Thursday, September 30, 2010

Small Successes: Better NOT

"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

Sometimes accomplishments show up not as what we DO, but as what we DON'T.  In that spirit, I offer the following:
  1. I haven't complained that the minivan has been out of commission since Sunday.  (If you must know, the oil ran out after Friday's oil change and we're waiting for various insurance adjusters and mechanics to determine whether the engine was damaged as a result.)
  2. I have whined less than usual about my carpool duties and current cold.
  3. I have NOT cut my bangs even though they need it.  I really must get a haircut--it's been too long (ha-ha)--and my history of self-trimmed bangs is a laughable one (just ask my sisters).
Are you making great strides, or is treading water your success this week?  See how other moms are doing at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Inarticulate Longing

I don't produce art, but I can appreciate it.  Lauren's month in Italy sounds like a lovely dream to me--nearly every day is filled with touring, viewing gorgeous churches and other artworks, learning their background from someone knowledgeable and entertaining, and eating fabulous fresh food.  Sign me up!

In a way, wishing I were there reminds me of longing for heaven.  It's not a perfect analogy, but consider . . .

I don't know exactly what she's experiencing, but I know she's fabulously happy (she can't wait to go back, even though she hasn't left yet).  We've been told that the saints in heaven are blissfully happy, even though we don't know exactly what it's like there.

I've seen great art and eaten delicious food, so I at least have an idea of what Lauren's trip is like.  Sometimes here on earth we catch glimpses of peace or beauty or joy that would be great to experience forever.

Heaven can sound boring (Hang around singing and praising for eternity?  Yawn!), but when I found myself yearning to spend day after day contemplating beauty (in Italy) in the company of friends, it "clicked" that this is a bit like Heaven--soaking up God's beauty in the fellowship of beloved souls. 

And while touring art venues is not everyone's idea of a great time (just ask my husband!), there are innumerable other glorious moments (riding a perfect wave, holding your new baby) when we glimpse the divine and can imagine eternity.  That longing (for Forever, for Beauty, for Love) is what I understand differently now.

Sorry I can't express myself better.  I was trying to share that "Aha!" spark, (You're probably thinking, "Duh . . ."), but this reads as inarticulate to me now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Travel Tip

(from Lauren)

Art museums in Italy are generally expensive and crowded.

The churches are mostly free, sparsely populated, and filled with art as good (or better!) than what's in the museums.  The churches showcase architecture, paintings, sculptures, and frescoes, all in one beautiful package.

Bonus points if your travel companion is an art teacher with 40 years of experience, knowledge, and stories!  (Lauren said that whenever Jeff starts talking, English speakers begin following their group around.)  ;-)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Small Successes


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that. "

This week, my accomplishments are of the "it's about time!" variety, but that's okay. Thank goodness I'm enjoying the "finally" instead of beating myself up for not getting these tasks done sooner. Are you gentle with yourself?

  1. On Saturday Marianna and I went shopping for Irish dance shoes; she needed hard and soft ones. I should have ordered them online before classes started, but the benefit of procrastinating is that Marianna's teacher steered us to a shop offering a discount AND dancing girl was able to try them on for size.
  2. I donated blood! It's been ages, certainly more than a decade since my last time. There's even more paperwork now--the actual draining of blood was the quickest, simplest part of the process! The last time I tried (on a whim) to donate, I was rejected for borderline anemia. That's when I started conscientiously taking supplements, and this time I passed easily. Hurray for multivitamins (with minerals--duh--it was the iron I boosted)!
  3. At last, my double sink/bathroom counter is sparkling clean. Sorry, no "before" pictures. I'm not that humble yet. ;-)
Cheer on some other moms or share your own good news at Faith and Family Live.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

News from Italy

Lauren and her group have been touring all over: Siena, Florence, Venice, Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa, etc. She's been exposed to gorgeous cathedrals, magnificent statues, glorious paintings, and more. Some of the churches were covered (floor, ceilings, walls) with mosaics, one glittering gold.

