with a school district, because I think I would lose it.

The suite held 54 people, and was sold out.  It had a large glassed-in area with soft chairs and high-top tables, as well as semi-private “outdoor” seats.  Being outdoors, we were basically sharing the same air as the rest of the spectators, but at least there weren’t any peanut shells at our feet, and fear of peanut oil on the seats, which had been specially cleaned for the event.  I spent 90% of my time outside, and Wesley spent 75% of his time inside, playing tag and hide-and-seek with other kids his age.

I am a baseball fan.  I like baseball.  I was there, primarily to watch baseball with my son who hasn’t been to a baseball game in nearly three years. 

There was a pretty clear delineation between those who had come mostly to network with other peanut-free families, and who had come for the game.  It certainly wasn’t an unfriendly group, but since I wasn’t actively pursuing making relationships with other people…  Maybe it was written on my face??  I don’t know.  But, no one really talked to me, and I didn’t really talk to anyone else, other than to smile and say hi.

Even though he didn’t sit down and watch very much of it, after the game, which lasted more than four hours, Wesley was bubbly and chatty, and simply happy to have gone.  I was thrilled that he enjoyed it.  Since he’s rather restless and fidgety by nature, I think it added immensely to his enjoyment that he wasn’t chained to a seat.

Regarding the title…  guess who hit in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th for the Reds?  None other than Micah Owings, formerly my favorite Diamondbacks player.  Sob, sniff, sniff.  😦  He was traded to the Reds (along with a couple other guys) for Adam Dunn.  It’s not like Dunn has been bad for the D’backs, but he hasn’t been the offensive powerhouse that we were hoping for.  In fact, at one point, when we were down 0-1, Dunn came to bat with ONE out and the bases loaded.  He hit a weak grounder to the mound, which the Reds turned into a double play.  Ugh.  I read this morning that for the whole series, against his former team, Dunn went 1-for-9 and grounded into two double plays.  Double ugh.

Neither is it fully Dunn’s fault that the Diamondbacks are tanking just when they need to shine — or at LEAST simply be the slightly-better-than-average team they’ve been all season, which is all they need to do to win the NL West and get into postseason play.  But, we’ve lost 8 of our last 9 games, while the Dodgers are winning, and it’s starting to look very doubtful that the D’backs will regain their lead in the division.  Bummer.

During the game, I was surprised, actually, by Wesley’s knowledge of baseball.  Of all our family members, he is the least into sports.  As mentioned, he hardly spent any time watching, but when he did, he seemed engaged, and made appropriate comments or cheers.  He’s not averse to baseball; he’s just not a “leave me alone, I’m watching the game” kind of fan like me.  😀

The only really nervous time I spent at the game was going to get our dinner.  I already know there’s only one — ONE — option for gluten-free food at the ballpark, and that’s a vendor that has beef tacos, rice and beans.  It wasn’t very far from the suite, but I was still really nervous as I held Wesley’s hand, walking by the peanut vendors and all the people on the concourse who potentially had been eating peanuts.  But, no harm done.

We walked out with our five Dan Haren bobbleheads (hmmm….  eBay??) and smiles on our faces.  It was a good night.

Except for my foot in my mouth, it was a good day

Today was one of those days I normally dread, even when not pregnant.  I just don’t like to be busy, busy, busy.  And, before I found out about having celiac disease, I had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I would literally weep with dread of the exhaustion ahead of me if I had to be away from home for more than three hours.  It turns out that 90% of my fatigue was healed/corrected by being on a gluten-free diet, so things aren’t nearly that bad any more, but I still tire very easily.  And, now, being 34 weeks pregnant with four kids…  It could have been terrible.  Bless God, it wasn’t.

I left home at 7:15, and just got home at 4:00, after being gone continually.  Maybe that’s not a big deal to all of you hyper-busy moms, but for me, it’s not the norm.  I like to be at home, and only leave on Fridays, semi-begrudgingly, to the library and errands.  Well, I guess I grocery shop, too.  And go to church.  And kinship/Bible study.  Still.  I don’t like being gone excessively, and the thought of being out for nearly nine hours running around would usually bring on some dread.

