Monday, August 29, 2011

Puttin' On The Teacher's Hat Again

Today I taught my first lesson in 7 years.

I did.

Granted, my students also happen to my offspring.

But hey, still counts.

We started school today. And surprisingly, the day went quite smoothly. I wasn't sure what to expect, or how to expect it. I didn't know if I'd be able to pull off the transitions and segues that the girls would need to keep going. But I must have figured it out somehow, because they did.

And you know what the best part about the day was?

They smiled.

I sat them down for lessons, and they grinned with glee. And listened.

I sat them down with work to complete, and they smiled. And completed their work.

I had them working at their computer stations, and they giggled. And used the computer with a strange amount of saviness that I didn't know they had.

Will this peaceable behavior continue? Who knows. (But let the record state that I am choosing to turn a blind eye to conventional wisdom here and proudly shout out, "YES. Yes it will. All year. Smiles, smiles, smiles galore. I'll be the Woman Whose Children Smile During Homeschool All The Time. So there.)

Day One: Score.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Night Before First Grade

A little diddy, in honor of our new adventure with Ohio Virutal Academy.

'Twas the night before First Grade
and all through our house,
everyone was sleeping,
but not Genie, our pet mouse.

Our school things were put
on the shelving with care,
awaiting the morning,
which soon would be there.

The children were 'snuntered',
all snug in their beds,
while visions of Tinkerbell erasers
danced in their heads.

And I in my "Teach's Cap",
and OCD on my brain,
had finalized my lesson plans,
and felt much less insane.

When out on the roof
there arose such a clatter!
Wait. No, it was just one of the roofer's
leftover ladders.
It fell from a peak
to the sidewalk below,
narrowling missing the shingles,
and avoiding a row.

Both of the PCs on small tables
with tiny chairs pushed in
gave the lustre of "An Office"
and of working there-in.

But wait!
What to my wondering
eyes should appear
but a blue screen of death...
the thing all techies most fear.

More rapid than a junky's,
my heart how it raced.
 And I whistled and  shouted,
as 'round the room I did pace.
"Now how could this be?
Now what shall I do?
Stupid computers!
What's the matter with you??
My daughters start school
and I need you to teach.
Without your help, we're
left in a true breach.

And as odd thoughts that before
a wild dream comes to an end,
as the chemicals of waking
cause conciousness to begin;
up to my brain the Seratonin, it flew,
I awoke with a shudder and in an instant, I knew.

The blue screen of death
was no phantom, or haint.
It was a meaningless dream!
Oh! Thank you, sweet Saints.

As I cleared out my head,
and was turning around,
my alarm clock rang off,
with the usual, unnerving sound.

Still fresh from my nightmare,
I meandered downstairs.
I turned on the computers and
at the screens I did stare.

No blue screens awaited me!
No message of doom!
Just familiar homepage,
so I danced a jig 'round the room.

Let the school day begin!
Let this new year start.
Our courses are ready...
I've even made a chart.

The crayons, how new
and how perfectly tipped.
The pencils so sharp,
and by two girls, hand picked.

And with cupboards full of materials,
and books filled with such knowledge,
We'll get this thing started,
and pray "Scholarship" for college.

But before I call
those two ladies to wake,
another look around the room
I quickly must take.

We're ready to go.
And now I shall say,
Happy "Day One" to all!
(And let's rock out First Grade.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back To School

School starts for us on Monday.
For the girls.
For me.

Last year I started the year with tears, sending them off on their way with moisture blurring my eyes.

But this year is different. When they start school on Monday, I will be sitting right along side side them; teaching them this vast, expansive plane that is First Grade. We'll walk it together, they and I. We'll share a new journey, one day at a time.

I've spent today putting the final touches on our learning spaces; organizing it just so, and then reorganizing it again. Pulling out my lesson plan book and making last minute changes to how we'll approach each subject, each lesson. I'm dusting off my Teacher's Cap; gosh I missed it.

I'm ready for this new adventure. More than that, I'm excited for it.

I hope my students are too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Learning A Lesson Of Patience

I am an impatient person. It's a fault to which I will readily admit.
I have a very extremely hard time waiting to see the fruits of any true labor, whatever it may involve. All through my  life, a constant companion on my journey has been the ever multiplying question of When.
                                        When will I get a teaching assignment?
                                                 When will I get pregnant?
                                                         When will we get a house?
Often times those questions of "When" are joined by their sinister second cousins, the "What If" family.
                                          "When will my babies be born?" marries with
              "And what if everything goes wrong before they have a chance?"

