Friday, December 13, 2013

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Buttermilk Pie (YES!)



When I made Miss Priss's birthday cake, I had quite a bit of buttermilk left over. I wasn't going to drink the stuff, so I thrashed around about what to do with it. Pouring it down the drain was not an option for me.

I recalled seeing a buttermilk pie recipe in my church's cookbook, but I can't put my hands on that cookbook yet; it's still packed up. Grrr. So a-searching I did go. Online.

And I found this wonderful and highly-rated recipe at allrecipes.com. And I pinned it for future reference. If you like custard, you will enjoy this easy-peasy pie. One change I made: I used cinnamon instead of nutmeg. I had enough ingredients to make two pies, so we ate one and the other I shared with my neighbors.

Also, take care when baking. The top of my first pie browned too early, and when I tried to cover the top with foil, the foil stuck to the top of the pie and then pulled it off when I removed the foil. Grrr again. For the second pie, I lowered the top rack in my oven and then tented a sheet of foil over the top of the pie when I first popped it into the oven. It looked much prettier. That's the one I gave to my neighbors.

This recipe is a keeper. In fact, I see it's time for elevenses. A slice of buttermilk pie and a cup of hot tea sounds perfect about now!




Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My "New" Vintage Clawfoot Tub

I am so excited.

I have longed for a vintage clawfoot tub for years. When I was a child, I loved to run my hand along the edge of my Aunt Bee and Uncle Homer's clawfoot tub. But I figured it was just a dream.

Then we moved to our new house, where the tub in the master bath, truly an object of desire in the early 1980s, is just an oversized footbath. And my heart gave a little flutter. Maybe, just maybe. . .

So a'Craigs-Listing I did go and finally found this one. And she is now mine.



Of course it's a she. And she has a name. Mathilde.

I happened to mention this out loud (why will I never learn to keep my eccentricity to myself?), and Miss Priss smirked. "You named the bathtub?"

I certainly did. Elegance this fabulous deserves a name.

Himself intimated that we had several more projects ahead of Mathilde in our updating plans, but I quickly disabused him of this notion. I'm not getting any younger, you know.

Watch for more updates as we set her up in her new place of residence!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake



Miss Priss's 14th birthday was last month. (I know! Fourteen!) As per our tradition, she and I perused cookbooks looking for the perfect birthday cake for this year. I've made several of her cakes over the years, and some were triumphs, I must admit. (As a mediocre cook, I'll take any triumph I can get.)

Alas, we couldn't seem to find just the right recipe. She wanted a chocolate cake this time, so when our cookbooks and a few cookbooks from the library did not satisfy, I began to search the web. You might ask why I didn't start there in the first place; I actually enjoy thumbing through cookbooks.

I found this recipe; I don't recall exactly how I found it. But I pinned it, so I will always know where it is when I need it in the future!




I didn't have the required number of squares of unsweetened chocolate, which led me to call my chef friend in a panic. As ever, she solved my problem: unsweetened cocoa powder and shortening. It worked like a charm. You can see the Crisco in the photo above.

I also made one other alteration to the recipe: instead of plain water, I used strong coffee. I simply stirred a heaping teaspoon of instant coffee crystals (which I keep around for recipes) into the measured hot water. I like the added depth that coffee provides to chocolate recipes.

For those of you who are culinarily challenged, a caveat: making this cake is a real production! It's not at all difficult, but it takes some time investment. And it IS an investment because the result is SO worth it.


Doesn't the batter look luscious? That's because it is, my friends. It is.

Making the frosting is also quite a production. But it is a major sin to make such a wonderful, perfect cake and then smear it with cloying, chemical-laden canned frosting. I loathe canned frosting.

Here's the recipe for the frosting, by the way. This is one of the best frostings I've ever had the pleasure of eating from a spoon. Which I did. Twice.

Recommendation: If you have a chocolate lover in your house or a big celebration in the future (or both), this is THE cake for you. A+



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We Need a Little Real Christmas


Since we bought the new house, I've been spending a lot of time (some might say too much time) browsing home decor and lifestyle blogs for inspiration in our updating projects. I am decor-challenged. Here's my philosophy: Either you have the gift, or you copy someone else.

However, around October, I began to feel unequal to even the task of copying other ladies. Time to decorate for the autumn season! Time to get ready for Thanksgiving!

Folks were gussying up their porches, sunrooms, kitchens, fireplace mantels, dining rooms, and front doors in ways I'd never imagined. Pumpkins were everywhere: orange pumpkins, white pumpkins, glitter pumpkins, blue pumpkins. And the table settings! I'd never heard the term "tablescape" before then. Now I am among the informed.

And I pinned like mad.

The Christmas season is now upon us, and these talented bloggers are pulling out all the stops. Again, I pinned like crazy. I headed to Hobby Lobby before Thanksgiving to purchase a few items to deck our own halls. I began to mull over mantel decor possibilities (mantelscapes?). Tablescapes, too.

On December 1, Himself and Tiny Girl put up on Christmas tree. Miss Priss was eager to begin decorating, so she and I hung a few ornaments. And I had an epiphany.

I just don't have it in me.

I don't have the time or energy to throw myself into creating a mini Biltmore Estate at Christmastime. My home will not be part of any Christmas home tour, virtual or otherwise. Moreover, I don't have the inclination, now that I've done some soul-searching. Although I have enjoyed looking at others' Christmas decor and whatever-scapes, I can't successfully replicate their efforts. It's just not my gift, so I don't enjoy it as much as they do.

Because for me to even copy what these talented and dedicated bloggers do in their homes, which so clearly brings them joy, I'd have to channel Martha Stewart -- on speed. Or at least Red Bull. And I'd also have to change my focus to outward appearances instead of inner peace. It's true that we need a little Christmas, as the song goes. But all the holly, candles, tinsel, and fruitcake won't make a bit of difference in our lives in the long run.

So will I ditch the Christmas decor (besides the tree) altogether? No. I like pretty things. But there's a difference between opulence and richness, and I want more richness for myself and my family. I know myself pretty well, and if I choose to focus on things this season, if I get caught up in the Christmas busy-ness, I will miss the blessings. That's not true for everyone, but it's true for me.

In the next few days, I'll share the little things we're doing for Christmas in our new home, things that add to our joy but not our must-do list. I'll call it "Christmas Decor for the Uninspired." Or some such. If you're the inspired type, there are plenty of fabulous blogs out there to get your Christmas decoration juices going! But if you lean more toward my type, check back in this week and next. And let me know what you're doing at your home, too!



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Big Change Number Two



After six years pf homeschooling, the girls are attending private school this year. It's been a big adjustment for all of us, and, like most big changes, has not been without its trials.

So why did we make this change?

Well. It's a bit of a story.

Miss Priss has been interested in this particular school for about two years. One of the girls' best friends attends, and some other friends from their drama group do, too. I've always put the kibosh on the idea because I love Ambleside Online, I love the homeschooling lifestyle, and I loved what AO held for us in upcoming years.

