Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Time grew wings

I'm not totally sure how it happened that an entire week has passed since I last posted. I am, after all, supposed to be doing this to keep record of our family life and homeschooling year; it may be strange to look back on the year's posts when April rolls around and think, "I wonder what happened in that isolated week?"

Were we felled by the flu? Did an ice storm hit our city and deprive us of power?

No, neither of those things. Actually, we've just been working away at school. It suddenly hit me that we are now in the second semester and that we're not halfway through our grammar book. Also, we're only on Lesson 5 in our Composition class, which is not good. The reason why this happened is because I originally devised a dumb plan in which we'd do one subject three times a week and the other subject twice a week, alternating subjects weekly.

This is our sixth year of homeschooling and you'd think I'd know that we were going to fall behind. YOU'D THINK I'D KNOW. All I can say in my defense is that it seemed like a whole lot of language arts at the time, back there in August by the side of the pool. But now, faced with the reality of not completing either book by the end of May...well, that simply can't happen. We pay a lot of money for these books and we finish every last one of them, no matter what. Even if we're gathered at the side of that very same swimming pool come June, Meelyn and Aisling writing compositions with spiral-bound notebooks balanced on their knees.

So. I have upped our grammar intake to four pages, four times a week. Four times a week of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives...It isn't hard at all, but the girls complain of the dreadful boredom of it. We also are going to need to do one lesson in the composition book per week, maybe even two.

Thankfully, they're both well along in their math books and should be done with those by late April. Vocabulary is moving along, exactly on schedule. Meelyn is finished with her reading comprehension and thinking skills workbooks for the year; Aisling coming along with her thinking skills and reading comprehension books and should finish them by late May.

I designed our social studies/geography/history course myself and we're working through two books published by Carson-Dellarosa. They're actually a bit easy for the girls, but they're so well done (for the most part) and informative that I decided to use them anyway. These two books, one of which is titled United States Geography and the other titled United States Government and Presidents, have reproduceable pages that we copy off every day. The girls are almost finished with the Southeast region (they've completed the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions) in the first book and we just finished studying the Declaration of Independence in the second; I printed off the text version of the Declaration from an online source. We read it together last week and Meelyn and Aisling were incensed by the many offenses of King George III. I had to gently remind them that the problem of King George had already been addressed.

They're also heavily involved in studying about Ancient Greece for HISTO Round 4, coming up next week.

As for literature, they've both finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for ARCHES and are poised to begin Carry On, Mr. Bowditch in March's meeting. And, of course, they frequently have their noses buried in library books.

Oh, and typing. Meelyn and Aisling need to get started back with that. They had the whole first semester off, but now it's time to get crack-a-lackin'. They'll be so pleased. Second semester is frequently brutal this way.

Oh, I'll be so glad when January is over. It's been so cold and gray and dull every since the Christmas holidays wrapped up. Schoolwork seems as endless as a song by Celine Dion when we're in the presence of January.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"What's in your wallet?"

In yesterday's mail, we got four -- FOUR -- credit card offers from Capitol One. I do sincerely appreciate the humor of their television commercials, but I would rather put a tarantula in my wallet than a credit card.

We've been down that credit card trail twice in our marriage.

The first time, we were silly newlyweds with debt. Not a lot, but enough. We got our credit cards all paid off by the time our first anniversary rolled around. You'd think we would have learned, but naturally, we didn't. We got a couple of new credit cards and went to work.

By the time our fourth annivcrsary came around, we had a brand new house. We bought it according to the conventional wisdom of the banking and real estate industries, neither of which had our best interests at heart, as it turned out. If we'd known Dave Ramsey's financial principles at the time, we never would have bought it. He recommends that couples: 1) make sure that the mortgage payment is no more than 36% of the monthly income; 2) assume ONLY a fixed-rate fifteen year mortgage; 3) have a three-to-six month savings built up for an emergency fund; 4) have a good chunk of downpayment (I can't remember what Dave suggests, but I think it might be something like 20%).

We had none of this.

We took out a thirty year mortgage; we had a very small downpayment -- maybe 10%? -- that ate up our entire savings, and the monthly payment consumed about 38% of our income.

It confused us terribly when we moved in and immediately started experiencing financial strain. Aisling was born a month after we moved in and our little stack of credit cards helped us get our home and our new baby comfortably settled until I took on a much-loved in-home babysitting job that I kept for the next five years.

My husband's income continued to rise, so things evened out after awhile. But by that time, we were spoiled by the immediate gratification that credit cards offer. We got deeper in debt, over silly things like dinners at Applebees and non-silly things, like paying off the balance of our account at the local hospital from my gall bladder surgery after they relentlessly harrassed us by telephone three or four times a week, telling us that we had to pay much more per month than we could afford. The minimum payment on the credit card was less and it seemed like the smart thing to do.

It wasn't. We didn't realize that they were doing something illegal. If we'd known Dave's plan, we could have contacted the Federal Trade Commission, which frowns on strong arm tactics. Then we could have arranged a payment plan that we could afford and possibly even sicced a lawyer on them.

By the time we'd been married ten years, we were scared at the way our balances were building up and we decided to stop using credit cards, forever. We cut them all up and began paying down our balances and that felt really good. It was a slow process, but we were actually making headway. We were proof that life without credit cards is possible, even if you earn only a modest income. We paid for everything with cash -- Christmas gifts, birthday presents, everything. When my old portable dishwasher bit the dust, it took us three months to save up for a new one, but gosh, did it ever feel good writing that check!

Now we've been married for almost seventeen years and I haven't carried a credit card with me for seven years. I entertain a very limited respect, so small as to be one what might call "nonexistent," for the credit card industry, which is in the business of tempting people to live beyond their means, and then punishing them for giving in.

Which is why I so deeply enjoyed turning those four credit card offers into confetti yesterday. Tearing up credit card offers is such a visceral pleasure to me, I refuse to consign that duty to a shredder. Rrrrri-i-i-ip!!!! Rrri-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ip!!! Take that, Capitol One! Take that, Bank America! TAKE THAT, CHASE MANHATTAN!!!!

Never shall you see the inside of my wallet again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rest in peace

I was very sad today to hear that, just as my parents and I were wrapping up a fiercely fought battle of Hand & Foot at my dining room table, actor Heath Ledger was being pronounced dead in New York of what appeared to be a drug overdose, a possible suicide.

This makes me terribly sad. I loved Heath Ledger in the role of Gabriel Martin in The Patriot and as Sir William Thatcher in A Knight's Tale, but I positively adored him in one of his earliest film performances, which was that of Patrick Verona in the modern day re-telling of my buddy Will Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, titled 10 Things I Hate About You. His character's ridiculous name in that raunchy but lovable "teen" movie (no teenager should ever have seen that movie, believe me, although come to think of it, W.S.'s original was every bit as ribald) was Patrick Verona -- I guess it's kind of hard to get away with calling someone Petruchio in present day southern Cal.

In 10 Things I Hate About You, Katherine "Kat" Stratford (another stupid name), played by actress Julia Stiles, is roughly and rudely wooed by Patrick Verona in the same manner that Petruchio wooed Katherine four hundred years ago. He exasperates the snot out of her, but she's even more exasperated with herself for....noticing....that underneath his annoying exterior, he's actually kind and softhearted. When asked by her English teacher to write her own version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 141, (the one that starts out wryly: In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes, /For they in thee a thousand errors note), Kat comes up with the poem, dedicated to Patrick, which she titles "10 Things I Hate About You."

I hate the way you talk to me,
and the way you cut your hair.
I hate the way you drive my car.
I hate it when you stare.
I hate your big dumb combat boots,
and the way you read my mind.
I hate you so much it makes me sick;
It even makes me rhyme.
I hate the way you're always right.
I hate it when you lie.
I hate it when you make me laugh,
even worse when you make me cry.
I hate it when you're not around,
and the fact that you didn't call.
But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you.
Not even close,
not even a little bit,
not even at all.

That moment in the movie is wonderful -- the tough girl finally cracks, and the tough boy knows that he can let down his guard and show her that he loves her. And boy. DOES he. With a marching band and a silly song and a goofy, high-kicking dance through the seats of the football stadium, which sounds really stupid, but trust me on this -- it is one of the sweetest, most romantic, fool-for-love movie scenes I can think of, and everyone even has their clothes on.

Where were the Oscar nominations for that role, huh? I enjoyed it a lot for the piece of light, frothy fun it is. It made me a forever fan of Heath Ledger.

And now he's dead at the age of 28, leaving behind a two-year old daughter.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpertual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My left eye

My husband and I went to a fancy dinner the other night; a dinner to which I was particularly eager to go, first of all because a whole bunch of my friends were going to be there, and second of all, because it was free, a kind gift given to me as a thank-you for the World Literature class I teach for our ARCHES group. So of course, since I was so happy to be going, my husband made sure to wait until I was spritzing myself with perfume while happily humming "Puttin' On the Ritz" to myself before giving me an extremely unwelcome piece of news from work.

So we yelled at each other with the kids miserably hunched into their seats in the minivan all the way to Art and Michelle's house, where we got out and pretended like nothing was wrong. Because that's the kind of people we are: complete hypocrites who put forward a good show while secretly elbowing each other and digging our heels onto one another's insteps when people's backs are turned, kind of like that television commercial for ESPN's SportsCenter with Peyton and Eli Manning, only spouses instead of brothers.

