Sunday, December 30, 2007

Unmitigated Bragging

OK--can I just say that Emma is smart? When Matt came home from the Boston meeting, he brought with him one of those nail puzzles--where two giant nails are twisted together and it seems impossible to separate them? Of course Matt can do it (would you expect any less?) and he showed me the trick to it, although I still can't do it every time because I get impatient and give up.

Well, Emma sat there today playing with them, and suddenly said, "Look, Dad--I did it!" She had indeed. She didn't know how to put them back together, so Matt did it for her. About a minute later, she had it undone again.

I am very impressed.


Daily Quote

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

--Ray Bradbury

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lesson Plans

Today in the afternoon I went out to Border's, my favorite place for lesson planning. Sometimes it seems such a bother to pack everything up and drag it there, but it is so worth it to have quiet--of course, it isn't absolutely quiet there, but none of the noise is directed at me, so I find it no problem at all to tune it out. Plus I can order delicious coffee drinks, which are a luxury I seldom have....

Today I focused on Julia. I got her planned from next week until the end of February. The first plan is usually the hardest, because I have to go through the calendar and figure out all the holidays and half days involved (we have half days when there are certain clubs or field trips going on, for birthdays and occasionally just for fun). Plus I gave us Leap Day off--because after all, that day is only once every 4 years, so why not? Also, there are some things the girls have in common, such as French, gym, art, and projects for History and Science clubs that is more work to plan for the first girl--I just copy those assignments into the other girl's planner.

The biggest surprise? As March begins, Julia will only have 18 pages left in her math book for the year! So I guess the remainder of the time will be spent on doing those test prep workbooks--she has her first standardized test next year, so it's time to practice with the little circles. That will be a good math review as well. I was also pleased to note that the next section of her book deals with graphs, beginner fractions (shaded shapes and figuring out that 2/3 is greater than 1/2 by looking at the shading), time and money, geometric shapes, measurement and conversions such as inches to feet to yards, cups to pints to quarts to gallons, etc. The reason I am pleased is because I have always found these topics to be very easy to cover and get done--as opposed to this first half of the year, which was multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication and division--very boring and labor intensive, designed to cause the maximum number of arguments every time the book is opened.

Also, I admitted defeat on the science CD I thought both girls could handle (it claims to be appropriate for K-12, where you just assign harder material and projects the older the student is). Unfortunately, it bored Julia senseless and she never wanted to do it. It is full of Internet links, and she just never wanted to click on anything and read what was there. So I took the far less inspired route and assigned topics from a 3rd grade complete curriculum that I had from the days of Rachel but hadn't cracked open for Julia. While I was there I also decided to use the social studies curriculum--we had been using the American Girls books and then making little unit studies around the time period--but frankly it was a lot of work! Since I was already using the science, I decided to switch and let Julia read the American Girls for fun. She does enjoy the books a lot.

So tomorrow afternoon I will head out to plan for Rachel. I will bring Ben's books along, too (which I did today also, but after 3 hours was headachy and decided I was finished) and possibly get to him. But even if I don't, his plans are by far the simplest and I can plan the week while he does assignments if I have to. Or, I could go out on New Year's Eve or Day, or the following weekend if need be.

It's really much harder to plan three sets of lessons than two!



After a wonderful holiday with Grandma and Poppy, aunts, uncles and cousins, we are happy to be back home. The kittens and cats missed us immensely--we were greeted with a chorus of purrs, meows and pleas for attention (okay, and food, which they'd greedily gobbled and needed more of!) and slept piled on top of us, as if they could make sure we wouldn't leave them again. We had a pile of mail, a pile of eggs in Lila's cat house (only one in the coop!), a pile of pine needles to vacuum up in the living room--and a VAST pile of things to unpack and put away. We spent all day yesterday getting things back in order, and were rewarded with a nice day today of homemade blueberry muffins and coffee, movies, and talking while the kids played with new toys and got reacquainted with old ones.

It's nice to get away, but even nicer to come home!


Daily Quote

Parents have become so convinced that educators know what is best for their children that they forget that they themselves are really the experts.

