Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Muse is Blowing Bubbles... (TJEd)

“I’m going to loose you to your computer, aren’t I?”

“No, honey. I promise. I just want to get this thing going. It’ll just be a couple of hours.”

“Right. I know you.”

“No, really honey. I just want to get some stuff written up.”

That was Tuesday night as he went to bed. I’d been sitting at my computer most of the afternoon clicking away. Wednesday morning he left for an all-day seminar, and I sat down to jot down a few thoughts. When he returned from the seminar in the evening, I was still jotting. I’d called a one-day vacation, the kids were free to pursue their own pursuits, and I was typing away.

“I knew it. Do we need to hire a maid?”

“No, no, honey. It was just today. I just needed to get this stuff together, now I’ve done it, and tomorrow will be back to normal.”


It’s Thursday morning. I’ve restrained myself considerably, and have managed to get our usual morning routine started. But, then I got this idea. So, here I am, surreptitiously clicking away while dearest hubby is in the shower. It’ll only take a minute more…

I recently saw an interview with Cornelia Funke, author of the “Inkheart” trilogy. She has a beautiful little writing cottage behind her house, and after sending her son off to school in the morning, she walks back to the cottage and writes (and draws, as she is also an illustrator ). I want a cottage like that. You have to see it to really appreciate it.

Funke described ideas as soap bubbles. If you don’t catch them while they’re floating there, they will disappear and be gone forever, so you have to write them down as they come. If you’re not near a computer, use a paper and pen; if you don’t have paper, be sure to have a pen that will write on your skin. (If you go to see the “Inkheart” movie, you’ll get a little jolt of recognition at the end). If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, then this is what you have to do…write!

The past few days, I’ve been a writer. Not a good writer necessarily, and certainly not an important writer. But, the Muse has visited me. I’m sprawled out on the floor and she’s sitting on my chest blowing bubble after luscious bubble all about my head. I know I really should vacuum and do laundry and make dinner, but there’s just some irresistible force pulling me to the computer. And, I’m too weak-willed to resist.

I also know that if I don’t attend to the Muse while she’s here, she will leave. She’s very fickle that way. She demands your full attention whenever and wherever she cares to show up. And, if she doesn’t get it, then “Pooh on you”, and she abandons you in mid-key-stroke. I’ve gone through so many long, long spells when I have not been inspired to write. Now that I’m inspired, I’m sneaking in every key-stroke I can.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Review – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Part Two) (TJed)

Can't you just smell the lovely mustiness wafting from this wonderful old volume?

As often seems to happen, there’s been a nice serendipitousness to my studies and our family study time. I began reading “The Wind in the Willows” to the kids right around the time I started reading Stephen R. Covey’s “The Leader in Me” as part of our “Study the Classics” book club (click on “Groups” and scroll down to “Study the Classics”). Being immersed back into the Seven Habits gave me a whole new appreciation for the characters in “The Wind in the Willows”, and you bet I jumped on the opportunity to blend the two during KidSchool. When I asked the kids “Which is your favorite character?” the answer was pretty much “Toad, because he’s so funny.” But, when I asked “Which character do you most want to be like?” the answer was “Badger”. Even if they weren’t sure exactly why, they knew that Badger was the better example to follow, the one they wanted to be more like. In short, the better role model.

Badger is the consummate Leader. He sees what needs to be done and does it, though always mindful of the right time. He is the animal trusted to lead out in Toad’s intervention. His rightness and strength of character inspire respect and admiration in other animals. At the same time, he is infinitely kind and patient (even when, in Toad’s case, we might say it was not deserved). He is brave, forthright, and not afraid to act. He is the living embodiment of moral authority. In direct opposition to Toad.

Oh, my, Toad. What a sad, sad example of an animal. Toad is never responsible for his own actions, always a victim to the whims of the moment, never plans ahead, is completely disorganized, and certainly is not, in any way, humble. Nothing is ever his fault, even when he is clearly guilty of criminal acts. When he accidentally falls into uncommon good luck which inadvertently rescues him from his own ridiculous idiocy, he prances about boasting, bragging and bellowing about what he considers his own greatness and cleverness. Into trouble, he’s blubbering about how Fate has turned against him. Out of trouble, he’s taking all the credit. Definitely not very proactive. Dr. Covey would be horrified should ever Mr. Toad appear in one of his seminars.

