Monday, February 25, 2013

Week in Review, 2/23/13

Yes, just a couple of days late.  But this is an easy post.  We went to Big Sky, Montana. 

Eat. Ski. Soak. Sleep.



Rest on the fourth day.  (We went shopping in Bozeman a little.)

Eat. Ski. Soak. Sleep.


We spent a wonderful week with a couple of friends.  I love the simplicity of a ski vacation.  It makes for a very relaxing time with the kids.  Everyone knows exactly what we are going to do! 

There is just nowhere like Big Sky:  Huge, sprawling slopes, craggy mountains and empty ski runs.  We usually had entire slopes to ourselves--no one above or below us.

Pictures on the slopes are really tough, because I don't want to mess up my real camera and I rarely want to take my glove off for an iPhone shot.  But here are some shots of last week:

Bill at the beginning of the week.

Darcy waiting to go.

Jack in the foreground, Paige and me way back there.  This was at the top of one of my favorite runs, Bighorn.

Paige, ready.  That's Kat to the left in her snazzy lime goggles.

Looking up to Lone Peak (11,100 feet).  There are tiny little dots just below that midline--they are skiers!

I turned around and made this picture from the same spot as the previous picture, looking into the valley.

Matthew and Paige at Lone Peak.

The morning we left.  Snowglobe!  All the powder on the railing had fallen overnight.  Someone had some good skiing that day!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Aeneid--A Review

What a ride.  I am so grateful to have stumbled upon:
The book club was just starting the Aeneid, so I jumped in with both feet.

I am a better person for having read this book.  I just finished it and I'm feeling a little thunderstruck at the ending, as if a movie just cut to black at the climactic scene.  I hope I can be organized enough to put my thoughts on paper (or computer, as it were).

First, let me praise Sarah Ruden's translation.  The language sings.  Some of the lines just beg to be read, re-read aloud, committed to memory.  One of the most memorable passages to me is when old King Evander sends his only and greatly beloved son Pallas into battle:
"You, gods above, and your great governor
Jupiter, pity an Arcadian king,
And hear a father's prayer.  If your divine power
And fate will keep my Pallas safe for me,
And if I live to see him face to face,
I beg to live, no matter what I suffer.
But if you threaten, Fortune, what I can't say,
Let me break off my wretched life already,
While fears are unconfirmed, hope arguable,
While you, dear son, sole pleasure of my old age,
Are in my arms, and no hard news is wounding
My ears." The father, at the last farewell,
Poured out these words, and swooned.
 Beautiful, human, powerful.  Brave men facing the unknown.

Second, the characters, even those sketched so briefly, are vivid.  Many appear for just a page or two, but Vergil's precise storytelling renders so many as real people. ("Is it gods who make me want this, or do we make our deadly urges gods?")  Frankly, my limited reading of the classics, including this one, points me to the fact that human nature is unchanged.  We all long for heroes, to be heroic, and we all have flaws.  Seeing those characteristics in these larger-than-life characters makes you look at everyone around you with different eyes.

Third, the scope is vast and sweeping, both geographically and emotionally.  This book has it all--  a desperate flight from defeated Troy, wild ocean adventures, romance (and jilted lovers), intense battles--all while suffering the meddling of the gods.

I don't want to do a more careful analysis, because I just want to savor the story and the effect it's had on me for a while.  Apparently I've raved enough about it that Matthew took it out of my hands the moment I finished it. 

I do want to highlight one thing I've discovered about reading "hard" books:  don't read the introduction, author's notes, or any lectures before you read the work itself.  Meet the story on its own terms.  Time and again I had my enjoyment of a book derailed by reading about the book before I read the book, and I came to it with preconceived ideas.  You can read these books.  I can read these books.  Just jump in.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Week in Review, 2/16/13

I wrote--really wrote this post with pen and paper--at 30,000 feet while we began our ski vacation in Montana.  Honestly, I think the week ahead of a vacation seems twice as hard, and not just because of the suitcases waiting to be filled.  Anyway, here goes...

I had misread my calendar for Monday and had reworked a slew of Monday appointments so I could take Paige to the eye doctor.  On Sunday I got the confirmation robo-call for the appointment--on Tuesday.  So everything I had moved had to be moved again!  Arghhhhh...

The first part of the week:  RAIN and LAUNDRY.  Georgia is catching up and thankfully finally coming out of a drought.  The problem is that we had to endure four solid days of rain, from sprinkles to heavy downpours with no break.  Meanwhile I stayed inside and washed, dried, folded.

