Saturday, June 28, 2008

Puddle Jumping Dog Pee and Other Early Morning Rituals

There is nothing like rising at 6:00 am and heading bleary-eyed towards the bathroom, stepping in a cold puddle of dog pee, and then releasing a stream of early morning obscenities with which to greet the day. That is how today began. With my feet dried off, I then looked forward to what has become my early morning writing routine - sneaking into the kitchen in the dim light to put a kettle of water on to boil for some Earl Gray, English Breakfast, or this morning, Jasmine tea, which I serve myself out of my very adorable personal-sized teapot. However, there was no sneaking around this morning. I had thought I was sneaking but then heard a small grunting noise and turned around to see that Joel and Jules were each occupying a chair. They sat motionless in the shadows. It was creepy. They didn't look entirely awake, but they definitely weren't asleep. I couldn't tell if they could see me, or not. They appeared to be looking through me. Neither spoke. So I did.

"What are you guys doing up?"

"Up where?"

I tried again, being more specific. "Why are you awake and sitting here waiting to ruin my early morning writing solitude after I recovered so nicely from the dog pee incident? I was doing so well! I did what that Buddhist Monk Guy says to do and forced myself to smile and it worked! It worked! See how I'm smiling? I'm making tea for God's sake!"

To this tirade the boys looked at each other as if they thought they might have heard something, then they shrugged their shoulders, apparently having decided it was nothing.

"WHY ARE YOU HERE?" I asked.

For a moment I thought they were going to launch into something philosophical, as in, "Why are any of us here?" But they didn't. They just sat, with puffy eyes and frantic hair, staring at me. Finally, Joel said, "The dog woke us up. We put him out to pee. Now we're waiting for cartoons to start. There's nothing on but that lady doing yoga."

"Hmmm..." I said. "Next time you put the dog out to pee could you please do it before the dog pees outside my bedroom door? And could you please act like you're not here? This is my morning writing routine and I cherish it and now you are sitting here looking at me."

Since they were already acting like they weren't there, and in fact, weren't entirely sure where they were, that part was easy. But the writing part was hard. I was thrown off balance. They had frightened away my muse. My positive energy had disappeared. I was convinced it was going to be discovered that much of my early morning writing routine consists of me staring out the window. Darn. I hate it when people see me in my natural habitat. I prefer they see me in my self-created habitat used for display purposes only. Isn't that how most of us live our public lives? And by public, I mean anytime we're not alone. We display ourselves in the way we wish to be seen. Even with our children. I didn't want the boys to see me sitting without doing anything, which is for me, about 80% of the writing process. Why don't I want to be seen sitting without doing anything? Why can't I give myself permission to sit for just a few minutes at a time? (Don't expect me to answer this. I am the one posing the question). I realize that much of my over-eating is a direct result of this. I don't feel that I can sit and read, or sit and stare off into space, or just sit and be present, because then I feel like I am wasting time. So I sit and eat. Eating gives me an excuse to sit and think or be.

How can I give myself permission to sit? There are clothes in the washer that need to go in the dryer, clothes in the dryer that need to go in the basket, clothes in the basket that need folding, folded clothes on the couch that need putting away, dirty clothes all over the house (I almost said hamper but that would be a stretch of the truth) waiting to go in the washer....there are dishes in the sink and dishes in the dishwasher. There is unsorted mail on the bar. There are children who need mothering. There are pets that need feeding, and a garden that needs calls that need returning and bathrooms that need cleaning. So how can I allow myself to sit down? Any suggestions in the form of comments would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, so I didn't work on my manuscript this morning. Between the two zombies sitting in my midst and the dog throwing himself against the front door to get back inside and pee in front of my bedroom door (his favorite spot), I just couldn't focus. But I have some things to think about, don't I?

Let's talk about the dog. His name is Ranger. He is the surviving cow dog puppy whose sister was killed in a coyote ambush. He is still very traumatized by the attack and seems sad and depressed. Our hearts break for him and we spend much of our time trying to cheer him up. He is adorable and very calm. I keep commenting to Jeff about how calm and sweet-natured he is and Jeff keeps commenting on the dog's apparent lack of intelligence. I must admit that I, too, have noticed he seems a little slow. First of all, he chases his tail. He is perpetually thrilled with this discovery of an appendage hanging off his backside. He also has the irritating habit of peeing when he gets excited. Exciting Ranger entails saying, "Hi, Ranger."

I am not used to dumb dogs. We also have a bilingual dog named Schnitzel. She is fluent in English and Wiener Dog. When she first decided to alter her lifestyle and become an indoor dog, we met to discuss the possibilities. When it came to urination I simply explained to her that she needed to go outside when nature called. She allowed as how this was an entirely reasonable request and asked if it would be okay for her to occasionally use the shower drain if she found herself in a pinch. I answered that would be okay but to not to make it a habit. We shook on the deal and that was the end of the story.

Talking to Ranger has not worked. And I am not good at training dogs (or kids). In fact, I don't believe in training kids, trusting that they are at least as smart as Schnitzel and can train themselves. So far this has worked out well. I don't have a single child in diapers. I don't have a single child still nursing. And we did it without training. At some point they all just looked at their diapers and said, "This is rather disgusting. I think I'll try going in the potty now so that I don't have to walk around wearing my own poop."

So this training thing is a new concept for me. I have tried attachment parenting Ranger but he just pees on me. I am unwilling to wear him in a Moby Wrap under these circumstances. I have been told to put him in a crate at night. We're going to try that. If it works, I might just have to alter my entire parenting/living philosophy. The zombie boys often roam around freely throughout the night, sometimes waking the rest of us up. Could it be that it isn't too late to crib-train them? They are 10 and 13. What do you think?

Enjoy your Weekend!
Sardine Mama

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lazy Day Book Review

Today was a nice day at home. I'd like to say it was relaxing, but I haven't relaxed much in the past 16 years. But it was a slow day and I appreciate slow days. We didn't go to Thursday co-op today on account of one of the other kids having recently thrown up. We are planning to have it tomorrow (if nobody else starts throwing up).

So today found me writing by 6:00 am and then having both dogs sitting here staring at me and thumping their tails at 6:10. A quick check in the storeroom confirmed that we were out of dog food. I made them wait a couple of more hours and then had to run to the store. The boys said, "We were gonna tell you we were out of dog food...." At 7:00 am the man who fixed our tractor called to say he was bringing it home. Jasper met him outside, armed with a water gun. So now our tractor is back and we're going to need to haul some hay out to the cows with it, soon. I am so bummed that everything is turning brown! Even though I knew it would. I am still watering the yard, although it will soon become a losing battle if we don't get rain.

We read some books, did some laundry, picked some tomatoes, made some spaghetti sauce for the lasagna I'm making tomorrow...and we dried tons and tons of tomatoes. I am barely staying on top of the tomatoes. Here is a pic of today's pickin's (with a few left from yesterday).

Aren't these pretty? 12 trays and it probably won't fill up a Ziploc bag when they're done.

The boys were my helpers today. They did some grunge work for me - washed down all of my white cabinet doors in the kitchen. This is one of the things that had really been bothering me. Ellie mostly played the piano all day. She is getting ready to go to piano camp and received her trio music yesterday. She says it is really hard. She is all excited. The kid loves anything hard. Someone once asked her what she liked about classical music and she said, "It is hard." She also has band practice tomorrow afternoon. She plays electric guitar but is talking about getting a keyboard so she can play that, too. They already have a bass player and two guitarists, plus the singer plays guitar, too.

As for the books we're reading: I have a deal with the boys where I read to them while they fold clothes (rather poorly, I might add. But I am no longer picky about such silly things.) Jules and I are on the absolute last Gregor the Overlander book. I am so sad! I don't want it to end! Just like with the Harry Potter books..... I LOVE the Gregor books. The messages in them are so beautiful and skillfully delivered. The plot involves an underground society made up of humans, called Underlanders, and giant animals of equal intelligence. They are always fighting over resources and land. War is a way of life. The message isn't cut and dry. While the author obviously favors peace and diplomacy, she tries to show the story of both sides. Those who fight, the ones who are quick to pick up weapons, are not shown as monsters but as people who want to defend their land, protect their families, etc. However, those seeking diplomacy are always pointing out how the fighting perpetuates the problem...the enemy is first shown as hateful monsters, but then it is discovered what has led them to many of their own children died as the result of actions of the allies, how much land they lost and the effect it had on their you can see that things are complicated. Not just good and bad guys, but rather, beings who are trying to do what is best for themselves and who are often unable to see the bigger picture. All of the animals have names in the Underland, given to them by other species. The spiders are called Spinners. The rats are called Gnawers. The cockroaches are Crawlers. The mice are Nibblers....etc. It was just explained in the last book that the humans are called Killers. Gregor was like, "Why? Why are we called that?" And his cockroach friend just casually explained that everyone in the Underland is named according to what they do. And that was a sobering moment for Gregor.