We are ultimately left with a small glimmer of hope for Toad. He has promised reform in the past, which has not stuck. But, in the end he shows signs that he may at last be settling down when he chooses to refrain from boasting and bragging at the banquet. One can only hope.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (TJed)

I recently finished reading “The Wind in the Willows” to the kids. Despite a little initial grumbling about “We already saw the movie” and “Didn’t we already read that one?”, as usual once the story started, they were drawn right in. By the end of the first chapter, they were bellowing “One More Chapter!”

I love this book in large part because of the language. It was originally published in 1908, long enough ago that author still considered eloquence in language not only a noble pursuit, but an essential tool in word craft. The descriptions of the natural world are so tantalizing, they make me want to bolt down the street of my tidy little suburb in search of some Wild Wood to get lost in. I am certain that if I turn just the right corner, it will be RIGHT THERE, waiting for me. I can almost smell it as I turn the pages of my well-worn old hardcover book. Okay, maybe that’s just mustiness; my copy is about fifty years old.

I also love this book because of the character. Not the “characters”, as much as the “character”. Rat and Mole, each in their own unique way, embody goodness, rightness, and the greatest of friendship. When Ratty is tempted to follow the relentless and soul-wrenching call to the South, Mole gently and very firmly holds Ratty until he begins to come back to himself. He begins talking of the beauties of home and hearth and the life that they live, until Rat realizes that he does not truly wish to give up the home that he knows and loves. But, Rat is still despondent, and Mole does not leave him in that state. Nor does he give Rat a “pep talk” to try to get him out of his depression. Mole shows an extraordinary empathy and understanding of his friend by quietly offering Rat a focus and outlet for his restless urgings.

“Presently the tactful Mole slipped away and returned with a pencil and a few half-sheets of paper, which he placed on the table at this friends elbow.
“It’s quite a long time since you did any poetry,” he remarked. “You might have a try at it this evening, instead of – well, brooding over things so much. I’ve an idea that you’ll feel a lot better when you’ve got something jotted down – if it’s only just the rhymes.”
“The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discrete Mole took occasion to leave the room, and when he peeped in again some time later, the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good deal more than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at least begun.”

I cried when I read that part to the kids. They, as usual, looked at me kind of funny. But, I think they’ve almost gotten used to me tearing up (okay, sometimes emitting a gasping sob) during the really touching, happy or sad parts of stories. There was just something so beautiful in that passage about the friendship and dedication between two friends, and something so deeply touching about one friend knowing the other so well that he could offer, in just the right way, just the right cure to another friend’s woe.

The Children Have Taken Over the Kitchen (TJed)

Tom (9) wants to be a professional chef. This week. Next week, it is sure to change. Yes, he’s in Lol Phase. This week, when I asked him “What do you want to learn about this week?” his response was something akin to “Can we just cook all week?”. “Okay”, I said. I attempted to begin a conversation about meal planning, ensuring we had all the ingredients necessary, etc., but he kind of wandered off in pursuit of a stray thought relating to LEGOs. We’re still working on the “focus” thing.

Now, just for clarification, we have “family study time” each weekday in which I do my best to pull off something resembling “KidSchool” and I read aloud our “family book”; usually a classic the kids have chosen out of my pre-selected selections. In addition to this, Tom and I have an hour each day set aside when I’m available to help him with whatever else he wants to learn. I won’t go into my own expectations about this, but let’s just say that most of what he wants to learn is a bit over my head. Like skydiving, rock climbing, and adobe brick making. (I think I might be able to pull off the adobe brick making; we do live in Georgia, the Land Of Red Clay, after all). So, when he says “cooking”, I’m all over it. That, I can do.

So, on Monday I taught Tom how to make bread. He made a wonderful loaf of bread, and some mighty fine cinnamon rolls, which we all enjoyed.