However, one day when I was at the library in Maine, looking for houses online, I had a thought: It doesn't hurt to look at the school's website.

Whenever I have thoughts that are different (or, in this case, completely opposite) from my mindset at the time, I go along with them because my thoughts are not your thoughts.

And emblazoned across the top of one of the pages: Still accepting applications for eighth grade.

Of course they were! And this meant I had to explore further.

And thus began the application process. In Maine. With no internet access except in the library. And no fax machine. Or scanner. I had to use the fax machine in the copy center ($1 per page!). Everything I printed out at the library cost me 25 cents per page! And we were on RUSH time. If she were to be accepted, Miss Priss would be starting school after the first day.

Not to mention the fact that we were negotiating a house offer.

After that, everything went like clockwork. It turns out they even had an opening for Tiny Girl in seventh grade.

So we lived in a residence hotel for a week while we closed on our new house AND the girls started school. We had to do their schoolwork at the library even after we moved in because we had to wait for the cable company to install our internet, phone, and TV service. To say we were frazzled is putting it mildly. But everything worked out fine.

The girls' school holds classes two days a week, and the other three days they have assignments to do at home. There are lots of quizzes, some projects, tests, and other school-like stuff that's new to my daughters. Studying for a test is a new concept for them. Lots of new required skills to learn, study questions to answer, worksheets to do. You know. School.

Now, they are getting more into the swing of it. They don't require my constant presence or assistance any longer. They are feeling more confident about their abilities. It's good.

I have to be honest, though. When I think about everything they will miss from Ambleside Online's later years, my heart hurts. So many wonderful books! And I also miss the freedom of homeschooling.

Everything has its drawbacks and benefits, right?

On the other hand, the teachers at the new school are committed Christians who they love the students. And that means a lot to me.



Friday, October 4, 2013

Hello, Stranger! Big Change Number One: Our New House

Big things have been happening in our lives. If you've been here before, you know that we were gearing up for a move this past summer. Himself had the unenviable job of picking out our new home without me. Most of my friends thought I was crazy to leave him with such a responsibility, but our agent and my dear friend, Becky, was on the job with him, so I felt okay. Also, Himself rose to the occasion and picked out a winner.


This photo crops out the garage, which is to the left, and sports new, fancy garage doors. Oh, and the sparkling new driveway is lovely, too.

Honestly, I love it.

However. The interior is nothing like the exterior. Almost everything needs to be updated.

The first week after closing, we all lived in the (finished) basement while we had the floors redone. We put hardwoods everywhere except for three of the bedrooms and the bonus room, which is the schoolroom/study. We put hardwoods in the master. There's nothing like the pervasive odor of polyurethane to make sleeping a challenge.

After we moved in, Himself painted the dining room and the living room. (Photos to follow. Soon.) I started painting the kitchen cabinets in ASCP Old White. This has turned out to be a much bigger job than I thought. My kitchen cabinet doors and drawers have multiplied, it seems. Also, I tried an antiquing treatment that failed miserably, so I had to repaint some of what I'd already painted. Live and learn.

Of course we suffered your garden-variety moving disasters, which no one escapes:

- Our lovely vintage secretary desk cracked down the side and needs repairing.
- A drain on the water heater clogged, causing water to flood into the basement storage room, where we were temporarily storing all our rugs. Our gorgeous wool dining room rug --which we'd had for years -- was ruined.
- The piano seriously needs to be tuned.
- A few items broke, including a coin bank Himself had received as a gift when he was a child.

And now the dishwasher is spewing water all over the floor.

Strangely enough, I'm still happy.

I've been perusing decorating blogs for weeks now, because I need inspiration and help. I know what I like but have trouble making it happen. Our new house needs real help. I'm excited about the prospect, but have unrealistic expectations, like wanting everything done NOW.

Check me out on Pinterest to see what I've been pinning. I've been really busy on my Gorgeous Home board. You might see something you like, too!

We are still living amid boxes and general disarray. Funny how life goes marching on, isn't it, whether you're ready or not.

And in the middle of all this, we also underwent a major lifestyle change, which I'll tell you about in a couple of days. Hang tight.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

She Is Too Fond of Books: My Summer Reading

I haven’t read as much as I typically do this summer. I’ve had other things on my mind.

In fact, I have not been able to settle into summer this year, and I feel the loss of it. Instead of enjoying the moments here at the cabin, I've continually looked into the future, to our return trip and a new house.

While I was peering anxiously ahead, the future crept up behind me. We leave tomorrow.

I still fit in some reading and have a few noteworthy titles I can pass along to you:


Two books I attempted to read and just couldn’t (nothing against the books; it was just me):
  • The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
  • The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge


Mostly, though, I’ve been perusing decorating magazines and ripping out pages that appeal to me. I have a whole house renovation awaiting me when I get back home. To the home I’ve never seen, that is.


Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been able to focus on reading for pleasure this summer. Duh.




Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ambleside Online: The Perfect Fit for Our Family



I love a literary-based education, and Ambleside Online fills the bill for our family. Read my review of Ambleside Online and why we use it for our foundational curriculum at Curriculum Choice!



Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Power and Necessity of Human Touch



“It’s this way,” my dear friend said, smiling over her shoulder at us. Miss Priss and I followed her from the waiting room into a hive of activity. Pedicure clients lined the wall to the left, feet soaking, buffing, sloughing, and toenails filing. To the right were manicure tables and hair stylist chairs, some occupied, others waiting for the next clients. And everywhere students dressed in black moved purposefully, carrying tools of the trade, chatting with clients, mixing mysterious potions, talking with each other, comparing notes.

My friend and the fellow student she’d introduced to us opened a door and instantly everything changed. The hubbub of the cosmetology part of the school disappeared as the door closed behind us. We entered the realm of the aestheticians-in-training. Delicious scents enticed us. Piano music enveloped us. And a sense of calm descended upon us.

Miss Priss and I smiled at each other. We had come for facials.

Within a few moments, we were besmocked and swaddled in blankets atop comfy padded tables, our hair pulled back and protected by towels. By a happy stroke of fortunate timing, Miss Priss and I were the only clients there.

And then the loveliness began.

*************************************

We seem to be losing the beauty of human touch in our culture. Too often, touching is seen as a negative, something forced upon us, unwanted, perhaps even violent.

Touching is even discouraged. Teachers can no longer hug their students. Strangers lean away from one another. The fear of misinterpretation immobilizes us.

Human touch has been relegated to Displays of Affection Only. And what a loss. We crave touch. Babies from whom human touch is withheld fail to thrive. Those who live alone wither either in spirit or in body and often in both without the benefit – the benediction – of another’s touch.

This fact comes home to me clearly when I’ve served food to homeless men in a church shelter downtown. Many of them, young and old, squeeze my hand in thanks when they come to the kitchen window for second helpings. They don’t have to. Some just say thank you. Some simply smile. Others, however, reach out and grasp my hand, giving my fingers a light squeeze. For a second we connect and then part, both of us a strengthened by even such brief contact.

