Violet Unicorn Jelly

The best way to pick wild violets is sitting in the grass with a granddaughter on a sunny Sunday morning.

The best reason to pick wild violets is to make violet jelly.

And the best thing to do with violet jelly is to have a fairy tea party with lady finger sandwiches.

So far, I have pulled off the first two. But if I wait too long to post this, you will run out of time to pick your own wild violets.

On a recent Sunday morning, a friend posted pictures of her violet jelly, and I said to my granddaughter Emily, who had spent the night, “Let’s do this!” While her cousins frolicked around like woodland nymphs, Emily and I sat in the sunny yard picking violets.

And we talked. About this and that and nothing whatsoever.

Picking violets was easy. Violets were all around us, so we didn’t even have to move around much.

But we needed two cups of flowers. No stems. And violet flowers are pretty tiny. It takes a lot of flowers to fill a little two cup container. And then they start to pack down, so it seems like the container is never going to fill up. Eventually Emily got tired of picking, but fortunately did not get tired of sitting with me on the grass. After a while, we had two cups of violet blossoms.

The next step toward making jelly was to make a tea with the violets. I packed the flowers into a quart mason jar and filled the jar with boiling water. As the flowers steeped, the water turned a lovely blue.

Emily went home and the violets continued to steep in the fridge. It was Wednesday before I had time to continue with the jelly. By then the tea was a stunning purple.

I strained the tea.

Into a pot on the stove, I put the tea, the juice of one lemon, and a packet of powdered Sure-Jell. I let it boil a couple of minutes and then added four cups of sugar. After it all boiled again for a couple of minutes , I skimmed and stirred the jelly for about five more minutes. Then I poured the jelly into jars and water processed them for a good jar seal.

Easy peasy.

So I had this very beautiful pinky-purply-colored jelly, perfectly jelled, and no idea if it even tasted good!

Ah, but it does.

It tastes a little like flowers. It is a little lemony. It is hard to say exactly. Some say it tastes like spring. Personally, I think it tastes like a unicorn’s lollipop. It definitely wants to be served on a light spongy lady finger to a granddaughter.

I bought some lady fingers, but they were not spongy. They were crispy, the kind you want for making a trifle or tiramisu. I need the spongy kind, so I am now on a hunt for soft spongy lady fingers.

Once I have lady fingers, we will have a fairy tea party with unicorn jelly sandwiches and fairy tea in pretty cups on the porch. The cousins can all join in.

Or frolick outside like woodland nymphs.

The Devil with Deviled Eggs

I swore to my husband a couple of years ago that I would never again promise to make deviled eggs for Easter. I reminded him of that today as I swore over the hard-boiled eggs that refused to peel. Eggs that were destined for deviling for tomorrow’s Easter festivities.

He reminded me that I swear that every year.

This year, the festivities have moved from a large family gathering at my sister’s to a smaller, more pandemic-friendly event at my daughter’s. In an overly optimistic overture, I offered to bring deviled eggs. Dear son-in-law quipped that I couldn’t come unless I did.

I only have to cook—and peel—a dozen eggs.

Now, you must know that I can cook and easily peel a hard-boiled egg any day of the year except right before Easter. There is a reason for that. The eggs are fresher at Easter time. Everyone is buying eggs. Lots of eggs. The turnover of eggs at the supermarket is quick. Any chicken owner will tell you fresh eggs are not for boiling. Boiling is for eggs that have been sitting around awhile. Fresh eggs do not peel well.

If I actually used all the knowledge I have stuffed into my head, it would be astounding what I could accomplish. For example, I could have bought my eggs a week or two ago. And saved them just for Easter. After I cooked them and plunged them into an ice bath, I could have—should have—peeled them right away.

That was my intention last night as the eggs sat in their icy bath. But then I got sucked into a book and then it was bedtime and I didn’t feel like doing it at 11:00 at night.

“It will be alright,” I said to myself with a feeling in my gut that reminded me of Eve promising Adam that they could eat that apple.

So I took the eggs out of the icy water, placed them back into their carton, and stored the carton in the fridge.

And today I have a hard scrambled mess. I soaked them in icy water. I ran them under running water while I peeled. I tried scooping them out with a spoon, like an avocado. To no avail. To make matters worse, I was a little hyper-caffeinated so my hands weren’t super steady. Which made me anxious, so I wasn’t being very patient. And—you have to be past a certain age to understand this— I couldn’t see the fine difference between the membrane and the white of the egg. I had to take my glasses off and hold the eggs at just the right distance to get a good look.