We went on to the dinner with Art and Michelle unwittingly forcing us into a facade of peaceful unity. But since they are very congenial people, my husband and I gradually relaxed and let go of our ill humor. Neither one of us has ever been able to stay mad at the other for very long.

The evening was a real delight. My friend Jane grabbed me when I came in the door and whispered, "Let's sit together!" into my ear, so when dinner was served, we grabbed our husbands and zoomed to a table, staking out four chairs. We were joined by Mark and Gloria: Gloria is a friend of mine who looks like a petite, dainty porcelain doll, which could fool you into thinking that she has a demure demeanor. Until she unleashes her singing wit and sparkling eyes and reveals that she is pure mischief underneath that adorably sweet exterior.

So our table was extremely lively, there among the white tablecloths and scattered rose petals and tiny little candles -- it all looked really beautiful and romantic. By the time we finished our salads, the six of us were all laughing about how typical it is of couples to fight like junkyard dogs on the way to a gathering -- like, say, Mass -- and then get out of the car smiling and pretending that everything is just fine, just perfectly fine. The food was served buffet style and everything was delicious. Our waiter and waitress -- kids from the homeschool group earning a little spending money -- were extremely solicitous about keeping the iced tea flowing and dessert was a cup of really good coffee and a piece of the creamiest cheesecake I've ever eaten.

My friend Debbie -- the one who wants me to write a book on the realities of homeschooling -- was the organizer of the evening's events and I was very impressed. She hadn't overlooked one single detail in making the evening a really lovely grown-uppy evening of food and fun.

Well, until we got to the speakers, that is.

In her defense, the fact that the speakers absolutely sucked swamp grass is not Debbie's fault in the least. When you arrange for speakers to come to your event, all you know is what they choose to tell you about themselves. Unless, of course, they are nationally known speakers like former president Bill Clinton, but I just remembered that he was impeached for lying under oath, so that wasn't probably the best example I could have used. Anyway, what Debbie knew is that the speakers -- let's call them the Winkler-Blinxes to protect them from public derision and me from a possible lawsuit -- were a married professional husband and wife team, the parents of two young children, who have a side line giving motivational and inspirational talks to couples.

The Winkler-Blinxes came forward to polite applause at Debbie's introduction and I felt that my relationship with them was immediately wrong-footed because the podium at which they were speaking was right behind my back. I had just been served the coffee and cheesecake and if I turned around to face them, I wasn't going to be able to partake. So you know me -- I chose to make my back look as attentive as possible. My husband on one side and Gloria on the other both obligingly turned their seats, but they could still reach their cheesecake and coffee.

Mr. and Mrs. Winkler-Blinx started out by asking us to engage in the type of "spiritual" exercise that some people call "hippy-dippy," but which I usually dismiss as "a load of crap." We were to take a passage of Scripture and read and quietly reflect on it, which is not a bad thing. Not at all. This is the practice of lectio divina, started by St. Benedict in a very early century of the Church (maybe the fourth? I can't remember.) Lectio divina translates from Latin as "divine reading" and it is a very worthy spiritual exercise of contemplative prayer. But here's where I, a literary snob if nothing else, set my jaw and winced as if fingernails had just screeched down a blackboard:

Anyone who has practiced and truly knows lectio divina -- especially a professional woman who does this kind of thing for a living -- ought to be aware that the correct pronunciation of lectio divina is with the proper Latin pronunciation -- l-e-x-i-o divina. Not leck-tee-oh, never. It's lecks-see-oh. And she should have known that if she's "trying" to teach other people to do it.

Mr. Winkler-Blinx gently ans subtly corrected her as he continued with their shared explanation of what we were supposed to be doing. The missus passed around some papers with the passage of scripture outlined on it (I didn't keep it) and when I looked at it, I just drooped. I truly hate this kind of thing. I hate it. The worksheet had all kind of directions on it for how we were supposed to be while doing this exercise, but they'd lost me. And my husband, too, as it turned out.

In fact, everyone in the room seemed dubious, but out of courtesy, most people gave it a shot. My husband and I sat and pretended that we were engaged in the activity, but in reality, we were whispering words of anarchy.

"I hate this," I said.

"I know," my husband whispered back. "I hate it too."

"How can they expect us to take all this hooey seriously?" I indicated the paper full of psycho-babble and grimaced.

My husband cast a furtive glance at the Winkler-Blinxes, who were apparently taking their own exercise so seriously -- I'm sure they would have referred to it as "modeling" for us --they were about to melt into a white hot puddle on the floor. "I think they might be a danger to themselves," he said.

"I might be a danger to them," I hissed. "I feel like standing up and saying, 'Friends! Homeschoolers! Countrymen! Lend me your ears! Let's run these people out of here and have another piece of cheesecake!"

Fortunately, the opening exercise was over just then and we were presumably readied up for their talk, which was all about how great their marriage was, mostly because they, the Winkler-Blinxes, were so great. Mrs. Winkler-Blinx coyly confessed to being "a real Type A" who just has so much energy and enthusiasm for life, her family practically has to wing her out of the trees every evening. Hubby, an enlightened man who agreed to hyphenating his surname when they married, told us that he has been a constant journaler since he was an undergrad, and was kind enough to share with us several glowing passages he'd written about his wife and her brilliance.

Just when I thought I was going to have to set my hair on fire with one of the little candles to dull my pain, they moved on to telling us how amazing and sensitive their eight- and ten-year-old kids were -- how environmentally aware, how prayerful, how wonderfully well-developed their social consciences were... You can't imagine. You just really can't. The whole thing was an invitation to bask in their wondrous and self-congratulatory aura of loveliness.

The Winker-Blinxes rounded off their talk by inviting us all to "participate" in another little exercise that they'd "formulated" as a twosome -- lucky us. They explained that they were going to play a song for us, and while the song was playing, they wanted us to hold hands and look into one another's eyes, feeling and being the song for each other.

That was when several people at several different tables started erupting into little snorting giggles that they tried to disguise as coughs, sneezes and maybe even little farts, I don't know. My husband's shoulders were moving and I knew that if I looked at him, I would lose it. LOSE IT. I knew that I would start laughing and that I wouldn't be able to stop until I was tear-stained and aching and gasping for breath. So I stared at the tablecloth, biting the inside of my cheek, willing myself sternly not to laugh. Because whatever my mother thinks about the total failure of her efforts to get me to behave myself, I am not a rude or mean person. At least not to people's faces. I wait until I am behind their backs, like now, to say what I really think. And as comedian Kathy Griffin once pointed out, that's called manners.

"As you look into each other's eyes," Mr. Winkler-Blinx said softly into the microphone as Josh Groban's vastly overplayed tune 'You Raised Me Up' began to play, "please concentrate your gaze on your spouse's left eye, for we've discovered that the left eye is the window to the soul."

I know. I KNOW. He really said that. He said that, and he expected the people in the room not to come unglued.

Later, I found out that Gloria was laughting hard, sitting behind me with her face buried in her hands. Art and Michelle also told us that they couldn't get control of themselves, although I couldn't see them. My husband was in a quiet state of disbelief and he whispered, "They're doing it. They're doing it."

"You mean looking into each other's left eye?" I asked, with my napkin pressed against my mouth.

"OH, yeah. They are really and truly thinking and feeling the song for each other."

"Isn't this song supposed to be about Josh Groban and his relationship with Jesus?"

"Well, I thought so and you thought so, but I guess they think that it's supposed to be about the little gods and goddesses in us all."

I had to bend my head lower at that, concentrating on keeping the wild gales of laughter bottled severely up inside my chest.

"Oh my can't believe this -- " my husband began.

"What?" I asked.

"They are actually mouthing the words 'I love you' at each other," he said incredulously. "They are. I swear. While holding hands. And gazing into each other's left eye."

"Ohhhhhhhhh..." I groaned, covering my mouth with both hands, mindful of the fact that they were standing only about six feet behind me.

Fortunately, even songs like that one finally end -- they just seem like they go on forever, especially in a setting like that. The Winkler-Blinxes managed to pull themselves away from their mutual eyeballs long enough to say a few more quiet words and wrap up their talk, causing Gloria to start a round of applause, which fizzled out miserably after two or three half-hearted claps. Debbie rushed forward to the podium with a slight air of hysteria.

"Well!" she said wildly. "Thank you! Thank you so much for that wonderful talk! And for the exercises! I'd like to do the first one with my family! Thank you for being with us! I know you have another engagement this evening, so we'll say goodbye and thanks again!"

This time, the applause was much more enthusiastic. The Winkler-Blinxes indicated a stack of their "materials," which we were all free to pick up and take along, just in case we ever had need of some speakers who could come in and make a hot mess out of a lovely evening we were planning for some friends.

Good humor was restored to the gathering as they left, and couples were invited to drift off and spend about twenty minutes off uninterrupted conversation together, which my husband and I put to good use in telling each other we were sorry.

"I'm sorry I gave you bad news just before we left for the dinner," he said, squeezing my hand affectionately.

"And I'm sorry I was so hard on you," I said, returning the squeeze three times in our time-honored manner: I - love - you.

"I love you, too," he replied, and slipped an arm around me.

"Tell it to my left eye," I whispered, and kissed him on the cheek.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Reason #3 why I might have to pinch my husband in his sleep

Yesterday morning, my husband woke me up before he left for work to tell me about a dream he'd had.

