Stomach Flu and Manatees

The awful thing about a blogging gap is that the longer it persists, the more earth-shattering I think my next post needs to be to break the gap. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of earth-shattering stuff going on in my world lately, so the gap keeps getting longer and longer as I wait and hope that I’ll come up with something blog-worthy to write about. It’s a vicious circle. I justified my laziness about posting for awhile by telling myself it was just as well to leave up my Obamapost until nearer to the election. But the election has now come and gone, and I haven’t posted on my blog for the past month and a half. How long does it take for a blog to go dead?

The sad (or happy?) thing is that my viewing stats haven’t really changed much. I’m not sure what that means; probably that nobody actually reads this blog except people searching for information on pressing questions like the dangers of hubbly bubbly (unless you, my faithful readers, are coming back day after day in the vain hope of reading something new). There was one really weird day last week when I had a bizarrely high number of people visiting The Great Bumper Sticker Poll, but then none of them even voted. What’s up with that?

In other news, we had a bout of stomach flu last week. Axa was the only one affected, so we’re hoping it doesn’t spread. We also went to Blue Springs State Park in pursuit of manatees. We wanted to go back in April or May, but it was already too warm. The Manatees retreat from the open sea to the warmth of Blue Springs only when it gets too cold in the ocean.

It’s a really lovely spot, with a built-in boardwalk through the jungle.

It was also a perfect place for Tony to wear his new aviator shades.

The wooden boardwalk goes straight down to a metal landing over the river, and the manatees are right there! You can’t see it from the picture, but I’m looking at a manatee that is resting almost right under my feet.

I feel like I’m trying to sell a picture of the Loch Ness Monster, but here you can see some actual manatees:

OK, here’s a closeup. Does that make it more clear?

And here is a little baby manatee. He kept rolling all over the adults, and we’re pretty sure we saw him nursing. So cute!

Announcing: the two newest members of our family!

Yesterday found me furiously nesting. I sewed until my sewing machine broke (actually, my sweet daughter broke it, but we won’t go into that). I swept and mopped the entire house. As I finished up the last of the dishes, I found myself scrubbing the outside of my frying pan with a stainless steel pot scrubber. Even as I scrubbed, I reflected bemusedly that whether my frying pan was sparkling would really make no difference whatsoever. Still, I scrubbed.

Finally, at 10:15 p.m., Tony brought home my new little babies. And so, without further ado, meet Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. (Merry and Pippin for short, of course.)

Yes, you’re right. It’s a blurry picture, and one of them is moving so quickly he’s become a photographic ghost. That’s because photo flashes can damage their eyes, and they are so energetic (and I’m not the greatest photographer).

But here’s what they look like in real life, thanks to a real photographer:

Tell me they aren’t the most adorable little beings you’ve ever seen in your entire life.

I have been wanting a sugar glider for years. I found out about them in California, where they are unfortunately illegal. Remember my first thought when I saw our lovely screened in porch here in Florida? Originally, I thought getting a sugar glider was just a dream, since our landlord had said no pets (other than fish). But when we started thinking about getting Axa a guinea pig or rat we inquired again, and he said a small animal in a cage was fine, and what he had really meant when he said no pets was no dogs or cats. Unfortunately, Axa turned out to be allergic to both guinea pigs as rats. And then I had the idea again of a sugar glider. The care and feeding of sugar gliders is a much more involved prospect than that of most small animals, so these are my pets, but I’m sure the whole family will enjoy them.

Sugar gliders are tiny marsupials with large, soulful eyes, a patagium (flying membrane), and the softest grey fur imaginable. My little gliders are 8-month-old rescues from a family who just didn’t have time for them. Gliders are very social animals, who in the wild live in colonies of up to twelve. To properly bond with a human, they need hours of time together every day. Since they are nocturnal, one of the major ways of bonding with them is to carry them around in a pouch under your shirt all day as they sleep. As an attachment parenting nut who would still be carrying around her five-year-old in a sling if he weren’t too heavy (and on top of that, too busy now with his own important engineering projects), I think sugar gliders might just be the perfect pet for me.

