Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jun. 11, 2007: Tuesday Travel Memories - Santorini, Greece

My vote for the "Place I Traveled that was Hardest to Leave" is the Greek island of Santorini.  [Click here to play the Greek National Anthem while you're reading this -- you need to get in the spirit of things!]

I will have to say that all of Greece is utterly breathtaking, but Santorini was absolute perfection.  We went there after spending about 10 days touring in and around Athensand we really meant to use the ferry system and travel to several other islands, as well.  Every day that we were there, we dutifully packed up our bags to leave, checked out of the hotel, ate breakfast, and then re-checked in.  It wasn't a fancy hotel back then.  It wasn't the cleanest hotel.  It didn't even have a great view.  But it was perfect for us.  Sure, it is the tourist's duty to see as much as possible, right?  But why shuffle on to another island when we had already found "the bomb" as they say.  There simply was no room for improvement. 

The year was 1994.  Our everyday lives back in Pasadena, California, were filled with long commutes (mine to the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the King to Disney inBurbank), stressful jobs, and no kids.  Our careers, along with the King's pursuit of his Master's degree consumed every molecule of our energy.  By the time we reached Santorini, we had unwound significantly already.  Something about the sun in Greece, or the unbelievable gem-colored blue of the sea that is so different than what you find in the Caribbean, yet every bit as gorgeous.  And the light colored building materials or whitewash that reflect all that fabulous white and blue (Greece's national colors).  Okay, and maybe it was a little about them serving oenos at every single meal save breakfast.  The coffee they served at breakfast was equally yummy, I must say. 

But in October, Santorini is truly hotter than the mythical fires of Hades.  Our solution?  Obviously, you spend the heat of the day flying around the island on your rented motorcycle to stay cool.  If you jump off the motorcycle, make sure you're just about to get in the water.  And things are so laid back there; the only thing we *ever* needed to be on time for was the sunset over the caldera.  This is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful sunset anywhere in the world.  You see, Santorini is essentially one side of the rim of a huge volcano that is mostly underwater.  It is like the tip of an iceberg, only you are sitting on one side of the volcano and looking out over a bay that is the inside of the volcano -- at the much shorter rim on the other side.  The town of Fira is actually built down the side of that rim, but the main street runs right along the top of the "ridge".  And the sunset just fills the sky. 

Something happened to me during my stay in Santorini/Greece.  Having experienced an incomparable joie de vivre there, after my return to reality (if you can call Los Angeles "reality) I never again could care about my career to the degree that I once had.  Sure, I hung in there another year and a half, but I didn't lie awake at night stressing about that job.  My fingers had touched the brass ring of happiness and I never wanted to be that far from it again.  I kept my Greek music CDs handy in the event I needed a refresher course!  And of course, I never take off this big honking gold ring I bought in the Plaka while there.  When I look at it, I'm transported to a world of bright blue doors, spontaneous dance, and endless bartering sessions.

To sum it up, Santorini has a beautiful black sand beach, a regular beach, a rocky beach (all with clothing more or less optional), boat rides to hike around inside a smaller, active volcano, a dream-like "traditional" town called Oia, fresh roasted pistachio venders, and a dry climate that promises good hair days for the duration of your stay.  Can it get any better than that?

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jun. 17, 2007: Tuesday Travel Memories: Food Poisoning

Because I'm traveling on Tuesday this week, I'm posting Tuesday Travel Memories on Sunday.  Today's continuation of the series showcases my pick for the Worst Case of Food Poisoning Ever

I struggled to choose between two very memorable occasions in making this selection.  In the end, though, the illness procured from excessive olive intake in a Nile-side restaurant in Aswan, Egypt, and experienced on an overnight train to Cairo via Luxor, beat out that disgusting Chinese Restaurant in Bangkok which made my brief trip to Hong Kong a very unpleasant blur.  And I have to say that, as a result, the best part of the King Tut exhibit at the museum in Cairo was that I got a seat on a bench.  It was that bad. 

So my advice to anyone traveling to areas of the world that may not have our North American or European standards of cleanliness is as follows:

1.  Avoid all ice.  Everyone knows to avoid water, so I won't bother too much with that one -- but don't forget:  no ice in your drink, no popsicles or Italian ice, etc.  Carbonated water is safer than flat water, germ-wise -- because you know it really came from a bottle and wasn't a used bottle refilled in the restaurant's kitchen sink.  

2.  If offered tea or coffee in a "furrin" country, make sure it has been boiled for long enough to kill the bugs.  (According to the CDC, this would be a rolling boil for 1 minute.)

3.  My fatal mistake in Aswan was that the olives in the middle east/mediterranean are preserved in oil and not brine.  Not sure that carries with it the same anti-bug feature.  This was an outdoor restaurant and they had likely been standing in the sun for who-knows-how-long.

4.  Do not eat fruit or veggies that cannot be peeled or are hard to wash -- like salad.  Make sure you peel stuff yourself, too.  

5.  Take over the counter medicine with you -- you're probably going to get sick no matter what you do.  Interestingly, we all got QUITE the opposite problem when travelingback to relatively clean countries like Israel and the US.  After a year in Jordan, our bodies were just stumped by the lack of bugs with laxative qualities in the West Bank.  One of my friends actually contracted Typhoid while on a dig in Syria and was just ever so whiney on our Israeli tour.  We didn't miss a chance to tell him so, either.  We all felt really, really badly when we learned he was really sick instead of just being a baby. 

This all sounds scary, I know, but the experience of taking the road less traveled by is totally worth it. 

