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Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Old Grey Matter

While I was over on the east coast, I dropped in to visit GG Mil, my husband’s step grandmother, who was recently moved into an assisted living facility in Hollywood to be nearer to extended family. Initially she wanted to return to the facility she’d been living in up in Sebring, FL, because she couldn’t deal with the multicultural aspect of South Florida, but she’s settled in now and satisfied. I was impressed with how nice it is, very elegantly decorated, not medical at all. She had put in a request for cigarettes, so I stopped along the way and bought her a carton. Not the greatest for her health, I know, she uses a ventilator at night, but I figured I would respect her request; when you’re that old, you should get what you want without people harping about the wisdom of such choices. I hope my kids will do the same for me if I reach that age. I, however, plan on subsisting on a diet made up entirely of cookies.

Mil introduced me to her across-the-hallway-neighbor, Shelley. My husband grew up just a few doors down from Shelley and her large family, in Hollywood. She is only about five years older than G. G had told me she was there, after suffering a brain aneurism, so I expected to see someone resembling a major stroke victim, maybe bedridden, with partial paralysis. Nope, she looks just like you or me. She was wearing jean shorts, a surfer tee shirt, looked like she just had her hair highlighted, very tan. In fact she goes out for breakfast every morning and rides her bike most days down to the beach.

It is very disconcerting to see someone like yourself in one of these places.

We talked about where we lived, on the island, on the west coast, and she told me that she had gone to college in Tampa. She has two daughters, so we discussed raising girls a bit. After Shelley mentioned college in Tampa for the third time, I caught on. In a lucid moment, she told me why she was there, that the aneurism had left her with a brain like Swiss cheese, with huge holes in her memory; she showed me the bracelet she wears in case she gets lost. She said with a pained look, that so much is gone, but she mustn’t dwell on it or she would get horribly depressed. Then she smiled and told me about her daughters again. And college.

After living with my grandmother and watching her mind fade into oblivion, I always wondered if Nana knew what was happening, but was trapped inside her own head. She used to rock in her chair and whistle, “The Old Grey Mare,” and then she’d give you a big wink. Years prior to that, Nana used to tell us to be sure and shoot her before she ever got too old and lost her mind, so I used to wonder, guiltily, if the Old Grey Mare was sitting in there somewhere, frustrated that no one had put her out of her misery yet.

Shelley was aware of her tragic situation, but the disturbing knowledge of what had been and what could never be, slipped away as quickly as it came. That’s some consolation.

The old grey mare,
She ain’t what she used to be,
Ain’t what she used to be,
Ain’t what she used to be.
The old grey mare,
she ain’t what she used to be,
many, long years ago.

Many, long years ago,
Many, long years ago,
The old grey mare,
She ain’t what she used to be,
Many long years ago.

On a happier note, G took the girls over to a neighboring marina while I was out grocery shopping today. He had been busy with heavy duty yard work, so for a break, they all jumped in the boat to ride over to the gourmet grocery on Boca Grande for candy, cookies, and beer. Apparently they are regulars there, because the clerk gave them a copy of Pirates of the Caribbean for free, telling them to return it whenever. Sweet G also picked me up a copy of Carl Hiaasen’s latest, Skinny Dip.

What a guy! It’s such a wonderful feeling when someone really gets you. And he’s not even the least bit insecure about buying me a book by my not-so-secret boyfriend.

Tomorrow morning, after I trim the mangrove hedges at low tide, I’m hopping into my hammock with Skinny Dip, Undaunted Courage, the August Vanity Fair, and a book of crossword puzzles.

Got to exercise that grey matter a little.

Friday, July 30, 2004

OK, I'm shallow

Was it just me, or did anyone else notice that John Edwards's wife appeared to have worn the exact same, robin's egg blue, not very flattering pantsuit, TWO nights in a row, first on the night Edwards gave his speech and then, again, last night, when Kerry spoke?

Who is her handler?!

Seek One of the Nine Greek Muses
brought to you by Quizilla

How perfect! That would be me at my hospital visit this morning.

Call me Howard Hughes

Guilty as charged.

Spent the morning at the hospital over in Fort Lauderdale. Oh, don't worry, nothing serious, just that mammogram I mentioned a few days ago. Sat for an hour waiting while I alternately held my breath and breathed down the front of my shirt, using it as a mask, because: a) too many contagious, bio-hazardous looking people around for my sanity; b) one of them exhaling the nausea-inducing smell of rotten teeth; and, c) I was hoping a little auto-asphyxiated unconsciousness would spare me another single second of watching Regis and Kelly blasting away on the waiting room television. Because, silly me, I had left my books in the car, I had nothing else to occupy my mind other than concentrating on which knuckle I'd used to call the elevator, for fear I might accidentally rub my eyes or otherwise touch my face with it.

When you have no health insurance and are forced to use the county's low cost medical services, you get what you pay for.

I was sent to find the Cashier's cubicle to pay for the procedure and nearly got lost. What saved me was that fortunately, the Cashier was located right near the McDonald's, which was more clearly marked than either the Cashier or the Emergency room. (McDonald's and hospitals, cause and effect?)

