Friday, April 29, 2011

Bee Gone

 Living in a log house in the woods brings with it a whole host of complications, most of which can be attributed to the fact that the insects, birds, and small gliding rodents, do not see any appreciable differences between said house and any other tree in the forest. During the 16 years we have lived here, we have dealt with infestations of carpenter bees, termites, carpenter ants, and flying squirrels, along with occasional indoor visits from birds, bats, lizards, and snakes. It's a very lively existence we lead, and we've come to develop fairly effective strategies for dealing with our wild interlopers. And when I say effective, I am completely disregarding the two bullet holes I still have in my bedroom ceiling as a result of one of my husband's last ditch attempts to tackle the flying squirrel problem that plagued us for years.

Happily, those flying squirrels are gone, as are the termites and ants. The carpenter bees are another story. As soon as the weather turns warm in the spring, the outside of my house turns into a war zone. Just getting to our front door requires us to run the gauntlet among dive-bombing bees about the size of a large grape. These fuzzy little monsters bore holes into the walls of our house where they lay their eggs. This, in turn, attracts woodpeckers, who turn those half-inch diameter holes (bad enough) into enormous gashes many inches long. Did I mention woodpeckers start feeding at first light--say 5:30 a.m.--and make a sound like someone hammering and most prefer the wall right outside my bedroom?

Anyway, for some reason, our only approach to this insidious problem in years past has been a badminton racket. While there is something satisfying about striking a large, home-wrecking insect with a piece of sports equipment, it has not proven very effective when considering the big picture. So, last year, for the first time, we called an exterminator. In one hour, he was able to eradicate a huge percentage of our bees. This year, they returned in full force, of course, but our trusty bug-man returned today and worked his magic. It is truly amazing to go from swarms of buzzing, swooping bees everywhere you turn, to complete peace and quiet in such a short amount of time. Lovely!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just Say No to Grass

During the early part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in the suburbs. We had a nice two story house with an average-sized yard. We had a vegetable garden and some very pretty flower beds, but the bulk of the landscape was devoted to lawn. Then, when I was around 8 years old, my parents began the great project that became the home I now live in with my family today. For a blissful few years, we had the most fascinating (especially for a child) yard full of tree stumps, dirt/stone piles, and leaves. But gradually all that wildness gave way to the more civilized lawn of grass. 

I don't completely hate grass. In certain contexts it can be quite appealing, especially when it is perfectly maintained. But in the particular context of my yard, I can unequivocally state that I hate grass. I confess that mine is far from immaculate. It is full of crabgrass, clover, wild strawberries, and other assorted weeds. But it's grass enough to require mowing.

Now this is a fine example of what I would love my yard to be. Beautiful moss--never needs mowing. I do have some moss in my yard, but there is not enough shade for it to really spread like this. Even though we are in the woods, the clearing around our house is pretty large, so we don't have much wooded landscape up close.

A yard full of ivy like this is another little fantasy I cherish. Notice the continuing no-mowing theme. It's not as nice for walking on as moss, I suppose, but it's more durable and will tolerate the full sun better. I do have some nice ivies; I'm just not sure how to turn them into this kind of a solid mass.

And while mowing is a big turnoff for me, avoiding it is not my only motivation in my dreams of a grass-free yard. Primarily I'm simply drawn to the look of something a little more untamed--a little less cultivated looking--in my surroundings. Not that anyone could accuse me of having a cultivated looking yard. I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't be surprised if you see me in front of my house with a large bottle of Round-Up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 18 - April 22

How could it not be the best homeschooling week ever when it ended on Thursday (Easter break finally!) and Austin finished that nastiest of geometry units that has been making us all crazy for the past 2+ weeks. He passed it, too, meaning we never have to deal with it again. (Insert huge sigh of relief here.)

But life is always full of that glorious opposition. While Austin's eyes were glazing over at every attempt to teach him how to calculate the volume of solids of various shapes, Carter was digging the 7th grade version of the concept. I mean, he was seriously entertained by the whole idea. He actually got up from the desk after finishing a math assignment this week, sat down on the floor with Oliver, and proceeded to calculate the volume of each of Oliver's shape-sorting blocks. He was so dedicated to the task, that Oliver had to come tug on me to intervene so that he could have his blocks back. Maybe I should have enlisted Carter's assistance in teaching his big brother, though that might not have done great things for the sibling relationship.