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jul. 11, 2007: Ahhhhhhhhh... rejuvenated at last!

Sometimes, with our frenetic schedules, the heavy responsibility of homeschooling and motherhood in general, it pays to be reminded of who WE really are.  Starting maybe with who we were before we were Mommy. 
Each year, I get that chance.  The King and I get together with about 30 of our closest, oldest friends (the number depends on how many can make it in a given year) and up to 15 or so of our offspring for the better part of a week.  We've been doing this for closing in on 10 years now, and before that, got together every Tuesday night for about 4 years in Pasadena, California, where we all lived.  Most of us met in college and kept up with one another in our Single days, our Newlywed days, our DINK days, right on through the starting of our various families.  We've stuck together through thick and thin.  Slowly but surely, we made the reverse pilgrimage east and spread ourselves pretty evenly across the regions of the US and for one family, various other points of the world (there have been supplementary gatherings in Mexico, Cypress, and Kenya). So now our get togethers are only annual instead of weekly, but they are even more special.  We've met in Maryville, TN, Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, Charlottsville, VA, and now Raleigh.  Next year, we're back in St. Louis and then we aspire to do a cruise together so someone else can do the cooking.

Most of the attendees stay in the house of the host family, which can be a little stressful, but is always fun, too.  Especially for the kids.  Beforehand, we determine which family will be responsible for which meals (Brunch and Supper are served daily).  That family submits a menu and a shopping list.  The host family buys all the stuff for the meals before we even get there.  The goal is always to provide the most gourmet meal plan possible and from scratch.  Virtually every brunch this year included some spin on the common Mimosa and some type of quiche or souffle -- one had whole grilled beef tenderloin.  Yum.  The dinners were magnificent, too. This year, the host family added the feature of primarily organic ingredients and as much local produce as possible.   At the end of each of these affairs, we add up all the receipts and divide it by size of family.  It is a screaming deal!  And there's such magic in the sheer number of hands to get any job or dish done in record time.  It is a study in the value of cooperation.    

It is always so very reassuring to see those people who are so similar to me on the inside and who knew me when I was so horribly young and silly, but loved me anyway.  Some of you would have laughed at the conversations -- we played a game one night to see who had traveled the most and I'm pretty sure I was close to the bottom of the list.  (I could count maybe 27 countries, but the winner had been to 44 countries -- the next runner up to 43 and then 42 and so on...)  They had me feeling like quite the homebody. 

The couple who hosted this year had a lovely and mercifully large (for all those people!) manor-style home with a European garden in the back -- tons of roses, pea gravel, a heart-shaped grassy area.  The roses gave birth to a fabulous activity for the many children (all boys, save one):  for every Japanese Beetle plucked from a bush, you got 1 penny.  I was tempted to participate myself!!  My oldest son won the championship, with some 633 Japanese Beetles whom he helped launch into another world, as he likes to say.  He's enjoying his $6.33.   This kept them busy for literally hours over the 5 days or so that we were there.  Between this gentle, unscheduled time with plenty of chatter, reminiscing, confiding, learning from each other and the 3 days we spent at the beach the weekend before, I came home refreshed and completely ready to face my world. 

I hope this will inspire you to call someone who knew you "when" and who still loves you anyway -- through thick and thin. 

P.S.  Here's one recipe I used for the brunch the King and I planned.  It was sublime, even though we had to triple it.  Make sure YOUR chilis are mild:

Egg and Chili Souffle

Oven temp 400 for 15 min. then turn down to 350.

5 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 T melted butter
1 - 4 oz. can mild green chiles, chopped
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
2 cups grated pepper jack cheese

Grease and flour 9 x 9" pan.  Beat eggs well until frothy.  Stir in next three ingredients and add melted butter.   Next, add cottage cheese and grated pepper jack cheese.

Pour into pan and bake 15 minutes at 400 then turn oven down and bake about 35 minutes at 350 or until slightly golden brown.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 10, 2007: Oops! I did it again...

Well, at least I didn't do it again the Britney Spears way, but still, it was bad with a capital "B."

My big boys wanted to make Jello tonight.  They followed all the steps and then, as Oldest Son was putting it in the fridge (in the pan, with the handle sticking out, without moving any existing objects from the spot he was placing it in, or minding the trajectory of the door), it went everywhere.  All over the inside of the fridge, the island, the wood floor, Oldest Son's clothing, and then it got worse.  As I'm shrilly and insensitively barking orders like a fishwife on exactly how the clean-up must commence, Middle Son comes along, realizes what has happened and starts bawling loudly.  I mean like a baby.  I said nothing to him, preferring to pretend his heart wasn't broken because the fruits of his labor were now all over the floor.  I just kept haranguing Oldest Son about all the spots he was missing and then I really hit the roof when baby started wading through it gaily and tracking the now glue-like substance across the room.  Oldest Son was very ashamed and disappointed and truly upset at his mistake.  So why did I heap it on further? 

Five hours probably passed before I came to my senses.  OS and MS had been asleep for nearly 3 hours when I thought back on what had happened (while doing dishes) and realized what a monster I was.  I could have taken that situation and turned it into a happy experience for them.  I could have made them clean up the mess, sure -- but quietly.  And then I could have simply found them another box of Jello and permitted them to try it over again.  What did they learn from that whole exercise, as I left it? 

I've always thought we get a good part of our vision of how God is from how our parents are.  And tonight, I taught my boys that God is merciless and unforgiving.  I robbed them of the chance to try again, to learn from their mistake, and to receive redemption in the form of a wiggly snack.

