Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Happy Report

Alright, sorry about Michael Jackson hanging out at the top of the page so long. I figured no one would have much to say about him. It's still so sad... Okay, so enough of that. There's good news. A week or so ago, my parents called George to let him know that their hot water heater had "burst" in the basement where all of our belongings were, that they had moved everything out into the garage, but that a lot of stuff had gotten wet and we needed to come get it right away. I know, there's nothing good about that. George had to take a couple of days off work, rent a car, drive down there, rent a truck, and pack up everything while also assessing whether or not everything had been ruined. It was quite the ordeal. However, on Wednesday afternoon, he drove up the driveway with all of our possessions in tow, and a crew of loving church family members helped us unload it all! It's here!

I have to say that I have no unpacked so energetically as I have pictured myself unpacking for the last year- for indeed, it has been a year since everything went into the boxes, and almost 50 weeks since we unloaded everything into my parents' basement. I ended up feeling not-so-great around Wednesday of this week, which very much disrupted my plans to go and do while we had our friends' car for the week. The move put extra physical strain on me, and I spent a couple of days taking it really easy so I could do something special I had planned for yesterday. Then that took it out of me, so I am back to feeling rather poorly again today. So, it is a little anti-climactic, but it's all here. And the water damage appears to have been very minimal. Remember how the cat peed all over our bed when we went down there last year? Well, the same bed seems to have suffered the most water damage, and if it wasn't already ruined, it is now. But, yeah, it was probably already a goner. There is a lot of mold on the wood of a lot of the furniture, but it seems to be cleaning up pretty well with vinegar and water. I did sort out a couple of boxes, particularly the storybook boxes (which I was really concerned about), and everything seems to be okay. My parents were kind enough to allow the upholstered furniture and the kids' clothes to be stored inside their home, so we were blessed not to have any worries of their being ruined.

This week should be a good week. I am excited about getting everything else cleaned up and attempting to find a spot for things. It is a little tricky as there is still the thought that we are only here temporarily, and one wonders how much one should unpack for a temporary stay. However, as we have already been here eight months, it seems that what we considered temporary has now become what one friend called "semi-permanent." On the other hand, one could argue that we have already served eight months of our sentence, so we have that much less left. "Sentence?" Lovely. I didn't know how else to put it.

There has been much joy as the children have unpacked boxes of very missed toys. It was like Christmas morning when they began pulling their storybooks out of the box, squealing and jumping up and down as they remembered each beloved tale. The introduction of the "babies" was particularly jolly. Each of the children has had their favorite few dolls or stuffed animals, but all of the rest have been packed. Their great-grandmother sent a few this fall when we all moved into George's mom's house, so some of the packed babies needed to be introduced to the new babies, and all of the babies needed to be reacquainted. It was really cute listening to them all catch up. I am sure there will be more of the same type of merriment as I begin the task of more seriously unpacking.

We are very grateful to the Lord for preserving our belongings during their storage- from mice, from heat, from cold, and from water. And we are feeling very blessed to have it restored to us after such a long time without it. Even with stacks of boxes and total disorder, it already feels more like home around here! Thanks be to God!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye to Michael

This was not the post I intended to write today. I do have a story coming. But who can help what happens in the news? And I felt I wanted to say something. The only celebrity whose death I can remember blogging about is Steve Irwin. I really liked Steve Irwin. And when I found out about his death, I cried...which felt silly, but there it is. However, when Amabel asked me today about Michael Jackson, after I had belted out lyrics to both "Man in the Mirror" and "Black and White" as we listened to various radio tributes in the car this afternoon, it seemed only appropriate that I got very choked up telling her about who he was. What a sad story. It is always tragic when such an non-redemptive story has to be told. What can you say? I explained to her that this was a very talented man, an amazing dancer, who showed the fingerprints of his Creator all over him when he performed (what a gift he had!), yet somehow made choices to pervert his gifts and his life and to make someone other than Jesus his King. And telling someone that about another human, made in God's image just as I am, is really hard to do. However small a part he played in my life (and I do thank him for some really fun dance tunes), he was a human being, and his life was God-given, as all life is. I am sorry that at the end of it, there is not a happier story to tell. To make it a little less sorrowful, I plan on remembering him for who he was in the late eighties and early nineties, the Bad and  Dangerous years, as that is when he was the biggest part of my life (I am too young for Thriller -though I have enjoyed it since); and I will keep belting out those lyrics and doing a little car dance for probably as long as I can sing and dance. But I am sad that it will be with the knowledge of who he turned out to be, and sad that whoever that was (because we know it didn't look like him) seemed such a lost and unhappy man. Incidentally, I think this picture, and let me tell you a decent picture of Michael Jackson is hard to find, is from the 1988 Grammys. He looks like he's already a little on his way.... It's just too bad. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't Forget to Bring Kleenex with the Junior Mints

If no one has warned you already, when you go to see the movie Up, you will probably cry. It is great, but it has some really sad parts. Just so you know. Because I did not. And I wasn't quite prepared. George got a movie theater gift card for his birthday and decided to treat the family to a movie for Father's Day. I don't think we've all been to the movies since Ratatouille. Wait, did Elspeth even go to Ratatouille? I don't know; this may have been her first movie. Anyway, there we were, five minutes, ten minutes into the movie, and I was nearly weeping. And I had already almost ended up bawling during church that morning. 

