Thursday, September 27, 2012


My birthday was on Tuesday.

from my sister-in-law and niece

The kids were super excited and spent lots of time planning the day. But then we got wind of what they were planning—to get up at 5 am to make me breakfast and have the day off of school work—and the poo hit the fan.

So then I had to mediate between my hyped-up kids and a husband who never plans anything. By “mediate” I mean “yell at.”


To my husband: ENGAGE, BOB. NOW.


And then I sent them all upstairs to work it out.

lunch, by the kids: note the copious amount of tinfoil 
and the napa cabbage in place of lettuce (it was actually quite delicious)

My expectations for the day were fairly low. No cooking (unless I wanted to), I said. I wanted writing time, my husband to come home early from work, lots of evening time in which I could read out loud to the kids, and a movie after the kids were in bed. When my husband asked me what I wanted for supper, I said, “I don’t care, but everyone has to like it and there needs to be a vegetable.”

I spent the afternoon of the birthday day shopping for clothes and drinking coffee, no kids, no supper responsibilities, no nothing. It was lovely.

Also, I had my first famous person spotting. When I told my husband, he said, “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Was it a political figure?”


“A celebrity?”


“Someone from the newspaper?”


“From the cooking section!” a child interrupted.


“The Amish Cook?”

Huh? She’s not from around here, so “No.”

“Um... I don’t know anyone else...” He was studying his plate, thinking hard. I caught the kids’ eyes and made a jabbing motion towards myself.

“You!” they all yelled, and we about fell out of our chairs laughing because I was the famous “spotted” person.

The Story: I was walking through Wal-mart when a woman stopped me and asked if I write a cooking column. I quickly wiped the glazed-over stupid look, the one I get when I’m shopping, off my face and beamed, “Why yes!” She’d clipped the mac and cheese recipe from the paper, she told me, and her grandsons love it. We stood there in the florescent lighting and bonded over the column and recipes in general and husbands who sometimes cook and what they make (cracker stew) and Amish heritage. I couldn’t stop grinning.

After a supper of sloppy joes, green beans, chips, and pineapple upside down cake, I sat on the brick hearth and the kids gave me their gifts: candy, candy, and more candy. Pure sweetness. We started our new read-aloud, The Westing Game, and then my husband and I watched another episode of Once while I ate a bowl of my birthday cereal, Reese's Puffs.

This same time, years previous: she outdid herself, the skirt, birthday minutia

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

minute by minute

A week or two ago, I told you that we'd jumped into our home studies. I said our schedule was full and that I enjoyed it and that I'd have to give you the details...sometime.

The very next day, I took a minute-by-bloody-minute account. It's tedious and not even 100 percent accurate because the three kitchen clocks all tell different times. I did try to look at just one clock for most of the day, but I was looking at the clock that says "Who cares?" across the face and has all the numbers tumbled in a heap at the bottom.


5:50 - The littlest wets the bed. My husband strips the bed and resettles the child.

6:15 - I stop pretending to sleep and get up. I go downstairs, put the water on for coffee, brush my teeth, check email. Once the coffee is made, I drink quickly, hoping to quell the violent yawns. I work on a blog post, frantically editing, arranging pictures, etc.

6:26 - There are footsteps on the stairs, and the youngest comes into view, grinning broadly. I mostly ignore him.

6:42 - The little boy starts to get ritchy. He begs to be able to light a fire. I say no. He goes to the bathroom and starts washing his socks in the sink, holding them under the running water like a sieve. I stop him. He begs for his breakfast.

7:02 - My husband sits down at the table with a bowl of granola. I’m still working, so I ignore him. (I think the boy ate with him, but I didn’t write that down so I don’t know for sure.)

7:10 - The younger daughter comes downstairs sucking her thumb. She moves silently.

7:18 - I close the computer. I eat my baked oatmeal (I made it the night before so it’d be ready first thing) standing up at the kitchen sink.

7:30 - I sit down at the craft table with my younger son. We do his reading and then his math.

7:46 - My older daughter wakes and comes downstairs. She heads outside right away to take care of the dogs.

7:52 - I take a bathroom break and when I emerge (before getting my face washed), the kids are fighting. One child is trying to take apart a radio.

8:01 - A bout of name calling erupts. Examples include, “smelly pig face,” “tit-wit,” and “pain in the neck.” I put the peed-on sheets in the washing machine. I finish my morning ablutions.

8:08 - The girls eat their breakfast while I read Story of the World out loud. We all pop up from the table to go look for India on the map. My younger son surprises me by being the only one who knows where it is. The other kids haven’t a clue. (Sigh.)

8:18 - I have a headache so I take an Ibuprofen. I tell my younger son to stop climbing up the hutch.

8:22 - I sit down with the younger son to finish his math.