                             "When will they potty train?" joins the train of thought with
                       "And what if they never do??"

Voila. Now you have the granddaddy of all troublesome mental states: Doubt, which so eloquently parlays into Uncertainty.

I find that my tendency towards impatience often leads to doubting so many things.
             I worry.
                    I hedge.
                          I fret.

In general, I have the power to make myself completely and utterly miserable. All on my own, thank you very much.

And I'm working on that, earnestly. Being a mom has taught me to slow things down. To take a "Wait and See" approach with so many things in my life. I have gotten very careful about wishing the present away; planting my feet firmly in the Terra of Today. Here and now.

I pray about it. Constantly. But carefully. Praying for patience can be a tricky thing, you know. Sometimes His answer is to hand off more "practice opportunities", after all. Not that I'm not in need of practice. I am. I surely, surely am. Sometimes I just feel like I've got all I can handle right now.

But I'm progressing. I think so. But slowly.

                                                  I'm learning a lesson called Patience.
                                                         Can't wait till I have it all learned.

This whole Adulthood-Responsibility-Growing Older & Wiser thing is a lot harder that I thought it was going to be. But I'm learning an awful lot along the way.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake. And Let It Be Moist.

I love to bake. Oh, I sure do. Put me in the kitchen, hand me a bowl, a wooden spoon, a couple of ingredients, and I'm in heaven. Love it.

I'm always on the lookout for some stellar new recipes to add to my repertoire; always seeking out new ways to make my favorite things even better.

My current search has been for a yellow cake recipe that stands up for itself with some pride. I'm not knocking the boxed mixes (they're great), but sometimes only homemade will do. There's just something irresistibly homey about from scratch vanilla cake. So good. And yet, so incredibly coarse and completely unlike what I've come to associate with Yellow Cake.

I know that thanks to the folks at Betty Crocker I have been programmed to believe their version of yellow cake IS yellow cake, but I've always felt there is something else out there calling to me. Some yellow cake recipe that is greater than the mighty Betty which could stand up to her and her boxy old ways.

I was aiming to knock Ms. Crocker down a peg or two.

For awhile, I was starting to think Betty had won.

But today, Eureka!  A bakery success worthy of accolades and much glad tidings. Using a combination of recipes and techniques, I may just have stumbled upon one of the quickest, easiest, and tastiest from scratch yellow cake recipes I've encountered yet.

It was light, yet had a moist, tender crumb. Hallelujah. Bring out the forks and plates. No ice cream for me; this cake deserves to be enjoyed un-a-la-mode, thanks.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

What You'll Need:
1 cup butter OR you can also use a 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of shortening
(Shh, fat haters. This is cake. Cake has fat. Cake has calories.
 If you're balking, go eat a rice cake.)
2 cups white sugar
(Sugar-haters can join the fat haters in rice cake bliss).
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
(Use the good stuff here, please.)
1 package (small) Vanilla Instant Pudding
2 3/4 cup cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup milk
(Don't use skim for this. Fat helps in cakes so go for 2% or higher. You've already got all that butter going on, might as well finish the race, right?)

What You'll Do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cake pan (9x13 or 2 9 inch round pans), line with parchment, then grease and flour. (I know that sounds redundant, but it works, okay? Why must you always question me? Geesh).
In a mixer, beat together butter (or butter/shortening) and sugar till creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, and pudding. Turn the mixer to medium, and let it go to town on the mixing for 8-10 minutes. Sound like alot? Maybe. But the longer you beat the sugar, the more it will mix into the fat and the less grainy your final product will be. Grainy cake = boo. Keep on mixing, my friend.

In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk until very well blended and light.
Add flour mixture to the now fluffy and beautiful wet mixture, alternating with the milk. Mix until well blended.

Pour batter into your prepared pans. Stand back and take a moment to admire your handiwork. You just made a cake, darn it! From scratch, no less. Lick a beater, pat yourself on the arm, and say "Well done, self. Well done."

Bake for 30-45 minutes until cake tests done, depending on your pan size.
Note that if you've gone the all butter route (which I did), you'll want to watch for browning after about 15-20 minutes. Cover cake with foil to stop that from becoming over browning.
When done, cool completely and frost.
Note: Be very careful with 8 inch pans with this. 9-10inch round pans work better. If you use 8 inch, watch carefully for overbrowning. I'd let it get the color you like and then cover with foil for the rest of the time.