See, now you're thinking it's me. I shouldn't have told you about church. But I was standing there before the final hymn, one that we often sing, and I made the mistake of glancing over at a friend who just lost her brother to cancer. And the hymn was, of course, about dead people. Well, that sounds rather blunt, doesn't it? It is one I really love, "For All the Saints." But it is about, as you know, "all the saints, who from their labors rest." Then, I started thinking of another friend who has lost three very treasured people all within a few months, and about people who have loved ones who are suffering, or "labor"ing, and close to death, and well, it was all very sad. I am actually a little teary even now as I try to look up a version for y'all to listen to on Youtube. But now I'm distracted because I am slightly amazed at how slowly some churches sing this song; it makes me quite grateful for our organist- and y'all know I don't like the organ! (The organist, yes; the organ, not so much.) Much to his credit, he plays this song better than I can find anywhere on our side of the world. I did find a delightful little British man of All Saints Church Oystermouth, a cute Jane Austenesque (nice word!) looking church, presumably in Wales, who plays quite the rendition, yet it leaves little room for vocals. And then there's this guy from Australia playing it on the church tower bells, which is quite lovely. From our side of the pond, I did find this one guy playing it on the guitar, and I thought that was cool. But it appears that if you must have an organ (and I'm all for a ban on organs), you ought to come to our church to hear it done well. Fair warning though, you may end up crying. Which brings us back to Up. And really, I didn't want to say much more about it except that it will make you cry.

Well, there is just one more thing... I was thinking about it as my children were watching a Charlie and Lola episode earlier. Charlie and Lola are in an orchard picking up apples and they start playing games where they throw the apples into the wheelbarrow or up into the air. And I felt very old as I found myself concerned over the bruising of the apples and not at all caught up in the merriment of the games. On closer inspection, I realized that the apples were all being picked up off the ground and likely not for anything but animals or composting (I know this from my time spent in apple orchards- you don't want the ones off the ground!), and then I was able to appropriately enjoy the episode. In Up, there are various Looney Tunes like scenes involving danger and pain which are meant for humor. While Looney Tunes places animals in these types of precarious situations, there are actual (or, computer animated- close enough) people in them in Up, and I found myself surprised at hearing the laughter of children in the theater while the child in the movie is repeatedly slammed into the side of a cliff. On the other hand, I'd rather them laugh than tense up and remind themselves it is just a movie as I was doing. This is the first time I've noticed this, actual evidence of being a grown up. And I'm not sure I like it. Nonetheless, there it is, I can no longer watch cartoons and suspend reality completely- talking dogs and flying houses are all completely acceptable, but once you start slamming kids into cliffs or throwing perfectly good apples at the side of a tree, I find myself unable to play along and actually get a little worried... for a minute, and then the giggling from my almost eight year old reminds me that the kid on the screen is actually a cartoon, and my kids are safely beside me enjoying a Father's Day outing. However, even if you can suspend reality in this way, you will still cry. You will. So just be prepared. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thoughts on Hostessing

I had a lot of fun on Thursday having our church's play group over for the day. I always get a little stressed getting ready for these things, but it is always worth it. And truthfully, I get stressed about most things. I think, because of my personality, I need to get stressed though. On Wednesday, I was just piddling around. I couldn't make myself really get to work. I kept getting distracted. Distraction, it's the story of my life... Then, all of the sudden, it was Wednesday night and I had nothing done; I just kicked it into high gear and started cranking out fruit tea and pimento cheese, spiced pecans and salad dressing. Incidentally, this was always the way with me in regard to writing papers for class or articles for the yearbook. I decided that while I did tend to majorly procrastinate, I worked well under pressure, and that I may make a pretty decent journalist because of that. And with that in mind, perhaps I really could pull off being a caterer? Nah. Anyway, I think we ended up with twenty-three kids and seven moms. We had a couple of moms out of town and a couple who couldn't come at the last minute, but it was a nice group. My menu was nothing to rave about, and I have mentioned most of it before. But I am putting it up anyway because I think it helps sometimes to have a menu put together, and I realized that I haven't posted a couple of these recipes before.

First though, I want to share a tip that a wise older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was an idiot. I really did. I was that sophomoric- literally, I was a wise (in my own eyes) fool. But she was right, of course. She told me not to clean before having a bunch of kids over. She said to wait until after the kids come over to clean because you will inevitably have to anyway. And I distinctly remember thinking, "Well, Pam (yep, it was Pam Caldwell), that may be okay for you, but I am not having people over to my house if it isn't perfectly clean." What?! I am sorry, but twenty-four year old Abby needs a serious beat down! First of all, Pam's home always looked lovely, so I had no business thinking she had sub-par standards. Second of all, when and where did I get the idea that I knew better than someone almost twice my age (who was wise beyond her years) in the first place? Thirdly, kids really do make a mess. And they certainly don't care if your floor has been mopped. So, I am really not sure what my rationalization for custom cleaning before they arrived was anyway. I think that my concern was mostly for the good opinion of the mothers who brought them. And I think too that floors really are a slight concern when you are dealing with crawlers. On the other hand, you are also dealing with twenty or so walkers who will dirty the floor anyway!

Let me follow this paragraph by confessing that I did mop on Monday. I did most of the cleaning on Monday and then let it be three days' dirty when everyone arrived. It isn't as good as not doing it at all (though, we all have to clean sometime), but it is way better than cleaning the morning of. After all, I mopped again this morning (only because my shoes kept sticking to the dried spills on the floor!), just as Pam predicted. And I also want to address the impressing other moms issue. If you are reading this, you are probably another mom. And wouldn't you say that it is true that when you go to someone else's home and it isn't perfectly clean, you are relieved rather than repulsed? Of course you are, because you are thinking about how your home is just as messy most of the time and how it is nice that you are not the only imperfect person out there. On the other hand, when you go to someone's home where everything is meticulously clean and uncluttered, do you feel just a twinge of inadequacy? Maybe you don't, but if you find yourself reminding yourself that she doesn't have as many children as you or she has a cleaning lady that comes every week or so or that her kids are older and can help out or clean up after themselves, you probably do feel just a teency bit inadequate. Competition or comparison over these things is so dumb. We all need to remember that. And Martha Stewart can just get over it.

