Monday, February 27, 2012

Science fair project...times two

I fully expected Husband to be back to help with this.  Only he's not.  His 45 day trip out in the Gulf has turned in to 55 days and counting.  So it was all up to me this weekend.  You got this!  

Fortunately, Hayden let me know on Friday after school that his science fair project, the one that had been looming since the fall, that he had been working on piece by piece, was indeed going to have to be completed.  By Tuesday.

Science fair projects are not my favorite.  They make me scared.  And I wasn't going to avoid this one.  Not only that, but because we are lucky enough to have TWINS...I got to help with not one, but TWO science fair projects this weekend.

We tackled Hayden's first on Saturday.  He had already written a paper about his subject - Iron - for his English class, so we just had to type and print and find lots of good pictures.  Then we had to do a lot of cutting and pasting.  Since I'm a font freak, we also searched for the perfect one on  Free downloadable fonts.  Love that site.

I hate glue.  Glue sticks don't work that great and Elmer's school glue leaves lumps and bleeds.  So we tried something new this year - Elmer's spray glue.  It works.  But what a mess.  I woke up in the middle of the night and I swear my hand was stuck to my cheek.  For just a second.  I  also had to mop the floor where the overspray landed.  But the finished product looked pretty good.

After church on Sunday, it was on to Reid's.  Same drill.  Only Reid had already typed and printed out his sections at school and had specific things in mind for his font.  He wanted simple.  So as not to detract from the brilliance of Calcium (his topic).  We got to work:  just pictures and cutting and glue.

This one went way faster.  He was all about, "Just the facts, ma'am."  Hayden, however, took forever to pick his layout and switched it up several times and was still questioning it all as he walked out the door this morning.  Yin.  Yang.  The Scientist.  The Artist.  Tomato.  Tomahto.  Can't call the whole thing off.    

Friday, February 24, 2012

A loud reader...

I am a firm believer in reading aloud.  Not just to babies and toddlers and elementary-aged children, but from cradle to grave.

I have great memories of piling into my parents' bed with my sisters, cuddling up between my parents, and listening to my dad read aloud from Journeys Through Bookland by Charles H. Sylvester.  He read really fast.  You had to pay attention, or you'd be lost.

My mom read aloud to us, too.  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken had me leaning forward with anticipation as my mother's voice floated over my bed.  I remember crying as she read aloud from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - my first exposure to the Holocaust.  

It is probably no surprise that I carry on this tradition with my own boys and Husband.  As graduate students in Venezuela for a year, sleeping in hammocks and studying the monkeys and the fish from an island, we read Stephen King's The Langoliers out loud (from his Four Past Midnight collection) and Husband (then Boyfriend) was hooked.  Then we tackled The Stand.  Yes.  All 800 plus glorious pages of The Stand.  Did I mention there was no electricity out there on the island?  No TV?  There was no better way to spend the hot hours of siesta than to read aloud.  Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire came next, then Dean Koontz's Twilight Eyes.  It wasn't our choice to focus on horror, those were simply the paperbacks left laying around the apartment reserved for graduate students.  So we devoured them.  And they were good.

As a middle school and high school teacher, I read aloud to my students.  There are lots of English teachers out there, bolstered by research, that believe that hearing a work read aloud, and read aloud well, helps students to become better readers themselves.  So I would start the year by reading Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale aloud to my 7th graders.  This great author of historical fiction for young adults chronicles the 1900 Galveston Hurricane.  The beginning of school every year coincided with hurricane season, which gave this first read aloud a sense of urgency where I taught on the Texas coast.  They loved it.  It sometimes took a while for them to relax and enjoy being read to, but they were surprisingly well behaved.  They were allowed to sit on the classroom carpet and just listen.  And gradually, some of the most reluctant readers would race into class on Fridays (reserved for Read Alouds) and exclaim, "I can't wait to hear what happens!  We stopped at the best part last week!" And the inevitable follow up questions, "What other books has this author written?" and "Do we have them here in the library?"  Success.  

After seeing how effective reading aloud was with my middle schoolers, I didn't see any reason not to try it with my more world-weary 11th graders in U.S. History.  We read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin  when studying the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws.  It was always quiet on Read Aloud days.  Some of them fell asleep - of course they did.  But some of them got to experience a book that they otherwise never would have read.  And they didn't have to struggle to do it.  It was an enjoyable experience.  And isn't that what reading is supposed to be?