It was a lost cause.

While I vacuumed the house to burn off nasty adrenaline, my husband zipped off to the store for more eggs. And then he made a hasty exit to do yardwork. He has survival skills. He knows when to retreat to someplace safe.

I googled “fail-safe instructions for hard-boiled eggs that will peel.” I searched for “fail-safe” that I haven’t tried before. Because those other “fail-safe” methods failed.

This time, instead of putting the eggs into cold water and bringing to a boil, I plunged the eggs directly into boiling water, adding a teaspoon of baking soda. Four of them immediately cracked, sending a trail of albumen into the water. This did not bode well.

The eggs are now sitting in their cold water bath. I will give them the prescribed hour and then I will peel them.

And we have success! The shells slipped right off. A dozen beautiful, peeled eggs. Well, except for the seam where four of the them cracked. No worries, I will try to cut the egg at the wobbly seam.

Now, after a devil of a time with the shells, comes the easy part—deviling the actual eggs. To the perfectly golden-yellow flaky yolks I add some mayo, a generous dollop of Dijon mustard, a splash of Tabasco, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper—all to my taste, of course. I will assemble them on site tomorrow.

I have had victory over the deviled eggs. And, in spite of all the vows I muttered, I did not actually use any bad words or even yell at my husband. I would feel really bad to have had Jesus die for the sins I committed while trying to celebrate his resurrection, his victory over the actual devil.

Hallelujah! He is risen!

I will celebrate with a deviled egg.

I Am an Expert—I Bet You Are, Too

I came across an article promising to make me an expert. According to a Tedx Talk expert on expertise, David Mitroff, I only have to do three things to be considered an expert:

Spend three years learning about my area of expertise.

Build my confidence.

Take action. (This can be as simple as nominating yourself for awards.)

That got me thinking. At my age, there are lots of things that I have spent way more than three years learning. Heck, I should make a list of the topics that I have spent more than three years on.

For instance…

I am an expert at telling my husband what he is doing wrong. This topic includes a host of subtopics: beekeeping, house maintenance, small machine repair, gardening, finance, fashion. He could add to this list, I am sure. I have spent decades on this topic and I have full confidence in my ability to tell him where he is wrong. And I do not hestitate to tell him so. That’s taking action, right?

I am an expert at demonstrating what not to do in airports. I have demonstrated to my student travelers how one must sort one’s souvenirs before the flight home because the Florentine letter opener that ressembles a wicked dagger in the x-ray machine will most certainly be tossed in the trash. Same thing with a kilo of nougat that scans like a block of plastic explosives. And one should really use caution when borrowing a backpack from an ex-military dad—in case he forgot to remove all the bullets from hidden pockets. Object lessons like this are what make me such an effective teacher. An expert, really.

I am an expert at determining exactly how late the rush hour traffic will make me. When I call in with an accident report, I know exactly how many extra minutes to add to my travel so that when I walk in earlier than expected, I am told, “Wow, you made great time!”

I am an expert at reading handwriting. This skill increasingly amazes my students, who cannot read any handwriting at all. Once in awhile, textbook materials will include readings “written” in italicized script or some other cursive-like font. I have to read those selections out loud. Piece of cake. The true challenge for me is the dysgraphic, dyslexic student. The letters are not just poorly formed, they are in random order. In a second language. I am that good.

A corollary to reading handwriting is deciphering spelling. This is where a colleague keeps me sharp. She sends me puzzles from actual student work and challenges me to figure it out. Sometimes I can guess it outright. Other times, I need context clues. My all-time favorite was from the student who wrote about things “on a day-lily basis.”

I am an expert at doing all the laundry in one day—except for that last load that I forget about in the washer until I try to reach for an item in the closet and find it not there. And then I have to re-wash the load. Sometimes more than once. Because here’s the thing, my expertise is limited to Saturdays. If a load goes in on Sunday, it is doomed to dark dampness until next Saturday.

Speaking of dark and damp, I am also an expert on the rates of mold production inside refrigerators. Most of the time, I can even identify the original host of the mold. Decades of experience. What can I say? Plus, usually I am the one who put the host container in the fridge in the first place. But I am the undisputed expert. That’s why my husband comes to me to ask, “Dear, what was this?”