Looking forward to the week off, catching up on ornithology labs and finalizing curriculum decisions for next year.

Growing Pains

Easter weekend is here, bringing with it our long awaited break from school and work. But in the midst of the fun and festivity that goes along with a major holiday, I am nursing a little secret. I don't know how many other moms out there share this particular neurosis or if I'm alone in my sadistic wallowing. The sad truth is that I tend to mar every traditionally joyful event by mourning the passing of my children's childhood. Each year marks such a new level of their development and I, for some reason, measure the passage of time from holiday to holiday. There's always a part of my mind that is occupied with wondering how long our child-centered traditions will endure as my children move closer to adulthood. Having a toddler in the house doesn't stop me moping, either. With such a large age gap between my two oldest and my sweet youngest, it's like living under a constant reminder of how quickly that time of pure innocence passes.

Before you go thinking I'm a spoiled brat who ruins every celebration with wistful melancholy, I have made great progress in shoving those thoughts aside. After all, I love and enjoy my children more and more as they grow. I am also keenly aware of the genuine pain experienced by mothers who have lost their children and do not get to watch them age. Taken in that light, I can more easily recognize my secret suffering for the selfish and indulgent inclination it really is. But then, I think we can probably categorize most of our neuroses that way, which is why getting out of our own heads and serving others is such a powerful antidote for our personal complaints.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go color eggs with my kids while they still want to.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Winter Leaves

Living in the woods, as I have for most of my life, the emerging of the new leaves is as beautiful a sight to me as any spring flowers. The woods is so altered by winter and always seems so barren and bleak to me. The first glimpse of that soft green spray over everything feels almost miraculous every year. It is such a sweet transformation. My whole world changes. Imagine the walls of your house being perfectly transparent for a season. That is fall and winter for me. Suddenly, I can see my neighbors, the street, the sunset. It's eerie and strange. Those little spring leaves mark the return to normalcy. My walls are solid again and I no longer feel exposed and vulnerable. If that means saying goodbye to the glimpse of the sunset through naked tree trunks, I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hatching Day

We had our first quail hatch Sunday evening. There were eight more by Monday morning. The bulk of the day yesterday was taken up by monitoring eggs, checking humidity levels, and moving the dry chicks to the brooder box. Opening an incubator full of quail chicks is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. They are all legs; designed to jump and run virtually from birth. I closed the incubator after one check and was all the way across the room when I heard a loud peeping. I turned around to see a chick sitting on the edge of the table. Luckily I got it before it could fall to the floor.

Other dramas of the day included breaking the cardinal rule of not helping the chick out of the egg (it had been hatching for more than 12 hours and was not progressing) and discovering that the brooder lamp had fallen into the box and the bulb had broken. Both situations turned out fine. The chick looked like it might not make it--it was very weak and stayed curled up in its egg position--but by morning it was standing up and ready to join the others. The lamp managed to not crush any chicks and none of them were injured by the glass. They were a little cold, but otherwise intact.

The grand total only made it to 29 chicks. It's hard to be disappointed when they are all so cute, but considering we started with 53 eggs, that's a pretty poor hatching percentage. Thirteen eggs never developed, eight developed but never made it to the hatching point, and three began hatching but died before they could emerge from the eggs. Just the circle of life and all that, I guess. But all in all, our 2011 quail adventure is off to a fun start.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 10 - April 15

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the spontaneity. If you wake up in the mood for a field trip--off you can go. No advanced planning necessary. This past Monday was a gorgeous day--all sunshine and heat--and there was no way we were staying at our desks. (Although we often go outside to do schoolwork once the weather turns nice.) So it was a picnic at the beach for us. We also managed to squeeze in a little outlet shopping while we were at it (very educational).

Another thing I love about homeschooling is the flexibility I have to change course in midstream when the needs of my children dictates it. For the past two weeks, Austin's geometry course has been giving us both headaches. A math headache is not something I'm used to, since it was hands-down my favorite subject when I was in school. But I have become very displeased with the way the Monarch geometry course we are using is set up. There are too many complex or trick questions and not enough basic questions in each assignment. As a result, Austin does not get enough chance to have a concept reinforced before he is expected to deal with all sorts of complicating factors that confuse his fragile understanding of what he's learning. It's almost as if each question is an extra-credit style challenge for the student who wants to push himself. This late in the year, I'm not interested in jumping ship to a new math course if I can avoid it. But I can create new questions to accompany the lessons. The best part is, there are so many free resources on the internet, that I won't even have to create the questions myself. This way, Austin can still complete the course to get his geometry credit and I won't have to be stressed out everyday trying to teach him how to solve overly convoluted problems. Insert victory dance here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Let It Snow

One of the (few) things I love about winter is how beautiful snow looks in the woods. Being more of a warm weather fan, though, I have to say I'm quite fond of the spring version.