My friend says that quite a few of their aesthetics clients are elderly and frail. They often express quiet gratitude to her at the end of their treatments. “Oh, thank you,” they sigh, as she helps them to sit up. She wonders about them. Do they live alone? Are they lonely? Who takes care of them? More importantly, who cares for them?

As I lay quietly on the table and my precious friend’s fingertips lightly skimmed over my skin, it came to my mind that aestheticians are in the enviable position of ministering to others through touch. In a time when so many of us are hampered, hindered by fears, suspicions, and, frankly, the concern of being misunderstood, aestheticians and others in such professions freely give us what we yearn for, what we need: human touch.

To each client they say without words, I acknowledge you as a fellow human being worthy of my time and consideration and compassion. They understand and take seriously the gift they have to impart to others. Their hands bestow a temporary peace. A blessing.



Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tamaar/3480501471/">Tamara van Molken</a> / <a href="http://foter.com">Foter</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My First Experience with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

But definitely not my last. I love this stuff. I have read about it quite a bit over the last year, especially on blogs like Savvy Southern Style and Miss Mustard Seed. I love those blogs!

But when it comes to decorating, I’m a big weenie. So I had a few qualms about painting the hutch at our cabin. What if it looks terrible? What if I hate it? I’m painting over stained wood here – there’s no going back once that first stroke is made.

Pulls and knobs removed.

Regardless of my fears, I decided to tackle the hutch this summer, after years of thinking about it. Armed with ASCP in Old White and a tin of her soft wax in clear (oh, and a paint brush), I went to work.

First I wiped down the entire piece with a damp cloth and let it dry. Then I removed all the knobs and drawer pulls. I left all the doors on and simply painted over the hinges. For a seamless look, you know. Also, I didn’t want to deal with removing doors and hinges. I can be lazy that way.

ASCP’s wonderful formulation allows you to skip all prep work. No sanding or priming was necessary. However, my project did require two coats, and I ran out of paint before I completely finished. There are only three ASCP stockists in Maine, and I don't have time to visit one of them. So I'll just bring paint with me next summer to finish up!

One coat.

After the paint was to my liking, I went over the entire piece with the soft wax and an old t-shirt, buffing it to a nice, smooth shine. I also washed and painted the drawer pulls and knobs. Miss Priss was drawn to Rust-Oleum’s Hammered spray paint in dark bronze. One coat of that did the trick.


Soft Wax in Clear.



Hammered, in dark bronze.


I’m excited about how it turned out. Now my Fiestaware and other colored plates really stand out against the white so much better than they did the dark stained wood. Note the two ceramic knobs on the doors. My sister gave me those years ago. They are hand painted and feature lighthouses.

Yay!

In fact, I’ve decided to use ASCP on the kitchen cabinets in our new house. But for that project, I think I’ll use a dark glaze or dark wax to really bring out the details and give a nice, antique look to the cabinets. So look for more details on the cabinets later this fall!



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The House Unseen

We have a contract on our new house; I've yet to see it in person. And I won't until we head home sometime in August. After the closing.

Some of my friends were incredulous that I would head on up to Maine with the girls and leave the house-hunting to Himself. "You're going to let your husband pick out your new house? All by himself?"

Well, not really. Our agent, a longtime personal friend, would be with him. She knows quite well my tastes and must-have non-negotiables. And Himself, usually not quite as tuned in to my nesting needs as I would like, applied himself to the task as if his future marital happiness depended upon his good performance with this task.

Because it did, of course.

And he exhibited all the required and necessary signs of complete understanding of this fact. So I was more at ease with the situation than one might think.

The new house looks wonderful from the outside (I've seen lots of photos, thanks to Realtor.com and my beloved), but the inside needs serious updating. All the systems, gutters, and roof are newer, though, which is good, since updating those cost serious money. And we can take our time doing the rest.

This will be the third house we've updated, so we have some experience in this area. In fact, I'd said I didn't want to buy another that needed interior work. But I ate my words when I found that this house has a lot of features I like. There's an upstairs bonus room (with stairs down to the kitchen, too) that will serve very well for a school room. There's also a finished basement with a rec room, bathroom, and fifth bedroom. And a screened porch off the family room. The kitchen has a lot of counter space and a built-in desk. I love desks in kitchens!

And to be honest, I'm looking forward to decorating this house to my (okay, our, but only if I have to kowtow to someone else's opinions) tastes.

Wouldn't a claw foot tub be fabulous in the master bath? I think so, too.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

Whither Thou Goest

July 19th -- He stood outside the bus station, reading emails on his BlackBerry. I pulled up in front of him and rolled down the window. "Hey, handsome. Where ya headed?"

He tossed his bag in the back and climbed in beside me. "Wherever you're going."

Sixteen years ago, we stood in front of family and friends and said pretty much the same thing to each other. Wherever you go, I am going, too.

Sometimes it's been a walk in the park. Sometimes it's been a slog. But we're going together, and that makes me happy.



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Middle Grades Historical Novels Bring the Past to Life

I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing three middle grades novels by Susan Kilbride, a seasoned homeschooler and homeschooling author. These books are wonderful, and my review at Curriculum Choice tells you why I think so.

Plus, Amazon is giving away FREE Kindle versions of one of the books on July 15, 16, and 17! Hurry over to Curriculum Choice to get the details!



Friday, June 28, 2013

Hospitality in Absentia: Staging Your House for Showings When It's on the Market

(Hey there! If you are just now popping by, this is the third installment of a sort of series I've written on preparing to sell your house. You might want to read the first two, "Getting Your House Ready to Put on the Market" and "Consider Inexpensive Updates Before Your Put You House on the Market," as well.)

Photo credit

You've deep cleaned and done some updating, and now it's time to think about more refined touches, the little graces and niceties that will elevate your home above the also-rans. Think about these things: comfort, order, cleanliness, warmth. This is the overall sense you want to evoke from the moment prospective buyers walk in your door.

Honestly, most of these touches will appeal to the women buyers more than the husbands. Think about it: wives generally hold more sway in house-buying decisions. Yes, husbands can have strong feelings about yards, drainage, wood rot, termite contracts, roof ages, and the like (which wives are interested in, too), but it's most often the women who have a "feel" for a home. And you want your home to feel right.

You want your house to extend hospitality even when you aren't there.

So, now that you've stored or eliminated a lot of your stuff, you can set the stage in your rooms. And, provided you've done your deep clean, each room will need only a cursory swipe to keep things tidy. Let's take a look at each room type individually and then at a more general checklist.

Bedrooms

Clear off and straighten all dresser/chest of drawer/nightstand tops. Straighten closets (if you haven't already) and close closet doors. Pick up everything off the floor. Make the bed neatly and attractively. (The girls and I hide our sleeping pillows behind our decorative pillow shams and tuck in sheet edges so they don't hang below the coverlets. I allow the girls to set out a few chosen stuffed animals.) Take out the trash. Open any shades, blinds, or curtains. Turn on a lamp or two and set the ceiling fan on low.