She painted this postcard for us in Burano, an island near Venice, with many colorful houses and canals of its own.
Lauren has stayed up late and risen early to take photos. "I am extremely tired and my feet feel like they’re going to fall off but I’ve never been happier." One night a former Aegean Center student surprised everyone (even the AC's director!) by shutting down his restaurant in Rome and traveling to the villa to prepare a special dinner. "We had champagne, wild boar, and the most delicious onions I have ever had. There was also hand made ravioli (pasta made from scratch) filled with spinach and sage. We also had fish and chickpeas, and for dessert, tiramisu! SO DELICIOUS. What a wonderful night."

I'm so glad and grateful that Lauren's enjoying such a fabulous experience. A little bit jealous, maybe, but mostly glad!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Like Mother, Like Daughter

No, I'm not trying to steal someone else's blog title (although I do enjoy visiting). It's just that Rebecca seems to be having loads of fun with caterpillars lately. :-)

Check out this grin:A close up. This hairy customer has been chowing on our spearmint. We're planning to set it up in a jar. If it's a moth, it will spin a cocoon--something most of my children haven't seen yet.Can you stand another Eastern Black Swallowtail photo? I've been capturing them younger and younger. It's hard to imagine I'll ever find one smaller than this, though.Once again, that's my pinky!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Crazy for Caterpillars

Okay, perhaps I am obsessed! We didn't have caterpillars last year, so I am enjoying and nurturing this "crop" all the more.

Check out these little guys: Another picture trying to show perspective. That is my pinky fingernail.
You know how birders keep a "life list" of all the species they have seen? There are only a few moments of the Eastern Black Swallowtail's life cycle that I have been waiting to catch. This week I found one--an egg!It fits the description--round and creamy white. I thought it was supposed to be under the leaf, but this spot where the leaflets join must be almost as good.Under the stereoscope we could see the flatter area where the egg was glued to the leaf.
I brought it inside, hoping to find a baby caterpillar later to prove this egg is what I think it is. So far, nothing has hatched. I do have confirmation from another quarter, though:Yes, that's a larva next to a mostly eaten leaflet with a lighter egg on it. When we looked at this egg at 40x, we could see the hole made when the caterpillar emerged. The egg is a lighter color because it is empty.The final moment I've been hoping to catch is the butterfly actually emerging from its chrysalis. We've come very close, but not close enough. Maybe this spring . . .
And now I've thought of one more thing (isn't there always one more thing?) to add to my wish list. It would be amazing to watch a butterfly lay her egg. I have no illusions of accomplishing that, however.
Have a great weekend. Go outside!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sufficient Indeed

I've been worried that my parsley crop was not lush enough this year to entice a female Eastern Black Swallowtail to lay her eggs here. On Monday I found one small caterpillar in the back garden. Hurrah! I set up a jar with the traditional climbing stick, food, and stocking cover.
I checked again on Tuesday (yesterday) and found another specimen. Next I inspected the parsley by the front door and discovered the four tweensiest caterpillars I've ever seen!
I took some close-up photos, but the perspective was off--the creatures didn't look all that small. Here's a picture from this morning showing small and weensy (See it on the stem to the left?) caterpillars together.
The tinies were hard to find (Yesterday when they were on leaves I needed my glasses just to be sure they weren't actually dirt!) partly because they're short, but mostly due to their incredible skinniness, which will not last long. These guys are eating (and waste producing) machines.For detailed stories of our favorite caterpillars, see my previous posts here. (They're in reverse chronological order.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Braconid Wasps

About 5 days after we brought our parasitized tomato hornworm inside, Marianna noticed that the wasps had emerged from their cocoons. We took them outside to be set free.
Not a great picture, but you can see the caterpillar at the bottom. It was still alive!The wasps were tiny.
Suburban nature study . . . gotta love it. :-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Almost Organized

You know how if you let the bathroom sink get yucky and then you finally clean it, the improvement can make you cheerful for several days?

No? Um, okay. Good for you, then . . .

