Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One Tough Mama

I have been working on this post, for over a week. Not because I didn't want to share it, but because I wanted to find the perfect words. The truth is, sometimes words escape us. Sometimes there is no perfect.

I want to say that I lost my mother. But I know where she is, she's in heaven. I want to share the fact that my mother passed away. But it wasn't a passing, it feels more as if she was forcefully ripped from me. 

I want to say that she's gone. But she's here with me, with every plant I touch. She looks back at me from the mirror, and she's with me as I sit at table - back to the window, warming in the sun, just like her.

The unadorned truth is, my mother died, suddenly, on August 26th. She wasn't sick or suffering and she didn't get too old. She was 66, and while she had medical issues – they were nothing that suggested that her days were limited. Nor were they the cause of her death. She was there, in her kitchen, getting a batch of zucchini relish ready for canning. And then she was gone.

My mother wasn't a saint, she was human. And she wasn't a teacher by trade, but she she taught me. She taught me how to can jellies and relishes, how to garden, how to work hard in the church, and how to love. She taught me about butterflies, beneficial versus parasitic insects, how to choose a ripe cantaloupe, and how to use a bread bag to waterproof inexpensive winter boots when your means don't quite meet your needs. She taught me how to stretch a grocery budget, how to fold a bedsheet, how to say a bedtime prayer, and how to track down ancestors long-gone. She taught me how to sing as if the tune didn't matter, and to dance with reckless abandon. She taught me that strawberry shortcake was an acceptable dinner on hot summer evenings, and that homemade soup would cure anything but cancer.

My mother wasn't perfect, she was perfect-for-me. She was hard when she needed to be, and soft when she could. The strictest mom on the block... and the first one out the door with band-aids and fruit juice when she heard a cry of distress. When I disobeyed, it was rarely the hard spankings of my father I feared, it was the silence from my mother that steered me. And when we disagreed – which we did often, as two strong-willed women should, even when I never “came round” to her way of seeing things – I could still see that her way was borne of love.

I could tell you that at her funeral, there were so many flowers that I could barely find my way up onto the platform for a reading. I could tell you that it smelled like a garden, and how appropriate that seemed for a Master Gardener of over 25 years. I could tell you how my sister and I, before the service, took feather Monarchs and tucked butterflies into each arrangement in honor of "Madame Butterfly" and how the ceiling fans made them look as if they were fluttering. What a palty summary that would be, of the palpable sorrow that hung heavy in the air alongside the love I could feel with every breath of perfumed air I took in.
I could tell you how the honor guard played Anchors Aweigh as we lifted her from her final car ride – how it was the only time I ever remember not singing along, as Mom loved that song so very much. I could explain how I refused to cover my ears during her 21 gun-salute, and how a butterfly chased the breeze as they played Taps. I could tell you how I watched with each fold of her flag, thinking, “those corners are NOT tight enough for Mom! She's a color-guard... they need to be TIGHTER!” I could try to put into words how honored I felt to see so many decorated heroes, far older than her, there to say goodbye to MY mom. But this would be a poor summary of how my heart dropped to my shoes with each volley, or of the wrenching gasp that escaped as I failed to stand in perfect silence.
What I can tell you, is that my mother taught me how to live. She taught me to work hard. She taught me to love harder. She taught me relentless tenacity for what I believe in, and to endlessly love those I care for. While I can't yet say that I am “okay”, what I can say is that I will be. Because I am, who my mother taught me to be... and that's
I love you Mummy.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Another Year of Homeschool, Another Organization Method

Since we first started our homeschooling journey in 2001, we have begun every year with a freshly organized school area. Some years that has been a desk-and-shelf combination, occasionally it's been a pair of secondhand desks, and most recently it's been a simple shelf of supplies.

This year, I fell in love with THIS rolling cart, (found via Pinterest)  and thought that having mobile supplies would be a great option for two teens who school anywhere from the living room to the back deck. I checked out Poppit, the site the original blogger purchased all her lovely color-coordinated supplies, and nearly choked when my shopping cart came to $120. That was BEFORE I added the cost of the cart itself!

Refusing to pay that much, but still wanting a pretty color-coordinated space, I started exploring pretty colors and organizational options. $75 and a trip to IKEA and the dollar store later, this is what I came up with. The dry erase boards on the wall are homemade Photoshopped images that have been in our living area for four years now. The glass frame works better than a standard dry erase board, and looks so much better than a blank white rectangle on my wall.

