Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I can and I can't believe that it has been so long since I've posted anything. I'm having to let go of my earlier dreams of writing everyday and lower my expectations of what I'm able to accomplish as I prepare for this move. One week and three days from today our family will wake up, rev up a moving truck and transfer life, as we know it, to another state.
This is a good thing. This is something that we have thought about, prayed about, and discussed with our friends and family. This move is the right thing for our family to do. But it is hard.
There is the practical hardness--the packing, the organizing, the logistics, the details. And that, alone, is tiring. But then there is the emotional hardness, which I have only recently begun to tune into. This leaving business is hard.
I'm sure writing about all of this would have been helpful, but I've avoided the discipline. Right now I'm just going to push through.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We rode the Pink Pig!

Well, we finally took part in an Atlanta Christmas tradition today. Here's a little blurb to bring you up to speed.

From its 1953 debut as a children’s ride at the downtown Rich’s to its brief stint at the Egleston Children’s Hospital Festival of Trees, four generations of Atlantans have ridden the pink pig into the holiday season. And, millions have worn “I Rode the Pink Pig” stickers with pride. The original Pink Pig – Priscilla – was a monorail giving children an elevated view of the store’s toy department. Later, another pig – Percival – was added and the two could be found on the store’s roof, encircling the Great Tree.

Re-introduced in 2003, Priscilla, the Pink Pig carries on the family tradition beneath a 170-foot, 1950s-themed Pink Pig Tent at the Lenox Square upper-level parking deck. Sponsored by Macy’s, the ride travels along train tracks to carry children and parents through a life-sized storybook that includes the original Pink Pig, greendog and other holiday friends. Macy’s donates a portion of the proceeds to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

A beloved holiday tradition adored by generations of Atlantans for more than 50 years, the Pink Pig was voted Best Holiday Tradition by Atlanta Magazine!!!

We've seen the white tent in the parking lot of Macy's for years now but only this year did Aidan ask to check it out. We hadn't even gotten close to that mall (I can't even remember the last time I went to a mall, come to think of it) but once talk of Christmas began, he remembered on his own accord. Although not the most thrilling ride of my life, it was decent enough and the boys seemed to enjoy it. The graphics and "pink-ness" of it all certainly weren't my style, but it seemed imperative that we take part in something so quintessentially Atlanta before we move.


Well, a lot has happened since I last wrote. So much for the everyday blogging I was going to attempt. I must admit, breaking the camera really crimped my style and I still haven't recovered. I didn't go near the computer for over a week and then when I did, I didn't check email or attempt to write anything. Maybe I just needed a break. I don't know. Amazingly, despite my funk, life went on! Aidan can now ride a two wheeler! (This picture is courtesy of Diane's camera) He still requires some help getting started off but he is now perfecting the moving turn and breaking with the pedals, not by crashing or falling. Actually, he has yet to have any major collision or upset. It's totally reflective of his personality, though. Mr. Safety. But still, he is an amazingly even rider without even so much as a wobble.
I don't know who's more excited sometimes. I have caught myself hollering with incredible gusto, to the point of Aidan's embarrassment, I'm sure. He"ll need to get used to that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Surprised by Color

"Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree."
Emily Bronte

It's amazing. Despite the historical drought we are experiencing, autumn in Atlanta is stunning. Last week has burned into this week and suddenly our street is aflame. It's amazing. I don't remember the colors being this vivid in the history of my time here. And though I, too, pray for rain to fall I will be content
for now
with the falling

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This week's adventure

Again, if only my camera wasn't broken!!!! AARRGGHH!!

Last week it was reading. This week, it is bike riding. That's right. As in without training wheels. Yesterday, Aidan got his bike out of the garage and discovered that his training wheels had gotten all out of whack. I'm not sure what happened to them because I didn't see any major collision or accident when he was riding his bike the day before. Nevertheless, when he started riding he wobbled back and forth. I offhandedly said, "Gosh, if it's that wobbly you might as well take the training wheels off." I truly wasn't trying to start something but, to my utter surprise, Aidan jumped at the idea. "Alright. I'll do it," he said.
Now, you must understand, whenever I've ever alluded to such a proposition in the past it has been met with nothing short of hostility. So, for obvious reasons, I had stopped bringing it up.
After I double and triple checked that Aidan was really up for this we then did the deed. He was so excited to put on his helmet and then hop up on a true two wheeler. And I swear he looked 3 inches taller.
We proceeded to practice "riding" for about 30 minutes. I only let go for a few seconds here and there and most of the time he didn't know when I had. I suppose I wasn't interested in watching him fall off his bike a million times on the first day. We'll save that for a little later on this week. I finally had to cry "uncle" when my lower back all but gave out with one major spasm. He was sad to stop but he was very gracious about it and understood.
The thing that amazed me about all of this was his attitude. Never before have I seen him make up his mind so decisively and follow through so completely. I truly believe that he thought that it was very possible that he might actually pull this off in one day. And if my back was worth more than mush, I believe he could have too.
This was all him, again. It's just fascinating to see how quickly he advances, no matter what the subject or task, when he is in charge of the pace, method, or direction. This adventure in learning at home is truly an education for me, as well. Learning to trust my son and his abilities is one of the hardest things I've ever done. But the reward for doing so is beautiful. I get to see my son shimmer.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We have a date!

