Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Immortal Symphonies

"When Victor Hugo was past eighty years of age he gave expression to his religious faith in these sublime sentences: 'I feel in myself the future life. I am like a forest which has been more than once cut down. The new shoots are livelier than ever.  I am rising toward the sky.  The sunshine is on my head.  The earth gives me its generous sap, but heaven lights me with its unknown worlds.

'You say the soul is nothing but the resultant of the bodily powers.  Why, then, is my soul more luminous when my bodily powers begin to fail? Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.  I breathe at this hour the fragrance of the lilacs, the violets, and the roses as at twenty years.  The nearer I approach the end the plainer I hear around me the immortal symphonies of the worlds which invite me.  It is marvelous, yet simple.'"

                   --from my devotional Streams in the Desert

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Holiday Weekend

This weekend is H O T in our neck of the woods, and I am looking forward to joining the pool next week (as long as I can win the battle against the head cold that keeps threatening to overtake me--echinacea, fresh veggies, zinc, and lots of sleep are my weapons). 

Our children now have bikes!  And helmets! And may I just say that Annie, wearing a ladybag helmet, riding on her pink princess bike with the iridescent streamers, is THE cutest thing in the world.  We only have gravel on our lane and driveway, so the children are learning the way I did as a kid: the hard way.  Gravel is tricky! But they're doing great, and after dinner when it's not 3,000 degrees, I go out and help them ride.  (I hibernate during the afternoon hours.)

My husband has been diligently putting plants into the vegetable garden and covering the ground with straw.  In addition to lettuces and snow peas (which probably won't last too long if this heat wave continues), we now have peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers--and I can't remember what else.  The vegetable garden is his domain.  The flower beds are mine. 

And the big news is that Finn and I have finished our end-of-the-year standardized testing (required by our state). This miserable experience is particularly hard on the visual-spatial learner, and yesterday was rough.  But today we rallied and he did so well.  I realized that the huge math computation section is basically his worst nightmare.  And then when we got to math concepts and word problems?  He nailed it!  Even for the concepts that were above his grade level or he hadn't learned yet--many of them he was simply able to infer or figure out.  

I tried to make testing more palatable with offerings of chocolate, popcorn, and cookies between sections, and breaks for swinging on the swingset and dancing.  It helped, sort of.

My reward for finishing standardized testing?  

Takeout Thai food + sewing. Happy, happy day!

What's On Finn's Mind

He's obsessed. Truly.

We'll see how far this interest goes!!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Peonies Aplenty

The world seems cruel and dark at times.  Sometimes I think my little corner of it needs to be extra-beautiful, just to combat the darkness.

The peonies are helping right now.

(So are the coral bells, flowering sage, and roses.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Milestone Week: Graduation + Baptism + Perfect Coffee

Where has the last week gone?!

Well, it went many places. Hemming my sister's work trousers, teaching some homeschool, reading The Screwtape Letters, for starters......

 We attended our niece and goddaughter's graduation party. She graduted from high school last week and her parents threw a beautiful brunch in her honor on Saturday. Unfortunately I am still operating with *only* my phone as my camera, so I did not take many pictures.  But here you can see the delicious crostini. 

Her father is an excellent cook and made everything from scratch....that included the tartine, the granola, the pimento cheese, the everything. 

My contribution was some thrift-store champagne flutes for the mimosas, and our gifts--a necklace engraved with the letter "L" and a 5-year daily journal.  I love the latter so much that I think it will be my newest go-to baby gift, along with an embroidered onesie or homemade bib. 

After the party we traveled on to another state, to spend the night with our best friends, because on Sunday their son was baptized.  And we're his godparents!  It was a gorgeous baptism in a cold, cold lake, with a wonderful potluck (kale salads abounded....Mr. Polly was a happy man).  Allison has learned how to make the best coffee I've ever tasted (hint: pour-over + battery-operated frother) and so we had a second cup at her house before heading home and getting here Sunday around dark. 

Monday was a day of babysitting in the morning, and having my babysitter come in the afternoon so that I could do laundry, clean and tidy.  Yesterday we had a marathon day: handing out an award in my mother's honor at the school where she taught (a 2-hour awards ceremony--my children were so good and so patient), multiple errands, lunch out, art class, etc.  When we got home I had a call from the magazine editor I used to work for--I was a writer--asking if I could please proof four articles in the next 24 hours?  The rate he offered was excellent, and my Wednesday was free, so I said yes. I'm almost done, and plan to celebrate by watching "Sense and Sensibility" with Annie....because rewards are good. 

 So we are busy, but it's a privilege to see our only niece, who is also our goddaughter, graduate. And it was an honor to be asked to serve as godparents again.  