In shame and tears, I woke my boys up and apologized to them for my behavior and told them how sorry I was that their Jello spilled and that I knew how sad and disappointed that had made them.  I asked their forgiveness and received it in surprised, sleepy little voices.  I kissed them and told them I loved them.  I have now made a stack of  all the Jello boxes I could find and will let them make the stuff tomorrow to their hearts' content.  They will undoubtedly be very careful and will ask for help when it is needed. 

I hope that next time I have a chance like the one I blew tonight, I will teach them that God loves them unconditionally, is patient and kind, and that grace is a gift extended to us even if we accidentally leave litle patches of sticky yuck on the floor when cleaning up the messes we make in our lives.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 28, 2007: The perfect private school

I have decided that society's resistance to homeschooling is all due to poor marketing. 

I'm changing my personal marketing strategy.  From now on, when people ask me what school my kids go to, I'm going to say:  "I found the perfect private school!"

They'll say:  "Oh?"  And I'll say "Oh yes!  We feel so fortunate to have found it.  This private school offers a low student-teacher ratio -- 3 students to 1 teacher!  Can you believe that?"  They will look shocked and say "NO!"  I'll say "Oh yes, just a 3 to 1 ratio and get this:  It is TOTALLY affordable!" 

"No way!"

"Oh, yes!  I spend well under $1,000 for all 3 kids in all 9 months of the school year.  And believe it or not, the curriculum is customized to the needs of each individual child!"

"Surely not!"

"Yes, and it gets better!  They have a meal plan that is included in the price -- plus, they serve only healthy food and no uniforms are required, so you don't have to deal with that extra worry or cost."

"Is it a Christian school?" my friend will ask. 

"Oh, yes.  And the classrooms are multi-aged for positive peer opportunities.  The older kids have the chance to mentor the younger to maximize their leadership skills and the younger get to learn proper behavior and skills from the older kids.  They get exposed to higher level curriculum at an earlier age that way, you know."

"Wow, that sounds great.  But don't you hate getting them up and driving them to school instead of just putting them on the bus?" 

"No, that's the best part -- it is really close to home."

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 19, 2008: Ahhh, the possibilities

There's a lady at church who is contantly giving me self-help books.  She's one of those people who remembers everyone's birthday and never fails to arrive at church armed with a gift on the appropriate weekend before.  I arrive with a gift for her sometime in the month after, because, as I've said before, I'm just a rotten friend.  But I digress. 
Clearly, judging from all my past gifts from her, she believes I need much self-help.  (And to read Aretha Franklin's biography, but that's a blog for another day.)  Finally, I explained to her that  I simply don't read that stuff and in fact, loathe self-help books!  First of all, I'm really not at all sure that I would choose to change the same things SHE thinks I need to change, and judging from past results, I'm powerless to change anything anyway.  In short, it is my policy to avoid self-improvement books, programs, videos, you name it.  Just too depressing to wake up the same ole Queenofthehill, morning after morning, with all the same flaws hanging out there for the world to see and a lot of wasted energy and emotion spent in trying to change the unchangeable.  Not to mention that renewed sense of being a failure.  Who needs all that negativity???

I really felt pretty dogmatic about this, until this past week.   I suffered a terrible blow in the pride department a couple of weeks ago (Dad2Three tells the story better than I ever could) and the ensuing depression and literal nightmares I suffered as a result have spawned something of a spiritual awakening for me that has me thinking and praying a lot more. 

This, combined with a recent weight loss of 44 pounds (as of 8/19/08), caused a light bulb to go off:  if I could change my habits and my lifestyle significantly enough to lose 44 pounds, what ELSE could I improve about myself if I set my mind to it?  

So now there's a world of possibilities. 

Will I become a better housekeeper?
Will my children finally complete (or start) the second half of their Saxon Math before I call an end to the school year?
Will I stop obessively checking my email?
Will I stop yelling at my kids?
Will I be a better wife?
Fill in the blank and make suggestions ___________ -- you all know me!

It can really be quite overwhelming.  It was a lot simpler to believe that I was impervious to all attempts to change me for the better.  But God, in His infinite wisdom has sent me a theme song.  Much in the manner that "Wheels on the Bus" or "It's a Small World After All" stick in your head until you want to scream, but still the point was taken.  I guess I could accurately label it a "mission statement."  Are you familiar with that old hymn Make Me a Blessing?  Those are very simple words.  I look at my beautiful children, one who will soon be a TEEN, one who is at that peculiar age of 9, and one who is a Really Terrible Two, and I want to drink in every moment of their lives, memorize every funny face they make, and... not make one false move.  I want to be a blessing to them.  I want to nurture them to be able to meet every iota of potential that is worthy of meeting.  I want to create in them warm, fuzzy memories of their childhood and, well, ME!  I want them to have warm and fuzzies when they think of Mommy.  I do not want them to get a visual of a shrieking fish wife, which is what I am when I'm stressed out -- which is what I get as a result of poor organization and NO planning. 

In short, I want to do better by them.  Like with so many goals, that takes a multi-pronged approach.  To eliminate stress in my life will force a number of lifestyle changes.  To create a more enjoyable home and school environment will take a number of other steps.  To deal with them in patience will take a completely different set of changes.  Can I do what it takes?  I would have said "no way" a few weeks ago.  

I pray that God will "Make Me a Blessing" to them. 

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Aug. 22, 2008: Funniest thing said at my house this week

Nine-year old Middle Son:  "Mom, do you think Sally's tail is voice activated?" 

[Note:  Sally is the family dog.]

