Fighting off the common cold (with books.)

I’ve had a cold this week, Gentle Reader.  One of those drippy nose, heavy chest sort of colds.  The kind where your sinuses are so enlarged they make your teeth ache and your head throb.

Being sick while homeschooling is never fun.  These sorts of symptoms are not exactly helpful when one needs to teach adding and subtracting negative numbers, although they do provide excellent fodder from which to draw examples of various literary devices.  My head is a giant mucus filled balloon simply waiting to explode.  See?  A metaphor.  Mucus makes me miserable.  That’s alliteration.  My evil sinuses are killing me!  There’s an example of hyperbole AND personification.

So, I guess it hasn’t been a complete wash this past few days.

What I’ve wanted to do most this week (besides regain the ability to breathe through my nose) is curl up on the couch with a good book.  However, when your head is achy and your children are overly solicitous, one does not always have the brain power for a new book.  This is when it is handy to have a list of old favorites you can reread.  And if those books happen to have a good sickbed scene so much the better.

One of my favorite books to read when I am under the weather (physically or emotionally) is Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan.  Here is the classic story of a woman whose husband leaves her for a younger woman.  A younger, hateful woman who also happens to steal her job.  Really, she’s the devil.

I love rereading this book because it instantly makes me feel better about my own life.  I also adore the main character who is just bitter enough to be realistic (the woman can say some deliciously cutting things) but strong enough to overcome her adversity and grow into an even better person.  Plus, it is set in England so I can read it in my head with a British accent.  This is always a bonus.

Another book I love to reread when I’m sick is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.  Yes, it’s a children’s book, but that should never stop you from reading it.  It is about three orphaned girls who are living with their guardian under a certain amount of financial distress.  So they all wind up attending a performance school that will turn them into actors and dancers, capable of earning a living.  Some of these girls are made for such a life and some are not, but the entire book is delightful.  Again, this is set in England (are you sensing a trend?) and there is a small sickbed scene as well.

Just to prove to you that I am not a one-trick pony/reader, another book I love to reread when I’m sick is Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery.  Here the author (whom you probably recognize as the writer of the Anne of Green Gables) is clearly Canadian which is completely different from being British.  Sort of.  Whatever.

I love Montgomery’s Emily books even more than I love her Anne books.  Emily is spunky, slightly naughty but never bad, and has a group of friends who are all quite interesting.  (Poor Anne had very dull friends.  I’m sorry Diana, you are good and kind but you are boring.)  There is also a tiny bit of the supernatural in Emily of New Moon, which coincides with the main character becoming quite ill, so the ending is a bit dramatic.

Yes, this is another children’s book, but get over it, Gentle Reader.  Children’s books are some of the best books to reread when you’re feeling under the weather.  All in all, it is a lovely read.

My final selection for you today is Family Album, by Danielle Steele.  I went through an immense Danielle Steele phase in junior high.  (Don’t judge!)  Her books tend to follow the same pattern and be a bit formulaic, but there are a few that I have kept on my shelves throughout the years because they really stood out.  This is one of them.

The book is set in Hollywood and begins when a young actress falls in love with a millionaire playboy and they married (because that happens every day in California, of course.)  They raise a family, have problems, fight, start a new life, rise to the top again, have problems, fight, start a new life.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Along the way there is betrayal, adultery, drug abuse, neglected children, the Academy Awards, the Vietnam War, children born out of wedlock, the whole nine yards.

It is all terribly melodramatic but immensely entertaining in its simplicity.  One doesn’t become very emotionally attached to the characters, so when horrible things happen to them it’s not at all disturbing or heart-wrenching.  In fact, I find it to be a giant pick-me-up when I’m sick.  Even with twenty pounds of mucus in my middle class head, my life is far better than these rich fools.  So, basically, it’s the perfect book to read when you’re feeling low.

So there you have it.  Here are some of my favorite books to reread when I’m sick.  What are some of yours?

Posted in books | 5 Comments

A comedy of camping errors. Or, how to lose your sanity in twenty-two short hours.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you must be a wee bit of a masochist if you chose to go camping in Indiana during July or August.  (Unless, of course, you have an air conditioned R.V.  Then you’re just living the dream.)

