Wednesday, October 31, 2012

School Today

I've been so sluggish and lethargic lately. Today I decided I'd just (for one day) give into the inner slug. It's 8:12 AM, I'm still in my pajamas and in bed. Adam has brought me coffee and orange juice.

So, what does a homeschooler do on a sluggish day? Each homeschooling family is different; we all have our own coping mechanisms and methods of teaching and not-teaching. That's one of the glories of homeschooling -- its flexibility. But today? Today, here's my plan: Julia will read from about 8:30-9:30. Right now, she's reading The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Great story, set in the French Revolution. From 9:30-11:00, Julia and I will paint. Her weekly painting workshop is over until after Christmas, but I want to keep her painting, if possible. It's a gift in my child I want to foster and nourish. Another benefit of homeschooling is the flexibility to focus on aspects of academics for a particular purpose, for your child -- sometimes to strengthen a weak point, sometimes to encourage a strength.
At 11:00, she'll do math with Adam for an hour. After lunch, we'll watch one hour of the Ken Burns documentary Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, one of his best films. That's it.

As we cover Lewis and Clark, we remind Julia that this important event in 1804 is tied to Thomas Jefferson's presidency, to the situation in France and Napoleon's efforts there, and his need for cash to fund his exploits. I remind her that during this time, Jane Austen was working on her novels. It's important to place events in one's studies in a historical context.

I say this because Peter, who is a college freshman, recently mentioned that a classmate of his said that the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement both occurred in the 1930s. (Heavy teacherly sigh inserted here.) This occurred during class, in one of his Honors College classes. He's at Western Carolina University. That means that a student successfully escaped from his/her history studies in high school, without a teacher ever effectively communicating these simple facts. This student is supposed to be a scholar, an honors student, one of the upper echelon.

Peter was surprised at this. He knows better, and not just because he's pretty smart. He's had a better education, one in which most of his teachers didn't drop the ball. And even when I was aware that some of his teachers weren't among the brightest stars in the heavens, we're just an academic bunch at home. We talk about stuff like this. Even a child of ours who never darkened the doorway of a school, nor ever had a lesson at home, would know that the Civil War occurred in the 1860s. That's just a simple fact of life, and if you don't know it, you're really not mentally prepared for life.

I had a teacher friend once who praised my sister-in-law, a homeschooler, because she had desks in her home. Five little school desks she'd purchased second-hand, for her children. She had a room designated in her home as the "school room."  Nothing wrong with that, if a homeschooler thinks it's helpful. But my teacher friend was entirely missing the point; a homeschool is not excellent inasmuch as it resembles a classroom. It is excellent inasmuch as it utilizes all the exceptional benefits of homeschooling for the advantage of the children in that home. Because that's something regular schools simply can't do. The bigger the school, the more industrial the school, the less they can do that. It's a cookie-cutter education out there, folks.

And if you want that for your child, that's fine, and I do mean that. Some people value conformity in the citizenry. Some don't. Some people accept the governmental standard for education as uniformly adequate or even satisfactory. Frankly, we don't. Almost all homeschoolers don't.  Peter's classmate's misinformation reminded me of why.

You may say that Peter's classmate simply had a couple of points of misinformation, something that could be corrected in a moment. No big deal! If so, why was something so simple and so significant, neglected for so long? What errors in the system allowed that to happen? Did it affect his/her classmates also?  How many? And if it's a weakness in that school that's indicative of a more systemic lapse, how much ignorance has been allowed to fester there? And does anyone care?