Afterward, back in my car, out came the hand sanitizer. Ah, much better.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Level Orange?

First my brother on the train, now this.

My questions:

What do you think of racial profiling?

What do you think of national identity cards?

Are you willing to give up any of your rights to fight terrorism?

We are at an impasse here.  I say "give 'em an inch..." and G believes if you've got nothing to hide you should be willing to identify yourself.  What do you think?


"Democracy passes into despotism." -- Plato


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Interested in the convention?

Check out Convention Bloggers.

Captains Courageous

Besides writing a tight little story, Rudyard Kipling has a genius for dialect.  All dialogue is spelled out phonetically, just as the characters' accents dictate.  This made it tricky until I got the flow of the speech, but eliminated the need to invent my own sound for each character during our read-aloud.  We're planning to read Kim later.  This makes me a little less apprehensive.

The girls have surprised me by understanding most of the sailing and fishing jargon and colloquialisms.  I admit to being lost during some of the descriptions of mizzen-foc'sle-gurry butt-peak halyard-reef pennant-poops, but I get the point, mostly.  This from a girl who comes from a long line of sailing experts.  Three generations of my forefathers are spinning in their graves right about now.  And please, don't tell my dad, he'll drag out his Chapman's and start lecturing.

Once we settle into the rental house, I am looking forward to signing up for the local Red Cross sailing lessons.  The two older girls, S and G, took them last year.  G was too scared and dropped out.  S finished the course, aced her 100 question final exam, but never got to solo because of continuous bad weather.  With L in preschool, I would love to take lessons along with the other two this time.

Daughter number two has been amusing me of late with her observations:

Reading a description in Captains Courageous of the captain of the We're Here, Disko Troop, and his large, eleven inch hands, G noted that they couldn't be any bigger than that, "because if they were twelve inches, they'd be a foot."

While crossing the room with a plate balanced precariously on one hand, her father admonished her that she needed two hands.  "I have two, Dad."

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Catching up

Doing a little blog running...

I read Dy's post about the librarian's reading suggestions to my husband.  He was astonished that there were such books as Walter, the Farting Dog, which led to a discussion of other children's books in the Captain Underpants vein, and that a librarian would actually encourage a kid to read these.  He suggested we write our own children's book, Orlando, the Puking Cat, which, unfortunately, is based on a true story.

Maitresse has some links to interesting articles.  In the Village Voice piece, the bit about linoleum made me laugh out loud; it's a fitting metaphor for our president.  In Patti Davis's article about finding a presidential candidate who loves us, she remembers back to the Vietnam era, spelling America with a "k":  Amerika.  This reminded me.  Has anyone seen the Amerika gas stations?  In the last year or so, in Florida, I've noticed several of them.  A Google search didn't help.  Does anyone have any more information on these?  Either it's some evil foreign corporation asserting their power on our soil, with some in-your-face statement about our country, or they are just really poor spellers.  Either way, it gives me the creeps.

While I have done nothing but play these last few days, I see many of you have been busy.  Shame on me.  Back to work.


Housekeeping day.  While cleaning up the thick coating of baby-powder fine gray sand that accumulated under our sea-grass carpet, which had been removed and hosed down because of the aforementioned vomiting feline, I found one of our missing refrigerator word magnets, "tradition," and as the whole mess was being swept into the dust pan, I found that an appropriate metaphor for my life.


Yesterday's visit with two very different sets of friends left me a bit dazed.

It started out at our homeschool friends' place.  Their three and our three girls all played contentedly and quietly with the Playmobil toys for hours.  They practically had to be forced out to the beach, but while there, they continued to play all kinds of games, having a delightful time splashing in the surf, and later swimming relay races in the pool, with their friends.  It was all very innocent and sweet.

Fast forward five years to our next stop.  It was all hairdos, hip hop dance lessons, and hurrying out of the hotel room whenever the teenaged male guests made an appearance.

Different strokes.

Sometimes it surprises me how varied our friends are:  Muslim, Catholic, WASP, Jewish, Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, gay, straight, gay-and-just-doesn't-know-it-yet, foreign, domestic, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, radical, modest, thoroughly depraved, and so on.  We've lived between neighbors we characterized as the Wild and the Mild, and were on good terms with both.  That's where we are comfortable, somewhere in the middle.


As I aim to finish Undaunted Courage, I've picked up a couple of Lewis Lapham's books:  Waiting for the Barbarians, and Theater of War.

Yep, I'm in one of those moods.

Friday, July 23, 2004


After L's four-year old check up, which was just fine by the way, our Turkish friends came out to the island for a sleepover.  We were having such a good time they decided to stay another night, which is a huge compliment to my skills as a hostess since they are restauranteurs, and a huge compliment to our accommodations, because in addition to the usual four of us, there were four more people squeezed into our little fish shack.  I have a feeling that entertaining a crowd of women and children in a small house is probably a very Turkish thing to do.  We've always talked about traveling to Turkey one day, but now we have some pretty firm plans for the spring.  And don't you know we'll have to check out the real estate scene...