Sugar gliders are native to Australia, where they live in trees and eat Eucalyptus sap and insects. In our house, they live in a cage taller than me, full of baby toys and polar-fleece hammocks, and eat a complicated diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, mealworms (despite my rampant arthropod anxiety. Yes, that’s how much I love my new babies), and a specially formulated protein mix blended up with honey, pollen, and scrambled eggs. I feel like a real zookeeper.

Here’s a closeup of some of their “stuff”:

It’s been years since I got my sewing machine out for anything but mending or hemming cut-off jeans. Here are the results of my sewing project last night: a flannel-lined bonding pouch with inside seams, boxed corners, and velcro closure. Hey, it was harder than it sounds. For me, at any rate, with my rusty sewing skills.

You might recognize the fabric from my long ago (and ill-fated) foray into sewing all-in-one cloth diapers when I was pregnant with Axa. Funny, she doesn’t look all that happy with her diaper . . .

For now, my babies are adjusting to their new home, so I am limiting my contact with them to feeding them raisins through the cage bars, getting up in the middle of the night to watch them play for hours, and putting tiny blankies with my smell on them in their bed. Next week we will start the “real” bonding. I’ll let you know how it goes!

photo credit

My inner artist

Like most other children, I really liked to draw when I was young.

At the age of nine, my mom enrolled me in a YMCA art class, where I learned about various artistic styles and did the requisite imitations. For example, here’s my Mondrian,

The Seurat,

and the Kandinsky.

Later, as a teenager, I traded piano lessons for art lessons from a friend, and along with drawing and painting, I tried my hand at such varied artistic activities as Ukranian Easter eggs (several of which still hang on our tree each Christmas), wood-burning, and printing.

In fact, ten years or so later, when Tony discovered several versions of this print as we were packing my stuff before getting married, he finally relented and agreed to get married in the San Diego Temple, rather than the Salt Lake Temple (his preference) or the Oakland Temple (the most convenient).

Sometime later, I decided that I was actually not an artist. I’m not sure why; I guess it was one of those things we mistakenly leave behind with childhood, like St. Exupery’s boa eating an elephant. It’s funny, but I would get really embarrassed when at the age of two or three, Axa went through a stage where she would ask me to draw her things. I felt like a deficient parent because I couldn’t draw. She eventually stopped asking.

Then I learned about Charlotte Mason, and started implementing her ideas in our homeschool. One of her foundational precepts is nature study. This is accomplished through plenty of time outdoors, close observation of flora and fauna, and then documentation in a “nature journal.”

The epitome of wonderful nature journals is The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, a beautiful nature journal kept for the year of 1906 by a young woman named Edith Holden. Exquisitely detailed watercolor illustrations decorate each page, accompanied by observations of wildlife or vegetation, and poems.

When she recommended that mothers keep their own nature journal to inspire their children, I’m sure that a book like Holden’s must have been what Charlotte Mason had in mind. Unfortunately, I’m no Edith Holden. So while Axa has two nature journals (an online one and a paper one), I have yet to start one of my own.

I’ve been teaching the lessons in Drawing With Children to Axa and Raj, and generally feeling like a hypocrite for not trying out the techniques myself. I just didn’t think I could bring myself to draw anything.

I have had a little box of nice, unused watercolor pencils sitting in my roll-top desk since we moved here. Every so often I look over at it and think about going outside to draw. But then I decide that I’m far to busy, and not quite pysched up enough to do it.

Until today. Today, for some reason, I picked up my pencils and a pad and wandered outside to the front yard. I sat down in my beach chair and looked around, considering what I could draw. I figured it would be too difficult to essay a close-up of anything, even blades of grass, so I settled on the house across the street. Here’s the view:

And here’s my picture. (Yes, I noticed that the house is actually not fuchsia and orange in real life, but I wanted to use more of my colors.)