Homeschooling isn't the answer to all scholastic ills. Neither is private schooling, nor more government money, nor more parental involvement. Perhaps the best answer would be for all of us to value learning, especially in children, and to strive to give today's children a better education than we had ourselves. That may seem like a vague generality, but it's the disposition I use with Julia every day. What books did I not read, what connections did I not make, what loves were not fostered, what weaknesses were allowed to fester? -- These I long to correct in her life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Easy-Peasy Cheesy Danish

I found this simple recipe on Pinterest. Here's the website with the recipe. Starting with the crescent roll packages from the grocery store makes this a very simple process, of course. And sometimes, simple + delicious = exactly what we need, yes?
Prepare your cream cheese topping first. I halved the recipe, using 1/2 package of very-soft cream cheese,  1/8 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla. Mix that well.
The pastry is even easier. Spread the rolls out into 4 rectangles, pressing the seams to form the rectangles. Spread some butter on each one, and sprinkle some brown sugar on each one. Roll them so they are long tubes, pinch the ends, and then roll them up. Place on a greased cookie sheet and then press each one into a disc, with a good depression in the center of each. This is all quick and easy to do. Then dollop the cream cheese mixture evenly into the four rolls you've made.
Bake at 350º for 15 minutes. These are yummy! If you need more careful directions and photos, check out the website above.
The glaze on top is just confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and a little milk. Blend it to your desired consistency.
I think I may need to make the second package of these in the morning :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Julia's Christmas Slippers

At last, I've begun working on Christmas projects. I'm starting on Julia's crocheted slippers. She picked out the pattern on Drops Patterns, here. They're really adorable. She also chose the yarn; it has a lovely, silvery luster to it. Here's the foot part of one slipper.
I'm making the two slippers simultaneously. This ensures that I don't get weary with the first one, and hesitate to finish the second. It also helps the two slippers to be identical. Here, you see the toe of one.
A close-up of the foot section. We think these look like fairy slippers. I like the open pattern.
This evening I made more progress. At the ankle, the slippers split in order to complete the heel, and then the collar is added later. I'll post finished pictures soon -- I hope!
The pattern directions are useful, but I've really had to do my own thing regarding measurements. This slipper is way too small, and you have to fit it to the foot it's intended for. Julia enjoyed slipping this on as I sized it to her.

Lofting the Minuet

"loft": verb, in shipbuilding, to form or describe the lines of a hull in full size. 
Adam and Julia have begun their boat-building. They're making a sailing pram. ("pram": noun, a small, flat-bottomed row boat for fishing)  This pram will serve as a little sailing vessel for Julia, and as a dinghy for us, when we have a sailboat. (someday)
They went to Lowe's and bought the plywood.

They've been practicing all the measurements and precise diagrams in math for a couple of weeks. I'd ask them what they're doing in math one day, and they'd answer things like, "Lofting a bow transom, Mom." When Adam felt their geometric constructions were precise enough, they transferred them to full-size and began cutting wood. Made me nervous. Cutting is rather permanent! Then I remembered how nervous my mom was when I was in high school, making drill team outfits, and cutting into pricey velvet with utter confidence.
The photo above is a side of the boat. Julia is sanding the edges.
Here's one part of the bottom of the boat. Adam is getting the design specs online for free.

Julia sits in her boat-to-be. The vessel will be called "Minuet." She's sitting on the bottom pieces, and has her hands on the side, so that's about the size -- 7'10" long.
I'll keep you informed on their progress. They'll need days above 50º for the epoxy to set, but Adam hopes to have the boat in the water before Christmas. Julia is over-the-moon happy!

All's Well

This is just a quick note for family and friends out there who're wondering how we're doing after Hurricane Sandy. Oriental fared just fine. No flooding to speak of, just lots of wind and a bit of rain. If we didn't know there was a monsterish storm out in the ocean, we'd think it was just a rainstorm.

We had church yesterday with a slim crowd, but sometimes that's rather fun -- the "faithful few" who brave the elements to come sing and eat and learn. We even had hand chime rehearsal!

