The kiddos have been back to school for almost a month.  It has been a crazy month, out of the ordinary, with two weekends away, back to school activities  and catching up on projects that have been waiting too long.  I feel this photo I snapped at the beach.  People in the distance, the world tilted, sand not perfect with bits of dune grass growing.  Truth be told the dune grass part makes me sad.  Shouldn’t it be growing?

I feel this photo, shouldn’t I be growing?  I feel something great in my future, I see it there like that beautiful blue lake in the distance.  But there is that long stretch of beach and the prickly dry grass and the ground is lopsided.  I am a filler.  I have spent my life moving from school to career, working three jobs.  When I finally got the 40 hours a week job, I make it 60 hours and decided to add in more school.  My mom got terminally ill, needed round the clock care, which I happily provided in between the work and school. Taking care of her is one of the best things I ever did, but that is a topic for another day.  Then I got married and had three beautiful kids all in 5 years. Once the craziness of toddlerhood was over, we chose to homeschool.  Homeschooling 3 children, 2 with LDs.  I work individually with each child, find field trips and communities to help them thrive.  I teach co-ops, I am reading and leading discussions on 4 novels a month, reading 25 papers a month in addition to the 4-5 novels a month I read with my own kids.  So I jump in.  I fill my time.  I am better when I have something to do.

The problem with me is I am a pleaser.  I will do whatever is put in front of me.  Want me to cook?  I cook.  Need me to write copy for your business?  No problem.  It makes me a good employee, it makes me a great daughter, wife, mother.  It doesn’t always make me a great me.  So, I have decided to live in the lopsided beach for a bit.  Feel uncomfortable.  Not fill every second.  Just be and not fill every moment with an activity.  I want that grass to grow, I want me to grow and the reflection part is hard for me.  So that’s how I know to do it.

And back to school again

Back to School after 6 years out

Back to School after 6 years out

So, looking at the past today feeling nostalgic.  My daughter went back to school two years ago and my boys today.  This was their choice and I think it is a good one, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come without some anxiety and sadness.  I was happy as I watched them riding down the street.  I can not wait to hear about the day and have a plate of cookies ready for them.  But I am still a little bit sad.

I really enjoyed not cleaning the kitchen every 20 minutes.  I really missed the quick hug from little guy and the older one telling me in one breath about something he was learning about in Africa, how cool it was and do I know specifically why ice water is a little bit colder than ice.

I have learned so much homeschooling the kids.  One of the things I learned is that I was a homeschooler, going to Catholic school in the seventies.  We were homeschoolers when we schooled the older ones for pre-school and early elementary.  We are homeschoolers now that I have three kids enrolled in the schools down the street.  Homeschooling is not really about where you spend your days, it is an attitude about learning.


20160513_073554 So there is this ordinary cup of coffee. Its my favorite cup, you know the one. My two olders and dh are off to school, track and work. The younger is sleeping and I have my cup of coffee. Its 7am. The phone won’t ring.

A. Whole. Cup. No. Interruptions.

It is one of those moments that can be crystallized in time. For maybe 5, maybe 20 minutes the house is silent. There is nothing to do but reflect. Or read. Or write.

Every time it happens, I appreciated this simple luxury. I enjoy my gift of a hot cup of coffee, no interruptions.

Washington, DC

Friday morning, we drove from Norfolk to Washington, DC to pick up Vijay from the airport.  The kids and I were all excited to see him; it was great to have family time after a week apart.  We had a great weekend in DC starting with sight seeing and museum hopping. The National Muesum of Art, Smithsonian Natural History Museum, International Spy Museum, the National Archives…It is so easy to focus on what we didn’t see, what we did see was wonderful. It was so inspiring to see these symbols of our Nation.  It was fun for all of us as a family too because it was a first time for us all.

The weekend ended  relaxing with family.  Vijay’s entire immediate family was there, a rarity.   It was great fun to see nieces and nephews and watch all the cousins together.  I love the time that the kids can spend together.  As other’s with families spread across the country know, any time together is a gift and a blessing.  Every moment is one to be cherished.

Virginia Beach

Yesterday we spent the day at the beach. The little girl with us in my cousin’s granddaughter.  It was a fantastic and fun day….waves, sandcastle, little girls as mermaids, picnic food with a little extra sand for flavor and snow cones.  We had an exciting sighting of several dolphins, no pics they were too far out, but we did see one jump out of the water and my little one swears one did a tail walk.  Not much to say, just a lot of snaps to enjoy!


Ok, one reflection and looking at the pictures, I have more to say.  You  are not really that surprised, are you?  Our little cousin was an awesome trooper to spend the day with us, as we live cross-country.  She is just a joy to be around.  I was so proud of my kids too, watching all three of them around their cousin.  They were so solicitous of her, the boys carrying her beach bag, holding her hands when she went in the waves.  It was one of those days were as a parent you feel you are doing something right.  I know however it is not all my husband and I.  Much of the credit goes to my kid’s older cousins how always take care of them, play games with them and are just generally wonderful to their younger cousins.  So a big thank you Prashant, Jay, Shruti, Alex, Vishna & Haley.  And so it goes in family, passing it forward to the next generation.