When it was first announced that C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia would be adapted for the big screen, I made sure I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my three boys before we saw the movie.  These books were made to be read aloud.  When the characters began to appear on screen, Hayden leaned towards me and said, "That's Lucy!" as soon as he saw the redhead appear.  Satisfying.

The boys and Husband and I have made our way speedily through The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  We're waiting for Husband to return home to move on to the last book in the trilogy, Mockingjay.  And we cannot wait to go and see the movie based on the first book.  I showed the boys the official trailer that was released on Youtube.  And do you know what their reaction was?  "That's not what Katniss looks like!" and "She's supposed to be younger!" and "That can't be District 12's fence!"  So many images in their minds did not match up to what they were seeing on the screen.  But I also heard, "They got the train right, though." and "That must be Cinna!"  We're excited, can't you tell?  

As we wait for Husband to return (52 days at sea and counting...), we've turned to a book I discovered when I participated in the Association of Texas Professional Educators Book of the Month Club.

I cannot say enough good things about The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong (check out the book's website).  It's on the 2009 Texas Lone Star Reading List.  My 7th grade classroom served as the Guest Readers for this amazing book, reading it and creating discussion questions.  (You can see a pic of some of my former students with the book here.)

I'm now questioning the wisdom of reading a shipwreck story while Husband is out there on a shrimp boat, but it is just so good.  Some parts get me so emotional that I choke up while reading.  The boys completely identify with the main characters in the story:  three brothers that have a hard time getting along.  We're almost done with it.  And Ms. Herlong?  If you're reading this?  Your book rocks and should totally be made into a movie.    

I'll continue reading aloud to my children, Husband and students.  Hell, I'll read aloud to anyone who will listen.  It calms me.  I enjoy it.  And the listeners seem to as well.  This is our family's bedtime ritual.  It has always been - we've just graduated from picture books to chapter books.  I highly recommend it.

As long as I'm making recommendations, here's a list:

Top 10 Middle Grade Books to Read Aloud

1.  Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale
2.  The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong
3.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
4.  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
5.  Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
6.  The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
7.  The Giver by Lois Lowry
8.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
9.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
10. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Boys can be sweet.

I got a really great late Valentine's Day present this weekend.
I took the twins downtown to Goodies Texas, the newest shop on the square.  How can it get any better?  They make their own chocolate AND they have cool toys.  Genius.

I waited outside with well-behaved puppy Bailey while they made their purchases with their allowance.  And they came out looking all shy and smiley and handed me a paper bag.

"What's this?" I asked them.
"A really late Valentine's Day present," Hayden said.

Inside was this awesome Hello Kitty mug.  I adore Hello Kitty.  All pink and girly.  From my boys.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Crafty boy

All of our boys are creative to some degree.  But one has more patience.  One perseveres more than the others.  Hayden seeks out opportunities to be artistic.

Okay, right here he's just loving being the one who walked in the kitchen at the right moment so that he could  lick the beater from the red velvet cupcake batter.  But if you look at his wrist you'll see what he really came into the kitchen to show me.

Those are rolls of duct tape on his wrist.  They make all kinds of designs now - we got these (Duck Tape brand) at WalMart.  This is what he made:

It's a wallet.  He's giving this one to a friend for his birthday this weekend.  The others he has visions of selling.  We have a local Farmer's Market here where he actually might be able to set up a little table of his wares.  We'll see how it goes.  He took it to school and had lots of friends say they wanted to buy it, but, "They keep forgetting to bring their money!"  It's hard being a boy entrepreneur in these tough economic times...  

Speaking of being crafty, I'm going to try to make this wreath today to Easter up our front door.  For now, it just exists on my Pinterest board.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  

Monday, February 13, 2012


I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I’ll tell you that up front.  Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.  And my Valentine – Husband – is at sea.  Has been for the past 40 days. 

This is the longest he has been gone with his new gig as Fisheries Observer.  He started last summer and loves it.  What he doesn’t love is being separated from his family for so long, especially with all we’ve been through in the past year.  We spoke on the satellite phone yesterday for the twenty minutes allotted, which isn’t much when it’s divided up between three eager boys and me.  They re-enacted assignments from school, singing to him over the phone, and I knew he smiled hearing them.  Those weekly phone calls are bittersweet – we hear his voice and that is good.  We relay everything he’s missing and that is bad.  
Last Valentine’s Day we did not exchange Valentines.  He gave some treats to the boys and so did I.  I had moved out of the master bedroom and was living downstairs in the guest bedroom, next to the boys’ bedrooms, sharing their bathroom.  It was awful - not sharing a bathroom with three boys (although that certainly was no picnic), but the fact that I had made up my mind to leave my husband.  He was days from filing for divorce.  I was days from taking the boys and moving in to the same apartment complex as my older sister and not showing up to his grandfather’s funeral.  Can’t take it back.  Too late for that. 