--Marian Wright Edelman

Sunday, December 23, 2007

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

It's early, I know. But tomorrow we are off after we open all the gifts under the tree and have our traditional homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast. We are spending the holiday with my parents as we do every year. It's nice for the kids because on Christmas Eve we open our gifts to them and to one another, gifts from Grandma B., plus gifts that were mailed to us from other family and friends and even from friends at Matt's office. Then on Christmas Day we do stockings, Santa gifts, and gifts to and from Grandma and Poppy. Finally, a day or two later we get together with my whole family at my sister's house, and we have a Secret Santa exchange. (With 3 siblings, spouses, 15 grandchildren and now 2 great grandchildren, this is by FAR the best way to deal with Christmas!)

So I probably won't post much in the coming week. From our family to yours, we wish you a blessed Christmas and a healthy and peaceful new year!


Baby Jetpack

Baby Jetpack is the name of a game that Ben and Emma have been playing for a long time. When they play it, Ben carries Emma piggyback and they have a whole pretend world where they are exploring space. Emma is "Baby Jetpack" and Ben uses her to fly around and save the world or something. Sometimes they crash land on the rug, and sometimes Julia gets into the act too, and directs Ben, plays the villain, or uses her strong back to make Ben the jetpack. The thing that gets me about the game is how close they are when they play it--Emma grabs onto Ben like a spider monkey, and he carries her around the house like it is the only thing he cares about or ever will. It is so cute to see them like that. I truly believe that all the trouble of having three babies in four and a half years was worth it to see those three such good friends. They really do love each other, which is all I can ask for!


Daily Quote

If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.

--John Lennon

Friday, December 21, 2007

Remember Summer?

OK--this is kind of random, considering it's 4 days till Christmas and the winter solstice and all. But I just helped Emma into all her gear to go play in the back yard with Ben and Julia--not her snow pants at least, because it's fairly warm today, considering what the past two weeks have been like, but still her coat, boots, hat and mittens---and it just got me thinking of how beautiful summer days are. This photo of Ben was taken on Labor Day, when we went to the beach with our good friend Matt who was visiting from Seattle and wanted to get as much beach as he could while with us. Ben was having a wonderful time "surfing" and was occupied this way for a really long time. I can remember sitting in my chair watching and taking photos--it was hot, I was tan, I'd been in the water swimming, there was a nice breeze....really, there isn't much that's better than a day like that!


Daily Quote

An artist is somebody who produces things that people don't need to have.

--Andy Warhol

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Finally Mailed

It's only December 20-I have all my out of town gifts mailed! How is it that every single year I vow that I will have everything gone by the 10th or 15th at the very latest, and yet every year I am racing to the Post Office, contemplating paying the outrageous prices for Express Service? (I went with Priority this year, I think there's still enough time, although with the weekend thrown in I could be wrong.)

I think I kind of amused the guy behind the counter. Thankfully I had no kids with me--but I had a huge box for Matt's mom and a laundry basket with a box already packed (but not taped or addressed!)to my friend Jenn, plus several bags that were packed with items going to other addresses. (Naturally, I recycled a whole bunch of boxes from mail orders on Wednesday morning, not thinking ahead to the Post Office--so I had to buy three boxes for the remaining packages.) I spent about 20 minutes packing, taping and addressing boxes, placing them one by one on the counter. The post office I went to is a very small one--even so close to Christmas I was alone with the one worker nearly the entire time. One person came to the counter and a couple of people came to their P.O. boxes--that was it. So he watched me do all the packing up, taping and addressing. We chatted a bit, commiserated about the difficulty of getting everything done, and he confided that he hasn't even mailed his packages. This I found hard to believe, but he insisted and seemed sincere.

Anyway, I am glad that everything is out of my hands now. I still have some gifts for people here to get, and we still have to deliver baked goods to our neighbors....


Daily Quote

Who has words at the right moment?

--Charlotte Bronte

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Nutcracker

This morning we went to see the Nutcracker ballet with some friends. One of my favorite holiday traditions, of course--made better by the fact that we knew four of the children in it, including Clara--all homeschoolers.

After they'd been dancing a while, Emma leaned into me and whispered (loudly, like a 3 year old), "Mama, is this the NutCRAPPER?"

Hmmmm.....she never heard that word from me! :)

Then later, when the Mouse King is battling the Nutcracker, and all the mice are dancing, she whispers to me, "Are those RATS?" To which I said quietly, "No, they're mice. Just watch, sweetie." She thought a minute, then says, "Well, I know what they really are! Ballerinas!"

Which kind of made up for her earlier comment.