Every April, hundreds of shadblow (also known as serviceberry) trees explode in little white flowers. Pictures don't do it justice, but I took a bunch anyway.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Years ago, I read a book called The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. It's a fantastic book and I highly recommend it to anyone, which is not something I readily do when it comes to tales of the Holocaust. But this book was, for me, so much more than a story of oppression and suffering, though it is full of both. More than that, it was a lesson in humility and gratitude. The way Corrie and her sister were able to endure so well was a clear result of their decision to choose an attitude that would seem impossible in such dire circumstances. They constantly searched each situation for God's hand and always came away with something to feel grateful for. It was not easy for them, but they succeeded because they were so determined in the effort. At one point in the book, they decided to be grateful for the fleas that tormented them in the barracks of the concentration camp, because the presence of the fleas kept the guards out. With the guards keeping this distance, they were free to hold Bible studies with their fellow prisoners, a practice that brought all of them great comfort and a sense of purpose.

It is so easy to feel frustrated with the many little inconveniences or difficulties of our lives day to day, but when we make a decision to look for a source of gratitude, we can bring a swift halt not only to our grumblings, but to all our negative feelings. Sometimes those negative feelings seem so powerful and overwhelming, yet a simple step in the direction of feeling thankful for something--no matter how small--can melt them away so quickly. It really is true that you just can't hold on to both feelings at once. So, with that in mind, here are a few things I am grateful for:

1. fatigue
2. a messy house
3. sore feet
4. sunburn
5. many unfinished projects
6. a big grocery bill
7. too much laundry to do
8. finding sticky spots on my just-mopped kitchen floor
9. not having enough down time
10. spending all day shopping and not getting anything for myself

These are the trappings of motherhood. How can I be truly grateful for my children if I do not allow myself to approach all these things with a wink and a nod? There are many women out there who would gladly endure much more than this for the blessings of being surrounded by the glorious, messy, chaotic joy that only children can bring. So bring it on. There will come a time all too soon when that list will shrink, and I will have to find new things to be grateful for.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever: April 4 - April 8

Getting in the mood for Easter, we were all about eggs this week. Last week was human reproduction, this  week it was the birds' turn. Austin's current ornithology unit is all about the structure of the egg and what birds must go through to produce, protect, and hatch them. With only 9 days left until quail-hatching day, we have been getting a taste of the work that goes into that process--humidifying the incubator, rotating eggs to aid in the chicks' development, and candling the eggs to observe the progress of the embryos.

We rounded out the week by dissecting a chicken egg. My father thought this was hugely funny. He had many guffaws at my expense, imagining me cracking an egg into a bowl and calling it a science project. Let me assure you skeptics out there, that we very scientifically removed the shell from the membrane, leaving us with a see-through egg. It was highly educational. And it's the only dissection project you can eat when you're finished.

In other news, I'm officially tired of teaching geometry. It was my least favorite math when I was in school, and it's no different now. It's taking all my energy to press on. To make matters worse, Carter is doing a geometry unit in pre-algebra right now, too. There's no escape. I wish pi had never been discovered.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Being a one income family who is saving for an approaching retirement (December, yay!), budgeting is a high priority. To avoid cutting too much into things I love, I have tried cutting deep into things I don't care about. Take trash, for instance. It's trash. As long as I get it out of my house, I'm not especially particular about the whole business. Living in the country means we have to contract with a private company if we want our trash collected. Our trash collection rates recently increased. I don't know what this service goes for in town, but the service here now goes for $32/month. I know that doesn't sound like a huge amount, but it comes out to $384 for the year. However, did you know that you can drop off a 33-gallon bag of trash at a collection station for $1? Because we recycle, we only fill one of those each week. That's $52 for the year if we are willing to drop it off ourselves instead of having the truck come to our house, saving us $332 for the year.