This is my deconstruction of the experience:

* After I’d been drawing for about five minutes, I started feeling insecure, and deciding again that I couldn’t draw. But I decided to tough it out, and finish the picture.

*I used several of the ideas I’d learned in Drawing With Children, like choosing a starting point and then planning the rest of the drawing around it, drawing things in front first, and turning mistakes into something else (yep, that was my favorite).

*About halfway through, I actually started enjoying the process, even though I was still afraid that I would do something irreparable and my drawing would be destroyed.

*By the time I was nearly done, I looked at my picture and felt a little thrill of excitement that the scene had somehow magically transferred itself onto my paper. I’m still no Picasso, but I think maybe I could make friends with this art thing again.

Hiking Lyonia Preserve

I’ve been practicing my nature photography, so get ready for a lot of pictures. Right next to our library (about ten minutes from our house) is the lovely Lyonia Preserve. In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve visited the Preserve several times. Every time we go we see something new.

Florida foliage is pretty interesting to me. It reminds me of a cross between San Diego and Washington State, in that you feel like you’re walking in a desert one moment, and the next moment you’ve stepped into a dense jungle. The Lyonia Preserve has more of the desert, or “scrub” side.

“Scrub” sounds a little, well, scrubby. But it’s actually quite beautiful, and the number and variety of plants is pretty extensive. Scrub Palmetto is a common Florida sight, and there are lots of these throughout the Preserve.

The Preserve also has small evergreens like these. Doesn’t the bright white sand look a little like snow?

And these, which look a little like the bushy Monterey Pine Christmas trees we used to cut in San Diego.

Right next to the oaks and evergreens, we also find cactus.

As well as all the interesting plants, we’ve seen some pretty cool animals. The lizards and snakes are hard to catch on camera. But this scrub jay was interested in Axa’s water. In fact, yesterday when we went, a scrub jay came and landed right on Raj’s head. They’re fun and intelligent little birds.

I liked this little natural “dead bouquet,” because it looks exactly like the roses that Tony gets me when they’ve died and every day I put off throwing them away.

Our favorite place at the Preserve, though, is the wetlands. Axa calls it a lake, but it’s really more of a glorified pond.

My little frog-catcher is in heaven here.

I don’t know how many species of frogs live in the Preserve, but each one she catches seems to have different markings. Somehow, though, they’re all excellently camouflaged.

Frogs aren’t the only well-camouflaged animal, though. Look here:

Did you see the grasshopper that looks exactly like the dried grass?

Insects are of course in abundant supply. I realized I should have put something in this picture to give you an idea of the size of the spider. I didn’t really want to put my hand down that close to it, though. Hiding behind a camera was bad enough.

Let’s just say I’m pretty sure that those frogs Axa is holding form a major portion of his diet. But there are other dangers lurking here.

I recognized this sundew plant from pictures I’d seen in books, but I never knew that the flowers were only a centimeter or so in diameter. Carnivorous plants. Take that, giant spider!

Carnivorous plants are of course what Axa promptly brought up the other day when I pontificated that plants were always at the bottom of the food chain.

The only sign of mammals were these cute-as-a-button racoon tracks:

It’s weird to me to see mushrooms growing out of the sand.

But these are only a couple of the many bits of interesting fungus (and moss and lichen) that we found.

Nature study at its finest. What a magical place!


Since we are at present a one-car family (as opposed to being a zer0-car family during a good portion of the last couple of years abroad), sometimes we have to get creative about getting all our transportation worked out. Today the children and I took Tony in to work so we could grocery shop.  He works from home in the afternoons, so we picked him up after spending some time lunching in the park.