Many thanks for your prayers for us. Let's pray also that God keeps Sandy's dangers away from folks north of us.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, D-minus-one

We went for a little drive after supper to see how the water levels were looking. I forgot my camera, so I had to go back out a second time, while my crazy husband and daughter went for a walk.
So, here's the Neuse, by Lou Mac Park. The river will certainly come up over this boardwalk tomorrow.
Can you see the swells in the river? This is a river, mind you, not the ocean! Adam says the water is right under the boards of the dock.
Then I drove down to the town harbor in front of The Bean Coffee Shop. The Bean is the green roof on the left. The red roof is the art gallery. See the railing on the right? That's the edge of the bridge. The water covers the road all the way from the art gallery down to the Provision Company parking lot.
Julia says they walked down this area, and the water was up to her knees. She thinks she saw a fish swimming by.
I pulled up in the car as far as I could, in the raised parking area. See the 2 poles? The rail to the right of them is the rail of the bridge. The water has flooded over it. I hope that boat doesn't ride up on the dock, which is almost under water.
In the midst of it all, M and M's Cafe is still open for business, if you need to come in out of the wind and wet.
The dinghy dock is totally under water. You can see how much darker it became, just while I was driving around.
Town Dinghy Dock from the side.
And way out there is the tip top of the harbor sea wall, just barely above the water line. Two boats were still lying at anchor. And Philip, if you happen to read this, yes, that's Henig's boat out there still.
The Oriental Marina. The docks are barely above water. Adam said they walked out on these docks later. Many people were in their boats riding out the storm. The boats are sitting much higher though, and the tall power boats loomed over them as they walked by. The wind whistling in the rigging was a creepy sound.
The ditches and channels in town are filling quickly and turning into ponds.
I drove down Factory Street and came to an abrupt halt before a large watery patch.
But this home was alight with welcome and warmth. Deep purple mums bloom along the railings. The family can watch the storm from that balcony. I took this photo first on my drive. See how quickly it darkened?
Hopefully I'll get you some more pictures tomorrow, and you can compare.

Big Slouchy Hat

(Warning: Amateurish photography)
I found an adorable slouchy hat on Pinterest and thought I'd give it a go.  In my opinion, the photo of the purple hat, and the directions given, bear not the slightest resemblance to each other. It's a good thing I'm rather innovative when I crochet, or this would have been a disaster. (In other words, the blogger's directions are useless, especially at the hat band.)
Use a J hook and worsted weight yarn. Begin with a magic circle. Here's a youtube tutorial for that, if you need it. I think a magic circle is the best method to begin a round crochet project like this. Put 6 single crochets on your circle. Add 5 more rows of single crochet, putting two dc's in each stitch from the previous row when possible, without buckling your work. It should be tight, but stay flat with some pressing. I made mine too tight.
(Sorry about the color shift in the photos.) Now I switched to a larger hook, an N. It's probably best not to switch hooks quite yet. At this point, begin using triple crochets, alternating one, and then two, tc's in each stitch from the previous row. Do two rows like this, until the crown of your hat is about 6" across. It will have begun to ruffle quite a bit; that's fine -- this is the extra volume of the "slouch" in the hat.
Keep going with your triple crochets, and at this point (row 8, counting your magic circle as row 1), definitely switch to the larger hook. Only put one tc in each stitch from the previous row. I did 5 rows of this. The hat's edge will begin to tuck under nicely, and it will look really large.
The underside:
Keep placing it on your head until you feel it is the right size for you -- that the addition of a band will place the hat correctly on your forehead.
The band: I switched back to my J hook. I started by working a dc in each stitch from the previous row, pulling the tension on my yarn a little with each stitch to help "tighten up" the hat a bit and rein in those floppy tc's -- I did that for one row. On the next row, I did single crochets, working only every other stitch; this was the row when I was trying to reduce the hat's brim to the right size for my head. Try it on several times so you don't reduce too much.
Once you get the edge the right size, you can add a nice band. I decided to do 2 rows of alternating front- and back-post double crochets, to give it a ribbed effect.
I added a fun, large button for decoration.
The band is stretchy and fits perfect on my head -- but I'll be selling this at the market.
Not a very attractive photo, but you get the idea. Hats are really not my thing.
And from the back. I'm cranking my arm around behind me to get this shot :)
See how the hat pulls from the middle, and has so much volume in the bottom? That may be from the way I have it sitting on my head, but it may also be from switching to the N hook too soon after that tight first disc. If I make another one, I'll try to tweak the pattern a little, and see what happens.