"I was speaking at a conference," he said. "It was a marriage conference, with lots of couples in the room. I was telling them how much I loved you, explaining that you were the best thing that had ever happened to me."

"Oh really?" I purred drowsily. "Do tell more."

"I told them that the proof of my love for you was the fact that I had a chance to marry Jennifer Lopez, but I picked you instead." He leaned over and kissed me on the head, tucked the blankets in around me, and headed downstairs.

It was early, so I had the opportunity to continue snuggling there for a few more minutes, and naturally, I was thinking fondly of my husband. "Isn't it sweet," I mused, "that he had that dream about how he could prove his love for me was true, because he could have married Jennifer Lopez.

"Jennifer Lopez, with the gorgeous lush hair and the melting brown eyes and the large round bosoms and the flawless skin and the bottom that somehow manages to be big, yet firm enough to bounce a quarter on...

"And yet he chose me, fat and frizzy-haired, with a bottom as big as Colorado and patchy, middle-aged skin....

"So everyone will know his love is true because he could have had a hot armful of feminine perfection and instead he chose....


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reason #3,467 why my husband is freakin' awesome

My husband got a letter in the mail today informing him that he has won a digital camera through a promotion he has been participating in through work. A real one! That takes pictures! Digitally!

A few years ago, he was awarded a four night, five day Carribbean cruise that took us to our departure point at San Juan and then cruised us to Tortola, St. Barth, St. Maarten, St. John and some other sainty destinations. We walked around whatever little town we docked near on St. Barth, went into a grocery and a pharmacy and giggled in wonder at the French labels on laundry detergent, baby food and cough syrup. How fun was it to see that actual French-speaking people get coughs? And feed their little French-babbling bébés out of wee little glass jars? We also recoiled in horror at the crass, nasty commercialization of St. Maarten and went back to the ship as soon as I'd bought a 14K gold toe ring, to sit on our balcony overlooking the ocean, drinking in Red Stripe beer and the playful dancing of the sun on the blue, blue water.

It was a wonderful vacation, especially when I called my mom from a phone on the beach at St. Thomas where everything was white and blue and warm and found out that back home in Indiana, everything was grey and brown and about 32o.

My husband told me that his whole purpose in participating in this promotion was not only to test his mettle, but also to win this fancy camera for me. That just couldn't be sweeter.

As it turns out, I am a MATH GENIUS

If you know me personally, please make sure you're seated in a sturdy chair and not holding a hot beverage before you read this.

I just did eight algebra problems with Meelyn and only got TWO of them SLIGHTLY wrong. Please keep in mind that I haven't been in an algebra class since 1980, and even when I was there, I wasn't really there. I was thinking about my boyfriend, John. Or studying my lines for the play with my script propped up inside my algebra book. You know. Important stuff.

So imagine how I am feeling right this minute to know that I -- just like that janitor played by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting -- am a math genius of no common talent.

Here's what we just did:

Practice Set Find the following products:

a. (-3x)(-2xy)

b. 3x2(xy3)

c. (2a2b)(-3ab2)

d. (-5x2y)(-4x)

e. (-xy2)(xy)(2y)

f. (-3m)(-2mn)(m2n)

g. (4wy)(3wx)(-w2)(x2y)

h. 5d(-2df)(-3d2fg)

We got a little messed up on two problems because I had some cobwebs in my brain that needed to be cleared out before I could remember that a negative times a negative is always positive, while a negative times a positive is always negative. And of course, a positive times a positive is always positive.

Surprisingly enough, I feel very positive right now, with very little negative weighing me down. Meelyn was as cross as a flamingo with shin splints because she couldn't figure out the first two problems, so I nervously offered to help, thinking: Doomed. She is doomed.

I was shocked when we got the first two right (we got tripped up by those pesky negatives on problems c and g) and I am so stoked, I feel like going out to the front yard and saying, "I JUST DID EIGHT PROBLEMS IN MY DAUGHTER'S EIGHTH GRADE MATH BOOK AND I ONLY MISSED TWO OF THEM!"


Maybe not.


(I also learned the HTML coding to do those exponent numbers, so I feel like a supernova of Important Knowledge. I could probably grab Hershey and flawlessly execute the pas de deux from The Nutcracker right now, but he's sleeping and I hate to disturb his rest.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lucky dogs

'Way back in August, I wrote a post about how our dogs take a dietary supplement called Dino-Vite that has helped them enormously with their skin allergies. Dino-Vite claims to provide them with digestive enzymes that a cooked out of their dog food, due to the high temperatures at which it is processed. Those digestive enzymes are necessary for their health, the good folks at Dino-Vite claim, because eliminating them from a dog's diet makes the dog less able to fight off the skin allergies that make their lives miserable with the constant itching, digging, biting and scratching.

Not to mention the stinking, which presumably doesn't bother the dog as much as it bothers the people whom with they live. Like, say, me. Just as a for instance.

So Wimzie and Hershey have been having their Dino-Vite every day. It is expensive, but it is worth it. The endless digging and scratching and biting and writhing have stopped. The only problem is that they hate the taste. If you would happen to give them a bowl of dog kibble with the Dino-Vite powder sprinkled on it, they would look at you with expressions that indicated that you must be out of your freakin' mind to think they were going to eat that crap.

This drives my husband absolutely mad. "They're DOGS," he says firmly. "They aren't allowed to be picky eaters. Give them the dry food with the Dino-Vite and they'll eat it when they're hungry."

It's all well and good for him to say this, because he's not the one at home all day with the dogs, hearing their little whimpering cries as they look at their food dishes; seeing their furry cheeks all sucked in, their eyes like four holes burned in a blanket.

"You baby them too much," he said. "You have to be firm with them. They're DOGS."

That's what he thinks.

So for their next meal, I combined their dry food and the Dino-Vite with a little evaporated milk. They yum-yummed the food down in record time. So I've taken to buying two cans of evaporated milk every week at the grocery.

Yesterday, I noticed that the dogs were snarfing down their food with even greater alacrity than they usually show. They weren't so much eating as they were inhaling. Strange, I thought. They must be extra-hungry for some reason.

This morning when I came downstairs, the girls had already fed the dogs. There were two completely-licked-clean bowls on the kitchen floor. This is very unusual, because they usually leave a little Dino-Vite around the edges. I picked up the bowls to wash them and immediately stuck my sleeve in a little bit of the evaporated milk one of the girls had spilled on the sink's edge. Only, it wasn't liquid-y, like evaporated milk usually is. It was viscous, sticky. Suspicious, I leaned down to smell it. Just as I expected, it smelled sweet.

Last night and this morning, Wimzie and Hershey were treated to a dinner and breakfast of Eagle Brand Milk -- sweetened, condensed milk I generally use for making fudge and Neiman Marcus cake and the like-- instead of the EVAPORATED milk they usually have.

No wonder they were so hungry. Heck, I'd probably eat dry dog food and Dino-Vite if it had half a can of Eagle Brand Milk poured over it.


Monday, January 14, 2008


My husband, Meelyn and I have planned out what courses she'll be taking for the ten credits she needs for her freshman year. I think it sounds very interesting and it lines up well with the Indiana Core 40 plan, as well as the admissions requirements for the state universities here in the Hoo State.

Religion -- 1 credit

text: Confirmation Preparation for Young Catholics (Seton)

text: Baltimore Catechism 3 (Seton)

class: Confirmation preparation at church

English/Language Arts -- 2 credits

British Literature through ARCHES -- text: The Prose and Poetry of England
Grammar and Composition -- text: undecided

Mathematics -- 1 credit

Algebra I -- text: Saxon Algebra I plus the D.I.V.E. CD-ROM

Science -- 1 credit

Biology I -- text: Exploring Creation with Biology (Apologia Science)

History/Social Studies -- 2 credits

U.S. Presidents, Government and Geography -- text: eclectic sources (internet, worksheets, etc.)

HISTO - The Medieval Period

Physical Education -- 2 credits

Mini-Marathon training and race -- 1 credit
Volleyball training, camp, season -- 1 credit

Spanish I -- 1 credit

Course choices between Rosetta Stone software, Power Glide software or Spanish I homeschool co-op

Fine Arts -- 1 credit

text: The History of Art and Venezia Artist Series

class: Tipton Art Class

class: Indianapolis Museum of Art Talks/Tours

Music Appreciation - 1 credit

VOX Music Masters CD Series

Total: 12 credits

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Beautiful song

These are the lyrics to a Peter Gabriel song that was used on the Shall We Dance? soundtrack, my newest, much-loved Jennifer Lopez movie.

Like many Peter Gabriel songs, the lyrics are romantic and quirky and even a little bit funny. But if you could hear these sweet words coupled with the dreamy waltz tempo, you'd know why I listened to it once and blotted my tears with a tissue, and listened to it again and ended up drying my face on a tea towel. I thought he'd done all he could do when he wrote: In your eyes/the light, the heat/In your eyes/ I am complete/In your eyes/I see the doorways to a thousand churches, but it turns out that was only his penultimate love song.

This song makes me think of my husband, who wanted to give me a wedding ring.

The Book of Love

The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the whole damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
and instructions for dancing

But I --
I love it when you read to me

And you --
You can read me anything

The book of love has music in it
In fact, that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb

But I --
I love it when you sing to me

And you --
You can sing me anything

The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we're all too young to know

But I --
I love it when you give me things

And you --
You ought to give me wedding rings

And I --
I love it when you give me things

And you --
You ought to give me wedding rings

And I --
I love it when you give me things

And you --
You want to give me wedding rings

You want to give me wedding rings

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Portfolios and transcripts, diplomas -- oh, my!