But this year the weather has been so nice and mild (oh Polar Vortex, I love you so) with very little humidity so I forgot that cardinal rule of midwest get-aways and we made plans to camp this past weekend.

I’m not sure if the jet stream was already in play or if God moved it especially for us once we made our reservations and paid our deposit, but this weekend, the two days we decided to sleep outdoors in a tent, the weather hit over 90 degrees for the first time all year.  When you add in the crazy humidity it felt like four million degrees outside.

Despite seeing the soaring temperatures on the weather forecast, my intrepid family decided to make the trip any way.  Surely the weather wouldn’t be that bad.  Surely everything would work out.

Disillusioned Me is shaking my head at three days ago Naive Me right now.

The first thing I noticed about our camping site was that we were pitching our tent under some of the biggest trees I had ever seen.  I’m pretty sure they may have been a group of Ents that had wandered away from Middle Earth and gotten lost.  All the foliage and tree branches made our site feel incredibly secluded and forgotten.  We were pretty much pitching our tent in the Forbidden Forest.  Eden took one look at the place and backed away saying, “This is not how I imagined it!  I feel like a million eyes are watching me!”

She repeated this refrain several times that night until we all felt  those million eyes watching our every move.

Despite the high temperatures we made a fire because there was dinner to be cooked and marshmallows to be roasted.  While the coals were heating up we decided to explore our surroundings.  The website had mentioned that there was a pit toilet in the tent area.  My husband went off to find it and returned a few minutes later saying, “Well, the good news is that the pit toilet is very close by.”

Knowing my husband I then asked, “So what is the bad news?”  He grimaced and answered “When I opened the door I fully expected to see a serial killer wearing a hockey mask and wielding a chain-shaw inside.  The roof and walls don’t look entirely stable and I’m pretty sure a rodent ran across the floor.”

I made a quick executive decision that we wouldn’t visit the pit toilet ever and we all went off to find the shower house and flush toilets that the website told us were “close by.”

“Close by” ended up being about a quarter of a mile away, which isn’t horrible when camping.  What is horrible is walking into a shower house and seeing mold and dead things on the shower floor.

It may not surprise you to learn that none of us bathed this trip.  Sometimes remaining filthy is the cleanest option you have.

By this time, everyone was starving so we retreated hastily back to our campsite and had dinner.  Between the fire, the humidity, and the heat we were all sweaty by the time we had finished eating.  While taking a bite of his corn on the cob, my husband remarked, “It’s like having bubbles full of boiling water explode in your mouth.”  We unanimously decided to skip the smores because no one wanted to stand in front of the fire long enough to make them.

Darkness had descended and the bugs were out in force.  At this point, we could hear the other campers in the distance.  They were all young college kids, which made me feel instantly better.  Everybody knows that it’s the young, sexually promiscuous college kids who die first in a horror movie.  Not the middle aged, legally wed, forty-one year old herding three children to a minivan.

As the other campers quieted down, we could hear all the nocturnal animals waking up.  Trinity kept saying, “What’s that sound?” every few minutes in a slightly panicky voice.  Then Eden, who had been an unwilling participant in every camping activity thus far, hugged me around the waist and buried her face in my side.  I could feel her chin quiver and she choked out, “If I die before you do…I’m just going to miss you so much!”

As you can see, Gentle Reader, morale was high.

After a group trip to the shower house to visit the marginally sanitary toilets (the family that pees together, stays alive together) we headed back to our sleeping bags.

This is when we heard the coyotes off in the distance.  As we quickened our pace through what had become the tallest grass known to man, I kept muttering, “Darn it, darn it, darn it” under my breath.  (When I was telling this story to my friend, she laughed and said, “You weren’t really saying darn it, were you?” She knows me well.  Honesty compels me to admit it was another d word that I was saying.)

Between the sound of the coyotes, the heat, and the knowledge that I would never make it until daybreak without having to visit the bathroom again (curse you tiny bladder!), it is safe to say that I did not experience the sleep of angels.