But, largely because of my kids’ excellent behavior, the day went great.  Well, except I kept internally cringing, thinking about a faux pas I said, unknowingly, more than a month ago to my doctor, and now I have a month of embarrassment to catch up on.  More on that in a bit.  Can you feel the suspense?  Resist the urge to scroll down.  😉

It started with a 7:45 doctor appointment, to be known as When Karen Puts Her Foot Down.  It was a good appointment — I lost another pound, according to the doctor’s scales, and he was happy with that.  I told the doc that I was — obviously — being careful to follow his instructions about limiting my carbs, but that I didn’t want any more talk from him about inducing.  I have had four children, large ones, with no medical intervention at all, and I plan on having our 5th the same way.  I told him that I understood that he was following his history of medical wisdom, and statistics and all of that, and that I was aware that he is reasonable to be concerned about me having a large baby and bleeding excessively, etc., but that I was not worried, and my baby is going to come when she’s ready.  He said, “OK.”  With a smile.  That was pretty much it.  He did say that if/when I reach 40 weeks, he’d like to do another ultrasound just to see how much fluid I have, and the state of my placenta, to which I basically responded, “We’ll cross that road when we come to it.”  I have absolutely nothing against ultrasounds, but my husband is skeptical, and would prefer me to have no more.  So, we’ll just pray that I have the baby before then.  He did acknowledge that, since at this point of gestation, the baby gains one pound every two weeks, and based on my ultrasound from two weeks ago, even if I went to 40 weeks 4 days, the baby would still only be 8 lbs 12 oz, which would be my smallest.

I felt good about that.

Then, I walked out of the exam room, and ran into a friend from high school, Erica.  We have mutual friends with whom we still keep up, but I haven’t seen Erica since we graduated.  In 1991.  Nevertheless, we warmly greeted each other, and spent about 15 minutes in the hall, catching up — she was early for her appointment and had the time, and I was on my way out.  At the end of our very pleasant conversation, she said with a giggle, “I LOVE Dr. McKernan.  Cute Mormon man.”

I about choked.

Now, you have to understand — the Phoenix area has a VERY high Mormon population, and it often gets assumed that I am Mormon when I meet someone, just because I’m pregnant with my fifth baby, and Mormons tend to have large families.  My husband has been asked about it, too — if we’re Mormon.  Or, people make jokes about me converting, or something along those lines.

So, when I first met Dr. McKernan, I told him, “No, this wasn’t an accident, and we’re not Mormon.  We just wanted five children, which I realize is unusual these days.”  He didn’t bat an eye, but let me know about a non-Mormon family, for whom he’d delivered their 8th child, just that morning.


I wish I could take back that “I’m not Mormon” bit.  Eek.


Then, I went to the adjoining hospital and pre-registered, which puts me at peace, knowing that whenever I go into labor, I can just waltz in without sigining a bunch of papers, or answering a lot of questions from women carrying clipboards as I’m trying to labor.  😀  Well, I wouldn’t “waltz in,” as I make it my aim to arrive at the hospital when I’m in the full throes of labor, so that I don’t have to lie around in bed being prodded by nurses for endless hours.  So, waltzing is out.  But, you know what I mean.

Then, my hubby met me in the parking lot with a truckful of kids, and we made a pleasant handoff…

From there, with the kids, I was going to drive ALL over town, literally around 75 miles, to pick up the stroller, cradle and cradle bedding I’d made arrangements to purchase from Craigslist.  However, the the farthest seller said, “Well, I have some returns to make…” literally two miles down the road from my doctor’s.  So, stroller purchased.  And, the lady who lived the second farthest said, “Well, I work…” just another two miles down the road.  So, bedding purchased.  And the lady with the cradle lived right by me all along.  Cool, eh? 

I am SUCH not a haggler;  that makes me so uncomfortable.  However, it’s a good thing that my hubby encouraged me to talk the stroller-lady down on her price in advance, because it really wasn’t in as-good condition as she had advertised.  And, it’s EXTRA-good that I didn’t have to drive 60 miles round-trip to discover that.  I still bought it, but I’m a tad miffed because to me, “excellent condition” does not mean “well-used and dusty with a broken buckle and a rip in the handle.”  Still.  It’s the exact stroller I wanted, and it’ll be fine.

Then, we went to Costco, where the kids remained well-behaved.  Shocking, but pleasant.

Then, we went out to lunch at Burger King, where, instead of ordering my standard Whopper with no bun, I happily ordered the Tender Grill salad, which I recently found out is gluten-free.  My shock at its $5.49 price tag was lessened by the fact that I had a different coupon which saved me more than $4 on the boys’ food.  So, all was well.

Then to the library for about an hour, then home.

All very pedestrian to anyone who is still reading, I’m sure.  But, here I sit with a silly grin on my face, just so pleased at the grace of God who allowed my kids to be fantastic — pleasant and obedient, and my energy to hold out.  I feel GREAT having a few baby needs taken care of, to be on the same page (mostly) with my doctor, and to be pre-registered at the hospital.  I feel a million pounds lighter, mentally.

And, I have a wonderful husband who didn’t bat an eye about going into work late, getting our four kids ready for the day, feeding them breakfast…  NONE of the boys had combed their hair, but that was remedied by a cup of water borrowed from the lady who sold the cradle to me, and the comb in the diaperbag.  All was well.  🙂

More on babies and homeschooling… of course

Babies, homeschooling, and a little bit of politics (though not on this post).  And a bit of baseball.  Such is life, lately.  It’s a good life, too.

