Friday, October 30, 2009

Thinking about Jefferson


Going north to Virginia
The autumn trees rust into winter.
Rich browns and umbers sooth our eyes,
Ribbons of gold ripple along ridges,
Veins of poplar among the oaks.

I ask if any of Jefferson’s trees survive.
The last was cut just last year,
A massive hollow of bark remains.
Before the house a gracious linden
Kneels to her guests, her limbs extending,
Her elbows buried in Jefferson’s dirt.

His trees are extensive, confusing,
Randolphs and Hemmings running
Along passageways, tripping up stairs.
What kind of man puts his bed inside the wall
Between two rooms?

Going south the colors were duller,
A disappointment of grey.
Any flames of orange, of genius radiance,
Lost in mist and time.

October 30, 2009
Copyright by author

Seeing Jefferson's Monticello

Monticello. Thomas Jefferson's little world. He sought to create a self-sustained idyllic community, complete with its own little businesses, extensive gardens, indoor bathrooms, and a small pond near the kitchen for storing live fish. Did you know that he designed the house initially, went to Europe and changed his mind, and tore down the first design to create the house we see today?
Jefferson, our nation's 3rd president, was 6'2" tall. Peter's trying to catch up.
Here is an extensive terrace near the house where many vegetables are still grown. Everyone loved the little building there, with windows on all sides. A retreat while weeding? A place to dash out of the rain?

One of my first questions of our guide was whether any of the original trees on the property from Jefferson's day, were still standing. She told me that the last original Jeffersonian tree was cut down only last year, because they feared it might fall on the house. Later we found this massive trunk, beside the house. This was one huge tree! I would have loved to see it.
I've taught American Literature every year that I've taught school. I've often read the inscription from Jefferson's tombstone in the textbook -- finally I was able to see it for myself. Jefferson lists here the 3 accomplishments of which he was most proud: writing the Declaration, founding the University of Virginia, and writing the Statute of Va. for Religious Freedom. The third, hardly anyone studied anymore, I suppose. Jefferson was a man dedicated to education. Although he and his wife (who died young) had only one daughter (of six children) who lived to adulthood, this daughter blessed him with 11 grandchildren. They were raised and educated at Monticello, among their grandpapa's books, rare collections, and scientific instruments.
Unfortunately, Jefferson's desire for education did not extend to the majority of the residents of Monticello. He inherited $40,000 of debt from his father-in-law. That's probably more that a million dollars today. He died with about 3x that much debt. The slaves and property were sold to alleviate this burden. But the man who claimed, for all of us, that "all men are created equal," and that they have the right of freedom, did not free his slaves, but passed them on to be sold after his death.

Jefferson strikes me now as a man full of ideals who was not able to sacrifice to meet them. He sacrificed for his own pleasures and interests, but the ideal of freedom was simply not practicable to him. In spite of the beauties of Monticello, this is a sad legacy to leave.

At the Farm

We enjoyed a visit with my brother Max and his wife and four kids, in West Virginia. Here's a shot of us standing around outside, about to pray before we drove off on our big field trip to Monticello.
Max heats his big old farmhouse with wood, and here's the cool stove in his backyard.
He and Anne keep sheep also, and graze them on neighbors' land at times. We walked down the road so he could feed them in the evening.
Maggie, the milk cow, with her 2 calves.
The children really enjoy each other. Anna and Hannah have a little talk on the couch.

North to West Virginia!

This has been a busy week! We drove away on Monday morning, heading north to West Virginia. We passed some bee-oo-tee-ful scenery on the way.

This is a shot across a huge valley. The lone hill in the distance is called Pilot Mountain, which I think it actually located somewhere Winston-Salem, NC.
Another shot of this quiet valley:
Anna and Julia took MANY pictures of the fall colors, while I drove. Here is an especially nice one of the beribboned sky.
The hills along the way -- especially when we first arrived in West Virginia, were red and rusty, with golden highlights.
See those ribbons of gold?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pie Redemption

I made a pumpkin pie. This is the favorite dessert in our family: Adam can eat a whole one (he doesn't, but he'd LIKE to), and I adore it. The children love it. Adam's two pies from a real pumpkin were a little of a disappointment ... SO, we were all looking forward to this yummy, normal, gorgeous pumpkin pie that I made on Saturday.

I've made scores of these pies. I even reread the ingredient list before I poured the mixture into the shell. Can you detect something coming here?

Yep. I forgot the sugar.

The pie looked fine, although not as oily as a pumpkin pie normally looks. It wasn't until I gazed at it when it was cool that a little warning voice alerted me: "Psst. You forgot the sugar!"