Well, after all of the soul searching, researching, praying, meditating, ruminating, dreaming and wondering it appears that our time in Atlanta has now become finite. John's last day as an employee of the Georgia Justice Project will be December 31. Technically, the office is closed from Christmas through New Year's Day so his last day will actually be the day before Christmas. Which means that we will be moving to St. Louis, Missouri sometime during that last week of December.
I think I'm still in shock, despite the fact that I've already started taking care of details. It's just kind of strange to suddenly be staring in the face all that you've been talking and planning for over the past year and a half. We're not talking of things in some distant far off future anymore--we're talking of our reality in just over 6 weeks!!!!!
And how in the world do I really begin the process of closing out a chapter of my life that has been 17 years in the writing? I have now lived in Atlanta (when you include my four years at Emory) as many years as I ever lived in St. Louis. That's phenomenal. Despite the fact that I was born and lived in the same city my "whole life", my entire adult life (college, single life, marriage, children) has been carved out here in Atlanta. I now say y'all without blinking an eye, I truly believe that Spring begins in March and lasts until June, I never hope for snow on Christmas anymore--or all winter, for that matter, I think nothing of driving over 15 miles to see a friend, and my midwestern accent no longer exists. I've got Atlanta smeared all over me! This city has become my home.
So how do you move "home" when you already have a home?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pumpkin update

I can't believe my camera's not working. You would love how crazy the boys' pumpkins look. Aidan's fell off its perch within a day and August's looks like the wicked witch of the west after Dorothy threw water on her. The main benefactor of our backyard experiment seems to be ants. They moved in almost immediately and have been slowly munching away at the pumpkin flesh. It would be interesting to see how the pumpkins decomposed in a compost pile as compared to how they do it by themselves. Regardless of their setting, it is still pretty interesting.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The value of work

This post is about me today.

While the boys played outside this morning I decided to rake some leaves. Talk about an exercise in futility! The leaves have only just begun to fall here and, if you cast your eyes heavenward, you can see that there are plenty more where the ones you're raking came from. Nevertheless, my anal retentive self took pleasure in the momentary tidiness.
I've noticed that some of my best thinking occurs during these mundane tasks (raking, showering, scrubbing the toilet) and that has helped me to view such responsibilities in a new light. I'm starting to welcome them, actually. As much as I love being with my boys, it is incredibly time and energy consuming and there's not a whole lot of time for higher level thinking on my part. I can get away with this for awhile, but if left unchecked, I become a babbling moron. I will be the first to admit that I am not the town intellectual but I am also not the village idiot. I do have a brain and I do like to use it on occasion. The problem occurs when I try to shift gears on a whim. I overhear some stimulating conversation--I can't think exactly where I might hear said conversation, but just stay with me--and I want to chime in. But it's as if there are only vapors to burn, not honest to goodness combustible fuel. This happens more often than I would like to admit. But I have found that this is exactly why the everyday tasks that require no thinking on my part, but rather simple repetitive motions, are so valuable. These often loathed chores are now something I welcome because they provide me with something that is so rare: time to just think. I need time to let the dust settle and then for thoughts, ideas, and inspiration to emerge. This only happens when you have time to think of nothing and something to occupy your hands. I need this more often since I can't recall all the new insights I gained this morning, but you get the gist. I'll get back to when I remember my incredible plans.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Could it really be a second Good Day?

When I woke up this morning I was still buzzing from yesterday's "good day." It was just such an encouragement to my soul to watch pure learning take place. I was just planning on milking that experience for all it was worth, not expecting to get such a high again any time soon.

And then there's my Aidan. What I have managed to learn thus far in our "learning at home" adventure is that you don't push anything on him. Relaying information to him is successful almost exclusively through natural conversation and interaction. Whenever I strike a pose that singles me out as "TEACHER" and him as "STUDENT", it never goes well. It's like he can see straight through that charade and he just shuts down and moves on. He craves personal connection, not didactic gymnastics. Which is wonderful because ever since I recognized that learning at home was for us, I've never been able to find a curriculum that I felt fit. It has become more and more obvious to me that we are eclectic, relaxed, and ever evolving home based learners. We fit in no proverbial box and we are constantly responding to the day as it unfolds. In that environment we all seem to shine.

So that's the set up. It was 2:45 this afternoon. I had just finished an hour of house work that I had insisted that the boys allow me to complete. "It's not my job to think of what you should do with yourselves while I do what I need to do," were my parting words. Both boys retreated to their bedroom to look at books or magazines or play with blocks. I was true to my word and checked back in with them after an hour. I offered to do a 96 piece puzzle with Aidan and as we finished he casually said, "I can write the word 'cat' in lowercase letters." "Show me," I said. We went to his table. He proceeded to do as he said he could do. I then told him that if he could spell "cat" then he could spell "bat." He cocked his head at me and I could see him trying to figure that out. I then reminded him that cat and bat rhyme and thus, they are spelled the same. When he realized that the only letter that changed was the first his face lit up like a Christmas tree. He then went on to spell "mat, hat, rat, fat and sat." I then decided to push my luck and write out "The fat rat sat on a hat" and I proceeded to ask him to read it. The look on his face was priceless. "Read it? Who me?" is what his eyes seemed to be saying. But then he looked down at what I had written and proceeded to sound it out, even the "sight" words "The" and "on."

I'm still buzzing. How great is this? To witness the birth of new found knowledge as it is actually emerging from the womb of someone's brain is truly a miracle and a privilege.

And I didn't do anything! It was all Aidan.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Good Day

Although I know it will not always be like this--heck, I've already experienced enough days not like this to know that--today was a good day. Good in that I was able to witness, in a very relaxed way, the ability of my children to dictate what and how they learn. I couldn't help but shake my head when I looked at the clock and realized that by 7:30 a.m., Aidan had already shown me what he knew regarding geography, national and state monuments, and an assortment of math concepts. It was such a fluid and natural course that I had to just step back and watch it go.

Since the time change, we wake up about 6:30ish, which is fine with me because I am a morning person. The house was still quiet so we decided to read on the sofa. August woke up and joined us with his early morning good natured self. We began reading a book titled Z is for Zookeeper by Marie and Roland Smith. This has been a good book to read to both boys at the same time because it has two reading levels included for each letter of the alphabet. An example is the easy verse for the letter P. "P is for Penguins jumping in the pool. A zookeeper's job is keeping them cool." This is sing-song-y in a way that engages August but in the margin they have much more detailed information regarding penguins--their habitats, eating habits, how they care for them in the zoo, etc. that engages Aidan. So in reading this passage about penguins this morning we learned that there are 17 different species of penguins and all of them are found in the southern hemisphere. I casually asked him if he knew what the southern hemisphere was. He said that he didn't. So then I asked him if he remembered how on his globe there was a line that went around the middle of the planet. Yes, he did. So then I explained that everything above that line was in the northern hemisphere and below, in the southern. A moment of silence as everything was assimilated and then Aidan said, "There's a line like that on the globe that goes over where St. Louis is." I wasn't sure where he was going with this so we went and got his little globe (great buy from the Target dollar bin!). He found St. Louis and pointed to what , sure enough, was a line crossing directly over the city horizontally. This led into a discussion about lines of latitude and longitude and other geographical terms. He then asked if we could look up information about the state of Missouri that was on the website that we had looked at a couple of days ago.