In the last book there is a genocide going on - the rats are killing the mice and doing it in ways that eerily shadow the Holocaust (gas from a volcano - the mice went willingly because they thought they were being relocated and it was best not to put up a resistance). Anyway, our family has been active in the movement to save Darfur from genocide and so Jules picked up on that right away - more so than any references to the Holocaust, although I gently tried to show that, too. He is young to truly understand all of this stuff. I'm not so quick to explain it to him. He knows the world isn't always a great place, he just doesn't need to know the entire extent of it, yet. He is 10 and I truly don't think he would have been ready for the Gregor books before his 10th birthday, which is when he received the first one.

Another thing I love about the Gregor books is that they are very empowering for young people. The queen of the Underlanders is a 12-year-old girl and she kicks a**. The head of the army is a woman who also happens to be a grandmother. Her husband is the head of the council and he is a diplomat. He and his wife are usually at odds over how to handle situations - she favoring force and he favoring words and diplomacy. Gender and age are just minor details - i LOVE that! My favorite character, by far, is a rat named Ripred. He is part Ninja and part Jack Nicholson. Awesome. Well, Jules just asked me to read to him so I think I will close down this blog for the evening and see what Gregor and Ripred are up to.

Oh, first, let me say that Joel and I are almost finished with Pitcairn's Island. Hooray! I can't believe we did it. We got off to a rather slow start with Mutiny on the Bounty, the seafaring lingo was hard to grasp, but we quickly took to it like salty dogs and loved every minute of it. Then we devoured Men Against the Sea and now we're working our way through the last of the trilogy. 690 pages! Let me just say that both boys are voracious readers on their own, but I really like reading out loud to them, too. We always have something we're working through together. Ellie reads to Jules. She used to read to Joel but he is bigger than her now and she just doesn't do it, anymore. She is currently reading the Series of Unfortunate Events books to Jules. She read them at his age and loved them. If you only saw the movie you got ripped. The movie was horrible. The books are hilarious.

Jeff is reading all of the Little House books to Camille. Farmer Boy was his favorite. He was diggin' it. Totally. He has been out of town in the Valley this week and comes home tonight. I need to call him and make sure he's got the music blaring, a cup of coffee in his hand, and is staying awake.

Jules is still waiting on me. With his rubber chicken. He "won" it for probably $20 in tokens at the arcade yesterday. He hasn't been able to put it down since he got it. He becomes obsessed with things - it is highly suspected that he has Asperger's but we haven't decided there is any benefit to a diagnosis (I'm up for listening to opinions on this, by the way). Anyway, so his rubber chicken lays an egg and does so in a fairly disgusting manner. It just aint a pretty sight.

This reminds me. This Saturday we'll be watching a free screening of Rikki Lake's documentary, The Business of Being Born. My friend, Diane, is showing it as a service of Go Baby Go, her store that specializes in cloth diapers and baby carriers. You can check out her website by clicking on the link to the right under "Places to Visit". OK - well, the Rikki Lake and rubber chicken connection is gross and crude. Sorry. But that is truly what it reminded me of :).

OK - did I mention that Jules is patient?

Sardine Mama

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not Quite Walden - but not so bad, either

Oh man, the dog days of summer are here and summer has just begun! Our fields are turning crunchy. Our tractor is currently in the shop and hopefully it will be back in time to start hauling hay to the cattle. Last summer was so unusual and we were spoiled....

But I am so much enjoying the slower pace summer has brought! Joel asked me yesterday if we had to go anywhere and I answered, "NO!" and it felt sooooo good. I picked up an inflatable water slide for the little ones and it was thrilling for about 5 minutes. Inflatable things, in general, do not do well with us. So we'll see.....
Today was a little more hectic. We had tae kwon do early in the morning, then off to a Girl Scout party at a mini-putt and arcade place, and then topped it off with a snow cone stop. Since we live out in the middle of nowhere, no trip is "little". I feel badly about the amount of gas we use.

My schedule last year was just insane. Truly. On Mondays we had Reader's Theater in the morning and Odyssey of the Mind in the Afternoon. On Tuesdays we had piano/guitar and library in San Antonio, then home for dance class and reflexology for Jules. Wednesdays were Girl Scouts. Thursdays, co-op. Fridays were piano and Odyssey. Plus all of the other things that life entails - shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and gardening.
Yesterday I took Ellie to her "job". She is being paid to bond and make friends with an adorable 2-year-old so that she can be there to keep him comfortable and secure when his mother gives birth (at home) to a new baby. She really enjoys his company. Anyway, I was able to write my column while she spent an hour with her little friend. Got that out of the way.
So next week's column is about blogging and how impressionable I am. I was looking at some blogs on an alternative parenting ring and came across a group of people who have milk cows and blog about it. So I casually mentioned to Jeff that I would like a milk cow. OMG - you would have thought I had said something outlandish! I didn't ask for an entire herd, just ONE little milk cow so I can have fresh raw milk and milk products. He laughed so hard and then continued to laugh in his sleep. What is so funny about me and a milk cow? What????

I brought it up again the next morning. "You know," he said between girlish giggles, "you'd have to actually milk it. Like every day. You know, go out and milk a cow."
"So?" I said. "I can learn to milk a cow."

This caused him to double over. Again, what is so funny?
To make him appreciate the feasibility of the idea, I told him about how I could also make cheese, butter....

He laughed harder.
I could do it. All that stuff you read about at the beginning of the blog? I'd have to let some of that go....hmmmm......or get up at 3:00 am.......
On the one hand, I would love to be one of those self-sufficient families (the kind you read about in blogs) who grow everything they eat, and spend their days just living simply and doing what needs to be done to get through the day. I think in our culture we spend so much time doing and very little time being. A friend of mine says, "we are human beings - not human doings". So true! Yet, I also love being out in the world so much. I love interacting with other people, getting out and seeing new places. I love being entertained. Yet, I feel like I'm missing out on so much by not making more of an effort at intentional living. I read Walden as a teen and it impacted me greatly. I wanted to go out into the woods and live deliberately. Or at least stay home and live deliberately (with a milk cow).
But the truth is that my children are going to flutter off into the world someday. And I'd like for them to have an idea of what its like. I don't want to shelter and isolate them.
I think I've found somewhat of a happy balance. We do live in the country and they spend a lot of their time outdoors. They know where food comes from. They know what crickets sound like on warm summer nights, singing with background music provided by a chorus of frogs from the ponds, and the thrilling and lonely sound of coyotes piercing the night. They've slept outside and felt the fog rolling in from the river, leaving its mist across their faces and the blades of the grass. They've tracked the moon and stars. They've caught fish with bait they also caught, and they've been able to do it while hanging out at their own pond all by themselves. They know the safety and joy of walking down a country road to get to the neighboring farm of their aunt and uncle. They've played in the rain and splashed in the puddles and bathed in the mud. They've run outside to meet a windy, blustery front that they could see approaching across the fields....they've held their arms open wide to welcome it as it ripped through their hair, literally knocking the wind out of them as they tried to yell into it. They've found nests of baby rabbits, captured armadillos and opossums, jumped with the frogs and toads, and learned to treat snakes with respect. They've seen grasshoppers devour our garden and they've seen garden spiders devour grasshoppers. They've gathered eggs and herded goats. They've seen calves born in the pasture and they've seen them die. All in all, maybe it isn't a completely deliberate life I'm giving them, but it isn't an unconscious one, either.
Of course, everything would be perfect if we had a milk cow.
Stop laughing.
Sardine Mama

Monday, June 23, 2008

Missing the Beautiful People

I had a great time at the Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference! Of course, it isn't like it would have taken all that much for me to have had a good time. I had a bed to myself, a bathroom that remained un-invaded during each and every use, and meals prepared for me! How great is that? It is sad, truly sad, that it takes so little to make me happy. I keep telling people that it doesn't take much to make me happy but they disagree. It turns out that I am incredibly, brilliantly right! (Again). I just live with difficult people who refuse to give me my own bed, bathroom, a gourmet meal, and proper recognition for my level of genius. I also came home to another proven scientific theory that is stated as thus:

Anytime one man is left alone for 2 days with 5 children the woman of the family will return home to tattooed children and freshly laundered pink towels and socks.