8:31 - My younger son informs me that he needs a bathroom break. He takes his math with him. My younger daughter sits down and we start reading. My older daughter calls to me from another table—something about mother ducks and bragging. I haven’t the foggiest what she’s talking about.

8:40 - My younger daughter finishes her reading and my younger son reappears for his math.

8:46 - The phone rings. It’s my mother, calling to say that the tow truck will arrive in 15 minutes for their car. “It can be your recess,” she says. My parents bought a very bitter lemon this summer and now it’s parked in our driveway—they’re donating it to NPR.

8:59 - My younger son finishes his math. I call my older daughter to come to the table for her grammar.

9:02 - The tow truck arrives. Chaos ensues.

Staring AND sticking his tongue out. Who IS this boy's mother?  

9:11 - Back inside, I try to get my older daughter to settle into her grammar. But she’s fighting with her sister (those girls!) over who gets to go next.

9:17 - It’s my younger daughter’s turn at reading.

9:41 - I check email while my younger daughter finishes her math.

9:42 - The phone rings. My older son will be home in 15 minutes. He and his mentor camped out under the stars the night before. I’m informed that I’m supposed to make a cup of coffee for the mentor. “Good coffee!” I hear him shout in the background. Like I serve any other kind?!

9:46 - We take a study break. My older daughter does the dishes. I hang laundry, straighten up, wipe tables, get dressed, make coffee, wash the toilet, and light votive candles.

10:03 - They arrive home. My son’s hair is still wet from an early morning swim in the frigid river. We sit at the kitchen table and visit, drink coffee, and my son scarfs down the leftovers from the previous night’s popcorn snack. I offer them some baked oatmeal, but they both say no.

10:21 - The mentor leaves. I tell my son to unpack. I discover that the younger two children tore up their bedroom while we were visiting. The mattress has been moved to the floor and they are jumping from box springs to mattress. I get them going on clean-up, and then have to put my daughter on time-out for squeal-shrieking.

She must think it's cold or something.

10:24 - I work with my older daughter on her grammar. I interrupt her to put my younger son on time-out (not sure why), and to supervise the room clean-up which, of course, isn’t going very  smoothly.

10:42 - We switch from grammar to math. My younger daughter interrupts us. She wants to call Papa to find out where her CD is. I say yes. I pause work to search for the right workbook, and to snitch some baked oatmeal. I send my older son to unpack. (Again.)

10:53 - My younger son is off his time-out. (That was a long time. Did I forget about him?) Happy as a lark, he sings his apology to me, “Okay my mother! I am sorry!” I start my older son on his grammar.

11:12 - My older daughter finishes her school work and I send her outside with her fussy younger brother.

11:30 - My older son finishes his grammar. I get him started on his algebra.

11:36 - My older son starts practicing piano while I fix the once-again-crashed adobe flash player so he can do his geography. While he practices, I get out leftovers for lunch: potato soup, spaghetti, bacon-jalapeno pie, applesauce, cooked oatmeal, and baked oatmeal. The other kids are outside. I empty the drainer. I let my younger daughter call a friend just to chat.

12:05 - We cut piano practice short. Everyone is too faint with hunger to function.

12:08 - We sit down to eat and fights break out. Name calling includes whammies such as “little fat brain.” I eat quickly, then make my coffee and clean up the kitchen while they eat.

12:40 - I am sick of the tableside dilly-dallying, so I set the timer. Finish eating or bust, I say.

12:44 - I sink down on the sofa. The kids are still in the process of getting to their rooms. In a few minutes, the house is quiet. I eat a blondie and drink my coffee, read blogs, and work on some writing projects.

12:52 - I hear whispering. The girls are wanting to work on a crocheting project together. I forbid it, because—hello!—it's rest time. Then I get distracted by Pioneer Woman’s cooking show (I didn’t know they had episodes online)—I like her idea of adding masa flour to chili. I make a menu list and plan for a Saturday cooking marathon. I upload photos.

1:47 - I call the kids down from rest time. My younger son has fallen asleep.

1:55 - I set up the game 10 Days in the USA. I partner with the younger daughter. The older two kids are on their own.

2:13 - We clean up the game and switch to Geospy, a computer geography game. Each time the kids correctly identify a state, we whoop and holler. The youngest kid sleeps on in spite of the commotion.

2:45 - The mail arrives, and with it, the first of our new magazines, Calliope. I read several articles about the ancient Egyptians. The little one wakes up.

3:05 - My older son heads outside to chop wood, and the kids play. I check email and eat a pack of Smarties. I fetch food from the basement for our supper.

3:14 - My older son resumes his piano practice. My younger daughter works on her crocheting project. My older daughter makes her younger brother’s bed and calls a friend to try to arrange a playdate. My older son finishes his piano and moves on to journal writing and his assigned math problems. My younger daughter washes the potatoes. I pick rhubarb and make a rhubarb-red raspberry crisp. I make a chili sauce to go over the potatoes.