So, to make a long story short, I let him explore the website on his own while I went to make breakfast. He kept calling me in to tell him about what he found or to tell me something that he was able to figure out on his own from pictures or symbols. After awhile on that, he then picked up this great book that I got at our neighborhood thrift store for $2 titled Anno's Math Games by Mitsumasa Anno. It is such a fun book. As the writer explains in his notes to parents and teachers, "While many people equate mathematics with arithmetic, its real meaning relates to much more than merely manipulating numbers. Above all, it represents a way of thinking about things."
Aidan totally gets this book and I think it will serve him well as an introduction to the world of math. He "read" through it until his waffle was ready. All of this before breakfast and it was all so natural. This is what this journey is all about and I am loving every minute of it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A website for you

If I could get away with it, I would spend a great majority of my time looking at the world around me like the folks at Hilton Pond, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to education, research, and conservation. The man who started it, Bill Hilton, Jr., was a graduate student in ornithology who relocated to South Carolina from Minnesota in order to teach high school biology. He and his family bought a farm and the rest is history. Bill has a nature blog titled This Week at Hilton Pond. The writing is extensive and thorough and the pictures are amazing. He writes weekly so make sure to check back from time to time.


Well, I've already managed to slip up and miss a day of blogging for National Blog Posting Month. I certainly didn't mean to, honestly. Last night I was all set to snuggle into bed and write about our day at the park, complete with pictures and the usual commentary, but John was using the computer when I was ready. Although he promised that he wouldn't take long, the next thing I knew, I had crawled under the covers and fallen asleep.

It was 9:00.

Granted, it was the first day of Daylight Savings and my body felt like it was 10:00, but really. I haven't gone to bed that early since... I can't remember. So, I woke up today and realized what had happened. Oh well, so I won't get a chance to win a random price. I'm trying not to let my slip up knock the wind out of me. I would like to continue to write something everyday as I think its good for me.

On another note, I dropped my camera yesterday and the top part of the button you push to take pictures popped off. It will still turn on and off, you can zoom in and out and you can view pictures you've already taken--you just can't take any pictures. AAUUGGHH!! I have come to love that little camera and especially love how it adds to this blog endeavor. I sincerely hope that I can either find that little top in my driveway (Daddy, where are you when I need you?) or that it can be repaired.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What is this?

Can anyone tell me what this is? It's some kind of crazy huge weed that shows up in our yard every year at the end of summer/beginning of fall. It's about 3-4 feet in height (yes, we let it get that high! Although John and I have differing views than some of our neighbors on exactly how long you can go before you must cut the stuff growing on your property, this thing does grow in a part of the yard that is not really "lawn" per se), it has a deep cranberry colored stalk as well as stems, large hosta looking leaves and, to the kids utter delight, these dark purple berries that grow like grapes. The kids have been warned, beyond what is reasonable probably, that these beautiful purple orbs are VERY POISONOUS. I don't know that to be true since I don't know what the heck this plant is, but it's obviously better to land on the side of the living than the alternative. Although I would like to be able to identify this plant by it's correct name to my children , they could care less. These berries have been the secret ingredient in their huge pot of mud soup, mini bombs thrown at an apparent enemy, and a general all purpose fun thing to squish at every opportunity. I, personally, would love to use it as a natural dye in something because its color is truly exquisite. But I would also love to know what it is. Anyone? Just post it in the comments section if you know.

Pumpkin experiment

We have decided to do a pumpkin experiment. The boys both picked places to place their pumpkins in our crazily overgrown backyard and both pumpkins ended up on top of tree stumps, interestingly enough. The plan is to watch them deteriorate and see what critters take advantage of their strategic placement. This is a risky endeavor, I suppose, since we have spotted rats in our yard before (okay, to be honest, we've more than "spotted" rats in our yard. In fact, John has been photographed assassinating one outside our kitchen window but that doesn't really have anything to do with this project). Hopefully, the liveliest thing that will take up residence in our forlorn squashes will be crazy mold. Either way, it should make for a fun timelapse photo experience, don't you think?

Friday, November 2, 2007

I'm up for the challenge

So I've gone and signed myself up for


National Blog Posting Month

The challenge is to post something everyday in November. There are prizes randomly awarded for those who manage to pull this off so, of course, that's what got me to sign on. Seriously though, I think the challenge is good and is the kind of nudge I need to be more disciplined about writing in general. It will be interesting to see if I can take the minutia of our lives, chisel away the mundane and uncover the gem. I hope you'll join me on this journey.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On sword play...

In doing some research for some possible book purchases I stumbled across this quote. I thought I'd post it here as consolation for me and as insight for you, regarding my swashbuckling son, Aidan.

G. K. Chesterton wrote in a 1906 magazine article:

A child's instinct is almost perfect in the matter of fighting; a child always stands for the good militarism as against the bad. The child's hero is always the man or boy who defends himself suddenly and splendidly against aggression. The child's hero is never the man or boy who attempts by his mere personal force to extend his mere personal influence. In all boys' books, in all boys' conversation, the hero is one person and the bully the other. That combination of the hero and bully in one, which people now call the Strong Man or the Superman, would be simply unintelligible to any schoolboy....