Never mind that it is Saturday, which I fondly regard as my day off. It's already nearly the middle of January, which is when I start planning the next homeschool year. And this year, it's even more urgent because of Meelyn's rapidly approaching ninth grade year.

I've been researching portfolios, transcripts and diplomas today. Diplomas, we're pretty far away from so I'm not all that fussed about them yet. But a portfolio of Meelyn's work and a transcript of her classes and grades -- those are things I have to start working on, like, now.

I almost hate to write this because I know Kayte will read it. She has always been one of those super-organized moms. When she was homeschooling her boys, she documented every lesson, every assignment and every test in some sort of impressive and complicated filing system that she invented herself. Frankly, I don't know too much about it, because in all the years I've known Kayte, I've never asked her about it. I was kind of hoping that she'd just assume that I also was keeping pristine records, but it isn't true.

My filing system consists of having the girls pile their class work on my desk until it topples over onto the floor. Then I sweep it up in my arms and carry it to the wastebasket. If they're working in workbooks, I check off each page as we grade it, but then at the end of the year, we throw the workbooks away. I know what books we've used, of course. And I know how they're both progressing -- it would be difficult not to know that when I'm sitting right here with them day after day. But I don't keep records and I don't issue report cards. My personal philosophy is that that isn't what school is about.

Most colleges and universities don't agree with me, however. They demand documentation, so I'm willing to bend. This means a whole new paradigm for our homeschooling experience. It will require organizational skills that I know I possess, but have never put to use in this particular area. So I've been searching around the internet today for the tools that will help me get things all in order BEFORE we start school next September.


I found this online source for portfolios from a website called Oklahoma Homeschool. It had some interesting information.

Similarly, there is this offering from the National Home Education Network.

Then there's this source, a website called, that made me very, very glad that I don't live in Pennsylvania, where the homeschooling laws and regulations seem to fall somewhere between Nikolai Ceaucescu and Pol Pot. Citizens there have to answer to someone called an "evaluator" from their local school district and the superintendent has to check you out to make sure you're covering the required subjects. Good grief. If Shirley Jackson, she of "The Lottery" were still with us, she would undoubtedly write a trenchant and fearsome short story about this sorry state of affairs. As I recall from her biography, she was none too pleased with the education her own children got from the Vermont public schools back in the 40s and 50s.


I found a book -- who can resist a book? -- on making high school transcripts, called Transcripts Made Easy, as well as a page with several articles about transcript preparation.

All this should keep me off the streets and out of trouble for a while.

Indiana State Graduation Requirements

The Indiana Academic Standards have been raised to new heights with the 2007 adoption of the Core 40 Plan. On the one hand, I'm pleased to see that standards are being raised instead of lowered, but on the other hand, there'd better be an effort made to make sure Indiana students are fit for all this academic work: Back when I was teaching in our public schools, I frequently came across high school kids who could not read at their grade level. Or even, say, the third grade level. Nor could they write. It was very depressing, even when my female students used to try to cheer me up by dotting their i's with little hearts or smiley faces.

At any rate, the the ambitious Indiana Core 40 plan is outlined here. I found it very interesting, and I don't think it would be difficult to structure Meelyn's high school course work according to this plan. Truth be told, homeschooled students have such a wide variety of experiences that I don't think it would be impossible to exceed the Core 40 requirements.

Take physical education, for instance. Since Meelyn trains for the Mini-Marathon with her father, plus plays volleyball all through the summer and fall, I hardly think she's going to have a difficult time meeting that 2 credit hour phys ed requirement. She'll meet that per year if she keeps on going the way she's begun. And I know that what she's doing is a heck of a lot more meaningful than the "golf" I did in high school, where Nancy, Jennifer and I picked up our golf balls and threw them every time the coach's back was turned: he thought we had extreme talent. And let's not forget dodgeball, oh no no no no.

Literature also won't pose a problem. With me teaching two Shakespeare Workshops per year (I do hope to keep doing that), plus literature at ARCHES (I hope to keep doing that, too), plus whatever supplemental work we fit in at home, she'll be more than covered. Easily.

Indiana Academic Core 40 Standards

English/Language Arts -- 8 credits
Credits must include literature, composition and speech

Mathematics -- 4 credits
2 credits: Algebra I or Integrated Mathematics I
2 credits: any math course

Science -- 4 credits
2 credits: Biology I
2 credits: any science course

Social Studies -- 4 credits
2 credits: U.S. History
1 credit: U.S. Government
1 credit: any social studies course

Physical Education -- 2 credits

Health and Wellness -- 1 credit

Career Academic Sequence* -- 6 credits

Flex Credit -- 5 credits

To earn 5 Flex Credits a student must complete one of the following:

• Additional courses to extend the career academic sequence

• Courses involving workplace learning, which may include the following

o Career exploration internship
o Professional career internship
o Business cooperative experiences
o Cooperative family and consumer sciences
o Industrial cooperative education
o Interdisciplinary cooperative education
o Marketing field experience

• Advanced career-technical education, college credit.

• Additional courses in:
o Language Arts
o Social Studies
o Mathematics
o Science
o World Languages
o Fine Arts

Electives** -- 6 credits

40 Total State Credits Required

* Career Academic Sequence – Selecting electives in a deliberate manner to take full advantage of career exploration and preparation opportunities.

** Specifies the number of electives required by the state. High school schedules provide time for many more electives during the high school years.
Schools may have additional local graduation requirements.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is there a ninth grader in the house?

Not quite yet. But almost.

Since it is January, that means the time is nigh to start planning for next year. It's fairly easy to plan for Aisling's seventh grade year because I generally stick to the same curricula we've used for several years -- the Saxon math, the Wordly Wise vocabulary, the Seton reading comprehension and thinking skills, etc.

But now we have Meelyn moving into high school and suddenly, things are very different. Different enough to make me feel very nervy about GETTING IT RIGHT. Oh, I'm sorry. Was I shouting just then? Don't mind me. It's just that my ganglia are humming throughout my body and sometimes it affects MY VOLUME.

There are so many choices. Which one will be the right one? Meelyn and I are poring over several different accredited institutions that plan programs for students, make a portfolio of their work (which the parents mail in, either graded by themselves or by the institution), and then issue a transcript and portfolio.

The fortunate residents of Indiana also have the choice of coming up with their own high school program, meeting the Indiana Academic Standards for graduation, and then assembling their own transcript and issuing their own diplomas. Did you know that there are places online where homeschool families can order their diplomas with a leatherette cover in the color of their choice and everything? Even printed with the name of their homeschool!


Here are the choices we're looking at right now:

1. North Atlantic Regional High School -- Based in Lewiston, Maine, NARHS is a secular source for transcripting and diploma services. They have a minimum of 17.5 course credits needed to graduate, adding that this might not be enough for admission to some colleges. For college admissions, a NARHS student might have to add credits in -- as I noticed -- foreign language. With NARHS, you develop your own program, apprise them of the texts you are using, and they take it from there. That's a simple explanation; I won't know more until we get their free handbook.

2. Mother of Divine Grace -- MODG, as it is known in Catholic homeschool lingo, is based in Ojai, California. They espouse a classical program that requires 27.5 credits for graduation, assuring parents and students of college eligibility. Their foreign language of choice for all four high school years is Latin, which I just don't know if I'm that interested in. I'm thinking that four years of Spanish sounds a lot more practical, although I'm not opposed to two years of Latin. Their ninth grade book list looks interesting and do-able. I particularly liked their combined history and literature program, which allowed for a choice of historical fiction in four eras of American history. Meelyn liked that, too, and immediately began researching choices on

3. Kolbe Academy -- Kolbe Academy (named for the Polish priest who died in Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe) is found in Napa, California. Their educational focus is the Ignatian method, which I can enthusiastically get behind. I spent a brief time last night in going over the ninth grade book list and that's where my warm fuzzies faded. Kolbe's program centers on reading the classics -- not just the classical approach of a balanced liberal arts kind of education -- so my eyes were met with the sight of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon... Our friend Homer was in there, too, but as I looked at it, all I could think was, "What a hideous bore that all sounds." And I minored in Classicul Culture and read and (for the most part) enjoyed all of those very writers!

This doesn't seem to be quite the thing for my ninth grade schoolgirl, however. She is just a regular kid and I think she would absolutely hate this methodology.

4. Our Lady of Victory School -- OLVS is based in Ports Falls, Idaho and they have a 22 credit requirement for graduation. I liked what they had on their ninth grade book list (with the exception of the English curriculum they'd chosen), but then I found while searching the site that they promulgate only the Tridentine rite and the fifteen decade rosary (Pope John Paul II added five other beautiful decades which some Catholics cannot deal with), which I find...wrong. It's too bad, because I loved -- ab-so-loooote-leee loved -- what they had to say on their FAQ page about homeschooling and parental responsibility. It really spoke to me; the beliefs they expressed are the same beliefs that my husband and I hang onto every single year. But we are not going to go to a Latin Mass and we are going to continue praying the twenty decade rosary every week, so this is unfortunately a non-starter.

