Sunday, October 14, 2007

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Midwife of Souls and Chocolate Cake

Today the Punk Pastor is doing his first funeral. It has been a long week for him of bedside watching and praying. Pastors are among the few people in our society who actually confront death on a regular basis. It puts them face to face with their own mortality. "Remember Pr. S-- (a seminary professor), how calm and self-contained he was, like nothing could shake him?" he said, returning from the hospital earlier this week. "It was thirty years of this. Of watching other people die and dealing with the details of his own mortality." Needless to say, the man needed some space.

Yesterday, I found suddenly that I was the pastor's wife, not just my husband's wife. I was leading a Cub Scout meeting. The kids and I had volunteered to run a booth with some other homeschoolers at a fall festival today. The shopping hadn't been done yet, since the Scientist needed the doctor yesterday, and the pantry was bare. I took calls from the funeral home. How many pallbearers are there? Can we come set up at 8:30 in the morning? Has the pastor received a copy of the obituary?

And in the midst of this, the ladies of the church called and asked if I could bring a dessert of salad for the funeral lunch. I'm not by nature a seamlessly organized person. A day like that would ordinarily send me into a tailspin. But I was calm as a summer's day. It must have been grace. I thought, if I grab something easy to make while I'm at the grocery store, I can get it ready this evening after Scouts and it will be ready for tomorrow. And I said yes. And somehow, in between things, I popped a cake into the oven. I went to Scouts. I came home, stacked the layers, and warmed up leftovers for dinner. I put the Cookie Mouse to bed and frosted it. And the I went to the funeral home for visitation.

The family is all here from out of state, four siblings, of this dear lady, and their spouses. There were two more who were unable to come. She had been the eldest and had raised them all when their mother died. It's funny the details you learn about people after they die, the big picture you get of their lives, things no one ever mentioned when they were living, that just don't come up in conversation. They were all so warm. They seemed so glad that I had come. I thought as I left the funeral home that it was sad that the only reason I was meeting them was because someone they loved had died, and that they would all go home and I would probably never meet them again.

I came home and folded bulletins -- church bulletins and funeral bulletins -- while sitting in bed with the Punk Pastor watching As Time Goes By.

And today is the funeral. Two funerals, actually. Another lady passed away the same day, not a member of our church, but the mother of one of our parishioners. So while the kids and I are stuffing scarecrows in the Land of Oz, the Punk Pastor will be attending one funeral and preaching another. It's like a meatball sandwich. You'll have to read the Forum Letter to understand that one.

And in the spirit of a meatball sandwich, here is the world's easiest and most delicious chocolate cake, the one the Scientist made for her tea party last week, the one the Swordmaster will make for the Cub Scout cake auction next week, the one I made for the funeral lunch today.

+In memoriam L.P.A.W. +

Friday, October 12, 2007

Time for Thyme

Even though I always have a pot of thyme on my porch, I had forgotten what a wonder worker this herb is and neglected to use it.

Then yesterday the Scientist woke up feeling terrible. This is not unusual when her allergies are acting up, but this was more terrible than average. I gave her a benedryl and some tylenol. It didn't help, and after half a morning of listening to her whine and dragging her through her lessons, she said, "Mom, can I go to the doctor? I have pressure in my ears."

"Pressure in the ears" gets you an immediate trip to the doctor at our house. I was pretty sure she wasn't infected, just stopped up with allergies, but I don't like to mess around with ear infections, and that's how they start. I got her a doctor's appointment for the afternoon, then looked around the house for some decongestant to help relieve those ears. There was none. Then I thought of the thyme on my porch. It is very effective for congestion. In fact, last fall, I had taken a teaspoon full of thyme vinegar each morning and suffered no hay fever misery at all.

I had been reading one of Susun Weed's Wise Woman Herbal series the night before. I'm always conflicted about whether to sell the one book by her I do own, or buy all the rest. She takes a very Pagan approach to herbalism, so a Christian reader has to sift through the wheat and the chaff when using her material. Still, she knows her herbs, and her book offers the most clear, exact, practical instructions for preparing herbs that I have found anywhere.

