Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ways to Impress Your Guests

I am apologizing in advance. Before I get to "ways to impress your guests", I need to do some really obnoxious bragging. I mean shameless bragging. This type of behavior is mostly unimpressive to guests - and I know that. But I can't help myself. If you'd prefer not to read it, now would be the time to to hit the little red "x" at the upper right hand corner of your screen. But then you'll miss out on the entertaining etiquette at the end....your choice.

So....let's get on with it! Ellie totally blew us away at the Summer Music Institute Recital!! OMG. She spent the week working very intensely in both solo and chamber. She studied with Dr. Keeling of UTSA on her Ginastera piece. We went to the recital expecting to hear the same song we'd heard before. Wrong. First of all, just when she walked out - that was a little shock. Of course, we hadn't seen her in a week :(. But she walked out with so much confidence and such a beautiful smile on her face. She sat down and literally banged that piece out. It is a VERY hard piece. She had made several changes and was playing it totally differently than she had before. Thomas came out next. He was the grand finale. This particular child is unbelievable. Literally. He is one of the best young pianists in the nation and in fact, he is going to appear on "From the Top" - the NPR Radio show. He played one of the hardest pieces ever written for piano - at the ripe old age of 15. The audience applauded so long he had to come back out on stage and take an encore bow. When it was over, Ellie came running up to me saying, "Mommy! I was the sub-finale! I came right before Thomas!" She was really proud.

Before the second recital could start, some work had to be done on the grand piano. Someone had broken a string. Now this is not a desirable thing to do, but it is considered somewhat of a macho thing to do. Nobody tries to break strings but when it happens it is kind of an "awww gee...sorry....i am just so powerful....." sort of thing. Everyone assumed Thomas had broken the string but he says he didn't do it and he thought Ellie had done it. So that was the icing on the cake for her.

She was the sub-finale on that night (and quite proud to fill that spot) but Dr. Keeling told us we were in for a treat for the chamber recital the next day - as Ellie's trio was the finale. When the kids walked out on stage, a violinist, a cellist, and Ellie - I heard someone behind us say, "Oh! There is that girl again!" They sat down and knocked out a 22-page Mendelssohn with a lot of piano runs...they sounded so fantastic and just blew everyone away. I actually started crying! This was Ellie's first time to play in a chamber group and she loved it. She made a lot of friends and can't wait to go back next year.

OK - DONE ON THE BRAGGING. Glad to have her home. We missed her. This is a picture of her with the three teachers she worked with: Dr. Brad Beckman, Dr. Kassandra Keeling, and Dr. Carolyn True. She loved all three of them.

After the recital we rushed to the Homeschool Roundup, where I gave a workshop on Unschooling. A couple of years ago when I was giving a workshop - we were disturbed by a knock on the door. I just ignored it, figuring it was someone coming in late or something. The knocking continued and the room monitor got up and answered it. I tried to ignore it and kept on talking. Then I heard an, "Excuse me..." and I looked toward the door where Joel and Jules were poking their heads through.

"What do you want?" I asked, while wondering where Jeff was.

"We're thirsty," they answered.
It would have been funny if I had been talking about how independent kids who are attachment parented become....Joel and Jules often have perfect comedic timing. But I was actually talking about how to teach sensitive topics like the Holocaust to teens. I had done so much research with the National Holocaust Museum and online educational organizations....I did more preparation for that talk than for any other talk I've ever given - and then it was very poorly attended. People just don't want to hear about that stuff. It was at the time when Ellie and I were first becoming active in the movement to save Darfur, and it was very disappointing to see such a lack of interest. But on a more positive note - that year we handed out postcards and information about the genocide in Darfur and nobody had even heard of it. Last year when we did it - almost EVERYBODY had heard of it. So that is truly a good thing. And it is all because of grassroots activism to bring attention to the crisis. Now the grassroots efforts are aimed at action.

Now onto entertaining etiquette. Last night we had some friends over for dinner. One of the guests found a rather large snake and was quite alarmed. Jeff knew it wasn't a viper and he picked it up. It bit him and he started bleeding, of course. ( We only provide first-rate entertainment to guests who come for dinner. Snake bites are one of our more popular requests). It turns out it was a rat snake, harmless but aggressive. Well, harmless in that it won't kill you if it bites you. Joel wanted to hold it for awhile before letting it go, and he held it in such a way as so he wouldn't get bit like his dad. Our guest, Roberto, was concerned it was an escaped pet snake, and that if we let it go it would end up eating one of our cows, someday. I will be sure and let you know if that happens. I told him I was more concerned about the alligator that was living in our pond. Roberto probably would have appreciated my mentioning that before he had visited the pond.
Let's see...what else happened while our guests were here? Oh yes! The boys decided to eat grasshoppers. They casually mentioned it during dinner. They had been curious and ate just a few. They say the brown ones taste like pecans and the little green ones taste like unripened mulberries (two other items they regularly pick up off the ground and eat). Joel said the legs get stuck in your teeth. Luckily, our guests are familiar with regions of the world where people eat toasted crickets, so they didn't consider this behavior too alarming. I felt sorry for the boys. They ate bugs for nothing.

Our chicks are getting big! Jeff and Joel built a larger brooder for them last night and they are happily running and pecking around their new digs.

SSSSSSSSardine Mama

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cheep cheep cheep cheep entertainment

After a fitful night's rest with Camille, Jasper, and Schnitzel in bed with me, Jules came in around 4:30 claiming it was hot in his room and he wanted to sleep in mine. I suspect it had more to do with the scary stories he was reading at bedtime...Anyway, so I got up to get him situated on the couch at the foot of my bed. Just as I settled back down, my back started hurting. Why? No idea. I am having the dreaded aches and pains.....I finally drifted back to sleep for about ten minutes. Then Jasper woke up saying he had to pee. He almost made it. I spent the next ten minutes trying to dig up clean underwear for him. I am ashamed to say it, but most of them are still in the trailer from our weekend at the beach :). FINALLY, back in bed, Jasper settled back down...the Advil starting to work on my back and RIIIINNNGGG!!!! The *&&^! phone! Can you believe it? 5:50 am in the morning. Ellie is at camp so I about killed myself getting to the phone. Honestly, the only thing I could think of was that she was sick or something. We do not have a phone in our room so I stumbled through the house to pick it up just before the answering machine kicked in.

"Hello?" I said.

"Mrs. Pavliska?" said a young male voice. Sounded like a camp counselor to me. What could be wrong?

"Yes," I said, with my mind racing.

"This is the post office in The Small Town Next to Your Small Town," the voice said.

So what? What did he want? My mind was a mess.

"Your chicks are here. They'll be at your post office at 8:00."

This was not a prank. We were, indeed, expecting live chicks to come in the mail.

He hung up. Was he like totally laughing his rear off with his buddies at the post office? Why OH WHY, couldn't my post office just have called me at 8:00, when the chicks arrived? Wouldn't that have been better? Wouldn't it have made like a zillion times more sense? I can only imagine that the kid at the post office had a mean streak.

Jasper, of course, heard the phone and was up watching the yoga lady on television. I tried to go back to bed, but then Schnitzel wanted out, then Camille got get the idea.

At 7:30 I left to go get the chicks. I woke Joel and told him to get their area ready, complete with heat lamp and food, water, etc. Yes, yes, yes, we should have done this sooner. But we are what we are, and what we are is a big old sloppy group of procrastinators.

We heard the chicks peeping as soon as we walked into the post office. There was much fighting in the backseat on the way home between Camille and Jasper, both of whom wanted to hold the box. They could see the fuzzy little critters through the air holes. Very adorable.

When we got home we found Joel still rinsing out waterers and feeders....the chicks sat peeping in their box while we got everything ready. I put a little bit of sugar in their water, mixed grit and feed for the feeder, put the fluff in the splashy pool we were using for a brooder and covered it with paper towels so they wouldn't get spindle-legged (I just read a chicken book)...and got ready to set up their heat lamp. It was broken, of course. I called Jeff who led me on a wild goose chase through the garage looking for one that he "thought we had..." The end result of this was a trip to Tractor Supply to get a heat lamp. Whew! Finally, by 10:00 - all the chicks were settled in.

In the chicken book, there was a section about what to look for in your chicks when they arrive. Something called "pasty butt" was listed. Sounds attractive, right? If a chick were to have pasty butt, you would have to remove it or their little bottoms could become obstructed and they wouldn't be able to poop. Guess what? One of the little stinkers had pasty butt. So I have two sunburned calves and one pasty-butt chick. I had to scrape it off and it was really stuck on. I had to moisten it, first. He still isn't looking as good as the other chicks. I am not the kind of person who does this sort of thing easily.