Why yes, I'll have a piece.

Don't be a hater, Betty Crocker. You had your day in the sun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why do today what you can deal with tomorrow?

Getting ready for anything feels like a crazy thing.

At least with kids attached it does, anyway.

Quick run to the store? Alone, sure; add the munchkins and not so much.

Just want to go out for a fast paced walk? Err, guess again.

Need to head out to a doctor's appointment? Too bad it was set for 5 minutes ago, oh ye who was never late.

The funny part of all of this is that when the girls were babies, truly time consuming babies, I had my routine so ironed out that we were able to plan a trip to the store and be on our way in under 15 minutes.

(I'm taking a moment to remember those amazing feats of diligence. Sigh).

Now it seems there's always some small crisis separating me from the car. A lost shoe, another round of pee, a sudden affliction of thirst or hunger, a misplaced toy.

Out. All I want is to open the door, walk through it, and close it. Bye-bye. Off I go.

They're slowing me down, these two.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about it. More like, just curious. How is it that when they were tiny and stereotypically supposed to be slowing me down, we were out the door in a flash. And now when they should be more independently adept to this cause, they're bringing our truck to a screeching halt?

I'm pondering this even as I sit and wait for them to get themselves pulled together enough to walk out the door. Sure, I could impose more rules on the topic: We're out the door by the count of 20, or Whatever is in your hand when I call Blue is what you bring, or No Toys, etc, etc, etc.

But mostly I just don't care at the moment. Mentally, it's not a fight I want to deal with today, so I'll put it off till tomorrow.

Yes, I know where that tricky road leads. I've been down it before.

But sometimes, you just got to revisit places, right?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Keeping Your Feet On The Ground

May it just be said that although I love adventure and discovery, I do not love heights. Take me out into Nature and I'll explore the heck out of it; I'll check out the local flora and fauna, tramp about from one path to another, and even sit and stare at the wonder of some amazing site.

Just please let me keep both feet on the ground.

And I prefer to not do anything the involves raging speeds either; I am more of a meanderer, if it's all the same to you.

Caedance, on the other hand, is my speed demon. Show her a hill and she wants to stand on the top of it. Go a bit fast in the car, and she'll be calling out from the backseat to go faster.

And she loves roller coasters.

A lot.

Yesterday she went on the Magnum at Cedar Point for the first time.
205 foot hill and speeds of 72mph. I watched as my 6 1/2 year old waved to me at the base of that first lift, smiling as the cars started going up. I watched as the train pulled higher and higher, and gulped when it went higher still. I held my breath when it cruised over that first hill, soaring down, down, down, and out of sight. And I smiled with relief when I saw her grinning face as the train made it's way back to the station.

She did it.

And she loved it.
A lot.
Caedance & Dan

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not ready to let go...

Be warned, this is a long, rambling bit that I've written to clear my head. It's late and I need closure. And yes, it's about a cat. I need to put these words down to read them later. So I can remember that it all happened. Just this way.

In late June our "middle child-cat" Zoe was diagnosed with diabetes. That was a hard thing for us to deal with, not so much because of the disease itself, but more because of our lack of ability to help her with treatments. Opting not to put her down at that appointment, the vet sent us home with the understanding that she had 2 weeks at most left.

We decided that if we couldn't offer her the insulin she needed, then we'd do the best we could for her in whatever ways might help. We'd make those 2 short weeks count for something.

Our main strategy was to change her diet. We weaned her off her high carb, high yucky, diet and put her on a high protein, all natural food. We were told to expect positive results with it and so we waited. Expectantly.

Around the time of our anniversary, which was also about the time of the dreaded "2 Week" mark, it looked like the vet's predictions were coming true. She was weaker. She was tired. We decided to put her down.

But then she rallied.

She gained weight. Her eating returned to normal. She had the glint in her eye that was so clearly Zoe that it could not be mistaken. She may not have been fully 'back', but she sure as heck was fighting for it.

If she was going to fight, then we were going to fight.
If she wasn't giving up, then we weren't giving up either.

She continued on the upswing all though July. I couldn't help thinking that we'd found a way to manage her diabetes through diet. It happens and given her progress and improvement, I still think that's what happened for us.