5. Seton Home Study School -- Based in Front Royal, Virginia, (St. Elizabeth Ann) Seton is a well-known entity among Catholic homeschoolers. I love their books; we use their English Grammar, English Composition, reading comprehension and thinking skills books already. I really loved their ninth grade course plan, but I already know that this won't work for us. Seton has an accelerated curriculum that is tremendously demanding. Enrollment in their accredited program requires parents to do a whole lot of snail-mailing, mostly tests and essays. We know from families in our homeschool group that if you enroll in Seton, Seton is ALL you do: every bit of time you have is spent at home, bent over a book with another pile at your elbow. No more art museum, art lessons, Book-It lunches, HISTO, Shakespeare Workshops, nothin'.

I think the pace of this program would cause Meelyn to wither. I know how she is about stuff like this. We've known other students who have buckled under the pressure and fallen by the wayside, hyperventilating and in need of smelling salts. We know some homeschoolers who use this program, but we never see them because they're always working, fearful of falling behind. Our happy-go-lucky family would go one of two ways with this: we'd either be hideously miserable and sweat it out for one year and then go through the pain of transferring her credits to another program, or we'd pay a ton of money to enroll and then end up giving it the boot by November.


So far, out of five programs, only the first two look likely. I want to go research the Indiana Academic Standards and see how many credits students here need for graduation; it seems more and more probably that we'll either go with Mother of Divine Grace or our own self-assembled program, made up from the best parts of all the other programs I've looked at.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

RECIPE: DIY Beef Stew Seasoning

We all love beef stew here at our house, although the way we most often eat it is Hobo Soup style, known by Boy Scouts as Campfire Stew. This is where you use ground beef instead of beef chunks for your soup.

I love the traditional seasoning for beef stew and it can be found in packets at the grocery, but I think it's kind of a pain to have those little packets cluttering up my cupboards. They always get separated from one another and I end up with envelopes of taco seasoning here and stew seasoning there and they all fall out unexpectedly, sometimes into the slow-cooker full of chili when I lift off the lid to serve it.

So then I bought a large canister of Kroger's beef stew seasoning and it was really good, but for some reason, I can't find it around here anymore. The only kind of stew seasoning our Kroger sells is McCormack and we find that very, very bland.

I searched on the internet and found several different beef stew seasoning concoctions, so I cobbled this one together in amounts that best suit our taste. I keep in in a glass jar with a one tablespoon scoop inside.

Beef Stew Seasoning

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground red pepper or cayenne pepper
2 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon celery seed
2 tablespoons salt
2 1/4 tablespoons black pepper
2 1/4 tablespoons paprika
2 1/4 tablespoons garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in small mixing bowl; stir to combine. Store in a small jar, tightly closed. Use 2-3 tablespoons seasoning mix per 1 pound of meat.

Huh??!! What??!! Where??!!

I was driving home from the market a little bit ago and drove past one of my favorite places in our city, Kelly's Java Hut. Kelly provides some mean competition for Starbucks, having several advantages. The first advantage is that it is only about two minutes from my house, whereas Starbucks is all the way across town. The second is that it is cheaper, HELLO? And the third is that when you order a size called "tall" at Kelly's, she doesn't insult you by giving you your java in a cup that is the size of one of those Dixie things you use to rinse the toothpaste out of your mouth. But with a lid, because you might spill the whole thing on yourself and make a stain on your skirt the size of a fifty cent piece.

We haven't been to Kelly's in a long time because we're experiencing lean times and that really frosts my donuts. Because Kelly has an excellent selection of sugar-free flavored syrups, and not every coffee house can boast such a thing. She also has really good coffee. I am quite partial to a half-fat latte with a shot of french vanilla and a shot of hazelnut, doctored up with some Splenda.

Anyhoo, I cast a fond look over at Kelly's wasn't there.

It was gone. Gee-oh-in-ee. As in, "not where it was supposed to be."

Truly, Kelly's Java Hut is an actual hut. Or maybe more of a shed, sort of like the thing you might keep a lawnmower in, only Kelly has presumably winterized hers and added plumbing and electricity and a cappuccino machine and a drive-thru window. Even with all the shiny coffee-making equipment inside, it doesn't seem like a place that would be difficult to move, but I've grown used to seeing Kelly's Java Hut standing firmly in one place these last three years and it disturbed me to no end to see it gone.

I hope that Kelly is just investing in another hut and someday soon, I'll drive by and there will be a bigger place there, with Kelly's familiar logo painted on and her weekly specials advertised on a roadside sign. Even though I haven't been there in months, I will still be very sad if Kelly has thrown in her coffee-stained towel.

Homeschool blue

We dove right in today to a more enthusiastic response than I expected, frankly.

Meelyn, as usual, got down to business without much chatter. She efficiently worked through her math lesson (she reported that it was an easy one and that there was no need for her to get further explanations from the kindly professor on her Saxon D.I.V.E. CD-ROM) and then moved on to the Wordly Wise vocabulary and Reading Comprehension 8 for Young Catholics, which is a Seton book. Meelyn is on Lesson 82 out of one hundred twenty lessons in her text. Unlike so many public school classes -- and I remember this well, because it happened to me frequently as a public school teacher -- we are able to finish entire textbooks each year.

Aisling got sidetracked due to being a big boogerhead and having to look up those dictionary definitions. But she did do the practice problems on the math lesson that covered prime factorization and went on to do the practice problems on her current lesson (Lesson 72 out of one-hundred twenty) so that she wouldn't be a day behind. This is one of my favorite things about homeschooling; if there's something that needs review, we can go back and review it until it is completely understood. By the time she finished, Aisling was triumphantly trying to give me the prime factorizations for every three to ten-digit number she could pull off the top of her head. I made her stop.

She also completed her own Wordly Wise lesson and a lesson in Reading Comprehension 6 for Young Catholics.

After those things were finished, we all sat down together to begin our new course on elections in the United States. Today began with a lesson on the Electoral College. The girls learned what the electoral college is; how a state's number of electoral votes is determined; how the president is elected based on the votes ofthe electors; and how a president can win the popular vote and still lose the election. They also learned that there are some people out there who would absolutely love to do away with the electoral college, assisting their candidates into the White House while denying a voice to the people of smaller states. Like, say, Indiana.

That took us about forty minutes. I am typing right now while lunch is in the oven. Aisling is finishing up her last few questions on the electoral college worksheet and Meelyn is reading her library book. Lunch -- frozen pizza -- smells good.

After lunch, we're going to do a brief lesson in home economics. I define this as the stove timer's being set for twenty minutes while each of us takes a downstairs room to tidy. My husband lugged all the Christmas totes downstairs last night, but the house still looks like homemade hell. I can't stand it. I really can't. Not to mention the fact that the Christmas tree box is still in the living room -- we found that we are out of strapping tape and my husband refuses to take the box downstairs un-strapped. He drives me mildly crazy.

After lunch, the girls will have their U.S. geography pages to do (state of the day: Delaware!) and English, with a further study of prepositions. We switch off weeks with English grammar and composition, by the way.

The girls are also going to do a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream for the ARCHES Talent Show next month. They're going to do the rustics' scene of Pyramus and Thisbe, hamming it up for the crowd. I need to make a copy of their scripts while they eat, then eat my own lunch.

After that, we need to head out to the library. I need books on Ancient Greece, plus I need to stick my head into Carry On, Mr. Bowditch before the ARCHES group tackles it in March. I've never read this book before and I'm looking forward to it. I hope it's a good one. If not, it's too late; the kids voted for the book from a list of classic literature for middle schoolers. I hope the club's discussions won't be on the level of Reasons Why I Hate This Stupid Book.

After all that brave stuff I typed yesterday, I just realized that I missed something somewhere and we only have seven subjects today. Rats! I was just kind of kidding about that "Home Economics"class, but maybe I'd better seriously consider it after all.

Turn about is fair play

Aisling, outraged at the fact that I "wrote something mean" about her on my blog, has said that I have to write "something bad about herrrrrrrrrrrrrr," while indignantly pointing at her older sister with a pencil. So here it is:

Meelyn can sometimes be very, very bossy. Her childhood nickname was "Bossy Flossie." I feel that this is fairly typical of a first-born child. I was a first-born child, after all, as was my husband and we are two of the bossiest people you've ever heard of. Well, maybe me more than him. But still.

Dictionary skills

Aisling has been on a roll this morning, annoying the living woo out of me and Meelyn. She enthusiastically jumped on me (or maybe "ambushed me" would be a better term) for a hug and nearly dislocated my jaw with her shoulder, so now she's sitting at the dining room table, sniffling, and writing down the definitions to several words, among which are:

1) irritate

2) pest

3) nuisance

She just told me that the definition of "pest" is "someone with a happy, joyful heart. Like me."

I'm not sure what dictionary she's using, but I don't think that's quite right.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What we did today

7:30 a.m. My husband and I woke up. He went out to walk the dogs and I turned on FoxNews to see what was going on in New Hampshire. I always wait to take my shower until he's taken his because I have a lot of long, thick hair to wash (twice) and rinse and condition, and it takes up a lot of hot water. So I always get to wake up in a gradual way that doesn't set my teeth on edge, especially if I haven't slept well the night before.

8:30 a.m. I woke the girls up. They got dressed, went downstairs and got whatever they wanted to eat for breakfast. They often have a peanut butter or turkey sandwich and a glass of milk, but I also keep a cute basket filled with individual packets of instant oatmeal for Aisling. Aisling says she can only eat oatmeal if we have extra raisins to put in it, but I forgot to buy some at the store, so it's looking like a turkey sort of day to me.