Fifteen Years

Today is our fifteenth wedding anniversary. I can't believe it! I always think of people who reach their fifteenth anniversary as middle aged and boring. I would love to believe that we are not yet middle aged and boring! I can always use the excuse that we married pretty young for this day and age--when you marry at 35 you kind of are old and boring by the time you reach this milestone! :)

We passed the "known each other half our lives" mark last year. We really have grown up together. When I think of all the things that Matt and I have done together over the years, all the firsts, all the things we've learned from or with each other, it really does amaze me. The fact that we still consider each other best friends and that we can still talk for hours about anything and everything is one of the things I like best about us. Also that we don't hate each other--yet. (Joking, joking!)

The daily quote is from one of the songs we consider ours. We don't have just one song--we love music too much for that. But it's a song that always makes us think of the other.

Matt--I love you and I always will.


Daily Quote

in your eyes
the light the heat
in your eyes
I am complete
in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
in your eyes
the resolution of all the fruitless searches
in your eyes
I see the light and the heat
in your eyes
oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light
the heat I see in your eyes

--Peter Gabriel

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Photos

Julia and Ben

Julia and Ben, goofy friends


Julia and Emma

All four kids together

We had a photo shoot this morning, trying to get a good picture of the kids for a gift for grandparents. I am not going to put the final photo up (since they would see it!) but we had a great time. The kids had a "fashion show," trying to find the outfits they wanted to wear, they brushed and fixed each other's hair, and Rachel even put a white sheet out to look like a professional picture. Not sure if that one worked, but after I hit on the way to make them laugh rather than just say CHEESE! (which sounds good but tends to put strange expressions on their faces instead of smiles) we had better luck. Enjoy!


Daily Quote

A writer should have this little voice inside of you saying, Tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.

--Quentin Tarantino

Monday, December 17, 2007

Go, Chickens!

Today we gathered five eggs! That is the most we have ever had, and yet the last week has been really very cold...I am impressed with the girls in the yard. If they keep this up we can stop buying any eggs from the store at all.


Daily Quote

All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

--Paul Simon

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wrapping Presents

Is there anything more daunting than a huge pile of Christmas presents to wrap? Normally I wrap as I buy; it works out well because I don't have to wrap a lot at once, and it makes the tree look pretty because I put things under the tree as I go--no storage to worry about. However, we ran out of wrapping paper, and when I rushed to Target before a party to buy a card and pick up more wrapping paper, I was running late and had four kids with me. I didn't read the little sign that said "36 square feet" on the package--I saw three rolls of paper, and thought that would be great.

Wrong! Turns out 36 square feet of wrapping paper is barely enough to wrap anything. So I waited two more days to get more. In the meantime, boxes arrived in the mail and I went shopping at two other stores. I now have a huge pile of gifts on my bedroom floor, covered with a quilt so the kids don't see them. Tomorrow night I will be wrapping them.

What joy.


Daily Quote

The world doesn't need any more mediocrity.

--Anne Rice

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Love Christmas

I Love Christmas

Here it comes! Here it comes!
Ring the bells! Bang the drums!
Here it comes! Here it comes!
Christmas! Christmas!
Peace and will, snow on the sill.
Christmas! Christmas!
I'm with my family, presents galore!
Wrapping paper on the floor.
Shouts of "Yahoo!" "Hurrah!" "Hooray!"
It used to not be, but it's here all the way.
It's finally here--and yes, today......
Christmas! Christmas!!!!


Snow Storm

Although today was not our first snow of the year, it was the first accumulation. We noticed that there were flurries in the air around 12:30, and soon it was snowing with feeling. Julia, Ben and Emma got outside in their snowpants, coats, boots, hats and mittens and stayed out for over an hour. When they came in they looked like snowmen! Julia was being the sled dog, pulling Ben and Emma around the yard, and they had Sophie with them, running around and chasing the chickens with glee and getting soaked herself. Over the afternoon there was also sleet and a bit of hail, and it is still snowing now. I'd say we have a bit more than two inches.

Another plus--Matt's office closed at 2:30, so we had Daddy home when we returned from the kids' checkup at the doctor's!

Rachel and Julia, with Matt as sous chef, are making a stir fry for dinner. They are doing a unit study on China, so it counts as school work...


Congratulations, Parsells Family!

Yesterday at around 5 in the afternoon my phone rang. I was somewhat surprised to see my brother's name on Caller ID. My family, although we all get along like crazy and love to see each other in person, is not especially good with phone calls. Especially now that everyone uses email. I answered, of course, thinking that the call would have something to do with Christmas.