She had been quarantined to the basement throughout most of this due to the fact that she developed a preference for pooing on my rugs upstairs. A bit of background on our house is that when we moved in, there was lots of "accidents" left over from the previous owner's pets. Getting that smell out took all of our efforts, along with re-sanding, staining, and varnishing the floors. I couldn't risk inviting Smell back into our house.

It broke my heart having to tuck her in at night down in that old, nasty basement. It has spiders that skitter in the dark. Rainstorms can make it wet, sending small rivers through it. She had a small pallet against the wall, covered in towels and elevated off the floor so she would never get wet. There were foam mats linked together around her for her litter box and food/water areas to be dry as well. I even had a bowl of multicolor Christmas lights right by her bed to keep on all night. But I still hated doing it. It was the nightly ritual that weighed me down like a ton of bricks on my shoulders. Every night.

Miracle of all miracles, as her condition improved, her ability to use the litter box improved as well. Suddenly I could leave the house without gating her in the basement. We could let her sleep in the kitchen and know she wasn't going to be using the rugs as a drop station. We began to think we were getting our cat back. And we were grateful for it. So very grateful. 

Something happened then that changed it all. I don't know what it was. Perhaps it was nothing, perhaps it was damage done to her poor body from the diabetes, or perhaps it whatever "it" was had been there all along, staved off by her efforts to fight and stay with us. Whatever the reason, Sunday night she stopped eating. I tried everything, all her favorites; food held no interest.

Monday and Tuesday arrived with more of the same. She wouldn't eat. Couldn't be made to eat. She lay on her pallet all day, a sad version of what once had been Zoe. Our upswing was gone.

Without eating or drinking, she quickly grew weaker. She'd been a bit unsteady on her feet, swaying with any over correction or misstep, but suddenly her gait looked painful. I understood why she preferred to lay down. Today, Wednesday, I noticed continued weakness and a new symptom: lethargy. Worrying that perhaps her blood sugar had dropped too low, I tried to get her to eat again. Tried. I used a syringe to attempt to shoot milk into her mouth; she meekly swallowed the miserable amount. More worried about her lack of "self", I began giving her corn syrup to try to boost her blood sugar, gently shooting it into her mouth. She swallowed with effort and no response.

And then it happened. The moment I knew she was done with the fight she had been waging for almost 7 weeks: she fell. Ready to be away from me and my full syringe, she began to untwist herself from my arms. I eased her down, helping her to sort out her appendages, but her back legs were tangled and she tripped, tipping over on her side. She righted her legs and tried again, gaining what should have been firm footing, but instead her left leg gave out and she fell again, this time into her water bowl. I began to cry. The most heart wrenching moment of this was that she didn't even attempt to get up. She stayed there, in her water bowl. Wet. Unmoving. Done.

I pulled her up and got her ready to try to stand again, hoping she'd find her footing and that I wasn't witnessing the white flag of surrender that I thought I was seeing. She pulled herself up on her front legs, aligned her back legs, twisted, and fell again. And again. And again.

In complete tears at this point and utterly sobbing, I called my husband at work.
"Please come home", I pleaded. "It's time. It's time."

I gathered her up in my arms, wrapped in one of her familiar, comforting towels, and brought her upstairs; freeing her from the darkness of the basement. I had about an hour to wait with her before Dan came home. An hour to be with her still body. I held her. I talked to her, thanking her for fighting for us, and letting her know it was okay to be done with the cause. She'd been so brave for us, we could be brave for her now too. And we would. 

Dan took her to the vet. He said she went peacefully, quickly, readily.

He brought her home. Home. We laid her to rest in our backyard. Home.

And now I can't stop crying. I've tried. Believe me, how I've tried. I keep reminding myself that this is a cat. I am surrounded by true sorrow of my friends and family: the death of a spouse; a child; the illness of a parent. This is a pet. I should be able to categorize it. Stash it away in the place that one keeps such things; just out of reach in daily life, but available to be thought of when the time calls for it.

But I can't. For whatever reason, that ability eludes me.

Maybe it's the stress of it, building up for the last 7 weeks, always there, always needing to be dealt with, but left untended to. I didn't have time to think about how her slow decline made me feel. I was too busy making the changes to keep the balance in our home. Barricading the many hidey-spots in our basement and protecting all my rugs. "I'll think about the toll this is taking on me later", I said through the headaches, the backaches, the pinched nerves, and popping jaw. "Later."