But really to talk of this small human creature, who never picks up an umbrella without trying to use it as a sword, who will hardly read a book in which there is no fighting, who out of the Bible itself generally remembers the "bluggy" [bloody] parts, who never walks down the garden without imagining himself to be stuck all over with swords and daggers--to take this human creature and talk about the wickedness of teaching him to be military, seems rather a wild piece of humour. He has already not only the tradition of fighting, but a far manlier and more genial tradition of fighting than our own. No; I am not in favour of the child being taught militarism. I am in favour of the child teaching it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two personalities

Here are Aidan's and August's pumpkins, respectively. Although it doesn't really look it, Aidan's is a "scary" face. Despite the fact that, for the last three months, Aidan has hardly been able to be left alone in a room for a moment, he decided that he wanted his jack-o-lantern to be scary this year. And then it struck me that he was beginning to try out some bravery in some safe places, namely, the face of his pumpkin. As he later explained to me and others, "I'm not scared of pictures of scary things, just the scary things that are really scary." The emphasis being on the "really." Crazed out mechanical skeleton heads stuck right in the middle section of the grocery store for Halloween--now that is scary. Pictures of scary things or non animate things that allude to scary things--not so much. It's starting to make sense now.....

Super Guy!

Well, here he is: SUPER GUY! He actually followed through with this, his original concept for a super hero/Halloween costume, and this was the end result. Perhaps I helped here and there with the making of an "S" on the shirt or the general task of figuring out what the heck Super Guy looked like since he only existed in the mind of my child, but still, this is all August. This particular photo really captures his zeal for life, that Super Guy. No one is really certain of what his super powers are exactly, but that doesn't really matter now, does it?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

John and I have recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's latest book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and let me tell you, it has been revolutionary. Before we began reading we had already begun talking at length about the ways in which we wanted to shift our eating habits, but Kingsolver's experience took things to a whole new level. The book chronicles her family's commitment to eat only locally grown (within a 100 mile radius) foods, with fruits and vegetables that they had grown themselves making up the majority of their supply. They also raised turkeys for meat and kept chickens for eggs.
One of the themes that surfaces is the shift one must make towards "slow food." Growing your own food takes time, planning for food supplies in the winter takes thoughtful consideration, and canning, preserving and proper storage takes amazing stamina. Most of us don't put that much thought into our food, much less time. Obviously, as recently as sixty years ago, folks didn't live such an "experiment"--it was simply the way you did things. But that knowledge and experience has been lost in recent generations and, as a result, has drastically changed the way we approach our food options. Unless I teach my children such, the idea of food seasons is a foreign concept in a world where you can get apples and strawberries and tomatoes year round.
So, in an attempt to make small changes in the way I think about what I put into my mouth, as well as the mouths of my family, I decided to slow some things down myself. It started with my purchase of a small pumpkin last week. This was not one for carving but the kind grown for eating. They are smaller and are usually labeled as "Pumpkin Pie" pumpkins. I roasted it in the oven, then scooped out the pulp and made our beloved pumpkin bread. What was most interesting to me about it was its color. Pumpkin that has been cooked in your oven is really more yellowish than orange. The canning process heightens the "orangeness" of pumpkin, I suppose. The taste was different too, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Those I shared it with described it as kind of earthy tasting, but they still raved about its flavor.

Well, after the boys and I carved pumpkins yesterday I decided not to chuck the pumpkin seeds with the pulp. Mind you, it's not that we haven't roasted pumpkin seeds in the past. Generally, though, I haven't been the one to go to all the trouble of pulling out the seeds, cleaning them, boiling them, and then roasting them. I've just enjoyed the fruits of someone else's labor. But I felt like the decision to "go to the trouble" would be a sort of discipline--an action that might begin to forge paths for more slow food choices in the future. I know they are just pumpkin seeds, but they are pumpkin seeds that I wouldn't be eating otherwise.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mamas don't let your babies...

This boy better be glad that he is so darned cute because he is full of it about now--full of emotion, conviction, determination, will power, stubbornness, but also joy, giggles, really funny faces, and a language that is, well, unique. Sometimes, I don't know how he can be mine simply because he is not a little "mini-me" like Aidan. But then, I suppose that's the miracle of children. God brings two people together, they fall in love, commit their lives to each other and the next thing they know, God has taken the intense love that they feel for each other and pours it into his intelligently designed primordial stew to produce this incredibly wonderful and fearfully made child. Who am I to be trusted with such beauty?

The First of "The Lasts"

Well, I believe we've started our journey of "things we are doing for the last time before we move." John had business to attend to in southwest Georgia so we decided to combine business with pleasure and drive a little further with him down to Panama City Beach. Our good friends, the Roberts, happen to live in this Spring Break mecca and they have said for years that October is the ideal time to visit. How were we supposed to know that Red Tide would roll in right as we we showed up? For the uninitiated:

The Florida red tide is caused by blooms of a
dinoflagellate that produce potent neurotoxins.
These toxins cause extensive fish kills,
contaminate shellfish and create severe
respiratory irritation to humans along the shore.
Thankfully, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. The water still looked beautiful and the beach wasn't really littered with dead fish, just a couple here and there. It was more a nuisance than anything. While on the beach, we all seemed to experience irritation of the throat and runny noses that did eventually force us back inside. But the weather was gorgeous, the fishing fine (despite John's inability to land a Mangrove Snapper) and the company among the best there is. It's such a blessing when your kids enjoy hanging out with the children of your friends and you see them creating memories of their own. Whitfield generously accommodated our boys on his fishing boat and they had a blast swabbing the decks while the daddies furiously fished. Even I managed to catch a fish, with a Barbie pole, by the way. It had been quite a while since I had last wielded a rod and I was warmly reminded of the joy of anticipation that seems to be the driving force of all fisherfolks. Aidan was a natural caster, especially with his new pole with which we surprised him the night we arrived. He looked like a natural and I'm sure he and his grandpa will have some fine times in the future. August, on the other hand, seems more cut out for the more physical outdoor activities, like full contact turkey wrangling or the like.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

