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?

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.