Bathrooms

Wipe down counters and shine faucets and mirrors. A microfiber cloth works wonders for this task. Swish the toilets and wipe down. Close toilet lids. Refill the tissue paper roll, if necessary. Check the floors and sweep or wipe if you need to. Clear off counters. If you have special lighting, you may want to leave it on. I tend not to leave bathroom lights on for showings because they have a tendency to heat up the bathrooms. Remove all used linens and trash.

Kitchen

Buyers will give your kitchen a lot of attention, so be extra careful here. Put all dishes away. Either hand wash any dirty dishes or put them in the dishwasher and run it. I do this immediately after cooking or eating just to keep on top of things. Clear off the counter tops and wipe. Do the floors need a quick sweep? Turn on any accent lights buyers may not notice on their own, such as under-cabinet lighting. Set the table with pretty placemats and perhaps a centerpiece if you have one. I have a lovely piece of crockery in the center of our breakfast table. Consider a vase of flowers if you're expecting several showings within a day or two. If not, skip it. Droopy flowers that have been out too long don't set the right mood, do they?

Family Room/Living Room

If you have pets, roll the furniture with an adhesive roller to get rid of pet hair. Or use sheets to cover the upholstery for everyday use, which you can whisk off and hide away for showings. Clear any clutter, and dust and vacuum as needed. We keep all remotes in a bowl on the coffee table. We also close the armoire doors to hide the TV. Leave on one or two lamps and set any ceiling fans to low.

Dining Room

Cover your table with a nice table cloth to protect its finish. Dust, vacuum, and/or sweep as necessary. If your dining room is near the front door, this is a good place to set out all flyers and house information. Set out small bottles of water and treats for prospective buyers and agents. My go-to treat: Dove chocolates. Think small and individually wrapped.

Study

Our study can be a real mess, and I worked hard to get it organized and tidy. Before every showing, I put all papers away in my desk drawers. I file items immediately so they don't pile up. I make sure the desktop is clear and dust-free. I turn off the computer monitor, too.

Here are more tips for all around the house:

  • Leave some lights on, like lamps and accent lights. If a showing is after dark, leave on more lights.
  • Turn the AC down a bit in summer and the heat up a bit in winter, so your home feels comfortable. 
  • Burn a couple of nice scented candles for an hour or so before the showing. Just remember to blow them out before you leave! We use citrus-scented ones. Bath & Body Works room spray is good, too. Just go easy. And select scents like lemon or spice; avoid like the plague flowery, perfume-y scents; they are headaches waiting to happen.
  • Make sure to hide all dirty laundry. I just put everything in the washer. If there's enough for a load, I run it. Which brings me to...
  • Wash clothes and fold every day. I wash in the evenings and toss in the dryer before bedtime. In the morning, I fold everything and put it all away before I even go downstairs.
  • Take out all trash, especially bathroom and kitchen garbage.
  • When you leave, take pets with you, if at all possible. I've looked at houses where the sellers put notes on doors: "Please don't let cat out!" Talk about too much responsibility. As for dogs, as a last resort, crate your pooch; however, it's always best to take him with you. What if he barks inhospitably during the entire showing? That will most definitely create a negative impression. Jasper and Georgette have gone on a lot of car rides lately, which they love to do.
  • Create a take-home flyer about your house and neighborhood. Yes, your agent will create a flyer with photos and information, but your flyer will be more personal. One I saw recently was titled, "Why We Love Our House." I created a flyer for our house and uploaded an example of it to Scribd; feel free to use it as a template or just to glean a few ideas.

Before each showing, check each room to make sure it conveys order, cleanliness, warmth, and comfort.

When your house is on the market, prospective buyers walk through your house and imagine living there with their own family. Your house becomes more of a stage setting than a home where people actually live. No one wants to view a house that has dog hair on the furniture, crumbs on the kitchen counters, trash in the garbage cans, or hair in the bathroom sink. Blech.

Having your home on the market is stressful, so take some time in the beginning to do your prep work, and make things easier on yourself when your house is active. Yes, this is a lot of work. I know it is; I've done it three times now. But it is SO worth it. In the two and a half weeks our house was active, we received several offers and are now under contract. And we got great feedback from all the agents who showed our house.

If you follow the same steps I did, your house will stand out from the rest -- in a good way.

Let me know how it goes!





Thursday, June 20, 2013

BirdSleuth: A Great Resource for Birdwatching and Nature Study

As you may already know, we are dedicated backyard birders. As a form of nature study, birdwatching is easy and inexpensive and fun. You can even take the leap into the field of citizen science with the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch, both programs from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology.

I recently came upon another Cornell resource called BirdSleuth. This is wonderful! Read my full review over at Curriculum Choice. . . .


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Consider Inexpensive Updates Before You Put Your House on the Market

If you run a Google search looking for tips on getting your house ready to sell, you just might get overwhelmed. Many articles' tips are pretty expensive. Repaint the entire house? Install hardwoods? I think not.

Really, you don't need to spend gobs of money. Nor do you need to hire a staging professional with a professional fee. Good news, right?

In my last post, I talked about getting your house ready to show. These were the practical matters: clearing out, storing away, spiffing up, and cleaning everywhere. Once you've done that, look around to see what little things you could do to give your home an updated look or a warmer, cozier feel.

Here are some ideas that won't break the bank:

Hardware. If your cabinet and drawer pulls are outdated, think about replacing them. And, although you can spend a lot of money here if you want to, you don't have to. There are plenty of inexpensive options. The same goes for switch plates and electrical outlet plates.

Bathmats and hand towels. You can easily freshen up the look of your bathrooms by changing out the bathmats and hand towels. I have "show towels" that no one is allowed to use. They only make an appearance when we have showings, and they always look plush and fresh.

Welcome mats. I really liked my old welcome mat. It featured the London Underground symbol and the warning, "Mind the Gap." But I'd had it for a few years, and it was looking drab and worn. A quick trip to Target and I had a new cheerful welcome mat.

Dishtowels. I bought a set of pretty green and cream dishtowels at TJ Maxx that hang on the oven door. I do NOT use them on my dishes; they are for looks only. You may opt for a decorative dish towel that's more of an accessory than a utilitarian item.

Accent pillows. These can cozy up a room as well as kick things up a notch. In real life, I'm not an accent pillow kind of girl. They just get in the way. But they look good. If you like the idea, hit stores like Tuesday Morning, TJ Maxx, or Target for a few inexpensive pillows for your bedrooms, family room, or living room. Or all three.

Throw rugs. See above. Indoor/outdoor rugs are not very expensive at all. I bought one several years ago to use in our foyer, but recently I had the inspiration to move it into the kitchen. It fits perfectly and looks fabulous. You can also put one on your deck or patio to liven things up.

Houseplants. There's just something about houseplants. I have three golden pothos plants: one is on a plant stand in the master bath, the other is on a table in the hall, and the third is just clippings from the other two in a vase of water, which sits on my desk in the family room. I also have two small orchids on my kitchen window sill. If you have pets, be careful with houseplants; many are toxic to dogs and cats, even my pothos. I am vigilant about keeping my plants out of my dogs' reach.