The weather held out and we spent two fun days on the beach.  Tomorrow we're buzzing down to Naples to visit our homeschool pals that we met via welltrainedmindsecular on yahoo, and on the way home we will swing by Boca Grande for dinner with our other friends from Hollywood who will be over for the weekend.  This is highly unusual for us, the hermits, and frankly, exhausting. 

I passed on my SIL's baby shower Sunday.  Still thinking about buying her The Mommy Myth for a gift.  I swear, I'm just trying to be helpful.  Otherwise, I'm waiting for the baby.  The big excitement?  Girl, which would make seven in a row, or Boy, the one and only, the heir apparent.  We only have to wait until August 18, when she is scheduled for her C-section, to find out.

Next week:  Birthday party for a homeschool friend, an east coast mammogram, and a move into our rented Punta Gorda house.

Maybe then a little schoolwork?

Monday, July 19, 2004

I'm (almost) speechless

Galled over recent reports of possible election postponement in the face of terrorist activity, and lacking the eloquence to coherently respond, I offer words of wisdom from someone with a little experience on the matter:
Lincoln on the 1864 Presidential Election
Response to a Serenade
November 10, 1864
It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence in great emergencies.
On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralized (sic), by a political war among themselves?
But the election was a necessity.
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases. Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people's government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people's votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.
Interesting that this is posted on a National Park Service site, isn't it?

Sunday, July 18, 2004

This past week as my brother rode the train into New York from New Jersey, he noticed a man, who looked to be of Middle Eastern descent, taking pictures of the train's interior and platforms, and making notes.  He kept on eye on the man and quietly notified the conductor.  No one else had seemed to notice.  The conductor advised the man that photography is not allowed onboard the train and continued to observe him from the rear of the car.  The man ignored this notice and kept on with his picture and note taking.  At the next stop, plainclothes detectives pulled the man off the train.
Vigilance or paranoia?
We'll never know.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

First off, setting aside Michael Moore's politics for a minute, production-wise, this is technically and creatively a great movie.  The editing, the soundtrack, the sheer amount of work involved in producing this movie, Moore did a brilliant job.  I was equally amused and disturbed.  The man is obnoxious, confrontational, and very funny.  His sequence on September 11 was perfect:  Devastatingly simple and just plain devastating.  Think he'll win any awards this year?  I don't know, he's pissed off a lot of people this time around, but if he does, I can't wait to hear that acceptance speech.
I had to go back and reread Christopher Hitchens critique.  After seeing the movie, he sounds awfully shrill.  He seemed most irritated by Moore wanting to have it both ways on many of his arguments.  Moore does take both sides of some arguments, for example, that we sent too few troops in/we shouldn't have any troops there, but I can see that.  We don't need to be in Iraq, but if they insist on sending troops, for everyone's sake, do it right, with adequate support and minimize the destruction.  His main point, that Bush and his big business buddies are manipulating the situation for their own benefit, sticks, and demonstrates quite graphically the absurdity and horror of the situation.
Some points didn't seem very clear to me, particularly regarding the dynamics of the relationship between the Saudis and Iraqis and Taliban and oil company execs, but I admit to losing my focus on the narrative several times as I pondered the technicalities of the production, not due to any fault of the director, but because that's what I do.  I had to watch Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo a few times each before I could get beyond the quality of the animation.  This is another one I'll have to watch again, when it's out on video.
It's pure propaganda, but it's very well done.   See for yourself.
What was really interesting was the audience.  Surprisingly, for a Friday night with I, Robot showing in four theaters and Spiderman in three, this one theater was packed with young people.  I figured there'd be a few baby boomers and a bunch of empty seats, but I am happy to say, I was wrong.  Granted, these were not exactly a bunch of critical thinkers, as gleaned from some of their responses, but at least they were showing an interest in current events.  It's been a long time since I've seen a movie end with spontaneous applause.
Q - What's ignorance and apathy?
A - I don't know and I don't care. 

Friday, July 16, 2004

I'm too young for a mammogram.  Well, chronologically, I'm close to the recommended age, but emotionally, I'm just too damn young.  What next dentures and Depends?
Saw my doctor today and he gave me the good news that I'm probably not dying of breast cancer, but recommends I get my first mammogram now rather than waiting for my 40th birthday, which is still a few months away, just to be sure.  He took a look under the hood and pronounced everything there fine too.  Oh happy day!
To celebrate, G and I are going out to grab a bite to eat and see Fahrenheit 9/11, while his mom takes the girls for a sleepover at her house.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Wish You Were Here

The bathroom is done but for the finishing touches: Vintage Florida postcards to be displayed in framed wall groupings.

I hesitate to say I collect these, because I really don’t like the idea of obsessing over objects to the point of having to own every single last one of them, but I do have some somewhere in storage and since I’m unable to locate them in an acceptable amount of time to complete our bathroom renovation, I’ve been having a blast on eBay.