9:00 a.m. By nine o'clock, both girls are upstairs with their math books, clamoring for help with problems. I think they do this on purpose. We spent mucho dollars to buy them the Saxon D.I.V.E. CD-ROMs, but for some reason, I am always their first source for math help. Never mind the fact that I still count on my fingers and never can remember what 8+6 is. Today, Meelyn is involved in a minor pre-algebra skirmish and Aisling is wrestling with a review of fractions, both dividing them and figuring their prime factors. I help her, but end up raising my voice when she tells me with complete conviction that 2x4 is 12. Even I know that 2x4 is 16. Or something.

10:00 a.m. Aisling is still struggling with math problems and I'm really irritated with her. She is making this prime factorization SO MUCH HARDER than it has to be. Meelyn has finished her math and has gone on to do her English assignment, which deals with pronouns. She also whizzes through Exercises A, B and C in her Wordly Wise vocabulary book, catching herself up from Monday. While they work, I catch up on some emails and write the blog post below about the Mini Marathon training.

11:00 a.m. Aisling is still doing math. Yes, I know. Meelyn elects to cook our lunch and she decides to fix pizza bites, one of our favorites.

11:30 a.m. Aisling finally finishes her math. FI. NAH. LEE. They eat off tray tables in the living room, watching an episode of Hannah Montana. I shut myself in the kitchen for a moment of solitude with my pizza bites and a talk radio program, still interested in hearing the results of the New Hampshire primary.

12:00 p.m. Meelyn makes copies of the latest social studies/geography assignment and gets started on today's state. The second page of the assignment is a puzzle, the kind the girls always complain about, but still seem to enjoy doing. To our surprise, the puzzle, which is supposed to spell out something like "Rhode Island Red" contains a mistake. Nice. Very nice.

12:15 p.m. Aisling finally kicks it in gear and plows through her vocabulary, English and social studies/geography assignments. The girls study their HISTO for awhile; Round 3 is coming up on February 7.

12:15-1:00 p.m. We take down all the Christmas decorations except for the Nativity scenes (the shepherds and wise men are all loitering about the premises.) The house looks just horrible. Horrible. Many red Rubbermaid tote boxes are stacked in the dining room and living room, awaiting their trip down to the basement. The tree looks forlorn and slightly embarrassed. There are pine needles sprinkled about like confetti.

1:00 p.m. We all sit down to do some reading: The girls have to finish The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and this counts as their reading assignment for today. With only five subjects accomplished today has been very "lite" in terms of school work. Tomorrow we'll be back to the usual stuff, adding in reading comprehension and thinking skills, health, science and other subjects. I try never to have them do more than eight subjects per day -- I find that we tend to get a little hit-or-miss when too much is assigned, because in their haste to get finished, they tend not to work as carefully. Eight subjects is enough for middle schoolers, I believe.

Tomorrow, we're also starting a new course on the ways and workings of the United States government, including how we elect a president.

2:00-3:00 p.m. The girls relax and have fun, doing whatever they want to do, checking their email and playing with their Webkinz on the computer.

3:00 p.m. We all sit down together to play Pounce, which is a really fun and fast moving card game. I win, although it is a very close game. We all disperse to attend our separate activities.

My husband is due home at around 5:30. We're having chili for supper, which is a good thing because it is fast and easy to fix. I have a Monday-ish sort of feeling (probably because Monday and Tuesday were so full of friends and fun and this is our first day back of actual grinding schoolwork, hence the easy schedule) and have no energy to peel a potato, let alone mix a meatloaf.

I collapse on the sofa with my book and wonder feebly how vacation went by so quickly. Wimzie jumps up next to me and settles down, her warm, furry body pressed against my leg. I cover both of us up with a cozy throw. We sleep just a teeny bit, but don't tell anyone.

And they're off!!

Training for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Indy Mini-Marathon began yesterday, with Meelyn and my husband beginning their alternating three days/four days per week running schedule. Yesterday, they both ran two miles, a paltry distance for them. This distance will increase to twelve miles the week before the Mini (which is held the first Saturday in May).

Last night, my husband and I were talking about their training and how excited he was that Meelyn was starting off this year on such a positive note. "Last year at this time, she couldn't even run a mile," he reminisced. "This year, she ran the entire two miles on our first day of training and didn't stop to walk even once."

He then went off into a riff on his running times and how he hopes to improve the time he achieved at the Indy Marathon last October -- he did the half-marathon and completed the course in 2:10, which is the same time he achieved at the 2006 Mini. He and Meelyn had a time of just over three hours for the 2007 Mini, their pace slowing up a lot after Mee developed that blister at the sixth mile.

He worries me when he talks about running times. It seems to imply that he plans to leave Meelyn in the dust. I said this to him and he gave me an inscrutable look.

"You don't seem to really understand what I'm telling you about Mee's training, do you?" he asked.

I was uncertain. "No, I guess I don't."

"My point with telling you about how well she did with her training is to bring to your attention to the fact that if there's going to be any leaving in the dust, it's going to be her leaving me, not the other way around. If it doesn't happen at the Mini this year, it will definitely happen the next time we run together."

Amazing! To think that the very same baby who flatly refused to crawl and who showed a supreme disinclination to ever get up on her own two feet and walk when there was a staff there on hand (me, Daddy, Nanny, Poppy) to carry her, is now old enough and athletic enough to outrun her muscular, cardio whiz-kid of a dad.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Back in session

Michelle asked me today if I would write some stuff about what we're doing in school, so here goes!

MONDAY -- Yesterday was our first day back after a long, lovely Christmas break. It was just too cruel, getting up at 6:30 (me) and 7:10 (the girls) after wallowing in bed until 6:30 (me) and 10:00 (the girls).

Yesterday was our ARCHES meeting. Meelyn and Aisling participated in the spelling bee, listened to a talk by a special speaker on the origins of language and received their packets outlining the annual ARCHES essay contest. As you might have noted, the theme of yesterday's event was the beauty of the written word. Both of them, they told me, did badly in the spelling bee.

I taught my World Literature class and felt that it went very well. We had a brief moment while discussing Virgil and The Aeneid, the students and I, of bemusement as one of the four boys said, "It is just....SO WEIRD....that they went to those bath houses and stood around talking and doing business deals."

Yes, very weird, we agreed. Different cultures, whether ancient or modern, are very interesting. They're interesting even while you're feeling quite, quite glad that you weren't a part of it. Because I mentioned to the boys that a lot of gossip and business dealing also went on in the communal toilet as well (my students chorused a simultaneous "Eeeeeewwwww!!!") and when I mentioned the sea sponge tied to a stick that was submerged in a disinfecting jar of vinegar, which the Romans used for....well, they used it for....I thought the boys were all going to fall prostrate to the floor.

"Guuuuuhhhhhh-rohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-ssssssssssss!!!" one of them breathed, his eyes like dinner plates.

"Yes," I said. "But remember, if they could see us, in our culture, with our modesty in our lonely, friendless bathrooms, they would think that we were just as strange as we think they were. If you follow that line of thought."

Anyway, we moved on to the gloomy Stoic Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine and the Didache and all went well.

After lunch, Meelyn, Aisling and I joined up again to go to our TeenARCHES Teens for Life meeting, the reading club (finishing up The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; voted on Carry On, Mr. Bowditch for the next book) and then had our Apologetics Guild meeting.

The girls and I came home, exhausted, but agreed that it was a very nice way to begin our second semester.

TUESDAY -- Back to the ol' grind. Up early again, math and vocabulary to be done before heading out to Meelyn's orthodontist appointment and our monthly Book-It pizza lunch. We spent three hours at Pizza Hut socializing, which was extremely nice after not seeing our friends for two weeks during the holidays. Imagine, there are some people out there who still have the idea that homeschoolers lurk behind drawn curtains in their houses, flinching when the mailman comes to the door and eating noodles with our hands.

My friends present were: the Ka(y)t(ie)s, Debbie, Michelle, Jerri, Gloria and our new homeschooling friend, Kim. Margaret popped in for about half an hour and I was sorry to have only a short time to visit with her, because she is so real and so funny.

Tomorrow, I will add more. Michelle asked for an hour-by-hour type of schedule of events, so I think I'll keep notes. These notes, I think, could either make me or break me. I will stand revealed as either a homeschooling mother of outstanding creativity and competence, or be shamed as a lazy slacker. We shall see.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More on word-faith and our homeschool confession

I have had so many thoughtful and encouraging emails from friends, family and fellow homeschoolers since I wrote the post I titled Reality Cheque on December 29. That post was a manifesto, of sorts, giving details of our financial situation and our committment to homeschool the girls through wallets thick or thin. (Just in case you wondered, thick is easier.)

It was interesting to note that several of the emails I read all made the same point about God's will and financial prosperity: If God intended for financial prosperity (and bodily health) to be signals that His will was being carried out, you'd sure never know it from the precedent set in the Bible. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, the prophets, the apostles, Mary, Joseph and most of all, Jesus -- all of those people were given some kind of tough path to follow. But God set each one upon His chosen course for their lives and then gave them the strength to run the race, as St. Paul described it, in spite of the obstacles they encountered.

One of the hallmarks of mature Christianity is perseverance through trials, the ability to press on toward the goal to win the prize.

Yesterday, I spent several hours making out lesson plans for the World Literature class I teach for the Teen ARCHES group. The students will be reading the literature of the early Church as part of their independent study work for January, and one of the things they're supposed to read is the Didache.