New bedding. You can find comforter sets at great prices at some of the discount stores, like Tuesday Morning, Old Time Pottery, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, and even Wal-Mart and Target. Another option is to invest in a new quilt or throw to fold across the bottom of the bed.

Placemats. These add oomph without a high price tag. You can also splurge and buy coordinating cloth napkins. Fan them out with a napkin ring and lay atop the placemats.

Accessory mix-up. Maybe you don't need to spend any money; you simply need to look at your possessions in a new light. Just because my cut crystal vase has lived in my china cabinet for years doesn't mean it can't find a new address. I can fill it with flowers (hydrangeas from my yard?) and set it on top of my piano for a fresh look.

Light fixtures. We replaced the light fixtures above our bathroom sinks in the master bath with inexpensive fixtures from Home Depot. If replacement isn't in your budget or your inclination, consider paint. In our second house, I painted the breakfast room chandelier black. In this house, I painted the brassy powder room fixture black and replaced the sconces. It looks great!



Bathroom grout. Honestly, I scrubbed and Tilexed the grout in the master bath shower a multitude of times, but it stayed dingy and gray in places. Turns out it's stained. If this is the case in your bathrooms, get yourself some grout paint pens. They come in a variety of colors, so you can pick the one that matches your grout. Or pick another color and redo the whole thing. I was dreading this project because I thought it would be tedious and time-consuming. While it wasn't the funnest thing I've ever done, the pens are easy to use and make quick work of it. And the grout looks so much better!

These are just a few quick and easy ideas to help you freshen up the look of your home before you list it for sale. In my next post, I'll talk about staging your home for an actual showing.

What little things have you done to your house before selling it? Leave a comment to spread the word!



Monday, June 17, 2013

Getting Your House Ready to Put on the Market

Since I've done this very thing recently (and also in the past), I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and tips on getting your house ready to sell.

Have no illusions: this is a big job. But it's also crucial. How your house looks to prospective buyers has a major impact on how quickly it will sell. Why? Because, frankly, most buyers have no imagination. They lack the power to see around your stuff to what the house actually looks like or might look like with a little spiffing up.

Essentially, you need to make your house look like no one lives there while all the time living there with your family and pets. This is no small feat but it's not impossible, either. Use these tips to help you plan your strategy.

Examine your house with a critical eye.

What are its high points? Emphasize those. What are its detriments? Eliminate or downplay those. For example, our deck was in awful shape, and we knew it'd be a big black mark against our house. So we bit the bullet and had a new, larger deck built. It looks fantastic. We also had some landscaping done to make our backyard more useful and attractive. And we hired a handyman to make some repairs.

Start with a major clean out.

This takes the most time and energy. The object is to clear out as much as possible by donating or trashing non-essentials and boxing up other things you can do without for a few weeks. Moving boxes aren't cheap, so look around for used ones if you can. I found free moving boxes on Craigslist and made the drive to pick them up.

Pick a place to start and hop to it. It will seem like an insurmountable task -- at least it did to me -- but I lived through it and so can you.

We started with our bedrooms and the playroom. The girls and I went through all their clothes and possessions and sorted them into three types: keep, donate, trash. As we sorted, we bagged up all trash and donate items. The donation bags we loaded into our minivan. We boxed up as much of the keepers as we could: winter clothes, toys, knickknacks, special possessions, books.

In the bathrooms, clean out all cabinets, drawers, and linen closets. Put down new shelf liner. Box up extra towels, sheets, and blankets. Get rid of old toiletries and medications. (I was amazed at how many hair products languished in my cabinet! Now that I'm on my new curly girl routine, I don't need these any more.) Then neatly rearrange what remains.

In the kitchen, ruthlessly edit the pantry and cabinets. I boxed up some things, threw away others, and recycled hundreds of plastic food storage containers. (Okay, maybe not hundreds, but it seemed like it.) Consider boxing or hiding away small appliances, like toaster ovens, slow cookers, blenders, etc. Keep your countertops clear. In my kitchen, the Red Steel Beauty still enjoys pride of place on my counter, of course, as does the coffee maker.

Minimize your personal decorative items, including framed photos and even books. You don't want your rooms to look vacated and naked, but you don't want your personal tastes to overwhelm unimaginative prospective buyers, either.

Put things in storage.

What do you do with all these boxes?  Rent a storage compartment at a nearby facility. You do not want to leave heaps of boxes all over the place while you're house is on the market. Not even in the garage.

Photo credit

Store extra furniture so your rooms will look uncluttered and spacious. We removed a rocker and ottoman and a chest of drawers from Tiny Girls' room, and a bookshelf and desk from Miss Priss's room. We took out a leaf from our dining room table and stored two of the eight chairs.


Photo credit

Deep clean.

After you've cleared out, it's time to really clean. Polish all doors and baseboards. Clean the top of the fridge. Wash the walls where it's needed. Magic Erasers will be your new best friend. Clean the windows. Vacuum thoroughly and consider cleaning the carpets. Scrub tile floors til they're sparkling. Clean out the fireplace. Eliminate all cobwebs. Dust light fixtures. Sweep. Mop.

Clean the carpets. You can easily rent a machine to do this yourself. Or you can buy your own for a decent price these days. To make it even more affordable, see if a friend or two would like to share in the purchase. Most people would only use a carpet cleaning machine once a year, so sharing one is a viable option.

Once you get everything just so, it's easy to keep the place clean. Sweep regularly, wipe down counters, shine faucets and mirrors with a microfiber cloth. Swish the toilets. Spray a cloth with furniture polish and dust quickly every day. That way, you're good to go when an agent calls and asks, "Can I show your home in the next hour?"


Spiff up.

Do you baseboards need a little touch-up painting? Ours did. I used a small sponge "brush" for that. What about wall dings? A little spackle, some sandpaper, and a touch of paint will do the trick. Could you replace any outdated light fixtures? We did in our master bathroom.

Photo credit

Think about curb appeal.

How does your house look from the street? Aim for an inviting and welcoming entrance. I bought two ferns and set them on our front stoop. I also potted some petunias and set the pot on an old ladderback chair. I pruned all our Knock-Out rosebushes and ruthlessly weeded our flowerbeds. Plant some colorful annuals. The lantana and verbena from last year came back, so I didn't have to plant anything new. Wash and re-caulk (if necessary) your front door and its surrounds. Our red door looked good after a cleaning, but we decided to re-paint its surrounding woodwork. Buy a new welcome mat and hang a pretty wreath on the front door.

In my next post, I'll talk about inexpensive touches you can add to update or warm up your home. Really, you don't have to spend a lot to make a big impact. There are several things you can do to show your home in the best possible light and make a favorable impression on prospective buyers. Think about it: even in a fast market, you are competing against other homes on the market, so start strong and stay strong.




Sunday, June 16, 2013

One of My Earliest Memories

Photo credit

My very early memories are like still photographs. I'm told this is true for a lot of people.