Wow, this small sampling of my areas of expertise has already built my confidence. I deserve some awards! The Science Award for refrigerator experiments. The Almost Finished Award for weekly laundry loads. The Cipher Award for spelling and handwriting decoding. The Airport Security Award for modeling dumb things not to do. And last but not least, The Lifetime Achievement Award for instructing my husband in so many different specialty areas.

If I read the expertise article correctly, being an expert does not necessarily mean you have to be successful at the topic. You just have to know a lot about it. Hmm, that may explain why there are so many so-called experts everywhere. But, that boosts my confidence even more. By that definition, my husband and I are expert beekeepers. More years than not, our bees fail to survive the winter. Some years, they haven’t even survived the summer. We have done countless dumb things as beekeepers. But we have a wealth of knowledge.

I am going to keep working on my list. And then, when I am sufficiently impressed with myself, I will share more of my expertise with you all. Feel free to award me for my expertise.

What are you an expert at? Take some action and share in the comment section below.

Teaching From Home: One Month In

Good news!  A month of teaching from home has not killed me. It came close in Week Three, with my resting heart rate mounting from stress and an allergy medication contributing side effects of anxiety and depression.  But the doc released me from the allergy med and we got –dramatic pause– Spring Break!

I don’t know that I have ever so much needed to step back from the craziness and unplug.  Oh, I did a little schoolwork, but it was good to stop running at full speed and recharge for what will most likely be the long haul to the end of the school year.

One weird result of the break from teaching during Coronapocalypse was that I actually missed the structure and busy-ness of the teaching week.  An unending list of potential indoor and outdoor projects did not disguise the fact that I was stuck at home. Other than a grocery run and a disguised outing as the Easter Bunny (complete with mask and gloves), I had a lot of time to be with myself.  And I was pretty boring.

When school resumed this week, my students felt the same way.  They had to admit that without anything else to do, they missed the structure of the school day and the strange disconnected connectedness of meeting online. And so, in the absence of our old normal, we tentatively begin to accept the new situation.

Here are a few things that are making life doable:

Orderly work space

A critical project during the break was to deep clean and organize my office. Windows and curtains are clean. New blinds hung. A huge bag of clutter went out in the trash. All my curriculum materials sit in organized stacks on the shelf. A new microphone headset arrived. The command post is in truly functional order. The room looks good.  I actually like being in it. And guess what? After a week of teaching it is still in functional order! Order in my space does wonders for keeping the craziness at bay.

Plan for the week

The worst part of the first week of Corona Teaching was reworking each of my five lessons every night for the next day.  My normal routine had been to work out the week’s road map by the Friday before.  The last thing I did every Friday before leaving school was to post the week sheet on the class page.  Then I left the building, drove an hour home, and enjoyed my weekend.  Now, teaching from home, it is not sustainable to spend every waking minute thinking  about school when the “classroom” is just behind a closed door.

A major Corona Teaching Victory came when I posted my week sheets on the class pages at the end of the day before spring break. It was a huge relief to resume that normal rhythm.  My students and I are used to that.  It saves all of us time and frustration–one document is posted and we all know where to find it.  Of course, we can get derailed during the week. But we can address the changes the way we always did– in (online) class and by posting announcements.

Plan for the new reality

I teach foreign language.   I can’t just assign pages of reading and comprehension  exercises followed by a quiz. Language learning is a skill. While the students have access to technology to enable them to read and write and listen and speak assignments to me, it cannot really replicate what goes on in class.

Even with live online class meetings, we are not physically in class.  The give and take online is not the same as in the classroom.  So, the regular lesson has to morph into a new thing.

Mini-lessons

My lessons are morphing into a simple pattern:

  • Things we need to do together
  • Things they can do on their own

Live classes start with a mini-lesson where I present or explain material that is new or challenging.  That will segue to an oral activity.  I assign each student an example in an exercise, give them think time, and then call on them just as I would in class.  If it would have  been a partner activity in class, I play the role of the partner when I call on them.  Not ideal, but at least, I can hear where the problems are.  Then, that activity is often assigned again as a written activity.

Live classes end with everyone understanding their marching orders. If students have no questions, they are free to leave. Students who want answers to questions hang around.