I am having a hell of a time keeping Camille off of the chicks.

Because I don't have enough to do, I have also been collecting some items for two Darfuri families who have settled in San Antonio. Tomorrow morning at 7:00 I have to take it to a friend who will deliver it...

Well, I have a lot more to say but it is late and I am tired and in two days Jeff comes home and then in one more, Ellie does! There is light at the end of my pasty butt tunnel....

Sardine Mama

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Unconditionally Bad Parenting Day

Look what Ranger has chewed up, lately. Today it was the tips of the sprinkler. Last week it was the iPod of the Princess. That's right. She has re-joined the hearing world. No buds in her ears. She is like a newborn baby. She's like, "What's that beautiful sound?"
"That's a bird, Ellie."
"And that?"
"A telephone."
"But it's not playing Coldplay."
"No, this phone just makes a ringing sound."
"Interesting. What is that low, grumbling sound?"
"Your brother's voice. He has armpit hairs now, too."
"Oh my God! I've missed so much! It is a beautiful world. It truly is! Thank you, Ranger! Thank you for chewing up my iPod and opening my to the beauty of God's creation!!"
OK - so that wasn't even vaguely paraphrased. She could probably sue me. Oh well. She already gets everything we have.....I was proud of her. She really didn't have a cow over it. And it is the special edition "Red" iPod that supports Bono's poverty campaign or something like that. She had it engraved with a Gandhi quote.....So in a minute I am off to buy another sprinkler before my lawn dies. Don't know what Ellie's going to do about the iPod.

Ellie is at camp, Jeff is on a business trip, and I am single-parenting without the assistance of free child/teenage labor. Well, I do have one teenager left in the household, but he is of the grunting, mumbling, "huh?" variety. So yesterday was not a good day and today will hopefully be better. Yesterday Jasper destroyed a shrub in front of our house. A big shrub. Completely destroyed it. Why? He doesn't know. And because I was trying to get some writing done, the little ones also destroyed the house. I have to get a handle on that. I need to figure out how to keep them from doing that when I am too busy to give them my full attention. They are 6 and 4 years old, so it isn't as if I'm talking about toddlers, here.

We try to practice Unconditional Parenting (see but yesterday I found myself using threats and just being unconditionally mean. Camille has a Girl Scout field trip scheduled for tomorrow and I told her we weren't going to go if she didn't pick up some of the destruction - especially in her room. I HATE that. I want her to be able to govern her own behavior without threats. I need to read the book again; not because I've forgotten what it said but because I need to be inspired to be a better parent, again. So we will see about tomorrow. She doesn't believe that we won't go, of course. And I'm not sure I do, either. She is in there cleaning up right now, but she comes out about every minute to tell me something. Actually, I don't think she has gone more than 20 seconds without coming out to tell me something. And when I say "coming out to tell me something", I mean in the finger-wagging-hands-on-hips-mouth-just-a'flapping-telling me something. This is also a big problem in getting my weekly column would be easier to be a family humorist without the actual family.

Let's see...other big irritant in my life? FACEBOOK! Ellie and I have Facebook pages. We were competing for friends but she quickly blew me out of the water with that one. Anyway, I was into putting these cute little pins on my cyber-bulletin board and now I can't remember how to do it! I found a bunch of Orlando Bloom pins I want to put up.....Orlando as a pirate, Orlando as an elf (I especially like him as an elf with his unending quiver of arrows). Last year my adorable husband gave me a birthday cake with Orlando's face on it. Jules was like, "Mommy? Are you going to divorce Daddy and marry Orlando Bloom?"
Good Lord. The things I have to comfort these kids about. I reassured him. "Of course not. You know Mommy could never go out with someone who weighs less than she does."
Anyway, I wasted about 30 minutes last night trying to get his pictures up on my bulletin board. And Ellie isn't here to help me. Just one big serious moment after another...

Sardine Mama

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Red Alert: Should Your Kids see Batman?

So Jeff came back from his business trip last night. And then he had to spend most of the day rigging up more shade for our sunburned cows. I spent the day with Ellie. We had some shopping to do as she leaves for camp tomorrow. We made her pay for her new clothes by babysitting tonight while Jeff and I went to the movies. I thrilled Jeff by agreeing to see the Batman movie. The boys were anxious for us to see it so we could determine whether or not they will be able to see it.

Joel and Ellie weren't allowed to see PG13 movies until they were 12. Jules was allowed to see the last Indiana Jones movie, even though he is only 10. Ellie is still upset about that. But she is working on letting go of grudges so so as not to create imbalance in her karmic footprint :).

Anyway, back to Batman. Wow. Tons of special effects, of course. Great acting. Heath Ledger was amazing as The Joker - so sad - he had such talent. And of course, Christian Bale was, as were all of the Batmans (Batmen???) who came before him, totally hot (Michael Keeton was my personal favorite; humor turns me on). BUT. The movie was unbelievably violent. I have to wonder how the industry can justify giving Indiana Jones and Batman the same rating of PG13. Batman should be rated R. No way Jules is going to see it - I'll have to think about Joel - I'm undecided. As for me, I am questioning more and more my own ability to be entertained by violence. I am finding that my tolerance for it is becoming weaker, and I think that is a good thing.

What was upsetting about the violence wasn't so much the weapons and explosions. My boys see that stuff on their video games. It was the intensity of the cruelty and rage. Heath Ledger was truly phenomenal in his role as The Joker, and there is even talk of an Academy Award for him, posthumously. But something in the character of The Joker has changed. I think that we, as a society, have changed. The Joker was so mean, so demented, and so evil. And everything was so personal. The ending was dark and depressing. Human nature was shown at its worst, and love was exploited and turned into a catalyst for hate and suffering. I suggest that impressionable children (and adults) avoid the movie. If you can sit through a scene where a mother has a gun held to her head as she clutches her crying children in her arms while her husband pleads for her life, only to have one of the children yanked from the mother's arms and a gun held to his head, then you have a stronger constitution than I do. All of the explosions and shooting and chasing didn't hold a candle to the quiet violence of that moment. It was truly unbearable for me, and I almost walked out at that point. But of course I didn't. But to think of Jules seeing it...

Anyway, the theater was full of kids of all ages, most of whom were with their parents who were cheering and enjoying the excitement. Children take their cues from their parents. Even if it is about something like violence, from which all children naturally recoil.

Times like this cause me to question human nature. It makes me wonder about my own nature. You know, I was reading a history book to the boys and we were learning about gladiators. Of course, the information was very violent. I was uncomfortable reading it to them. And the author ended the description of the violence by explaining that the Romans were different from "us". They enjoyed watching violence. I was like WHAT???? How are they different from us? Look at what we watch on television! Look at the games our kids play! I truly hate it when people try to pretend we have become so much better, so much more evolved, than our ancestors. Why must the people of the present work so hard to separate themselves from those of the past? How can we hope to avoid the same mistakes? Of course, the boys and I talked about all of this at great length.

Man, I am so heavy tonight. On a lighter note, we are sitting here in bed watching Saturday Night Live. A commercial just came on for Pizza Hut, advertising their new pasta dishes that are "restaurant quality". Am I the only person who thinks it is strange for a restaurant to advertise that it is now serving restaurant-quality food? As in, "hey! this is something new for us! our other food was just crap!" What marketing genius is behind this and what are the odds that he/she is getting paid oodles and oodles more than me to come up with this stuff? That is like saying that hospitals are now going to provide some services that are "hospital quality" as opposed to their other services, which are not. Dumb.

OK. It is late and I am reduced to blogging about Pizza Hut. Oh God. Saturday Night Live is over and Jeff is now enthusiastically turning up the volume for an episode of Star Trek. What did I do to deserve this? And why is Mr. Spock a "Mr." instead of a Lieutenant or something? Why is he called mister? Isn't that weird? Why are their pants so short? And have you ever noticed that the planets they visit are all the size of small towns? The entire planet is always a town. There is like 1 guy in charge, and a few people running around. The women are all scantily clad, of course, with beehive hairdos. And what is up with the mini-skirts and go-go boots worn by the females of the crew? Why does Captain Kirk wear eye liner? Why do they lean into the tilt when the ship experiences turbulence, instead of against it? Why is this show still on and why does my husband watch it every Saturday night?