  • I was fairly excited about a recent idea I had to simply skip Sonlight’s Core 4 and move onto Core 5.  Then, I talked to my son about it.  My logic didn’t make sense to his very linear mind;  skipping was out of the question.  Here’s the thing:  We have been fairly leisurely strolling through Core 3 since February of last year, when he was in the middle of 4th grade.  However, now that he’s in 6th, and we’re still only on week 24-25, I’m getting a little panicky.  I pulled out the most recent Sonlight catalogue, and figured out how many Cores we’d miss out on, continuing at such a pace.  Even with our nominally sped-up pace we’ve been in these last three weeks of school, at best, we won’t finish until early December, especially with a baby coming in October.  So, I thought, “Well, since Core 4 ‘just’ covers US history from about 1840 to present, and he’ll be covering that sometime in high school, why don’t we just skip to Core 5?  Then, we won’t be so far behind… plus, Core 5 just seems MEATY/JUICY-interesting, while Core 4 pretty much just centers around the Civil War, and World Wars I & II.”  Sounded all right to me…  But, Ethan is pretty much scandalized over the thought of missing out on studying three major wars, and wasn’t enticed by the list of all the things he’d be studying imminently if we’d just skip a Core.  Oh, well.  I’m quite linear myself, and was a little bugged about the idea of not covering the last 160 years+ of American history.  Plus, Core 4 is a whole lot less money than Core 5.  And, Core 4 has so many readers and read-alouds that maybe we can get it done in record time (for us, ‘record time’ means getting a year’s worth of material finished in one actual year).  So, Core 4 it is. 
  • I am ever the more committed to Craigslist.  It’s been a long time, but I think I blogged a while back about how we have never, ever bought one new piece of furniture in our lives.  Ever.  Well, unless you count Ethan’s mattress, which came from Ikea, to go on his captain’s bed that we got, used, of course, off of eBay.  Well, we got three bar stools from Ikea, too.  Other than that, it’s all been from estate sales, garage sales, eBay, Craigslist, hand-me-downs, and so on.  I’m not a city girl at heart, but something great about living in a big city is that someone, somewhere, likely has exactly what you want to buy, at the price you want to pay.  So, with a little searching, for less than half of retail, I’ve found a Joovy Caboose stroller — it’s a sit/stand double-stroller, but in addition to the standing ledge, there’s also a seat for the older kid to sit and be seat-belted into.  Cool, eh?  There are a lot of double-strollers out there, but most of them are HUGE, and won’t fit in the back of my vehicle.  Or, they’re sit-stand, with only the standing option for the older child, and, well, truthfully, Audrey needs to be clicked into a seat belt from time to time.  You know, forced self-control, since at 2 1/2 years old, she hasn’t quite developed the self-control needed to keep her from running around in public.  (Or, I haven’t developed effective means of reigning her in, one or the other.)  The only bummer about the Craigslist stroller is that it’s blue and black.  Oh, well.  I also found a really nice wooden cradle right around the corner from my house, for only $35 — I had given away our old bassinet on Freecycle.  And, I found some really lovely virtually unused bedding for the cradle for $30.  Woo hoo!  I don’t actually have any of this stuff yet, but I hope to, after a bit of driving around tomorrow.  With less than six weeks until my EDD, I’m also getting panicky about how unprepared we are.  Eek!
  • Saturday is the Diamondbacks game (my poor, on-a-skid-at-the-worst-possible-time Diamondbacks) where they’re having a peanut-restricted, glassed-in party suite.  I’m so excited!!!  This will be Wesley’s first baseball game in about three years, since we found out that his peanut allergy had escalated into anaphylaxis.  My husband Martin is going to be sitting in the cheap seats with our older boys, Ethan and Grant, who actually will be sitting in the FREE seats, courtesy of their bookworminess and the local library’s summer reading program, Read Your Way to the Ballpark.  On top of that, they sent us an (unexpected) parking pass with the party-suite tickets.  So, free parking.  AND, my mom and stepdad are going to stay with Audrey, so free babysitting.  Woo hoo!  The only bummer about THAT is that, of all people, Jessica Simpson is giving a concert for all ticketholders after the game, which means that we have to get there extra early in order for Martin and the boys not to be in a MEGA nosebleed section, since the boys’ tickets have to be picked up from the ballpark itself, on the day of the game.  It’s also Dan Haren bobblehead night on Saturday, which the boys are more excited about than I am.  Five bobbleheads is more than we can reasonably use, I think.  At least they’re not Jessica Simpson bobbleheads.       
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