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Sep. 10, 2008: Amazing Baby

My baby, who is now two but will forever be known as "Baby," can do some pretty amazing things for a two-year old.  In addition to humming the tune from Star Wars, he can:
  • Curl his tongue.
  • Pick up pencils from the floor with his toes while sitting on his trike.
He will be lots of fun at Frat parties someday (Heaven forbid).

And today, he learned to remove his underwear all by himself.  Now, if he could only get them back on!

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - May. 21, 2008: Poof!

I have really done a disappearing act from my blog lately.  I've been caught up in my latest weight loss enterprise and just didn't have any spare brain cells left to write with. 

All day today I've had the hymn "Resting in the Arms of Jesus" running through my head.  Well, maybe not all day; just since the cat bit my baby viciously on the cheek (there's probably not a non-vicious way to bite someone).  This inspired the murderous thoughts that eventually led to my mental choice of hymns.  I've owned and hated this cat for four years.  It was abandoned at a rental house next door to us at our previous domicile and we quickly learned why.  But we felt sorry for her, so rather than abandon her a second time, we brought her with us to the house on the hill.  And we've lived to regret it.  While her name is Honey, it really should have been Lucifer, if you know want I mean.  Sure, she's all friendly when you come up on the porch, but if you make one wrong move, or stop petting her when she really wants you to continue, she'll bite.  At one time or another, she's bitten all of us.  We warn all our guests, but all are still shocked when she bites their little Johnny or Jane.   And now she's gone too far. 

My neighbor the vet says we need to keep her another 10 days to make sure she doesn't keel over from some dread disease that could impact baby.  But that cat has all her shots, so I'm not worried about her health.  But how does one do the right thing with a pet (execute it summarily at dawn, in this case) without traumatizing your children? 
My husband thinks we should try the direct approach and explain that she's simply not pet material for anyone and really, there's not another job available for cats.   His point being to convince them that sending her on to the next of her 9 lives is the right thing to do.  I, on the other hand, am still really, really mad at my mother for putting the family dog down when I was 10, so I think that's a terrible idea.  I'm thinking of calling in a hit man who'll just arrange for a sudden, unexplained disappearance.  And the kids can just believe she's found a better porch to cover with hair, or a warmer hearth, or maybe even some people that like her. 

But I'll know she's "Resting in the Arms of Jesus."  Or in her case, maybe she'll be off in the other direction... 
You can see that it might be in my children's best interest not to know exactly how mean I can be when it comes to that monstrous cat.  When you and your spouse have had to make these tough decisions about pets, how did you talk about it to your kids?  Or did you?  HELP!

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Mar. 20, 2008: The secret of successfully struggling through grief

My friend Tim always has the most interesting and thought provoking things to say.  And he's always doing something interesting, active, or outrageous -- or all three.  "Doing" is something I really respect in life.  Not to mention, if you get a wild hair and just really need to do something spur of the moment like snow skiing or boating (you know, a TRUE emergency!), he's always game.  In short, he's the most reliable friend I have when action is required, along with his fabulously energetic and thoughtful wife, Adele. 

In his latest blog, he mentions an acquaintance going through a particular set of difficulties.  It really took me back.  And not necessarily to a place I wanted to go.  But no, I've never suffered from domestic abuse.  I've been uncommonly blessed in the domestic department -- on all fronts.  My parents are the best parents on the planet earth, for starters.  My husband is somewhere up there in the top percentile of everything a girl could ever dream of.  But still, aside from these permanent fixtures in my life, I've had some disappointments and some periods of deep, dark grief.  I was transported by what Tim said. 

I've often thought I should write a book about overcoming grief, but the way I accomplished it in my life when it became necessary sounds soooo shallow and stupid and ridiculous and 3,000 other things that do not add up to a New York Times Best Seller.  So I'm going to post my response to Tim's blog here and ask you to help me articulate it better.  I've thought of it so many times, I'm no longer objective enough to know how to say it.  I do know that it works:
"I have watched a similar cycle unfold for people near to me. It is so painful to see. And having been in a place a couple of times in my life where it is nearly impossible to get out of bed for sheer grief, I can feel your friend’s pain. 
An approach that has worked for me in the past sounds so silly now, but I’ll put it out there anyway: Set attainable goals. If necessary, choose something you can’t possibly lose at. I kid you not, my “attainable goal” was to get a tan. Noone on earth can avoid getting a tan if they sit outside enough, so it’s a good example of an extreme baby step. I lived in California at the time, so it was a given. Nothing salves the soul like accomplishment, no matter how fish-in-a-barrel-esque. But there are other things one can set out to do that are difficult to fail at: Whenever they ask you at Krogers to give one dollar for Muscular Dystrophy research, give a dollar. I bet you can think of a million attainable goals. And that, I believe, is the secret to overcoming grief."
So, can you help me restate that in a way that makes sense?  Do you have any questions about it, like "gee, what did you do when you WEREN'T laying out in the sun and skipping classes in college?"  And most of all, when you have experienced the sort of grief that makes waking up in the morning a nightmare worthy of the movie"Groundhog Day," how have you worked your way through it?

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jan. 31, 2008: Latest mystery: Fluoride (part 1)

I love a good mystery.  Especially ones with signs of conspiracies and cover-ups and government complicity.  Probably a symptom of WAAAY too much Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy reading, back when I used to have free, uninterrupted time.

My latest case as an amateur sleuth began with a decree to add fluoride to the public water supply from our local mayor, a former lawyer and political party leader.  I thought these strange credentials in making healthcare decisions for the community, and since I strenuously believe that nothing he does is motivated by anything good, it bore looking into.