After culling and selling homeschool curricula online, my PayPal account has a nice balance which is facilitating the purchase of a number of new cards. My favorites are the linen finished cards from the 40s. They are drawn from actual photos, but so gaudily colored as to have a surreal quality about them. One of my other interests is in handcoloring photos, particularly infrared ones, and these old postcards are always an inspiration. I have a soft spot for the iconic alligators, flamingoes and palm trees, the wacky tourist attractions like the Weeki Wachee mermaids and the water skiing bathing beauties from Cypress Gardens, beach scenes, Everglades scenes, fish, and cards from our hometowns. There are so many available, it seems everybody and their brother has been here at one time or another, it’s easy to get carried away. Florida, the source for an unending supply of tacky postcards. Art imitates life, right?

S, tired of waiting for me as I tried to view all the cards available for auction, slunk off to her room, where I assumed she would get a little computer time in while I was so distracted. Was I ever surprised when she produced a brief essay on Lewis and Clark written in Latin. She has finished Of Courage Undaunted, and is now tearing through Streams to the River, River to the Sea, a book on the expedition from Sacajawea’s point of view. If her enthusiasm continues, I may press John Bakeless’s edition of The Journals of Lewis and Clark on her. Or at least leave it out in a conspicuous location for her to discover. Lately she has been trying to build a canoe for an expedition of her own.

G figured out the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel before anyone else. She’s got a knack for that. This is as much an indication of her brilliance, as an indictment of my stupidity. This book has been such a fun read-aloud as it allows me to affect a very bad French accent a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail ("I fart in your general direction!")

G enjoyed Paris 1789: A Guide to Paris on the Eve of the Revolution. I’m looking to see what other topics they have available in the Sightseers series. She’ll be starting on How We Crossed the West next, and if she’s not tired of the subject, she might like Seaman's Journal: On the Trail With Lewis and Clark, the story of Meriwether Lewis’s dog.

Our next read-aloud: Captains Courageous. I had considered The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty, but in memory of Marlon Brando, god-rest-his-soul, we’ll watch Mutiny on the Bounty.

“I believe I did what honour dictated and that belief sustains me, except for a slight desire to be dead which I'm sure will pass.” – Fletcher Christian

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Back and Forth

We're still going with the build-on-the-lot plan, but in the meantime, G decided we need a rental for all our belongings stashed here and there -- mostly there, like on display in an unleased store front unit in one of his brother's shopping centers -- while we figure out what and how to build. He had noticed a property in the paper and asked the girls and I to drive by while we were off-island doing a few errands today. Brand new, the cleaning crew was just wrapping up when we arrived and I got to take a look inside. It was perfect. Tomorrow we drop off a deposit check. That was too easy.

Poor G. He's been dealing with the transfer of his step-grandmother from an assisted living facility in Central Florida, to one in Hollywood. Instead of languishing up there by herself, she's had a stream of pretty regular visitors bringing her luxuries like cigarettes and sweet potato pie. But Great Grandma M is a redneck. She can not stand the ethnic mix of people down in South Florida and wants to go back up to her old place, a place with only English-speaking white people. She's pretty vocal about it too. Back up she'll go, once he makes the arrangements, again.

And he had a visit with some of our old friends. He reports they are all in outerspace. High drama, all the time. He can't wait to get back over to our nice, quiet, boring, little island.

The girls delivered some of our first pineapple crop to our neighbors this past weekend, and returned with an invite to dinner for this evening. The same neighbors L went AWOL to see; the ones I feared might be about to have us investigated by DCF. We had a very nice time. L insisted on wearing the outfit she received today, from her uncle for her birthday, as well as the gold bracelet she received from an aunt. She had a date! She was all googly-eyed with Mr. N, who is a mix of Jimmy Stewart and James Coburn, and who, if I was thirty years older, might find attractive, crawled right up in his lap for a chat and stayed perched there for most of the evening, hanging on his every word. One realizes how poorly one eats when treated to a huge plate of freshly caught sea trout, fresh black-eyed peas, fresh corn-on-the-cob, fresh fruit cocktail, and fresh keylime pie. With meringue. And a piecrust from scratch. They also sent us home with an antique table, sort of a forerunner of a card table with collapsing legs, but made entirely of wood, with beautiful dovetailed joints. They've made the island their full-time residence and have begun replacing functional vacation home furniture with treasured pieces from their large farmhouse. Hmmmm. Can I possibly squeeze one more piece of furniture in?

Monday, July 12, 2004

Busy week ahead

I have a doctor's appointment scheduled for Friday, on the other coast. It's been awhile, just over four years, since I skip the annual exams and only go when there's a problem, and I never bothered to find a doctor over here. Then, the following week, L has her four year old check up -- over there, again -- and when we return, we will be bringing some friends out for a sleep over. Everybody's due for a dental cleaning, and S had a filling fall out, but I was unable to schedule anything earlier that the 29th over in Hollywood, so I'm waiting for their dentist to call me with a recommendation for someone here on the west coast. Imagine not having to drive three hours to an appointment!

The girls and I completed some of our week's work yesterday, so we're a bit ahead.

Here's to keeping it that way...