I was absolutely floored when David told me that my niece, Emily, (his eldest daughter), had given birth to a baby boy at 12:35 am! The biggest reason I was so surprised is that she wasn't due until February 6! A lesser surprise was that it was a boy...we have so many girls in the family that when a boy is born it takes a moment to process it.

So a hearty congratulations to Emily, John, and big sister Ella! Baby boy weighed in at an impressive 4 lbs. 1 oz. and is 17.5 inches, which is an excellent prognosis for such an early babe. We can't wait to find out what his name will be, and to see the whole family in person. The worst news is that we will miss them terribly at Christmas for our huge family gathering; baby will be in the hospital for an estimated three weeks, and I'm sure even if he gets sprung earlier they won't want to make the trip. We are so sad about that, but so happy to have a new baby in our family!


Daily Quote

Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard.

--Paul McCartney

Monday, December 10, 2007


I'm late with this one--Rachel's birthday was actually Saturday, December 8. She is now twelve years old! We had such a busy weekend that I just never sat down to blog about what we were doing. On Saturday, we had a big breakfast (her choice) with eggs, hashbrowns and bacon. There were our gifts to her and a lot of talking. In the afternoon Rachel and Matt spent time together while I took Julia, Ben and Emma to a friend's birthday party. By the time we got home it was time for homemade pizza, salad and chocolate cake--again, Rachel's pick. Her friend Matt from across the street was with us for dinner, since her birthday party this year is a sleepover, so he won't be there.

Yesterday we had family over--my parents, sister Susan and her husband Sean, and three of their four kids (their eldest, Meghan, was working, unfortunately--we are used to it, but don't like it!) made the journey out to us. We had a gorgeous fire, music, endless talk, lots of great food, the Giants game, ball in the yard, walks with the dogs, more cake for dessert, and even some Christmas shopping. We all had a wonderful day, and Rachel loved her gifts--she is very excited that this year she received some cash to spend as she wants. She is already plotting shopping on Amazon and ebay, with a possible jaunt to Border's.

So how does it feel to be the mom of a twelve year old? Honestly, no different than when she was eleven--unless I start to think about it. Then it is terrifying! To think about how I felt at twelve (pretty much as though I were an adult more kid stuff for me!) and trying to apply it to Rachel...well, let's just say I try to stop thinking and just say "lalalalalalalalalalala" to divert my mind! And yet, of course, the evidence insists that she is indeed on that slippery slope to young adulthood and I just have no choice but to accept it. I can probably accept it, but I don't have to enjoy it.

As an aside--this morning Julia asked Emma is she could have a stuffed bunny that belongs to her. Emma thought a minute, then replied: "Well, Julia--if I get to be a teenager and we haven't sold it away--then you may have it!"



Daily Quote

I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.

--Flannery O'Connor

Friday, December 7, 2007

Emma and the Piano

The kids have been very into the piano these days. About a month ago, we ordered the next set of piano books for Rachel. She took right to them, began playing on her own with no instruction. She is very good and practices every day. I was surprised because the songs in this book are using both hands--chords and all, they sound like *real* music, not just simple practice exercises.

It was at this same time that Rachel decided that Julia should begin her piano studies, and they began practicing nearly every day. Julia also had a lot of fun picking out tunes by ear (although we already knew she liked doing this, her memory has improved a lot and she now knows songs all the way through by heart) and practices these as well. Julia then taught Ben how to play "Hot Cross Buns," which he took right up. Emma soon got into the act, asking to have piano lessons too. She would also go to the piano and play random notes--but would not bang or play too many keys at once, so it sounded pretty harmonious, for a three year old.

Imagine my surprise a few days ago when I heard "Hot Cross Buns" playing in the living room while I was cooking---I walked into the room to tell Ben he had played it very well, but Emma was at the piano!

"Did you play that song, baby?" I asked her, amazed.

"Yes, Mama, it was me playing and I can play it again!" she said proudly. She went on to play it again several times. The kicker is, when she got a note wrong, she didn't go back to the beginning--she simply backed up a bar and replayed it correctly!

Every day something just stuns me!


Daily Quote

All of life and human relations have become so incomprehensibly complex that, when you think about it, it becomes terrifying and your heart stands still.

--Anton Chekhov

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Watching Like A Hawk

The other day, I was helping my mom take out the garbage. The cans are on the side of our house, so just as we were going inside, I saw a red-tailed hawk swooping above our back yard!