The two week odyssey of research took me from the 1930s through the present, to Sarnia, Ontario, and other disparate places like Hooper Bay, AlaskaBauxite, Arkansas; and the Aluminum Company of America. Not to mention from science to junk science and on through the politics of expediency. 

First of all, let me just say that, like with the terms "homeschooler" and "alien," I am aware that there is an immediate and visceral reaction to the term "opponent of fluoride."  You know instantly that all homeschoolers are dressed in jumpers, are ultra-conservative Christians, and have a dozen children.  You immediately know that all "resident aliens" are actually illegal aliens.  And you equally assume all opponents of fluoride are either quacks or kooks.  (Or maybe you don't have the same visceral reaction because those of you reading this are also homeschoolers?)  But as a friend of mine said to me last week:  "Just because they are kooks doesn't mean they are wrong."  Reminded me of that old chestnut, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to get you."

Either way, a fresh look at the evidence on safety and efficacy of fluoride may reveal to you the uneasy truth that while there may be evidence of its effectiveness in reducing dental caries, and while it is frequently repeated that it is economical, you may actually come up dry on hard evidence that it is safe.  I aspire to demonstrate this using facts not garnered from "kooks," but from the Belly of the Beast itself.

Look for Part 2, coming soon to this blog, near you.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jan. 18, 2008: Doo doo doo, do do do, do do doo...

For a week or so, I listened to Baby singing a tune like this:  "Doo doo doo, do do do, do do doo..."  I thought there was a pattern to it, but then I thought , "Nah, the kid is only 19 months old..."  Finally, the King says, "Hey, is that baby singing the theme to Star Wars?!"  

My older children argue that the song Baby has stuck in his head is really "Sith Revenge" or something.  Either way, I'm glad I wasn't just nuts!

Could Baby have some weird aptitude for music?

From the Archives at of Chronicles of a Family at Home - Jan. 5, 2008: Kids say the darndest things...

We have had quite a number of warm, fuzzy family moments lately.  Since all the classes, lessons, clubs, and activities have been suspended for the holidays, as well as the king's travels, I find myself caught up.  It's weird.  I scarcely recognized my family, so beautiful they look in the candlelight of a clean kitchen, wearing clean laundry that they did not find on the floor of the masterbedroom, or how fun they can be when chasing the baby around the den or collaborating to carry him around; one holding him by the legs, the other by the hands.  I had forgotten that cooking dinner can be a pleasant chore and the dishes really can get done right afterward.  I had no idea that teaching could be so incredibly pleasant, humorous, and effective done in a clean classroom, with only one big boy in it (or at least no baby boys...).

Much to my chagrin, starting this week, our activity level will pick back up again, baby nap schedules will be interrupted, laundry will be a scarce commodity and dinner will be a rush-rush affair and probably involve a whole grain tortilla and some cheese.  My dream of a wonderful, peaceful family life will be just that, once again.

But Middle Son, age 8, gave me this to cling to, the other night.  I'll set the scene for you.  It is after a nice dinner, and he was painting his rocket for Cub Scouts at the kitchen island.  Oldest Son is studying Spelling Bee words in the dining room, supervised by daddy with his laptop.  Baby is running in between.  I think I sat down in the den to catch my breath (read:  switched on "House Hunters" on HGTV!) and he turned to me and said:  "Mommy, I've been thinking."  "Oh," I said,  fully expecting a long list of  "I wantas" related to the new Nintendo DS.

He said, "If you add an 'O' to the word 'God,' you get the word "good." 

"Nice thinking!" I exclaim. 

"And," he went on to say, "If you take away the 'D' from Devil, you get the word 'evil.'" 

Wow!  I was taken aback,  to tell the truth.   But he wasn't finished. 

He said, "Isn't it interesting that you add something to 'God' to get 'good,' just like how God adds things to us?  And that you take away from 'Devil,' just like the devil takes away from us?"

'Nuff said.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home 0 Dec. 18, 2007: Homeschooling with a baby

Posted in homeschool

So many people say to me, "I just don't see HOW you homeschool with a baby."  And I always reply with a snarky, "Oh, I just have really low standards," or "Well, I do it really badly."   And truly, I did, although I was sure the end would justify my means and it would all come out in the wash.  [I struggle often with mixed metaphors.] 

Now I think I've found the secret to homeschooling with a baby.  At least a million people have mentioned to me that this is what they do and I just let it go in one ear and out the other.  Didn't see how it could work for me.  It has taken me two days of just doing it to be pretty sure it works great!

We worked out shifts for babysitting the little guy.  One big boy gets him for an hour in the den (usually  watching the exhalted Bear Grylls) while the other gets one hour of focused Mommy time.  Mommy having had lots of coffee.  Mommy away from the distraction of the computer (mostly), the phone, and biggest distraction of all:  Baby.  Mommy has definitely got a bad case of ADD.  Once you interrupt me, you've lost me for an hour.  Give me 15 minutes of quiet concentration and I rock.  I mean, with 3 hours of concentration, I could probably find the cure for cancer, world hunger, and corruption in government.  But I digress.  After First Boy gets one hour of uninterrupted Mommy time in a quiet classroom complete with securely closed door, that boy heads on downstairs to take the next shift.  He's older, so he has the additional task of providing a snack for baby and starting lunch, so that when Big Boy #2 and I descend the stairs, fully grasping sentence diagramming, multiplying by 10s, etc., I can just kiss and hug baby and put him down for his nap.  We hork down our lunches and head back upstairs to have lessons together - baby-free.  Often, the baby will sleep for 3 hours, since I leave him in his swing watching HGTV.  I figure it is bound to put anyone of the male species straight to sleep. 