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Books, books, and books

The quiz on books that has been making the rounds, and the poll over at Mental Multivitamin reminded me of my best and worst book experience yet.

A few years back, I traveled up to Georgia one weekend with my brother-in-law, who had been named executor of his second cousin's estate, to take a look at some antique furniture he thought I might be interested in buying from the estate before he turned all the contents over to an auctioneer.

Colonel Bill, the deceased second cousin, had been an Air Force World War II hero, stationed in Europe for many years. He was also a pack rat, and in addition to a house filled with antiques, he had a large barn packed with other miscellaneous treasures. The biggest find was that all four walls of the barn, floor to ceiling, were covered with the entire contents of the Wiesbaden Air Force Base's library that he had purchased when the library was closed. They were even in Dewey decimal order. The antiques dealer was not interested in the books and told me I could help myself.

Colonel Bill also had several sets of luggage, which the dealer was not interested in. I had two days to pack two suitcases, the limit the airline would allow for checked baggage, with anything I wanted.

It was torture. I ended up with various scientific field guides, books on animal trapping and tracking, celestial navigation, botanical guides, surveying manuals, first editions of Boy and Girl Scout manuals...

In retrospect, I should have bought the two standard issue Air Force trunks he had, stenciled Roswell, AFB, and stuffed them full of books to be shipped home. Assuming they were empty, of course.


What is your favorite type of bookstore?
A. A large, well-lit chain store with a cafe and a large selection of books
B. A dark, dusty, used bookstore full of mysterious and vaguely organized books
C. A local independent bookstore that features books by local authors and a self-serve coffee station for customers

A, B, and C, plus online dealers, yard sales, flea markets, museum gift shops, library clearance racks...

What excites you more?
A. Awaiting a new book by a favorite author
B. Discovering a classic you've been wanting to read
C. Receiving a free book from a friend in the mail

Which do you prefer?
A. Fiction
B. Non-fiction
C. A mix of both

What is your favorite of these forms?
A. Novel
B. Short story
C. Poetry

What is your fiction preference?
A. Contemporary fiction
B. Classic novels
C. Genre (mystery, espionage, etc.)

A, B, and C, with a particular weakness for Stephen King

Does the design and condition of the book matter?
A. Yes, I love a well designed book and keep mine in mint condition.
B. No, the words are what matter.
C. Yes and no. I appreciate good design and treat my books with respect, but I am not obsessive about it.

On average how many books do you read a month?
A. One or two
B. Four or five
C. Ten or more

Do you prefer to own or borrow?
A. There is a particular joy in owning a book. I have a large personal library.
B. Why spend money when you can read it for free? I use the public library.
C. Different tools for different job. I own and borrow.

Where do you get (the majority) of your book news?
A. Newspapers
B. Magazines
C. Television
D. Blogs
E. Friends, acquaintances, and other fellow readers
F. Booksellers
G. A combination of the sources above and others, including excellent catalogues

I'm going with MFS's modified version here, and answering G

Are books a professional obsession?
A. Yes, I work or have worked in the field (writer, reviewer, publisher, teacher, librarian, bookseller, etc.).
B. No, I do it for fun.
C. I write the occasional review but have a regular job outside of books.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The lesser of two weevils?

G is a funny guy. He was so excited and encouraged by Kerry and Edwards's speeches the other day, he is optimistic that they might actually be able to defeat Bush & Co. Was it coincidence when he came up with a new solution for our housing situation, right here in the good ol' U.S. of A? I think not.

We have a four acre piece out on the eastern, agriculturally zoned fringes of Punta Gorda, Florida, purchased as an investment. He's asked me to start researching modular homes and houses to be moved in road-widening projects, in order to pursue developing the property. It could be a cheap and fast alternative to building from scratch, giving us a large enough land base, not too far from the island.


Current reads:

S (11)

Of Courage Undaunted -- Initially resistant to reading it, she's now enjoying the book, even sorry that they're already on their way back.

The New Way Things Work -- This one is her new all-time favorite, being dragged around with her wherever she goes and with lots of bookmarked pages. She's been busy inventing new contraptions. Unschooling science still seems to be working for us.

G (9)

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years -- A book I've been trying to share with this stubborn, reluctant reader. She loves it and has been enthusiastically reading passages aloud to the rest of us.


Undaunted Courage -- I've slowed down a bit as I teach myself to play chess, but am still enjoying this fascinating tale.

Our read-alouds

Pagoo is a big hit and we are looking forward to reading the other Hollings books.

The Scarlet Pimpernel -- While originally skeptical, the girls are delighted by the story and characters and have been begging me to read "just one more chapter!"

The Legos are out again and this time the girls are busy building guillotines, combining their interests in simple machines from The New Way Things Work and The Scarlet Pimpernel.


Comment Replies

MFS: (way late) Of course you're right ("Be wary of equating the grocery clerk's vacant smile with mindlessness.") It's all about the motivation.

Dy: I need to pick your brain about your building research, and we're going with the baskets on the shelves idea. Thanks.