Okay, so in preparation for people coming over, try to remember to just stick to your usual cleaning schedule and not to stress about sparkling floors. No one cares if you haven't vacuumed or if there are spots on the windows (um, do people wash their windows? I think I did once in April...) or if board books are all over the coffee table. Someone will spill Goldfish or Cheerios on the floor, put sticky fingers all over the window, and pull all of the board books out in the first twenty minutes anyway- just like your kids would! Also, accept help and let people contribute. It is hard for me to let people contribute because I get so excited about menu planning and never want to tell someone what to bring specifically. While I usually tell people not to bring anything, when pressed, it's easiest for me to suggest "bread" or "fruit." I need to be more laid back in this regard. Everyone ended up bringing something anyway, and I probably could have saved them some brain work by just delegating the existing menu items. As it was, I just told people what I planned to serve and everyone did an excellent job bringing their own little touches that added a new element to the menu.

For the kids-
PB&J- my poor friend P had to run out and buy more sandwich bread because I grossly underestimated how much bread I needed! Thanks, P!
Annie's Bunny Grahams- a friend brought these for an extra sweet treat. Thanks, C!
Juice Boxes
Watermelon- a friend brought this for all to share. Thanks, M!
Blueberries and strawberries- another friend brought these to help out. Thanks, A!

For the moms- (my focus was more on this because of being a mom myself- I'm selfish like that!)
Tea Sandwiches- cucumber cream cheese and pimento cheese
Baby Blue Salad- this time with peaches and cherries
Tuna salad and water crackers- Thanks to M again for contributing this!
Fruit tea
Sweet tea

Dessert for all- ice cream sandwiches!

Let it also be mentioned that another friend M brought a large gift from the abundance of her herb garden! What a treat! I wish I had a digital camera to show y'all how gorgeous! She put little handwritten tags on all of them and wrapped them so prettily. Martha really would have been so proud of her, which may have redeemed her disappointment in me! They will all be enjoyed. I can find plenty of uses for those cute little bundles. And P knows me well enough to come with a 12 pack of Coke classic and a bag of M&M's. She is currently my best friend :)

So, back to the meal, what was great about this is that the moms all said they would have made PB&J anyway. And you know they would have. For a crowd, it's cheap, it's easy, quick, and pretty much sure to please every child. It seems almost too easy and like a cop out, but I am so glad I did it. Maybe we'll roll out homemade pizzas next time, or grill up hot dogs, but the PB&J was very well received. The only reason to serve anything else is just for the sake of "mixing things up!" But I do want to write the post about the homemade pizzas. Coming soon...

So I've told you all before about my ice cream sandwiches. They are just whatever chocolate chip cookie recipe you use baked with M&M's instead of chocolate chips then cooled and done up with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two of them. Wrap them individually in Saran wrap and put them in the freezer until time to serve. It is so easy, but just really fun for kids and adults. Something about them is very happy. I half baked lemon squares and didn't have time to finish the whole recipe. I don't think anyone missed them, but I wanted to post the recipe because I realized I haven't yet. Plus, if you weren't serving any children, you might want something a little more sophisticated and a little less messy for your ladies. I am also posting my pimento cheese recipe that came from a friend in Birmingham. It is way less mayonnaise-y than most pimento cheese, so you may like it if you don't usually care for other pimento cheese. And you'll laugh when you read my fruit tea recipe.

Lemon Squares- this is Marne's recipe, and forever will it live in infamy. Marne often orders birthday cakes and other baked goods from a cute little bakery near her home. Marne also gives very high praise to anyone who makes anything tasty because she is a delightful sweetheart. I took her habit of ordering out and praising me for every cookie and cake to be a sign that Marne does not bake. This is not the case. Marne just also appreciates other people's baking and picks and chooses which baking projects she wants to take on. When I tasted one of Marne's lemon bars (her specialty) for the first time, knowing that she made them, I asked her, rather surprised, if they were from a mix. Well, of course, to the serious baker, a mix is always inferior and my praise completely came out as an insult, because, not only were they made from scratch, I had also implied that Marne didn't know how to bake. It was a double insult! Of course, Marne being who she is, just laughed it off... and then told her husband and they both have mercilessly ridiculed me since. Well, maybe not mercilessly. And besides, I deserved it. They really are unmistakably not from a mix (which is why I was so surprised in thinking they were) and way better even than the ones at Merridees's in Franklin.
2 1/4 c. flour, divided
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
1/3 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
-combine 2c. flour, powdered sugar, and butter, and press into 13x9 pan.
-bake 20-25 minutes at 350
-whisk eggs, sugar, and lemon juice together. combine remaining 1/4 c. flour and baking powder and whisk into egg mixture.
-pour egg mixture over crust and bake 25 more minutes at 350.
-cool and sift more powdered sugar over top.

