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Universal Language

February 13, 2010

Have I mentioned how much I love my daughter’s preschool?  My son went there the second year it was open and graduated from the four-year-old class.   Caroline was born shortly before that milestone, and has the distinction of being the first “preschool baby” who has gone on to be part of the school.   Just a few short years ago, we brought her in at one week old for Darian to introduce proudly to all his schoolmates.  The teachers held her and let the other children gently say hello, and now she’s well into being a happy member of the two-year-old class.

It’s a cheerful, loving, wonderful environment, and very easy to leave her there for a few hours in the morning while I go out and earn my keep!   Another reason it’s special is that they make an effort to involve all of the families.  We are so fortunate to live in a place with a great deal of diversity, and it’s all too easy to be “comfortable” just associating with people who speak our language.  But how much one misses!  Our preschool is helping to make a difference with tonight’s activity:  a group of Spanish-speaking parents and a group of English-speaking parents are gathering late this afternoon to cook a meal together.   Those of us who speak English will help the Spanish speakers learn a few more words in our language, and the Spanish speakers will help us brush up on our Spanish and teach us how to make a delicious meal that’s part of their culture.  Next month, we’ll select a “typical American” menu and cook that together.  Chances are, their American-raised children will want to try a few American dishes at home, and this will help them know how to shop and cook for American ingredients.

Cultures tend to get along better when we can sit down and eat together.  There’s a good reason why so much diplomacy is conducted over state dinners:  we’re more relaxed, receptive, sitting at the same level and enjoying a basic human ritual together courtesy of someone’s hospitality.   I took one year of Spanish back in college (a social work major requirement) and only learned enough to truly confuse a native speaker, so it will be helpful to me to re-start my language knowledge.  A lot of our neighbors here are from countries to the South; as I engage in my career, being able to communicate with more people is a very important skill.  But more than anything, I look forward to forging warm new friendships over a delicious meal.    Comer bien!

It’s that simple!

February 9, 2010

One of the first things I did when I found out I was expecting our first child, way back in 2001, was to find other people who had been there, done that, and learn from them.    I also discovered pretty quickly that I was going to need some peers.   No one at my job had children except for the other woman who had a baby six months before mine, and she moved away.   This was a fantastic opportunity to make new friends!  I joined the local mothers’ club (and ended up being president for two years!) and found a whole host of compatriots online as well.  I would not feel as competent or ready-for-what’s-next without the support and encouragement of my real-life and online cheerleading and advice corps.

A few years ago, I discovered Simple Mom, a blog written by an expat American raising her two very young children overseas.  She writes of navigating a different culture, bringing up children to understand both cultures, and keeping things simple above all.  Their urban living quarters don’t allow for typical American sprawl, as they don’t have a half-acre out back with which to scatter plastic toys, so by necessity, she’s learned to have high-quality, high-fun things to do with her children.  The layout is lovely, the information is timely and helpful, and she’s a warm, welcoming person.

So I was delighted to learn this week that she’s launched a number of brand-new sister sites that are right up my alley, and maybe yours, too?  Look what’s new!

Simple Bites is, of course, about food and drink, but with a very family-oriented focus.  I am so looking forward to child-friendly recipes and ideas for making table time memorable and fun!

Simple Homeschool helps families navigate the process of educating their own children.  While we don’t homeschool here, we certainly supplement what they are learning in school, and I can’t wait to find the wealth of resources many families use at home.

Simple Organic addresses green, healthy, sustainable living, but not in a preachy or superior way (what, you’re still on the grid?!  whatever!)  at all.  This blog offers realistic, attainable ways to make more environmentally friendly choices everyday while teaching our children that this is just the way we do it.

Simple Kids ….wait, don’t we already have Simple Mom?  Isn’t that the same thing?  No way.  Simple Mom deals more with the adult aspect of being a parent, managing a home, managing time, and making choices that make sense.  Simple Kids is child-focused, with projects, ideas, links, and lots of great ideas for one-on-one (or one-on-three, or twelve!) parenting.  This blog has been up and running for about a year, and is just an excellent resource and sanity-saver!

Because of this launch, there is a fabulous giveaway going on right now for all readers!  Jewelry, software, and a delightful magazine on simplicity are all at stake for three lucky readers.   Some blog rings are repetitive, preachy, annoying, or a combination of all three.   This one is extraordinarily helpful and I hope you find it so as well.  Go, enter, and good luck!