Nobody touched the pie on Saturday, or on Sunday. It sat there. Now, we have 2 dogs, and I know that dogs LOVE/ADORE/GREEDILY INHALE pumpkin. So, last night I finally got out a big ole serving spoon, and dug deep gorges into the pie, and slopped them into the dogs' bowls.

They said, "Yummy! More, please?!!"

And I took the timid advice of some friends on facebook, and decided to glop a big spoonful into a bowl for MOI, and stir in a generous helping of sugar :)

Yes, it was ugly. You know, a slice of pie is a finicky dessert. It's elegant. I'm surprised that we don't raise a pinky finger as we eat it. One cuts gently, firmly, into the tip end, trying not to crush the custard. One attempts to cut symmetrical bites, observing the remaining shape of the pie to ensure that it is still beautiful. One tries to place a balanced amount of pie and shell in each bite.

But when you've already mashed it all together in a bowl, why bother? I enjoyed that pie more than I usually do! And I must say, it tasted delicious and perfectly normal. I highly recommend it!

I have redeemed my pie, bought it back, as it were. And I'll insert a little plug here for REDEMPTION as a concept. If you're a Christian, this term, this concept is familiar to you. You know its spiritual meaning. But in our culture, we only use the verb "to redeem" in one context (that I know of), and that's at a pawn shop. You owned a piece of jewelry; you lost that piece of jewelry to the pawn shop; you return later to pay AGAIN for the jewelry you once owned because you long to possess it again.

We should notice redemption when it occurs in life. That pie could easily have ended up in the dogs' bowls entirely (at best) or in the trash (at worst). Instead, I brought it back to its original state of goodness and usefulness. That is a pleasing thing. The pie shows a variation on God's redemption that is worth considering -- in redeeming our souls, God returns us to our original, intended state of usefulness and worth to Him, and to ourselves. Once again, He can look at us and say, "It is very good."

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Poem from the Mountains

At Mitchells

We went to the mountains to view dying leaves,
Dull this year, against a radiant sky.
The milkweed pod hides its secret symmetries and fly-away wisps
Under a pale, craggy skin.
A wooly bear with hardly a bit of black
Nibbles its way round my fingers.
At the end of the track one farm has the best view
Of rolling ribbons, red yellow orange green—
They live in town.
We saw the perihelion circle there, before we came.
It’s clearer here, a thin floating elastic, enveloping hills,
Milkweed, bears, farms, and us
At its center.
Two sun dogs blink. The blue dome whirls.
One wide band of cloudy blue is so cold
I could skate on it.

October 23, 2009
(copyright by author)


Yesterday, Adam and I traveled with some friends from church to the mountains in Virginia. We ate at a buffet restaurant, and then drove to the mountain home of one couple. They have such a peaceful spot, with calming views and clear skies and many porches. We sat and talked. And I took a walk.

I found some milkweed pods on the side of the road. I've always enjoyed these odd-shaped things and their downy contents, so I gently pulled one open. Here's what I found:
I know the image is fuzzy (sorry), but isn't that pattern beautiful? I ran my finger over it again and again. And I wondered immediately, why did God put the pattern of fish scales, inside a milkweed pod?

It's the same pattern. Now, the milkweed (if it had eyes) will never see a fish, and a fish will certainly never see the inside of the milkweed. So whoever put this pattern in both must have wanted a 3rd party -- me? -- to notice the design.

Well, I showed my milkweed to two friends also on a walk. I asked them what I reminded them of. One of them said, "an ear of corn."

What do you think? An ear of corn? Actually, the above photo is neither the corn nor the milkweed. It's a picture of fish scales.

I showed my milkweed pod to my husband, you know -- My Resident Brainiac. He said that actually there is a mathematical explanation for this pattern in all these locations, and it's found in many places in nature.

Uh huh. Here it is in a pine cone:

Look at a tighter cone, from the side.
Fuzzy again, but I hope you can see the overlapping sections.

A painter is known by his brush strokes. A composer is known by his stylistic effects. A writer can be recognized by his predictable turns of phrase. God, the real creator, has left his brush strokes on his creation for us to see. Spend some time noticing his patterns today.

Three Down, One to Go

And I bet you're wondering ... what's she talking about?

Three days of fall break down, one to go?

Well. No. I would be referring to the flu.

Philip brought it home with him from college on his fall break. He was laid low for a full 2 days. Julia was the next to succumb. She's still in bed. Her temp has varied from 99.5 to 102.3. This morning it was 101.8. She seems to feel okay, but I'm not trusting that temperature!