Pimento Cheese- I rarely get these measurements exact, except for the cream cheese (since it's sold in an 8 oz. package)- usually a little more lemon juice, mayo, and cheddar, and I almost never have hot sauce on hand. If you make it ahead of time, you'll want to take it out and let it soften before trying to spread. Since it's mostly cheddar and cream cheese, it gets hard in the fridge like cream cheese.
3 c. grated sharp cheddar
8 oz. light cream cheese
1-2 dashes hot sauce
dash of lemon juice
4 oz. pimentos
1T mayo
salt and pepper to taste (hurray! you get to taste it while you're making it!)

Fruit Tea- I have tried "real" recipes for fruit tea and they are all entirely too sweet or need too much tea to dilute them. My solution is, therefore, one recipe regular sweet tea, and one can of frozen pineapple juice. You could use half orange, half pineapple or half lemonade, half pineapple, or 1/3 each... Anyway, you get the idea, one normal recipe of sweet tea with one (or equivalent) can of frozen juice concentrate. It couldn't be easier, and it's way less expensive than picking up a 2 quart container from Merridees (which, if I remember right, costs about $6), and much more convenient for just about all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Short Narrative

I am not sure if there is 100% overlap in those who read my blog and those who read my husband's blog, but I don't think there is. And the way George told this story was very sweet, but definitely a man telling the story- and a tired, worn out, down on his luck man at that. Or maybe it's just that he doesn't have my dramatic flare, not that many do. In fifth grade when "dramatic" showed up as a vocabulary word and our teacher tried to explain it, she mentioned that some of us may know someone who was dramatic. Elaine Turk's hand went up in an instant (Elaine Turk was always the type of girl who wanted to answer the teacher first) and she got a big smile across her face and looked over at me and said "I know someone... Abby Hawkins!" My teacher thought it was very astute of Elaine- she clearly knew very well what the word meant. I still did not understand quite what it meant, but the laughter of my teacher and classmates assured me at least that whatever it was, I was it. 

So, let's put my dramatic tendencies to good use. 

Yesterday, George came home from work with more than his usual weighed down look. The way he has been walking around here for the past few months looks like he has been physically carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders. Of course, metaphorically speaking, he has. But he looks tired. His shoulders sag. His face looks like all the muscles took a nap. I mean, he's still wonderfully handsome. He's gotten the young JFK comment very recently (that's the celebrity people compare him to a lot- young JFK). But maybe now he looks more like tired JFK (in the black and white shot) than say, this other color picture. It totally looks like him, doesn't it? The picture here is too small, but this is it bigger; I used this one because it is really the one that really looks exactly like him. Here's another- is it George preaching? Nope, it's John F. Kennedy delivering a speech! I never noticed until people started telling him. And too bad I don't look like Jackie O! Anyway, tired JFK George came home yesterday and laid his head on my shoulder. Then he stood up and said, almost whimpering (and George doesn't whimper), "something just happened to me that is a metaphor for my life." Of course, I asked him if a bird pooped on him, because that sounds about right. Nope. Worse. 

He was driving home yesterday from working 50 miles away and errands to south and west on top of that which added 50 more miles and lots of hassle to his day. You know those types of errands. Anyway, when he was almost home he saw a turtle in the road and thought what nice big turtle it was and how someone really should get it out of the road so it didn't get run over and how the children really would enjoy seeing that nice big turtle and how it sure would put a nicer twist on his otherwise super crummy day to rescue the turtle and bring it home. So he turned around and went back for the turtle. He put his hazard lights on and stopped to get it. He had to be careful of the oncoming traffic for the turtle was smack in the middle of the road. And when he finally got the chance to open the door and get the turtle, the turtle went under the car. At this point, traffic was coming up behind him at 50 miles an hour and he felt that he really must get out of the way lest he cause an accident. And so, he was forced to get back in the car and drive, hoping very much that the turtle would not be run over and would indeed make it to the other side of the road. But when he began to move forward, he heard "an awful crumple, crunch, popping noise." The very turtle he was trying to save from peril, the turtle he wanted to bring home to surprise and delight his children with, was now squashed by his hand. Wheels? Anyway, it's not funny, I don't suppose. It is one of those tragedies you sort of have to laugh at because of the horrible irony. 

But I didn't laugh yesterday. I felt so bad for George- and for the turtle. I had errands I had to get done so once the kids were in bed, I left George at home with his nasty frozen pizza (a special treat for him that disgusts me- it's like how some women probably feel about their husbands smoking), beer, Fantasy Baseball, and a quiet house in hopes that he would feel better upon my return. I was down our very long driveway and fixing to pull out onto the highway when I noticed a turtle in the road! Y'all, in the eight months we have lived here, I have never seen a turtle. And in the same day as George had a turtle tragedy, I found another turtle very close to its own tragedy. I parked in the driveway (which is more of a street at that point) and ran out into the highway (looking both ways first, of course), took a deep breath, and picked up the turtle. I picked up a turtle! I mean, maybe you are all seasoned turtle picker uppers, but I had never picked up a turtle. And I would be fine, glad really, to go to my grave never having picked one up. Only the love for my husband...and the fact that it did have a hard outer shell that doesn't move... and the knowledge that it would probably go into its shell when I picked it up... could have prompted me to run out into a highway with a 55 mile an hour speed limit and pick up a reptile. It made sort of a slurp noise when it went back into its shell, but I did not even drop it. For love of my husband, I clung to the slurpy, germy thing and actually set it down on the passenger's seat, usually my seat. 

