Thursday, February 27, 2014

Watching the Watchers

A few mornings ago I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed a group of people standing in the road nearby. That's not unusual in Oriental; we have morning walkers at the crack of dawn around here, stalwart 75 year olds who brave the wind with sailing coats and make the rounds. But these folks weren't moving.
They were standing, staring, photographing. Clearly, something was up! In small towns, everybody gets excited when something is up!
When they pulled out the tripods and such, I realized from the quiet seriousness of the situation that they must be our local bird-watching group.
The lady in the blue coat on the porch is our local bird expert. I stepped out on my back stoop and took photos of people taking photos. That's how boring we are around here :)
Later that day as I rode my bike by the house, the owner came out, and I asked her what was up. She showed me her back yard, festooned with feeders and colorful things to attract birds. She has a few painted buntings, she said.
This is not her painted bunting, but one I lifted from Google.
So I met my neighbor, to whom I'd also sold a pair of smittens last fall and a market bag last summer. We had a nice chat, I met her doggie Lulu, and told her about our bees. She's happy about bees and said to please let her know what she should plant in her yard to feed them. Isn't that nice? I do like a town where people are out-and-about and are pleasant to know.

Where We Are In Our Homeschool Year

It's been a while since I yapped about our homeschooling this year. We're plowing along in our study of the ancient world. I tend to do best in literature and maybe history, so this classical method works well for us with its focus on the "great books."
We did a lengthy study of Egypt using a fabulous text. Julia enjoyed that. We read Homer's Odyssey and then his Iliad, which we just finished last week. Julia's also interspersed selections from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and has probably read about half of that over the course of the year.
We'd considered reading Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, but I wasn't too keen, and I knew we had to do Julius Caesar. So on Monday we began that play. We ready Act I on Monday and Act II on Tuesday. And I'll interject here a little rah-rah!! for homeschooling. When I taught that play at a school, we simply could not cover the material that fast. Even with students to read every part, I had to spend so much time explaining things, giving setting and background, and (as all teachers know) waiting after every two sentences while they wrote it all down. Waiting ... waiting ... is what makes classroom teaching so  S  L  O  W. With Julia sitting next to me, I explain things that need explaining, and we look at footnotes together. It's so much quicker.
Anywho, I pulled out the lovely poster I bought in London a few years ago of the new Globe Theatre. It's a bit crinkled from being rolled up and packed and moved.
For a long time I've wanted to laminate that poster. This was a good time to do it. I pressed it under my largest literature tomes.
Milton is there, with a Reader's Guide, a few anthologies, Masters of Modern Drama (ugh! What a college class that was!) our History Timeline book, and both volumes of complete Shakespeare -- mine from college, and Adam's from college. When both your parents were lit majors, you don't stand a chance in this area! Poor Julia.
As Adam says, when you study literature, you study everything, because everything is written down. Very true.
Adam had a Riverside Shakespeare; I had the black Pelican edition.
The poster is still crinkly, but at least it's protected. It's a useful thing while teaching and looking into all the staging instructions in the text. And it helps students to visualize the play as it really occurred. Julia picked out her favorite spot for play-watching in the theater.
Okay, so what else? After Julius Caesar we will read Sophocles's Antigone, and (oh! I hope and wish!) Oedipus Rex. And portions of Plutarch's Lives. We're about smack in the middle of our Herodotus, in Book 6. We just read about the Battle of Marathon, and enjoyed that very much. We will simply not make it to Thucydides this year, sorry to say. Oh, and we will definitely study Socrates's Apology (well, it's really Plato's) in good detail. So important.
She's finishing Unit 9 in her biology text. We may not finish the whole book, but we will come close. Some of the material she studied before fairly well, so I'm not worried. She's already done a good bit of grammar (her last year of that) and vocabulary (a study of Latin and other roots).
Math has gone much better this year than I hoped. She was so despairing about math when we started. Yes, we're using only Khan Academy, not a textbook. But it works well for her. For the longest time, we did the lessons and mastery challenges as Khan presented them to us, what seemed a rather random order, jumping around from simple math to rather complex ideas from later algebra. At last I stopped in my tracks and asked myself why we were doing that? Why ever make her do problems that are more appropriate for a 11th grader? So we changed, and began doing the lessons in the order they're shown in her "progress grid" -- a box of little boxes in order, from early algebra lessons, through geometry, into algebra II. Adam says he thinks it may go beyond that. My goal is for her proceed through the practice and mastery levels on about 25% of the skills -- about 1/4 of her high school math study. It's going very well now. She's not angry or frustrated, and she doesn't need my help as much as she used to. I like how Khan circles around and reinforces skills over and over, making the student achieve mastery over time.