We've been dealing with Paige's eye infection since September.  It's a viral infection, quite tenacious.  Her report this time was:  the scarring was smaller but in a worse location; on the good side the virus seems to be lessening.  We are shifting medicines slightly and keeping an eye on it (no pun intended!).  I think I haven't written about that before but it has been a learning experience for all of us.  Paige is one tough cookie.

Jack seems to have stepped up in taking his schoolwork seriously.  He is capable but the self-discipline he brings to athletics hasn't always translated.  I'm going to take a second a brag on him:  first, he patiently waded through three rough drafts of his autobiography, one time with his demanding mama; second, he decided to buckle down with algebra and, as a result, got a 100 on his latest test.  Awesome!

So I'll brag on Matthew a little, too.  He also got 100 on his algebra test.  (Yes, both boys are in algebra this year.)  And no, the whole class didn't get 100.  My boys are just smart and hard workers.  Okay, bragging over!

Ash Wednesday, Lent begins.  My previous post is what I'm trying to do for Lent.  Unfortunately the operative words there are "I" and "trying."  I'm mostly failing miserably.  I am just exhausted right now, and I think it is chiefly because of my chaotic house.  Patience.  Baby steps.  We did hear an amazing sermon on Isaiah 58 that night.  If I can find the link to the sermon I'll add it, but you might find the reading a useful one at this time of year.

Thursday, Darcy's class went to the Michael C. Carlos museum in Atlanta.  (Here's my TripAdvisor review.)  Her class has been doing a three-week unit on Greece, and this museum holds wonderful Greek and Roman antiquities.  Of course, the hit of the day was the Egyptian mummy exhibit!  So much for the Greeks and Romans!

That leaves Friday.  Did you ever have a day where everything seems to be conspiring to make it a terrible day?  That was my Friday.  I had been invited to speak to a "Moms of Preschoolers" group as part of a panel of moms who had "been there."

Well, man plans, God laughs.  We had lost backpacks, terrible hair, forgotten homework, escaped dogs, and misplaced clothes before 7:30 that morning.  On top of that, the lady I sat next to had homeschooled her now-adult children, three of who had ADHD and one of whom had Down's Syndrome, all while starting and still heading an international Christian mission group.  Yeah.

But.  The bags got packed, we made it to the plane, and by the time this gets posted I'll have rased a glass with some dear friends while we look out at the snow-covered landscape that surrounds us.  And life is good.

Afterword:  I started typing this on Saturday evening but jet lag and the altitude, and possibly the beer I had with Bill and Kat, combined to wipe me out halfway through typing this up.  So I'm late.

Also:  No Dorie recipe this week!  The high altitude wreaks havoc on baking, so we'll wait a week.

Finally:  I thought I would have some awesome pictures to post here, but forgot that my awesome pictures are still trapped on my camera, and will be all week.  If I figure out a way around that, I have some wonderful new pictures to share.  If not, well, I'll still have pictures to share but just a little later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three Ideas for Lent

The view from my window as I type.  Winter rain.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, which probably means pancakes for dinner for us.  In a lot of places it is Fat Tuesday, a day for parties and general excess of all kinds.  All of this leads right into Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, which I find myself really looking forward to this year.

I grew up in a Baptist church, which means we didn't recognize the seasons of the Church, and the pastor preached on what he felt called to preach on each week or month.  Now that I'm a Lutheran, I'm part of a church that celebrates the seasons and other special days:  Advent, Epiphany, the Transfiguration, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, All Saints Day, others I'm sure I've left out... 

This isn't to say that Baptists don't have these days, they just don't celebrate them in the organized way that a liturgical church does.  (I can explain what "liturgical" means if you are interested.) 

Tomorrow the altar at church will be dressed in purple to mark the beginning of Lent, and we'll all have ashes applied to our foreheads accompanied by the words "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," and we'll begin forty days of rest and contemplation before walking through the joy and pain of Holy Week to the glory of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Try holding a baby and listening while those words are said to her.  It is a powerful service.

Lent gets a bad rap.  It isn't about suffering as much as it is about taking a hard look at where I stand with God, and where He stands with me.  It's not about "giving something up" as much as it is eliminating the things that get in the way of my relationship with Him.  A time for renewal. 

I went crashing through Advent this year, almost missing the point of things as I ran right through Christmas.  I don't want that to happen with Lent and Easter this year.  I usually try to do a couple of different things, Lenten disciplines really instead of good works or suffering.