Colonial Williamsburg

The kids and I were so excited to go to Williamsburg and see a living museum.  It gives such a great sense of what is was like to live at the time of the Revolutionary War.  As an adult, it also made me aware that we are struggling today with some of the same issues that they did then mostly all centering on the role of government vs our individual freedoms.


Check out Sam with his new musket!

We began with a tour of the Governor’s Palace.  The boys loved the entry hall and were fascinated by all the weaponry.  I was fascinated by the room layouts and how that reflected family life at the time.

We went the the courthouse to view a trial.  India became my sewing apprentice for the next 6 years, wonder what use I can make of that?


We spent a little time preparing clay for brickmaking.  Based upon the questioned asked about the composition of the soil at home, I think someone (or two) is planning a little brickmaking at home.


It was great to hear the workers give you a perspective of how sociatal norms had change, what the courts were like and the perspective that while the American Revolution brought change, it really strove to preserve much of the British system of government.

The day ended with a viewing of the troops on the green.

Charlottesville and Monticello

Today was a day I was really excited about.  We went to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson home.  We started the day with a drive and said goodbye to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.  Yes, Max looks as if he is sleeping.  I didn’t notice that on the photo until I posted it.  Sorry, Max.  Knowing Max’s sense of humor that might be on purpose.

One last goodbye.

One last goodbye.

We arrived in Charlottesville ready to go to the ACE Biscuit and BBQ, since we had struck out the night before for southern BBQ.  We found this little out of the way gem.  It was closed.  India told me it didn’t open until noon, it was 11:40.  So I said lets take a little drive and see the town.  As we drove away we saw a car pull into the lot.  We viewed Charlottesville with its cute downtown and pastel colored house and returned.  Still closed…the sign on the door said it was their birthday and they were closed!  Boo Hoo and off to the Buttz BBQ.  Bonus, we also got to see a bit of the University of Virgina campus.  I should say, we really got to see the University of Virginia Campus as the traffic was worse than the Loop….slow slow down a two-way twisty road with twice as many pedestrians as cars.  The Buttz BBQ did not disappoint with our brisket and pulled pork.  Max finished his lunch, than ordered a second.  I guess I better get used to this, with Sam soon following in his brother’s footsteps.   Then a surprise stop in a used bookstore and a box of books purchase. (Yes, Honey, more books!)


Off to Monticello.  I really cannot begin to say how beautiful and wonderful Monticello is.  It is a tribute to our second presidency.  They have three tours:  The House Tour; Slavery at Monticello; and the grounds and the gardens. Words fail me here and I cannot of course begin to describe Thomas Jefferson.  However, the tours did allow me to understand Thomas Jefferson, the man and politician, as a complex and multifaceted man with great gifts as well as great failings.  The Slavery at Monticello tour was really well done.  I was impressed at how the issue of slavery was addressed in a way that was appropriate for young children, yet still described the horrors of that time in out history.

Finally dinner in Richmond.  To bring the day full circle, decided to end with more BBQ.  Off to the Hogshead Cafe, for a Hog’s Dog.  A hotdog, wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with pulled pork and coleslaw!  Virginia’s response to the Springfield horseshoe!  Unfortunately for us, it was Monday and the Hogshead Cafe was closed.  Off to a local pizza joint instead, to top off a great day!WP_20130826_038

Visiting Virginia

Chicago to Virginia Beach to Washington, DC and back.  I thought I would document our fall trip with photos and commentary…I never seem to document our day-to-day.  Armed with only a camera phone, I decided to move forward and write something each night of our trip.

Day One – Driving

This day was really a long one.    We decided to do the bulk of the driving in one day.  Armed with luggage for 11 days, lunches and snacks for the road we set out.  Not much to say here, except the kids were awesome in the car and Indiana’s rest stops are the pits, but Ohio and Pennsylvania, do a very nice job as rest stops go.

Day 2 – Shenandoah Valley

We packed it up early in the am and drove to Virginia.  The kids were so excited.  I didn’t realize when we left that the kids had never seen mountains.  After all that car time, we felt a little nature would be in order.  Our first stop was supposed to be Luray Caverns, but based on a travel video, Max wanted to see the Skyline Caverns.  We started our afternoon with a tour.

Caves really amaze me.  I think it is so inspiring what nature can create underground.  The kids must like them too, this is our 3rd cave in as many years.

We ended the afternoon by driving Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.  I don’t know if I even have words for how beautiful it is here.  The kids had a blast, hiking, finding salamanders and centipedes.  We all agreed we wish we had more time here and would like to come back and just stay for several days.

A happy accident?