I really don’t want to take it back, either.  We had to go through this nightmare to get to where we are now, which is a very good place.  We have seen the other side.  We have lived without one another.  We can both do it.  But we don’t want to.  And that is the key. 

I finally confronted that voice in my head that has always been there:  “You don’t need a man.  Be financially independent.  Don’t depend on anyone.  Support yourself.  Be strong.  You are smart.  You are beautiful.  Don’t settle.”  I think now that the voice is my mother’s, but I don’t want to attribute all of it to her.  I think it is also every mentor’s and teacher’s voice that I have come in contact with over the course of a life.  So many voices throughout my 41 years.  And I know I’m not the only one hearing them. 

I think it’s my generation of women that hear this.  The men don’t hear it for the obvious reason that the message is kind of a defense against them and our male-dominated culture.  The message was a call to action; a game plan; a battle cry.  We were raised in the 70s and 80s, constantly hearing the message that women are strong, powerful, and can do anything.  That’s all great and wonderful.  Really.  I have kicked some ass in my lifetime because I had this attitude that I could – and should – do anything I set my mind to.  It got me through the tangled mess that is high school, then college, then graduate school.  It propelled me through my first jobs, into my first career, and – when the painful time came – out of that career and into another.  I have had success again and again at the things I decided to do.  And I know it’s because I’ve had this “Go ahead – bring it on - I can handle it” attitude.
But that attitude doesn’t work so well in a relationship – in a marriage.  In fact, it works against it. 

I lived with one foot out the door throughout most of our 15 year marriage, and certainly was poised to spring during the seven years of our relationship prior to getting married.  I think the fact that I remained first, in a long-term relationship and second, married disappointed feminists everywhere.  I certainly feel now – today – that it was a disappointment to my mother and two sisters.  They have always questioned my commitment to this man, but I didn’t want to see it.  Until I did. 

When I called upon them – my family, my support system – when my marriage was crumbling, they were there.  In their support of me to leave the marriage, they revealed their apprehension and distrust of my husband that had been there since day one.  This was further fuel to the fire for me – further justification that I was doing the right thing in getting out.  These were my people, after all.  They knew me better than anyone else. 

Only they didn’t. 

I was the only one who could feel the gut wrenching panic that gripped me when I drove away with the boys for some “time alone” during the summer, knowing that there was potential for me never to return.  I wanted separation.  I needed time and space to think.  But it didn’t feel right.  It gripped me now and again – this paralysis as deep as my soul.  But I ignored it.  I kept going forward, kept making decisions that led to more and more separate lives and had repercussions for my children that I would not admit but that would slap me in the face regularly.  And the thing that I had feared most – that I was being selfish and was irrevocably changing the people around me so that I could fucking think, goddamn it – had indeed come to pass. 

It was all so sad.  The boys were sad.  I was sad.  Husband was sad.  I had so much anger and resentment that it took a while to burn through it all, but I eventually did.  And I was left with only sadness.  Overwhelming, debilitating sadness. 

So I decided to throw a little love out there.  For so long, I had nothing more within me to give.  But when everything else had been thrown out of the barrel of my soul and I scratched my hand around inside the bottom to verify that yes, indeed, it was empty, I grabbed on to a tiny string of love.  I sent it out in the next conversation I had with the now ex-Husband.  He balked.  Then he grabbed on to that tiny string.  Then I balked and tried to back track.  But it was no good.  I’d had a taste of what love could do.  And the hate came tumbling down. 

So we’re back to being Valentines.  The divorce didn’t take – there were some legal t’s that didn’t get crossed, I’s that didn’t get dotted – and the case was dismissed, leaving our marriage intact.  No one is more amazed than I.  I equate it with a near death experience – this near divorce.  Those that have survived such things often describe the sky as a deeper blue, the sun a little brighter.  The little things that I used to obsess over – like housework and kid care and should we go to the party or not and I don’t think that person likes me so you shouldn’t like them either – it’s all gone.  Poof.  Those things really are little.  And they simply don’t occur to me any longer. 