The cart, is the famous RASKOG kitchen cart from IKEA that has taken the blogging universe by storm. All the little pails, baskets, and containers? They're ALL from Dollar Tree!

The pails on the wooden stand, are "book-dumps". Regardless of where we school or how we organize things, piles of books tend to get "dumped" at random places around the house. Now, they can easily carry their books from room to room - and put them back again, when they're finished for the day.

In the top shelf of the cart, I placed our pens, pencils, scissors, markers, and other essentials in 13 individual metal mesh cups. Each of my teens has their own shelf below this, color-coordinated with:

* a bin for small notepads, calculators, and other necessities (including their own oversized sticky-notes!)
* two lidded sandwich-containers to hold stickers, erasers, paperclips, and other tiny essentials
* a metal pail with color-coordinating pens, mechanical pencils and gel-pens
* a single color-coordinated notebook (for scratch-paper & notetaking since most of their work is done elsewhere)
* and a can of Silly String... for their annual First Day of School lunchbreak.
The binders in the back hold their current unit of assignments and essays, to be filed in their permanent binder at the end of each unit. 

It may not be exactly like my inspiration photo, but I am SO pleased with how this turned out! I put it together for the kids while they were out visiting their grandparents, and surprised them with it already set up when they returned.

We've certainly come a long way from our school corner being a set of bookshelves piled high with play-doh, tree blocks and musical instruments!

Friday, June 20, 2014

June Garden Update

I just couldn't leave things with a sad story about my garden, when things are looking so great out there. Yes, I'm completely frustrated with the loss of my bamboo poles, but look at what I have to be thankful for!

In the NorthEast corner, the pumpkins have taken over their blue bin and are finally putting out dozens of tendrils to grow UP! The carrots are about 2" tall now, and all have that downy "fuzziness" that baby carrot tops have.

The basil, oregano & thyme are all growing extremely well, and we've already harvested  a heap of lemonbalm for tincture & tea. And our marigolds & alyssum smell so pretty as we're going in and out the door!

In the NorthWest corner, I lost two seedling melons to the pole-thieves, but the rest of them are finally about 4" tall and are starting to look hopeful. The carrots are the same 2" here as on the other side, and we can now see our nice neat rows of lettuce coming through. My peppers are starting to yellow because of ALL the rain we've had... but I have hope that they'll spring back, given a few days of dry weather. I've already counted at least a dozen blossoms, and can see the beginning swells of 8 different peppers!

In the tomato bins, things are looking wonderful. Four of the six bins are nearly tall enough to overgrow the metal cages, which are 4' high. And the plants are prolific enough it's hard to count blossoms - but I KNOW I've seen several dozen for sure!

In the SouthWest corner, my beans have tendrils running JUST higher than my head. No blossoms yet, but these are my favorite never-fail variety so I'm awaiting their purple blooms any day now.

In the SouthEast corner, the cucumbers are nearly 2' tall now, putting out dozens of tendrils and hundreds of leaves. These too are looking mildly waterlogged, so I'm hoping they spring back from all the rain... my cucumbers tend to be one of my pickier plants, but these are SO large and healthy that I'm not worried at all. And the chives have already been trimmed for several wrap-sandwiches and are growing very well also.

 And running along the South edge, our second harvest of carrots were planted yesterday, and our mint has already been harvested for dinner earlier this week: vegan chocolate mint milkshakes! We can't WAIT to enjoy those again!

I am so grateful that all of our plants have weathered the storms so well, and can't wait to see what this year's harvest will be! We're praying that the squirrels share some of our tomatoes with us, but are hopeful... and ready to let the dog loose to chase them off if needs-be!

The NERVE of some people!

I could just scream this morning, because of the nerve of some people!

We have had historic storms and rainfall all this month, and I've been biting my fingernails each morning, praying that nothing in the garden is damaged. This morning, I woke up to find THIS in my melon planter.

See the five ugly holes? See a distinct lack of bamboo poles? My husband & I hunted around in case the wind did it, but they're nowhere to be seen. And with the way the soil is disturbed, (wind direction is always from the other direction in our yard!) I can tell you - the wind didn't do this, they were stolen.  Someone STOLE the 8' bamboo poles, RIGHT OUT OF MY PLANTER!