Connecting students to my homescreen

I felt like a magician when I figured out how to display my homescreen on the students’ screens during a live meet.  It opened up all sorts of possibilities! So far, I have tried the following:

  • Displaying the online textbook page while I explain a topic.  It is so much better to have them staring at the page while my cursor squiggles around pointing to things than for them to stare at my face talking about it.  And when we work on an exercise in the book, I can point to the words the student is struggling with.
  • PowerPoints. It is so much better to move the slides for them, than to talk at them and tell them to move to the next slide on their device.
  • Kahoot! I use Kahoot a lot in class and immediately began using it as a self-paced non-timed comprehension activity. But now! Now, we can play a Kahoot together.  It doesn’t have quite the same rowdy effect when everyone is sitting in their own homes, but it is still interactive.
  • Online video/YouTube.   I successfully showed students a video from the curriculum, just to start a lesson.  They could have watched it on their own, but I wanted to “watch” it with them.  In another class, I had a epic fail trying to watch a YouTube video.  I watched it fine on my end, but they saw and heard absolutely nothing.  I’m pretty sure I clicked the wrong screen when I did that.  Oops.

Tossing redundant activities

Once upon a time, during normal teaching, there was classwork and there was homework. Homework generally replicated what was done in class.  Now, there is no classwork vs homework.  There is just work.  As lessons morph, I look at each activity and remind myself:

  • Do not cram too many new ideas into one day.
  • Do not assign the same type of activity twice in a lesson.
  • Assign only activities that actively advance mastery of the topic.
  • Less is more–choose quality over quantity.
  • Let go of the expectation that you will cover everything this year.

Respecting and managing time–theirs and mine

A few ideas are guiding me in respecting and managing time:

  • Set a reasonable workload. Live class plus written activities should not exceed normal class time plus normal homework. Ideally, if redundant activities have been pulled, students should spend less time on my class.
  • Have firm expectations for students. Students should respect our class time and assignment deadlines. I am not  teaching an open-ended correspondance course.
  • But be flexible.  Some students will struggle with doing school this way.  At this point in the year, I know who the most likely strugglers are.  And I know who the lazy bums are, too. Grace to the strugglers.  Zeros to lazy bums.

We are figuring this out. It is not at all perfect.  Some students are still very casual about attending live class and meeting assignment deadlines. Tech challenges are real. Family demands are real. Teenage attitudes are just as real as they ever were.

What am I missing right now?  

This crazy 2020 has become the year of the essential.  The essential worker.  The essential work.  Right now, I am missing the fluff and fun of class.  Movie days.  April Fool’s fish. French restaurant field trip.  I may very well end the year covering most of what I normally teach.  Why? Because I have cut out anything that is not essential.

And that is going to get boring.  I’ll have to think about that.

What am I happy about?

  • So far, the students are scoring as well from home as they did in class.  (Or as bad, depending on the student.) So I do not see anyone suffering academically because of this change.
  • Because I am giving points for everything they do (which would not have happened with spot checks in class), the less-than-stellar students are probably doing more work than they ever did before!  There is nothing so motivating to these kids (or their parents!) as a zero.
  • Distance learning has taken on real meaning as several of my international students went back home and are now checking in to class every day from South Korea!

 

 

Teaching from Home: We Survived Week One

We did it—my students and I got through our first week of school from home! The learning curve has been steep but, with the weekend’s respite from students, I may get beyond the feeling of treading water to actual swimming.

Image result for Clip Art treading water

THE KICK-OFF

 

Half the stress of this week was due to the shock of implementing it so quickly. A day after our faculty meeting where we were told to be thinking how to teach remotely, the governor announced that schools would be closed effective Monday. That gave us Friday to put a plan in place.

Fortunately, much of the plan was already in place:

  • Online class pages. Our school uses PowerSchool. Now, did students ever actually use the class pages? Of course not! That is why PowerSchool class pages had a melt-down this week. I doesn’t take a tech genius to figure out that, if a site user goes from zero views a week to over 7 views a day, things will crash. Which is why I had built in redundancy…

 

  • Online Assignment Submission. I use Showbie. My students have been submitting documents, audio and video files, and photos regularly via Showbie for a long time.  If the class page goes down, they  can still look on Showbie to see what is due and when.  And I can grade their work right there. Showbie is a normal routine for them.

 

  •  Online curriculum. Three of my French classes have online resources through my.hrw.com, which includes the text, audio files and videos for the students, and all my  teacher supplements–which I can copy to Showbie! Without this, I can not even imagine trying to teach my French classes from home. The  my.hrw.com site is supposed to be a normal routine for them, but since each student also has a hard-copy text at home, we had to reset three student passwords last Friday for students who could not log in.