I made my bid for freedom and then decided I didn’t want it.  It’s not that I can’t live on my own – it’s that I choose not to.  I could be an independent, no strings attached, make all my own decisions woman.  And the feminists would cheer.  But I don’t want it.  I choose love.  So the feminists boo.  My mom and sisters disowned me when I announced my decision to return to my marriage.  And that didn’t just affect me – it impacted three boys who no longer have relationships with their aunts and grandmother.  Through no fault of their own, my boys found themselves in the middle of first one war between their parents and now another war between their mother’s relatives.  A war of silence.  But I have love left.  I send it out to them now and again and I hope they feel it.   

I choose to be with the person who has known me since I was 18, who tells me I’m beautiful and really believes it.  He is the man who insists that I am a great writer and will one day know success in that endeavor.  The one person who knows the worst I can give – who was rejected by me and labeled the enemy so that I could survive this metamorphosis.  Who went through this madness that we evidently had to go through so that we could both grow and both come out the other side.  The one who is now at sea, supporting his family, so that I can sit here and type this.  I choose him. 

So I have a Valentine’s Day card, only slightly cheesy, that I’ll pour love into today.  I’ll tuck it in its red envelope, seal it, and leave it on his bedside table to await his return.  And I’ll put some heart shaped chocolates in the boys’ lunches tomorrow – eating entirely too much of them myself - and shower them with love.  I’ll get through the day feeling slightly less sorry for myself knowing that he’ll be home soon and we will have uninterrupted time together.  Because our family survived. 

Love survived.     

Friday, February 10, 2012

Music lov-ah

On the way home from dinner last night at church (Empty Bowls, a very worthy cause) one of the twins was singing along with the radio.  Or so I thought.  He was really singing another song by the same artist.  He belted out something like this:

"The dog days are o-o-over
the dog days are o-o-over
Run fast for your mother
Run fast for your father..."

Something like that.

"How did you know the words?" I asked, since he was singing them ahead of time.

"Easy.  I know that song," he said.

"Who sings it?" I was trying to stump him.

"Florence and The Machine, Mom.  Everybody knows that,"  the boy said.


He continued.  "Only I don't like this song - it's her new one - "Shake it Out".  I like "Dog Days are Over".


"Yeah.  She was on Saturday Night Live."

Yes my children watch Saturday Night Live and I wholeheartedly endorse it.  Don't judge me.  I would watch it with them but I'm usually so tired by the time it comes on that I have to record it and watch it the next day so we can laugh about it.  The point here is that Hayden pays attention way more than he lets on.  I don't know why I was surprised at this.  Maybe because he's so quiet much of the time unless he's fighting with his brothers.  That, he protests quite loudly.

I sat down with this music lover to go over his options for electives next year, when he'll be in big ol' middle school.  Registration for that is going on now.  Sixth grade has few choices:  Band, Art, Choir and Orchestra.  They can only pick one and must list their first and second choices.  He was torn.  He desperately wants to try an instrument and if you don't do it in 6th grade, you're pretty much left behind.  But he loves Art.  Always has.  Choosing sucked.  But the school was making his decision for him - he had to pick Band for his first choice if he was going to find out whether or not he had a knack for playing an instrument.  Saxophone is on his mind.

I cringe a little at thinking that he won't have an art teacher next year - something he has loved throughout elementary school.  But he'll have a band director for the first time.  In 7th grade, he can pick up another elective - so he can add Art then.  Hopefully he can make it through one year without it.  Me as well - I love when he brings home things he has done at school.  I'll just have to commission some artwork from him on my own, I guess.  

On a side note, someone left flowers on my porch this week.
No note or anything.  Pretty sure it was my super awesome neighbor, Molly.  In any case, it lifted my spirits and made me miss Husband at the same time.  He's been gone 38 days.  But I'll write about that later...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oh Wilson, why you do me that way?

I used to be a pretty good basketball player.  I was the captain of the team and made the All Stars in high school.  I had some skills, people.  And I'm tall.  Really tall.  That goes a long way.

Until you're 41, evidently.

The twins are playing basketball this year and they're pretty good.  Either because they know that I used to play (and secretly idolize me) or because I'm the only parent home since basketball season started (ding! ding! ding! We have a winner!), they frequently ask me to go down to the park and shoot some hoops.  I think one of them was surprised that I could hold my own.  I have helped him improve his free throws, despite his protests that he couldn't possibly make the shot without jumping wildly and therefore risking crossing the free throw line and negating any success.  We've talked a lot about perfecting the lay up and how important that is.  They're both good little dribblers, and they're improving as the season progresses.