It worked perfectly. Our only problem was how to fit in the homeschooling we normally do between 10:00 and 11:30. Fortunately, most of our schoolbooks are available as audiobooks on librivox, so we can take them along in the car. If I had a working mp3 player, I would use that, but at least our car cd player does play mp3’s, so I was able to burn all of the books (and our music by Hildegard of Bingen, our term composer) onto two cd’s. We also brushed up on our Italian with a half-hour of Pimsleur that the children would never have sat still for had they not been buckled in carseats.All we have left to do for today is math, copywork, and picture study, which should take a combined total of perhaps 25 minutes. So I’d say our first day of car-schooling was a great success.

Being at the park, of course, also afforded some opportunities for nature study. We saw a small flock of these beautiful American White Ibises (Eudocimus albus):

I looked them up afterward (which is why I even know their name) and found out that they can interbreed with the beautiful scarlet ibis. In fact, some scientists consider them two varieties of the same species. They repeatedly stick their bills about six inches into the ground, presumably searching for insects.

Aren’t they pretty?

More Florida Wildlife (Not for the Squeamish)

Like Axa, I’m O.K. with snakes. Lizards don’t bother me, even if they’re crawling on me. I can pick up snails, and I have even petted a slug at (Axa’s request, of course). But arthropods. Oh, arthropods. I do not do arthropods.

Due to nature study, and my commitment to helping my children say “ohhhh!” not “ewwww!” when they see an insect, I can now get on tolerably well with ants, ladybugs, crabs, praying mantises, and even beetles (and by “getting on” I mean literally letting them get on me and not freaking out). This has been a long and painful process, and I’m still working on the occasional flare up of internal anti-insect sentiment.

However, once you add on that extra set of legs, I experience a sort of breakdown. You know what I’m talking about. Spiders. Eww, eww, eww. Whether my aversion is due to early Tolkien/Shelob exposure or some other reason, spiders and I just do not mix. I can’t even start thinking about their unnaturally-jointed legs and many-domed eyes and creaking, awful jaws without starting to hyperventilate.

(The only other thing that comes close is cockroaches, or Palmetto bugs, as I have recently discovered they are called in Florida. Thank you, Rachel! We won’t even go into my morbid fascination with Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.)

At the same time, the thought of wantonly killing insects (and any other living thing for that matter) is disturbing to me on many levels. My environmental scruples, admiration of Jain doctrine on the subject, homeschool mommy-guilt for smashing potential educational moments rather than taking advantage of them, and an overpowering squeamish phobia of touching or in some way feeling those horribly crunchy exoskeletons conspire to render me completely immobilized in the face of even a minor entomical problem.

Unfortunately, like most tropical climates, Florida is a notorious location for major entomical problems. Such as the one I discovered inside my  screened-in porch this morning. Yes, I said screened-in. Supposedly it is screened in to keep out the bugs. So I admit, it was a little ominous when we first arrived here and I noticed this inside the porch.

Don’t be alarmed, dear readers. The spider is dead. And no, the photo isn’t enlarged. Well, O.K. it’s a little enlarged. But the psychological impact is not enlarged. And I’m sorry to say that this spider still on the back porch, because I just can’t bring myself to get close enough to remove it.

It must have been long dead, I assumed initially. It probably sneaked in when somebody left the porch door open. Right? And we would be able to clear off these bits of cobweb in the corners of the porch, and everything would be clean and free of hairy legs and compound eyes.

Today I took a closer look at some of those “bits of cobweb.” And inside I saw these:

How lovely! And how fascinating. I wonder, what could those little yellow, spiky globes be. Well, when I saw them, I knew at once that they must be some sort of uthica (did you know that word? Now you do. Isn’t it a charming, evocative word?).

The virtuous side of me immediately thought of Charlotte painstakingly laboring over her “magnum opus” and then heroically dying as she saved Wilbur’s life (I dare you to tell me you didn’t cry over the death of a spider when you were eight years old and first reading Charlotte’s Web).

I remembered what Wilbur asks Templeton to do in the book, and so I carefully took a kitchen knife, detached the cute little egg-case from its web, and took it safely down to the grove of trees outside our porch. The little spiders could float off and start their happy little lives outside my porch.