I'm going to roll over and try to sleep through it. Although, strangely enough, I do not remember this is called "Spectre of the Gun" and looks entirely insane, of course. Now I must admit (quietly) to being a fan of The Next Generation. I have a thing for old bald gentlemen with Shakespearean accents and French names like Jean-Luke. Or, luckily for Jeff, just old bald guys, in general. Oh! The crew has just landed on the planet. I have seen this one. The planet (which is, of course, the size of a small town) is a replica Tombstone, Arizona and they are going to reenact the shootout at the OK Corral. They are going to examine the violence of their heritage. Oh how convenient! What synchronicity! See how it matches the theme of my post? Perfect. Jeff is watching it like he hasn't seen it a million times. He's so cute.

I had a great time at bunco last night. Karen served up a scrumptious meal and ended it with a delicious peach cheesecake. I didn't win anything, though. And on top of that, my publicist smacked me on the forehead at one point. She does that occasionally. She wants me to open up a "real" writer's blog - not just one where I babble about my life and post pics of my kids. Like I have time for stuff like that! When would I have time to post pictures of bullfrogs and cow dogs if I were to waste all of my time writing witty opinions and observations? It is bad enough that she expects me to write a BOOK and get out a weekly column every single week! Every day she's like, "What have you done? Have you written any pages? What are you doing with your time?" And I'm like, "Hey! If I had time to get a real job, don't you think I'd get one?" Gosh. The next thing she's going to do is ask me to actually pay her. Ha! I'm already giving her a cut of everything I've never written....some folks are just greedy, unhappy little people. And she's still mad over a fight we had when we were in the 3rd grade. Note to self: "Get a new publicist with whom I have no rocky history..."

OK - the little Russian guy (Checkhov or something?) just got to make out with a saloon girl. Jeff is grinning. Gotta go throw up now.
Sardine Mama

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cowboys and Cow Dogs

Whew! I am having quite the week, here. Jeff has been out of town since Monday so OF COURSE I was destined to have complications with animals. We had two little calves who didn't appear to be doing too well. Their little ears and other places on their bodies were blistered and bleeding. Jeff couldn't imagine what was wrong with them. Before he left, he put them in a pen and called the vet. Doc Glover came out on Tuesday and said they were having some sort of photo-sensitivity issue. In other words, they are sunburned!! Can you believe it? Here I was expecting him to say they had blah blah blah and give them a shot or put some salve on them...not say they were sunburned!

"Just rig up some shade for them," he said. "And, oh, try to spritz them down with some sunscreen." He looked totally serious when he said this.

"Really?" I asked.

"Really," he said.

I gulped and tried to cover up the two kids who were standing on either side of me. Both Camille and Jules had little peeling cheeks from the sunburns they'd gotten at the beach. Like I didn't have enough guilt! I was like, "Geeze, do you see these kids? Do I look like the kind of person who can manage to keep everyone protected from harmful UVA/UVB rays? I can't manage it with my KIDS."
But all I said was, "Okay. Sure."
I can't imagine what has caused this reaction. The vet said maybe they had eaten a weed or something that triggered a reaction but that doesn't sit right with me. Normally, the cows settle under some of the oak trees on the place, when it is the hottest part of the day. I have noticed that these two mamas are not the best mamas. They tend to run their little calves ragged - not ever wanting to settle down and nurse (ok - so I kinda admit to knowing how they feel on occasion). So maybe that is it?
Anyway, so we have had quite a time. First of all, Joel had to get the mamas in with these babies, since they are still nurslings. The babies were bellowing and the mamas came up to the pen, but they weren't anxious to actually get in. He finally managed it, and then rigged up some tarp along the walls of the pen. In the meantime, he is also having to fill up their troughs with water, since they usually drink from the tank, several acres away. Then we realized that the two pairs were not getting along, and so had to separate one set from the other. That required another tarp, and we had to use a rain fly from our tent to do it. Yesterday, when the sun was setting and things had cooled off, we all set outside to work and take care of the animals. We really enjoyed it. Ellie was out there crawling around and rigging up shade with Joel. At times like that, with the sun setting and lighting up the sky, and the breeze blowing, and the kids all working with the land and the animals, I LOVE living in the country. I always wanted to live on a farm when I was little. My kids think all this is just perfectly normal. Of course, there are trade-offs. I also loved growing up in a neighborhood and running with my pack of playmates. But my kids have a pack of playmates :).
Today Joel has been working hard, forking in some hay in addition to keeping them watered. He is quite the little cowboy. Yesterday, one of the mamas got out (don't know how) and it took Joel repeated attempts (for 3 hours) to get her back in. And he patiently tried and tried and tried - don't know how many miles he walked - until he calmly got her back in and then the baby immediately came out of the shade to nurse. Haven't had a ton of luck with the sunscreen - but both calves are looking better today.

Joel is thrilled to announce that Ranger is a great cow dog. He is alert and watchful - never in the wrong place at the wrong time, and easy and calm with the cows. We are not used to this because Schnitzel, although truly the smartest dog of all time, is neither patient with nor fond of the cows. And she really likes to help round them up when it is time to haul. There is much barking and nipping and chasing and fussing...we have learned to put her in the house. But Ranger is actually helpful!

We have also been working to get our chicken coop ready as we have baby chicks arriving next week. And in between, we've been cooking, cleaning, shopping, reading, going to tae kwon do, visiting friends, doing laundry...etc. Oh! And I cleaned out my pantry! Really big deal. Sad but true. That is the excitement of my life at the moment - a clean pantry and plans for a new chicken coop.

Tomorrow I have to make a run to the feed store to get some supplies and feed for the chicks. And I need to look and see if there are any natural remedies for the fly problem we're experiencing. We refuse to treat the cattle with chemicals. Especially now, that we're going to try and market them as natural, grass-fed beef. We've always used the wasps that eat fly larvae, and it always worked really well. We didn't do it this year and surely wish we had.
So when Jeff arrives home tomorrow I am off to bunco! Yay! Bunco is just one more of those things I said I'd never grow up to do, that I thoroughly enjoy. It is at Karen's house. Karen has 8 kids. EIGHT. She is superwoman. You can check out her blog at
Then maybe a little relaxing on Saturday? Think I've earned it?
Let's close this down with a recipe, shall we? Last night it was too late to start anything complicated for dinner, so I just looked around and decided on homemade pesto. I think it was the best I've ever made!
Into a food processor drop about 3 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, about 6 slices of dried tomatoes, 1/3 cup of paremesan cheese, 1/3 cup chopped pecans, 2 cloves of garlic, and a teaspoon of salt. Process until it is pasty - then add about 1/4 cup of olive oil and process some more. Stir into warm whole wheat pasta. (You really have to stir it).
Delicious! I think I will make this the next time I host bunco :) - with a little white wine, salad, garlic bread.....
Sardine Cow Mama

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That's Total Bull...Frog

Who says chivalry is dead? I was in the shower and heard a lot of commotion outside the bathroom door. "Are you naked?" came the yell from the boys. "Yes!!" I answered. Then there were sounds of disappointment. Why is it that every time I get naked someone is disappointed? Anyway, then I heard Jeff's voice and he said, "Keep that thing away from your mother." Lots of giggling. I became nervous. "What thing?" I asked. "What thing???" I exited the shower in fear. When I emerged from the bathroom THIS was plunged in front of my face. They had been planning on attacking me with it but I was saved by my nakedness. I would say I was saved by Jeff but I must admit that his "Keep that thing away from your mother," was uttered without much conviction and I heard a grin in it, too.

I swear this thing weighed five pounds. He was waiting in the splashy pool. He couldn't get out. The small pond behind our house has dried up, so the kids walked him all the way to the lower pasture and set him free in that pond. He swam off quite happily. Jeff says he had some good looking legs on him....yuck. I have never eaten a frog leg - but my boys ordered them once in a restaurant in Louisiana and consumed them with gusto, of course. Jeff used to eat them as a kid; probably ate some of this guy's cousins.

Yesterday morning Jules began complaining that his ear hurt. Normally, I wouldn't let this bother me. But ever since the whole brain tumor thing, I tend to not ignore Jules when he complains about stuff. I learned that the hard way. So I wanted to take him to the pedi - but first I had to do something about his hair. Yes, brain tumors are one thing but bad hair is another - so I called Jocelyn and found out she was on vacation. Oh no! His hair was so bad that I couldn't possibly take him to the doctor looking the way he looked. So we went to Fantastic Sam's at the strip mall, where I had to repeatedly tell people that his father had cut his hair on a whim at the beach with some very dull shears of some kind....Anyway, he looks very handsome :).