People who know me laugh and poke fun at my self-sufficiency.  I like to make my own bread (although we frequently have bakery bread).  I make cake and cookies from scratch.  I put up jam and other produce from the garden.  Dear hubby is a brewer, so I grow  hops with the veggies in the garden.  He is trying to convince me to plant some grain and harvest it, but I am holding out.

I do not, like some of my friends, sprout my own grains to make flour at home, have beehives or chickens.  Truth be told, I have considered all three of these, but considering the fact that a) I forget to feed the fish and b) I am allergic, the chickens don’t stand a chance.

I do belong to a wonderful coop, where I buy meats and receive a delivery right from the farm of pastured meat.  A couple of months ago, I ordered ground pork and received instead something called pork leaf fat.  Now, I figured it had something to do with lard, but I am a good Italian girl, and this didn’t look like my EVOO.  As a matter of fact it looked kind of gross.

See, what I mean? Not the best looking!

I called the farmer and he told me to keep it frozen and bring it back next month and he would give me a credit.  And that should have been the end of the story.  But, it wasn’t, because I am me and just can’t avoid a good Google search.  Try it, Google “pork leaf fat”.  Apparently, this is the highest grade of pork fat, hard to come by (not for me) and makes prized pie crusts.  Bakers love leaf fat.

Homemade Lard

Here’s the story in my head, avoid this, don’t do it.  Send it back.  You grow your own food, you homeschool three demanding children, all heavily involved in sports, you make the bulk of your food from scratch, you are so tired, you can’t even find time in the evening to sit down and write a little blog post.  Wouldn’t you know, I forgot to return the leaf fat.  You know what that means don’t you?  It is a sign from God that I am meant to make that lard.

So I do.  I followed the instructions on The Spain in Iowa blog (which I love by the way, thank you leaf fat!).  I made this beautiful lard.  And then a beautiful pie.  And this weekend, fried chicken.

The pie by the way, sour cherry, had the best crust I ever made.

Reading…summer and otherwise

Current Reading, Next to the Bed…there are probably a dozen more scattered throughout the house.

It is summer in the suburbs.  Reading is a topic that has come up again and again amongst my friends.  The libraries and bookstores have summer reading programs and give-aways.  Parents are discussing summer reading lists.

I was born a reader.  I love to read, have loved to read since I was a child.  I still remember learning how to read as a preschooler.  I was and am a reading geek.  When I was a child, I transferred to a new school in third grade.  I loved Greek mythology and remember making may way through all the books the school had on mythology.  Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn, Harriet the Spy, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Heidi, Rascal, the Encyclopedia.  I remember high school, sitting in the back row, hiding my novel under my algebra book so I could read undisturbed.

I couldn’t wait for my kids to learn to read.  I read to them everyday, we looked at words and pictures.  My kids had huge libraries of books, many of them read so many times the pages were falling out.  My kids read well.  But two years ago they weren’t what I call good readers.  Meaning, they read well, they would read without complaint, but where was the passion?  It killed me.

Non-readers will not understand this.  My husband intellectually understands, he loves to read, but what doctor has time to sit down and read?  I think it bugs him when I get in the reading mode and he is competing with a book.  Especially when I am reading non-fiction and throwing out fascinating tidbits –economic theory, history  or DNA and he just wants my attention after a superlong day at work.  I blame my introvesion and he humors me.

So it killed me that my kids would rather play with their friends, play hockey, look at bugs when they could be doing something really valuable with their time like reading.  Not that I don’t want my kids to do the above activities, I see the value.  But a good book?  What could be better?

I read Jim Trealeas, the Read Aloud Handbook, with abandon.  What is more important than reading aloud to your kids?  I did it already, so he was preaching to the choir.  This is a great book, if you are a parent you need to read this!

Over the past year something happened.  My eldest son first got hooked on a series of books on audiotape.  The Eragon series, written for high schoolers.  At 8 years old, he never could have read it, but the audio books worked.  He would disappear into his room for hours working his way through the series of four books.  He is a really bright kid, with vision issues and his ability to understand and ability to read are several grade levels apart.  Eragon is over now, but he has moved on to Warriors…and is working his way through the series…without the help of audiobooks.  I can be sure he has read for at least an hour before he appears in the morning.  And I have a suspicion he reads after bedtime as well.

My daughter completed a Battle of the Books at the library and went from never finishing a book to reading several in a short time period.  One day she approached me and said in amazement, “Mom, do you know if you talk to the librarians, they can suggest some really good books to read?” No kidding.  It clicked.

My youngest just began to read on his own this year.  He is methodical, working through the Magic Tree House in order. He shows signs from the beginning of being a passionate reader.  He will disappear during the day and read.  He will pick up the book I am reading to him and read, although it is too difficult for him, content to struggle with the hard words, asking for help.  Reading because even though it is a struggle, he has to know what happens.

I am happier now with my readers.  For his ninth birthday, my son asked for book.  Life. Is. Good.