Of course, the Big Problem with this strategy is that it tacks a whole hour onto the school day.  I also worry about not spending enough time with baby.  On the other hand, the 2 hours he spends one-on-one with his brothers would be the same 2 hours we'd all be trying to keep him from bothering them and distracting them from their school work.  And the Big Boys are like me.  Disturb them and then just TRY to reel them back. 

I've already made some gruesome discoveries in the depths of the boys' schoolwork.  They've been forced by baby to work somewhat independently and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose when you do that.   Oldest Son is just finishing up Chapter ONE of his English book, for example.  Yes, that is correct:  that is ONE chapter out of ELEVEN, and we are now halfway through the school year, are we not??  Fortunately, that one is a really quick learner and I'm not very worried about him at all -- academically.  I do worry about his sloppiness and why, oh why does he do his math in his head and not "show" his work?  And the handwriting!  Oh my. 

But this hour alone with each boy is priceless.  We laugh more.  Things are less tense, since I don't have to constantly say, "Focus!" or "Stay on Task!"  Or, "Baby, put that knife down!" or "Baby, get off the table!"  So while the day IS longer, it flies by much quicker and is vastly more rewarding.  And while I enjoyed doing school nearer the coffee pot for a while, it is great to have my  white board back and a dedicated classroom to keep our books and tools organized. 

Next steps:  Make sure there's mastery in the basic ground already covered while somehow catching up, and THEN adding some additional work in that has been missing entirely.  The really cool stuff that makes homeschool so great. 

Do you have other tips for homeschooling with a baby?  I'd love to hear them and I promise not to let them go in one ear and out the other this time. 

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Dec. 13, 2007: Manna

Posted in nebulous rants

 "Exo 16:14 And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing,as small as the hoar frost on the ground."

I have now idenitified the substance that was biblical manna:  Decaf, non-fat, sugar-free, caramel latte from the Starbucks' Drive-thru window. 

Just picture it.  On the Sabbath, you just walk outside and there it is; hot, steamy, environmentally friendly paper cups ("small round thing") with a safety sleeve complete with cheerful logo and full of creamy, sinless java that would melt your heart and make you praise the Lord for taking you out of Egypt! 

And if you insist that "bread" or "wafers" were involved, too, I can accept that:  ever had a cinnamon chip scone?
Ah.  Yet another mystery of history solved.

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - December 4, 2007: Chanukah or Hanukkah?

Chanukah or Hanukkah?
Which way do YOU spell it?  And why would I even wonder, not being the least bit Jewish?  

Several years ago, a gentleman at church handed me a paper he had written on the significance to us Christians of the events that occurred around 167 B.C. and which sparked the annual memorial of Hanukkah.  I looked at him with a great deal of skepticism (and a little sadness, for I was sure he was some sort of weird fanatic), but I took the paper home and read it anyway.  Then I googled the topic to death to make sure he had his facts straight.  By the end of the exercise, I was so excited about the miracle performed and its obvious footprints leading up to God's plan for our salvation that I couldn't wait until the next Hanukkah to teach my kids about it!  I'd paste the whole document in here, but I'd have to get his permission, which would mean I'd have to tell him where my blog is, and then I wouldn't be Mrs. Anonymous Queenofthehill anymore.  So, if you'd like to read the thing, just let me know and I'll send it to you in its entirety.  He told me long ago I could share it that way.  Meanwhile, I'll just use excerpts.

So without further ado, from another source, here's the short version of what happened:

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is sometimes in November and sometimes in December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word "Hanukkah" means "dedication."

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews' 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jews' holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.
Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias' family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

About a year after the rebellion started, Mattathias died. Before his death, he put his brave son Judah Maccabee in charge of the growing army. After three years of fighting, the Jews defeated the Greek army, despite having fewer men and weapons.

Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.

I had always believed that Hanukkah was a celebration of some long-ago military victory for the Jews and why should I care about that?  But what is actually remembered at Hanukkah is the miracle of the oil which enabled the rededication of the temple [of Jesus]. 

But the gentleman who wrote the paper says it best:

"If there had not been a re-dedication of the Temple before Jesus came, that is after it was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanies, there would have been no Temple in which Jesus could be dedicated to God (Luke 2:25 -32). There would have been no Temple for Jesus to attend at Passover as a 12 year old boy (Luke 2:41 - 48) where he questioned the teachers of the Law. There would have been no Temple in which Jesus taught and prayed.  Finally there would have been no Temple in which the veil could be torn from top to bottom, declaring access to God for all through our Eternal High Priest.
 I am thankful for the Maccabees and that God gave them success in battles against overwhelming odds. I am thankful God's Temple was there in Jesus' time. And I am glad to be able to remember God's mercy and miraculous intervention to make it so."

It is important to note that it does not have the same status of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, although it is mentioned in the bible.  Another quote from the paper:

"You may be surprised to learn that when Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, He was in the Temple area at the season of Hanukkah. He had healed a blind man by making mud and putting it on his eyes, and was called into question about the source of his healing power. Read about it in John Chapters 9 and 10.

So how do I know it was at Hanukkah that this happened? Notice this casual mention, so easy to overlook, which is found in verse 22 of John chapter 10:

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

Hanukkah is the feast of dedication spoken of here. It refers to the re-dedication of the Temple which occurred before the birth of Christ in the period many call "the inter-testament period" of time. (That is the time frame between the end of the writings of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ and the writings of the New Testament.) An historical sketch of the reason for the need to re-dedicate the Temple, and the miraculous event reported to have occurred in the process follows this article.