(As I type this, Annie is dancing around me singing songs from princess movies.  Adorable!!!)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The First Essential for Progress...Or Not

"Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result....[t]he very experiences of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnances was the first essential for progress.....

"What should they find incredible, since they believed no longer in a rational universe?  What should they regard as too obscene, since they held that all morality was a mere subjective by-product of the physical and economic situation of men?"
                                                                         --from That Hideous Strength, by CS Lewis

Today after lunch Finn and I had a talk about this very topic.  Well, he's eight, so there's that.  But the idea that morality is subjective?  He understands it, and he understands its flaws.  I'm finding that children's reactions to scenarios are often spot-on; as observers of the natural world and human beings they seem to have an unadulterated sense of what's true and right. In other words, they still maintain their deep-set repugnances.

It's the adults who have rationalized our way into all sorts of odd corners who have the problematic perspectives.....and that's where my thoughts have centered as I've folded laundry and scrubbed the bathtub and cleaned the windows and vacuumed today.  Housewifery is, in fact, an excellent vocation for the student of philosophy......

Monday, May 16, 2016

On Balancing Homeschooling + Housework + Hobbies

The triumvirate of "H"-words for me: homeschool, housework, hobbies. I'm trying to balance these three important parts of my life, and it's a challenge.  If too much emphasis swings to one, the other two suffer neglect.   (I'm also a high achiever with high expectations.)

Homeschooling is an important part of our lives and takes time and energy--at least the way I homeschool does!  We read books together, do math together. We even do our freewrites together--all three of us! Finn is capable of some independent work, but it's more enjoyable for him when we're learning in unison.  This will certainly morph and change as the children get older, but for now, homeschooling is very hands-on for me.  It takes a large chunk of time each day.

Finn turns 9 in a few weeks.  I realized recently that this means he's officially halfway to "legal adulthood."  Our time together is flying past, and it's important to embrace the moments we have in his childhood--my father always says "don't wish your life away!" and I agree.  It's far too easy to get swept up in the must-dos of life. I want to enjoy my children's childhoods!

 In addition, as a ponderer at heart, I need space in my day to process books I'm reading, to engage in some creative work, and to just think.  I'm also the type of person with wide, varied interests; on the one hand, I'll never, EVER be bored (and I don't understand people who do get bored). On the other hand, it's sort of overwhelming at times to have multiple passions and interests--is today a day to sew a dress, knit a hat, read, write a poem, exercise, garden, thrift-shop, arrange flowers, paint furniture....?? Each day involves making choices about what to indulge and what to delay. That's tough for an impassioned creative!

Perhaps part of aging is realizing that having it all together is overrated, and that following your passions is essential.  Housework can literally take all of my time if I let it--the old adage that "a woman's work is never done" is true!  I enjoy housework more than many people do, but I enjoy creative pursuits, my children, and my hobbies even more.

 Not long ago I read an old blog post by Julie Bogart (one of my favorite homeschoolers) on this very topic.  She wrote a sentence in that post that struck me as absolutely profound: "There's no recipe for child-rearing that creates both control and energy." I think of the creative play in the living room, the stacks of books, the scattered drawings, the fairy house-building materials on the basement table, the countertop splattered because a child was helping cook a meal.  I must say: there's not much that feels controlled about any of it.  I do tidy up, make neat stacks, and wipe down countertops. But it's all about walking that tightrope between subduing the chaos and fostering the family's creative energies! I remind myself of Julie's words frequently, and find them comforting and wise.

Living out my vocation during this season of life is not at all linear.  I cannot compartmentalize my time into tidy segments.  Tonight I cooked dinner while playing dolls with Annie....because we needed dinner, and she needed my attention!  This afternoon I had to stop what I was doing and help Finn look up facts on the RMS Lusitania --because he asked and why not? Other things did not get done.  I took a brief nap this afternoon because I was exhausted from our busy weekend....and I was a lot nicer than I would have been if I'd forced myself to stay awake and fold laundry!

Perfectionism is overrated in our culture. I love having people over to my house because we get to sit and talk about real things, in a real home, drinking real tea--it's authentic.  No one leaves my house thinking that it's perfect!  But I do think people leave thinking that we're perfectly authentic, and that makes me think that on some level maybe my balancing act is working after all.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


We had houseguests this weekend! My best friend Allison and her husband and six-year-old son came here for two nights.  We had dinner together on Friday night--so much laughter, and the children played outside until well after dark (catching fireflies!).  Saturday morning Mr. Polly got up and left the house very early to run a 5K on a whim.  And he came in second overall.  Without having done any sort of 5K training.  Because that's how he is.**

After he came home, we all went for a nice hike at a local park, and then out for a late lunch.  Then we all went our separate ways: friends to a party in the city, and we went to the country for a welcome picnic to honor our new pastor and his wife.  We all reunited last night and Allison and I stayed up way too late talking.  They left this morning, but I'm not too sad because we are going to visit them next weekend!