4:30 - My husband arrives home. We banish the younger three from the house and visit for a little.

5:00 - We’re all sitting on the sofa, playing Geospy on the laptop.

5:15 - My husband gets a shower. My younger daughter has a full-blown hissy fit because she doesn’t have her own American Girl doll. Her screams and wails are deafening.

5:30 - My husband sets the table. We eat. I finish first and read Chew On This to the rest of the family while they finish their meal.

6:30 - Supper over, I go to my computer to look up information on apples. My husband, who has started on the dishes, starts singing a song about me and my computer. I shut the computer and get up to help him. (Not because of the song—I was going to help him anyway—but because I was done with the computer.)

6:55 - I go for a walk. Silence! Fresh air! No responsibilities!

7:43 - I go over my older son’s school work. He hasn’t quite finished it all and will have to complete it the next day.

7:48 - The kids get baths.

8:15 - I read out loud to the kids. We finish Old Yeller. I make it through to the very last paragraph without crying (I keep thinking of algebra problems to keep my thoughts off the sad story), but then my younger son pipes up, “Are you trying not to cry, Mama?” and I totally lose it. We start our next read-aloud: Sounder.

8:58 - Lights out for the three youngers.

9:15 - Lights out for the oldest. I finish up some computer stuff, make myself a mug of hot chocolate with Baileys, and then curl up on the sofa to read Paris Wife while my husband falls asleep on the easy chair.  I don’t write down what time we go to bed, but probably 10:30 or so.


I almost didn’t publish this post. I was afraid it would sound like I was bragging. Or complaining. 

I’m not doing either, I hope. I’m just taking a snapshot of my Right Now. One year—or ten, twenty, fifty years—later, I’ll look back and think, Wow, that was my life! So THAT'S what it used to be like! 


Inspiration for this post comes from Aimee of Simple Bites.

Monday, September 24, 2012

the quotidian (9.24.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

I discovered this picture on my camera, courtesy of one of the kids. 
It spoke to me.

Awaiting the arrival of a girlfriend.

Hanging out in the grape arbor.
(A no-longer permissible activity as they were damaging the vines.)

Apple pie: every September should have one. Or six. 


Soaking up every minute of a visit from The Greats.

Helping Grandma stuff envelopes for a mailing.

Trying to close a closet door with his toes. 
Back story: I showed the kids some videos of Tisha UnArmed 
Immediately afterwards, I told the kids to blitz the house. 
However, thanks to Tisha, they insisted on doing all the chores with their feet: 
dusting, sweeping (didn't go over so well), putting things away, folding blankets.
The house didn't get very clean, but they had a blast.
 (Thanks, Kate!)

Studying the algebra. 
Actually, in this case, it's more a lesson in the importance of being neat 
than of numerical computations.

Apples, popcorn, and Sunday night movie: a tradition.
(It's quite the letdown when the Netflix movie doesn't work, though.)

This same time, years previous: when the relatives came, Thousand Island slaw with roast chicken, hurdle-free molten brownie cakes (I forgot about these!), soiree 2010, we love Fred, soiree 2009, simple roast chicken, one hot chica

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

candid camera

My husband and I have hardly any pictures of us together. There are several reasons for this.

1. We rarely think to take them.
2. My husband isn’t fond of having his picture taken.
3. I’m usually the one taking pictures.
4. We rarely wear nice clothes.
5. My husband has no patience for smiling at a black box.
6. It takes time.
7. My husband hates posing.

The other night when we were on our way out the door to go to a wedding, I grabbed the camera, husband, and a willing daughter, and stomped them into the front yard. You stand here, I ordered my daughter. We’ll stand over here. Get pictures from the waist up. Click fast. Go! Go! GO!

I knew we only had about 14 seconds before my husband stalked off. If she held the clicky-thing down for the full 14 seconds, there was a slight chance we’d get something halfway decent.

Except that we were squinting into the sun, so, without knowing it, we shot any chances of a good picture all to smithereens before we even started, dagnabbit.

Which didn’t really matter much because I was too busy looking like a crazy lady.

Dying flower, courtesy of our little boy.

And my husband was too busy looking like a Class-A Dork.

But, looking like a dork rather than an Uptight Angry Man is an improvement, I say. Baby steps, people! Baby steps!

And then I about ripped his head off his neck trying to get him to kiss me.

Not-So-Little Secret: my husband hates it when people get in his personal space. When I (or the kids) get too close, he hunches his shoulders and whaps the air with his arms, exactly like a panicked duck. And then I say, “You’re flapping again, honey.”

Even Sam, the guy he works with, knows all about this personal space thing. In fact, sometimes when they’re talking, Sam will intentionally move closer.