When I was three years old, my daddy took me on a date. First we ate supper at Alfie's Fish and Chips, a restaurant long gone. I have a memory of sitting at the booth and admiring the bottles of malt vinegar. After that we went to see Song of the South at the fabulous Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta. I can recall sitting in the plush upholstered seat next to my dad, trying my hardest, I suppose, to take it all in.

My dad remembers this outing much better than I. His short-term memory has been tricky for several years now and sometimes his long-term memory is faulty, but he firmly holds on to a storehouse of moments like these.

My dad and I look alike; I don't look anything like my mother (who was a contestant in the Miss Georgia beauty pageant in 1964, so it's sort of a shame I didn't take after her). My reddish curly hair and blue-green eyes are courtesy of my father's side of the family, although his hair was dark blond. So is my keen sense of the ridiculous. I missed out on his mathematical genius and strong strategy skills. I wish I'd gotten those as well. (Did I mention he was a nuclear health physicist?)

In late May of 2004, his aorta tore and he underwent emergency heart surgery, during which he suffered two strokes. He was in and out of the hospital that summer, with one health issue leading to another, the most upsetting of which was his lungs filling with fluid on a regular basis. We were stressed, anxious, and worried that he'd never be the same again.

And he wasn't. The lung issue was diagnosed as congestive heart failure, a condition from which he'll never recover but for which there are meds to keep it under control. The strokes caused some minor brain damage: memory loss, short-term memory issues, trouble balancing, and unsteadiness on his feet. He also has diabetes and blood pressure problems. He sleeps quite a bit and gets weary easily.

In March, he had surgery for a cancerous tumor in the lining of his stomach. The surgery was successful and no chemo or radiation were necessary. But he, who got great pleasure out of eating good food, now eats small meals and often has very little appetite.

We are all so keenly aware of the blessing of more years with my dad. We've always been a loving family, but now Dad goes out of the way to let each of us know how much we mean to him, how precious we are to him, and how much he loves us. He is joy-filled, and loves to laugh as much as he always did -- maybe more. And he's just as witty as ever. He has a gift for making everyone feel comfortable -- the pinnacle of graciousness.

And he loves a mean Scrabble game. We have the best time when we play. One day I'll tell you about the time I beat him with the word "quark" on a triple word score.

That's a brief sketch of my dad: always supportive, always loving, always loyal. I love him more every day.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Absence, My Silence, My Misplaced Sanity

Photo credit

In April, Himself and I decided it was time to put our house on the market. With all of our homeschooling materials and his penchant for working from home now and again, we need some more square footage.

Thus began a frantic and stressful time called "Getting the House Ready to List." Activities include:


  • A massive clean-out of all rooms, shelves, closets, and storage areas, requiring many trips to Goodwill and other donation facilities. And a LOT of giant trash bags.
  • Packing up extraneous possessions.
  • Renting a storage unit and making MANY trips to store boxes of items and not-strictly-necessary-for-daily-living furniture.
  • A wild flurry of home improvement projects we'd put off for the future, such as a brand new deck and new landscaping, new lighting in our bathroom, and the like.
  • Repairs and touch-ups, especially paint.


A few weeks ago, this seemed like an insurmountable mission. But we did it and the house is now on the market.

Our current challenge is to keep our house looking like a photo-shoot-ready showplace where no one actually lives while all the time living here with one husband, two active adolescents, and two dogs.

Fortunately, the girls are old enough to get with the program to keep the house "show ready" at (almost) all times. I have only had to yell, "Did you FLUSH the TOILET?!" once or twice. They get it now.

(Aside in case you think we are non-toilet flushers: Back when our area was in the throes of a horrid drought, we began the practice of selectively flushing, and the girls have maintained that practice. I'm sure you understand.)

Also, I'm looking at prospective houses with a real estate broker. This sounds like fun, but it is not. It is fraught with disappointment.

Case in point: the girls and I fell in love with a house but before we could make an offer, it went under contract. I think Tiny Girl will never forgive us for moving too slowly on that one.

But most of the time, houses look promising on the outside, only to reveal a total deal-breaker once you're in the door. Another case in point: yesterday, we looked at a really lovely house, and I was slightly swayed until we noticed that the laundry room was in the basement. And not just in the basement, but through the basement and around the corner behind the stairs. Visions of schlepping clothes up and down two flights of stairs danced through my head. Hmmm.

Then there was the gorgeous large house in a lovely neighborhood overlooking a lake. I pictured myself sipping a cup of coffee on the deck and gazing at the lake in the morning light. Yes, the house needed some work, but still. Then we ventured into the unfinished basement, which featured its own lake. The standing water was almost an inch deep in places!

See?

Himself and I have been the teensiest bit snippy with each other. He said the other night,"I think the stress is getting to both of us." It's probably a good thing he's in Boston for a few days.

It's probably not a good thing I made homemade chocolate chip cookies two days ago and then ate most of them myself.

What do you think?


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Traditional English Sentence Style Helps Prepare Students for College

"Allegorical Figure of Grammar," by Laurent de la Hyre
If your children have their sights set on college, make sure they are prepared for college-level compositions. Pop over to Curriculum Choice to read my review of Traditional English Sentence Style, a FREE high school grammar course that focuses on elegant sentence structure.



Friday, April 26, 2013

Make Your Own Chocolate Kit: Need I Say More?


The girls and I had a wonderful time learning about, making, and eating (that's the best part) chocolate with this kit. Read more about it over at Curriculum Choice!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Testing, Testing



Last week, I threw into our mix a bit of standardized testing. My state's homeschooling laws require that standardized testing take place every three years beginning with third grade. Now that my daughters are older, I prefer to test annually, so they get a better taste of such requirements.

Different states have different testing requirements. In my state, I have only to choose a nationally-normed test, which allows me many options. For several years now, I've selected the CAT/5 Survey test. This is a short-form test, with six sections of 20 questions each, as opposed to the Full Battery.

Why the Survey test? Because it saves time and because it lessens the chances that the test will cover concepts we have yet to cover. I've found that the latter situation does nothing but ruffle my children's feathers and stress everyone out to a painful degree.

Why the CAT/5? Because homeschooling parents can administer the test at home. Another test option is the TerraNova, but I don't know anything about that one. I stick with what I know.

Then there's the ITBS and the Stanford Achievement Test. To administer the ITBS at home, a parent must hold a college degree and be accepted as a test administrator, which for me is one too many hoops to jump through. The Stanford also requires the degree as well as teacher certification and test-administration experience OR video training and pre-approval as a Stanford test administrator. Again, too many hoops.

Instead of giving the test at home, I could easily locate an ITBS testing center and drop off my daughters. For a few hours each day over three days. For a price, in terms of money, time, and stress. No, thank you.

There are several services that will mail you the testing materials and score the test for you. I've used both Family Learning Organization and Seton Testing Services with great satisfaction. Three others I've seen online are Thurber's Education Assessments, Crosspointe Educational Services, and Brewer Testing Services. But I don't have any experience with either of those.