So then we headed to the pediatrician's office, a full hour and a zillion dollars worth of gas away. And guess what? Nothing wrong with the kid. No ear infection, no fever, no sore throat, nada. I suspect that with all of the salt water he was floundering in all day - he just had some water in his ear. Since he is totally deaf in that ear he might have had some sensations or "sounds" that were unfamiliar to him and it was expressed to me as "pain". Anyway, he is fine now and hasn't complained since. I rarely take the kids to the doctor, with the exception of Jules. Jules often is sick in the winter and fall - ends up with respiratory infections and asthma symptoms. Plus I am just plain paranoid where he is concerned. He was born very tiny and has just always seemed my frail child. (Although he isn't really frail at ALL).

When he was five years old he would occasionally say he couldn't hear out of his ear. I took him to the doctor a few times and he always had fluid behind his ear drum - it would be treated and he wouldn't say anything more about his ear for several more was kind of a cycle. When he was seven he began complaining more often about his hearing. He finally had a hearing test and that was when we discovered he has a brain tumor and is completely deaf in his right ear. It is benign and hasn't grown in the three years we've been monitoring it. It is operable but as long as it isn't growing, it is going to be left alone. We take him to Los Angeles to a doctor who specializes in this type of tumor. You can look back to the beginning of the blog to see pics of him with his doctor at the House Clinic...getting the thumbs up sign for another year! Anyway, so this explains my hair trigger reaction of taking Jules to the doctor for any little complaint. Joel, on the other hand, has only seen our pediatrician ONE TIME. And it was for a tetanus shot :). He never ever ever gets sick. And when he does get sick, he tends to do it very quietly so as not to disturb anyone. My kind of kid.

Last night we had a wonderful dinner here at home with my dad and our friend, Miss Joyce, who was in from Louisiana. Joyce used to live in New Orleans. Her home was one of the ones close to the break in the levy. She lost everything. Absolutely everything. She now has a home in Franklinton. We were talking last night about how important it is not to let your identity get attached to things you own, or things you do. The catalyst for this conversation was Ellie's piano playing, which led to talking about the Olympic athletes....we were discussing how so much work goes into one shot at a performance or competition or contest...and how often athletes or musicians or competitors fall flat on their faces and miss their one bit shot, but that some recover and go on and others don't seem to. The same holds true for those who lose everything in disasters. Some recover and others seem to never truly regain a sense of self. It all goes back to whether or not you identify "self" with "things" or "accomplishments".

Here is the recipe for the Cashew Alfredo sauce I made last night. Delicious! And you will not believe that there is no cream in this stuff! Not even any milk!

3/4 cup cashews

1 3/4 cup water

3 cloves of garlic

3/4 cup of grated Parmesan

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes

whole wheat penne

Place the cashews in a blender and blend on high for about 2 minutes. The cashews will be a fine powder. Add water and blend for another two minutes. Meanwhile, saute the garlic in a little olive oil. Then add the blended cashews/water and stir over medium high heat. This will thicken beautifully and look like a lovely cream sauce. Add salt and pepper. Drain pasta, mix with Parmesan, and add to the cream sauce. Stir in some sun dried tomatoes (you can reconstitute them first in some warm water for about 1/2 hour) and garnish with fresh basil leaves. I served with a fresh green salad and steamed carrots.

Well, I need to knock out a couple of columns. I also need to prepare for the workshop I'm giving at the upcoming HERO Roundup. I'll be talking about unschooling. Lots to do....

Sardine Mama

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Living Long and Prospering at the Beach

We are heading home today after a great weekend. Yesterday the water had MUCH less seaweed and we spent the entire day at the beach.

Even Ellie had a nice, relaxing day. She read and walked dogs, mostly.

We hardly ever stay at this place over the weekend, we always prefer to come during the middle of the week to avoid crowds. But due to our Big Bend trip in January and our California sojourn, we are running low on paid vacation days so here we are on a weekend. The beach was PACKED. But this is the first year I have felt that everyone understood that cars can flatten you. Last year, I would have been a nervous wreck chasing Jasper and trying to keep him out of the cruising beach traffic. I just love it when they get old enough and you can say to them, "See that car? It can kill you. Stay out of the road," and have them go, "Yikes! No problem, Mom." Of course I still had to keep a close watch on everyone in the water. The little ones don't scare me as much as the big boys. They will swim out as far as they can and it makes me crazy. Jules, as usual, spent the entire day in the water.

This was the first time that Camille did the same. She hardly ever came in. I would have to go and drag her out to apply more sunscreen. Here she is after getting wiped out by a wave...

While she was trying to do a nice little pose like this:

So last night we came back to the RV park and Jeff and I took the little ones to the pool. They have a really nice pool, here. The 3 bigger kids chose to eat dinner at the trailer, instead. Ellie and Joel were nursing some mild sunburns. When we returned from the pool there was somewhat of a block party going on. Most of the people here keep their RVs here all summer and they come out on weekends. So they all know each other. Like i said, we never come on the weekends so we were unaware of all of this partying. While we were eating dinner after swimming, I was like, "Where is Camille?" and Jeff says, "I think she's at the party." Sure enough, I go outside and there she is, engrossed in a game of Duck Duck Goose with about 20 or so other kids - game being supervised by a daddy. She had walked out, said, "My name is Camille. I want to play." We literally dragged her in at 10:00 - interrupting a game of Freeze Tag. She was devastated. "No, no! Let me stay out here with all of my friends!!" Who says homeschooled kids have no social skills?

OK - speaking of homeschooled kids and social skills, that reminds me of another Ellie story. I had dropped her off at the birthday pool party of a friend who attends school. He was the only kid she knew at the party. When I came back to get her she got in the car and said she'd had an ok time. She said the other kids weren't intentionally rude, they just didn't know how to include her in on their conversations. She said, "They were just lacking in social skills." I found that funny because Ellie was clueless that that is what people say about homeschooled kids - not the other way around. But often, we find that it is the other way around.

So last night Jules begins talking about how his bangs are bothering him. I have mentioned that it is suspected that he has Asperger's. So we were thinking, "He's either gonna say it a couple of times or he is going to get fixated on it and not be able to stop..." It was the latter. After an hour of him saying his bangs were bothering him Jeff says, "I'll cut them."

"No way," I said. "Don't you touch that child's hair."

Too late. Jules was on the bandwagon. "Oh yes! Please! Cut them! I can't take it any longer. Really. They're too long." Apparently, the bangs had crossed some invisible barrier between bearable and unbearable, instantaneously.

The other kids, who were quite tired of hearing about the bothersome bangs, chimed in, "Let him cut them!"

"You don't even have scissors," I said.

"Yeah, I have some here in my tool kit," Jeff said as he dug out a pair of dull, industrial-looking scissors.

The surgery began. There was much talk about being still. "Be still. Why can't you be still? Dude, be still. I'm not kidding, be still."

Jeff didn't actually say, "oops". It was more implied. There was a brief moment of silence and expectation on Jules' part and then Jeff said, "Oh my God!" followed by, "It's not that bad," followed by, "Really."

Then the siblings got involved and there was hysterical laughter. Jeff started laughing, too. We are talking deep, permanent, psychological scarring. Jules worked his way through the crowd towards me and when he emerged he was.......Mr. Spock. That's all I can say. The kid is Spock. He will be getting a buzz cut tomorrow. I would post a pic but he would never recover from it.

Every year in the past, Joel has been the social butterfly here. We were never here long before he had a couple of boys hanging around on skateboards, or gathered around him on the beach. I knew he was changing quite a bit but this trip really showed it. He had no interest in socializing - just wanted to hang out and read a book. He will be 14 in September. While he is still quite the clown, he is also becoming more quiet and I can just tell there is a whole lot of "stuff" going on in that head of his. It takes a lot of quiet energy for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly - and I think that is kind of what he's doing. Obviously, though, he is still quite goofy. But I FINALLY took a photo of him where he wasn't self-consciously turning his face into a clown face...

But then THIS you can see, he receives much encouragement....

Well, gotta pack up this can. But first, here are the most interesting google searches that landed people on this blog overnight:

1. Can I feed sardines to my dog?

2. Can I feed sardines to my baby?

3. Recipes with canned sardines

4. Potassium level in sardines

Answers: yes, wouldn't, why?, don't know


Sardine Mama

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Salty Dogs and Saragosa

Yesterday we hit the beach around 11:00, or so. Wow! We knew it was saragosa season but we had never seen it like this! The seaweed was was piled up several feet deep and several feet back, all along the shore. We noticed other people had shoveled paths so Camille and Jules went at it. They managed a narrow path which Jeff widened after he got our cabana set up.