But the drive up to the house immediately following my acquisition of the turtle was the most gleeful ride! I was so happy that I found just the thing to cheer George up. It was perfect, and so providential. It was a chance to redeem the metaphor, to turn the day around. And let me tell you, that is exactly what I have been praying for lately- good news. Good news for anyone anywhere, just a chance to see God's goodness in the world that seems increasingly harsh. I call it feeling a little Psalm 44ish. Anyway, George was pretty surprised when he saw me walk in the door, less than five minutes after I had left, with a turtle in hand. He took it upstairs to show the kids, who were already all tucked in, and when I returned from my errands, I discovered that the turtle was lodging in the basement for the evening. He is still there today, and the children have been enthusiastically checking in on him and taking him lettuce leaves (which he is not eating) all day. Every now and then one of them runs up to me in the kitchen to tell me "he's walking!" A turtle walking- it actually is sort of exciting. It's not something you see every day. 

Now we just have to think of a name for him. I suggested T. Rex. T. Rex the turtle- it has a nice ring to it. Amabel and August generously suggested "Sezzy," Elspeth's name of choice for anything from dogs to bugs to baby dolls. If you ask her what she wants to name something, she will say "Sezzy." I thought it was sweet of them to think of her wishes. The whole episode is rather sweet, really. It started out with such an ugly, unfortunate accident, and ended with a surprise opportunity, another chance at rescuing a turtle- a redo, if you will. (Not for the dead turtle though.) And if squashing the turtle you were trying to save and bring home to your family for their enjoyment is a metaphor for George's life, we can only hope that me rescuing another one to bring back to him is part of a bigger metaphor. Not sure how, but it is better than just "my life is like accidentally slaying a turtle that I was attempting to save" don't you think? 

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Public Service Announcement- Only You Can Prevent SAD

So, next week is the 21st of June. It's here. Summer. As you probably know, I have Summer SAD. It's undiagnosed by a professional, but I think I know Summer SAD when I see it. Not really. I have no point of reference at all, actually. But diagnosed or not, I definitely have issues with summer. Don't get me wrong, I find the green grass and sunshine to be quite lovely. I think it's just that organized activities from the rest of the year are shut down during the summer. I just get so lonely. And bored. I've explained this last May, I know. I'm just refreshing everyone's memory. Anyhoo, I was determined not to get lonely or bored this year. I was determined to have plans, and plans galore. 

Last summer I missed our St. Louis attractions so much because I was in Nashville with no world famous zoo or free museums or insanely cheap animal parks with free beer at the end (link takes you to admission and hours of operation for summer 2009) There were other obvious things complicating my life which just made it a rough summer. I so could have used that free beer... I did mean to take the kids to a Sounds game though. There is something surprisingly enjoyable about eating cookies and cream ice cream out of a plastic batting helmet while watching a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game. It's delightful, really. But we left Nashville somewhat abruptly after being there six weeks. Six weeks is a long time, but we just never got around to going to a game. We did manage to catch several Tom Tichenor puppet shows though. The Nashville Public Library is currently showing Tichenor's Hansel and Gretel on Friday and Saturday mornings at 9:30, 10:30, and 11:30AM through June 13th, which has already passed (I started this post a while ago). I can't find any new information, but here is the link which we can hope will be updated.  It is definitely worth the drive over. I am wondering if it isn't worth a five hour drive from here?! 

The aforementioned (in another post) loss of our car put quite the damper on all my plans to avoid Summer SAD, but, as I said, it hasn't been quite so bad; it just means we can't do what I had planned to do. However, there is no reason I can't give y'all the scoop on random things I have found out about. You likely know about them as well, but you know, I just felt like posting something. It will be nice to have them all together in one spot anyway. And perhaps it will entice you out-of-towners to come for a visit! All are welcome at the house on the hill! 

First, the obvious, and we'll start downtown. If you are willing to pay a lot, of course you know to check out a Cardinals game. (I think I mentioned that we bought tickets for this Thursday's game for a birthday/Father's day combo for George. We are very excited.) And there's always the Arch. Never will I ever go up into the Arch again though. It's not for people who are afraid of heights. I seriously thought the whole thing was going to flop over sideways into the Mississippi River. The Museum of Westward Expansion in the bottom is free, and interesting enough to occupy one as one waits for one's tram of death. Okay, so "tram of death" is a little much. But it is quite claustrophobic and noisy (a la Lost's smoke monster) and of course, it takes you to the top of the very high, swaying in the breeze, nauseatingly scary Arch. (At some point in time, between being on top of the Empire State Building and being on top of the Arch, I developed a fear of heights. But I don't suppose I had to mention that.) The tram ride to the top is not free (nor is it recommended by me), it's $10 an adult and $5 per child. Kind of steep. Literally. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is also amazing, not to mention gorgeous. George took me there when we were dating, and I have always meant to go back since we have moved here. You can take a tour or simply wander around on your own, Monday through Friday from 10am-12pm or 1pm to 3pm (schedule works around Mass schedule, but is subject to change in the event of a funeral); the requested donation is $2 adult and $1 "student." It is truly a beautiful place. 

I have also heard tell of a place called City Museum. I have heard all good things but have never been because it costs $12 a person, and I have heard that it is a little rough keeping up with young children there. Evidently, it is just an amazingly fun place with tons to explore. It sounds like a place we shall have to manage to get over to one of these days. 

Let's head on over to Forest Park right now though. Shall we? The St. Louis Zoo also has lots of goings on in the summer. Most of you will know that the carousel, the children's zoo, and this year's Stringrays at Carribean Cove are free from 8 to 9AM each day all summer. This is almost useless to me, even with a car, as it would involve having three children fed, dressed, and transported forty minutes away by eight o'clock in the morning. But hey, good luck to you! There are also free concerts on Friday nights through September 4th from 5-8PM. I know nothing about these; they could be really lame, but I am just trying to be helpful. 