What baffles me, is HOW did they get to these? We don't have stairs to this back deck, they would have had to scale the sheer side. And WHAT are they going to DO with my poles? Vandalism runs rampant in the neighborhood, and I can only imagine the damage a handful of teens could do with these.

The police have been, and promised that if I see anyone with them, he'll come and get them back for me. He also promised he'd drive around and try to find them himself, and keep an eye out for them over the next few days. Honestly? Somehow I'm doubting I'll ever see these again. I'm PRAYING I don't see them through someone's house or car window... or worse yet, run through some teen with a mock jousting-match turned horribly wrong.

It's days like this, when the urge to move to middle-of-nowhere Colorado becomes absolutely unbearable. Seriously, who raises their kids to think this is okay? Who would ever think this IS okay? 

Friday, June 13, 2014

A new wreath!

I have been without a summertime front door wreath for awhile now, and foundering for ideas. Then the other day, I saw THIS WREATH on Pinterest & knew what my new wreath would look like!

To make this, I crocheted yarn onto of all things - a POOL NOODLE that was duct-taped into a circle! It took about an hour, and then all I did was tie large gingham bows onto one corner & poked a few daisies into the noodle.

I love how simple this one is, but I also love how easy it was to make! And because I had everything but the flowers on hand, it cost less than $2 to make!

The rest of our summertime decorations haven't changed much for the past few years, but I do have a few places that look quite different this year. On the shelves near our entry, our "beach corner" is starting to spread out a bit, and on the shoe-shelf  I FINALLY have the Willow Tree display of "our family" all together!

I fell in love with the Willow Tree figurines the year they came out, but haven't really been in a position to pick many of them up. When individual people started coming out, I began daydreaming of having a small group of figurines that signified our family. Now as we enter the house, we're greeted by this simple but happy display!

Summertime is a time for dandelion bouquets on the table, and veggies growing on the deck. NOT a time for enormously elaborate displays all about the house. It's also a time to begin working on some serious crafting... which I'll be sharing REALLY soon!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Politicrap" and the companies that just won't listen

I have a VERY serious rant, about political & "nonprofit" mail.

Last November, after two full years of trying to explain to my father-in-law that he cannot give away literally tens of thousands of dollars per year to various organizations, we had his mail permanently routed to our house so we could deal with his mail ourselves.

Little did we know exactly how much there actually was. To begin with, we were receiving between 5 and 11 pieces of mail PER DAY requesting money. And for six full months, for EVERY SINGLE piece of mail we received, I called the number listed, explained that they were asking for money from a vulnerable senior on a fixed income with memory issues, and asked them to stop sending mail.

Every single one of them... let me repeat that, EVERY SINGLE ONE of them apologized profusely, and promised that they would immediately take him off of their mailing lists. Nearly all of them cautioned me that it would take 6-10 weeks for his name to be completely erased due to pre-printed labels... so I labeled the envelopes, waited a full 12 weeks, and then had my husband repeat the calls to all the companies who were still sending us mail - using his Power of Attorney to demand that they stop contacting us. After he made a single call to each company, I began calling again with the new mail, this time demanding to speak to supervisors, and giving people an earful about what I thought of their continued mailings, and repeating the demand that they stop sending letters while reminding them that my husband WITH POWER OF ATTORNEY had already insist that they stop. 

Last month, SIX FULL MONTHS after we started having his mail forwarded, this is what one month of mail looks like. All bills and typical sales-ads have been removed, this is JUST the religious & political mail.

That's 30 pieces of mail; nearly one for every day of the month. Every single one of them, requesting his money.

By the numbers, these are the companies that have refused our repeated requests to stop harassing an elderly VULNERABLE ADULT, AFTER being told of his memory issues, and that he's living on a fixed income not able to donate to ANYONE ever again due to the 5-Year Lookback Law... AND after each and every one of these has REPEATEDLY promised me they will NOT be sending any more mail in his name. 

The political groups that do not honor their promises are: 
* Republican Leadership - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $30.
* NCPSSM - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $12.
* Aaron Miller for Congress - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Dave Hann for Senate - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $10. 
* Torrey Westrom for Congress - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Mike McFadden for Senate - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $50 total. 
And bringing up the wall-of-shame for political mail was
* Rand Paul... a senator from KENTUCKY - sent 3 letters, asking for at LEAST $150 total! 