Margaret: Glad the review was a help. The book is definitely an eye-opener, in my case more useful for looking back than ahead, though. Surprised to see you would consider packing up and heading somewhere more remote than WV! I imagine you living up on a mountaintop or down in a holler. Please keep the political comments coming.

Darby et al: As soon as we get the bathroom finished to our satisfaction, I'll post some photos. So far it's nothing to get excited about.

Once the porch is cleared of construction debris, I need to take a shot of our cottage exterior for an updated "After" photo. The "Before" is so horrible that we always wonder what the heck we were thinking when we saw this place.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Happy Birthday!

It started off, four years ago today, with a planned visit to Fairchild Tropical Gardens for the annual Mango Festival and nearly ended with me coming home from the hospital, not with a cherub in my arms, but, in a box.

A hospital with the sanitary conditions of a slum in Calcutta, too much Pitocin, a botched epidural (requested after the last child’s completely natural, high-velocity birth), disbelief from the staff when I advised them I needed to push, and shock when they realized I was right, followed by the speedy delivery of another perfect, beautiful daughter.

Then chills, and an ominous, “You’re not going home today.” Lung scan, MRI, sonograms, CT scans, blood drawn every two hours, an intravenous chartreuse cocktail. Pain. Big pain. Difficulty breathing. This is it. Just leave me alone. One week later, the diagnosis: Intrauterine alpha strep, antibiotic resistant.

My poor baby was abandoned in the nursery, or allowed to stay with me, depending on how you look at it. Maybe they thought it would keep my spirits up, or maybe they thought we had insurance. They were wrong on both counts.

Three more days in the hospital.

Finally home and hooked up to a milking machine, pumping and dumping for two weeks until all the radioactivity from the lung scan had left my body. If the other two got to nurse, so would my little orphan. Formula clogged her up, we switched formula. Colic, switched formula again. Bottles cleaned, glop mixed. Forget the health benefits, breastfeeding is just plain easier. Success! She even nursed twice as long as either of the other two, just shy of her second birthday; weaning her was a challenge.

In fact, everything about this child has been a challenge. X-rays, Poison Control, never napping, three years before she slept through the night, unauthorized visits to neighbors… She is the high-wire act without the net. During my month-long recovery at home, G would take the colicky infant at night to allow me some rest between my continued fever spikes. One night, in the midst of an endless screaming bout, he popped her in the car, hoping the drive would lull her to sleep. He ended up not on a little ride around the neighborhood, but doing a fifty mile circuit to Miami International Airport and back. He swears he was just driving until she fell asleep. I think he may have been considering leaving the country.

In spite of all that, what a blessing this child is. She is the funniest one yet, and with her huge belly laugh, precocious observations and comments, she has brought more joy and laughter into our lives than we can stand sometimes. How time flies when you’re having fun.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Big Jack, Orlando, and another incident at the Laundromat

The night before last I was awakened by L, sleeping next to me, when she heard the alarm on our digital stopwatch go off. Nobody has been able to figure out how to stop it, aside from pitching it out into the bay, so every 3:00 AM, it beeps twice a second for one solid minute. It doesn't bother the other heavy sleepers in the house; I'm generally the only one who hears it. After I reassured L that it would stop soon and not to be scared, I had almost drifted back to sleep when I heard screams coming from the cage of our hedgehog, Jack. I jumped up, snapped on the light and was horrified to see Jack hanging upside down, apparently impaled on the thick gauge wire that attaches his food dispenser to the side of the cage, as he had tried to move downstairs to his sleeping quarters. He was swinging by a long pinkish appendage. It looked like it caught his leg. When I looked closer, I didn't see a foot. Oh my God, he's chewed his foot off to get free...oh, jeez, it's worse than that...it's his intestines, it must have caught his belly...

He nearly removed my ring finger as I tried to get him free.

When I finally got him down and inspected the poor, terrified little guy, I discovered he had been suspended by his, ahem, sheath (see 2 a.) If there's any men reading this, and probably sitting there with your hands covering yourself in empathetic protective mode, sorry about that. It had to hurt. My little tale does have a happy ending: the swelling has gone down, he's able to urinate properly, and he's been left more endowed than ever.

Then, sometime before sunrise this morning, S came out of her room complaining of being too hot to sleep. Fine, hop on in with me. First, though, she headed to the bathroom. The door wouldn't open. I got up to try it. It wasn't locked, you could twist the handle, but it wouldn't budge past the door frame. Uh oh. Our cat, Orlando, sleeps in there at night because I can't bear the thought of fleas in our beds, so I figured he had something to do with it. By then, I had to use the bathroom pretty badly myself, and S and I were forced to go outside and squat in the dark.

I knew we could get in through the window.

We pulled up the stepstool.

Too short.

Then the fully-extended roofing ladder.

Too tall.

Then the sawhorses.

Just right.

I could now see into the bathroom with the flashlight and observed that the cat had possibly tried to climb up the towel that had been hung over the shower curtain rod, pulling the whole thing down and effectively barricading the door. I pushed in the screen and S climbed through.

I'm hoping tonight I'll get a full night's sleep.