As the girls move from middle grades to high school, I'll reassess my decisions on standardized testing depending on our needs. But right now, I'm happy with what we're doing.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Giving Up on My Hair

If you know me IRL, then you know my hair. It is curly and it is red. According to one friend, she can always find me in the crowd at church, thanks to my hair. The color part gets help these days as I approach "a certain age," but I will not go gentle into that particular good night.

Several years ago, I wouldn't go gentle into the curly night, either. When Himself and I met, I used the round-brush technique to dry my hair. Every. Single. Day. Since I have a lot of hair, this took a considerable amount of time. As well as a toll on my hair. But I was committed to straight hair.

On a camping trip during this same period, I decided to let my hair dry by itself after I'd showered. A friend was amazed. "I didn't know you had curly hair!" she exclaimed. I guess I shocked her. Really, curly hair can be a bit startling, especially if you're not expecting it.

However, not long after Miss Priss was born, I gave up straightening my hair. Shocking, eh? I know, but I was busy with other things. I didn't have the time to mess with it.

But I didn't give up messing with it entirely. Over the years, I sometimes dried it with a blow dryer and then put it in hot rollers in an attempt to control my curls. Other times I wore it short. I've coated it with gels, pomades, de-frizzers, curling balms, pomades, etc.

The thing is, everyone in my family of origin has curly hair to varying degrees except my mama, whose hair is stick straight (and she has kept it permed for decades). And we've all messed with it. Curly hair is versatile, since you can wear it straight, wavy, or curly, depending on how much time and effort you feel like investing in your hairdo.

But I recently had a revelation. I came upon Lorraine Massey's book, Curly Girl, at a used bookstore, and I bought it. Massey has a interesting viewpoint: stop fighting your curls and just go with it. Oh, and ditch the shampoo. According to Massey, shampoo is awful for curly hair. There's a difference between cleaning one's scalp and cleaning one's hair; and curly hair requires a different method than straight hair due to its molecular structure and moisture needs.

So I've been trying it. I've shampooed once in two weeks so far, and I concentrated on my scalp only. It's taking my scalp a while to get used to no shampoo. But I can already see some benefits -- at least, enough for me to continue with the experiment. Here's a recent photo of me (well, mostly my hair). (Thanks to Tiny Girl for her photographic expertise):


In the interest of truth in journalism, I used a dryer with a diffuser to finish things off, a method of which Massey approves.

Before the experiment, I only washed my hair about twice a week anyway, and I may eventually return to that method. I'll have to wait and see.

What I won't return to, however, is fighting my curly hair into submission. As Popeye used to say (and probably still does), "I yam what I yam."



Monday, April 15, 2013

Finally, a Daily Schedule System That WORKS!

 


In our years of homeschooling, I've used a variety of scheduling methods. I've tended to stay with one for myself, but the girls' I've altered and changed in an attempt to find what works best. Here's what I have learned:


  • Weekly printouts with each week's assignments designated by day (which is the system I use for myself) tend to disappear during the week.
  • Daily printouts of each day's work disappear during the day -- at least with one my children they did.
  • With printouts, one child tended to check off assignments diligently, and the other needed reminding. Frequently. As in several times a day.
  • Whiteboard method, with each day's assignments listed to be check off as completed worked well, but the large whiteboard took up quite a bit of room in my small kitchen AND hid a lovely painting (a fact Miss Priss detested). Also, I had to write out each day's complete lessons and assignments each day. (Quelle surprise.) I thought I'd take the board down every day after lessons were completed, but I didn't. (Ditto.)


A few weeks ago, I came up with our new system and it is working well. I designed one template (which I have available on Scribd in both Word and PDF formats, so download at your pleasure), printed it out, and then secured it in an 81/2 x 11 frame. I included everyday lessons on the printout, so I only have to write in that day's reading assignments and activities directly on the frame's glass. I use a fine-point wet-erase marker (Vis-a-vis). The girls use the same marker to check off assignments as they complete them. A quick spritz and wipe, and it's all ready for the next day.




Here's a peek at the Scribd document:



You can alter it to best suit your family's needs. Or use it as a beginning point to create your own.

This system has been a wonderful solution for us. It only takes a few moments to jot down that day's readings and activities; there's no paper schedules for the girls to keep track of; and it's easy to alter if need be. Plus, I write down my errands in the Notes section, so the girls can see my agenda for the day.

And everyone can now see the lovely painting in the breakfast room.



Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why I Love Sunday Afternoons

The house is quiet. Everyone is gone. Since no one thought to leave Mama a note, I'm assuming the kids went with Himself to watch his afternoon hockey game while I was napping.

My Sunday afternoon siesta is a tradition that everyone understands except Himself. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who nap and those who don't. Nappers don't tend to look askance at non-nappers, but the reverse is not always true. Himself has known me for almost two decades, yet he still sometimes gapes at me when I announce it's time for my Sunday afternoon indulgence.

It is a day of rest, after all.

Lunch after church tends to be a simple affair: sandwiches, leftovers, fried chicken from the grocery deli. Sometimes we go out, but not often. After we change out of our church clothes, the girls call friends to play. Later, either Himself or I take Tiny Girl to the barn for a practice ride. I also read. I plan our upcoming week.

And I always, always, make time for a nap. A serious nap complete with eye mask, ear plugs, and comfy covers.I crawl into bed with a happy heart.

Today it's rainy, so no trip to the barn. As much as I love the ponies and watching Tiny ride and everything else, I'm glad to stay home today.

Sometimes it's just nice to be instead of do.





Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller / Foter.com / CC BY

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Lovely and Useful Tradition of Elevenses



The girls and I recently decided to add that delightful British custom of elevenses to our schedule most days. I say "most days" because one really can't support a break when one has only worked since 9:30 or 10.

A more traditional tea time doesn't work for us because our afternoons are busy with activities and Miss Priss's math lessons at the tutoring center. Even so, I find that a break around 11 AM is best for us. Elevenses allow us to refresh ourselves, refocus our efforts, and reframe our day, if need be.

Refresh
Everyone is ready for a cup of tea and a snack by 11 o'clock. Our blood sugar needs a boost and our minds need a break. But what to nibble, you ask? Traditionally, it's something sweet: a slice of cake, a few cookies, a scone. I rarely have cake in the house and as for scones, well. . . . So we opt for cookies, but we keep a few varieities for elevenses only, such as Biscoff, McVitie's or Burton's rich tea biscuits, Jammie Dodgers (also from the UK but available at my Publix grocery), or a special cookie from Trader Joe's. If you'd like to do a little more, AllRecipes.co.uk has a page of recipes for elevenses. The Squidgy Chocolate Muffins look tasty. And what a great name!

Refocus
During elevenses, we go over our day's schedule and check everyone's progress thus far. If someone is straggling, this is a good time to point out what needs to be done and when. We also lay out a general plan for the rest of the day, including time to visit with friends or enjoy a favorite craft. Often, this spurs a straggler on to complete her work in a timely manner. If the day is nice, one or both of my girls may decide to take her remaining readings en plein air.