With her instructions fresh in my mind, I brought in a couple of handfuls of thyme from the porch, placed them in a large glass jar, and put the kettle on. The thyme was infusing while we were at the doctor's office.

The doctor looked in the Scientist's ears and throat, made and face, and wryly commented, "I'll have to say something to the receptionist about giving the kids red lollipops before they come in here!" He then pronounced (as I had expected) that her ears were not infected, but they were full of fluid. Since the tylenol hadn't given her any relief, he prescribed some ear drops for the pain and told us to come back if she developed a fever.

The ear drops brought almost instant relief, though she didn't like the gooey glycerin based stuff oozing down into her ear. So she wasn't very keen on drinking down a cupful of thyme infusion afterwards, even if it was sweetened with over a tablespoon of honey. Still, she was up against a mother determined to stop this thing from getting infected, so drink it she did.

It didn't have the immediate effect of the ear drops. Herbs are gentle, and thyme doesn't instantly open your sinuses the way diphenhydramine does. But by this morning, she had no ear pressure and didn't need any ear drops. I gave her another cupful of infusion at breakfast and she has been her rosy self all day.

Please note: Thyme is an emmenagogue and uterine stimulant, and should not be used medicinally during pregnancy.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Dessert First!

I hope it was as much fun for my kids as it was for me to take off on vacation the very week that public schools in our town went back in session. Sort of like having dessert first. We spent the first week with my parents and 9 year old brother (the kids call each other cousins, and we haven't broken it to them yet that he's quite technically their uncle!) They all had a blast staying up much later and watching way more television than any of them is ever allowed, cleaning out the treehouse, and riding go-karts and bumper boats in honor of the Scientist's birthday. (That's me on the bumper boats...)

After all the family frivolity, we headed home, spent a night under our own roof, and then went west for a week to Manitou Springs, Colorado. The best kept secret in Colorado, as far as we're concerned, is the Red Wing Motel's hot tub suite. There is no tuxedoed wait staff or marble floors; this is an older, family owned, fifties motel, nothing fancy, but they take care of you in all the ways that matter, right down to knowing how many people would be in our suite and leaving an appropriate number of mints and towels, and even a bed pad for the Cookie Monster (although she doesn't need one). There are novels and books to borrow in the lobby, and a notebook containing menus from all the nearby restaurants. The owners live on site and do everything related to the motel themselves, right down to cleaning the rooms (with environmentally friendly cleaners), and they greet you and ask if there's anything you need as they go about their business. Having a microwave, coffee maker, and refrigerator in the room allowed us to subsist on sandwiches and keep our eating out within reason. There is a children's playground and skate park right across the street, and a great Chinese restaurant a block away. The heated pool and the in-room jacuzzi were vacation enough, and if we had done nothing but swim and soak, drink our daily bottle of water from the mineral springs, and stuff ourselves with Happy Family and Sweet and Sour Chicken, everyone would have been completely satisfied.

But we couldn't just lounge around like we were on vacation or something. Homeschool is in session here, people. First stop -- Garden of the Gods, a paradise of hiking trails amid huge sandstone rock formations:

Not only does Garden of the Gods have free admission, they also offer a Junior Ranger Program. Most state and national parks offer this program, in which children 6 and up can complete learning activities relating to the park and earn a patch and certificate recognizing their work. The Scientist and the Swordmaster both had a lot of fun learning about geology, native cultures, and wildlife as they earned their patches.

Next stop, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings:

These cliff dwellings are partially reconstructed and a bit touristy, but visitors are allowed to touch and explore inside the dwellings, which made it lots of fun. Plaques all around the site explain what how the different rooms were used. The details of the architecture were fascinating; for example, in the photo, that's a door behind the kids, not a window. And some doors were T-shaped, to allow the elderly a hand grip when climbing through. It took a good bit of parental direction to get the children to slow down, read the plaques, and find out what they were seeing, since the whole place just seemed to invite them to climb and run from one room to the next:

In the museum (once we found it amidst the maze of gift shops) we learned about cradle boards and skulls, how manure is used in the making of the traditional black pottery, how to build an adobe pit house, and the numerous uses for the yucca plant (who knew?)