In the morning things went smoothly enough.  No one showered but everyone had remembered their deodorant, so things were looking up for the Bunkersdown clan.

We had made reservations to take a ten mile canoe trip down Sugar Creek and all seemed well as we picked out our life jackets and paddles.  My son and I were going to paddle one canoe, while the husband and the girls went in another.

As I prepared to propel myself into the bobbing canoe, my son morphed into his alternate identity as the Tiny Professor and instructed me to have “three areas of reference inside the canoe before attempting to fully step in.”

These were wise words indeed, and I said them to myself each and every time I had to climb back into the blasted boat after being stuck on some freaking sandbar in the middle of the creek.

Apparently water levels were low.  And my butt is big.  Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, these are two things that do not go well together.

After traveling three long miles and having to carry our canoes eight or nine times, we gave up.  This was not canoeing, it was hiking while carrying a boat.  After we checked in our paddles and climbed aboard the bus that would take us back to camp, I realized that my capri pants were completely soaked and that mud fully encompassed all my southern extremities.

It was the filthiest I had ever been and there wasn’t a sanitary shower for miles.

This is when I turned to my husband and whimpered, “I cannot do this anymore, we are going home now.”

And like the wonderful man that he is, my husband packed up the tent and all the camping supplies while I ate low sodium Pringles and attempted to get a grip.

After returning home and showering (twice) I turned on the television and saw on the weather radar that a huge thunderstorm was pummeling the area we had just been camping in.  Heavy rainfall, gusty winds, possible hailstones, the whole nine yards.

This is when I realized three very important things.  First, things can always get worse.  Always.  Second, sometimes you catch a break.  Sometimes.  And third, never go camping in Indiana during July or August.  Never.

Posted in outings and trips | 6 Comments

Consoling words from a seven year old.

As a mom, there are many things I hoped my children would not inherit from my half of the gene pool:  my curly hair, my lousy metabolism, my emotional dependency on salty items.

And there are lots of things I had hoped my children would inherit from me: my curly hair (if you have curly hair you understand why it’s on both lists), my love of reading, and my talent for empathy.

For the longest time, it looked like I would be the only crybaby in the house.  You know, the one who tears up at hallmark cards or cancer center commercials.  The one who uses “mourn with those who mourn” as a personal mandate.  The one who began a lifelong career of crying during movies at age five when I watched Charlie Brown’s Snoopy Come Home.

And then Eden came along.

When Eden sobbed her way through the last ten minutes of Charlotte’s Web last spring (with me sniveling right beside her, might I add), I knew she was my daughter with the tender heart.

And it is true, while Eden rarely cries for herself, she will bawl her eyes out for someone else (fictional or real.)

She cries when her sister is sick (“Oh Mom, I just want her to get better!”), she cries when someone cuts up an old necktie as a visual aid in church (“Oh Mom, that poor, poor tie!”), she cries when Harry Potter sees his family in the mirror of Erised but can’t touch them (“Oh Mom, Harry needs a good family!”)

The girl has deep feelings.  Deeeeeep feelings for a seven year old.

This was displayed once again this past week.

The children had decided to watch the movie Cheaper By the Dozen on t.v. (a genius slapstick comedy with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt which is nothing like the book.  NOTHING LIKE THE BOOK.)

Towards the end of the movie, one of the 12 children watches his pet frog die and then decides to run away from home.  Eden immediately feels this boy’s pain at watching his beloved amphibian die and silent tears fall down her cheeks.

Meanwhile, I watch this movie mom discover that her son has run away and she doesn’t know where he is and I start sniffling.  Because not being able to find your kids is sad, people.  (At least, usually.)

At this point, the other members of our family can’t decide what is more entertaining, the movie or the sob-fest happening on the couch.  So Eden and I console ourselves with much hugging and back patting.

After the movie, and everyone had had calmed down somewhat, Eden brings me a piece of paper hastily folded into a card, created for the sole purpose of cheering me up.