I had to add one more component to my online classroom, but it was actually already in place:

  • Microsoft Teams. Every class became a Team.  Our tech guy, Eddie, has been telling us for years how wonderful the Microsoft Office tools were and how all our students had access to all this stuff via their school email.  For the most part, we smiled and nodded while Eddie shook his head and sighed.  He does that a lot.

JUMPING IN

It only took three days for Wine-free Lent to get tossed by the wayside.  Two-days, really, but Day 2 was St. Patrick’s Day which has always been a feast day from fasting in my family. All the sunshine and yard work I can do is not enough to handle the stress of this new routine this week.

                                       Image result for  free clip art drinking wine

One colleague said she feels like an octopus, with eight arms flailing in all directions. Another feels like she is playing Whack-a-Mole with all the messages coming at her from students. Setting up completely new routines and reformatting lessons has been overwhelming. Was it just a week ago that Maryland’s Governor Hogan announced the school closures? Have we stepped into an alternate universe? Um, yes to both.

                                      Image result for  free clip art whack a mole

By the end of the week I look  back on the following successes:

  •  I have a routine–I follow the class bell schedule. During any given class period, I focus my attention on that class only.  I interact with those students and their work.
  • My students have caught on to the routine. They check in with the Team at the start of their class period and answer at least the following questions:
    •  Have you posted  your work?
    • Have you read the instructions for what to do today?
    •  Do you have any questions?
    •  They may have also have a discussion question to post and reply to.  It’s like a warm-up to review what they learned yesterday.  
  •  I have been able to supply pretty much all resources I would have given the students in class.  Except in-person me.  More on that later.
  • Most–not all–students are keeping up with the schedule of work.  It took a bit of nudging for some.  One student, who was being lackadaisical about posting his work, explained, “This was why I stopped home-schooling.” My retort to him: “This is not home-school. This is SCHOOL –from home.”  One of his classmates commented with a heart.  The student, I am proud to say, has been most diligent since then!
  • Students are letting me know what is not working for them. 
    • Kahoot activities need to be done without a timer so students can think before answering.  Thanks to the free upgrade to pro, I  can give them untimed activities.
    • Internet and wi-fi problems are making it difficult for some to post by deadlines.  I need to set longer deadlines and be gracious with students who have tech problems.
    • Audio and video resources are great, but there is no substitute from hearing things straight from the teacher, hence…

LOOKING TO NEXT WEEK

  1. Team Meetings. The math teachers jumped into this almost immediately, but it took me the week and a student plea for help to realize that face-to-face interaction has to happen. A colleague and I practiced a Team Meeting on Friday and discovered that it was actually ok!  I’ve scheduled my first one for 10:15 Monday. The biggest glitch I am fearing is the formatting difference I see between the laptop and the ipad.
  2. More time to think and less stress in lesson planning. As I get my plans organized for this coming week, I am planning them for the online platform.  Last week, I was reworking the plans that I had already organized for the classroom.  I was working minute-by-minute, flying by the seat of my pants. (By the way, what does that metaphor actually refer to?) This week, my posted week sheet will contain exactly what I will post for the daily announcements.  Copy and paste daily.  Woo hoo.
  3. Reminders to self to give breathing room to myself and to the students.  I asked French 1 what they were “going to do” or “not going to do” this weekend, since they learned that this week. Several said that they were going to study.  I was totally fried by Friday.  This was a rough week.  Successful, but intense.  I don’t want my students to spend  the weekend doing schoolwork. So, here’s my list to myself to help us have breathing room and not burn out:
    • Independent reading days for my upper level students.  I may plan them all for the same day to give ME some space.
    • Virtual field trips.  I want to give space between hard lessons with something fun yet interesting. Versailles and Monet’s Gardens are offering virtual  tours, for example.  The Louvre tour might actually be better than the crowd-crushing experience of trying to see the Mona Lisa in person! Really, though, I’d like to find something more fun than a museum tour.
    • Let go of the expectation of covering all the material I would normally cover in class.  
    • Don’t introduce too many new things at once.  I can’t handle it.  The students can’t either.

This week, I felt very much like a rabbit leaping off into a race.  It is hard to think like the tortoise, slow and steady, when there’s COVIC-19 nipping at your heels.  I recall my pet name for my students –squirrels. My students are like squirrels–all over the place in any given minute. I have to stay slow and steady because many of them haven’t a clue how to do it.  This week I had only half a clue.  Next week?  I am aiming for one clue.