Anyway, that's how school is feeling to me right now. Last week we worked in a winging it/freeform/seat of our pants/"we've done this for 15 years" style. It turned out well enough, although the children kept asking me for their checklists (which were not even created, let alone filled out!).

So this weekend I buckled down and made some decent progress. I packed away old papers to make room for new. I set up (not completely, I admit) an "order of subjects" for the day (to make sure everything actually fits). I figured out how much Latin (a lot!) and history (5 measly pages) Joe needs to cover every week. I started a written "to do" list (SO much better than the ethereal version!) and organized driving, etc. And I settled our school lunch menu cycle.

There's plenty left to do. I need to finalize the order of the day. Then I will finally set up new checklists. These lists are really handy, even if they're not filled out until after some of the schooling is done. I need to update my dinner cycle, which, yes, does affect the classroom/teacher availability. Etc. Etc.

I'm feeling cheerful because even though it's not all set up, I have enough figured out to give today a good start. And I've done enough to keep me motivated to finish--it's no longer so daunting a project that I'm afraid to get started.

Sometimes the littlest thing can make a big difference. Last night after I settled the lunch menu, I discovered that this Monday we were to eat tuna or egg salad. Instead of deciding and preparing it today, I had time to make egg salad so that Len and Daniel could pack some this morning. And now it's ready for the homeschoolers, too.

I could have been discouraged and angry with myself about how much organizing I left for the last minute (and still haven't finished). That's often my reaction to my failings. I'm grateful for the limited progress this weekend and that this time, at least, my attitude is positive. I pray I can keep that outlook . . .

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Me and My House

"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

This is one of my favorite mottoes. It's part of Joshua's speech to the Israelites before they renewed their covenant with God in the Promised Land:

"Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:14-15

Every day we decide whom to serve: the Lord or the gods of today: money, food, entertainment, power, popularity, SELF, etc. I don't always choose well, but at least I can try again each day.

None of which explains why I call my occasional family news feature "Me and My House." Oh, well.
  • Len and his partner signed the papers on Tuesday and are now the proud owners of a building! In a few relaxed, effortless months (ha!), it will be renovated and their veterinary practice will move in. (They've been renting a former bank for almost five years now.)
  • You know enough about me. I don't blog when I'm frazzled or depressed, so my recent regular posting must mean something good. On the other hand, I am ALWAYS tired! I get up when I'm supposed to, so I'm convinced the problem is bedtime. This is a seemingly simple decision/area of my life. Do I serve God and my family by getting enough sleep or do I serve my time-wasting, dilly-dallying self? Not proud of the answer right now . . .
  • Lauren has sent us a few glowing emails from Italy. The villa has no internet, but she grabs a keyboard now and then on a daytrip. Anyway, she loves the food, the countryside (rural Tuscany), the people, the travels (Pistoia, Prato, and Florence so far), the art, the local wine produced by the monastery up the road, the busy-ness, and on and on. She has threatened to not return home!
  • Short, cheerful emails (and rarer calls) indicate that David is also loving the college experience. His German books cost more than all his other texts put together, I know from an early email that he was up in time for an 8:00 sign language class, and he thanked me for the big BLACK mug that was one of his "sursies."
  • Daniel is playing soccer on his school team and is a youth leader in the Catholic boys' club at our church. When rehearsals of the extracurricular choir begin next week, so will Dan's routine of spending the night at Grammy and Grandpop's every Monday. That tradition started with Lauren and includes much spoiling, only some of which (trips to 7-11, cash, short order catering for dinner, breakfast, and packed lunch) I even know about.
  • Joseph auditioned this afternoon and was accepted to another year with The Youth Orchestras of Fairfax. I wonder if they know his violin teacher is working with him on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia?" :-) Most of his homeschooling this year will be on his own. He'll have coaching from and interaction with me, but the girls are sharing history and science texts rather than the big kids. Joe is taking physical science at a local co-op, has a higher level history book, will be taking Latin with Daniel's guidance, etc. I hope we ladies can stay on track without Joseph nudging me through the schedule . . .
  • Marianna is eagerly awaiting Irish dance class, which begins next week. SOMEONE has procrastinated (I loved Mary's comment last week: "Don't rush me! I'm waiting for the last minute!") the ordering of new shoes. Is partial credit available if it's been on a list several times?
  • Rebecca recently lost both top front teeth, and has a magnificent, gap-toothed grin. She's reading beautifully for a first grader (Len started phonics early with this one) and after some, shall we say, "intervention", is beginning to fuss less about piano practice.
There you go--consider yourself updated!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tomato Hornworm