I made new friends and sat in on some great workshops. When I arrived on Friday I immediately attended a workshop by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest. He taught us how to pitch to an agent, which was most excellent as that is why I had come. I intended to pitch my book idea for Upstream Parenting. I made a new little friend in the form of Holly, who is a published author of children's books and an aspiring adult novelist. Holly and I hit the mixer together and it had the undeniable feel of a singles' bar. We all stood around with our programs containing the editors/agents' pictures and then gathered in tight little groups, scanning the crowd for agent meat. We encouraged each other to leave the safety of our little groups to approach the target and pitch our books. Holly was unstoppable and was responsible for my first successful pitch. The editor I talked to at the mixer is with Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. She was a doll; friendly and open and (most importantly) interested in my book! She asked for a proposal. I met many other writers and agents and headed off to dinner with another new friend, Sheri Bernstein. Sheri was pitching a novel and coffee table book series. Sheri is also an actor and kept me in stitches!

The next morning I attended a workshop on preparing non-fiction proposals with literary agent Ted Weinstein. This workshop let me know I was in the big leagues and I began to feel the first stirrings of "holy crap -what am i doing here?" A delicious lunch followed and there I met Nita Lou Bryant, of Austin. She and I have a lot in common and are both non-fiction writers. You can check out Nita's blog at The keynote speaker was Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly. After lunch Sherie introduced me to Marc Graham, an award-winning historical fiction novelist. You can visit Marc's website at At the cocktail party that night he was particularly handsome in his kilt!

In the afternoon I went up to the 4th floor to await my appointment with a literary agent from Full Circle Literary. Everything ran very smoothly and on time. My appointment went well and I felt very comfortable with the agent who sat through my pitch. In fact, I was thinking, "Man! She would be fun to work with!" And she is a new mom. She asked for a proposal of Upstream Parenting, and now I have to do it!!! This feels like the parenting journey, somewhat. You survive the pregnancy and birth only to find nothing is over at all. It is all just beginning! Now you've got a kid to raise. I feel like I survived the conception and the pitch, and now instead of feeling relief, I have the anxiety of knowing that now I have a book to write!

Sunday morning found me sitting in a workshop about using the social web and I was completely overwhelmed with the information. But I am going to try to learn more (in my amazing amount of spare time).

I arrived home to a melancholy scene. I had been forced to leave during a crisis, just as we discovered our new little puppy, Scout, had been attacked and killed by coyotes. Camille was devastated and I had to drive away screaming at Jeff, "For God's sake go out and get her a bunny RIGHT NOW!!" while tears streamed down my cheeks. Fortunately, Jeff did not do that. Camille is pouring all of her efforts into comforting Ranger, who undoubtedly witnessed his sister's tragic end. He is now in our house, which is not good because he is proving difficult to house train. But this morning as I sat here typing at about 6:30 - I heard a pack of coyotes beginning to howl, wrapping up a night's worth of hunting. So inside he shall stay, at least overnight.

Yesterday afternoon Ellie performed in the San Antonio International Piano Competition's Summer Showcase of Young Pianists. This is the third time she has been invited to play in the showcase. She played beautifully and it was a lovely afternoon. She performed the same Ginastera piece she played at her recent recital (which you can hear under "Bragging Time" on the right hand side of the blog). One of the lovely ladies attending the event thrilled Ellie afterwards with a story of her friendship with Ginastera, himself! We came home to find Joel had managed to end up with the exact same number of children he had started out with - always a plus. My dad took us all out to dinner and then I hit my bed with chapter ideas fighting for space in my head....

Well, Jasper is next to me having a ketchup meltdown. Jules put ketchup on his chicken instead of next to his chicken and this is a real emergency. He is trying to remedy it with a napkin but alas, it is becoming stuck to Jasper's chicken. And now we're out of ketchup. The universe, as we know it, could very well be coming to an end. Nothing like a ketchup catastrophe to bring me back down to earth. I am definitely home!

Sardine Mama

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dearest Sardine Mama : The Movie?

OK - I told them I'd do it someday! My bags are packed and I am kicking this can. Nobody believed I'd really leave.....
But I am ready to leave for the conference. And I know I said I wouldn't post until I got back. But a terrifying thought just occurred to me! (That's right - another one). I am going to be passing out cards with my blog address on them. What if SOMEBODY ACTUALLY READS THE BLOG? I mean, somebody besides my friends and the poor souls just trying to Google sardine recipes? What will they see? Will they see something awesome or amazing or interesting? No. They will see a picture of turkey bones and a description of our thrilling morning performing chemistry experiments. AAGGHH! Why couldn't my last post have been the one about the benefits of cannibalism? Why? I need to think up something quick. Something shocking. Something "Howard Sternish". I know! Some Mommy Bloggers go for the shock jock angle. about this? How about I say something like, "Breastfeeding in public disgusts me!!!" These types of statements get gazillions and trazillions of comments. Or how about, "The schools could all be fixed if we bring God and the Paddle back into the classrooms". What do you think of those? Pretty good?

Why am I doing this to myself, anyway? What could possibly come out of my writing a book about raising sardines? Well, for one thing - future revenue for the sardines. Seriously. Not from my book royalties, mind you. Theirs. Just think about the sheer volume of Mommy Dearest books my five kids can produce as soon as their little flippers are big enough to propel them onto the therapist's couch. You see what I mean? We're talking books AND the lecture circuit. We're talking Oprah. Ellie's probably writing hers already.

OK - I have my focus back. I'm going to the conference with confidence. I'm doing it for the kids.

Sardine Mama

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Raisins, Oatmeal, Brown Sugar, Potassium Manganese, and Hydrogen Sulfide

This what I woke up to this morning. Isn't it lovely? Yesterday, my vegetarian friend, Susan, asked if I would cook 3 turkey legs for her. I considered this a strange request, coming from her. She makes lots of strange requests, though, so I said, "Sure." It turns out she needed them for a science experiment for our Thursday co-op. So, last night, in addition to grilling the fish for our fish tacos, Jeff grilled 3 turkey legs. Getting the meat off of the bones was easy. We simply left them on the table when we went to bed and when we woke up whoa la! Clean as a whistle. Any food that is left out gets eaten by Joel and Jules. They are like buzzards or vultures, or something.
So, people often ask me what a typical homeschooling day is like for us. Of course, there is no typical day. But I can tell you what a Thursday is like! Thursdays are co-op days for us. There are only three families in our co-op and that is just the way we like it. It still feels like there are a million and a half kids running around! Two of the families are unschooling families, the other is a little more structured. I have found that we are becoming more and more structured in many ways, too. Since my two oldest children have set very specific goals regarding their educations, we are preparing for college. That has meant actual (gulp) schooling! Our co-op is helping to meet this need.

I think our group is really well-suited to teach certain areas and it has been a lot of fun for all of us. Susan is teaching the high school group (3 kids) Honors Chemistry, and Science to the middle kids. She has a strong science background and a graduate degree in something environmental : ). Michele used to teach Spanish and ESL and so all 3 levels of kids study Spanish with her. I teach history and English.

Below are some chemistry pics. Sometimes this class takes place outside, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the bathroom, the bedroom, etc. It is hilarious to watch them in all their safety garb with things bubbling here and there on the picnic table outside, while Susan yells at the dog so he doesn't wag his tail into the Bunsen Burner :). Or crowded into a small bathroom to watch something change color, bubble over, become solid, or any number of other things that so far, has not included exploding in any form. Today they were in my kitchen. Susan was, at one time, holding a beaker of something over the sink and explaining that it was toxic, while the little guys were right up next to her trying to make cookies : ). I'm pretty sure that was in violation of some kind of OSHA regulations. Here is Juliana wearing the homeschooler's version of "protection".

Ellie measures out something highly dangerous so it can react with something else highly dangerous and it was all very exciting. Then they read from the book to see what was supposed to happen next and then Susan is looking to see if it happened. I would love to tell you the result but I was too busy trying to keep Jasper from spitting into the cookie dough to pay attention.

This is an experiment from several months ago. I don't know what it was about but I like it because it is pretty : ).

Ellie doesn't like chemistry. The book they are using is pretty advanced and she is finding it difficult to understand. She simply is not used to having to learn things "just because". In her mind, she is not going to use this information and therefore there is no point in learning it. But the truth is that a good portion of conventional schooling involves learning things you don't really need or want to know - and she needs to get a taste of that since she plans on going to college. So the real lesson of this chemistry class isn't about balancing equations so much as it is about learning to do things because you have to, not because you want to. And that's a pretty good lesson at her age. And she's able to accept it and keep her goal in mind. She'll also be taking two more dual-credit college classes in the fall. She took one last fall and really enjoyed it. But I hate having a "schedule". At least they are both Internet courses and I don't have to physically have her in a certain place at a certain time. But last year's class (sociology) had lots of reading and writing so it simply took up some time. Poor Ellie, she has to live with such bad influences. We're always like, "Come on, Ellie! Let's go do this or that...." and she's like, "I can't just pick up and leave like you people! I have responsibilities, homework...." What a downer. When we're not trying to keep her from doing school work we're trying to ruin her future in music... "Stop banging on the piano! We're trying to watch American Idol!" Overcoming adversity - that's what will make her tough : ).