G learned a new reason to never leave your laundry unattended, after already having a load of his clothes and a backpack stolen in separate incidents. As he folded up his laundry yesterday, he thought he saw a guy, who looked like Jerry Garcia, taking a birdbath in someone's wash cycle. When the guy pulled out a stick of deodorant and applied it, he was sure of it. He discretely mentioned it to the attendant, who immediately confronted Jerry, sitting outside the laundromat having a smoke, and pointed G out as his accuser. G left very quickly.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Our Fourth

We celebrated for two days, starting Saturday night with our neighbor's annual party. We're not invited, but we can watch the hour-long professional fireworks show and hear the live band from our dock.

Fireworks over the water are doubly beautiful.

Sunday the kids donned their red, white, and blue outfits, and made a Fourth of July Lego parade with the America Rock video playing in the background.

Here's the parade led by George Washington on horseback, followed by the Statue of Liberty, American flag float, 2004 float, Women's VOTE float, and the Lincoln Memorial float, as they circle around the Washington Monument. I love a parade!

Sunday, July 04, 2004

From Sea to Shining Sea


Yesterday I began reading Undaunted Courage in preparation for the next portion of our studies, and am unable to put it down. I was fully prepared to not like this book, but Stephen Ambrose is a captivating storyteller, and Jefferson, Lewis, and Clark are some amazing characters.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Progress Report

Has anyone noticed how long Sophie's World has been on our read-aloud list? While the book itself is a fairly clever lesson in the history of philosophy wrapped in the guise of a mystery, it is a poor read-aloud. The girls are quite bored with the biographical information on various philosophers and keeping them interested until the storyline resumes with Hilde and Sophie has been a challenge. We're close though.

The bathroom rehab is still in its initial stages. Ceiling is done, walls are primed, shower stall interior painted. G was lacking a second roller for the regular light-colored coats of paint, so he is out now at the hardware store. We still haven't been able to successfully address the storage problem. The original cheap bamboo open wall shelf was a very unorganized, unattractive way to store Band-Aids, eyedrops, cold medicines, deodorant, etc. Medicine cabinets without mirrors are not too common and the ones we have seen are not solid wood. Out here, moisture is a big problem. Any pressboard products eventually swell up and fall apart -- that's why the kitchen should be our next big interior project. Any appropriate cabinets we have come across all need to be ordered.

Our phone lines out here are plagued with static, causing my internet connection to cut out frequently, so I've been checking into satellite ISPs. The cost is prohibitive and the reviews of the various services are not glowing. I'll be checking into wireless services next. Anybody use one?


I'm mad. G and I are reasonable people. We think we're making a good effort and doing a decent job of raising our daughters. Why then do people feel the need to override our decisions?

When we ask, politely, that the kids not get toys for their birthdays, it's not that we are mean or rigidly Spartan. It's that we live in 500 square feet of space. What about art supplies? Clothes? Sports equipment? We have them, more than we need, more than we can use, thank you. Books? Sure, and gift certificates are always appreciated so the kids can choose their own, or maybe renew the subscription to their favorite magazine. A simple card will do. Kids love to get their own mail. If you feel that is not enough, stick a few bucks in it. The kids will be thrilled.

Same with Christmas.

People don't seem to understand, even though I have tried to explain as gently as possible, that the majority of holiday presents they receive go straight to G's Haitian employee or Goodwill. And Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving are not gift-giving holidays, nor does Santa or the Easter Bunny leave additional treats anywhere other than our house.

When we say we are not coming over to the east coast so you can present the aforementioned unwanted gifts, that means, we are not coming over. Please don't continue to ask. We prefer our celebrations here, at home. If we do happen by necessity to travel over to your side, we do not need to celebrate the birthday multiple times with each set of relatives. Birthdays come once a year. Once. It is much easier for those of you without young children in your household to come see us than it is for me to break up our delicate routine, pack up the four of us, make necessary preparations for the care and feeding of the cat and hedgehog, and drive six hours roundtrip. You are always welcome here. How many times have you been over to visit in three years? Once or twice? Still insist on a present? Stick it in the mail.

When we decide that, unfortunately, the girls will not be flying up to meet their beloved cousins in New Jersey when they come to visit from London this month, and will have to wait until Christmas to see them, don't insist on asking again and again, especially in front of them. We were not planning to let them go, not because we can't afford it, so, thanks, but no thanks for the offer of tickets, but because we recently spent one whole month traveling up the east coast and now it's time to get back to schoolwork. Why is their home education such a concern to you all year, but inconsequential when it suits you? We aren't comfortable with them traveling great distances or being away from us for extended periods of time. I know it is difficult for you to understand that, but please respect our wishes. Don't continue to manipulate us by having the nieces call and ask, at your behest, if the girls could please, please, please come up.