The Missouri History Museum is currently exhibiting Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond until September 13th. I cannot wait to get over and see these. There is also a 150 year anniversary exhibition for the Missouri Botanical Gardens. All exhibitions are free on Tuesdays for St. Louis City and County Residents. There is also a lot going on at the St. Louis Science Center and I just don't know what is what. Just go on over any day to explore; admission is free. However, all the special exhibits are not free, so you may want to explore the website ahead of time to see which ones you want to bring extra money for. The St. Louis Art Museum is always free as well, but again, special exhibits are extra except on Fridays when, you guessed it, they're free. One noteworthy exhibit, noted at a glance by an untrained and uncultured art observer (that's me), is the Ansel Adams special exhibition which just opened this weekend and also runs through September 13th. Other things not to miss in Forest Park include the Jewel Box, Turtle Park, and the Boathouse (rentals are $15). 

And this is a link to the Muny. Just because, why Google, when Abby has a link? Can you believe that in five years I have never been to the Muny?! It's shameful really. I think we are definitely going to try to make it to see Annie next week. I don't think I can handle most of the other ones showing. And that attitude, ladies and gentleman, is how someone can live in St. Louis for five years and never go to the Muny. And I so used to love musicals... I also hope to get to at least one of the free concerts (this link is to the lineup, but I am guessing y'all wouldn't have ever heard of any of these people either; though it will help you avoid showing up on jazz clarinet night) at the Missouri Botanical Gardens this summer, which run through August 5th on Wednesday nights after 5PM (music starts at 7:30). "Garden Party Nights" , also at the Botanical Gardens, take place on Thursday evenings through September 3rd. It looks like a lot of fun, but they are charging admission. (Admission? What's that?) However, it does appear that they will be offering another St. Louis favorite, free beer! There are also free concerts followed by a free movie on Friday nights at 7PM at Laumeier Sculpture Park this June. This link will take you to the schedule of bands and movies.  Yes, I do, on occasion, listen to Y98. I know, it's getting more and more embarrassing as we go. Speaking of radio stations sponsoring a free concert series at parks, 102.5 is responsible for the ones at Faust Park in Chesterfield on Tuesday evenings at 7PM through August 4th. De--li--lah (that's not how I know about them though, I just looked it up. I just thought we could use the Delilah jingle since she airs on 102.5). 

And don't forget that the Missouri Botanical Gardens are also free for St. Louis City and County residents on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until noon, and that their Butterfly House in Chesterfield's Faust Park is free until 11am on the first Tuesday of the month. Until I looked it up, I didn't realize that you can tour the Historical Village at Faust Park on the last two weekends in May, June, and July from 1 to 5. Of course, you can always wander through the grounds and look in the windows, but on these days, there are tour guides in period clothing who will take you through the homes. The tours are free. And I should mention the carousel at Faust Park too; rides are $1 and run from 10-4 Tuesdays through Sundays. 

So, now that we're here, let's stay over on the west end of town and explore a little. There's the Magic House (no link because I cannot get their page to load for some reason), of course, but I think it is $8.50. However, it is free this Sunday for dads because of Father's Day, and for Family Nights for two adults and up to four children from 5:30-9pm on June 19th, July 17th, August 21st, and September 18th. The World Bird Sanctuary is nice, free, and low key. Lots of owls- hooty hoot! (Just shoot me! I am such a dork!) I have never been to Purina Farms, but I hear it is a good time, and of course, free. The Museum of Transportation is not free, but it will be this Sunday for Father's Day, and there will be a car show and "kids' fun." It is fairly reasonably priced the rest of the time, except for the the additional costs to ride the train or visit the Creation Station. If this is intriguing to you, yo may consider membership; it isn't much and offers lots of perks. In thinking of trains, it is also worth mentioning the Whittle Shortline Railroad in Valley Park. This is best suited for younger children. It has lots of train tables set up and kids can play for hours for free. There is coffee for purchase for moms, but I have to warn you, it is not the best. They tend to overlook your bringing in your own coffee if you purchase some sort of little snack (Famous Amos cookies for 65 cents go perfectly with my coffee from home for a mid-morning treat). Moms have figured out that the best way to get the kids to be ready to leave without having to pry their fingers from trains and carry them out kicking and screaming (Oh yes, it happens every time I am there, and do not judge, for the first several time we were there, it was August who was doing the kicking and screaming. An otherwise compliant and peaceful child turns into a monster when you take him from his trains. Nevermind that you have a set at home, it is not like this place.) is to wait until a train passes on the real train tracks outside. This lures everyone out to the sidewalk and the engineer kindly blows his whistle and waves. Once the train has passed, we head out to the car! It's genius, really. On Sundays, you can also head on over to The Wabash Frisco and Pacific Railroad in Wildwood. Real steam trains run along the Meramec River for a two mile round trip and depart every twenty minutes at $3 a ticket (children 3 and under ride free). 

We are now moving on to the more mundane, but good stuff nonetheless. This is the link to the free movies on Wednesday and Thursday mornings all summer at Wehrenberg (Wehrenberg... Wehrenberg...- in a creepy whisper- because you can't say "Wehrenberg" without thinking of the creepy whispering echo), and this is a link to the site that will tell you which free movies are playing on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 10AM all summer at a Regal Cinema near you, just select your state for listings. I already glanced at a couple of states- in St. Louis, we only have St. Louis Mills, in Nashville, there is both Opry Mills and the Bellevue Cinema, and in Birmingham, there is just the Trussville Stadium 16. There are also several participating theaters in each of the Carolinas. There's even one in Brooklyn, New York- I checked! I don't know where else anyone lives, but you get the idea. The schedule is different in every theater, but it looks like there are some good ones. 