Today at co-op the middle kids learned about joints and bones. For an experiment, their thumbs were taped to their fingers so they couldn't effectively use them. Then they understood how many of our activities revolve around the idea that thumbs will be available! It was so tempting, while the tape was out, to tape those little mouths....but alas, we stuck with thumbs. They enjoyed it and strangely, were not excited about removing the tape when the time came. Joel, in the background, is still trying his best not to appear normal in any pictures. One of many annoying things he is doing, lately. His brother says it is because he is going through "pooberty".

The middle group also does Spanish and Ancient History. I teach the history course and I am continuously blown away by how much they know, already! Half the time when I am trying to "teach" them something they all start up with ,"Oh, yeah. I read about that. He ended up doing such and such...." or "I saw that on NOVA" or "I don't remember where I learned that." Today we talked about the Pharos Lighthouse of ancient Alexandria and how nobody knows what happened to it and all 3 boys start with how they recently heard it has been found and it is underwater and there are divers who have been exploring it blah blah blah..... How did they recently hear that? I didn't recently hear that. Here is a picture of them playing a Spanish game with Michele. Joel is AGAIN WITH THE FACES! Dang.

The Little Guys do reading/craft for about 10 minutes then Susan tries to keep them out of mine and Michele's hair. Then they do something with me (today it was nutrition and baking - in other words, cookie-making) for about 10 minutes and then I try to keep them out of Michele and Susan's hair. Then they do Spanish for about 5 seconds and Michele tries to keep them out of mine and Susan's hair. Jasper spent a good portion of the morning banished to the porch. He has taken to banishing himself, lately. (I want to be banished! Why won't anyone ever banish me?) When Jasper is throwing things or spitting (his two favorite past times) it is strongly recommended that he go to the porch for awhile. Here is a photo of the little cooks sans Jasper, who was out on the porch filling his apron with dirt and spitting on it.

The high schoolers also do Spanish with Michele and I currently have them writing from SAT essay prompts. We are also doing the Great Books program which I LOVE! And we try to throw in some cultural lessons (we have learned about Israel and Judaism and recently delved into Islam) and during lunch we study Greek and Latin root words. We used to do yoga but that basically consisted of the teenagers laughing at the adults while Jasper spit at us and threw things at us. This was not good for our self-esteem so we quit.

Well, tomorrow I head to the Texas Writer's League Conference. Two whole nights in a bed by myself! Eating meals where I can actually swallow something and be aware of it! Nobody is going to throw anything at me for an entire weekend! Aw shucks. I'm gonna miss them :(. I probably won't be blogging for a couple of days because I'll be busy embarassing myself at the conference. But I promise to blog about it when I get back!

Sardine Mama

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sound Sleeping

I successfully extracted myself from bed this morning - YAY! An unsuccessful extraction is when everyone in the bedroom awakens WITH me, or BEFORE me. I say "everyone" because it is a rare night that we sleep alone. Hence, the gigantica king-sized bed.

We didn't start out with a family bed. We started out with a crying baby in a crib and two frightened, anxious, and sleep-deprived (and OK -sometimes crying) parents in a bed down the hall. 16 years ago everyone in our circle of influence said it was "bad" to have a baby in bed with you. "You'll NEVER get them out!" they said. As new parents, our reaction to that was, "Oh my gosh! How horrible!" We didn't stop to think of the ridiculousness of that statement. And I did, indeed, have a friend who had given in and brought her baby to bed and she was, indeed, having a horrible time getting him out. It appeared that the worst had happened to her - he would be sleeping with her for the rest of her life. This was the topic of much discussion. Of course, he wasn't even two, yet. But everyone knows that our habits and behaviors are set in stone at the age of two, so you can understand her distress, right? The fact that he was still in a diaper didn't have everyone fretting that he would wear one to college. That particular concern wouldn't set in for another 6 months or so:).

By the time our 3rd was born several things had changed.

1) We had moved into a smaller house and the baby didn't have a nursery.

2) We had basically quit trusting parenting experts

3) We tried to do what would get the most people in the house the most amount of sleep

4) **This is the most important** We knew people who were supportive of co-sleeping and allowed them to be our new sphere of influence.

Result??? A happy baby who never cried at night, a rested set of parents, siblings who slept undisturbed. Shouldn't this kinda sorta be the desired outcome of a successful night of family slumbering? Here is a pic of Camille holding a friend's new baby, Galileo. If you ask Camille what to do when a baby cries, she says, "Pick him up!" What one earth else would you do?

Why do babies cry at night? Here is my opinion (and I do not claim to be an expert - this is my opinion as a mommy).

Because they are alone. Because child development experts say over and over again that a unique baby worldview contains the "out of sight, out of my world" phenomena. What this means is that if you move a ball out of Baby's line of vision, Baby believes the ball is "gone for good" until you put it back where she can see it. So, let's say you put Baby in a crib, turn out the light, and walk away. What does Baby think? That you have simply gone away. That there is a possibility that you, the source of food, safety, and comfort, are gone. GONE. So when babies are alone, they truly believe they might be dying. Their survival instinct says, "Cry! Make some noise! You are helpless!" And so the baby cries to attract attention to herself. Maybe another protector will find her and she'll be saved. This is why babies cry when we leave the room and stop crying when we come back in. When we come back in, they are so thrilled to see us because they literally did not know if we were coming back, or not. They are neurologically unable to know this. When we go back out again, their entire future, in their eyes, is bleak and possibly hopeless. They are helpless beings who know they are helpless. It is true that babies can be "trained" to sleep on their own. They either develop the ability to understand that gone does not mean gone, or they simply give up. I'm not sure which it is.

Here's a beautiful quote about co-sleeping:
This generation of mothers labors under (the) dubious pronouncement that babies sleep best in isolation. Every infant knows better. His protest at nocturnal solitude contains the wisdom of millennia. --Thomas Lewis, M.D., A General Theory of Love

For information regarding the safety and benefits of co-sleeping, go to http//

I do not think that every family needs to function the same way. I do not believe every parent needs/wants/can sleep with their children. There are many many wonderful human beings walking around who were allowed to cry in their cribs and who do not suffer ill effects. Obviously, what is really important is that children feel loved and valued and there are many ways to show love and value. Most people do what they feel is best for their children. Most people love their children every bit as much as I love mine. For me, listening to a baby cry is very hard. I literally suffer "fight or flight" feelings. So bringing a baby into my bed is the much easier choice. I do not have what it takes to train a baby.

I think it is spectacular today that young parents have so many choices and so many avenues for gaining support for their choices. If your doctor doesn't support co-sleeping or thinks it is a bad idea, you can just go home and inquire on the Internet about attachment-friendly doctors. I feel it is my role to not hide my parenting from the mainstream. When people see that mothers do wear their babies, they do breastfeed toddlers (and beyond), they do allow freedom of expression from their children - then they might question "truths" they are told about what it means to be a good parent. They just might say, "Hey, there are choices here. There seems to be many ways to put a baby to sleep, or feed a baby, or transport a baby....I will do what is best for me and my family. If what I feel is best is not what those in my circle believe is best, I will expand my circle."

Well, I am off of my soapbox for awhile. And since I have a hungry, whining kid running around who is obviously not getting his needs met, I will not be winning any Mother of the Year awards anytime, soon. THAT is for sure.

Last night we had homemade pizzas for dinner - using homemade tomato paste, of course! They were beautiful. Here is the recipe for the crust, which has no white flour in it at all.

This makes 4 pizzas - so reduce the recipe according to your needs.

4 cups of warm water
3 packs of yeast
8 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup of wheat germ
4 tsp salt
3 Tablespoons of honey
Mix yeast and warm water, let sit for 15 minutes. Mix together flour and wheat germ and salt. Make a well in the center and add honey and water/yeast. Stir and then mix together with your hands. Let rise about 30 minutes and then split into 4 equal portions and spread out on pizza pans. Spread sauce and vegetables/meat on crust and bake for 15 minutes at 350. Remove pizzas and add cheese (and tomatoes if you want them). Return to oven and bake for 10 more minutes. Add fresh basil leaves and slice.

This was a disappointing find in the dryer, this morning. No money. Just a feather and a Lincoln log.
Sardine Mama

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cows in the Field and Butterflies in the Stomach

It hit 99 again, yesterday, and no rain in sight. YUCK. Last summer was so mild and it spoiled us. By the time we kick back for 4th of July our fields are going to be brown and crunchy. So, in the meantime, I am trying to let my eyes soak up all the green they can. This is the view from my front porch this morning.