We quickly became used to the seaweed smell and had a great day. The saragosa formed somewhat of a rainbow on the beach. It started off black, and then went several shades lighter until it reached the shore, where it was its usual golden color. The kids noticed how it decomposed.

So we had to wade through it to get to the water and then we had to swim in it, once in the water. But Jules loved it. Saragosa has tiny little seeds that are full of air so it floats along the surface of the water (it is fun to pop the bubbles). All sorts of sea critters take up refuge in the leaves that hang down into the water. Jules is my little marine biologist. He loves to get a bucket of salt water and then shake saragosa into it and then examine all of the sea life. Yesterday he saw many krill, shrimp, and fish. With the exception of the seaweed - the water was spectacular and clear. So the kids caught live sand dollars, hermit crabs, and even a snail in an olive shell. I haven't found an olive in ages. Of course, all were set free. Which reminds me: a few years ago Joel was surf fishing and Jules was swimming. Joel caught something that was really fighting, and Jules was out there trying to see what it was. Jeff saw it first, however, and yelled, "Dude! You caught a shark!" Jules had an alarming reaction. Let me just say that I know for a fact that Jesus isn't the only guy to walk on water :). Anyway, Joel posed for a picture with his shark and the entire time he was yelling, "Hurry! He's choking!" So yes, we're talking catch and release.
Jasper had a great time building roads and castles. The dogs had a great time destroying them.

The dogs had a good time, too. And I think the salt water is good for Schnitzel's wound. As soon as we took her bandage off earlier in the week (from her surgery) she yanked the stitches out. The vet said we could just let it heal - Schnitzel is vain but not that vain - don't think a scar will bother her. Anyway, so wading in the salt water seems to have made it look better. She'll be good as new by the end of today.

Everyone in the RV park wants to know what kind of a dog Ranger is. We are not seeing too many mutts around here :). One woman stopped me and said, "Oh! Is that a blah blah blah? We just ordered a blah blah blah from the breeder and he's coming next week." I told her we never ordered dogs, other people kindly deliver them for free at the end of our lane. Anyway, I have heard many varying opinions about what kind of dog he might be. I personally agree with Doc Glover, he is mostly Cow Dog. We should have named him Hank (after the Hank the Cowdog Series - if you have never listened to these tapes you are missing out on something special - the books are good but the tapes are better and they are read by the author). I personally love Cow Dogs. My Uncle Gene was a genuine (you have to make the "long i" sound when you say that) cowboy and rancher. He was over 6 feet tall and weighed next to nothing, what women would have called a long, tall drink of water. He always wore jeans, a button-up long sleeved shirt, boots, belt and of course....hat. And he was accompanied by his Cow Dog, named Son. Actually, that was not his full name. Son was the short version that was acceptible to use around us kids and a lot easier to holler. You can probably figure out the rest when you think about what female dogs are called and connect that to my uncle's propensity for the occasional salty expression uttered in frustration - often directed at Son, himself. I believe that Son had one blue eye and one brown...Ranger's are both kind of smoky colored. In the Hank books, Hank's owner is called Slim and talks an awful lot like my Uncle Gene.

Jeff spent a good part of the day helping the little ones with their boogie boards. I read. I'm still reading Drowning Ruth, which I'm finding to be a slow read. And I also started the latest Odd Thomas book by Dean Koontz. I love Odd Thomas. I usually get books from the library but I ordered this one from Amazon as soon as it came out. It is called Odd Hours. Odd Thomas is one of the most endearing characters Koontz has ever created. I just adore him. I laughed out loud several times yesterday, and then had to read to Ellie something Odd had said....

I was at the beach by 7:00 am, walking dogs. There are big front-end loaders and dump trucks trying to clear the seaweed, but it is piling up behind them. All my little brown kids are up, now, so I'd better get busy...I need to get some vegetarian chili going in the crock pot so we'll come home to dinner. Last night we went out for ice cream - maybe we'll have to do that again, tonight. Jeff, of course, ran into a doctor he knows at the ice cream shop. We never go ANYWHERE that he doesn't see somebody he knows through work. Even at Disneyland we ran into someone he used to work with. And of course, I love running into Jeff's colleagues while I am in a swimsuit with lovely beach hair :).

I'll try to post again, tomorrow!
Sardine Mama

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back in the Can

Howdy Everyone! We are back in the can - currently along the Texas Gulf Coast. We are cozy - just the seven of us plus the two dogs. We really agonized over whether or not to bring Ranger. We usually bring Schnitzel, the old wiener dog. I wasn't too thrilled about bringing a puppy with an excitable bladder. But it turns out that Ranger is the better traveller of the two. Schnitzel is a good girl but she is a vicious barker when other dogs come anywhere near her - and in this RV park there are a zillion dogs. The camp rules say that no aggressive dogs will be tolerated. But Schnitzel isn't so much aggressive as she is cranky. Ranger, on the other hand, rarely barks. He is amazingly calm for a puppy and the biggest problem he has on a leash is that he just lays there at the end of it, waiting to have his tummy rubbed. He slept on his pillow in the van and never got up during the entire trip down here. God help him, though, if he accidentally spread out too much and touched Schnitzel. It reminds me of my childhood vacations when I would fall asleep in the car, let my unconscious body relax some, and accidentally cross the imaginary line that separated my half of the seat from my sister's. My sister never napped in the car. She just watched the line. Creepy.

Speaking of my sister, yesterday morning Jeff took her and a friend and a ton of luggage to the airport at 5:00 am. They were off to Alaska! Today they are doing a little sightseeing in Seattle and tomorrow they board their cruise ship. I feel badly for whoever sat next to her on the plane. Hopefully he or she didn't cross the line. We have already heard once from my sister's house sitter (yes, Hannah, feed the fish even though she forget to tell you to) and our house sitter. When I grow up I want to be a house sitter. Truly, aren't there people who totally do that for a living? Travel around sitting in people's homes while they're on vacation? Not too shabby.

Well, being back in the can is making me miss our gigantic California trek. People constantly ask me if it was stressful and maybe the pain of it is fading, as it does for childbirth, but when I remember it (all the way back to April) I have nothing but sweet memories. I truly think it will go down in history as the best vacation ever. And the odds of us ever doing a trek like that again are slim - it was obviously quite expensive. When we started loading up the trailer for this little weekend getaway the kids were like, "Oh! Here is my toy horse! Here are my shoes! Here is all of my underwear!" Yes, folks, we hadn't quite unpacked completely. I never quite complete is part of my personality. A therapist would tie it into a general fear of success at know...ANYTHING. So our Disney schedule is sitting here on the table, our Yosemite map is on the counter, pine cones, rocks, and other sundry items are tucked away here and there in drawers and cubbies...

What I loved about that trip, in addition to my having way fewer chores and responsibilities, was exactly what most people think would have driven me nuts (myself included). I liked the closeness. I know, that is weird, right? Especially for me! But it was truly an intimate and close time. I was so aware, the entire trip, that it was not going to ever happen again. Ellie would never be 15 again, Joel would never be 13 again, etc etc you know what I mean? We are on the threshold of our little family taking on a new form as I face the fact that in 3 years Ellie will not be with us so here we were, all together in this little camper with really nothing to do but drive, hike, and be together without the distraction of video games, phones, friends, chores....At night when we fell asleep it reminded me of when we first moved back to the farm, before we added on to the house. It was very small and we just had the 3 kids, plus Jeff's dad. At night Jeff and I would be in bed with Jules cuddled between us and Ellie and Joel literally just a few feet away - and I remember when we were in the process of adding on I worried that we would be too spread out. And sometimes, it does indeed feel as if they are so far away from me - literally and (as far as the teens are concerned) sometimes figuratively. Anyway, so in our little can we are like like Laura Ingalls' family - Ma and Pa and all the kids sleeping in basically one room. The only thing missing is my dad! He usually travels with us to the coast but he is having fun entertaining a dear friend this week.

Once again, we are the largest family in the smallest trailer. The rig next to us is really huge. They have one very tiny and very quiet child. He just stares at my kids. I think they are scaring him. In addition to their very small child, they have a ridiculously small dog. He would fit in your hand. Schnitzel looked at me like, "What the heck is THAT?" At first she left it alone because she thought maybe it was a hairy guinea pig and she is used to bunking with the boys' piggies. But then it made a pathetic little bark and she looked at it like, "Oh for crying out loud," and fussed at him something awful. So now both the little itty bitty kid and the little itty bitty dog are afraid of us. That's fine. When staying in close quarters, like RV parks, with a bunch of strangers, it is important to establish a pecking order. Camille and Jasper were up before 7:00 establishing their dominance by being the first ones up and screaming. Very slowly, other kids began screaming all over the park. It was like being the first monkeys up in a rain forest - they had to get all the other monkeys moving and grooving, and they did. OK - so Ellie just said, "What if there is somebody sitting in their gigantic RV reading your blog while their little kid and their little dog are sitting outside staring at the scary family next door and slowly realizing you're talking about them?"