And Anna is the latest victim. Her temp this morning was only 99.7, but it's early yet, and she'll soon be climbing those slopes! Bed rest, fluids, and NO CONTACT WITH PETER, PLEASE!

Because, you know, we're still supposed to go on that fabulous field trip to Monticello, right?

Oh, yes ma'am, we're going! If I have to dose them all up with tylenol and quarantine them in the van, we're going! Argh.

Actually, as long as Peter doesn't fall, we should all be well by Monday.

And, uh, as long as I don't get it either.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Since we're on Fall Break, I'm waxing creative -- I'm on a crocheting kick. Knitting and I have never gotten along well. However, crocheting and I are steady friends.

I saw these at the Renaissance Festival; you may call them handwarmers, or wristwarmers, or fingerless gloves. They're easy to make,and very useful. On the first pair, I used some VERY old wool yarn I've had for 25 years. I bought it at an outdoors folk arts fair on the backside of Lookout Mtn. When I bought it, the yard was still wet from the dye, and was hanging on a line. I've used it, and pulled it out, and used it again. The yard is weak in multiple spots, but I love it anyway. I was into "earthy" colors back then.
After I finished mine, I started on a pair for Anna, using much-softer yarn I found at Salvation Army on Saturday. And, since I'm trying not to turn on the heat in the house yet, my own handwarmers came in handly while crocheting Anna's.
Here they are, finished: A simple tube (so you never have to worry about dropping a stitch at the end of a row - my biggest crocheting fault!), with openings for the thumbs. You may also wear them upside-down, allowing less coverage on the wrists, and more on the fingertips.
Of course, Julia wanted a pair as well. She liked the pink yarn I also found at Sally's. Hers are smaller.
I may make myself another pair now, with softer yarn (that wool is itchy!) and more coverage on the knuckles.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Low-Fat Myth

This is a long video, done by a Stanford University Nutrition professor, but well worth your time. If you're interested in health, diet studies, and whether the advice of the past 30 years is working for Americans, watch this.

Now this guy is a life-long vegetarian, but after his investigations, he had to admit that, "the low-fat thing clearly isn't working." We Americans have been told for decades that, to lose weight, we must cut fat from our diets, and exercise.

Except, that doesn't work. ESPECIALLY if you're insulin resistant.

American is ballooning in obesity. Diabetes is sky-rocketing. All this has occurred particularly in the past 30 years, just at the time when we've been told to boost carbohydrates in our diets. This professor is not promoting Adkins per se, but he is questioning the conventional wisdom we've all been fed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Done with Round One!

Today marks 8 weeks of homeschooling, completed.

We're now 1/4 the way done with our school year! Cheers all around.

Next week, we will take our Fall Break, at this convenient spot. I also tidily finished a unit in American Literature and a unit in American History, just in time. Didn't plan it that way, but it was nice.

So, it's time to outline for all my eager readers what we have accomplished thus far in the year. For Julia, she has completed her study of Ancient Egypt in literature and history, and is now heading into Ancient Greece. She loves this method of study, which involves extensive reading of both fiction and non-fiction accounts. We buy some books, to ensure that she has high-quality material, but also check out piles of books from the local library to extend and reinforce the information. And we have a few "bedrock" books -- large history encyclopedias, for instance, that keep us on task. She has learned how to summarize chronologically what she's reading with good detail, and how to outline concepts in the reading. She's done 4 science experiments on the Earth and Moon, summarized the material, hypothesized answers and then found them. She's learned some Latin, a bit of logic, a bit of note-reading in music, done quite a bit of dictation, covered 3 chapters of grammar, and done creative writing. Oh, and she's covered 3 chapters of math. I must say I've been disappointed in her math skills. In 5th grade, a child should have a solid grasp of basic arithmetic facts. I started the chapter on multiplication, and she could not even do the first page. She had no idea what 3x4 was! I was stunned. I asked her if she'd ever learned her multiplication tables. "In 3rd grade," she said. I asked if she did multiplication in 4th grade. She didn't remember using it then, she said. {{Mama Gasp}} Now, I don't know whether her memory is correct, but regardless, what are they doing in elementary school these days? Why does my daughter have NO MEMORY of her multiplication tables? She's not dumb, she's not particularly naughty or rebellious, and she loves to learn. Well, moving on ... I printed out tables from the internet for her to practice on. At first, we had to ADD so that she could fill out a blank 12x table. Then she did many scrambled tables, to reinforce the facts. It's slow going, but I think we will regain the ground she lost. But we could not proceed in the textbook until she had those multiplication facts down!