It is so hot that the kids are pretty much staying indoors. This is hard on them and me! The splashy pool has already lost its appeal - not that it was ever all that appealing. Any chores that need to be done around here need to be done early in the morning or early in the evening. Since early in the morning is considered strange, unusual, and unpleasant for several of the chore-doers, early evening has been the time of choice. Last night the boys were cutting down corn stalks and feeding them to the cows. They were not dressed for the job - both in shorts and Jules was actually barefoot. I fussed at them while shooting the pics. Dusk is rattlesnake time....of course.
So far the only place I have seen a rattlesnake this summer has been on my screened-in patio, curled up on the tile. He was thoughtful enough to rattle when I opened the door. I couldn't immediately identify the sound and stood there quizzically for a moment while every cell in my body said, "Bad sound. Freeze." Then I screamed like a girl and slammed the door. I called Jeff, who was in Austin and he told me to kill it. Ha! I called David, who is my somewhat neighbor and stand-in husband when Jeff is out of town and tires need changing, goats' heads need removing from fence holes, and snakes need killing.
David HATES snakes. He wanted to know if he could shoot it. Did I mention it was on my tiled patio?? I don't know what he did, exactly, because I didn't watch. I am never going to be one of those country wives who can just go run and grab a shotgun or a hoe. T'aint gonna happen.
I know one of those wives, though. Shortly after we moved back here, I met her through the local MOMS Club I formed. I was invited to her house for a playgroup playdate. I was used to the little playgroup I'd had in my suburban neighborhood in the city. And here I was driving WAY out into the middle of nowhere on miles and miles of dirt roads to locate her house. After driving over several cattle guards I arrived at my friend's home. And there she stood, greeting guests, none of whom seemed to be slightly concerned that she was holding a shotgun!
"Hello," I said.
"Hi! Would you like some iced tea?" she replied.
"No thanks. Somebody getting married?" I asked while nodding towards the gun.
"Oh my gosh! You are so funny! No, I just killed a couple of rattlesnakes just before you drove up. We have lots of little ones coming today. Safety first!!"
I tried to imagine my former city playgroup members uttering "safety first" while holding a locked and loaded shotgun they had just fired. I gave up after a brief moment. I LOVE COUNTRY GIRLS!! I just wish I could be one : ).
This is a picture of Miss Joyce, chewing on a corn stalk. She is about to pop. She is the last heifer we are waiting on to calve.

And here is Jeff, supervising in his signature outfit - boots and shorts.

Speaking of my kids and getting up early (wasn't I speaking of that earlier?)....a year ago I drove a van load of homeschooled teens up to Michigan for the Odyssey of the Mind World Tournament. We left early in the morning, and it wasn't quite light out. As we drove one of the boys said, "Look! There are people standing by the side of the road! What are those people doing out in the middle of the night??"
To which I replied, "Those are children and they're waiting for the school bus."
They sat in stunned silence for several moments. I know what they were thinking. "There but for the grace of God..."
Well, I have reached the final stage of panic over this upcoming weekend. At least I hope it is the final stage. I read some articles on how to pitch to an agent and they have scared the crap out of me. Advice on attending the conference included, but was not limited to, the following:
1) Don't be the weird guy.
2) Don't stalk or corner agents - it scares them.
3) Corner agents.
4) Don't be aggressive.
5) Be aggressive.
6) Don't get drunk (unlikely - it is a cash bar).
7) Get a pedicure if you're wearing sandals as apparently cracked heels will break a book deal.
8) Look professional. (Like a professional what? I haven't looked professional in a long long time. And now I've gained most of my weight back which is another post, let me tell you. I had to buy a new outfit but truly could only find one and I can't wear it all three days.)
9) Have business cards ready to pass out (I don't).
10)Have your manuscript market-ready (its not).
11)Mingle mingle mingle (I hate to mingle when everyone else is mingling! I prefer to wait until they're all done and then mingle at my own pace.)
Oh, there is more but I can't even get into all of it. There are over 300 writers and just a few agents. It is the "meet and greets" that are making me the most nervous. I picture myself walking into the school cafeteria holding my tray as the new kid. Everyone else is going to be dressed better, weigh less, be much much taller, and have completed manuscripts. They're all going to know each other. They're going to be witty without being silly, aggressive without being overbearing, brilliant, beautiful, etc. Of course, I know a bunch of writers and they don't tend to be these people but maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I hope they don't all have a buddy. My buddies couldn't come. I want a buddy. I would feel better with a buddy.
Let's end this thing on a positive note, shall we? How about a recipe? I don't feed tuna to my kids because of the mercury content and a show we saw on dolphins getting trapped in nets that made us all hysterical. So I make salmon salad and the kids love it - even Jasper and Camille! I have pics to prove it!

I buy the red salmon in a can. Drain it and add mayonnaise, sweet relish, hard-boiled eggs, and red onion. I also add cottage cheese. It adds flavor, protein, and stretches the salad to feed my brood. I just put a serving spoon or so in. We eat it on crackers, lettuce leaves, or whole wheat bread. It is also good in wraps. Enjoy!

Sardine Mama
PS I just noticed on my site meter that I have a few folks in Georgia reading my blog. I love Georgia! Beautiful state.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Going Up on Father's Day

Happy Father's Day! I would put a picture of my padre on the blog but he is terrified of attracting stalkers with his excessive good looks.

Business First: I made a quick little change to one of my links. My good friend has an outstanding business that provides a wonderful service by offering a wide variety of cloth diapers, soft-soled baby shoes, and various baby carriers. The business is called Go Baby Go. I happily put her link on my site, only when I clicked on it I discovered a website for a dating service (at least I hope that's all it was!). Yikes! This is a family show! I now have the CORRECT link on the right.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program : ). When I asked Jeff what he wanted to do for Father's day he said he wanted to grill something and watch basketball. But I think Father's Day should be somehow distinguishable from every other Sunday so we didn't do that : ). Actually, we ended up heading to Houston for a very enjoyable overnight stay. Ellie was asked to participate in a panel discussion on Performance Anxiety at a Music Teachers' (TMTA) Convention. So our entire family went. We stayed at the Doubletree Hotel in the Galleria district. It was a really nice hotel and the pool was awesome. We didn't attract too much attention even though Jasper's suit was held up with a diaper pin (see photo below) and Camille's suit (from last year) was worn "wrestler style" with both nipples showing. Oh well. I can only stay on top of so much.

We were on the 22nd floor, which was thrilling for the little guys. Elevators are pretty cool even if they only go up 1 or 2 floors....these went way high! Our elevator experiences went pretty much like this:

Little Kids: "Elevators! Elevators! I want to push the button! I'm gonna push the button! Let me push the button! Get out of my way so I can push the button!" They yelled these words while running full-speed ahead, elbows out in the offensive position necessary to ward off siblings who were also trying to get to the button. When they got to the elevators they collapsed in a heap of knees and elbows, rising every now and then in an attempt to reach the button, only to be pulled under again. If a stranger didn't walk up at this point and casually push a button, one of the teens did it with a smirk. This caused total mayhem for the little ones but only until the elevator arrived, at which point they screamed, "Let me on, I'm gonna push the button!" and elbowed and pushed their way onto the elevator without a clue as to which button to push while I desperately tried to prevent them from pushing them all. The before-mentioned heap often happened at the foot of the button panel, at which point a stranger or teen casually pushed the button, smirking. That's ok because then the elevator started to move and this was exciting enough to cause the little ones to scream,"We're moving! We're moving! Yay! Hooray! We're stopping! We're stopping! Let me off! Let me off! I want to use the key card! Get out of my way! I'm going to use the key card!" At which point Jeff and I yelled, "Don't get off don't get off don't get off don't get off don't get off!" while Jasper got off and Jeff jumped out and grabbed him and got back on again. Did I mention we were on the 22nd floor? So we did this like 21 times.

Our room experience went like this:

Little kids: "Let me use the key let me use the key let me use the key! I can't use the key I can't use the key I can't use the key! I'm not giving up the key I'm not giving up the key I'm not giving up the key!!" until Jeff wrenched away the key and unlocked the door at which point they all ran in and started screaming, "A bed! I get a bed! A TV! Turn on the TV! Open the fridge! I want to pee! I want to take a bath! Look! Bottles of water! I want water! This is my water....." and Jeff said, "Nooooooooo.....ooooooooooo........ooooooohhhhhhhh" and then we heard "psssss" as the seal on the free bottle of water was popped, instead of the $4.50 Fiji, which Jeff then put way up high.

The sleeping arrangements left only half of the kids happy. Both teens were begging to sleep on the floor but Ellie had to sleep with Camille who was very very very very very excited and unable to sleep : ). The beds (but not the fold-out couch according to Ellie) were very comfortable. All the kids received free backpacks full of goodies when we checked out.