Image result for free clipart tortoise and hareImage result for free clipart tortoise and hare See the source image

Launch

The boy is propelled toward adolescence like the bottle rocket he has just launched into the trees. With a whoosh, whistle, pop, and a burst of light, the pre-pubescent boy is in constant motion, loud, and bursting with self-discovery. And, like the bottle rockets blasting every which way or zipping dud right into the ground, the boy is aimed in the most general of directions.

It wasn’t so long ago that he drove the little battery-powered tractor across our yard and through the next to visit his great-grandparents.  With faces peeled to the kitchen window, we watched attentively through the trees for his arrival at Nana’s door. Today, in a new step toward manhood, he drives the zero-turn mower to the same door. And back.  In circles and zigzags and, rarely, a straight line.  It’s not that he can’t drive in a straight line.  He won’t.   Who wants to drive a straight line in a zero-turn?  His controlled zig-zagging holds some promise that he could actually mow the lawn. And his reverse slide into the mower’s parking spot is reminiscent of his aunt’s impressive eighteen second parallel parking of the minivan for her driver’s test. But what he really wants to do is drive round and round in tight little circles.  I suppose one could get the grass cut that way, leaving our Google Earth image looking like so many teeny-weeny crop circles.

His visit to the great-grands has netted him a marble chess set worthy of the budding chessmaster. Zig-zag crop circle boy is impressively analytical.  Next week is chess camp and, after that, PopPop, who first taught him the game,  will never beat him ever again.  This week PopPop lost to the boy, checkmated fair and square. “I can’t even blame scotch,” he sighed.  

The boy is in his element now that his grandfather is home from work.  Helping his grandmother harvest peas and beans was ok for about twenty minutes, but not nearly as adventurous as finding a turtle.  Unfortunately, finding a turtle requires a full day of outdoor wandering (preferably with another pre-pubescent boy) and a good dose of luck.  What he got from teacher/grandmother was a gentle suggestion to find something to read.  That suggestion went over like a wet firecracker.  The middle school has recommended a soul-crushing twenty-five books to read over summer vacation.  He is doomed to fail, so why even bother when he could make ingenious Lego creations from watching YouTube videos.

But PopPop is home and that means the boy can light a bonfire and ride the zero-turn and shoot bottle rockets while his grandparents sip adult beverages.

Meanwhile, inside the house, cell phones ping with un-answered texts from Mother of Boy.  

“Hellooooooo where is my child?”

He’s outside by a fire playing with explosives with his grandfather. The boy moving toward manhood and the man regressing into boyhood.  Controlled danger.  It’s all good.

Cue female eye-roll.

Three Things I Would Bottle

Three things I wish I could bottle for later: summer sunshine, the restorative powers of vacation sleep, and the energy of a child. Probably in that order.  I crave sunlight. I love sleep.  And with  every passing year, it takes more energy than I naturally have to carry me through the day.

I don’t want the constant energy of a child. I’m not really a high energy person.  I just want to bottle their non-caffeinated all natural enthusiasm so I can partake of  little sips when this dilapated body needs some.  An infusion of kid energy combined with the wisdom of years of experience would possibly enable me to complete everything that my caffeine-hyped morning self put on my to-do list.  

Yesterday, three grandkids paid a brief visit while desperate momma bought groceries.  In anticipation of their visit, I stopped my activities early to put my feet up with an iced Kahlua coffee and a couple of non-pareils.  (French note: non-pareil means “no equal” and I’m telling you there is no equal to one or two quality dark-chocolate non-pareils with a tall iced coffee laced with a splash of Kahlua.) Life got even better when hubby walked in early from work.  Back-up. 

See, the eleven-year-old has two speeds: hypnotic, technology-induced coma and hyper-adrenaline laced activity, which usually involves adult supervision and/or tickets to a theme park, but can be temporarily assuaged with a fidget spinner.  Prior to PopPop’s arrival his choice of activity was going to be a new book I bought.  He actually flipped through it and grunted tentative approval. Actual reading will likely require a sleep-over which he not so subtly hinted at.  But PopPop introduced a new level of engagement: driving lessons on the zero-turn mower. Do you want to see a fidget spinning kid toss aside the fidget spinner? Put him on a piece of heavy machinery and let him drive. He was in seventh heaven.  The trick will be to channel his enthusiasm into mowing all the grass.  I’m pretty sure money will be involved.  The kid is a mercenary when it comes to money.