So much for regularity

Well, I guess my "Back to School" zeal has worn off! I'm a bit tardy on the posts but not because of a lack of material, that's for sure. It just hasn't been in the cards for me to sit down and muse. Oh well, that's life, I suppose. We are still approaching any semblance of "formal learning" with a very relaxed attitude and that's working just fine. The boys do show a propensity for wasting away their lives in front of a screen, if given free reign, and that, exactly, is why they don't have free reign in that arena. As much as I want to be relaxed in our approach to the boys' education, I will step in and restrict "screen time." It would be much easier if we just didn't own a television but since that isn't the case, I've got to keep up my resolve. Thankfully, the boys don't put up too huge a fight when directed elsewhere. I'm also trying to figure out how the computer factors into all of this debate about screen time. The computer plays a completely different role in the lives of my children than it did in mine and I'm trying to reconcile that. Obviously, sitting on their tails and only playing games is different than researching a nature topic, but it's all a balancing act. And although I lean towards the better late than early philosophy with Aidan and reading, it will be nice when he can get engaged with books on a deeper level. I pray that his love of story will prove stronger than his love of Curious George (on PBS kids). I solicit your prayer support in that regard.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Play is a child's work

So, in this year of feeling out how learning at home might look for our family, I am so thankful for moments like the one pictured here. Aidan and August spent a good part of the morning constructing a castle with their bricks. I was glad to hear them playing together so cooperatively because I was trying to get a little housework done. When I made my way into their room they had both moved on to other individual activities. I then asked them to help clean up the bricks because I needed a clear floor in order to vacuum. In a way that always seems to surprise me they both got busy with my request. August and I were working together to stack up the bricks when Aidan suddenly calls out, "Hey, Mom! Look, I made a pattern!" Sure enough, the bricks were stacked green-red-red-green-red-red-green. Now, in the grand scheme of all the things Aidan will learn, this isn't amazing, but what is amazing is that something so fundamental to further, more complicated, mathematics came about so very naturally-- through play. It's becoming more and more clear to me that we, as a culture, are most definitely forgetting the importance of that playing. Just as I am learning how much my children need spaces and times of quiet within which to think so, too, do they need time to play.

It's so very interesting to hear the dialogue that ensues when August pushes around his big wooden car filled with fire fighters. "Okay, it's time to go. Okay. Goodbye, I love you. Goodbye, I love you." Now, I don't honestly think that the fire fighters up at Station 20 exchange "I love yous" before heading out to each call, but wouldn't it be great if they did? And maybe one day they will, if August joins the fleet.

You know, until I started making it a point to really hang with my boys this year and witness with new eyes what they do with themselves when given their own time, I think I had lost touch with that childhood lens--the lens that is still innocent and pure and gifted in ways that our clouded adult lens's aren't. And isn't that part of the gift of childhood? The freedom to pretend and play act and try on all that we might want to be, only to completely change our minds the next minute with no consequence? Ahh, what a gift.

It does seem that, with so much focus on measured academic success, the legitimacy of genuine childhood play becomes fuzzy. What a shame. We really do have the rest of our lives to grow up. Really! I'm still trying on new hats, maybe not on a daily basis, but I certainly haven't picked the one I'm going to where every single day until I die. Granted, there are bigger consequences to my fly by night hat exchanges, but still, I go into hat stores now and then. If that is our reality then we must keep play a reality for our kids.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


We took the boys camping for the first time this weekend. We went with some of our oldest and dearest friends in Atlanta, the Coleys, with whom we have many camping trip memories. Those, however, were all pre-children camping trips and thus we were long overdue for a trip together. We camped outside of Blueridge, Georgia at a camp site on the Toccoa River. This picture shows the view from our tent. We spent Saturday hiking a trail that led to a waterfall that, under non-drought conditions, would have been really beautiful. It was still fun. When we returned to the campsite our friend, Bryan, proceeded to teach the kids how to play "Kick the Jug" (otherwise known as "Kick the Can", but we only had an empty water jug). They loved it!! They begged the rest of us to join them in the fun. I wish that you could have seen the look on Aidan's face when I told him that I used to play this very game when I was a little girl. A golden thread of connection was woven in that moment.
As we were playing we kept hearing bluegrass music faintly in the distance. When we noticed people clapping at the end of each song we decided to investigate further. Turns out, the Bruce Weeks Family was camping just down the road from us. They tour around playing at churches and other venues but we were able to enjoy their music around a campfire. I taught Aidan some square dancing moves, which he thoroughly loved, and we just enjoyed the pleasure of listening to good music live. It was quite an unexpected treat.
Once they settled down enough to sleep, the boys did really well. We still managed to wake up at our normal time (about 7 a.m.), thanks to some Canada Geese that honked their way down the river. We spent the morning breaking down camp and leisurely enjoying the river, the nearby trail and nature in general. We drove around Blueridge looking for somewhere to eat lunch and finally ended up at the Village Inn, which had been recommended by a local. Wow!!! Delicious southern food at its finest. We then drove around Lake Blueridge, hoping to find a place to wade or play in the water but to no avail. This was where the drought was painfully obvious. It wasn't just that the boat docks were grounded. The water didn't begin until 50 more feet past the end of the docks. It was unbelievable. Needless to say, we didn't recreate around Lake Blueridge. After a brief stop at a little playground, we pretty much called it a day and headed back to Atlanta. The boys were exhausted but they still managed to stay awake the whole ride home and didn't fall asleep until 9:00 once we got home!!! We are still suffering from their action packed weekend, but we'll recover.

A little night music

I know these pictures came out really dark but I was hoping to catch the essence of what we experienced last Friday night. The kids loved making music around the campfire and accompanying the more practiced musicians nearby. At one point, as I sat on a bench in front of the fire surrounded by some of the greatest neighbors in the world while listening to awesome music being created at the very moment I listened to it, I couldn't help tearing up a bit. Although John and I are excited about the next chapter in our lives, the reality of leaving this neighborhood that we have come to know and love is bittersweet. It's taken about 6 years to get to this level of interaction with folks on a regular basis. Having kids helped forged a lot of new bonds but for whatever reason, it's just taken time to feel invested. But now that I do, it's hard to leave. Hopefully, my kids won't forget this night.