That's it! If you've read this far, you're a trooper!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Progress of the Stripey Blanket

Alright, here's that post I've been promising where you can see the blanket laid out on the bed. It will nicely cover our full-sized bed.
I'm about 4/5 of the way finished with the body. Then I have three rows of edging to do, all the way around.
I believe the pattern said to use about eleven different colors, but I went a bit overboard. I don't know how many colors I've used. I ran out of some yarn and had to adopt new colors. It seems to work. Adam likes it a lot. He says it looks happy :)
In addition to double crochet rows and half-double crochet rows, there are interesting, tricky rows. One is the Catherine Wheel Stitch. Early in the blanket I chose gray and burgundy as the two colors for this row. I did not like how it looks after I did it, but I have a pretty strong policy of not ripping out unless absolutely necessary, so I left it. But I learned I didn't like that combo.
The next Catherine Wheel row, I opted for two colors in the same family -- green, hoping for better results. It was okay.
This last time on the Catherine Wheel, I chose blue, and I put the lighter tone in the middle. This is significantly better. I'm learning as I go along.
The Bobble Stitch rows are cute and fun to do. I decided always to use white yarn for my bobbles, lending a unifying trait to the blanket in the middle of all that color chaos. Here it is in blue:
And here it is in green. I like this one a lot.
Here it is in yellow. I'm pleased with these rows.
This is a grand project for January and February. I'm likely to do another one next winter.
Almost all the yarn is Impeccable or something very like it -- same texture, same thickness. Just because a yarn says "4" or "medium" does not mean it will resemble other 4's or medium weight yarn, when you use it. Labels, shmabels! Anyway, I found out to my distress that the Impeccable-type yarn does not pair well with a different type. Some of my yarn is Red Heart Soft, a fairly new yarn that is shinier, silkier, and thinner than other "medium 4's." It's like Simply Soft, but a tiny bit thicker.
Another tricky row is the Chevron Stitch. Here I combined Impeccable bright pink with Red Heart Soft light pink. The two textures did not become very friendly, in my opinion. See? Meh.
The next time on the Chevron row I used two similarly textured yarns. I like the gold a lot, but it's very muddy with this sage green.
In the Granny stitch rows I decided always to use white as well. Here it is with burgundy.
And with bright blue ~
And paired with the hot pink.
I'm loving the look!
I'm planning to keep the blanket and use it on our bed as a cover. Adam said I should take it to the market and slap a hefty price on it, and see if anyone bites. He recommended $175. He was low-balling, hoping I would consider it. Not that he wants the cash -- he wants me to realize the satisfaction of having my work appreciated and purchased. But I told him I didn't think I'd prefer the cash to the blanket itself. It's a lot of work and creativity. He said, "Well, ask $250 or $300." I giggled. I wouldn't mind putting it up at the market for people to look at and as a conversation-starter. But I don't think I want to sell it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Adam's Employees Are Back Home

Yes, they are! All 30,000 of them!
A friend with a truck helped Adam move the beehives here to our house. Much of the joy of being a beekeeper (for Adam) is being able to sit and simply watch his bees. Now he can do that again every day, without leaving the yard.
He's put the hives on this end of the house where the morning sun will hit them first. Here you see that they are in afternoon shade, which will be a good thing in the heat of summer. The morning sun is their "alarm" -- it wakes them up and tells them to go flying and get to work.
This is the Langstroth hive. Both hives are healthy after the winter.
And here's the Warre hive. Our hives are not cute and painted like some of my friends' hives. I think we'll give them a coat of paint so folks in Oriental don't think our bees are an eyesore. But bees are so very important to our crops, our future, to pollinating everything, that I think our friends in Oriental will be happy to see them here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What We All Had For Lunch

AKA ... Cooking for an army
AKA ... Our church "snack"

I'd like to share with you what I made for our weekly Sunday "snack" fellowship meal today. The church folks munched it down enthusiastically, so I thought I should make note of it. Here's what I made:

Taco Spaghetti (Click over to see photos and read the recipe. I doubled the recipe. I used regular frozen corn, and finely chopped jalapenos instead of the chili peppers, and not quite so much.)
Cheese and crackers (The roasted vegetable round crackers from Dollar General are very tasty!)
Green grapes
Carrots and sliced cucumbers
Spinach quiche
Pickles (bread-and-butter and dill spears)
Blueberry muffins (made from a mix -- 20 mini muffins and 12 regular ones)
Chocolate Pudding Crunch

Okay, that last item was the dessert and was particularly good. My friend Liz gave me the suggestion and I fiddled with it a bit ~