Reframe
We may find that circumstances dictate a reframing of our day. A gift of beautiful weather means that Tiny Girl will want to spend more time at the barn. An unexpected invitation leads to an assignment being  postponed until evening. My work schedule may change. We talk about these things at elevenses.

As the girls grow and mature, they will begin to work more independently. A break for elevenses in those years will mean a chance to touch base with one another, to talk about our day's work, to discuss points of interest and points of concern. I look forward to that.

For now, the girls mainly look forward to a break and a snack. And that's wonderful. I can ponder the fine points of elevenses and what they mean to the flow of our days.


Photo credit: H is for Home / Foter.com / CC BY-NC



Monday, April 8, 2013

New Sighting! Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

So I got all excited about this bird that was pecking at the trees near our feeders because I thought it was a pileated woodpecker. We hear them a lot but see them rarely. But Tiny Girl said, "It can't be, Mom. It's too small."

After we got a few brief glimpses through our binoculars (a birder's best friend -- well, those and a good field guide), it flew away and we flew to the computer.

Our friends at Bird Web provided the solution. On the pileated woodpecker page, there are several photo suggestions for birds that look like it. Tiny Girl pointed to one. "That's it!"

Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius

We compared the yellow-bellied sapsucker with the red-naped sapsucker. The latter is not in our area of the country, so that gave us our answer.

Typically, Cornell's All About Birds site is my go-to online resource, but the only two similar species they suggested were the red-headed woodpecker and the American crow. (What?? I think I can tell the difference between a crow -- which we see all day, every day -- and a pileated woodpecker!)

But it's good to have a few tricks up one's sleeve, so I'm glad I found Bird Web.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons



Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekly Happenings: Ready for a Break


It's been a productive week -- a good note to end on, since we're taking next week off for our spring break. The girls and the dogs and I are headed to the beach for several days, and, boy are we excited! Sadly, Himself will be occupied with work activities involving golf, both playing and watching (at The Masters, no less), so he can't accompany us.

In math and science this week, Tiny Girl worked on the area and circumference of circles, and Miss Priss tackled percents. They read and notebooked about mixtures and solutions. WE entered our last two days' worth of data for Project FeederWatch. And of course, a few species who'd been conspiculously absent those two counting days decided to show up later in the week!


 Hermit thrush


 Male yellow-rumped warbler


We read from Plutarch's PericlesThe Story of the GreeksAugustus Caesar's WorldArchimedes and the Door of ScienceTales from Ancient EgyptThe Story of David Livingstone; and Beautiful Girlhood. Miss Priss is reading The Golden Goblet, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Tiny Girl is reading Outcast, by Rosemary Sutcliff. The both also read at least two Nancies. We also began the poetry of Alfred Noyes, and we all are enjoying his work.

Also on our schedule: adverbs from Daily Grammar; composition from Writing with Skill; inductive study of the Psalms, and piano practice.


We often see these little guys gleaning seed around the base of the feeders:

Chipmunk 


Here is this week's culinary disaster:



It was going to be a lemon cream cheese pound cake. I also made homemade raspberry sauce to go alongside. The cake batter was scrumptious; all signs pointed to a magnificent dessert for the dinner party Himself and I are attending this evening.

Five minutes into the baking time, I wondered about the burning smell. I flung open the oven door and wailed, "My cake!" The oven was furnace hot, and the thermometer inside read 500+ degrees. At first I thought maybe I'd put it on broil instead of bake, but no, all seemed as it should be. Except it was NOT as it should be.

So Himself is stopping by a local bakery on his drive home to pick up a raspberry white chocolate mousse cake. It's on hold for him. Thank heavens for local bakeries.



Monday, April 1, 2013

New Sighting! Eastern Phoebe

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I've heard mention of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) often over the years, but I've never seen one except for photographs. But just today, I caught sight of an unusual bird perched atop the feeder pole. For a second I thought, "Mockingbird?" But it was too small and its head was darker. I thought it might be a Phoebe.

It flew away before I could grab my trusty binoculars, which I keep on the kitchen counter for bird-spying. But I looked it up in my new compendium, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, almost 800 pages of photos and detailed descriptions, along with a CD of bird songs, featuring 150 different species. And I was right!

(I'm getting pretty good at this, actually. Ahem.)

She didn't partake of our feeder offerings, but I hope she comes back.



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Physical Science for Middle Grades



Not being a science person myself, I am always on the lookout for quality science materials well suited to a home school environment. I found a winner in the Basic Physical Science Note Pack from In the Hands of a Child. Pop over to Curriculum Choice to read my review!



Monday, March 25, 2013

Rediscovering Nancy: Renewing Old Relationships with Book Characters

When the girls were babies, Himself decided they would need their own collection of Nancy Drew books. So, when  he traveled out of town, he made time to visit antique stores and flea markets, hunting for old copies still in good condition. He bought several over a period of a couple of years and then waited for the day the girls were old enough to enjoy them.

That day has finally arrived.

I'm not sure what prompted Miss Priss to decide to crack open a Nancy; Himself has, of course, encouraged her over the years, but she wasn't interested until now. She's on her fourth or fifth as of this morning.

Recently, Miss Priss and I drove to visit my Dad when he was in the hospital. On the way, she read aloud to me her favorite Nancy thus far: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery. Here's a snippet of our conversation:

[Miss Priss reads that Nancy's friends have found a letter, which is written in French.]

Me: I bet Nancy can read it, don't you?

We giggle.

Miss Priss, reading (although I'm paraphrasing; the book's not in front of me): "'Here's the letter,' he said. 'I'll translate it for you.' Although Nancy could both speak and read French, she listened intently as he read the letter.'"

We howl.

I must firmly assert here that I love Nancy. I adore her. I think she's fabulous. I also like to laugh at her perfection.

Miss Priss and I did not finish the book on our drive, so I read the rest of it by myself. And I loved every minute of it. One of my friends saw me with it and asked incredulously, "Are you reading Nancy Drew?"

I said, "Yep. It's awesome!"

It turns out my friend loved Nancy when she was younger; she can't wait for her daughter to read the books!

It's fun to rediscover old literary friends. Sometimes the reunion isn't as lovely as we would have hoped because our tastes changed as we grew up, but many times it's delightful. I've enjoyed getting to know the Ingalls girls again, for example. And it's fun to say to my daughters, "Oh, I loved this book when I was your age!" and then watch them read it and love it, too.

In fact, I've suggested to Miss Priss that she may want to try an experiment, one I did when I was in middle school. I had quite a few Nancies when I was younger (I wonder what happened to them all?), some of which were quite old. For several titles, I owned two versions: an earlier and a later. I read both versions and then compared them. There were quite a few revisions made to the later edition! Typically, the storyline was the same, but details were different. It was fun to compare the two. Nancy, her entourage, and her life details have altered over the years.

It's been a joy to watch my daughters discover literary delights I loved as a child. And I'm having a great time catching up with Nancy, whose the same as she ever was, I am happy to report.

Hmm. I wonder if Miss Priss would like to meet my friend, Trixie Belden?