This is the same Simply Soft red yarn I used for the bobble stitch ear warmers, and the drapey shawl.

Autumn, for whom we write poetry


We love her, as the Greeks who watched tragedy
Mesmerized, waiting for inner cleansing.
We remember her spring, bright and heady,
Her pregnant flourishing and wanton summer.
Now comes the end, a long and lovely end.
She stands upon her stage confused, transfixed,
Losing, losing. Each time she shakes slightly
Distressed, a million leaves rustle to her feet.
‘Ah!’ we whisper. ‘See how she dies!’
We love her, as the Greeks who require
Seventy rehearsals of death before their own.
The end falls on a darkling world, yet she stands.
‘Ah!’ we murmur. ‘How her beauty glows golden!’

poem copyrighted by the author

Friday, October 26, 2012

Water, Sky, and Hurricane Sandy

I love gazing at the Neuse. It's as fascinating and changeable as the sky. In New Bern yesterday, the sunset sky looked like this.
The Neuse was still as a mirror until a power boat went past. The faster the boat, the more the ripples that eventually came our way and lapped upon the rocks.
(If I'd told you that was sand, would you have believed me for a second?)
When the river is still, the reflections are so cool.
The color and texture of the reflection are difficult to capture with my dinky little camera.
But when the boat's waves came lapping in, the effect on the reflection almost made me queasy. The pilings on the dock seems to wobble drunkenly, in and out, as if it were walking toward us. See?
When you don't hook up your T.V., you look for entertainment elsewhere - haha!
Hurricane Sandy is growing in her potential impact. I'm hoping we only get reasonable amounts of rain, and not too much wind tide in the river. The hurricane's rotation pushes the strong winds back down Pamlico Sound, straight at Oriental. The wind pushes the river water, and its levels rise, flooding parts of town. The slower-moving the hurricane, the longer it sticks around, the worse it is. A large, slow-moving storm like this one is the most devastating for flooding.

"Summertime, and the Livin' Is Easy!"

Do you know that soulful, mellow piece from Porgy and Bess?
"Fish are jumpin' ...."  Adam and I often sit here by the Oriental Marina, and look at the sailboats that come in. They drop anchor and put their noses into the breeze and hang out for a day or a month in this protected patch of water. Here, the fish do jump! Have you ever seen it? They're very entertaining! Some are little fish and barely clear the water, but some are good-sized mullets that leap into the air, clear the water by a foot or so, stay nearly vertical, and then land back in the drink with a slap!!  We sit here on a bench and wait to see if it'll be a good fish-jumpin' day. I speculate in myself about why a fish would jump out of water. Play? Escape? Curiosity? Instinct?
"... And the cotton is high."  We have a few cotton fields nearby. This one has been white-white for weeks, and ready for harvest. My Colorado friends have snow. We have this. Well, at least it doesn't melt!

A boll of cotton.
It's well past summertime here, actually. Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the eastern seaboard and we'll get rain. I hope they get this cotton picked and covered before then. It'll have to be today.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Background

Hey all -- Just a quick note about that cool new background design behind my middle panel on the blog. I was just weary of the very limited options for blog backgrounds that are now offered by Blogger, under the Template Designer. Other than that limitation, I've enjoyed toying with the new design features.

But what about other background choices?

So I went looking online, and found this site, Pattern Cooler. It's free, if you use the simple download. Its backgrounds come with a png file extension, which works fine with Blogger. What I liked about Pattern Cooler is that you can choose a background pattern, and then you can play with the colors. This one was a 3-color pattern, but I changed its colors to suit my banner photo better. You can also add a little texture to the background pattern -- a very nice feature. Give it a try.