And this is a link to the children's class schedule at Dierberg's cooking schools. We have had so much fun doing these classes in the past. They even have week long "camps" for older kids. And, in my opinion, the classes are reasonably priced. Or they were, I'm looking now and I think Amabel just grew out of the cheap classes. Bummer. Anyway, they have a points program where the fifth class is free, so that's nice. Did you also know that Michael's has free summer events? Well, they are mostly demos that look kind of lame (I'm picturing us as the audience in an infomercial), but I am a little interested in the Wilton cake decorating classes. They are not free, but they are 50% off (off what though?) during the month of June (which is now halfway over), just in time for my big three summer birthday bashes!  Also, don't forget to check your local library for the events nearby. St. Louis County libraries alone have so many events, it would be impossible for me to mention all of them, but here is a link to the "latest happenings" Kids' page (you'll need to click on upcoming events and pick your branch). 

Speaking of branches, peach picking and blackberry picking start mid-July at Eckert's. I am not sure if strawberry picking is still going on or not. We look forward to apple and pumpkin picking every year (last year, we somehow ended up spending like $75!), but we have never made it out for any other fruits. I'm thinking I want to change that this year. Because mmmm, peaches. And even if you don't live in St. Louis, you can go peach pickin' somewhere! 

Well, that's about it from what I can gather. Not that it isn't plenty to keep one busy. I truly didn't fully appreciate it until I left last summer. It still won't change your life. I mean, give me the company of friends over creatures in cages any day. But it is good fun for your kids and keeps you busy when everyone else is on vacation. Anything y'all would care to add would be wonderful. I am not sure how helpful this post will be, but you never know. It is nice to have all the links and free days on one page, don't you think. It's my gift to you. And if you don't live in St. Louis and this was in no way helpful, then perhaps, you should pick a few things you'd like to do and come visit me! I think so. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer Sets In

Well, I suppose a new post is in order since it is no longer George's birthday. I want to thank everyone who called him. And I want to thank everyone who gave me such great book recommendations for Miss Amabel. Thanks! And really, if anyone knows about the Clarice Bean books by Lauren Child, please let me know. Otherwise, I shall have to read them all and write you a review. And I know how you all love my reviews....  That reminds me that I have been meaning to write some more reviews. But I am in no mood to think critically now. Thinking?! Please! We are on summer break! And what a welcome break it is. 

It is so nice not to have to think about school all the time. As I get a little distance from it- and really, just 12 days' distance at this point, I feel pretty good about the whole thing. I mean, it was kind of a disaster. But it was my first year to homeschool (apart from my very low key and eventually abandoned approach to kindergarten with Amabel), our family has been in whacky limbo mode and moving all over the place and without our belongings and only seeing George three times a week- basically doing a situational hokie pokie, and I didn't even start until November. (Point of information: Amabel started school in September, but we didn't have to pull her out and do homeschool until November. Because I didn't know where she was academically, I started at the beginning of the second grade books and sort of skimmed her through until we got to where she seemed to be. So essentially, I crammed a whole year into November, half of December, January, March, April, and May- we took February off for illness!) So, all things considered, I feel pretty happy with the fact that I somehow finished homeschool by the end of May, and that my child seems to be somewhat educated. On top of that, I taught August to read! I am pretty proud of that, actually. So far, I am responsible for teaching two of my children to read. I got to give them one of the most precious gifts they'll ever receive! It's pretty cool. 

Alright, so school is over- well done. What next? Well, the bad news is that we took the car in during the last week of school and found out that the transmission needs to be replaced. The car isn't really even worth what a new transmission would cost, so we are back down to one car. This is the car George now uses for his daily 100 mile commute. So, you guessed it, the kids and I are stuck on top of the hill until further notice. I will admit to being really upset when this reality set in. But so far, it has been okay. Well, so far, it has only been two and a half weeks, and we borrowed a car for the first week and my sister was in town last week. Nonetheless, things are not so bad as I thought they would be. And haven't I said that before? When you see trying things coming, so often the fear of how bad they will be is worse than how they are. Once these difficult things happen, you are able to handle them somehow, whether it's the next baby you have no idea how you will manage, the loss of a job or home, or moving to a new place (which is also the loss of a home). I am not saying that these things aren't whoa; they are definitely whoa. I'm just saying, like so many people have told me when I have marveled at their ability to handle much more than I can (I think specifically of some friends of mine whose mother has nine children. I have always been blessed by her gracious and helpful answers to the questions I have asked her), God gives you the grace to handle the things he puts in your life. As I am writing, I am thinking that perhaps it is not right to compare new babies to losses of some other kind. While I definitely think that each new child brings a little loss of control (and sanity?) for me, I think maybe the comparison works better to think in terms of some of these losses ultimately being a gift, just as a new baby is. Maybe? If God is good, which he is, and if he ordains the things that happen in our lives, which I absolutely believe that he does, and he really does have plans to prosper us and not to harm us, then the things he brings into our lives are working together for good. Hey, that should be a verse! Why am I acting like Romans 8:28 is an original thought? 