Meanwhile, his three (and a half!) year old sister watched from the screen porch, dying to drive the kiddie tractor.  There was no way I was letting her out in the yard to get run over by her brother, so she had to content herself with non-stop storytelling to her captive audience (me) while  17 month old  brother busied himself removing everything from the kitchen cabinets.  His favorites: the salad spinner and crab mallets.  Lucky for me he didn’t use the crab mallets on the salad spinner.  Big brother eventually heeded sister’s sporadic cries to “Stop! Please stop! Stop now!”  Her interest in driving the battery-powered kiddie tractor lasted about three nanoseconds.

Since we were now all outside and little brother was investigating the human-powered toddler tractor, I took the talkative one over to the Big Hill so she could practice rolling down it.  Once upon a long time, her mother and aunts sledded down this hill (her mom sledding right into a tree that is no longer there). Now on a glorious sunny afternoon, the hill is cushy with thick zoysia grass.  I get her lined up perpendicular to the hill (she expected to “roll” with her feet facing downward as for sledding), I tuck her arms in, and cry, “Go!”  Silly me expected her to roll like a log down the hill.  That’s how one rolls, right?  In a sort of straight line, maybe veering off to the left or right?  

No.  This girl meanders down the hill like a child going from Point A to Point B in “Family Circus.”  It’s sort of a cross between a roll and a crab walk, limbs flapping and body flopping all over the hill in any direction but down.  I’m not going to tell her it’s wrong because she is delighted.  And if I tell her how to do it “better” I will have to demonstrate.  I am half tempted because the day is just that nice, but the fact that my knee is in a compression bandage from getting awkwardly into a car keeps my enthusiasm in check.

But oh, to have the energy of a kid!  I would sail through a teaching day with a three (and a half!) year old’s  energy and delight! I could tackle the biggest projects if I had the enthusiasm of an eleven year old on a zero-turn.  And my kitchen cabinets would look great if I tackled them with the reckless abandon of a toddler.  Add a splash of summer sun and some stored up slumber, I could take on winter.

Well, that’s not going to happen.  The best I can do is store up memories. Consider it done.  

Long live the queen

Getting a new hive of honeybees established is exciting but sometimes exasperating.  Lately it has been more exasperating.  Last year was so exasperating that not one of our new hives managed to survive even the summer.  We strongly suspect the problem was the queens.  When they arrived last year, the queens were so small we could barely distinguish them from their attendants. (Yes, queen bees have attendants.) In hindsight, we question the regal stature of those “queens.”  So this year, we ordered three new bee packages from a different supplier.

Two months after installation of this year’s packages, two hives are ready for second hive body boxes.  The third hive shows very little activity.  Mr. Beekeeper inspects the hive and finds very little brood and a dwindling number of bees. Exasperating.

But lo and behold! A queen cell!  How exciting!

The hive has recognized its problem and has chosen to raise a new queen. Why last year’s hives did not do the same is a question worth pondering. Why this hive needs to re-queen is another question.  Did the queen die?  Was she ill? Was she…gasp…old? Was she just a poor lay-er?  (This reminds me of my sister and her poor laying hens.  She shrieked death threats at them and the very next day, they resumed laying.)

Queens cells take eight days to hatch from the time the cell is capped.  About ten days after spotting the capped queen cell, we take a peek inside.  The queen cell is now empty.  We look for the queen.  This is sort of like Where’s Waldo–find the one bee that is longer than the hundreds of other bees.  Fortunately, the bees are only on a couple of frames, one of those frames is exclusively capped honey, and the other frame is where the queen cell was.  And we find her!

Now we wait.  The new queen needs two weeks to get established.  She must exit the hive for mating flights with drones.  There are drones visible in the hive and a few drone cells waiting to hatch.  There are also plenty of drones buzzing around the other two hives.  Our queen will not lack opportunity. And then she must get busy laying eggs.  In about three weeks we will peek inside again, hoping to see lots of new brood cells.

Here’s hoping we will still be excited in three weeks.

Summer Time

With the school year over, my To-Do List looks a little different:

1. Wake up to daylight.

2. Have a second cup of coffee.  Finish the coffee while it is still hot.  

3. Pee whenever I want to.

4. Hydrate.

5. Repeat item 3.

6. Be outside.

7. Eat when I am actually hungry.

8. Think about things.

9.Drink more coffee later with ice cubes because it is a choice, not because it is what sits before me from morning.