The only problem was that behind the uthica was a large, brown, very-much-alive spider, who I imagined must be beside herself with rage at the fact that I had just stolen her offspring. I decided that I should go inside and see which type of spider I was dealing with. She didn’t really look Charlotte-ish to me.

I am sincerely sorry that in this photo she appears to you only as an ominous lurking menace. I couldn’t bring myself to get any closer.

To my dismay, google revealed that the spider I was dealing with (easily recognizable, the University of Florida webpage announced, by its distinctive spiky egg-sac) was a brown widow. As in many things, Florida apparently paints its insects with a large brush. The bite of the brown widow is twice as venemous as that of the black widow, up till now the most unnerving spider I had yet encountered.

Closer inspection revealed that these little webs (each presumably containing a spider and her progeny) are all over the inside of my porch. Akkk! By this time, I was picturing the movie “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and an army of newly-hatched, sinister spiders invading my house.

I evacuated the porch of children, and came inside to think over what should be done next. Ultimately, I decided that the most important thing was to first settle myself down by blogging. Unfortunately, this post is nearing its close, and I’m still no closer to dealing with my spider problem.

I should really go out and smash all those webs and spiders and uthicas. But I have that thing about killing spiders. What if they attack me and I die on my back porch of multiple venomous spider bits? Even worse, what if some bit of spider or web or uthica ends up actually touching me? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

This might be a job for the husband. Maybe I can just wait it out till he comes home. But what if those uthicas start to hatch in the next few hours . . . ?

Our First Brush With Florida Reptiles

Nope, it wasn’t alligators; just snakes. And they weren’t in our backyard. We actually had to go looking for them. The Lyonia Environmental Center next to the library sponsored a 1  1/2 hour talk on local reptiles. Axa and Raj sat raptly through the whole presentation, which was very well done, I thought, by the seventeen-year-old daughter of the president of the Lake Region Audobon Society.

At the end of the presentation, they let everyone (everyone who wanted to, that is) come up and hold the snakes. Raj consented to touch a snake with one finger only, but Axa was in poikilothermic heaven.

Here she is holding a Scarlet King Snake (not to be confused with the deadly coral snake that resembles it almost exactly).

I had no idea that the Ball Python is so named because its habitual position is curled into a ball. Pretty snuggly for a snake, I guess.

The Corn Snake was beautiful too, and very lively. Wait, where is that snake, anyway?

Even Tony got in on the action. This snake was really too heavy for a kid to hold alone.

As well as snakes, Axa also held a friendly Box Turtle.

One of her favorites, though, was a reptile native to Australia, not Florida: the Blue-Tongued Skink! Yes, that really is his tongue sticking out. And he’s not actually as out-of-shape as he looks.

In the end, I pretty much had to drag Axa away from the reptiles. And she is more firm than ever in her goal of working at the zoo when she grows up.

I love letting other people homeschool my kids for me. I guess we can cross off our herpology for the week!

Nature Study in Bakersfield

One of Charlotte Mason’s nature study ideas is to “adopt” a tree and observe closely how it changes throughout the year. We’ve never lived somewhere for a whole year, so we haven’t been able to observe a long-term continuous seasonal change. But we’ve seen a lot of variety in the natural world. It comes naturally to me to visit museums and archaelogical sites, but without Charlotte Mason I wouldn’t have thought to closely observe the differences in the plants and animals around the world.

Now when I think of Ireland, I remember Axa catching dozens of frogs in the grass. Tunisia reminds me of tiny geckos, gigantic ants and camels. And here in Bakersfield, California, we’ve found some beautiful bits of nature too.

This week we took our nature study outing to the river. It’s nearing the end of summer here, so the river is low and lazy. We found a place where there was a tiny island reachable over a miniature delta. If we could manage to jump over the seven streams, that is. Tony was skeptical, but the children’s sense of adventure and my sense of unmissable educational opportunity together carried the day.