On the front is a picture of a short girl with blond hair wearing a purple dress who is holding the hand of  bigger girl with curly brown hair and a decidedly square jaw.  Inside the card is the solemn promise:

I love you Mom.  I want nevr run owae.
Eden

In case you aren’t fluent in seven year old-ese, let me translate for you:  “I love you Mom.  I won’t ever run away.  Eden”  This little girl, in the middle of her own sadness, had noticed mine and wanted to make me feel better.

Some days, Gentle Reader, some days I am completely overwhelmed at how blessed I am.

This is one of those days.

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Posted in The Little Girl | 3 Comments

An overdue chat.

It’s been so long, Gentle Reader, since we’ve had a good, rambling (albeit one sided) chat, so let’s talk.  I’m imagining us standing on the banks of the pond in my neighborhood, throwing bread crusts to ducks swimming by, while keeping a wary eye on the slightly violent geese on the other side.  Oh, those geese.  So beautiful and yet so grouchy.

(By the way, it’s a wee bit humid, these days in Indianapolis, so please be a true friend and don’t mock the Nellie Olsen ringlets I’m rocking these days.  I’m not sure what is worse:  frizz or poodle worthy ringlets.)

You would have been so proud of me last night, friend.  I began a new book that turned out to be so delightful that I was well on my way to pulling an all nighter just to finish it.  However, a little after midnight I glanced at the clock and decided to be reasonable and responsible.  Which are two words I don’t normally ascribe to my reading habits.  So I put the book down, unfinished, and climbed into bed.

For my decidedly mature actions I was punished with a husband who tossed and turned all night in my bed, thus keeping me from being as rested as I should be.  Oh irony, you heartless wench.

It reminded me of that episode on How I Met Your Mother when Lily and Marshall get twin beds while at a bed and breakfast place and wind up having the most restful night of sleep they’ve had in years.  It’s okay if you don’t watch How I Met Your Mother, because I’m pretty sure this idea of married people having separate beds is used in an episode in every sitcom.  Kings of Queens had one, Rules of Engagement had one.  It’s a classic idea.  Probably, it has its own chapter in How to Write T.V. Sitcom Episodes For Dummies.

(This makes me sound like all I do is sit around on the couch watching television.  That is erroneous.  I also sit around on the couch reading books.)

But there is a reason this “separate beds for married people” plot is so used- there’s some truth in it.  I love my husband and I (usually) love the closeness that comes from sleeping in the same bed as him, but good gravy the man can hog some covers.  He also has an unnatural obsession with pillows.  There are four that he carefully situates every single night, but despite (or perhaps because of) his fastidiousness they inevitably cross the dividing line onto MY side.  (I, myself, only use three pillows, which I’m sure you recognize as being much more reasonable and normal.  And I am positive that with that small number of pillows I never encroach into his territory.)

My husband tries to tell me that married people should have all things in common- from money to bed space.  I agree with him on the money issues, but I am a firm advocate that just like good fences make good neighbors, clearly marked bed sides make good marriages.  Everyone needs a little space.  Even when they are unconscious.

Eventually, someday, many years from now, we’re going to get a king size bed which will be large enough to declare an official ‘neutral zone’ in the middle of the bed where all the pillows can be free to mingle without repercussions.  Until that day, I silently and sleeplessly seethe.

But despite being rather tired (and not from a good excuse like staying up to finish a great book), all is relatively well on the Bunkersdown front.

Last week I employed my signature ease-back-into-school routine by only having the kids work on a few subjects.  It’s very similar to my ease-into-a-swimming-pool routine.  No one cried (me included) so I would call our first week a howling success.  (The trick to homeschooling is to have low, easily attainable goals in the beginning such as “no crying” or “don’t kill anyone.”  It gives the illusion of success early on.)

This week I’m adding a couple of more subjects on the schedule, which means I’m moving from dipping my figurative toes in the education kiddie pool to being waist high in deep water.  I can still touch, but I see some big waves on the horizon coming my way.

Now let’s talk tomatoes, friends.  Are they or are they not, Nature’s perfect food?  (Taste-wise  I would say that Cheetos are Nature’s perfect food, but I’m pretty sure that nature has nothing to do with Cheetos.)  I love them so, so much.  Homemade salsa has made our weekly dinner rotation, which is fabulous, because not only is it delicious, it’s super easy to make and doesn’t heat up my house through oven use.