I will post some beach pics tonight or tomorrow! Jeff just plugged in some White Stripes to get everyone moving - gotta get lunch packed up and hit the surf. Oh, and if you missed travelling to California with us - go back to earlier posts in the blog. It is all there!
Sardine Mama

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Challenges of Feeding a Family in our New Reality

OK - I always feel really badly for the people who end up on this site while looking for official sardine information. So if you have ended up on this *&*!@ Mommy Blog by accident - do not despair! I have taken pity on you. Below are the answers to the most "googled" sardine questions.

1. Sardine recipes. Believe it or not - there are too many to list! And I just thought people ate sardines on crackers while camping....anyway - there is also a sardine diet! Go to

2. Do Sardines have hair? With the exception of Jeff, all the sardines in this can have hair.

3. How long do sardines in a can keep? Well, we stayed in a tiny can for 3 weeks on the way to California. I'm not sure what you mean by "keep". Ellie didn't seem to keep as well as the rest of us.

4. What are the mating/spawning habits of sardines? Excuse me? None of your business.

Now that that is taken care of I can really blog. We are still enjoying a deliciously laid back summer. I am only filling up my tank every two weeks as opposed to every 5 or 6 days during the "school year". I am really considering simplifying my life to the point where I can keep this slower pace for good. We are also looking into buying a diesel vehicle and altering it to take vegetable oil. Would have sounded nuts to me several months ago, but not anymore. We currently drive a big old 12 passenger van. What a waste! Half of the time I am driving it around with only 2 kids in it anyway. However, here is the catch on buying a smaller vehicle. A smaller vehicle won't tow our travel trailer. And while I believe travel trailers to be part of a now distant past of cheap fuel - I am not quite ready to give ours up, yet. But doesn't it sound ridiculously selfish? We have to drive our gigantic gas guzzling van so that it can pull our gigantic travel trailer (reducing our gas mileage while in tow) to far away places where we can drive around and waste more gas. Anyone want to comment on veggie oil vehicles? I do not think it is a feasible alternative for everybody - but it can be an immediate solution for us, as an individual family, to reduce our carbon footprint while waiting for something else to turn up.

The other thing I am dealing with right now is rising food costs. Has anyone else noticed the rising food costs? Unbelievable! And it seems that the healthier you eat, the more expensive the food is. People living in our country at or below the poverty line (and even many who are above it) are really feeling the pinch in a very serious way. If you want to compare the cost of a turkey/Swiss cheese sandwich loaded with veggies (avocados, sprouts, etc - just the way I like it) on wheat bread, with a bologna/ processed cheese sandwich on white bread (with a coupon for free soda thrown in with the white bread) - it is no wonder why the disadvantaged are fighting off obesity and Type II diabetes.

I used to be able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy and my bill would be very low. The expense of the grocery bill seemed to be tied directly to how much convenience and processed foods I bought. Now I am not seeing that so much. The fruits and vegetables are very expensive. If you want to buy organic, forget it! For a family our size, it isn't feasible.
And while I'm talking food - they say that much of what is driving food costs up is, of course, the cost of gas to transport it. Then why, might I ask, are we buying New Zealand apples when we grow apples right here in Texas? Why are we exporting apples and importing apples at the same time? My dad just bought shrimp today from Taiwan. Why? We are 2 hours from the Gulf of Mexico. He said it was all they had at our local HEB grocery store.

So people say we need to start buying locally. Where I live, that isn't so easy. I can go to a farmer's market and get tomatoes and cucumbers - often that is all there is. I am so spoiled by my year-around food availability - I have forgotten how to eat seasonally (if I ever knew in the first place). So I am really in the process of re-evaluating food right now. We had a garden and it produced a ton of tomatoes and corn, but that was pretty much it. And with the exception of the tomatoes I dried, they are pretty much gone. The corn was eaten the day it was harvested :). Our tomatoes are dormant and will hopefully produce again when the temps go down a bit. We just planted more corn. But truly, how much food would you have to grow to sustain yourself? How did people used to accomplish this? And how, in South Texas where it reaches 100 degrees, am I supposed to afford to water all of this? Just thinking out loud, here. These are the sorts of things I have been contemplating. And I still want a milk cow!

We do have 24 chickens on the way so we will be having natural fresh eggs again soon - yay! We are also going to order some for eating. But again, I've been thinking about that. I am so used to eating chicken breasts and nothing else - is that realistic when you butcher your own? Of course not. And how will all of these changes I'm contemplating fit into my crazy/active life? I want to slow down but my kids don't.

I want to hear from you vegetable growers out there! And any of you who are making big changes or little changes in your lives as we adapt to this new world of ours. I am interested in food co-ops, etc. I checked into but we're talking about $1.79 for ONE APPLE. Joel eats about 5 apples a day. No way!

Here is a list of the food items you should buy organic, if at all possible.

1. Peaches!! We just bought a bag today - no organic peaches available at my grocery store (local HEB). I would have to drive over 35 miles to get to Whole Foods where organic peaches would probably be available. Peaches are one of THE WORST foods for pesticides.

2. Strawberries! Another favorite and also not available organic where I live.

3. Raspberries

4. Grapes (don't kids love grapes???)

5. Apples. Also one of the worst! Again, organic isn't available where I live.

6. nectarines

7. apricots

8. pears

9. cherries - honestly, who can afford cherries priced such as they are in S. Texas?

NONE of the above are available organic here. Today in my store, only bananas were offered up as organic, and they have recently been removed from the danger list.

10. tomatoes (we've all had our scare of tomatoes recently, no?)

11. corn - much of our corn is genetically modified - did you know that?

12. potatoes - so this goes for fries and all other potato products

13. celery - is available in my store as an organic product

14. cucumbers

15. spinach (another recent scare) organic salad greens and spinach are available in my store.

16. Green and red bell peppers

17. Green beans - we're talking acephate, benomyl, chlorathalanil, methamidophos,

18. Carrots - a new addition to the list!

19. rice

20. oats

21. milk (organic here is over $5 a gallon - but thanks to little old me - they do carry it!)

So this is basically, you know, everything we eat! OK - let me hear from everybody. I really want to know how you are handling feeding your families. I would suggest the sardine diet, but apparently we're not supposed to eat anything that is currently coming out of our oceans, either! A little mercury with that tuna, anyone?

Sorry so serious today!

Sardine Mama

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Morning After

Here is what our recycling bin looked like "the morning after" the 4th of July.

And here is what Jules and his friends looked like the morning after running full-speed crazy/insane throughout the entire evening...climbing trees, engaging in nerf gun fights, launching a LEGO MAN on a firecracker, consuming massive quantities of caffeine, sugar, and preservatives in forbidden party food, all before passing out sometime well after midnight....And yes, that is Jules's friend, Noah, sporting his summer-time mohawk - continuing the tradition started by his older brother, Luke. They are in a semi-comatose, semi-cartoon state after sleeping on the couch.

We had a great time at the party! Of course I cleaned all day so that herds of kids could come in and out of my house all evening, tracking in dirt, grass, etc... and spilling sodas, cake, and other food items all over the floor, not to mention, letting Ranger the Pee Dog in the house every other second. My kids do not get soda very often so they, of course, went nuts over the stuff. Speaking of herds of kids, the "Big Family" arrived with only 7 of their 8 children. We missed Jack but I truly think that one more kid in the mix would have compromised the structural integrity of our house. Here are just a few shots - the teens and tweens were nowhere to be seen for most of the evening :)
The hay bails were popular. Here is Emma with the sun setting behind her, waiting for the dads to get the fireworks ready.
Here is the Boot Brigade. Jasper is still managing to get into his pink boots.

Rob and Lodie

After a delicious cook-out of both real and "fake" hot dogs and sausage, complete with zillions of sides and salads; we enjoyed visiting with our friends while waiting for it to become dark enough for the fireworks. The weather was great outside. You have to understand we have been skirting 100 degrees for the past few days. But the 4th cooled down immensely due to the gathering rain clouds and accompanying breezes. It never rained during the party, but we could feel it and smell it in the breeze and it was just delightfully perfect.