Anna and Peter are beginning their study of Emerson, Thoreau and the other New England writers after Fall Break. Both are in the middle of writing their research papers for this semester. They've almost completed their memorization of "Paul Revere's Ride." They've written 5 good essays. We've watched some great videos in both literature and history. We're looking forward to a trip to Monticello soon. In American History, we're heading into the Revolutionary War period. We just completed watching "A More Perfect Union," a good video about the forming of the Constitution. The work on the telescope continues, as they've finished the grinding and are almost done with polishing the lens. Peter's doing quadratic equations; Anna is working on linear equations. On his own, Peter is also digging quite deeply into developing arguments against Evolution. He's researching and writing on the subject because it interests him so much. Both have almost completed their summaries of the chapters of their books of the Bible; Anna is doing "Luke" and Peter is doing "Acts." They'll head into making maps and timelines next, and then memorize an extensive passage. They're also singing in the community chorus and our church choir each week, and learning a lot about music there.

Homeschooling is a lot of work. But its strength is in the parents' ability to customize the education to the child. However, if you've read me for long, you'll realize that I think this is also its weakness -- what! Customizing education! Let me explain: the customizing of the education should be to challenge the child, not to coddle him. When I say "customize," I mean that the parent can accelerate the material to keep the child challenged, and to encourage him to excel in a field that piques his interest. Other than this heightened material, the remaining material that the child studies should be doggedly set to hold him to the standard (at least) for his level.

So, although we cannot reduce the difficulty level for any of the children, I can give Julia additional reading, and more creative writing. Peter will spend hours more in science, and Anna will labor over her literature papers. So, instead of being restrained in these areas of interest, they can fly ahead.

I'm encouraged with our year thus far. I pray we will continue in success!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Day in the Renaissance

Field trip! Yessirree Bob -- today was our day at the Renaissance Festival! And, besides the fact that it was rainy and cold, we had a great time :) Here are the kids with the "tree guy."
Peter nearly froze while watching the jousting tournament.
The ONE THING that Julia wanted to spend her money one (she had $1.05), was a camel ride. Well, she got it!
Anna was easy to find all day in that hat. She enjoyed all the medieval wares being sold.
Some amazing carving:
Jousting, clearly the big event at the festival. Here is our hero!

And here is his evil enemy. The enemy was soundly defeated, of course.
And everyone's icky favorite, the Green Man. He's basically bawdy and strange, but very funny. Peter took us back by his spot a couple of times.
These acrobats were amazing. Look closely at his feet - see what he's balancing on?
I enjoyed all the musicians. This man is playing a hurdy-gurdy, an instrument familiar to those who love Chaucer; his Friar played the hurdy-gurdy. I enjoyed getting a close look at the instrument.
This is a very odd organ. The performer inside plays a keyboard that rings the various bells. It sounds strange and spooky.

There were several lovely harpists.
This structure stands at the jousting field. The king and queen sit in state there.
Here are some other shots of the permanent buildings that stand at the festival location. Julia particularly loved this day, and because she'll be studying Medieval history and literature next year in school, I'm sure we'll go again. Peter and Anna are willing to come again as well, as long as it's not cold and rainy :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sandy & Julia, by request

Julia held Sandy up so you can see how big she is now! Her coat is getting fluffy.
They are BEST buddies and play all the time. Love Sandy's adorable face -- her nose and eyes, however, remind me (oddly) of Beatrix Potter's Tommy Townmouse, or any of those slim-nosed mice with slanted black eyes. It took me FOREVER to figure out where I'd seen that look before!
Snuggle bunnies

There you go, Hunter!!

Adam Experiments with Pumpkin Pie

Do you see those cute little pie pumpkins in the grocery store? Don't you want to buy one? But who in the world wants to go to all that trouble? Adam does!
He split the pumpkin, scooped out the seeds, and baked it (steamed it, basically) for about an hour. Here are the halves:
After they cooled a bit, they were very easy to peel. They were extremely tender.
Adam took the pumpkin pulp and mixed it thoroughly, trying to make it smooth enough to give a truly creamy pumpkin pie. Does it look like Libby's?
The pies are not as attractive as ones made with store-bought pumpkin. The little white patches are from water dripping on the pie. He also said there were many bubbles that he had to pop. Now, Adam likes a highly-spiced pie. I can't spice my pies (I'm sure it's the ginger) hot enough for him. These are a bit too spiced for me :) The consistency? They were not stringy at all, but Adam says next time he will put the pumpkin in the food processor to really chop the pulp, so it will be even smoother. The mixer doesn't do that. The color looks more like a sweet potato pie, but the flavor is DEFINITELY pumpkin.
He made 2 pies! I think autumn may truly be here!!