Make a graham cracker crust bottom in a large casserole. Crush 12 graham crackers, stir in a few tablespoons of sugar and drizzle 1/4 cup of melted butter on it. Blend well in the casserole and press down. Bake it in a 350ยบ oven for 5 minutes, and then cool and refrigerate.
Make 2 large packages of chocolate pudding according to directions. I always make the "cook-and-serve" pudding, not the instant. After removing from heat, cool by stirring and refrigerate for a bit. Pour pudding on top of the crust and smooth level when the pudding is reasonably cool.
On the pudding, sprinkle some Heath toffee/brickle bits and some finely crushed peppermint sticks. I guess I used 3 tablespoons of Heath bits and maybe 2 tablespoons of peppermint. The ground peppermint was, I think, the key ingredient. You don't want it to be overpowering, but the flavor addition gives complexity to the dessert and combines wonderfully with the chocolate. The bits and peppermint both soften well if you refrigerate this dish overnight, but it's probably not necessary.
Make a large amount of whipped cream. You can use Cool-Whip if you like, but I detest the stuff. We buy heavy whipping cream and make our own in the mixer with some sugar added to sweeten. Smooth the whipped topping over the pudding dessert. You can sprinkle some finely ground chocolate atop the whipped cream and some more Heath bits if you like.

This dessert is a keeper! My church friends ate all the taco spaghetti and all the dessert except one nibble, which Julia has claimed polished off. Both these dishes were very well received. We had about 30 people this morning ... not a huge crowd, of course, but quite a good-sized group for one woman to cook for. The amount of food was about perfect, and I do like to make plenty but leave nobody unsatisfied, and have little leftover. Since I hardly cook anymore, these snacks are a satisfying and useful practice for me.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


You bloggers know how it is. You fail to write a blog post for two or three days. In the meantime, life gets rather busy, you do 1648 things, take photos of 582 of them, return to your blog, and try to cobble together a catch-up post that you name "Hodge-Podge" or "This-and-That."  When I tried that a few minutes ago, my computer crashed and lost all the photos I took yesterday and today. sigh

I'm past hodge-podge. I'm scatterbrained.
So is my computer -- update on my photo situation: when I tried to download a picture of our lovely spring sky the other day, instead, Iphoto gave me this:

I like azaleas just fine, but these are from last spring!
Our weather has been warm and perfect: lovely walking weather with sun and breeze, and no mosquitoes yet. In Iowa, we'd often quip of a perfectly gorgeous day ruined by wind. In Oriental, we note that whole perfect seasons are ruined by mosquitoes ... unless you're on the water or mighty close. Then the breezes make mosquito flight impossible and they go inland for other suckers to torment.
How I digress! We went on walks. Yesterday I drove to near Emerald Isle to visit a good friend and her parents who were visiting. No photos of that trip will be forthcoming, thanks to my corrupted Iphoto library.
And when I attempted to upload a a photo of my handsome husband, Iphoto gave me this:

Let my try a few more.
 Ah, that's better. The daffodils from a few days ago have really come out of their shells.
 Adam and I walked to the top of the big bridge. I'd never done that before. The view of Smith Creek is quite stunning.
 Here's a view of the harbor. Or the marina. I always forget it's name. Oriental Marina? I call it the Trawl Door Marina because that's the restaurant that's nearby.
 This is Lou Mac pier with its long line of rocks at water's edge, looking straight up the river.
 Some of the rocks are interesting, craggy and full of shells.
 ...and old pilings rotting away.
I'm sorry I can't post a photo of my two friends and me at lunch yesterday -- Robin and Liz. We had fun, great food, and good conversation. We ate at Rucker John's on Emerald Isle.

I had photos of my stripey blanket laid out on the bed and looking fine -- about 75% finished. I'm so pleased with this project; I think it will be a treasure for many years. And I had photos of my very plain and bare yard, in order to ask your advice about how to spruce up the place. It needs mucho help.

I also had great photos of the seagulls on the ferry yesterday. They were amazing -- hundreds of them flocking and flapping around the back of the ferries. Ah well. No crying over spilt milk.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


As I said, we went to check on Adam's bees yesterday. I knew they'd be buzzing around because it was a warm(ish) day.
And they were flying and buzzing and busy as they should be.
Bo-Beau, never having seen bees before, didn't know any better and sniffed round in front of the hive where all the action was.
Our friends who let our bees live on their property have lovely flower gardens. Their daffodils are open.
This lovely flowering shrub is about to burst.
Their hellebores are just starting -- so delicate! When I see a hellebore all I can think is old-fashioned.
This is my favorite feature in their garden. It spins around.
This sweet-smelling flowering bush I remember from last year. Oh! The aroma is intoxicating! And the bees love it. I followed one of our bees (Adam calls them his employees) around with my camera lens.

If our honey tastes anything like this flower smells, I'll be gobbling that honey up quickly!