And closer.

And closer.

Sam gets a big kick watching my husband try to edge away discreetly.

About 13 seconds in, my husband announced he was done.

“Oh no we are NOT!” I informed him.

See? That’s me informing him.

But then my daughter, in an effort to get a better shot, took a step backwards and fell smack into the forsythia. I had to help her extricate herself.

We tried a few more shots, but attention spans were waning. My daughter, however, was just catching on to the idea of continuous clicking, and I had to tear the camera out of her hands.

But not before she blurred me up real good.

The end.

PS. The wedding was lovely. These glasses were the favors, and now the kids fight over them at every meal.

This same time, years previous: the potluck solution, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, hard knocks

Monday, September 17, 2012

the quotidian (9.17.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace 

Painted piggies.

Chilly mornings: this little guy got to light the first fire.

Picked without permission, but so pretty I couldn't bring myself to care.

My newest (and cutest) student: so far, she's learned her name 
and the commands for sit, stay, and down
Next, to teach her not to jump up (my biggest doggie-related pet peeve).

The perfect bar for whenever I need something sweet, and fast.
Lately, I've been making these with alarming frequency.

Supper, foraged.

Proof that we are completely uncivilized.
(Yes, that's the dogs' water bucket.)

How he's supposed to do it.
(The little sinker.)

Playing hard: at our annual church retreat.

Retreating, of a Sunday morning: crisp and bright, fresh donuts, friends.

When it's over: heading home to recuperate.

The look I get when my husband realizes that he's doing all the work 
while I'm standing around snapping pictures.

Of her own volition: I now have a clean fridge!

Summer evenings: after supper, I dole out ice cream cones
and we head out to the porch to lollygag ... and wrestle.
 Always, to wrestle.

Golden, my evening writing time: sequestered in my room.

This same time, years previous: goodbye summer, hello fall, a new day dawningGreek pasta salad

Friday, September 14, 2012

September studies

We started our book learning early this year. With no garden to obsess over, I honed in on the kids, poor dears.

It took us a couple weeks to get up to speed, and we’re still not quite there yet. Workbooks are arriving in the mail every other day, and I’m eagerly awaiting my one big splurge—three different magazines from Cobblestone. I know I could check them out of the library but don’t want to bother. I want to read these magazines out loud at our leisure. So there went nearly a hundred bucks, ouch.

Our schedule is pretty full. I’m sure I’ll relax as we get into the year, start cutting corners and all, but for now, we need the structure. I’m being all sorts of strict, operating under the mantra that declares new teachers should never smile at first. Or something.

I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying myself. I get bored sometimes, but I’m figuring out how to balance the tedious with the games (this one's the current favorite), videos, and fun read-alouds. At the end of the day I feel like I’ve accomplished something important. It’s a nice feeling.

study breaks: he's making a serious dent in the log pile

But for the details! Oh, the details!

What’s it like to homeschool four high-energy children, you ask? How do I juggle different grade levels and abilities and curriculums and minuscule attention spans and bad attitudes? How do I work in meals and cleaning and puppy training and blogging and business phone calls and walks and movies and a newspaper column? It’s simple, really—

a lesson in getting along


It’s not simple, not at all. Oftentimes, I'm like a not-funny clown in a really bad juggling act—the kind that drops balls and gets hit by balls and finally, in desperation, hurls balls against the wall. I get irritated and grumpy and then I bite my husband’s head off when it’s not even called for (sometimes it is), like yesterday morning when I came downstairs to discover that all the laundry he had folded was still sitting on the table in neat little stacks.

“How am I supposed to teach the kids when the table is covered in laundry?” I snapped. “If you’re going to do something, do it all the way. I’m sick of following through with the kids—don’t make me have to follow through with you, too!”

He, in turn, has been bemoaning the lack of anything edible in the house. The other morning, he asked, “Where’s all the food we canned this summer?” When I looked up from my writing, there he was, standing by the jelly cupboard, a confused, peeved look on his face.

“ the basement?” My voice dripped sarcasm. “I haven’t had time to bring the jars up. Obviously.”

We’re not always at each other’s throats. Just sometimes. No need to stage an intervention. Yet.

Anyway, back to homeschooling. Where was I? Oh, right. The details.

studying up on his US history

They are as follows: studies all morning, lunch and rest time, a few more random studies, supper, reading, and bedtime, with play and chores scattered throughout.

Old Yeller, one of our favorites
(she's not crying, just tired) 

I know, I know! That was entirely unsatisfactory. Maybe one of these days I’ll take minute-to-minutes notes of my day. It’d probably make me look ADD, though. Or schizoid.

our suppertime reading material

But maybe I’ll see if I can work it in.

This same time, years previous: whole wheat jammies, coffee fix ice cream, ricotta cheese, and pesto torte