So I went to the park yesterday with Reid and after we went through our free throws, he asked to play a little one-on-one.  This involved me running and dodging and jumping.  It's not pretty, but I can do it.  I even managed to control my bladder about 50% (okay 30%) of the time when straining for those lay ups.  (Too much information?  I think it's better to be honest - because having three children, two at once! - takes its toll on your body.  Full disclosure.)  My hair was down and I didn't have a clip, so my hair kept getting in the way when I'd dribble.  But I persevered.  The boy and I were tied up, 4-4.  I knew the boy was impressed with my tenacity.  I felt a twinge in my left calf, but figured it was just the muscle protesting a bit.  Only when Reid went up for his next shot and I went to block him, the twinge went "Pop!"  I couldn't bend my foot in any way or the pain in my calf screamed.  Reid made the shot.  We hobbled home.

I ended up with a bag of frozen veggies on my leg.
And Reid had to take over cooking dinner.  Twice baked potatoes.  He didn't mind.

Look at that face!  "I'm sorry you can't hang with me on the basketball court, Mom."  That's what he was thinking - I just know it.

I will heal.  And then I'm gonna kick his butt on the court.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super stuff for Super Bowl

I made these brownies this weekend from a recipe from my dear friend, Jill.  (You can check her out at her studio, Firefly Yoga and on her blog, Mischief in the Midwest.)  I have several wonderful recipes from her during our time together in Alaska.  We bonded over kids, husbands, houses, margaritas and food.

I brought them to our neighborhood Supper Club where the host called them "Crack."  As in addictive.  And dangerous.  I concur.

So I must share.

Chocolate Mint Brownies
1/2 cup butter
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Melt butter and chocolate.  Whisk together sugar and eggs.  Stir in chocolate mixture and vanilla, then flour and salt.  Pour in greased 9 in. square pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Cool for 1 hour.

1/4 cup soft butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 - 3 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. peppermint (or 1 tsp. if you really like mint)
green food coloring

Mix all and frost cooled brownie.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

3/4 cup chocolate chips
3 Tbsp. butter
Melt together and pour over chilled brownie and frosting.  Store in refrigerator.    

I also tried my hand at a craft that I found online - mainly because I had a heart shaped wreath that I tried to wire greenery around and it didn't work.  I'm pretty good at making wreaths, but when it's in a shape other than just a circle or a square, I guess you need some talent.  True to myself, I got pissed off and threw it in the trash when I failed.  Then I saw this and dug the wreath form out of the trashcan, grabbed some clothespins, and printed out a cute saying.  Voila!
I am kind of craft challenged, so this was a small success.  I learned how to make my own wreaths from this Martha Stewart book, Handmade Christmas:  The Best of Martha Stewart Living.  I bought it before our wedding in 1995 and that's how I made garlands and wreaths to decorate the farm where I grew up - our reception was there.  They were pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  This clothespin one isn't so super, but it's done.  And next week is Valentine's Day, so I'm good with it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fussy eaters and forgotten money

This is the donut that the others don't like.

"Others" as in Hawkins and Hayden.

I don't know what's wrong with 'dem boys, but Reid and I know what time it is.  They're sour cream donuts, and neveryoumind that I got them off the Manager's Special cart at Kroger because they were about to expire.  They are damn good.  Only the others don't recognize it.  But we do.  "They've got little pools of cream at the very bottom, Mom."  I know, baby.  I know.

More for us.  Less for them.  Guess what donuts I'm buying from now on?  No...that would be mean.
And this same boy with the clearly mature palate called me from school:

Boy:  "Mom?"
Me:  "Yes?"
Boy: "Did you see where I put my five dollars?"
Me:  "What?  I gave it to you this morning in the hall and said not to lose it!"
Boy: "I know.   But where did I put it?"
Me:  "I don't know.  You lost it?"
Boy:  "I can't find it."
Me:  Sigh

The boy proceeded to put the phone down in his classroom where he was calling from and rummage through his jeans pockets and his coat pockets and still, no five dollar bill.  We went back and forth for a while about whether or not he wanted me to bring him money for lunch in the cafeteria (he didn't).  He really was just calling to see if I knew where it was (I didn't).

Until I got off the phone and went into the living room and this is what I saw:
Right there on the coffee table.  Very unlike this boy - our saver, our business man - to leave money laying around.

I left it there so that when he got off the bus he could find it himself.  Satisfying.  Maybe I'll even warm him up a donut for an after-school snack.