The Didache (pronounced dih-dah-KAY) was compiled in around 66 AD, which is not quite thirty-five years after the ascension of Jesus. It is subtitled The Teachings of the Apostles. It is a short piece that was never considered as part of the canon of the New Testament scriptures because nothing new is taught in it -- it is a reiteration of things that people already knew but had not yet written down, so the doctrine expressed therein is presupposed. The Didache served as a handbook for priests and is divided into three parts. The first part, known as "The Way of Life and the Way of Death" was a catechesis that a priest would use to test a catechumens' knowledge of the Christian faith before baptizing them or their children. The second part describes the liturgy of the early Church and the sacraments, while the third part is a how-to manual for receiving fellow Christians, traveling preachers and prophets into the community.

One part that stood out to me very strongly was this passage from the eleventh chapter (from Part III, which is titled "Concerning Teachers, Apostles and Prophets."

1. Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. 2. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not.

Even back then, there were heresies to watch for. The Gnostics, the Manicheans and the Aryan heresy of the Visigoths were either getting started or looming on the horizon. Those heresies still continue today in one form or another, mostly because the devil is not very creative.

I'm not sure if today's word-faith heresy that could so easily distract a Christian from the path God has asked him to follow is part of one of these, part of another, or wholly new. I don't know. I'm a reader, not a scholar. But I do know a clear warning when I hear one: If the teacher teaches another doctrine that detracts from or destroys what Christ taught, hear him not.

Word-faith theology (or prosperity gospel, or health-and-wealth or whatever you want to call it; the terms are interchangeable) was not and has never been part of the Christian faith. It's a lie concocted with a little bit of truth and is capable of deceiving "even the elect," as Jesus said. In fact, it is such an intricate lie that you can say to one person, "I don't believe in this health and wealth stuf you're trying to sell me" and they may well say in indignation, "What I'm telling you has nothing to do with all that health and wealth balderdash! I'm trying to teach you about the word-faith confession!"

They don't even know. That's how deep this heresy cuts, how powerful the deception.

For you homeschoolers who wrote to me to tell me about your struggles with this, either in your own lives or with your families who think you're either sweetly naive or downright stupid to continue homeschooling your children in the face of pressing financial issssshewwwwws, take heart.

Jesus also said that the truth would set us free. Continue to reject what is false and live what is true. No matter what your bank statement or your medical records say, God is in control and He will provide. You may wonder what in the world He's thinking. You may wish that His ways weren't so inscrutable at times. You may wish that God would come knocking at your door in the manner of the Prize Patrol from the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. We do, here at our house. But we can't deny that we have always made it through one way or another. There have been indications along the way that we have not been abandoned. You haven't been abandoned either.

And someday, we can look forward to meeting Him face to face, knowing that we had roots that were planted deep in good soil. We didn't wither and burn when trials tested us. Oh, we might have drooped over from time to time and maybe looked a little wilted, but all in all, we were healthy plants.

We believed that the course He set for our families was to homeschool the kids, no matter what. So we stuck with it, in spite of not having enough money to keep up with the piano lessons, or being permanent, humble fixtures on the local parish's Thanksgiving basket list. In spite of disconnect notices that make us scramble in the sofa cushions for loose change to pay the bill and feet that need snow boots so that you can stop loading your kids on your back like a pack mule on the way out to the minivan. The minivan with 250,000 miles on it.

All those things will be so worth it when we hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord." THAT will be the reward. THAT is when we will live in perfect health and prosperity. That is the promise and the hope of heaven.

Celebrating the 80's

My husband and I both cackled in glee when we were going through the television programming the other night, trolling for movies to record since this Hollywood writers' strike is shutting us out of our favorite shows (I've been patient so far, although if the strike interferes with The New Adventures of Old Christine, scheduled to start in mid-January, I am going to be SO TICKED.)

Anyhoo, we both looked at one another and intoned in a nasal monotone that any youth who came of age in the 1980s will immediately recognize: "Byeeewwwller.... Byeeewwwller.... Byeeewwwller..."

We are treating the girls to a television viewing of the John Hughes mental health day classic, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Matthew Broderick is as adorable as ever and Jennifer Grey still had an actual nose that gave her face grace and character (are you listening, Amy Grant? Yeah, I've seen your new nose, too.)

This movie is doing quite a bit to complement the many joys of homeschooling. Ferris, Cameron and Sloane have to ditch school in order to see parades, eat at restaurants and go to the art museum. We do all those things as a matter of course, as well as tons of other interesting things like French class and Italian cooking lessons and history bingo and Shakespeare workshops. Thank you, Ferris.

Ooh, I have to go. Ferris is getting ready to lip-sync Wayne Newton's "Danke schön" on the float, which means that the "Twist and Shout" scene is imminent.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

The nose of a beagle

Hershey, our boy Beltie (half beagle/half Sheltie) was in the living room with my husband this afternoon, watching football. Or to be more precise, my husband was watching football and Hershey was watching the bowl of potato chips my husband was snacking from. Both were very intent; my husband hoping that the Redskins would beat the Seahawks, Hershey hoping that my husband would drop his entire bowl of chips on the floor and maybe a rack of lamb along with it.

Hershey is terribly hard to resist when he's begging. He's too empty-headed to do a cute trick, such as sitting up like a kangaroo, so he just stands there, his shoulders and ears drooping, his eyes wistful and pleading. He is quite clearly communicating this thought: "How could you sit there, eating your chips, while your very best dog stands here starving to death?"

Or maybe he's just thinking, "Please food please food please food please food please food..."

At any rate, my husband finally took pity on him and tossed him a chip. Hershey is usually pretty good at catching morsels of food in mid-air, but he missed that chip. It fell amidships on his broad back.

Hershey turned around and around and around, smelling the chip, but unable to find and eat it. He continued this maneuver, sometimes putting his nose to the floor in an abortive attempt to track it, until Aisling finally screamed in frustration and got up from the card game she was playing with Meelyn, plucked the chip off his back and fed it to him.

"You are the stupidest dog," she said fondly.

Hershey wagged his tail gratefully and pranced around the living room with his white boots. "I know!" he seemed to be saying cheerfully, savoring the taste of a cheddar and sour cream chip on his lolling tongue. "I know! I really am, aren't I?"

I am so glad we don't have to count on him to track our meat through the forests of pioneer Indiana.

Please pass the liniment, or maybe the scotch

Whichever is closer.

I've been awake since, like, forever today. I was up in the middle of the night after a particularly horrid nightmare that wouldn't let me go back to sleep. When I did fall back to sleep, I woke up some time later with a crick in my neck.

Not a stiff neck - a cricked neck. Like, every so often, sharp bolts of pain would shoot down my neck into my shoulder. This is wont to happen when I sleep weirdly on my pillow. Ever since being whiplashed in the car accident that severely injured me at age 21, my neck has had a mind of its own. It is bold, brash and demanding and if it were a person, it would wear tight t-shirts with saucy messages on the chest and its thong would be showing out of the back of its low-rise jeans. It wants to be positioned in certain ways on the pillow and if I don't comply, it bullies me.

So I went along all day, feebly gulping down some ibuprofen and it just hurt, that's all. But it was Friday and my husband and I were going to go out and spend a couple of hours together, and I was NOT going to miss that treat. My neck hurt when I got into his car. Owie.

We were eating burgers and fries together about two hours later and all of a sudden, I noticed that my neck did not hurt at all. Not! At! All!

"Honey, here's something strange," I said to my husband, putting my hand on my neck in the place that had formerly hurt.

"Have you recovered from your mild bout of the plague?" he asked politely, knowing quite well my frenzied tendencies toward hypochondria. "And how's your beri-beri coming along? You haven't mentioned it in several hours."

"It's not about the bubonic plague or about beri-beri," I said with dignity. "It's my neck. It is suddenly well, like there was a disruption in the space-time continuum that sent me to Lourdes and back within the last, say, forty-five minutes."

"You haven't been to Lourdes," he said, rolling his eyes. "It's just that you're away from Meelyn and Aisling and you've been gone long enough for some of the tension to drain out of you while we ran errands and grabbed a bite to eat."

That was the first time I realized that children can literally be A PAIN IN THE NECK.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Getting this off my chest

Before the Christmas season is over, I just have to say this.

You know the song "Mary, Did You Know"? Well, I do not like that song. I just don't. It has a pretty melody and all, but I find the words unendurably grating. It seems to imply that Mary was so dense, she couldn't figure out that something unusual was happening.

Mary was:

~visited by an angel and told that she was going to conceive and that her baby would be called the Son of the Most High

Mary knew:

~that she hadn't had sexual intercourse with a man; her words to the angel Gabriel confirm that she not only hadn't had sex, but that she wasn't ever going to have sex. "How can this be?" she asked the angel. "Since I have no knowledge of man?" Not only did she not have any knowledge, she knew she was never going to have knowledge. Otherwise, what would the big deal have been, in finding out she was going to have a baby? Wouldn't most Hebrew brides expect to have babies? In that case, wouldn't the her response to the angel's announcement been, "Oh, that's sweet. Thanks for telling me." The news of an impending pregnancy would only give you pause if you hadn't had sex and knew you were never going to have it, as in, "How in the world is THAT going to happen?" Which is kind of what she said.