My cell phone is my next big save. As I've said, I get no real signal where I live, so the cell phone is simply something to use when I'm out. I was paying $34/month for the cheapest plan I could get. I downgraded that to a pay-as-you-go plan which charges me $2 for each day I use the phone. That $2 gets me unlimited calling and texting. Since I'm only really out 2 days a week and don't need to use my phone everytime I'm out, this has turned out very well. Instead of that $34, my phone is now costing me about $10/month. That's $288 for the year.

And just to show that I'm crazy (and because this post could not get more boring), I have to throw in my doggie savings. We have a goldendoodle. Goldendoodles are great because they don't shed, but their coats do require a lot more maintenance than the lab we used to have. To have a full grooming on my dog costs over $100 and has to be done 2 or 3 times each year. So I got myself a $40 electric dog clipper and did it myself. I'm not putting up a picture of the results, because my technique could use some . . . er . . .  refinement. But my neighbors are too far away to see him, he's happy, and my $40 investment is going to save me around $300/year.

For just a few cuts that do not affect my life in any profound way, I am putting over $900 in my pocket every year. That's more than enough to buy a very nice doggie sweater, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Conjoined Twins

Two flowers fused together. This goes along well with the five-leaf clover I found last year. I love nature's little oddities--and they make for great science lessons.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Bird in the Hand

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, what is the value of one you pull from the bush with your hands? Five years ago, we brought home four mallard ducklings. They grew, multiplied, were eaten by foxes, raccoons, snakes, snapping turtles, and hawks, flew away, were given away, and, in the end, were reduced to the one lone duck we have today. He's a very nice duck and I figure he must have some rock solid survival skills to have made it this far in what is clearly a hostile environment for waterfowl.

So today, I was walking back home from our garden and I noticed this stalwart duck struggling in some brush at the edge of the woods. Rushing to his rescue, I discovered that he had gotten his foot caught in a briar bush. The thorns had completely pierced through the webbing of his foot and he could not get free. He held perfectly still and let me free him. I hate to think that he might have ended up as dinner for a fox if I hadn't happened to be out there when I was. I guess his luck continues.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Best Homeschooling Week Ever - March 28-April 1

Really. What could be more fun than a week in which one's 11-year-old has lessons on human reproduction in both health and science? If you said nothing, you're so right! There is a toddler in our home, of course, which means that a little over a year ago we got to answer the "how is the baby actually made" question. And me, I'm the luckiest girl in the world, because I married a nurse. He's not just a nurse, either; he's a certified labor and delivery nurse. So my wonderful husband broke out the textbooks and gave the subject the full scientific treatment. Case closed, I thought. But no. Out come the diagrams, with eggs, sperm, and other unmentionables. All with my ace-in-the-hole husband off at work. After some giggling (mostly mine) and much groaning and exclamations of disgust (the tween), we got through it. Phew!

Looking ahead . . . it's April! The month of big curriculum sales! It's a little embarrassing how exciting that is to me. But I'm not about to let a little embarrassment interfere with my unrestrained giddiness. More on that next week.

Living on the Moon

I live, obviously, in the country. When I first moved here as a child, the road was a barely paved, unnamed stretch of ignored gravel. Now we have a name and even one of those new-fangled yellow lines down the middle. What we don't have? Cell phone reception or high speed internet. My house is probably the last cell dead zone in Delaware. It's true. I can get reception in my yard, but inside we get just enough signal to make the phone ring, but not enough to take the call.

Internet is even more fun. Here I am, 5 miles from a town that, though small, has DSL, cable, Fios, every technology you would care to choose from, and my only choices are dial-up or satellite. Comcast likes to tease me by sending me offers of cable internet service for about half what I pay for satellite. And, like Charlie Brown running to kick Lucy's football, I'll call them up, ever hopeful that this will be the time they mean it. At first they'll tell me they can provide service at my address, but it always ends up the same. My address isn't in the service area, I'm too far off the road, they can do it but installation will cost $5000, etc. So I continue to limp along with my over-priced satellite internet because it is, after all, faster than dial-up (as long as it doesn't rain hard).

The whole thing makes me rather grumpy. What's a girl need to do to get a little technology? I'm really not out in the middle of nowhere--more like the edge of somewhere. I am smack in the middle of the great urban centers of the east coast, but I might as well live on a 500-acre ranch in Montana or the moon, for all the notice these companies take of me and my neighbors (yes, there are other people out here). Come to think of it, I think the astronauts on the space station have better connection speeds than I do.