Best tidbits from the weekend:

*tonight Mr. Polly set up the telescope and I saw the moon through the telescope for the first time in my life. It was beautiful and eerie and cold and mysterious and wondrous, all at once.

*I'm teaching myself Beethoven's Minuet in G on the piano.....very slowly.

*At the church picnic a large, beautiful double rainbow arched across the sky and seemed to end right near the house that our pastor and his wife bought yesterday. Lovely.

*my husband's kale salad.  As always.

*a two-hour Sunday nap!

(**amazing, that's how he is)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Finn's Spring Recital

Last night was Finn's spring recital.  We're done, hallelujah!  We played our duet first--Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty Waltz."  I actually improvised at the end, but I don't think anyone knew (my husband said "wow, you NAILED it").  I can't really read advanced music, so I was mostly working from memory, ear, and a few visual cues in the sheet music.  Mercifully, I survived. I joked that next year Finn can play the advanced duet part, and I'll play the simple student melody!

And then Finn played his original composition from our trip to Charleston--"Fairy Song" in three movements  That was special!

He has nerves of steel and played perfectly.  

I must say, I truly enjoyed this duet experience.  Last time we played a duet, I played music on his level because that was what was in his book; this time I had to practice diligently to unpack and memorize the piece.  It was fun.  Gosh, it was fun!  I have now decided to study some of my more advanced old sheet music books and choose one piece to learn over the summer. 

But for now, I'm just happy to be done with the recital.  Finn may have nerves of steel, but mine are composed more of little bitty butterfly wings.  

Monday, May 9, 2016


My favorite meal of the day....I adore breakfast.  I love the hot beverage + the fresh day ahead + the delicious food. I typically choose either Greek yogurt with sliced almonds and flax meal or scrambled vegetables, eggs, spicy cheese, half an avocado, and a bit of salsa.  I tend to like tea with the former and coffee with the latter. I am particular about my teacups--a thin lip and a foot are musts; this one is my favorite.  I use my pretty silverware and right now I'm using jadeite as my everyday dishes.

Eating a breakfast you enjoy on dishes you like is a way to be kind and gentle to yourself, and a great way to start the day. (I especially like having my breakfast before my children rise!) But I will add that when my babies were actual babies, breakfast for me was a lot less civilized....though I truly miss those squishy baby cheeks and legs. Sigh. 

Every season has its benefits!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Friday Night Kickball Battlefield

For months now I have been taking all my photos with my phone, because my trusty Nikon is not so trusty right now.  This photo reminds me that I need to get the camera back in order. 

But still, it (poorly) captured a happy evening of kickball.  The teams are Finn and Mom v. Annie and Dad, which should be called the Least Competitive v. the Most Competitive.

Lots of fun, and after an hour of playing, we took a walk east down the lane as dusk settled in over everything.  We saw rain on distant mountains, the old abandoned barn in the hollow, and the quiet woods that skirt our little valley. 

And then we walked home. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

In the Kitchen with Finn

Today Finn requested to make lunch.  I almost said no, because I was feeling a little unhinged, but am so glad I acquiesced and agreed! I taught him the simplest of simple: the cheese quesadilla. It's our house version of a grilled cheese sandwich, since we don't do bread. I gave him verbal instructions step-by-step while hanging out at his elbow.

  With a dollop of salsa and some sliced apple, it made a semi-monochromatic, but quick and simple, lunch.  He wanted more food after he finished eating his first two quesadillas, so he went to the kitchen and made two more all by himself....as well as an extra one for Annie.

I could get used to this!

Isle of Palms

The last full day of our trip to Charleston was spent at the Isle of Palms. (Originally I posted that it was at Folly Beach. Ooops..not this year!)

The ocean, so old, never seems to get old, does it?

Most amusing anecdote du jour was this: my father, who declined sunscreen after compulsively making sure our children were slathered in it, glowed red in his white cotton shirt back at the house that evening.  

"Oh Dad," I said, "you're sunburned!"

"No, I am not," he said indignantly. "I do not burn."

"But you are so red!" I insisted. 

"No honey, a sunburn is very painful and I'm not in any pain."

"But a mild sunburn makes you red!" I continued.

"This is what happens to me," he assured me. "I go out into the sun, and get really red, Then within the next day or two it's basically gone."

At this point my stepmother and I just burst out laughing.  "That's a sunburn!" we howled.

He would never admit it!!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In Charleston: Joseph Manigault House

A house on the Charleston Peninsula, notable for its symmetry and grandeur. 

Also notable for the fact that at one time, post-Reconstruction and pre-restoration, it was the site of a gas station.  

Yes, this:

And best photo of all.  A little girl, in the spring, at the dressing room window, circa 2016.