Mary went:

~ to go see her relative Elizabeth and heard Elizabeth cry out, "Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Mary traveled:

~to Bethlehem with Joseph and gave birth

Mary entertained:

~some shepherds, who showed up unannounced in the stable with a story of hearing angels singing "Glory to God in the highest!" and being told that the Savior had just been born in Bethlehem, and

~three wise men (perhaps astonomers or astrologers) from afar, who followed the star of a king, bringing with them rich gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And all of this happened when Jesus was a baby.

In a recent homily, Father said, "Mary did ponder things in her heart, but that's because she didn't know how God's plans for Jesus would unfold. She didn't ponder all these happenings in her heart because she didn't understand what was going on with her baby. Of course she knew who he was."

She knew. God picked her from before time began to be the mother of His son. She was the new ark of the new covenant. She knew.

CousinFest '08

The emails have started up just today about dates and locations for CousinFest '08. Susie would like to serve as hostess again, which is more than good of her. She also says that she wants to keep us for an extra day this year.

I have to confess, this sounds lovely. It always seems like we barely get started before we have to leave when we only have two nights together.

So! The calendars are out! Carol, Susie, Lilly and I are making plans for the summer.

Not very Sorry! (TM)

I've been playing lots of games with the Meelyn and Aisling during this Christmas vacation, Sorry! being one of our number one favorites. Strangely enough, we've never had a Sorry! game at our house before; this one was a present from sweet Virginia, who handed it to me at the HISTO game in mid-December, all wrapped up in pretty paper. I was very glad to get it because we've only been able to indulge our love for this board game while visiting Nanny and Poppy.

Anyhoo, the girls and I were playing today and our fortunes were going backward and forward in the usual manner of Sorry!. It is a very unpredictable game and you never can say how things will come out.

Aisling was the first one out of her Start zone. She crowed and whooped over this, doing a lot of trash-talking: This continued pretty much through the rest of the game. She sent me back to Start with a lot of saucy commentary, ju-u-u-st when I was getting all four of my red pieces into the home stretch.

She laughed and mocked, acting like that little girl in James Whitcomb Riley's Little Orphant Annie, the one who got dragged away to her doom by a horde of demons. Yeah, I went there. She carried on and on, not paying much attention to the fact that I had drawn a #1 card, which allowed me to exit my Start zone and was proceeding quietly around the board.

My coup de grace was when we were both there in our Safety zones. Aisling was still honking and braying, but a little nervousness around the eye betrayed her. She drew a #12 and couldn't go. I desperately needed a #5....and I drew one! The winnah!!!!!

Or, the second place, to be exact. Meelyn had won first place about ten minutes previously and was watching our showdown, cheering happily when I won.

After playing cards and board games for an hour, I am ready to send them upstairs to read or play video games or whatever. My motherly duty, when it comes to games, goes in increments of sixty minutes. Then it's time for a break.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

MOVIE REVIEWS: Four old movies I saw this week

My husband is an old movie buff.

I am not.

He likes movies that have an actual plot, where sometimes things blow up, where good wins over evil.

I like movies with Jennifer Lopez. If you ask me, "Shelley, what makes a good movie?" I will automatically answer, "Jennifer Lopez. If Jennifer Lopez is in the movie, it is good. Unless it is that horrible one she starred in with Ben Affleck. But even Jennifer Lopez is permitted one stinkerfilm.

He doesn't mind if movies are in black-and-white.

I do. Deeply.

This week, because of his birthday, I grudgingly told him that I would watch some old, black-and-white movies with him, so he spent a lot of time going through the programming, trying to find a few that wouldn't have me sneaking off to the kitchen to "get a drink of water," which in this instance means "going to the kitchen with my book hidden under my sweatshirt to sit at the table, read and eat cookies until he comes out to find me and gives me an accusing look."

He taped The Bells of St. Mary's, The Shaggy Dog, The Bishop's Wife and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I thought I'd do a few brief reviews of these four from notes I took while watching. Otherwise, they might conceivably melt into one big, grey blur.

The Bells of St. Mary's -- Adorable movie, with Ingrid Bergman as Sister Benedicta and Bing Crosby as Father O'Malley. Snickered to self while watching, thinking that Bergman, in her desire to be alone, should have played the part of an anchorite, or at least a cloistered nun. Cannot get out of head that Bing Crosby, as jolly, gentle priest, was actually a mean drunk in real life. Find this creepy. Cannot believe the effrontery of smug doctor who thinks that Sister Benedicta, an adult with a mean uppercut, should not know that she has tuberculosis. Jerk. Ended well. If you're not worried about the idea of infectious lung disease being spread to all the schoolkids. Yikes.

The Shaggy Dog -- Annette Funicello was adorable, as I mentioned. So was the dog. Some of the scenes with the dog were actually very funny. Two big worries in this film: 1) What has happened to Robbie, Chip and Ernie? This cannot be right. Is Dad leading a double life as an allergic, grumpy fussbudget? My world is reeling. 2) Found it very difficult to get used to Fred MacMurrary as a grump. Anyone so handsome, with such a nice smile, should not be such a sourpuss. Maybe he's feeling guilty about leaving his three real sons with Uncle Charlie while he sneaks off for clandestine weekends as a "postman" with his wife and other kids. Want to cry.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- Graft, corruption and Karl Rove, is that you? Surely not, as Karl Rove and I are both Republicans and everyone knows that Repubicans don't lie, cheat or commit outrageous acts of self-serving cheaty-ness. At least, that's what Grandad told me. Feel very nervous about admitting this, but Jimmy Stewart kind of irritates me, him in his rubbery-faced aw-shucksness. Husband may demand that I sleep on couch tonight. This was a pretty good movie, although I kept wondering where Mr. Smith was peeing during his 23 hour filibuster. Maybe he passed out from dehydration or perhaps renal failure? Absolutely indignant at horrible ending to movie. Sure, it ended well, but it seems like about twenty minutes were left on the cutting room floor. Could we not have seen some retribution and restitution? And how about a wedding? AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE BOYS THAT WERE RUN OFF THE ROAD? General opinion of living room is that Frank Capra dropped the ball and left it in the Lincoln Memorial or similar.

Extra: Living room amazed and had to do a re-wind to see the shot of the White House with no enormous iron fence in front of it. The whole place was just open, suburban-lawn style, as if you could just walk up to the door and ask the First Lady if you could borrow two eggs and a cup of sugar. Know, of course, that citizens used to be able to do such; what an innocent world. Also disturbed by the sight of ugly awnings over the windows on the distaff side of the White House. Must have made the rooms really gloomy. Glad someone had the sense to remove those.

The Bishop's Wife -- Wondered why, if divorce is allowed in Episcopal church, Mrs. Bishop didn't leave a note for His Reverence propped up against the sugar bowl and take off for Reno with Cary Grant? I mean, really. David Niven obviously has priorities screwed up; living room thinks he should marry that selfish old biddy that runs the parish after Reno divorce goes through. Wish self could wear sweet little hats and big, dramatic hats and hats with a cunning fur trim; would especially like to be wearing an attractive hat while being taken to lunch at Michele's by Cary Grant. Living room pleased to see Zuzu from It's a Wonderful Life in the role of Debbie, the Littlest Bishop. Do we have better fertilizers nowadays that grow real Christmas trees? Have never seen such ridiculous looking things, all scrawny branches and bare spots.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A quick note on the French toast

I didn't like the French toast made with the Italian loaf this morning. I sliced the bread just a tiny bit thicker than sandwich bread is cut, but because the bread is so much more robust -- dense? -- it didn't tear when I lifted it from the pan, but then again it didn't really cook all the way through, either.

The outside of the bread was crispy, but the inner part was a little bit gummy. You know, with uncooked egg, warmed slightly. Wet bread. GAK!!!!

I swallowed my first bite with difficulty and handed my plate to my husband, shuddering. He chided me for being such a twitchy goose, but was jolly pleased to eat his portion and mine.

This recipe is too good to throw out, so I think I'll try slicing an Italian loaf thinner next time. The cinnamon and nutmeg flavors with the sugar, eggs, vanilla and milk make the nicest egg-noggy batter. It's really delish, but ONLY if the bread is cooked all the way through.

A really cool (warm?) Christmas gift

My parents got me the niftiest thing for Christmas -- five pounds of rice enclosed in a rectangular flannel bag.

"Huh?" you might say. "Whatever for?"

I shall tell you, so listen closely at the ingeniousness of this marvelous thing.

At the end of a long, cold day in a big, cold house, you take your flannel bag of rice and put it in the microwave for two minutes. When the timer beeps, you turn the bag over and zap it for two more minutes.

At the end of that four minute period, you have a nicely warmed bag of rice that you can wrap your nightie in and stick inside your bed to make a cozy place to put your chilly feet.

I've found several other uses for it though. It is very nice to heat it for two minutes and arrange around my neck, if my neck feels stiff. Or even if I feel a little cold (for some reason, if my neck gets cold, the rest of me is cold, no matter how warmly I'm dressed), the bag of rice is perfect.

I've also heated it up and put it on the floor for my toes to rest on. I did this the other evening when we were watching The Bells of St. Mary's and felt deliciously warm all the way through the movie.

It's nice to put on your tummy or your back for period pains. I've even stuck it inside a pillow slip and put it in Wimzie's crate to warm her little mattress so that her poor old bones won't be stiff and achey.

Mom told me that a lady at their church sews these things up for a trifle. I absolutely love it and have used it enthusiastically every day so far. What a fun, unusual, useful gift.

Thank you, Nan and Poppy!