Today is Tuesday, and he decided to make more bread; twisty bread to go with his Secret Ingredient Chicken Noodle Soup (which he’s been developing for a few weeks now), and Monkey Balls (I think it’s actually called Monkey Bread, but I call it Monkey Balls for sentimental family reasons…but that’s another story). Okay, one child in the kitchen I can pretty much handle. But, while I was “multi-tasking”, addressing a few e-mails on the computer, Tom quietly enlisted his two younger brothers into the dinner-making adventure. The result was a pretty tasty dinner, and this…..

I tried to explain the concept of “clean up as you go”, but it doesn’t seem to have sunk in. And, yes, those are LEGO creations sitting at the far end of the counter....I think they were somehow involved in the dinner making process, but I'm not sure how. Of course, the rule in our home has always been “The cook doesn’t have to clean up.” Let’s see….all three boy were involved in cooking, we only have three children, so clean-up is left to…..hmmmmm.

Please excuse me while I go clean up the kitchen…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rediscovering Knitting (TJed)

I've just rediscovered knitting. Not that it was lost, mind you. But, I’ve discovered that I can still knit after many years of not knitting. Kind of like riding a bicycle…it seems to come back to you, even after many, many, many (you get the idea) years.

Now, I was never a great knitter to begin with, and my skills certainly did not magically hone themselves during the long pause between needle flashes. But, my little projects seem to be passable enough. There are three objects somewhat resembling scarves (one for each child), and an item that could pass itself off as a hat if you don’t look too closely. But, the kids don’t seem to mind I’m not a great knitter. That’s the great thing about kids. If you catch them young enough, they don’t seem to be too picky about the details; they’re happy enough with whatever comes off the needles if they can wear it. And the great thing about homeschooling is, the kids my kids hang out with all think that homemade stuff is cool, too, so they don't get laughed at or ridiculed when they show up at Park Day wearing something mom made.

So, here’s Mike sporting my first finished pieces. He picked the yarn, and for him, it’s all about the colors. Not that I can argue with him. There’s just something every satisfactory about knitting with variegated yarn. I love the shocking contrasts of colors (especially in Mike’s selection), and then the unexpected blending and bleeding together of rows. And, every once in a while, you get a very cool pattern that you couldn’t have done on purpose if you’d planned for a month. Mike’s hat has one of those. My husband couldn’t figure out for the life of him how I managed to “make it do that”. I tried explaining I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I also couldn’t explain the magic of variegated yarn.

So, here is my knitting basket. There are three projects in there, because when I “take something up” I can’t possibly do just one project at a time. That would be like reading only one book at a time, and what sane person would ever do that?!? So, there are two more scarves on the needles, black for Tom and red for Will, both about half finished. But I think what will end up being my favorite is my Milkweed Project contribution, the lovely, soft, fuzzy white confection that I hope will be included in the final exhibit. This one is the best to work on while reading (yes, just like my mother, I can knit and read at the same time…I think it’s genetic) because I don’t have to count anything. The scarves (which I have to count) are great to do while watching TV. It’s amazing how many rows you can get done while watching Hamlet (especially Kenneth Branagh’s version).

But, maybe the best thing about this recent spat of knitting is that my oldest son wants to learn to knit. He wants to contribute to the Milkweed Project, so I picked up a couple of knitting looms (of course, I had to figure out how to use the darn thing before I could teach him), he selected a “pound-o-yarn” (yes, they actually sell one pound skeins of yarn…who’d have thought), and he’s gotten a start. He can do it by himself now, and the great thing is that he can do it during family reading time. It gives him the all-important Something To Do With His Hands while I’m reading aloud. Whew. All you out there with BOYS! know how challenging it can be to get them focused and sitting (“still” is not necessarily required) during reading-aloud time. And here I thought I had lost out on the joy of teaching my kids handcrafts, just because they’re all boys. It’s enough to warm a mother’s heart. Just wait until Grandma hears about this...

Info on the Milkweed Project here (because I don't know how to make one of those cool click-on hyper links):