Here are the three things I will focus on during Lent:
  1. A spiritual discipline:  We will be attending the mid-week Lenten service as a family.  If you know me this is a tall order!  I've been reading the Bible this year along with my pastor's blog, so I'm not going to alter that right now.  (Why mess with something that is working?)
  2. A physical discipline:  Like it or not, Lent is a good time to get my diet back in order.  Several months ago I read a great book by Gary Taubes, "Why We Get Fat."  I dropped some weight but, more importantly, this way of eating had a radical affect on my sleep.  I've backslid somewhat since then, but I am going to get back on that bus tomorrow.  Pancakes tonight, no more tomorrow!
  3. A book"Bonhoeffer" by Eric Metaxas has been on my must-read list for a while.  It is time to read it.  In the past I've read Merton's "Seven Storey Mountain," "The Doors of the Sea" by David Bentley Hart, and writings from N.T. Wright, just as examples.  My most highly-recommended book is C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce," if you are looking for something powerful but short.
So I've written them down.  I must be committed!  Understand that all of these are just a temporary, temporal way to focus on what really is important, God and my relationship with Him (and of course, through Him my relationship with others).  I don't take them on as burdens, or they will fail in their purpose.

And by the time Lent is over and we celebrate Easter, my view will be like this:

What about you?  Anything new or different for Lent?  Or do you even observe a time like this?  I would love to know.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Parisian Almond Cookies

I continue my march through Dorie's book.  We back with Tele-Crocques, which sound kind of weird but mean "T.V. Snacks."  I'll tell you the verdict in advance:  ridiculously habit-forming.

Limited ingredient list, again:  almonds, sugar, butter, flour, SALT.  That is the delicious difference here for you salty-sweet fans--the bite of salt along with a rich almond cookie.  Here we go...

Grind the almonds with the sugar.  Add butter, then flour and salt.  Dorie gave a range of salt, and I used the middle-of-the-road amount.  Next time I'll make them saltier, because I'm a big salty/sweet fan.

Turn everything out--it is kind of loose--and press it into a log or a lump.  At this point you could refrigerate it but why wait?  Pinch off little pieces and place them on the cookie sheet.

Bake and you're done!  They don't spread.  They just kind of firm up and get more delicious.

Everyone liked these, and they disappeared really fast.  But part of the problem there is, like other recipes in this book, the amount is just so darn small.  A recipe with 3/4 cup of flour will be inhaled in my house.  I'll probably make these again, but I'll make a double recipe just so it's worth hauling out the food processor!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Week in Review, 2/9/13

Somehow I feel like we are just crashing into the end of another week.  Where does the time go?

The week was a quiet one for the boys.  Matthew is DEEPLY enjoying being off of a sport (first time since July) and so he just seems to revel in coming home and having time to himself.  Jack is running away with track, and is learning to pole vault.  That will be, um, interesting.

The girls and I were able to fit in a couple of rides at the farm, this Saturday and last, with spectacular weather both days.  We seem to be getting so much rain lately that we have to seize the time when it is dry enough to go out for a ride. 

We are getting ready for a huge new remodel--gutting the kitchen and building onto the laundry room to create a mudroom/launching pad/mom office.  I've never done anything this big before, so there are a lot of unknowns. But this week I went downtown to the showroom that had the appliances I thought I wanted.  Once a month they host a dinner/cooking demonstration, and I just wanted to see everything in action.  I was suitably impressed and wrote my deposit check the next day.  I suppose this means that we are on our way to a new kitchen!  I'll post more on that once it gets started.

The bathroom and closet continues in a holding pattern.  Maybe next week.  I don't care anymore.

Actually, I do.

The middle of the week was punctuated with that fall I wrote about earlier.  Feeling better now, thanks.  Let me just say one thing:  if you ride a horse, wear the stupid helmet.  Just wear it.  There is one extremely popular website out there (which I will not name) where her four kids in Oklahoma or wherever do NOT wear helmets when they go out and ride their Western horses.  This drives me nuts.  I hate helmets, and I wear mine all the time.  Don't be stupid.  You never know when the horse will slip on the flat and roll over you.  It happens.

Our school closes for a couple of days each semester so that the teachers can do parent conferences (elementary school only).  Since the girls were home we decided that we would go get pedicures.  We all lined up in the chairs and read our books and got new toes.  Here's a picture of Darcy, but I forgot to get the toes!