Snowpocalypse 2 — 14th Street timelapse

February 8, 2010

Snowpocalypse 2 — 14th Street timelapse

Originally uploaded by linesandwaves

If you weren’t lucky enough to be caught in the epic snowstorm that blanketed DC, Virginia, and points north, here’s a really cool video that shows the snow getting deeper and deeper. My parents live up near DC and were amazed at the amounts. Some years they don’t get more than an inch or so, and every few decades, it’s like this. I had one year in secondary school where we had three snowstorms, expertly spaced, that kept us out of school for almost three weeks. Whee! Except it ruined summer; we were in school making it up until July, and for families that sent kids to summer camp, it was a real problem. That may happen for them this year, too. So if you’re not stuck in it, enjoy the video!

The Woolly Worm with the rest of the family

Back in October, when I wasn’t posting here, one of the events you missed was the Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, NC. This little caterpillar fellow accurately predicts the harshness of the coming winter by the thickness of the black band he grows. Well, not only did he have a mostly black fuzziness, it *snowed* on his party! We trudged through a muddy country fair between the snowflakes, and didn’t stay as long as we might have because it was truly cold. The Woolly Worm didn’t lie…..this winter has been quite memorable.

Cold crowd at the Woolly Worm Festival

Sorry to hear that as this weekend’s snow wasn’t enough, they’re expecting 4-6 more inches tomorrow. Ugh! Go away, Winter!

Seeds of change

February 8, 2010

R. H. Shumway Catalog

This weekend, my son and I firmed up our gardening goals for this year and chose the  seeds we want to try sowing.   I placed our seed order for a rather ambitious garden, but I think I will have real help with  my enthusiastic almost-eight-year old and a nearly-three daughter who doesn’t know that pulling weeds isn’t meant to be fun!  I look forward to many happy hours in the garden with them this spring and summer.

I re-enter the working world this week, and hardly know what to think about that.  I was very competent in that world once upon a time, and I’ve been competent here at home.  It will be a balancing act, to serve as well here at home as I always have while being away for a few more hours each week, but I plan to do it with some grace and style.  I truly look forward to flexing my social work muscles again.  Anytime I think about trying something else, social work always taps me on the shoulder.  One of the readings in church this weekend was about hearing one’s calling, the thing one is meant to do most in this world, and social work is mine.  Not the vague young decree of “I just want to help people!” because that’s only part of it.   It’s helping people to see themselves as they could be, not just as they are, and connecting them with resources that can help them get there.  We don’t fix people–they have to do that themselves.   We sort of help clear a path, mostly.

It will be a busy week, so I’ll post as much as I am able, and look forward to another cup of tea with you soon!


February 5, 2010

Corduroy heart fabric

Grey, rainy, miserable weather day here; our neighbors 30 minutes to the north and beyond are having an epic snowstorm this weekend….so while I complain, I can’t really complain!

It’s perfect creative weather.  I bought this fabric back in the Fall, intending to make a skirt out of it.  Bright blue with multicolored embroidered hearts, the more I looked, the more I thought I wouldn’t be able to pull off this particular fabric.  It’s very youthful, and while I’m hardly ancient, this fabric was just a wee bit too sweet for my wardrobe after all.

Fortunately, I have a two-year-old daughter!  This was enough yardage to make a jumper, and I found an absolutely darling pattern:

Butterick 4842

Isn’t that cute?  I made the center/bottom right view with the double flounce for the skirt.   Caroline came along with me to the fabric store to choose lining and get a zipper, and she selected a bright yellow taffeta!   The contrast with the blue is pretty, even if the fabric is not so very easy to sew.   I love the functionality of linings, but joining heavy corduroy to slippery taffeta is a bit of a task.

Caroline's new jumper

Still putting in the zipper at the back, but you can see the lining fairly well.   I made this a size bigger than her clothes right now; it’s a bit loose now and will hopefully be part of her Fall wardrobe later this year.  I’m glad to have re-purposed some fabric, and I think I’ll definitely be making Caroline more dresses from this pattern!

My sewing area

This is where I sew.  It’s part of the bedroom; my dedicated sewing room became my son’s room eight years ago and I had to reduce things down to fit into a cabinet.  This folds up into a piece of furniture when not in use, and I have an ironing board that folds down from the closet door, there  in the background.  Having to put things away each time helps reduce my tendency to have too many things going at once!