This year, despite the cooler temperatures and rain, our tomatoes are going strong.  I’m reasonably sure that I have canned enough salsa to make it through the upcoming winter so now I am trying my hand at preserving tomato soup.   My children gingerly tried my recipe the other day and declared it to be good.  Almost as good, they said, as Campbells.  (They didn’t add the “but not quite” bit but I could hear it in their voices.)

My chickens love tomatoes too.  I (very graciously, might I add) share the overly ripe or split tomatoes with my feathered ladies and they devour them in seconds.  Then they strut around, pouting outrageously and clucking how sad their lives are, because the tomatoes are all gone and only chunks of zucchini are left.  Apparently, even chickens have crosses to bear in life.

Speaking of crosses to bear, my son needs me to teach him the additive property of negative numbers so I must go.  But let’s chat again soon, eh?

(I hope you read that last sentence in a Canadian accent, because that’s exactly how I wrote it.  Sometimes you just need to channel your inner Canadian.  Robin Scherbatsky taught me that.)

 

 

Posted in stream of conscious chats | 7 Comments

Opinions, beliefs, and kindness.

I have changed my mind and my opinion many times in my life.

I take some pride in being able to say that.  James Russell Lowell once said, “The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions.”  I am neither foolish nor dead, and during my years on this planet I have learned and grown and passed through enough new experiences that the things I believed in my twenties are not always the things I believe in my forties.

Since my younger days I have switched political parties (not that I have much allegiance for any political figure, regardless of party.)  I have gone from leaning towards being pro-choice to leaning towards being pro-life.  I no longer believe that homosexuality is simply a choice, nor do I believe that little boys grow up to be gay because of how their mothers raise them, which were views I tended to accept in the early 90’s.  I have changed my mind so many times on the issue of raising the minimum wage that it’s miraculous I don’t have whiplash.  And, perhaps most poignant in light of recent tragic events, I no longer believe that depression is something you can merely talk, exercise, or pray yourself out of.  Sadness yes, but depression no.

There are some things that never change with me.  Certain core beliefs that are firm and steadfast, by which I steer myself through uncharted waters.

The one that seems most important today is this:  I believe in being kind.

This week I have seen people take a tragic death then use it for an opportunity to shout their personal opinions from every corner of the blogosphere.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with loudly proclaiming our personal opinions. I, myself, have raised my voice about a few issues in my life (Hello, modesty anyone?)

The problem comes when we’re so intent on delivering our message, so convinced that we are right, while others are wrong, that we stop being kind in the process.

There has been so much unkindness this week.

When a young woman who has just lost her father must turn away from social media because of the hate-spewed messages that she has received, then we know kindness has lost.

When bloggers, shock jocks, and news anchors take advantage of a tragic event using pithy headlines or ill-timed declarations designed to garner publicity and page views without thoroughly thinking through the consequences of their actions, then we know kindness has lost.

Frankly, I hate it when kindness loses because it means we all lose and the world is a darker place.

I have opinons, lots of them.  Over the course of my life many will change, and some will not.  I suspect you are the same.  Our view points and mindsets may differ, but that’s fine.  It makes the world interesting, all this diversity of thought.  I would never begrudge you your opinion nor ask you not to share it, if you feel strongly you should.

But I will simply ask you this:  as we share our beliefs, as varied and different as they are, let’s be kind.

(This is, no doubt, a naive thing to ask.  But that’s okay.  Today I believe in naive things.)

Posted in rantings and ravings | 3 Comments

Summer Tally.

School starts tomorrow.

Yes, The Bunkersdown Academy for Bright but Strange Children will be opening its doors tomorrow.  Let the pre-algebra mayhem begin!  (As I typed that my blood pressure rose fifteen points and my palms got all clammy.  <gulp> What have I gotten myself into?)

I made a deliberate decision this year to have a laid back, unscheduled summer as much as humanly possible.  I didn’t want to be racing back and forth between lessons and appointments.  Instead, I wanted us to have time to relax and read, time to play, and time to get bored and come up with new ideas.