 The girls each had spend-the-nights with friends last night.  They both had a good time, but I am oh-so-grateful to say that they actually admitted that they missed each other! 

Beautiful day today, with a ride and also tearing out part of the laundry room cabinets.  What, you don't demolish cabinets on beautiful February days?  You are missing out:
Yes, I hang my diplomas in the laundry room.  It's called irony.
And we finished with dinner at a new Mexican restaurant.  We often say that the last thing our little town needs is another Mexican restaurant, but this one was really great.  Now I need to sign off and go watch the movie with everyone in the basement.

Have a great week!

Friday, February 8, 2013


One of my favorite possessions is this book, Winston Churchill's Painting as a Pastime.  Several years ago I decided to try painting.  This was totally out of the blue, since I had never shown any talent in this regard at any point in my life.  But I started, and tried both painting and drawing.  I also discovered that Winston Churchill had taken up painting "late in life" (after forty--watch what you call "late in life," buster!) and had actually become quite accomplished.  And this gifted man imparted his thoughts on the subject which became this slim little volume.

I found it absolutely inspiring.  I still do.

So when I found out last week that George W. Bush had taken up painting, of course I thought of Churchill.  And my admiration for President Bush grew. 

You see, if you have never tried something at an age when you have no right be be trying something new, you can't imagine the nerve it takes.  As a matter of fact, Churchill even said:
But if, on the contrary, you are inclined--late in life though it be--to reconnoitre a foreign sphere of limitless extent, then be persuaded that the first quality that is needed is Audacity...We must not be too ambitious.  We cannot aspire to masterpieces.  We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box.  And for this Audacity is the only ticket.
When I learned to paint, it was terrifying.  I was unaccustomed to putting myself in front of other people in any way.  So painting had to be intensely private.  Lessons were pure torture.  I really just wanted to be left alone with my paints and a canvas and an idea.

Think of what it takes to be the leader of the free world, as Churchill and Bush each were, accustomed to doing things very well, being in charge, and then doing something new that you most assuredly won't excel at right out of the box.  I didn't have this problem so much (I'm not even the leader in my own home!) but you can only learn something new if you are willing to be bad for a little while.
Not by a leader of the free world.  Also the first time I've ever shown a painting to anyone outside my home.
The benefit: utter escape.  The wonderful thing about trying something so completely outside of your regular life is that it takes your whole brain.  It requires the regular background noise of life to be quiet for a while.  For someone with a busy brain, it is pure magic.
Barney by George W. Bush, via Facebook.
I'm glad President Bush has found a new pursuit.  He is quite decent, I think.  I read that his email got hacked and some of his unfinished paintings have been released, and that seems like a terrible violation of privacy.  I'm only putting his picture of Barney here because that is the only one he chose to release to the public.

As for me, I haven't picked up a brush in a while.  I have found several pastimes that require my entire attention and offer the mental break I seek sometimes.  I think I am feeling inspired, though, and may haul the paints out.  And I think I'll re-read Churchill's words of wisdom again, too.

And I'll offer a tiny bit of food for thought: Churchill and Bush thought that acquiring new interests wasn't just desirable but necessary throughout their lifetimes.  Why shouldn't you give something new a try, too?  What would it be?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

That'll leave a mark.

I fell off my horse tonight.  We were doing gymnastics, little jumps very close together, and I put him in wrong, so I came out wrong.  Like, dead flat on my back.  Split my boot, hit my head.  Actually, my teeth kind of still feel dizzy, and since I'm not sure that is an actual feeling I wonder if I didn't hit something else.
Johnni and me on a day when I managed to stay on.

And of course I wonder, oh why in the world do I do this?  Riding isn't something that I grew up around, I just started taking lessons about three years ago, and I regularly feel like I'm going to throw up (out of fear) while I'm in the arena. 

But still I go back.  And I love it, and my horses, and my friends who ride with me, and the way the world looks with my horse's ears in the view. So I know that tomorrow, or more likely Friday (because it is supposed to rain tomorrow), I'll be putting the saddle back on a horse and getting back on.

I've been trying for the last couple of days to come up with a post about margin--the extra space in my life.  Or the lack thereof.  The reason is that it seems to be a buzzword, either in my life lately or on the corner of the internet I inhabit.  A word I had only used related to notebook paper or economics suddenly popped up regarding time.  Edie's post about margin was interesting, about leaving space for things to happen--that's margin, where all the really good parts of life happen. But I had seen it on lifehacker and a couple of other sites, too, which escape me know.