The power of imaginative play

Ah, the inside homemade tent. What a glorious place of escape and intrigue! It always amazes me how easily blankets and chairs can transform a playspace, despite the fact that I, too, used to make a tent underneath the dining room table. I remember that I used to pretend to cook over a fire with my parents ancient copper fondue set.
It's very interesting to watch the order in which they set up camp. Aidan and August quickly established their sleeping spaces (complete with their own special pillows, blankets and stuffed animals) and storage areas (for all of the knight fighting equipment). Then, food stores. After that, maybe some books. That's about it. If only we all kept it that simple. The first picture was an attempt to catch Aidan in a familar pose these days. I'm trying very hard to hold my tongue every time I see him in such repose because I find myself always wanting to ask him if he is okay. I've realized now that Aidan is going to tell me if he is not okay so I need to leave him alone when he is simply musing. Because that is what he is doing. How novel to not think of a child deep in a thoughtful state as "weird" or "sad" or whatever else I've been guilty of thinking. And who knows what is going on deep down in that quiet busy mind of his. I need to be patient.
The second picture was me trying to be all artsy and capture the essence of pretend play. But don't you think it's pretty neat how Aidan's image is kind of there and kind of not? Is he a real knight or a figment of your imagination? Or of his?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Finally some rain

Well, much to the state of Georgia's relief we finally received some much needed rain this past week. According to our amateur rain gauge (a test tube type contraption with a frog figure attached) we received about 3 3/4 inches of precipitation in two days. One storm provided 1 3/4 alone. Unlike earlier in the summer when it rained for the first time in months (truly) and August started going crazy because he didn't seem to recognize this thing called rain, the boys were very excited to watch the drops fall like mad this time. On this particular day, we had already had a lot of time outside. We woke up to cloudy skies and very muggy air but I suggested that we go to our neighborhood park anyway. My thoughts were that the creek that runs through Emma Millican Park might actually have some water in it because of the heavy rain the day before. I knew the boys would love mucking around in it so we packed up their boots and for the first time they rode their bikes there. I could kick myself for not sticking the camera in my pocket because they did some serious creek exploring that was really neat to watch. Plus, we found an amazing spider web complete with a yellow garden spider deep in the throws of paralyzing some prey. The next storm hit after we had returned home and eaten some lunch and the boys begged me to go out and play in the rain. I relented. Who knows when it might rain again? Shortly after they set out to play, however, the rain stopped and the sun came out. But that was okay with them because our street gutter provided another marvel to behold. We live at the bottom of a long street that has a gradual decline until shortly before our driveway, where it then drops off more dramatically. As a result, a rushing torrent flows right in front of our house whenever there are heavy downpours. This, as you may well remember yourself, is a child's dream.
What was so interesting to observe was the different way in which both boys studied the rushing water. Aidan, with boots on, stood safely on the ledge of the gutter and carefully dropped objects of various weight and length into the stream. August, however, immediately stripped off the boots and jumped right in. He just had to feel the water, even if it meant risking life and limb. Before long, the seat of his shorts were wet and I calmly reassured myself that I was already doing laundry so it didn't matter that this would mean a third set of clothes. At the end of the day we were all simply thankful for the gift of water and the gift of play.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An excerpt from Aidan's "Book"

Well, I gave you the background regarding Aidan's fascination with PlayMobil and I told you about his stories inspired by the various scenes from the catalog. Well, today, I took a moment to listen to him read aloud one of these stories to himself. I was caught off guard as to how involved and detailed they were and I found the few sentences I heard to be quite good. I was intrigued so I asked him if I could write down the stories as he told them to me. He was very excited about that possibility and cooperated quite willingly. When he finished I knew that I had to share it here so that those of you who know and love him could enjoy it along with me.

…But Drake did not see him head for the forest. He saw him starting for the direction of his small castle. He went past the castle, jumped over the lake, went into a forest and was gone. Suddenly, the cannon guard came running. The King has decided that Sanc (the evil knight) can go out of the castle whenever he wants to. “Do you mean he is gone now?” asked Drake. “Yes,” said the cannon guard. “I’m going to go get Rant,” said Drake. He got Rant and the door opened, the drawbridge went down, and Drake and Rant were after the evil knight. Good thing they got out the door and over the drawbridge before they shut. Wham!! He bumped into some trees. He just got to Rant when a “thump, thump” sound came. It got louder and louder. He saw the evil knight’s horse mask come out of the trees. The horse and the evil knight were right there with them. Fanc (the evil knight’s horse), and Sanc were trying to look for the dragon.

Chapter 2
The Magic Dragon
Drake hurried through the forest. They passed the dragon and the dragon driver. Slowly they passed the dragon castle and their friend’s house and then they came to a halt. Right in the middle of the road was a dragon. Drake climbed onto the dragon. Something happened. Drake rose up off the dragon and landed in front of it. “This is a magic dragon,” he said to Rant. Then the dragon got to live in their castle.

The End.

What I want everyone to understand is this: the above is pure dictation directly from Aidan's mouth to my keyboard. I had nothing to do with any of the above words except to type them for him. There was no editing on my part, not even for grammar. What is fascinating to me is how much of what we read aloud on a regular basis is greatly reflected in his style. And it also reassures me that by continuing to read aloud to Aidan, even after he can read on his own, we will be planting seeds for his own writing ability. I know that many great writers began by simply imitating writers they admired and maybe that is what is happening here. Our plan is for me to continue to type up these stories for Aidan and make a collection. Let me know if you're interested in a copy.

A little "unschooling"