Back to my point though, summer is here. And I have been working on a post about all the fun summer St. Louis things to do. I started it before the car broke down though, and that news took the wind out of my sails. Nonetheless, I am going to post it once I get it finished. I have high hopes that it will lure some of you from out of town to come visit me! It is too early for ennui to have set in yet, so right now we are having lots of low key pajama type days, just glad to not have an agenda for once. But we do have a few ideas for how to entertain ourselves at home once we grow weary of building forts with couch pillows or making playdough feasts. And I do have recipes to post too. Right now we're just catching our breath after this first, rocky homeschool year. I hope you are all getting a nice break from the hectic school year as well. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Psst, pass it on!

Today is George's birthday. And he will be at work until 10:30pm. We had a small celebration yesterday (which I did not pull off as well as I would have liked, but there was booze, Mexican food, cake and friends, so he was pleased), but today, he won't see the kids, he doesn't have a gift to open (we are taking him to a Cardinals game next week for a birthday/Father's Day combo deal), and he is a very boring 31. So, to spice up a boring birthday of vacuuming and taking out trash and standing around in the windows and doors section of Home Depot on a slow Tuesday night, I was hoping to have people call him, just bombard him with phone calls. He will have his phone on vibrate so it won't be disruptive, but he may let a lot go to voicemail if he gets as many as I hope he will. After a while, it will be funny, I think. And actually, just awesome. I already emailed a whole bunch of friends, and I am hoping they will be willing to be part of the fun. Anyway, you don't have to know George, just tell him you read my blog. I'm thinking if you read my blog, then he knows you, anyway. But the point is, please call George on his cel phone and wish him happy birthday. And encourage your friends and family to do so as well. If you don't have his cel phone number, email me at and I'll send it to you. He will be up until midnight, so you have all day. Happy George's birthday everyone! 

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Summer Reading

Yesterday afternoon, George brought home the very last two Boxcar Children books from the library for Amabel, and this morning she told me she had finished them both. Whose kid is this?! Actually, I remember plowing through books sometime when I was a kid, but I don't think it started until fourth or fifth grade. My cousins gave me a box set of the first four or five Sweet Valley Twins books for Christmas one year and I read them all over Christmas break. Oh yes, the "purple unicorns" and the "snob squad" and all of it! Oh, and the mom was always "tousling" the older brother's hair. For the life of me, I couldn't understand that. I guess it's because I didn't have brothers. I am grateful for these types of easy reading series because it helps children get into reading. Once they have decided they enjoy reading, they are ready to move on to good literature that may be a little more difficult, but is also more rich and rewarding for the reader- books that may have been intimidating before. Because I was older, I moved on to Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time Series, Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, and Louisa May Alcott's books. I don't think Amabel, as an almost eight year old, is quite ready for those though. 

However, it is becoming apparent that this child's appetite for reading is more than just I can feed. We have done Little House on the Prairie series (which I hope she will reread when her comprehension is better), the Ramona books, the Chronicles of Narnia (which I am sure will be reread more than once), and even an ancient series called The Happy Hollisters (okay, not ancient, but George's mom read them when she was a kid). She read Baby Island so fast (in one night) I didn't even get a chance to use the Veritas comprehension guide that goes with it. Also by Carol Ryrie Brink is my favorite book from when I was a little girl (one of the only ones I read as a younger reader- and I loved it so much, I read it twice), Caddie Woodlawn. I am waiting until her birthday to get her her own hardcover copy. I am also thinking of getting her the Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood, another favorite of mine from early elementary days. I am not sure if I have read the Betsy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, but I am considering these as well. Will she get the Betsys mixed up? 

She has recently read The Secret GardenThe Enchanted Castle, Matilda, and The Borrowers and is now working on the last two mouse books by Beverly Cleary. We have also ventured into other books by Beverly Cleary and have read several of the Marguerite Henry horse books. The library is getting us The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little (we've already read Charlotte's Web), Five Children and It (another by Edith Nesbit), and Pippi Longstocking. I am particularly excited about Pippi Longstocking. It is a newer translation and is illustrated by Lauren Child of Charlie and Lola fame. This got me wondering about the Child's Clarice Bean books. Are any of you familiar with these? I can't stand sassy children that act like rebellious teenagers, and I always worry about modern books for this age group being full of that sort of thing. For example, I can't stand that Junie B. Jones kid. On the other hand, I think Charlie and Lola Sonner and their friends are perfectly delightful children so it seems safe to say that Ms. Child doesn't typically create smarmy characters.  Anyone who can tell me anything about these books would be most appreciated- the more details, the better. 

I guess I should mention that I plan to work The Wizard of OzAlice in WonderlandCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and Black Ships Before Troy (plus a whole bunch of other ancient Grecian stuff) into our reading curriculum for next year if I end up homeschooling. Blah blah blah, the point is, what do you like? What do your girls (or boys) read? What did you read? I only tell you all of these titles to keep you from doing research on ones we are already working with and to give you an idea of her reading level (Boxcar Children were too easy, I think). But what am I missing? 

There are a couple of books which I think Amabel read a little early- Ginger Pye and Dancing Shoes. Each of these is part of its own series, and I wonder if it would be worth having her reread them to re-introduce her to the series. Are these series worth reading? Oh, and does anyone remember the Bunnicula books? So many questions. So many books. I figure I should just keep lengthening my list because she keeps plowing through it. I am sure her comprehension will improve over time, and while I sometimes wonder if she doesn't think reading is a race, I want to encourage her love of good books and always be sure to supply her with something worthwhile to read. Suggestions are hoped for. Don't worry about saying something that may or may not be too hard or too easy or something we have read before. I know I already mentioned a bazillion books, but every time I think we have enough to keep us busy, she tells me she's read everything we just picked up from the library. It's sort of a good problem to have, no? Well, thanks for you help. 

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