In religious groups, this is who refused to honor their promises: 
* Wycliffe - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Navigators - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $20.
* Life Outreach International - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $27. 
* Open Doors - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* Biblica - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $10. 
* Chosen People International - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $15. 
* International Fellowship of Christians & Jews - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $17. 
* FRC Action - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $25. 
* One Hope - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $50. 
*  Focus on the Family - sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $9.95. 
* American Family Association -sent 1 letter, asking for at LEAST $35. 
* Hillsdale College - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $35. 
* Campus Crusade for Christ - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $50 total. 
* ACLJ - sent 2 letters, asking for at LEAST $90 total. 
And bringing up the shameful practice of failing to deliver on their promise to stop exploiting the elderly was
* Billy Graham - who sent 3 letters all asking for money... while not suggesting a specific amount. 

I have heard people say that these mailings are random. My response to that is, baloney. I have not EVER received mail from ANY of these associations. And even while all this was coming in for my father-in-law, we STILL never received a single piece from any of these companies, in our own name. 

Shame on you. Shame on you ALL. Your practices of preying on the elderly and vulnerable, ESPECIALLY after being TOLD an individual is a legally defined vulnerable adult, disgusts me.

I only pray that those who read this, take note of these groups and refuse to support them, as they obviously do not honor their own word. Perhaps if enough people were to take note, they would be forced to honor their own word and not exploit the helpless.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Egypt: When Study Becomes a Party

Every once in awhile, you just need to have fun for no reason at all. As my daughter is finishing her sophomore year of homeschooling, she had to study Egypt for one final time before graduation.

Being rather feminine and softhearted, she has a hard time with the concept of mummies. Every time we visit a museum with mummies, she will refuse to enter their room. But we HAD to study them before graduation, so the question was HOW do we do it without needlessly horrifying her?

Enter Pinterest, and the neverending homeschool options of those who have gone before us. We found a Youtube clip of a little boy mummifying a Barbie doll, and decided to turn her studies into one giant "Let's Mummify Barbie" party. When all was said and done, the party ended up covering 11 different assignments, and was a ton of fun to put together.

On our front door, which was flanked by giant potted ferns, was a cartouche spelling out "WELCOME" in hieroglyphics.

Once you entered the living room, a sun-shelter had been altered with gold curtain sheers and tiebacks, to look like a desert oasis tent complete with ferns, reclining cushions, (body pillows) and a low table.

The ceiling of the tent was hung with glass globes holding tealights, and a paper chandelier that took an entire afternoon to make, but was well worth the effort.

To one side of the doorway, we placed a diorama of the Nile River that my daughter painstakingly put together, and an infographic about Hatshepsut; one of the lesser-known female Pharaohs.

The vases were made by spray-painting tea bottles; first in aqua paint, then in gold glitter paint! Every time you looked at them, they appeared to be shimmering.

To the other side of the doorway, was "Cleopatra's Beauty Station.

We printed various photos of Cleopatra's eyes, and each girl had their own eyeliner pencil to try and recreate the effect. To wash up afterwards, there was a homemade Dead Sea mud and honey mask, with the washcloths carefully tied and arranged in a pyramid.

Each girl went home with a bottle of homemade honey body wash, and a jar of homemade milk bath... so they could bath in milk and honey "just like Cleopatra".

Another quick craft and take-home that they did, was to use hieroglyphic rubber stamps, to stamp their names onto actual Egyptian papyrus sheets.

Who knew... even sells papyrus!

For snacking, the girls reclined at the table and tried date-balls, Egyptian-style lemonade, and hibiscus tea along with fruit kebabs, cheese & vegetables with hummus, and cupcakes with Toblerone "Pyramids" on top.

The Egyptian lemonade was very well-received, while the hibiscus tea was deemed "weird and not yukky, but not great."

The girls loved mummifying Barbie. They went through the steps preparing her body for interment, and decided that the best way to remove her brain was NOT to pull then out through her nose - but to remove her head, and pull them out through her neck.

They made intestines, a stomach, and a pancreas out of play-doh to stuff into canopic (painted film canisters) jars, wrapped her tightly with linen strips, and tossed her unceremoniously into the "golden sarcophagus" my daughter had created.

The girls also mummified each other, with rolls of toilet-paper, and then begged me to wrap them into an enormous four-headed mummy... all while laughing uproariously.

Bedtime didn't happen until around 1am, and all four girls were exhausted at church the next day, but somehow I have a feeling this is one school project none of them are likely to forget anytime soon.