So most folks know that our family plans are to have our boys learn at home with us rather than attend a local public or private school. Although the execution of this endeavor will be totally new ground for John and me, the reasons that drive us have been percolating for some time. I think I will reserve the bulk of my thoughts and ideas on that for another post. The very condensed version would have to include my argument that we have a flawed educational system in our country. It seems like despite most efforts (longer school days/years, more emphasis on core academics, standardized testing, pre-K programs, etc), as a whole, we still don't have much to show for our efforts and we fall behind most other developed countries. And I'm not trying to say that I believe the mark of Aidan and August's ultimate academic success will be that they can compete with the Japanese. The problem, I believe, is that we try to apply one method of doing things to all children, when all children learn in different ways. I like the idea of being able to follow my kids' lead and adapt to their interests and strengths. My boys already have a love of learning and I don't want that to get squashed amid all the other trappings of school life (bullies, pressure to fit in, focus on things that aren't really important in our world view, and just general busy-ness). I recognize the need, however, for kids to relate to other kids, and thus I won't keep my kids isolated from the world. That's where things like scouts, church, and volunteering in the community come in. I want my kids to be able to relate as easily with a senior citizen as they do with a fellow 6 year old. Plus, I guess I just don't agree that people should learn very particular things in specific grades.
So, this will be new ground for all of us. It will probably mean that we explore subjects not typically assigned to 5 year olds or that we exhaust a particular subject of interest to the -nth degree. Regardless, I still see it as a great adventure. Hopefully, the boys will too. In all of my research regarding homeschooling, I've come across many different approaches, philosophies, and attitudes. And many have resonated with me. I love the teachings of Charlotte Mason (quoted above) that emphasize learning through the reading of "living" books and is heavy on nature study. Classical approaches also grab my attention, especially since John was a Classics/Philosophy major in college. And then there is the "unschooling" approach, which essentially balks at all of the structured forms of learning with which we are familiar and aims to stand all tradition on its head. The fact that this latter approach even appeals to me in the slightest is really curious since in most areas of my life I am a classic rule follower and like to do what I'm told. But something about embracing learning at home has caused a slightly subtler part of my personality to emerge. It is the side that doesn't want to buy any particular curriculum or do exactly what any one other person is doing with their kids. And that is exactly what gets me so pumped about this whole endeavor. I have that freedom. I don't have a state standard that I have to meet in a particular way. I don't have a certain district's historical educational format to follow. It's incredibly liberating. And it's incredibly frightening. That's why this year is particularly precious to me regarding homeschooling. We are not legally bound to anyone to show anything for our efforts (age requirements for officially registering for homeschooling don't go into effect until 6) and Aidan is still "young enough" to not get too much pressure from others to "do something" with all of our time. So we are just working this out as we go along. Thus, the above picture. Aidan came to me and said, "I want to experiment and see what things float and what things don't." We've done this exercise a couple of times before. In fact, I'm pretty sure the first time it was attempted was with my mom, while John and I were out of town. But each time, he tweaks his floating craft a bit, literally testing out the waters. I have done nothing formal as a follow up to his inquiries. I simply ask a few questions about what he is doing. Essentially, this is the heart of "unschooling" but I still have my doubts about what we are accomplishing and/or what he is learning. This is not how I "did" school all my life, that's for sure. It's weird to stand back and not offer up my knowledge. But it certainly is fun to watch him try to figure things out. I'm sure this is the first of many "letting go" moments.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The magic of PlayMobil

My son, Aidan, is obsessed with PlayMobil. Specifically, knights. His first introduction to them was when he received a single figure as a birthday party favor. He then received the knight on the far left as a reward for some good behavior, although I can't for the life of me remember what said behavior was. We then innocently picked up a PlayMobil catalog at our favorite toy store (called "The Toy Store"--how great is that?) while shopping for a gift for a friend once and the rest is history. Aidan was continually drawn to the various knight sets displayed in the catalog but would never ask if he could have any of them. That was why we decided to surprise him with the "SuperSet Castle" for his 5th birthday. The set consists of a fort with dungeon, large shooting cannon and four knights. He also received a supplemental set from some friends (with a horse to boot!), bringing his knight collection to 7. His birthday was in July and not a day has passed in which he has not played with some or all of the figures. Over the course of his play, he has come to give the knights names, which he came up with completely on his own. They are Salt, Prince, Buckhead, and two Rants and two Drakes. The horse's name is Sergeant. Yes, there are repeats in the names. I haven't been given a clear enough explanation as to why the repeats, but I figure he has his reasons and that is good enough for me. What I am blown away by, day in and day out, is the incredible amount of imaginative play that has come from these figures. But not only the figures, the PlayMobil catalog is also part of his imaginary world. As it has been explained to me, each page of the catalog (which shows the various figures and playsets arranged in incredibly detailed scenes complete with painted backgrounds) are "chapters" of a "book" that Aidan is, essentially, writing aloud on a daily basis. He pours over these pictures and scenes with a tenacity that can only be described as admirable. Perhaps I will get him to dictate these stories to me so that we can capture the magic while it is so tangible. On the other hand, maybe their mystery is what makes his musings so very magical. I'll keep you posted.

Our very own hungry, hungry caterpillar

Look what came climbing down our tree the day after the tree guy came and trimmed our dead limbs! We think his roosting spot must have been disturbed by all of the chainsaw activity. It may be hard to get some perspective on how big this caterpillar is but you have to trust me on this--it's HUGE! The other pictures that I took where he was climbing on fingers and hands and such just didn't come out very well and the perfectionist in me couldn't post them. Just believe me when I say that he was longer than my middle finger and thicker than my thumb. When you held him you could feel how strong and muscular he was. It was incredible. We are still trying to figure out what he will become. Since I've never seen anything this big before I can't help but think some small bird will emerge from his cocoon. Maybe something more along the lines of a luna moth is more reasonable. This is a prime example of why we need to start acquiring more field guides for quick reference. The internet is a great resource but sometimes the sheer volume of information is overwhelming and I still haven't mastered the "advanced search" technique. In the meantime, we will just continue to muse on what this big guy will become.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Goat love