Miraculously, we all made it over without wet feet. Once arrived on our little island kingdom, we found a shady spot and sat down to eat our lunch.

Then we set off to explore our domain.

We got a good close look at a fascinating water-lilyish plant with little bladders that enable it to float down the river until it gets stuck somewhere and sinks its roots into the mud.

Here’s a close-up of the air-filled bladders:

And the lovely flowers:

When I saw the plant and its gorgeous profusion, it made me think of an invasive species I’d read of once, that clogs waterways in California and Florida. I looked it up when we got home. Sure enough, it looks like Eichhornia crassipes, the infamous water hyacinth. The plant is native to Brazil, but is now a nuisance in waterways all over the world. So that will make a great ecology lesson next time we go to the river.

We also saw these beautiful flowers, which look like morning glories from the dinosar age: (They’re almost a foot across!)

Also this tiny pink flower, which like most (native) plants around here, also has wicked spines.

We got quite a few of these burrs stuck in our shoes and clothes:

Raj used his magnifying glass to look at a giant beetle:

And Axa indulged in some precarious frog catching:

Incredibly, she didn’t fall in. Until later, as she was rounding the cape of our little island, and slipped in the rich, loamy mud. We helped her out of the knee-deep water, and then Tony promptly slipped and fell in the same place. I wish I had a picture, but he unfortunately had the camera in his pocket for safe-keeping at the time. Fortunately, it was above the waterline.

Here’s a picture of the mud, though, complete with some cute little bird tracks. Notice that the tracks are just as clear under the water. That’s how glorious this mud was:

Shortly after this incident, since half  of us were half soaked, we decided it was time to bring our little expedition to its close. We packed up all the lunch things and clambered down to the island shore, only to find that somehow the water had risen since we’d crossed it a few hours before. I didn’t know the river had a tide. And there’s not a whole lot of snow up in the mountains to melt, either. (When we got home, Grandpa explained that there are “water masters” who control the river’s flow. Good to know these things.)

In any case, Axa and Tony couldn’t very well get wetter, so they just waded across. And Tony graciously carried the rest of us, without so much as saying, “I told you so.”

Tunisian Nature Walk

Since we don’t have a yard at our little beach bungalow, Tony and I decided to re-institute the classic Charlotte Mason practice of nature walks. I take the children out for an hour every morning, and we look for “nature.” Somehow, we always find it. And a few days ago, I took the camera out to document.

Our first step was our favorite anthill. Yes, we have a favorite anthill. Dominique spends at least fifteen minutes watching it every time we walk down our dirt road. Tunisia is quite a haven for ants. There are the tiny black “normal” ants we are used to, along with a couple of similar species in larger sizes. Then there are the medium-sized ants with the red heads, who like to live in trees. So far, although the children love climbing trees, they have not been bitten. The strangest ants to me are a tall, skinny red kind, with abnormally long legs. They don’t just walk along like regular ants. They are always darting and parrying. I’ve never seen them actually attacking something, but I’m sure they must be some kind of martial ant. But our favorite ants are the truly gigantic black ones in the picture. Every day, we see them bringing up little round dirt balls in their jaws, enlarging their underground home.

If I were a really good Charlotte Mason mom, I would know the names of all these plants and animals. I need a field guide. Every time we move, I think that. I still have a field guide to seashells of the Irish coast, but it’s not much good here.

I do know the name of this one. It is Opuntia ficus-indica, aka prickly pear. It is actually a domesticated plant in many areas of the world, including Tunisia (and southern California). It produces those funny red fruits called “tuna” that can be found in Mexican markets. But this picture shows tender new green leaves. Now, doesn’t that just say “spring” to you?

Any guesses? I don’t know this one either. I think I saw it in Ireland too, though. It must be a hardy weed to be able to survive in both climates.

Is this barley? Barley is the only whole grain I’ve been able to reliably find in Tunisia. Cracked barley is used as a form of couscous here, and also features in some soups. We eat it every morning cooked as porridge, since oatmeal is a virtual unknown here. I’ve also made a fairly successful bread using half white flour, half barley grits.