I don't have margin.  I compulsively fill all the interstices of my life.  (Just throwing in an arcane materials engineering term there.  You're welcome.)  Darcy headed off to kindergarten--I opened the shop.  But it was too much for me. So I sold the shop, but then I started to homeschool.  But only one child!  The maximum disruption in our home--four kids, three campuses.  Then Darcy went back to school, but we bought the farm.  (Oh, I have never introduced my farm to the blog.  I need to do that.)  And running the farm is like running a little business.  At least I don't have responsibility for the daily care of the animals.  That really would be too much.

Nowadays I spend a lot of time pining to be on the farm, for a little free time to go drive my tractor (I own a John Deere--how cool is that?!) or play with the horses or just be.  But there is just no space.  I really don't have margin, especially in the late afternoon and early evening.  I know this is the season for busy-ness, but it is just so darn hard to keep that in perspective.

I wish I understood why I fill up my time so completely.  Even now, a year after we've bought the farm and everything is starting to run kind of smoothly, I'm in the middle of a huge and massively disruptive home renovation project.  I didn't know people planned kitchens for a year.  I'm doing mine in three weeks.

I'm not whining about my life, but I think I'm observing a pattern.  I don't understand about empty space, but I seem to abhor it in my life. 

So this post did end up being about margin.  I would really rather blog about my horse, Johnni.  After I fell, he stopped right beside me.  He waited til I got up, and then sniffed all over me.  He hung his head down so that we could talk, and he just wanted to make sure I was okay.  Good horses are like that.  They care.  Sometimes they are butt-headed, but the good ones care about their riders.  I didn't get back on him, but he didn't leave my side the rest of the evening.  Every so often he would just lean his head over onto my shoulder, as if to say, "I'm really sorry I couldn't keep you on."  What a good boy.

So right now, I think I need to go shake the arena footing out of my underwear and pour a glass of wine.  These dizzy teeth are starting to get to me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Week in Review, 2/1/2013

Apparently I'm blogging again.  In looking over past posts, I really like how I documented our weeks.  I miss that.  And even though I'm not homeschooling this year, I think there's still a place for it in our family's life. 

Last weekend I was still sick, so I laid low while Matthew went to his last wrestling tournament of the year.  This was a hard season for him because he wrestled up one or two weight classes at every meet.  Saturday he had the toughest match of his (short) career.  He was up by four points with ten seconds to go, against an opponent who outweighed him by twelve pounds.  But the other boy outlasted him, getting a take down and then pinning my boy with ZERO seconds on the clock.  Bill said it was a fair call, but it was so hard to take.  Matthew cried.  The girls cried (they were there to cheer him on). Bill was awfully upset.  I cried when he called to tell me about it.  But the amazing gift this sport has given Matthew is the ability to move on, to realize there is always another match.  By late Saturday afternoon he was okay. 

Our pastor was installed on Sunday, which I blogged about here.  What a good day.

We had our usual flurry of piano lessons and riding lessons, with track practice thrown in for good measure.  Huge storms on Wednesday meant no riding for me that day. 

Bill had a trade show in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Isn't that where everyone wants to go at the end of January?

Our house still has germs floating around:  Darcy was home sick on Tuesday and Matthew on Thursday.  Nothing permanent, apparently.

The bathroom and closet still aren't done, and we continue to live part-time out of the basement.  I am just so ready to have a bathroom again!  There really isn't anything to do but wait, because the new cabinets are in production right now. 

Darcy is working on her Greek unit at school.  Right now she and Paige are dressing their American Girls in togas. Sweet.

And I am choosing colors for the kitchen and laundry room.  The operating words for this project are "functional" and "happy."  My word for the bedroom/bath re-do was "calm," which I think I hit spot-on, so I am eager to see if my wordy approach to home decorating works. 

Coming up:  I have to unpack the entire kitchen and laundry before winter break!  Or is it pack?  The whole thing will be demolished in two weeks.  I. Can't. Wait.  And we have a trip to get ready for, meeting up with wonderful friends for some time in the snow. 

Continue with the Aeneid and Les Miserables.  I hit the fifty-page digression to Waterloo in Les Mis, and it is hard to get through!  But there must be a reason for it, so I am forging ahead.

Goals for this week:  Take more pictures!  More books, less computer time.  Try to put away some of the bedroom stuff that is out so that I can make room for kitchen stuff.