 Some who fear anything which seems too "Jewish" and don't want to admit Jesus observed Hanukkah might tell you John 10:22 is talking about the Feast of Tabernacles. Their claim to authority for such a claim is based upon the fact that Solomon's Temple was dedicated at the Feast of Tabernacles. However, this argument quickly falls apart when we note the qualification the Apostle John gives us "… and it was winter." No serious student of the Bible will argue that Tabernacles ever falls in winter. It is a post-harvest festival sometimes referred to as a feast of "ingathering" and always takes place in autumn, not winter.

It is interesting that Jesus chose this occasion to heal a blind man. Notice what the scriptures have to say about the eye:
MAT 6:22    The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single,
            thy whole body shall be full of light.
Hanukkah is a festival of lights. This because of the miracle of the oil needed to purify the Temple. Jesus chose this time to bring light to a blind man. Coincidence? I don't think so. He also used the symbology of another "Jewish" practice to teach and preach. Notice his use of the "living water" analogy on the Last Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles which is recorded in John 7:37-38. This on the day when the people engaged in traditional, symbolic water pouring ceremonies as part of their worship of God."

As I said, I was hooked.  As a Christian, I've tended to overlook how the Jewish traditions impacted Jesus' messages to us.  I do observe the biblical Holy Days, but sans the parts that are just "tradition."  I'm a fan of sticking to the bible. 

So what about the symbols of Hanukkah?  They are great teaching and retention tools for children.  The menorah is self-explanatory; you light one additional candle each day (plus the one in the middle which you use to light the others) until all 8 candles are lit on the final evening.  Makes sense, since the oil miraculously lasted 8 days.  And what of those weird little dreidels?  The symbols on each side together add up to "A great miracle happened there."  (If you are in Israel, they instead say  "A great miracle happened HERE.")  They were invented as a toy to teach children the Hebrew language in a time when it was forbidden.  The game is played with candy or coins and you win or lose depending on which symbol is facing up on your turn.  And the latkes you hear so much about?  Their only significance is that they are made from oil -- oil to remind you again of the miracle.  Potatoes didn't exist in Israel in the time of the Maccabees. 

So, how do the King and I celebrate Hanukkah?  Not being Jewish, we don't see any reason to follow the strict tradition of the Jews in doing so.  We read the story of the Maccabees to the kids, usually on the first night (tonight!).  We emphasize that this all made it possible for Christ to be in that Temple to do His great work and note how this was over a hundred years before that and isn't it wonderful how God has worked so many miracles to send us our Savior.  We light the candles at some point near sunset each night (if we're home) for 8 nights because we think it is a great teaching tool to show the kids how long this miracle extended.  It can be hard for them to picture what a big deal 8 days is.  If possible, we join with another Christian family we know for one meal at some arbitrary point within the 8 days and experiment with the interesting traditional foods and let the kids play dreidel together.  We emphasize what "a great miracle happened there."  We do not give gifts to each other or to the children. 

So these days, we view Hanukkah as yet another tool in our arsenal of teaching the kids about God.  Since we have incorporated this memorial into our calendar, we have met several other Christian families or individuals who recognize the time in some way or another.  Have you?

Irrelevant Side note:  I traveled to Israel long ago and noticed the local beer was called "Maccabee," so there's another mystery cleared up!

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - Dec. 10, 2007: Worse than public speaking

The only thing worse than public speaking for getting my stomach in distress is having my son participate in the annual Spelling Bee.  I was running to and fro to the bathroom all morning in anticipation.  So, it is with mixed emotion that I report that Oldest Son will be advancing to the next level of intestinal torture on January 7th. 

He missed the word "futon" after about a million back and forths between the two of them at the end and so came in second place to the same 8th grade boy who won last year -- same situation with an extended spell-off, so I was very proud of him (it actually crossed my mind that he might have missed "futon" from sheer extended stress, if not just impatience for it to end, since he already knew he was advancing.  He denies this).  They will meet again at the Smoky Mountain HEA Bee where last year the two boys placed 1st and 2nd place also. 

Oldest Son is motivated purely by the possibility of a trip to Washington D.C. if he can win two more contests.  I'm just glad he's motivated by SOMETHING.  Hmmm.  Perhaps I should promise him a trip to somewhere fun if he completes his Math and Grammar early this year??

From the Archives at at Chronicles of a Family at Home - December 4, 2007: How...?

How is it possible that a boy baby of a mere 18 months knows to giggle whenever he breaks wind?

From the Archives at at queenteamx365 - Jul. 20, 2008: Weightloss Strategies that Work

I can't claim to have invented all these strategies, but I really have no idea where I got most of the ideas, either.  So you'll just have to trust me - each of these things work.  As of yesterday, I was down 38 pounds, total.  That would be 34 Biggest Losers pounds.  I'll probably add things to this list as time goes on, as I'm still learning new things all the time.  Feel free to add your own strategies in comments.

In the beginning…

Measure everything.  Your idea of a serving size is probably not accurate.  If you need more than one serving size just starting out, don’t sweat it.  Do, however, OWN it.  Know you ate 2 or 3 servings. 