Autumnal Poetry

Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

~ R.L. Stevenson

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Books

Julia's been on a room-cleaning spree (hey! I'm not complaining!), and somehow she ended up with a bookshelf she didn't need. An empty bookshelf? In this house? Well, that didn't last long.
I had a huge box of books in the garage I'd never unpacked because there was nowhere to put them. At last! I found my lovely copy of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Guest. It slips into a cool little box with the photo on front. I love his stories of Buddy and Sook.
We tend to keep things in our books, odd things. Photos, notes, Valentines, locks of hair, money. Well, not money any more. Adam once lost $60 by putting it in a book, so I put a stop to that! In Mr. Capote, I found this, a note from a friend in college, thanking us singers for our hard work, and inviting us to dinner and caroling at his home. Ah -- the days of hand-written notes on paper.
I also uncovered many books of poetry. I adore my poetry books. Here's Faulkner's book of poetry. Faulkner, a poet? Who knew? Nice dust jacket.
And inside the book,
But when you remove the dust jacket and examine the spine, you find that its text is upside down -- reversed from the text in the book. An interesting feature, indicative perhaps of the man himself? No, a printing error, I'm sure.
(Faulkner is a terrible poet, by the way.)
I found my copy of Elisabeth Elliot's biography of Amy Carmichael, such a rich book. She signed it for me. Mrs. Elliot was a huge help and mentor to me (through her books) when I was wrestling to figure out some of the darkest days of my life.
The "new" bookcase is almost full. It now holds my poetry, American literature, and some odds and ends on the bottom shelf. So far.
This bookshelf holds only children's books.
This bookcase in my bedroom holds my very favorites, a wide collection that includes Tolkein, Lewis, Trollope, MFK Fisher, devotional books, MacDonald, authors like Jewett, Gaskell, and Flora Thompson, and many others.
This living room bookshelf contains my British literature, ancient literature, medieval literature,  and most of my anthologies.
Other books are scattered around the house. These shelves also don't hold my music, my cookbooks, things I'm currently reading, any of my kids' books, or Adam's books. He has more than I do.
I post all this because a friend recently vaguely alluded that, because I support the use of ebooks, I might not really have a strong sentimental attachment to print books. This may have been said in jest or sarcasm. Still, I know better; I love my books deeply. And I don't love them because of professional attachment, although I loved teaching literature for many years. But my textbooks aren't on these shelves. And I don't even love the books for their authors; Capote was a nut, I think, Lewis had some oddities in his theology, and I won't even go into how troubled some of our modern authors are. No, I love the books for themselves, for what they contain. I long to live in Cranford or Candleford. MacDonald's stories taught me all I needed to know about magic. Perhaps I've come the closest to loving an author in Mr. Trollope, whose subtleties of voice are so winning.

I used to have more books, but I've given many away, keeping only the ones I don't want to be parted from.

Many things are lost. I bragged to this friend that I had a four-volume set of Kipling, rather old, with swastikas on the spines (before the swastika was a Nazi symbol, of course). Later, I wondered where the books were. In the garage? In a box? At my parents' house? So many of our things are scattered from too many moves, too much loss, illness, unemployment. Where was Mr. Kipling? My brain whispered to me where I'd last seen them:  in a box, sitting in the driveway, sold for $5 at a yard sale when we were rather desperately leaving Statesville, and I'd decided possessions didn't matter when one had no home to put them in. What right had I to keep Mr. Kipling, or Mr. Trollope, or all the fine ladies of literature, when I had no home to protect them in? I was sick of dragging them around the country for 30 years.

So I sold Mr. Kipling and his cool swastikas.

My jesting friend and I were debating the value of ebooks or print books, regarding their safety. Amazon may delete your entire library, but God may take all your print books away with a 15-minute house fire. Now, however, I realize the greatest danger to my books:  me. Books are beautiful depositories of wonder, knowledge, magic, history. They are everything. How tightly we hold them. How we love them. Mr. Kipling, I hope you've found a good home.