I had been encouraging folks to head outdoors with no luck (everyone remained gathered around the food) but then the teens began plugging guitars into amps and that worked quite nicely as an evacuation plan for the adults. You have to listen to 16-year-old Sarah Mueller (see proud parents Rob and Lodie up above). She is an unbelievably talented songwriter and singer. She is a solo act but also sings in Ellie's band. Take a listen to her latest song. The quality of the recording isn't too hot - I just used my little camera - but you can hear enough to know she's really good! Click on
The highlights of our parties always seem to happen when most of the guests have left, and this party was no exception. Our few remaining friends were outside under the stars in lawn chairs - it was pretty late at this point - and I decided to join them. I began dragging a chair over to be next to our friend, Kevin, when I stepped in a small hole and sloooooowly began to fall. It was one of those falls where you think you're going to pull out of it, you know? But I didn't pull out of it and I landed partially on the ground and partially on Kevin, who was just sitting there trying to relax after a long day of serving and protecting the American public. Unfortunately, my ice-cold margarita was in my left hand and that flew right into Kevin's lap. I don't think it was the best lap dance he's ever had, but it was probably the wettest - and the most unexpected. After that I suffered largely from constant comments and puns at my expense. And of course, Kevin and I have a much deeper relationship, now. Too bad there is no photo. I really mean that.
We were big risk-takers this year at the 4th of July party. We had no official supervision! None whatsoever! Usually we have at least one firefighter and one doctor. This year, neither one was able to make it. So we didn't have our firefighter supervising the fireworks that we inevitably set off during drought conditions under high winds, holding his beer while offering helpful suggestions like, "Oooh and Ahhhhh." And while we had a kid dangling from every tree, kids chasing kids with sticks, and kids playing in the snake-infested hay; we had no doctor sitting around with a beer in hand ready to say, "I don't know. Maybe you should take him to the hospital." Nobody even got hurt this year. Not one drop of blood and all fingers are accounted for. Not even one little hint of a grass fire. Wimps. They could have come.

This reminds me of a party we had several years ago. Ellie was maybe 11 and she was pretty sick with a high fever. At the end of the evening, after all the kids had fallen asleep where they stood and the grown-ups had almost ruptured the moon bounce, my friends accompanied me to check on Ellie and see how she was doing. The doctor was sitting outside, no longer even faking a mild interest in her condition. We got down our family medical book, complete with flow charts. My friend carefully followed the chart going by Ellie's symptoms and came to a very logical conclusion...."It says here we have to amputate her left leg," she said with a straight face. Ellie hasn't really complained about being sick, since.

We have been real party animals this weekend. Yesterday we went to the farm across from our place to help celebrate Jeff's Uncle Billy's 82nd birthday. Delicious food OF COURSE. Lots of fresh, home grown vegetables. We're talking steamed zucchini, baked sweet corn, fresh tomatoes, cole slaw and salads. We got a nice little sprinkle while we were there and the kids acted like they had never seen rain, before. It has been a long time. We were able to discuss natural, grass-fed cattle raising and organic gardening. And of course, we were kept in stitches by a few old-timer stories, too. And Jasper terrorized Aunt Gay - or maybe it was the other way around, I'm not really sure. But they were having a mad sword fight with tree branches. I should mention that Aunt Gay is in her 70's. Here is a pic of Uncle Billy getting on his 3-wheeler to go check cattle or the rain gauge or something.....he rides his hot wheels scooter to get to his 3-wheeler :) and here he is with his candles lit. Billy and Maxine are blessed that 2 of their 3 children live on the family farm, and the 3rd lives not too far away. So they are still surrounded by their three children. That sounds really nice to me.

Well, I have got to close this entry out. I need to go and help Jeff in the garden and get ready for a late lunch with my sister and brother. My brother is autistic and has Down Syndrome. He is currently living very close to us so we get to see him more often.

Well, I'd like to talk about food, next. Natural food. Buying organic versus buying local. The difficulties and costs associated with both. Tomorrow, maybe? And if I don't get on that subject, somebody needs to remind me.

Sardine Mama

Friday, July 4, 2008

Snakes, Grapes, and Purple Phones

OK - I swear I was sitting here thinking, "What am I going to write about? Nothing interesting has happened around here." I had resigned myself to writing about the following items:

1. Squished grapes all over my floor. And yes, I know the floor is the exact same one that is in the astronaut's kitchen in the movie Apollo 13. It has been here awhile:). Actually, while we were looking at new floors, we discovered this SAME ONE (also in avocado) at Lowe's. It is "retro". I have been complaining about this floor for forever. Now I am thinking it might be funny to replace it with a newer version of itself. Not funny enough, though.
2. My new purple phone! This is a very cute phone. I was previously the owner of a larger, older, clunkier and far-less-attractive phone, known as the Fred Flintstone phone. This one is now programmed with various Chili Pepper ringtones, depending upon who is calling. I feel more popular, already.

3. Schnitzel's Surgery. She had a cyst removed from her ankle and her teeth were also cleaned. She seems to be very uncomfortable. She slept with me last night and moaned and whined throughout the night. It is almost time for her to take another pain pill. See her bandage? Poor baby.

Anyway, so this was all you were going to get; grape, phone, dog boo-boo - when suddenly THIS happened...Camille came running in the house screaming her head off....followed by this!

Yay! The blog is saved by a snake. Leave it to Joel to provide entertainment/horror. Ellie was working outside in the front beds, getting ready to spread some mulch. She often will remove her iPod - walk into the living room and announce she needs to be with nature and live like Thoreau....then she will piddle about for a few minutes outside before coming back in to replace the buds in her ears. So she was happily communing with nature when the snake startled her. She was accused of screaming to which she replied, "He jumped at me! What was I supposed to do?" Snakes are known for their impressive skills at jumping. Ellie even took a turn holding the snake and just as she said, "Ohhh....I like this snake! We are friends!" he moved or something and she tossed him up in the air and he landed on his back with a small thud on the table. So much for friendship. Ellie is currently back outside digging in the dirt (more gingerly).

Speaking of Ellie and Thoreau, and noticing Martin Luther King on Joel's T-shirt, I must add a Gandhi story here. Can you see the thread? My mind works in mysterious ways....Thoreau influenced Gandhi, Gandhi influenced MLK, Ellie is just plain easily here is the story:

We were driving in the car and Ellie was saying how she wants to live simply and become even more of a minimalist than she already is (and she is a big minimalist compared to most kids her age). Anyway, so we're driving and she says in all earnestness, "Mom, I want to be like Gandhi. Oh look! A Starbucks! Stop and get me a latte." That just cracked me up. Gandhi holding a $5 cup of latte.

Happy 4th of July! We are looking forward to having some friends and family over tonight. TONS of housework to do first, though. I don't know why - everyone who is coming regularly sees my wreck of a house but whenever they are coming for an "official" occasion I feel I must clean! Maybe I will take some before and after pics.
Yesterday Camille asked me what the 4th celebrates. We were in the car. I told her, "We used to have a king who told us what to do and now we don't so we celebrate." End of story. That is what the 4th kid gets. The older kids got the full unabridged response to every question. When they were Camille's age they were reciting the Declaration of Independence and had been studying the revolution for weeks leading up to the frivolity. And you know what? They don't seem any smarter than Camille. I now have way less energy and have to be more selective about what I waste it on.
Birthday parties around here have also suffered from my energy drain. Man, I used to throw some totally ridiculous parties! When Joel turned 8 he had a Native American party (can I say Indian Party?). He was required to research tribes and was very knowledgeable about the Indian families that lived right here - literally right here, we find arrowheads. It was fun and kept us occupied. When the big day arrived, all the neighboring chiefs came over to celebrate. They had been assigned tribes, were dressed in Indian clothing, bearing gifts to trade....and they were required to deliver a small, education report (how obnoxious, right?). We had games to play and each time a guest completed a game (these were real games we had researched) they received another feather for their peace sticks, which were used to chase and bludgeon each other. When we finally sat in the sacred circle around the fire I couldn't help but notice several sagging loin cloths. Ellie had noticed too, and had taken to hiding indoors. Anyway, when it came time to stand in the center and give a report, one little guest who was wearing a paper grocery bag said, "I don't have a report and my mom said if you pull this crap next year we're not coming." Geeze. Some people just don't get it.
OH!! One more thing and please respond: Can you guys see the sardine can on the right of the blog? Some people are saying they can only see half of it. Let me know! Even if you don't usually respond or I don't know you :)
Well, I am off to do some frantic cleaning and I see that Jasper just spit on Ellie and now he's chasing Joel with a rake...GOTTA GO!
Red, White and Blue Sardine Mama

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Great Escape....