Food journal:  You need to write down every morsel you put in your mouth and every drop of every beverage that you take in.  This is for several reasons.  1.) To understand your eating patterns.  2.) To put a barrier between you and eating.  3.) For accountability.  Send this journal to a partner, friend, or someone you trust.  4.) As a record to look back on if you do very well, or do sort of poorly.  It is hard to hit a moving target, so having concrete evidence of what you have done to accomplish so much or so little is a great tool.

Eat with a baby spoon or fork.  This is not a “forever” strategy.  This is to help get you going.  The extra time it takes to eat will ensure you are satisfied with the smaller amount you are eating.  As you probably know, there are many more reasons to eat than because you are hungry.  If you are significantly overweight, you’ve definitely been eating for other reasons:  to medicate your stress level, to provide a reward for yourself, to entertain yourself when bored, etc.

Brush your teeth after dinner.  Odd as it sounds, it signals your brain you are done eating for the evening.  You are less likely to idly stick something in your mouth if you have already brushed your teeth.

Remove all barriers to exercise.  Put your tennis shoes and a clean pair of socks at the front door.  Or in the car.  Or next to your workout machinery.  I keep a small backpack at the ready with my dog’s leash, my arm weights, my iPod, and a chapstick in it.  Include whatever you need to make exercise a no-brainer. 

Use your Tivo, your DVR, or whatever your TV recording function is.  When you want to watch your favorite show, do so from that exercise machinery you previously only used to hang lingerie from when it needed dried.  Or, don’t just sit on the couch and watch a show – in that same amount of time, you can get the exercise done that you were sure you didn’t have time to do. 

If you have no exercise machinery, and have no way of leaving the kids to go for walk or to the gym, then get yourself a good, solid exercise video or two.  In this technology age, there really is NO excuse for not exercising (unless you are sick, or your doc says no!).  I wholeheartedly recommend Leslie Sansone’s Walking DVDs.  You can actually get in 3 or more miles – just doing the easy moves in the airconditioned comfort of your living room.  Too expensive, you say?  Just go to  Buy one used for what you would have paid for a Starbuck’s Caramel Macchiato! 

On staying motivated:  have a friend take photos of you. The camera doesn’t lie.  Strangely, the mirror does.  (Really, our brains are what is lying when we look in the mirror and still think we look fine at 230 lbs.!  Our brains are looking to protect us, really.)  So, have a BEFORE photo done.  Then have a friend keep doing them in increments to keep your self-image real

From the Archives of at queenteamx365 - Jun. 24, 2008: Will I become the shopping queen?

Today, I went on my first true shopping trip since embarking on my support group's moms' weight loss enterprise.  I had planned to just make do with my clothes until I landed at my goal weight, but as my friend Mrs. MonkeyParade said, people were getting tired at looking at the top of my underwear, which is what shows around the waistline when the crotch of your britches is hanging down at your knees.  TMI, maybe!  Plus, my mom would say, "Are you bragging or complaining?"  But truly, I was (and still am) having a closet crisis, so off I went.
I had exactly one hour, and exactly one two-year old.  While it wasn't exactly a fruitful expedition, I learned a number of things.
1. I think big, pun intended.  I am incapable of looking at clothes and estimating whether or not they will fit me.  I believe this applies both directions, size-wise.  I just am not able to keep a realistic picture of my volume in my head.  I took a ginormous pile into the dressing room and came out with 2 dresses that fit.  For the most part, I'm no longer a "Women's" size.  THAT felt good!  And Mrs. MonkeyParade graciously shared the moment with me from the comfort of her own home when I called her from my cell phone in the dressing room.  I'm apparently a size 16 -- which they evidently sell in the regular ladies section.  I think that still qualifies as a "plus" size, though.  I found the sizes absolutely baffling.  Can anyone tell me how that works?  What's the dif between a 16W and a 16?  What is one less than a 1X?  Most of my 2X shirts still work, so I won't need to purchase any of those yet.
2.  I was terrified to leave the Women's section in pursuit of clothing that fit.  The dress section was doable, because they are on the same side of the store as the Women's clothing, but I felt like everyone was staring at me.  "What is she doing there?  Doesn't the poor dear know that these are the REGULAR ladies' sizes?"  Do you think they were really looking at me, or could they have been looking at the baby, or might I actually be paranoid??  Nonetheless, I'll have to get someone to go with me next time.
3.  Clothes actually exist that make me look nice -- instead of just covering me up.  Now that was a real mindblower for me.  As a plus-size lady for much of the past 12 years, I have programmed myself to seek clothing that looks like it might have been produced by Omar The Tentmaker.  You know the stuff.  The clothing that HIDES you.  Or even worse, I usually avoided buying clothing at all and instead bestowed my retail therapy energies on shoes.  After all, I never had to wear plus size shoes or go to a special store exclusively for shoes in my size.  My point is, I did a lot of compromising with tastes.  I don't own a lot of clothes that I really like.  Just clothes that fit -- at least from my perspective.  Or clothes that hide my sins.  So while I have a long way to go, more than 50 pounds by my reckoning, I can see that this clothes buying thing could be fun.
That reminds me to say that I adjusted my goal weight 10 lbs. south today to 145.  My husband asked if that would be healthy.  I thought that was amusing, since he used to complain that the weight I was at was very unhealthy.  I'm not sure it is doable, but I did see a dietician a good 8 or so years ago and she did the bone measurement, etc., and declared that I should weigh 147.  So I thought my 155 pound goal might be going too easy on myself.  I suppose if I get there and it doesn't seem right, I can say uncle then.  I realize that I shouldn't count my chickens before I hatch, but progress has been quite steady and I remain hopeful that this time will be the time that I permanently change my life and maintain a healthy weight.