Pike's Peak
was next; I survived the drive, and we all enjoyed donuts, coffee and hot chocolate at the top. The kids were introduced to the aspen, the ponderosa pine, and we discussed what was the Gold Rush, why trees don't grow above 12,000 feet, why it is colder on a mountaintop, what happens to an empty plastic bottle when you carry it up Pike's Peak and down again, and what happens when brakes get too hot.

On our way to Pike's Peak, we saw a sign for the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, and set aside an afternoon for it. Florissant is the site of an ancient lake, and is one of the richest fossil beds in North America. Our hike was hurried because of an approaching thunderstorm, but we were all still amazed by the fossilized stumps of ancient giant redwood trees.

On the last day, we visited the Van Briggle pottery, and the Ghost Town Museum. The museum was hokey, but we did get to pan for real gold. I suspect the kids -- at least the older two -- were a little disappointed at how labor intensive and unproductive the process really was, but we did come out with four small specks of gold. This we compared in the gift shop to pyrite, or fool's gold. After taking the children back by the Garden of the Gods nature center to pick up their Junior Ranger badges in the afternoon, I detoured into the Rock Ledge Historic Ranch. With a buy one get one free coupon from the nature center, it cost us a mere $8 admission, and was far and away the best of the west. (Sorry, no pictures -- I didn't have the camera that day!) Rock Ledge is a living history ranch, with interpretive sites ranging from American Indians of the 1600-1700s on through the turn of the century. It is authentic, authentic, authentic, with knowledgeable re-enactors who answered the myriad questions the children threw at them, and the original and meticulously refurnished homes of the various owners and inhabitants of the ranch over the course of three centuries. The carriage house offers an exhibit about Thomas MacLaren, a Scottish architect who came to Colorado Springs -- like Van Briggle of the Van Briggle Pottery -- because of tuberculosis. So, on top of it all, we discussed tuberculosis, sanatoriums, and the open air cure.

All in all there was ample fodder for nature notebooks/discovery journals, plus postcards written to faraway friends (a lesson from First Language Lessons we saved especially for the trip), reading of road maps, and calculating the cost of the journey... a full week of non-stop learning punctuated by moments of utter relaxation. And I didn't have to cook anything more complicated than a sandwich -- now that's a vacation!

Friday, August 17, 2007

And King Arthur was Homeschooled Too...

...with Merlyn as his tutor. In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Merlyn kicks off the Wart's (Arthur's) education by turning him into a fish:
The Wart found that he had no clothes on. He found that he had tumbled off the drawbridge, landing with a smack on his side in the water. He found that the moat and the bridge had grown hundreds of times bigger. He knew that he was turning into a fish.
"Oh Merlyn, " he cried. "Please come too!"
"For this once," said a large and solemn tench beside his ear. "I will come. But in future you will have to go by yourself. Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance."
--T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Merlyn has made us a beginning. And so has Muad'Dib. That education is experience, that every experience carries its lesson, that self-reliance is a necessary element -- are true. But education must necessarily be more than experience. It must go beyond experience. After all, what is life but one long succession of experiences? And how many people go through life's experiences without ever learning its lessons? Experience alone is a shaky foundation for knowledge, shakier still for faith. It is not our experiences, but how we reflect upon our experiences, which matters. And if our reflection leads us to the wrong conclusions, what then? Thus education also means imparting a framework through which we can interpret our experiences.

"Logic!" said the Professor, half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"
-- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Muad'Dib was Homeschooled

That's what my dh quipped to me last night while reading his mooched copy of Dune. Okay, maybe not homeschooled, but at least instilled with one of the primary tenets of homeschooling:

Many have marked the speed at which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the others, we can say that Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. MuadDib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
-- Frank Herbert, Dune

Monday, August 13, 2007

cowboys herding cats

Sometimes, on "those" days, I liken parenting to herding cats. My children were asking me about this simile, and as is often the case, a picture is worth a thousand words -- and a YouTube video is worth a hundred thousand. I don't know who EDS is, but I hope their stock goes out the roof.