A dandelion! Or possibly a false dandelion. I had no idea there were so many types of dandelions before I looked them up on Wikipedia. There is even a California dandelion (Taraxacum californicum), which is actually endangered. Who would have thought?

By this time, we had reached the beach, where we interrupted our nature study to watch the fishermen pulling in their boat.

And then to watch these gallop by.

The best “nature study” moment of all, though, came that afternoon. After I had taken my camera home, unfortunately. We were at the beach again when a couple of British tourists excitedly called our children over. They had found a baby sea turtle! He had the cutest little turtle face I have ever seen, and he was small enough to fit in Dominique’s palm. After watching him for several moments, we carefully let him go in the shallow water. Now when we hold on tightly to our helium balloons so that they don’t escape and get eaten by sea turtles in the ocean, we know can picture exactly which little sea turtle is happily snacking on jellyfish rather than balloons.

Diary of a Neo-Edwardian Lady

We were at Lough (Lake) Ennell yesterday, and it was beautiful. It barely rained on us at all. And, I discovered the macro button on our camera (actually, Tony showed it to me). What joy and delight! I snuck up on every bug in sight, not to mention dozens of very obliging flowers. Maybe I really could do a nature journal. I’ve been stuck on that point for some time, as my repertoire of feminine accomplishments does not include brush drawing. I was just about to capture a slug when the camera battery finally died. From above, the slug looked as sedentary and blobby as slugs are wont to look. But from below! He was ravenously devouring a leaf. His prodigious lips engulfed it alarmingly. Raj and I had been watching him for five minutes when Axa came over to investigate. I pointed out his sharp tooth, of which I had caught several glimpses. In fact, we could even hear the little snip as he cut off each piece of leaf. Axa said, “I read in a book that slugs cut leaves with their sharp tongue.” She’s right, of course. She knows all sorts of things like that. I looked it up when I got home. The tongue of a slug is called a radula, and it’s covered in tiny teeth.

Axa has opened a school for Raj. (This is something I’ve noticed about most homeschoolers, including myself. They have a fascination with playing school.) She was inspired in this case by Laura, who in These Happy Golden Years has just landed a job as a school teacher, even though she’s officially too young. Yesterday I peeked in on them. Axa was dressed up in several layers of dresses (petticoats perhaps?), and Raj was wearing somewhat less (how much less I decline to state. It rather resembled a miniature Jane instructing an even more diminutive Tarzan). She had arranged her magnetic tangrams into a little scene with flowers, sun, grass, and a worm made out of a pipe cleaner. She was deep in an explanation to her pupil regarding the importance of worms. “The worm,” she informed him, “eats little pieces of dead things and turns them into dirt. The grass needs the dirt to grow. If it weren’t for the worm, the little frog would die, because he needs the grass to keep his skin wet.” I tiptoed away, not wishing to interrupt such a delicately simply and warmly felt ecology lesson, every part of it gleaned from many personal interactions with the creatures named. This is why Charlotte Mason calls education “the science of relations,” or in other words, the art of developing relationships with the people, creatures, ideas, and things that one encounters in life and books.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit to any degree of teaching when it comes to my children. Yes, I plan the curriculum (i.e. tell Tony which books are to be read and narrated at bedtime, download books for Axa from librivox, and make sure we have plenty of other good books around for the various other requested reading times). Basically, I collect books, and I’m very choosy. We read nothing that I don’t consider to be well worth reading. But we read a lot. Mostly, though, what I do is what Charlotte Mason calls “masterly inactivity.” Which means not interfering when children are seriously engaged in the business of “playing” (i.e. working, or rather learning, or really living). Masterly inactivity is the habit of noticing when children are doing important things (which is nearly always) and keeping out of their way so that they can do them. And whenever I do it, I am amazed at the beauty and intelligence of who they are.