The weekend promises more rain and perhaps a bit of snow.  I have a skirt to make for work, which starts next week, and some more planning to do for the late Winter/Spring wardrobe.  My creative time will be more precious as I devote hours to work, so I’m making the most of my time now.  Have a wonderful weekend!

The Mitfords

February 3, 2010

Chatsworth at sunset. Photo by Adage, AU

Every few years, I get re-mesmerized with the Mitfords.  Not the Jan Karon novels; I’ve never read them, even though they take place in North Carolina.  Not those Mitfords:  these Mitfords.

The Mitford Family

Right now, I’m reading the former Duchess of Devonshire’s delightful The House, about Chatsworth, the country home she and her husband rescued from ruin and death duty taxes.  She lived there nearly 50 years and devoted much of her life to restoring and preserving it for future generations of her venerable family to share with the always-curious public.   It’s beauty on a grand and glorious scale:  the roof alone is over an acre, and any attempt to describe it uses large numbers and words.

I first fell down the Mitford rabbit hole after I saw this photo in Slim Aarons’ book, Having a Wonderful Time:

Desmond Guinness with children Marina and Patrick. By Slim Aarons.

Look at those eyes.  I’d seen eyes that color only once before:  Jessica Mitford, who wrote and lectured about “The American Way of Death,” which I read as a freshman in college.  Her work intrigued me; how unusual that she was a Communist and a peer all at once!  A connection?  Yes, indeed:  the mother of Desmond Guinness was her sister, Diana Mitford Guinness Mosley:

Diana Mitford Mosley Guinness, 1920s

Generally thought to be the prettiest of the six Mitford sisters, she scandalously divorced the Irish brewery heir Bryan Guinness to eventually marry her true love, fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, to whom she was married until his death in the early 1980s.  Diana died in 2003 in her mid-90s, unapologetic to the last about her involvement with fascism and the Nazi movement.   A woman of conviction, quite literally, as she spent several of the war years as a political prisoner.

She is the grandmother of the two beautiful children above, and also of the inimitable Daphne Guinness, a contemporary of mine and a true style original.  The resemblance between the two women is uncanny.

Daphne Guinness

But I digress.  One could spend a lifetime of reading to absorb everything about this extraordinary family.  Right now, I’m reading about Chatsworth, formerly occupied by the youngest of the Mitford daughters, Deborah, during her decades as the Duchess of Devonshire.  She surprised her contemporaries by being as eloquent and thorough a writer as her accomplished sisters, Nancy and Jessica.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Gainsborough

Chatsworth is notable as well for another reason:  Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, used it as her country home in the eighteenth century.   As with so many other members of this family, she was a style setter and political agitator in her time.   Diana, Princess of Wales,was a several-times-great-niece of Georgiana, both of the Spencer family.

Many excellent books describe the history of this extraordinary family.  If you’re at all intrigued, go here and here to get started, and prepare to be drawn into their world of beauty, intellect, politics, scandal, and tragedy.  One of my life goals is to visit Chatsworth and spend time walking the halls and taking it all in!

Snow School

February 2, 2010

Today's stack of learning

School has been out since Friday, and the novelty of fallen snow wore off by Sunday afternoon.   The roads were a wee bit slick yesterday and we got the call before dinner that school was out again.   The children played and watched television yesterday while I cleaned and did laundry (during which time they would have normally been at their respective schools)… today, we had to do things a bit differently to avoid the boredom.   The roads are mostly fine, but it was raining, and we were inside.

So we came up with Snow School.   I’d never dream of insulting a homeschooling family by insinuating that we were trying to accomplish what they are doing, day in and day out, but in our own way, we had school at home today.   What we learned about:

  • The digestive system, all the organs from top to bottom.
  • Beginning multiplication.
  • Cursive handwriting, letters A and B, as I’m told this won’t be covered in school.
  • Sent email to a child friend in Sweden asking why they don’t stay home for snow!
  • The difference between a physical and political map
  • The first five state capitals alphabetically:  Montgomery, Juneau, Phoenix, Little Rock, and Sacramento.
  • Finished Norton Juster’s classic, The Phantom Tollbooth.
  • Started Beverly Cleary’s Henry and Ribsy.
  • Talked about the Revolutionary War causes and key people.

What we didn’t get to:  Paul Revere’s ride, sign language, piano, book review, or logic puzzles.  If they’re not out tomorrow, they will probably go in late, and we have plenty to keep us busy……even if this weekend brings us another round of atypical winter weather.


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