The panel discussion went very well and all 4 of the teens participating did a great job answering questions. AJ Thompson, of the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio, was the facilitator of this session and it was well-attended by convention participants. After it was over I really wanted to stay and watch the next event in that room, which was a workshop on music and special needs kids that included piano performances by several excited students. But by then Jeff and the other 4 had found us. Jasper screamed, "I rode THAT ride two times!" And guess what he pointed to? A glass elevator. They did that just for fun while they were waiting for our session to end. They had also been to a park and had walked around downtown and were hot and tired. We headed to a pizzeria and then out for ice cream. The trip home was, as is often the case, rougher than the trip up. Camille had called shotgun for a captain's seat, which left the 3 bigger kids in the backseat together. This would have been okay except for the fact that Camille kept turning around and taunting the 10-year-old who had missed out on yelling shotgun. Eventually, this was remedied by putting her in the back and the 10-year-old in the captain's seat. This would have been okay except for the fact that the 10-year-old then turned around and taunted his sister. There was way too much taunting going on.

This pic is Jules suffering taunting at the hands of his little sister in the seat in front of him. She NEVER beats the boys at yelling shotgun and she was literally beside herself. This was her downfall and what ultimately booted her out of the captain's seat. Jules' other sister looks to be somewhat enjoying it. But really she is just doing her "isn't this fun?" look.
Jeff finally lost it and threatened punishment. Camille's answer to that was, "We don't BELIEVE in punishments!" to which her father replied, "No, your mother doesn't believe in punishments and it is Father's Day." He said this in the way Jack Nicholson says, "Here's Johnny" in The Shining. Everyone settled down at this point but then Jasper said he needed to throw up. I gave him a box that the chips that had made him nauseated had come in and he spent the rest of the ride home spitting in the box and being disappointed in his inability to put the cherry on the sundae with some well-timed vomit.

All in all - it was a very pleasant Father's Day. I am totally serious. This is the stuff life is made of.

We have arrived home to the continuing tomato invasion, some excited puppies, and a letter from the Texas Writer's League Conference stating that I have an appointment with my 1st choice agent! This was surprising to me because I did not register early. I get 10 whole minutes with her and this is going to be difficult for me. She is from San Antonio but now lives in San Diego. She has a marketing background. I'm going to have to resist my natural urge to find out where she grew up, where she went to school, if I have any friends who are friends with her mother.....(she is probably half my age).....if she is she married, if she has any pets.....blah blah blah. But I can't waste a minute! I've got to "pitch" myself and my book. The reason I picked her is because she is interested in taking on parenting topics and issues relating to women. My book is not "market ready" - but I'm hoping for a "get it together and send me something...." I understand that is the best outcome at these types of events - nobody actually gets signed. She is also interested in writers' blogs so hopefully over the next week I will get a zillion hits on my blog and can say, "see? people will read what I write...." That means either the tomatoes or the kids need to do something pretty exciting this week. I need an editor and a branding plan.....

Blah. How much weight can I lose in a week?

Sardine Mama
PS It has just been brought to my attention that Jeff looks a little like Jack Nicholson in the pool photo (minus the ax)
PPS...Hey -Spunky Mama - LOVE THE DREDS! Gotta see 'em up close!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pets and the Therapeutic Benefits of Canibalism

Below is another charming aspect of life in the country. This occupied the kids for awhile. I'm pretty sure it is poisonous.

OK - I have a friend who is often stating the obvious. And it is apparently a necessary compulsion if you're going to be friends with ME. Last night Jeff was on a business trip so my friend and her kids came over for dinner. She was reading my blog and she goes, " for the toilet seat ads being related to the content of your blog? You thank people for visiting the can." And I'm like, "So?"
"So, what makes that funny?"
"Well, visit the can. The can - you know - its a toilet - OH I GET IT!"
Man, I hate it when that happens. This particular friend used to work at NASA and not as a janitor, either. She had something to do with the design of the International Space Station. I'd tell you what but she's never really bothered to explain it to me seeing as how she's so busy explaining obvious things like the connection between "can" and "toilet". She took almost all of my tomatoes (and 2 of my kids) with her but other monsters were out there ripening on the vine just as fast as they could. I imagined one of the big "butt" tomatoes as the ringleader yelling, "Come on boys! We can't lose our lead! Her kitchen counters are almost cleared of our comrades! Intensify your efforts and focus!" Then they all started turning red, I'm sure. I imagine I'll meet them later this morning.
Yesterday I took our puppies to the vet for their second round of shots. We constantly have people dumping dogs out here in the country. This is quite a problem. We usually find homes for the dogs or take them to a dog rescue. But we kept 2 of the 4 puppies who were dumped here a little over a month ago. They look to be part Cow Dog and part Australian Sheep Hound. They are really cute and have very calm personalities. This is necessary. The calm part. Because I cannot handle anymore hysteria than I already get on a daily basis around here. The dogs are named Ranger and Scout. I had to approve the names. I'm not thrilled with Ranger and Scout as it reminds me of Bruce and Demi (their kids are Rumer and Scout) but I could not handle another pet named Brownie, Blackie, Whitey, Pinky, etc. Talk about stating the obvious! The kids always named their pets according to their colors.

Joel and Jules are rodent lovers and had 2 gerbils, once. Blackie met a horrific fate when he was stepped on by Hunter, one of the boys' friends. He didn't die but was partially paralyzed. That was a sad and depressing sight. He lived quite a long time in this condition and the boys still played with him all the time. He didn't appear to be uncomfortable at all and I suspect he had no feeling. But oh man that little rat could dampen an otherwise happy atmosphere by dragging his little legs behind him. And I can't begin to describe the guilt Hunter lived with. Anyway, Blackie eventually died but it was after an average gerbil lifespan. His partner, however, Witey Wotsun, (my boys are phonetic spellers), lived to be like a trillion gerbil years-old. He was ancient and looked every minute of it but all his limbs worked until the day he died. When he finally passed away the boys were devastated for a few minutes but then became very enthusiastic about the funeral. They decided on a Viking theme and Witey Wotsun was buried in his little house with all of his personal belongings stuffed in there with him for the trip to the After Life. In lieu of flowers, the boys requested a guinea pig.
Anyway - back to the dogs. They are bothering our other dog, Schnitzel (who was also dumped out here 12 years ago) because she is THE QUEEN. She is part wiener dog and part something with a really big neck, making it impossible for her to keep a collar on because her head is so much smaller than her neck. She understands every word of the English language. She considers Joel's and Jules' room to be her room. If her food bowl is empty and she's looking at me, I tell her, "Don't look at me. Go talk to your brother." And then she goes and stares at Jules who eventually gets up and feeds her. She is THE BIG DAWG when it comes to rodent killing and, living on a farm, this is a great characteristic in a dog, especially since we have a cat who has never even walked fast, much less chased anything. The boys have explained to Schnitzel about their pet rodents. She doesn't trust the guinea pigs, but she is nothing if not loyal to The Joels, so she doesn't mess with them. She often throws them looks, though. You can tell she's thinking, "You are soooooo lucky. If it weren't for these boys watching over you....." Notice how she is the only dog inside on a fluffy pillow?

Ellie isn't much into animals. She refuses to eat them but that is about as close as she gets to being an animal lover. But one time she decided to adopt some hamsters from a friend. The critical word here is "some". As in two supposedly boys. One of them predictably turned out to be a girl and we very soon found ourselves overrun by dwarf hamsters. We had a cage in every room. It took us months to find enough victims (I mean pet lovers) to take them all.

I remember going into my laundry room one time to wash yet another load and I was thinking how my life consisted of nothing but laundry and dishes. I heard a little squeak from the hamster cage on my folding counter (I told you we had them in every room) and there was the latest new mother. She was literally hanging from the bars of her cage. I kid you not. She was hanging by her little hands and 3 babies were hanging off of her chest while the others ran around beneath her feet waiting for her to drop. I was still breastfeeding at the time and Jasper was wrapped around my leg begging for "na-na" while I held a load of dirty clothes in my arms. The hamster and I locked eyes. We shared a silent moment of deep connection. We were both frantic. I often felt like climbing the walls and certainly would have been hanging from my ceiling had it been physically possible.

The next day I went into the laundry room and peeked in at my rodent sister. She looked happy and peaceful. She was lying in her little nest with a grin on her face and I swear she had a margarita in one hand and a book in the other. Her feet were crossed. She yawned and stretched...."Hey!" I yelled. "Where are your kids?"

She looked at me as if to say innocently, "What kids?"

That's right. SHE ATE THEM.

And that's when I realized that there was only one way to achieve rest and relaxation under my current circumstances. And quite frankly, I just didn't have the appetite for it : ).

Sardine Mama

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On to the Next Obsession!