I shrieked, "LOOK! A HAWK!" My mom whipped around to look at it, but it was too late. "Hawkeye" (named after a stuffed hawk that Ben has) had flown into our neighbor Ed's giant pine tree.

We got a little worried; after all, hawks do eat chickens, correct? But we haven't had any further problems with Mr. Hawkeye, although we did see him swooping over the yard again yesterday. Wish us luck (especially for the poor chickens!!)


Being Neighborly

I took the kids out in the afternoon yesterday to do some Christmas shopping. I thought we might be able to find some gifts for Matt or family members, and the kids were excited to go. As we got in the van, we waved to Ron, our elderly neighbor's son (he's in his late 50's), who was working in his dad's yard. Ed has four children--his daughter Susie sold us our house and was best friends with the woman who grew up here--and Ron and Susie live close by and come over daily to help him with whatever he needs.

We came back from our shopping, and to my surprise--all the leaves that had been in our front yard were now in a neat pile in the gutter! I found Ron, still working in the yard. He said that he'd seen the town leaf truck go by on the next street earlier in the day, but since it didn't come to us he figured they'd be by tomorrow (today) and so he thought he'd help us out a bit.

I just thought that was the nicest thing I've seen in a long time. Yes, he has a leaf blower, so it didn't take him the two hours it wold have taken us to do the same job--but still, he didn't have to do that, which I said to him after thanking him profusely.

"No worries," he said to me. "You're doing a great job with all your kids, and if I can save you some work I'm going to do it. Besides, those cookies you gave me a couple of weeks ago were worth it!"

So nice!


Daily Quote

Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it. Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door and keep it open.

--Pauline Kael

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where Do Librarians Live?

We were getting ready to go to the library this afternoon. Emma was watching me get my shoes on and brush my hair, following me from my bedroom to the bathroom.

"Mama--the librarians live at the library," she announced very seriously.

"No, they don't, honey," I said, laughing. She thought for a moment, and then wrinkled up her nose and forehead.

"Then why are they always there when we go to the library?" she asked logically.

I explained that it was a job for them; Daddy goes to the office every day, but he doesn't live there, he comes home to us at night. The librarians all have homes and families to go home to after work, just like Daddy comes home to us. She thought for another moment, then came to her decision.

"Then I want to go over to their houses and see where they live!" she declared.

Why is this girl so cute?


Monday, December 3, 2007

Daily Quote

I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.

--Marilyn Monroe

Sunday, December 2, 2007

First Snow

This morning, to our surprise, it was snowing! Big, fat flakes, absolutely beautiful. They were sticking to the grass and on the flagstones. Lila the cat was horrified! She came out of her house for breakfast and when her foot got wet, she stopped, lifted her paw and shook it with a comical degree of disgust. She got over it, though, when her dish hit the ground. Her black coat was so pretty with the snowflakes clinging to it.

It continued to snow through the morning and into the afternoon. After church we headed to Mattituck to get our Christmas tree. It was very festive at the farm, with everyone in a happy mood and snowflakes in their hair. While we waited for the tree to be cut, the kids caught snowflakes on their tongues and noticed that the flakes were so large we could see their patterns when they landed on scarves and mittens--especially my black ones. We chose a gorgeous Fraser Fir, seven and a half feet tall.

We came home, freezing cold, and went through the requisite forty minutes of setting up tree and lights, with the kids asking every three seconds if it was time to decorate the tree. Finally, it was time, and we trimmed the tree to Nat King Cole and Jewel Christmas music. Then I made the hot chocolate while Matt built the fire, and all relaxed, talking and enjoying it all.

It stopped snowing around 2:00, but the trees have a beautiful dusting of white, and the lawns are mostly covered. Early snow--love it!


Daily Quote

Either move or be moved.

--Ezra Pound

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas Decorations

Today we dragged out the Rubbermaid totes full of Christmas ornaments. The lights went outside, as did the wreath on the door and the snowman on the arbor bench. The stockings were hung, candles put out, the table centerpiece remade with holly boughs and berries. It is so comforting to see the same beautiful things every year and to remember all the times that we've had with them in sight. I love all of my Christmas treasures.

Tomorrow we will get our tree and decorate it in front of the fire, with hot chocolate, Christmas music and maybe even cookies fresh from the oven.

I will post photos soon...


Daily Quote

Music fathoms the sky.

--Charles Baudelaire