The tomato hornworm is the caterpillar that transforms into the five-spotted hawk moth. Its vibrant green hue allows it to remain well camouflaged on one's tomato plants, even at a fat 3 or more inches long, unless . . . it has fallen victim to the Braconid wasp.Do you see the bumpy patch of white in the above photo? Those are the wasp cocoons covering a tomato hornworm!Here's the story: the female Braconid wasp lays her eggs IN a tomato hornworm (see the brown "horn" on the rear end of the above caterpillar?). The eggs hatch and the larvae develop. When they are ready to pupate, they come out of the caterpillar and spin cocoons. Eventually (I haven't yet found out how long this stage takes), the adult wasps emerge to mate and lay eggs in another garden pest.

So the wasp didn't stop this caterpillar from eating and growing, but she has very effectively prevented it from maturing and producing another generation of hornworms.

In this close-up you can see how cottony/fluffy the cocoons are. Also note (top, right) the larva getting ready to spin. We couldn't resist. One of our big jars now holds a dying hornworm and its many cocoons. We are waiting to watch the wasps emerge.Interesting things we've noticed so far:
  1. The seemingly dead caterpillar revived enough to climb back on the branch.
  2. A tiny (millimeters!), newly emerged tomato hornworm was found crawling quickly around the jar--doubtful that it's going to find much food in there.
  3. We watched larvae on the caterpillar and on the glass spinning their cocoons!
  4. Rebecca is fascinated rather than squeamish. She touched the caterpillar and the cocoons.
I found most of this interesting information (including pictures of emerging wasps) at garden grapevine.

Monday, September 6, 2010

From yesterday: a tigertail swallowtail butterfly, Virginia's state insect, enjoying one of Marianna's zinnias.

Tomorrow: a tomato hornworm!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Skip Counting

I think it was Joseph who noticed that from September to November our family has children ages 5-10-15-20. Cool!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sometimes Good Things Come in LARGE Packages

Our everyday dishes are as old as our marriage--25 years this coming March. :-)

Some of them still look pretty good,
but most are worn out,faded, scratched, and tired.For several years I've considered replacing my dinnerware. Enjoying something fresh and pretty has warred with the desire to not waste.

After all, these plates and bowls are still functional. And they're Corelle--incredibly durable. Eight of us over two decades have managed to break only a few, and the dingsand chipsare also rare.

So every now and then Len and I went back and forth regarding need vs. want, aesthetics vs. materialism. The difference this last time was that some children overheard.

What to get Mom for her birthday became clear . . .They wanted to surprise me, but thought better of it, thank goodness. Lauren did some initial research, and I spent many hours online as well.

I quickly narrowed my search to Corelle again. It is thin and light, easy for children to stack and carry and load in the dishwasher. It is durable beyond belief. It is bargain priced compared to other casual dinnerware.

Other preferences helped, too. No square plates! No designs in the center of the plate, just waiting to be scratched up by years of knife and fork use.

Finally I had 8 patterns selected. How to choose? How to choose?

(Yes, this story is long and probably dull. You're welcome to just scroll through the pictures and wait for a more interesting read some other day.)

That's when I looked more closely at the place settings that were available: big plate, little plate, bowl, and mug. I didn't really need or want more mugs, but whatever. What stopped me in my tracks was the little plates--they were the tiny bread and butter plates, not the mid-sized luncheon ones we use every day. Argh! Now what?