As it is, this last issue has caused a great disharmony in our home. G is ready to throw in the towel and allow the two older girls to fly up with my father, but not before giving everyone a piece of his mind. It is easy for them to ignore me, but G is so easygoing and diplomatic, that when he speaks, like E.F. Hutton, people listen.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Had to take a drive up to Tampa to pick up a trailer axle and fender, and then deliver it to Hollywood for my nephews' boat. I'm such a nice auntie. My nephews are expert, professional fishermen and won another big tournament just the other day. One night I'm hoping to go out with one of them and document a typical swordfishing expedition. These boys will go out solo and come home with at least one fish nearly as big as the boat and weighing several hundred pounds. One nephew's Christmas card always includes a photo of him, his wife and kids, and at least one enormous, dead fish. My sentiments exactly.


I finished Queen Bees & Wannabes, and as I suspected, most of this doesn't directly apply to us as homeschoolers. Just having your daughters out of the traditional school setting certainly limits most of the potential for harm. I feel sorry for the other mothers who are dealing with these problems and need to read this book for help. The author, Rosalind Wiseman, while helpful and encouraging, delivers a mostly pessimistic message that pressure to conform in a clique destroys girls' individuality, leaves them susceptible to abusive relationships later on, vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse, and is almost completely inevitable. Wiseman constantly warns that "[n]o matter how good a parent you are, how popular your daughter is, or how great her friends are, she'll run into problems with popularity and cliques. For better or worse, it's the experiences she has in the clique that will teach her volumes about friendship, support, understanding, power, and privilege. On a daily basis she'll learn what kind of girl she has to be in order to be accepted by the group, and this will influence everything from her choice of boyfriends to the classes she takes, her after-school activities, her clothes, her hairstyles, the people she talks to, the people she doesn't talk to, her beliefs and values, and her overall sense of self."

Aren't you glad we have options?

The first thought that struck me was that avoiding the situation in the first place, i.e. homeschooling, would eliminate a large part of the problem, and not because we isolate our children, but because we are with them to model our, hopefully, good behavior and offer support, encouragement, and information on a continual basis, rather than trying to undo the day-long influence of peers for a few minutes at a time, but since this is not a real option for most people, for whatever reason, it was not mentioned as a possibility. Wiseman points out that the worst of this behavior begins in middle school, when the parental involvement typical of elementary school years drops off. So, in a nutshell: Parental involvement makes all the difference.

Some of her other assertions, that if your daughter is over twelve, she has almost certainly been called a slut and/or bitch by other girls and that she has almost certainly said the same of other girls, and that you not actually hearing these words is immaterial, you are just in denial, were offensive. My oldest is two months shy of twelve, so I'll have to evaluate that when we get there, but I have a feeling I'll still be considered "in denial."

The section on defining your parenting style was interesting. Loving Hard-Ass Parent is the obvious preferred style, and one that probably describes many, if not most, of us. Best Friend Parent, Hip Parent, and No-Excuses Parent are pretty close seconds, but each has its major drawback: Best Friend Parent forces a girl to take extreme measures to separate from parents later on, or the other option, she never grows up; Hip Parent lacks authority and along with Best Friend Parent can be easily manipulated; and No-Excuses Parent can make an independent, otherwise successful daughter ashamed and reluctant to ask for help, becoming self-destructive or disconnected.

Apparently some parents of these effected, affected girls carry plenty of baggage from their own school days, mentioning wanting to kill the mean girl who hurt their daughters' feelings, and the mentality that "...you feel reassured when your daughter gets invited to parties and sleepovers regularly, pals around with her best friend, and dashes to the phone because once again it's for her..." exposes some low priorities and immaturity on the part of these parents.

Lots of tips on dealing with broken hearts, icky boyfriends, and fighting over boys led me to wonder why these girls are dating in middle school anyway. High school I can understand, but sixth, seventh, and eighth grade? Isn't dating a precursor to marriage? What's the point?

The most disheartening part of this book, because it is one area I have no control over, or expertise with, dealt with the way boys are raised. The pressure to conform to the image of their gender that bars any behaviors perceived as sensitive or weak is damaging, encouraging violence, and everything boys do is then in part or in whole a performance to prove their masculinity. "Boy World," as she calls it, is also guided by the invisible hand of homophobia and assigns boys roles of perpetrator, bystander, or target. In the extreme, this fear of being labeled a "fag" is where you find cases of gang rapes. "The irony of the prevailing cultural definition of masculinity is that it represses courage -- not the kind where a boy will fight someone if challenged, but the moral courage to raise his voice and stand up for what's right." Great, just what you want to hear when you have three daughters. I remain hopeful though, because just as I know I am raising girls unlike those characterized in this book, some of you are raising boys who do not fit this disturbing description.

What was useful for me was gaining insight into how girls can become trapped in abusive relationships as a result of submerging their own personalities in a clique. I was involved for several years in a physically abusive relationship that began in high school, and looking back, could never understand how it happened. There were also good tips on discussing areas of concern with your daughter, many highlighted "LANDMINE!" to avoid words or phrases particularly irritating to pre/teens.

Basically, this book was just another affirmation that we are on the right track.


I picked up a few more books this week. A local gift shop was having a clearance sale and I picked up five books on various Florida themes for G and Loving Che for me, because I vaguely remember reading a favorable review somewhere. Total for two hardcover and four paperbacks, all brand new, $8.00.