Hello! First of all, if you are googling sardine and ketchup recipes, spawning habits of sardines, or the potassium levels found within raisins or oatmeal - I AM SO SORRY! It seems I am the top dog in God Google's hit list for these searches. While I don't understand your desire to search for recipes involving both ketchup and sardines, or even sardines sans ketchup, I acknowledge respectfully that it is your right to do so, and now, instead of finding that perfect sardine and ketchup recipe (are you pregnant per chance?) you have ended up on a mommy blog. Feel free to waste time here, or hit the next site. And good luck. If you are planning to serve ketchup and sardines for dinner, you just might need it. And if you are some bachelor guy who thinks this might be something romantic to serve to an unsuspecting woman - you are sooooooo terribly off course. And you also don't want to bore her with conversations about the spawning habits of sardines or the potassium content found within raisins or oatmeal. If this is news to you, that explains why you are a bachelor.
Now, back to real sardine business. I have recently escaped! I have abandoned the 5 kids and various pets and all of the tiny and not-so-tiny catastrophes associated with the previously mentioned 5 kids and various pets, and am hiding out at an undisclosed and heavily guarded secret location. I have "people". They have photos. They know who to look for. If any of them are to spot any of my kids, my sister, or the pets, I will be notified immediately and a very complex escape plan will be launched into action. Here is a hint as to where you might find me, though. An early morning squall moved across the beach while I was enjoying breakfast.Speaking of breakfast - we are staying at a beach resort (notice I didn't say which beach or which resort) that employs the local teenagers during the summer. This is hilarious. There are many angry and complaining guests here, but Jeff and I are not angry or complaining because we own and operate teenagers. Hence our amusement. Yesterday at breakfast, we ordered the "buffet" because after we sat down, nobody ever came to take our order. After observing the other patrons we realized we were expected to look confused for about 15 minutes, and then wander towards the buffet. So we complied with this ritual. The buffet was really really bad, but we didn't care because the resort gives you a $20 voucher to pay for breakfast. Which is very clever, as we found out, because the buffet for two people comes out to $26. Quite a disappointment. So this morning we were set to outsmart them. We did something drastic and apparently, very unexpected. We sat around looking confused for longer than the established rule of 15 minutes and eventually a boy who looked to be about 14 came over to see what the heck was wrong with us.
"Just help yourselves to the buffet," he said.
"We don't want the buffet, we'd like to see a menu," we answered.
Oh my gosh. He was really thrown. He was adorable in his long Bermuda shorts with his baseball cap on backwards, with a little apron thrown over it to make him look official. Now it was his turn to look confused.
"Well, we have this buffet...."
"Thanks, but we'd like to order from the menu."
"Uhhhhh, well, okay," he said while looking around the room, apparently not knowing where exactly it was that the menus were kept. He left and returned with some menus and it was all very exciting. We were blazing trails and breaking new ground. After about 15 more minutes he returned with something to write on and we ordered.
Just-So Egg...comes with an egg prepared any way you'd like it, fresh seasonal fruit, and toast or English Muffin. We chose toast. We also ordered bowls of oatmeal and the menu described it as being perfectly sweetened with a little brown sugar.
I am so glad I have a camera! What if I hadn't been able to get a picture of this!
There were several teenagers wandering aimlessly around the restaurant wearing aprons. The tables were full of families, many with crying children (they are not as good at escaping as I am), and they all looked angry. The teens, being teens, were totally unaware of this. Managing the entire operation was a middle-aged hippie behind the counter, also totally unaware. Jeff suspects that his morning cannabis routine is responsible for this. Pleasant guy, though.
We flagged down our waiter who came over with a grin (he was always grinning, how could you be upset with this kid?). "Is everything okay?" he asked. We informed him we'd like fresh fruit and of course, he looked at the strawberry garnish like, "Dude, isn't that fruit?" He told us we could get fruit from the buffet and seemed a little exasperated like, "I told you people about the buffet." We helped ourselves to fruit. What was missing? Oh yeah, there was no toast. We had ordered whole wheat toast. We flagged down the boy and asked him for whole wheat toast. He took off and disappeared for like a really really long time. Eventually he emerged without the toast. We hated to bother him while so many other people were bothering him but we wanted our toast. He saw us and said, "I'm making your toast, it takes awhile." Well, what can you say to that? Eventually, after we had finished our fruit and eggs, he brought out some cold and damp white bread that was almost toasted. Jeff, being the eternal optimist that he is, said, "I asked for whole wheat." Isn't he cute? See why I love him? Of course, our waiter was totally thrown by this. "This is all we got, man." Okay. So I took a bite of my cold, congealed oatmeal. Not lightly sweetened with a touch of brown sugar. So we called our surfer boy back over - by now he feels we're like family. "What's wrong?" he asked and I really admired him for leaving off the "now". I asked him for brown sugar. He disappeared into the bowels of the restaurant for like a really really really long time and then emerged to tell us they had no brown sugar. So I decided not to eat the oatmeal. It didn't matter. We got off scott-free except for the tax. And I might add, we left the kid a nice tip.
Jeff is working in Corpus Christi for a couple of days (you were going to figure it out anyway) and I have accompanied him and it is a really nice break for me. We're staying on Padre Island. My sister is staying with the kids and pets, and they were looking forward to spending time together. Yesterday I spent the entire day on the beach and read Nicholas Sparks's Dear John. It didn't do much for me but it was a quick and easy read for the beach. I also napped, dipped into the gulf when I got too hot - I rented a little cabana for shade. I'm about to go repeat the experience :) with a different book, Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz. I also brought along Green Greener Greenest, a practical guide to making ec0-smart choices a part of your life, by Lori Bongiorno.

I'm looking forward to Jeff's return from work so that we can go to dinner. Last night we ate at our FAVORITE restaurant, Island Italian. It is a little dumpy place but has the best atmosphere and delicious food. Really delicious food. I had an eggplant dish, Jeff had shrimp. And often there is a guy playing the guitar and singing (he was not there last night) who is very talented and we always enjoy him. We missed him last night. After dinner, we've been returning to sit and watch the waves beneath the stars, while sipping on a little Patron tequila. All in all, a not-too-shabby break in my routine.

I am really enjoying the freedom I'm gaining as my kids all get a little older. I am at that launching off point in my life, just where I could still have one more baby, if I wanted to, but also really longing to move on. But I find myself looking ahead, looking back, ready to move on, then wanting to dig in my heels and soak it all up some more, the babies, the discoveries, the miracles.....but what I'm learning as Ellie and Joel get older is that all of that keeps happening, just in different forms. I gave birth to babies, but the babies are growing up and re-creating themselves constantly. It is a joy to experience their "re-births". Still, I look at all the families walking around here with babies and little kids and I get a nagging urge to do it all again.....and I must admit that having 5 kids has been way easier than when I had 3 and the oldest was 5. I do not have to take everyone with me everywhere I go and I have live-in help, (although the help often resembles the breakfast experience described earlier). So being the mom of teens and little kids simultaneously is actually a lot of fun, and way more relaxing than I ever would have thought it could be. Of course, I am currently hiding from them in a hotel room, so maybe "relaxing" isn't the proper word. Let me just say that it isn't all that hard and I wouldn't trade it for anything. And I'm looking forward to the beach trip we're taking later, with the whole familia.
Anyway, I am surrounded by babies in this resort. Speaking of babies, attending Go Baby Go's free screening of Rikki Lake's documentary, The Business of Being Born, didn't help my occasional longings any! It was held on Saturday. I met some really nice people and saw a few friends I hadn't seen in awhile. I am one of those crazy women who loves to be pregnant and who really enjoys the entire natural birthing process. It is painful, but it is also a high like no other. If I were going to do it again I would definitely do a water birth.
Well, I would really like to go into natural birthing more, and the message of the documentary in particular, but I'd also really like to hit the beach! I will save it for another post :). Here are some pics from the event, though. You can check out the Go Baby Go website by clicking on the link on the right hand side of my blog. You can also order the documentary, "The Business of Being Born," by clicking on the Amazon link for that product on the right hand side of my blog. (you can also rent it from Netflix).

Amber and her "water baby" visit with a midwife.

Two moms thank Diane and Go Baby Go for hosting the screening (Diane is in the middle).

I'm going to go work on my tan - and it needs a lot of work, believe me :)
Sardine Mama