Later is here, my friends.

And I'm thinking about it.

The basement is still. Empty. I keep waiting to see her carefully treading her way over to me. I turn the corner and wait to see her laying on her pallet. But the floor is bare. The towels are washed. I had to do it.

I put one of the under linings of her pallet on the floor though. It still has some of her hairs on it. Her smell. When I laid it out our oldest cat, Anna, trotted over, sniffed the familiar smell of the cat she's shared most of her life with, and laid down on it. Her head resting against the past. My heart broke. She lost a friend today.

As I type this, Zoe's favorite little toy is sitting next to me. Through this entire journey, Barkley has been by her side. Through vet visits, through her quarantine in the basement; through her final journey today. As we buried her, I almost tossed it in. Almost. But I couldn't. Stupid, sentimental me. I've kept it and now I'm holding it. It even smells like her, if you can believe it. I'm not sure if it's really helping me. I see it. I think about how she saw it. I touch it and remember her paws batting at it, flipping it into the water bowl, her head laying on it. I cry. And cry. And cry.

I've lost cats before. Just in case you were wondering, and because I know that this novella makes it seem like this is new to me.

I can't explain it though. There are just more feelings with this right now. More words. Less of the busy-ness with young twins that broke the grief when we lost our other cat, and more of an awareness in the painful art of losing anything than when I lost cats as a child. Just....more.

I miss her. She was there before I became a mom. She was the bridge to that part of my life, the part I can't remember anymore because this role is so all consuming. So redefining. She, and Anna, and Lily were the reminder that there was a "Before". I'm not saying I long for "Before". I don't. Emphatically, I adore my life as a mom and wouldn't change it. But like looking at old photos, it's a nice daily reminder of a time when my life was different.

I miss her. Even if it's "silly" or "childish"; if it makes me seem like some bizarre Cat Lady (which I am most certainly not).

No matter how I try to talk my way around it and wiggle my mind through it, that simple fact remains. The basement is empty. The corner she called home for the last 2 months is bare. Tonight when we watched our evening shows, she wasn't laying on the floor between us, enjoying our attentions.

There was no bedtime ritual tonight. No cat to tuck in. No gate to set up. No Christmas lights to plug in.

I miss her.

Zoe Isabel

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sleep Number Update: Night One

So. Night One of sleeping on the new Sleep Number bed we just had set up in our room.

The big question is this: Do I like it?

It sure seems comfy enough. I'm not sure I have the "sleep number" part down just yet. I found myself playing with it during the night. Up it goes....down it goes, trying to figure out if I wanted a firm mattress or a softer one.

In any event I didn't wake up with a backache; my constant companion for the last few months. So that is a major plus..
I did, however, have a neck ache. Apparently the newly supportive mattress has shone a spotlight on my non-supportive pillow. Looks like I need to get a new pillow to fix that little problem.

My verdict so far? I'm giving the bed a tentative green light. Time will tell, but so far, so good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The New Mattress Arrives Today.

Today is an exciting day in the life of this Twin Mommy. Several weeks ago, on the very verge of emotional collapse after the 4 hundredth "sleepless night and stiff back in the morning" in a row, my husband and I decided it was time to bid adieu to our current mattress.

Knowing the two of us and our slightly anal-retentive ways, we could have spent hours pouring over Internet sites, checking reviews, and looking through consumer ratings before actually making the final choice. Then we could spend some days hemming and hawing over the intricacies of this one versus that one; maddenly splitting the proverbial hair. From start to finish, the process could very well have taken over a week just to decide.

We had the decision down in under an hour. It was either a sure sign of direction, or a foray into the world of foolishness. The line between the two can blur quite convincingly, after all. We ended up heeding the word of Ms. Lindsay Wagner and choosing a Sleep Number bed. We were able to check them out at a store and were happily convinced that it might just be the answer for our own sad vertebrae woes.

It arrives today.

I'm hopeful we are going to be happy with it. Hopeful that it feels the same as it did in the store. And sheepishly hopeful that it doesn't spring a leak and deflate on us one day, much like I used to fear feeling seasick on a water bed, or just plain drowning on that queen-sized mini-ocean before I could send up the flare.

For now this will have to be an open-ended post. I'm excited about the arrival of the bed, but unsure how it will be. I'll post back later when I can make heads or tails of this possibly crazy choice we've made.

Until then, may you be happy and slumber coil free.....