This is going to be very short and sweet. Major breakthrough last night. While he was sleeping, Google performed a miracle for Jeff. The video uploaded! I awoke this morning to the rather tinny sound of Ellie's performance coming from Jeff's laptop in the study. (Yes, it was the first thing he checked when he woke up.) He had to rename it - Google didn't like the name. So here is the link! After all the blood, sweat, and tears! So WATCH it already!!!
Sardine Mama

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Food Issues and Uploading Obsession

I have bragged about performances by my daughters. It is time to brag about my boys. They like to play PS2. They are good at it. I am going to drag in some folding chairs, watch them battle it out on some game, and then we will all rise and politely applaud and serve punch and take pics (which I will post later - I promise).

Well there is still no piano link to take you to Ellie's performance. Actually, the "oh my gosh you have to see my kid she is so unbelievably awesome" obnoxious desire to brag has waned. But, Jeff is horrifically OBSESSED with successfully uploading the file. He has the ability to completely lose himself in a task. He could sit through a hurricane doing a "task". And this is his new task. He is spending every spare moment on it. He has uploaded the file a zillion times. He is now supposed to wait 2 days to see if it turns up. I'm not sure he can do that.

I have had my 2nd night in a row making an awesome dinner! It is sad that this is so exciting. But it is! I am so rocking awesome! This doesn't always happen. The intent is there but often I get sidetracked or overwhelmed or busy or something and dinner turns into black bean tacos (favorite standby). But last night I made an awesome spaghetti sauce with our homegrown tomatoes, including the uncontaminated romas we are growing : ). I have never made homemade spaghetti sauce using fresh tomatoes and what a difference it made! It was soooooo good! I was inspired to look at ketchup recipes and I am sad to say I will not be making ketchup. The recipe included directions on how to peel, seed, strain, and squeeze tomatoes. Zillions of tomatoes. To obtain less ketchup than Camille and Jasper consume in a single fish stick frenzy. But the tomatoes keep coming.

Yesterday for lunch the kids and I had Tofacon (tofu bacon), lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Tonight I made a really good Mexican salad. Everyone liked it except for Camille and Jasper, who basically don't like anything I cook. The Joels would eat rocks if I put it on their plates. Ellie will eat anything that never housed a soul or held consciousness. But the two little ones are stinkers. Jasper constantly says he's hungry and he must be because he never eats anything. When he was a newborn our regular doc was not in the office so we saw Dr. Uptight, instead. Then we just kept seeing him but I don't know why because he upset me and I seemed to upset him. But anyway, at a certain point he was concerned that Jasper wasn't eating solid food. He wanted him to eat solid food much earlier than we believe is necessary or beneficial for our kids. So we went back and forth on it. Dr. Uptight insisted that Jasper would have a hard time adjusting to solids if I didn't "introduce" them. As in "Solid food, this is Jasper. Jasper, this is solid food." I thought this was insane. I imagined a forty-year old bald guy sitting at a business luncheon on a liquid diet because he'd never been properly introduced to solid food. Like that could happen. Anyway, Jasper is now 4 and begs for Kefir (yogurt-type drink) and regularly spits out solid food in little "hiding spots" which are extremely unpleasant to discover, let me tell you. If it is something he doesn't like he'll let it sit in his mouth, and say, "I can't swallow it!" while drooling profusely and looking for some place to spit it out. This makes his father turn to me and say, "Dr. Uptight told you this would happen." Dang Dr. Uptight. Jasper can swallow just fine when he's dealing with a cache of candy out of a Halloween bucket or an Easter basket. He can also get down on fish sticks. I'm not sure there is any fish in fish sticks. I do not know what they are. I know they're not considered a health or whole food : ) But the boy can knock them down with a bottle of ketchup. I guess that will be slightly more acceptable at a business luncheon....

The Joels like to eat anything they think might gross someone out. Raw oysters? Love them. Caviar? Love it. Sushi? Especially the eel. Liver? You betcha. They are enthusiastic calamari consumers. As for everything else, they eat that, too. And lots of it. Today I made a veggie dip out of ricotta cheese blended with ranch dressing. Camille and Jasper were complaining bitterly and just eating their jicama plain (well Jasper was holding his in his mouth and drooling). I kept telling them it was good. "Look at the boys! They're eating it!" Then I tasted it and gagged. I can't believe they ate it. What spurred this culinary experiment was an article I was reading about feeding kids healthy snacks. We're pretty good at healthy but sometimes we need to try new things. But the ricotta dip made every other suggestion seem highly questionable to me. But we are going to try making microwave popcorn tomorrow using a paper bag, Pam, and popcorn kernels. I'll let you know how that works. I don't like them to eat microwave popcorn. I know the popcorn factory workers who have developed black lung disease from inhaling the bag fumes inhaled A LOT of it - but I can't believe that anything that causes black lung disease is good for you in any amount. Call me crazy.

OK - I have to stop blogging. Jeff has just come in and said he is has a problem. He admits he is obsessed with uploading the video. He tried again and doesn't think it went through. He hasn't slept since the recital. I'm encouraged, though. Admitting you have a problem is the first step...

Let me get to the recipes real quick, though!
Spaghetti Sauce

You need a TON of tomatoes. Enough to coarsely dice and fill up your pot about 3/4 full.

Bring to a boil and continue to lightly boil over a medium flame until it is cooked down and as thick as you want it. It took me about 3 hours or so.

Cook onion, garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil until tender. When tomatoes are reduced, add the other vegetables and chopped fresh basil and oregano. Now comes the important part - dinner is almost ready. This means it is around 5:30 which is the worst time of day with cranky kids and messy house and dead-dog tired mama, etc. Find a corkscrew and proceed to destroy and mutilate the cork on a bottle of cheap Italian table wine, preferably the kind with at least 13% alcohol content. Pour desired amount into the spaghetti sauce and bring to a boil to evaporate the alcohol. Since the cork is destroyed, locate a large wineglass, tumbler, or mug and partake of the remaining wine : ). Enjoy!

Mexican Salad (I made this up and it is so good!)

Cook 1 cup of brown rice (1 cup uncooked). While it is simmering cut up 2 or 3 tomatoes, half of a red onion, and a handful of cilantro. Put in a bowl and add a can of black beans, a can of kidney beans, and a can of corn. Add the tomatoes, onion and cilantro. Press a clove of garlic onto the mixture and stir. Refrigerate. When rice is finished cooking, let cook and then refrigerate. Next mix 1 1/2 cups of sour cream with 1/4 cup of a fruity salsa (I used a peach salsa) and you can add a tablespoon or so of some kind of preserves (I used apricot). Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of chili powder and a dash of hot sauce. When you are ready to put dinner on the table, mix all of the chilled ingredients (rice/beans/dressing) together. Serve over lettuce and sprinkle with shredded cheese. YUM! Camille ate it and liked it. Jasper just drooled. Oh well.

Check back for the video tomorrow! And just to whet your appetite and tease your curiosity, next week's newspaper column is about frozen dog poop. Exciting, right?

Sardine Mama
PS I just scanned this blog and I used the word "awesome" an awesome number of times. I am so awesomely tired.

PPS Google is advertising toilet seats on my blog again : ) Truly - what have I mentioned to attract the toilet ad? Oh my gosh! Could it be "frozen poop?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Entertainment on Stage and Drama in the Milk Aisle

Well - we are in performance mode in this house! Camille danced her heart out on Friday and Ellie played her heart out on Sunday. She performed in the MACSA Awards Recital. Joel babysat again. Poor baby. He is trying to pay off his debts to us but we are like the credit card companies and are hiding the truth that he can never ever ever pay it off! He will go to his grave owing us big time! Mwaaa Haaa Haaa Haaaa (that is my evil laugh).

Anyway, I had pretty much tried to ignore Ellie all day because when she is nervous she makes me nervous and then I make her nervous and you get the picture. Anyway, so I had stayed out of her way all day and I'm pretty sure she was grateful. When we arrived at the location we were early. We're not used to this. We walked in on the end of another recital in progress. We thought we had missed it! Jeff and Ellie immediately looked at ME of course. (I hate being the one in charge but I cannot find anyone to take over for me.) I whispered to a woman "What time did this start?" and she said, "4:30 - it is almost over". I told her I had thought it started at 6:00 and she informed me that another one did, indeed, begin at 6:00. YAY! Another catastrophe avoided.

Ellie chose to sit far, far, far away from me. Did I mention we make each other nervous? I knew Ellie needed to play well - not because people were watching or expecting anything of her - but because she has recently had a few bad runs with memory lapses and freezes on stage and during competitions (all of this music is memorized). She REALLY needed to get through a piece without this happening so she could get her confidence back.

The kids who performed in this recital are all amazing kids. Two of them earned Young Artist Awards, identifying them as being among the best musicians in Texas. Two of them earned Artist Awards, identifying them as being among the best musicians in the US - if not the world. In fact, one of the kids is a 15-year-old who truly is one of the best in the world. When he finished performing, his teacher explained that we would probably never again hear that particular piece played by a 15-year-old, as it is one of the hardest pieces for piano ever composed. So it was a great night with wonderful music and some inspiring (and really nice) kids and Ellie nailed her piece. In the photo below, Ellie is on the left. It was nice of Katie, on the far right, to wear a coordinating dress : ).