I am pleased to report that on Day 3, I am wildly successful in completing this To-Do List.  Not that it has been easy. Take item 4, for example.  Whoever decided that everyone should drink 64 ounces of water a day must also have invented water-boarding as a form of torture.  I do love my chilled water (infused with natural flavors), but by ounce 48 I’m drowning.  However, I have flushed 2 lbs out of my body, so I will Keep Hydrating and Carry On.

The real struggle is with my addiction to To-Do Lists. I have other Lists for this summer.

  • All the things I need to do to be better prepared for the next school year. (As though,after 33 years in the classroom,I am unprepared.  Still…)
  • All the things I need to do around the house because it fell into near total chaos during the school year.  Only the bi-weekly sprint to tidy before the cleaning ladies arrived saved us from total disaster.
  • All the things I need to do to be the perfectly healthy individual that everyone else I know is.  Or at least so I can visit the doctor for a checkup and not cringe.
  • All the people I am going to invite over because I don’t have the overstimulation of the work week as an excuse and because introverts love to spend their vacation hosting events.  (FYI, for an introvert, hosting more than 2 people is an event.  So if I invite just two of you over,  consider than an act of love.  More than two, I am sacrificing myself on your behalf.)
  • All the summery fun things I need to do to feel like I had a vacation.

So, yeah, the list of Lists is fraught with opportunities for failure.  There is no way to do this.  And each of these Lists comes with Sub-Lists.  And yet I need the Lists or I will do nothing.  It’s like my WeekSheet of lesson plans.  I may not get everything done by Friday,  but I come a whole lot closer if I work to the plan.

A missionary to Cameroon shared at church last Sunday his struggle with being back in the States for a year.  The Africans have a saying, “Westerners have clocks; Africans have time.” It is hard to shift from one timeframe to another.  That really resonated with my launch into summer.  I have a “need” To Do while simultaneously desiring a break from the tyranny of doing.  I long to discern the difference between maximizing my minutes and fully living in time. I long for a compromise between the list the top of this page and the List of Lists lurking beneath it.

For the moment, my compromise is looking like this:

  • Look at each day as a day of possibilities. What can I do as opposed to what ought I to do? (Being the first-born that I inescapably am, my “can-I’s” will surely contain enought “oughts” to keep me from sliding into total slothful irresponsibility.)
  • Follow the nudges of the Holy Spirit and be open to divine appointments.

And for the immediate moment, I am behind on my water intake and I have to go to the bathroom.

THE END

Slightly Off the Grid

Dueling blog posts, that’s what I’m envisioning.  My sister-in-law and I will  be in France for two weeks, and I just know that all the amazing décor over there will inspire endless blog posts from her over at Now That You are Home.  But someone has to chronicle the other side of the trip.  For instance:

  • Will we get to France on the Air France operated Delta flight or the Delta operated Delta flight?  The next 24 hours will tell whether the Air France pilot strike is affecting our direct flight to  Paris.
  • Will the Seine recover from its 32 year high flood levels in time for us to take our deposit-paid dinner cruise?
  • Will there be gas in gas stations to fuel the two count-em two rental cars we reserved to get us to and around Normandy?
  • Will Paris clean up the strike-induced piles of uncollected garbage before we arrive?
  • Will the Tour Eiffel be safer from terrorists with all the extra security for the Euro Cup or should be stay clear of the humongous fan zone set up on the Champs de Mars?
  • Will it stop raining?
  • And the big question: will the Wilson siblings be able to use normal people indoor voices for two whole weeks?

Inquiring minds want to know.  My mom wants to know.  I want to know.  And I don’t want to constantly re-tell the stories when we  get back home, because there is usually one version that is the best.  The others are boring repetitions.  I hope I can get the best one recorded here.

So, after a year of non-blogging, it is time to resurrect this thing with a fresh identity.  My cousin suggested the new name.  It was he who thought Maywood Living was a retirement home and said that I was neither a true pioneer nor all that reluctant, but I am slightly off the grid in many ways.  Ok.  I agree.

This not so reluctant non-pioneer is leaving the slightly off-MapQuest-grid house for adventures abroad with spouse and siblings.

Let the blog-fest begin.

057

This is not a stock photo!  I took this my very own self in 2010.