More online checking to see about adding single plates led to the great discovery of the perfect (for me), super-size set. At a steep discount, it had 12 each of three plates,and three different bowls,plus two serving bowls and platters! With NO mugs! It was available in only one of the patterns I had considered, making that decision so much easier . . .

So my sweeties have given me a gift I'll see and use nearly every day for decades. THANK YOU Lauren, David, Daniel, Joseph, Marianna, and Rebecca.

And in the spirit of "waste not, want not" I'm packing up the old dishes to save for David. He thinks the new ones are too girlie, but the flowers on the heirlooms are faded enough to be inoffensive. ;-)

Friday, September 3, 2010

She's Arrived!

We skyped Lauren around dinner time, midnight or so in Rome. It was fantastic to see her and her tiny room, watch her twirl her hair, etc. :-)

She made it through one of the most worrisome (for Mom) parts of her journey, getting from the train station to the hotel alone in the dark in a neighborhood that her guide book did not recommend. Whew!

Along the way, Lauren has had several travel adventures already, including repacking her bags AT THE CHECK-IN COUNTER, carrying on a 3rd item (her photo paper had to be re-explained multiple times), and exchanging her money (no, it shouldn't have been an adventure, but there you go...).

In the morning Lauren will take another train, then a taxi, then her feet (up the mile and a half driveway) to the villa that will be the base of operations for about a month. Thanks for your prayers and good wishes. We appreciate both--keep them coming!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Small Successes: For My Children


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

STILL no significant school planning (I'm even procrastinating about panicking!), but I did take care of some tasks for my children this week:

  1. Yesterday Joseph and I went shoe shopping, just the two of us. It sounds mundane, but I enjoyed his company as we worked our way through 3 stores, trying to find just the right combination of quality, fit, and price. Walking away with new shoes on Joe's feet was a satisfying accomplishment for both of us.
  2. I mailed David's first care package on Monday, and he picked it up on Wednesday! He had requested Bananagrams, all three LOTR movies, Ladyhawke, and The Princess Bride. Okay, they're not study materials, but at least it sounds like his new friends are interesting.
  3. For Lauren's birthday dinner I made chicken picatta, one of her favorites and one of the few foods she requested before her trip. The only item left is cinnamon rolls. After another failure with frozen dough, I am baking a fresh batch today. We'll have them for dessert tonight, just before driving to the airport. Did I mention procrastination?
I enjoy reading the successes of other moms. You can, too, if you stop over at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Farm Market Supper

I brought the children to a local farmers' market yesterday. It's not-quite-local-enough for me (20ish minutes: Can you say "lazy?"), so I'd never been. When my friend told me about the fabulous peaches she found there last week, I knew I had to make the effort. I don't buy peaches from far away. If they're refrigerated before fully ripening, they end up mealy and therefore inedible. Local fruit was mighty tempting . . .
The little girls ran around the comprehensive playground (Who builds merry-go-rounds anymore?) while Lauren, Joe, and I perused the produce. We bought cantaloupes and corn and tomatoes and three fancy breads and half a bushel of peaches!By then I was too tired to take artistic photos. Oh, well.
The market inspired a real summer supper. We enjoyed this tomato casserole (recipe link sent by my sister):Let me tell you, it is fabulous! I used 3 cups of bread, as suggested. The 1 cup Parmesan seemed like too much, so I probably only sprinkled on 2/3 cup. Next time (You'd better believe there will be a next time!) I will top it with the full amount.The Smitten Kitchen suggests topping leftovers with a poached egg. Our tiny bit of leftovers became part of the birthday girl's breakfast in bed today:The toasted focaccia is from the market, too. Cream and sugar were served in egg cups--cute, but not so neat for pouring! (No, the egg is fried...)Peach pie for dessert! Extremely tasty AND extremely messy. I followed Elizabeth's idea of making a peach version of my summer blueberry pie, but it didn't firm up. I'm not sure if it didn't chill long enough or if the cut fruit (blueberries stay in their skin, after all) kept the cornstarch from working its magic.
Anyway, we served it in bowls and ate it with delight.
Another day with no school planning accomplished, but I don't care yet!