For the most part, my plan was successful.  Yet despite our slower pace, I got several things done this summer.  Here, in an effort to make me feel confident and strong as I stand on the cusp of quadratic equations and coefficient variables, is a list of the things I accomplished during our ten week break.

31 pints of salsa canned.

8 jars of raspberry lime jam preserved.

5 quarts of tomato soup made.

10 pints of shrimp stock processed.

16 trips to the library taken.

47 books read.

3 family reunions attended.

3 states visited.

30 weeks of U.S. history lessons mapped out.

36 chemistry classes planned and organized. (Please don’t let us blow anything up.)

250 future spelling words chosen and written down.

4 notebooks, 2 binders, and 3 folders readied for school, while 20 pencils haven been sharpened.

2 trips to the apple orchard taken (and 2 apple cider slushes consumed.)

10 private lessons for my reluctant offspring on how to correctly load the dishwasher taught.

6 long swim meets, complete with loud cheering and numb bottoms, attended.

28 episodes of How I Met Your Mother watched.

1 fabulous Kongos Lunatic c.d. purchased.

4 family members forced to listen to the above c.d. over and over until they were converted.

5 dates with the husband taken and enjoyed.

8 loaves of bread baked.

4 pounds of mozzarella cheese made.

16 new dinner recipes (13 successful, 3 not so much) attempted.

3 children repeatedly loved, encouraged, chastised, disciplined, and hugged.

Whew!  It has been a busy summer.  Surely, if I can accomplish all those things in just ten weeks, I can handle teaching a twelve year old boy some higher math.

Right?

Right?

Hold me, Gentle Reader, hold me.

Posted in lists | 2 Comments

It’s summer and the eating is fine.

I love eating in the summer.

(In complete honesty, I love eating all year round.  You don’t get the hips I have without a strong, multi-seasonal commitment to food.)

But in the summer, food just tastes better.  There are homegrown tomatoes and corn on the cob that was harvested five hours before I cook it.  I have fresh basil in my garden, there are raspberries we pick in the early morning before the sun becomes too hot, and our friend gives us gorgeous little heads of broccoli from her mother’s garden.

Once you eat a tomato still warm from the sun, or an ear of sweet corn that was growing in a field only a few hours before you cook it, it is impossible to go back to the bland, available-any-time-of-the-year, grocery store varieties.  So I don’t.  We only eat tomatoes and corn on the cob in the summer.  I’d rather gorge myself on the real deal for a few months out of the year than go back to eating sub-par products year round.

All of this means that lately we’ve been eating tomatoes every single day.  Our plan is to gorge ourselves on them and about the time we’re completely sick of tomatoes and never want to see another one again, it will be fall and tomato season will be over.

(My oldest daughter would like me to tell you that she’s already tomatoed out and if you could please send her an apple or orange, she would be extremely thankful.)

Here are my two favorite things to do with tomatoes:

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Homemade caprese salad.  I grew the tomatoes and basil myself and then I took it one step further and made my own mozzarella cheese.  (It takes 25 minutes to make your own mozzarella, and it is worth every.  single.  second.  This cheese making kit here makes it easy-peasy lemon squeezy.)  Additionally, this dish tastes even better when you have a seven year old who tries to say “caprese salad” in an Italian accent whenever you make it for dinner.  I’m not sure why that is.

 

Homemade tomato and corn salad, which I love with all my middle aged heart.  I have been known to have intense cravings for this simple dish in January when the snow blows and the temperatures drop.  The recipe couldn’t be easier.  Some chopped tomatoes, with all their delicious, tomatoey juice, leftover cooked corn cut off the cob, chopped up onions (any kind), lime juice, salt and pepper to taste, and cilantro- if you’re lucky enough to not live with the cilantro police.  My kids won’t eat this unless I leave it out.  They are real cilantro buzz kills.

So there you have it, my favorite ways to eat tomatoes.

….

….

Why are you still here?  Go!  Eat tomatoes like the wind!  Viva la tomate!

 

Posted in In the kitchen | 2 Comments