So we went to the Atlanta Zoo on Wednesday, a) because I woke up and decided that it would be fun and, b) we have a membership, of which we have not taken full advantage. It did happen to be the birthday week of Mei Lan, the one year old panda born last September here in Atlanta, although that was not our main motivation for going. Before I write any more though, I feel I must make a comment about the Atlanta Zoo. Basically, I think it stinks. Having grown up in St. Louis, I am a complete museum, zoo, and all other possible cultural attraction snob. The fact that I regularly frequented an art museum whose building's beauty competed with the art work within makes me so particular. St. Louis is an incredible town in which to "get cultured" and I am so thankful for the many opportunities that I had to browse wonderful collections at my leisure. Oh, and for FREE! That being said, we can still go to the Atlanta Zoo and have a good time. In fact, because it is so close to our house and so small, frequent short trips are actually very simple and more apt to happen than if it was a huge zoo that was far away and cost a fortune. Don't get me wrong, this zoo does cost a fortune (when compared to FREE) but the family pass makes your investment work for you.
A fun part of our experience at the zoo was the chance for Aidan to show off all that he learned from attending Zoo Camp this past summer. I was amazed at how well he knew the layout of the zoo and he led us straight to the panda exhibit, as well as to the reptile house. Every once in awhile he would share some tidbit of information about a particular animal we were observing and that proved to be very charming. Those of you that know Aidan can appreciate the fact that although it is true that he knows quite a lot of things, he also has a tendency to speak of things as fact when, in actuality, he has just made up what he is explaining. I suppose that "made up" isn't quite fair, because often, you can see the relationships between his fact and fiction speeches. Regardless, it is an endearing trait, for now at least.
One of the main reasons that I was excited to go to the zoo was for the goats and sheep in the children's section. I was in desperate need of a "goat fix" and the boys had to beg me to leave the exhibit so that they could see the other animals in the zoo. I was excited about the fact that I was able to correctly identify the three breeds of goats that were there. I guess I have learned something from my Goats and Goatkeeping book! That is a Boer goat in the picture above, in case you were wondering. I really do love goats and being around them made me so happy and they were worth the trip for me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Our backyard

I'm still working out the kinks of how to keep photos that I've uploaded formatted correctly, so bear with me. In the meantime, you might find that I will make several posts in the same day just in order to make the pictures do what I want them to do as they relate to the text. How's that for complete inefficiency? I'm sure you don't care, but it is very frustrating to me.

Aidan took this picture this morning as we watched the butterflies and moths descend upon our lantana. Our yard has not really become the beautiful sanctuary that John and I had always envisioned, for various reasons. I think that is one of the hunger pangs we experience when we imagine having more open and wild space with which to work. But, we have managed to plant something that simply won't be killed--even by Noah the Great Dane, who was determined to dig up this hearty lantana, but obviously didn't completely succeed. And let me tell you, the butterflies love this stuff! So I have eeked out some joy from the yard this summer, even with the drought. I have not watered these plants since I first planted them and they have never complained. Obviously, they are in a good spot in terms of sun and soil drainage, but I also choose to think that they are a little gift from God to me. A little, "I know that you want to grow and nurture things, Holly, and although you have so very much to learn about what all that entails, I will give you hope." And it works. Plus, the kids love to watch the butterflies. Me, too.

Maybe Autumn is on the way...

I know that the calendar says that it is September 4 but the thermometer belies that truth. It's hard to really believe that the autumnal equinox is only 3 weeks away when it still hits 90-something every day. But I have new hope. The acorns. They started falling about two weeks ago, small and demure at first. Now, they are a variety of sizes and I really can't remember a year when they looked more perfect. I've started collecting them just because I like to look at them. Maybe we'll make a wreath or some little forest folk out of them. Or maybe Aidan will just drop them all down the hole in our yard as his humble offering to Mr. Chipmunk.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Some wishful thinking

At one point today we were outside cleaning up the limb debris that was scattered across our driveway (one of the many dead limbs that hang precariously from our many trees just couldn't hang on any more). As we began to clear away some of the little branches, I told Aidan about a time when I was about 10 or so and a ginormous tree fell in a neighbor's backyard. Thankfully, it did not do any damage to anyone's house or other property. It just managed to fall right square in the middle of the long backyard. Well, as I mentioned, this tree was huge and because of its large and numerous limbs it made quite the natural playground when sprawled prostrate across the grass. My friend Jenny Streck and I played on that tree for days. I'm not sure exactly what all we imagined that tree to be but I'm pretty sure at some point we were supposed to be forest fairies or elves or something else of the like and I just remember it being magical. Well, my Aidan just thought this was the greatest story and I could just see his little mind turning those images over and over in his head. Sure enough, a moment later he emerged with his beloved sock monkey, Bobo, and proceeded to hang him from the limbs and carve out a little house for him. Unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of leaving our big limb there for him with which to play. Remember, it was in our driveway, which, by the way, I failed to mention, fell to the ground during the few moments of yesterday when no cars or kids were in its path! Thank you, God! And yes, we do have someone coming to take care of our poor trees--this limb just couldn't hold out. Anyway, when he realized that he couldn't build a tree house for Bobo, his next brainstorm was to build a fire with all the dead wood. Nice use of resources, little man. I explained to him that he couldn't set a real fire in our yard due to the drought, lack of a suitable place for a fire, and because we've already tried it before and had the fire department arrive on the scene. I told him that he could go ahead and build up a campfire and pretend to light it and, amazingly, that satisfied him. The picture above is his creation. I was very impressed with the nice rock fire ring that he built first. Oh well, a boy can wish.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Here we are

This was on one of our trips to Sweet Water Creek State Park. It's a very short drive to a great place for short day hikes. The boys love it and we've gone enough times now that they are beginning to notice changes in the landscape from one visit to the next Most recently, because of our drought of historic proportions, there was absolutely no sign of any water, other than the "creek" itself. The notorious frog bog was glaringly absent and the creek shore had more exposed rocks. It has been on some of these hikes that my desire to be closer to nature on a more regular basis has become more evident and tangible.

In the photo on the right, Aidan and August are watching a fly fisherman (off camera) do his thing. They were quite mesmerized and, as the picture captures, practicing their "patience of a fisherman" poses. They have quite the fishing shoes to fill, what with their grandpa, uncles and cousins being regular anglers. We'll see how that goes....

And so it begins

Well, I have been percolating the idea of a blog for quite some time now. Mainly because I have things that I would like to write about from time to time and somehow, after I read over what I've written, I make more sense to myself. Further, I would like to chronicle my family's journey through life, learning at home and the general blumbering we do on a daily basis in some meaningful way and I have thus far NEVER actually managed to crank out a single scrapbook page (despite the best laid plans and some darned good photos). So, I figured there was something to a September 1 start. I really love September for some reason and seeing as this is a traditional time for kids Aidan's age to be starting school, I figured I'd start this blog journey now, too. Our family is entering into a new phase of our life as we prepare for a big move and so I'm sure many ideas, plans, and dreams will be fleshed out here. You're welcome to come along for the ride.