This is Ken and AJ Thompson - both extremely talented piano teachers at the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio. Ken is Ellie's teacher and she loves him.

We filmed it with our Olympus digital camera (we don't own a video camera). It will shoot up to 12 minutes of video and we feel that is enough because we have never seen anybody's videos that we wanted to watch longer than 12 minutes. Anyway - this was the first time we had ever filmed her playing. Obviously, the sound quality isn't great but it is good enough to be able to tell she is playing more than chopsticks. I spent the ENTIRE day yesterday (well not entire - I exaggerate units of time due to an impatient personality) trying to upload the video to the blog. IT MADE ME CRAZY. Jeff finally had to get involved and he figured it out. It was too big. We have to upload it somewhere else and then provide a link.

Jeff told me how to do it when he left this morning. He spoke really slowly and clearly like he always does when he talks to me about technical things and I heard this, "waaa blah schma lee for to waa meee quaahhhh, understand?"

"Yeah, do I look stupid to you?"

"I didn't say you look stupid. waaa blah schmee schma fluuu fraaa baaa ta. Get it?"

"Sure, I got it. that's not hard."

"Good. And then you've got to meee schmeee blah wah fah so la ti do. Okay? Do you think you can do that?"


So when he gets home Jeff will add the link.

We are out of tomato soup and today I am going to make homemade spaghetti sauce. We are also looking for a ketchup recipe. All the ketchup we can find has high fructose corn syrup (unless we get the organic, which is expensive, and my kids drink ketchup like milk). Speaking of milk, yesterday I was in the grocery store and bought 4 gallons of milk. I noticed at the checkout that one of them was leaking. So a girl went off to get me another one. I finished checking out and then I waited for her to come back with my milk. And waited. And waited. And waited....."Hey!" I called to the checker. "Shouldn't she be back by now?"

"Huh? What? Who are you? I've never seen you before in my life."

"I'm waiting on my milk."

Blank expression.

"Remember? My milk was leaking? She went to get me some?"

Blank expression.

I waited and waited and waited. She finally returned. With whole milk.

"Oh, I didn't buy whole milk. I bought 1%."

"We're out of the milk you bought."

"Well, I don't want this whole milk."

Blank stare.

"Hey!" I yelled to the checker. "I already paid for my leaky milk and you're out of the kind I want."

"Do I know you? Have I ever seen you before?" much more time did I want to invest in this? I looked at the milk runner girl and she literally bolted away from me like a rabbit.

"Wait a minute! Come back! I don't want this!"

She was gone.

I walked to the milk section, grabbed a gallon of another (more expensive) brand of milk. I walked back to my cart and yelled to the checker, "Hey! I got a different brand of milk. It cost more!"

And she was like, "Do I know you? Have I seen you before? Why are you bothering me?"

And I walked out with the milk. I couldn't have tried harder if I had slit my wrists and paid in blood.

Speaking of trips to the grocery store... I wrote my sometimes weekly column about a trip to the grocery store with Camille and Jasper in tow. You can read about it in The Wilson County News. You can subscribe to the paper by clicking on the link on the right hand side.

Check back later and Jeff will have a bragging link for Ellie's piano performance! What is the point of living vicariously through your children if nobody is there to witness it?
Sardine Mama

PS I am really enjoying the google ads running on my page. Google decides which adds are relevant based on the contents on my blog. I just noticed they are advertising toilets today : ) Before that it was towing. I am apparently, a complicated person to understand.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Help! Under Attack!

Help us!! We are under attack! For days on end they just keep coming and coming and coming......gigantic killer tomatoes! Some of them are uniquely formed earning them the title of butt tomatoes. I HATE that word. My mother taught us to say "behind, bottom, rear end....." and butt was a bad word. Yet, it is spoken in my house and I shall earnestly and enthusiastically blame this on the children's friends : ). Anyway - what to do when under the attack of ferocious killer butt tomatoes? Make tomato soup! mmmmm mmmmm good. I shall print my delicious recipe at the bottom (see how I didn't say butt?) of the post.
Speaking of the butt issue....I have a childhood friend (who will recognize herself in this story) whose mother also considered it crude to say butt. She has, as have I, passed this genteel butt restriction on to her own boys. When our boys were playing together one of them (surely it was one of hers) used the word "butt" to which I replied "we don't say butt". Actually, since I was the one responding it might have been one of my boys.....Anyway - my friend's son was like, "You can't say butt? Oh my gosh! WE can't say butt, either!" Oh what a wonderful moment it was. I thought they were all going to weep. "We are not alone! We are truly not alone in this torturesome restriction that makes us the butt of jokes! Oh excuse us, we mean the gluteus maximus of jokes!" There were hugs and bonding all the way around. Then one of my boys said he had to go pee. There was an awkward moment of silence. Finally, my friend's son said, "We can't say pee."

"Oh God," I thought. This was one word restriction I had suffered as a child. How many times did I explain to stunned adults that I needed to "urinate"? Urinate! No kid should have to say urinate....geez. I let my kids say pee. I waited for the child to explain that he had to say "urinate" but to my relief (and this is some bizarre rationalization on my friend's part) he said, "We have to say pee pee."
My son picked up on this and immediately tried to use it to his advantage. "Mom, can we say butt butt?"
Anyway, back to the tomatoes. I cooked tomato soup for what seemed like all day but my husband pointed out was more like an hour. He is the cook in our house. I used to like to cook but now it is just one of the many tedious activities of my day that keeps me from reaching my true potential : ). I took some to my friend, Janet, who has just had a baby. She looked beautiful and the baby is precious, of course. I enjoyed hearing the story of her son's beautiful water birth, which took place in the comfort and holiness of their family bedroom (attachment parents). I love to hear birth stories. Maybe I will write a book of birth stories.....
BTW - speaking of births - if any of you are considering birthing options you might want to check out the video "The Business of Being Born". You have probably heard a lot about it (it is somewhat controversial to mainstream birthing practitioners) but reserve your judgement until you've seen it. I've listed it with my other Amazon items I believe in.
And also BTW - speaking of books and such....I am going to be attending the Writer's League of Texas Agents Conference in Austin in a couple of weeks. I will be pitching my book. I am so nervous! Like I totally don't know anybody and there is all this pressure to network and mingle and pitch....I'm probably going to lock myself in my room and watch HBO for 3 days.
Share my blog with your friends and online groups! The more traffic I get the more "me" I'll have to pitch to agents (if I ever manage to come out of my hotel room).
Back to more important things: It looks like the Killer Tomatoes are not letting up. We have an entire row of these things! I am going to have to get the pressure cooker from Jeff's bother, Pee Wee. My kids used to call him Uncle Wee Wee, which for some reason the family considered worse than Pee Wee.

The boys have a bumper crop of basil, weeds, and grass growing in their herb garden.

Carol's "Killer" Tomato Soup (this makes a gigantica stock pot - trim it down if you don't need that much)
4 Tlb olive oil

3 onions, finely chopped
A (head?) of know...all the stalks
4 shredded carrots
Approximately 16 tomatoes, crudely (i like to say crude rather than coarse) chopped
A handfull of fresh basil, chopped
9 cups of vegetable stock (I use the organic kind in the boxes)
2 cups of half and half (you knew there had to be something bad in here)
3 TBL of salt
1/2 cup of sugar
Heat the oil in the stock pot and saute the onion, celery, and carrots until vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes and basil and simmer for awhile, until everything is tender. Here is the unpleasant part: Transfer all of this into a really big bowl, and then begin scooping it into the blender. Blend (in portions) and pour back into the stock pot. You need to do this in smallish portions and be careful as it is hot and you don't want to blow the lid off of your blender and aquire 3rd degree burns which will make you want to sue me. In fact, here is my disclaimer: "The hot bubbly soup that has been simmering on your stove is, in fact, really hot. Should you dump a bunch of it into your blender and then blow the lid off of your blender you will acquire serious burns to your person and possibly other persons in your general vicinity. Sardine Mama is not responsible for lapses in judgment of the readership." There. Liability taken care of. NOW: Once all of the tomato mixture is pureed and back in your stock pot - add the vegetable broth, salt, and sugar. Right before it simmers, add the half and half, stirring constantly. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or so.....then enjoy with some crusty bread. We like to sprinkle a little Parmesan on our soup.

Yay! Cinderella is home and unenthusiastically washing dishes!

Sardine Mama
PS In the course of writing this post I asked Jeff how to spell "gluteus maximus". He didn't know, of course. He also didn't ask me why I needed to spell gluteus maximus and this says something about him, me, or both of us. I'm not sure what, though.