Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thrift store shopping

Last Saturday I went with a group of ladies on a thrift store tour of Portland.  Here's the stack of sheets I picked up.  I know, I said I wasn't going to buy any new fabric until I had my current mess under control.  Well, you see the loophole I left myself... these sheets aren't new.  I've started following the Vintage Sheet blog and there are so many possibilities for them.  And they're pretty, too.  I've started toying with the idea of opening an Etsy shop -- a new sewing machine won't buy itself for me, and summer break would be the time to set a shop up if it's going to happen at all.  I might cut them into fat quarters and sell them as bundles, or keep some to use as quilt backings.  I just got back from a combined trip to the Goodwill Outlet store and Costco and have another small bag full of sheets (no pictures yet).

On the Saturday trip I also picked up a few shirts solely for their potential quilting fabric.  And a few things for myself and my family to wear, of course!

I also found a tweed wool sweater to unravel for the yarn.  I'll post pictures of that sometime soon maybe.

Today I came across a lovely roundup of some fun quilting blogs from quiltershome magazine... check them out!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WIP Wednesday

I've been reading about WIP Wednesday for awhile, now I'll actually try to participate.  The idea is to show the process of your work, not just focus on the end product show-and-tell.  I'm fine with that, as long as people realize the process is kinda untidy and haphazard.  Check out some of the other blogs that do this at Freshly Pieced.

My most exciting WIP is the finished Framed In Quilt top, although is that more of a finished object?  And it's been a bit more than a week since I got it to this point.  My process is a little more like mad bursts of frenzied activity interspersed with nothing at all.  Oh well, I like it and I now need to piece a backing for it and quilt it, so it's still in process.
A closeup of the border that I added to the basic block layout.

In my zeal to use up some of the fabric stash, I've cut out pieces for 4 pairs of boxers for my menfolk.  The New York fabric on the right is enough for two pairs, one for Steve and one for Secundus.  Curious George is leftover from something else, only big enough for one of the boys, and the blue is reclaimed from some old PJs of Steve's.  I'm not sure I really like the fabric, but hey, it's for underwear after all.  I've been using the First Choice Boxers pattern since we were living in Denver and I took a class - so about 15 years.  It's a great pattern and relatively easy to set up an assembly line.

I'm worried about my machine, though.  I just had her tuned up, but after my latest round of sewing she's making weird noises and breaking thread worse than before the tune-up.  I'm trying to put aside a bit at a time for the eventual replacement fund, but I'd like to replace her with a modern machine of similar or even higher quality - she's a 1989 Viking and I've done a lot with her, so my standards are high.  I haven't even started looking yet.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A roundup of book reviews touching on Intelligent Design

For the past few years, partly inspired by the not-so-gentle prodding of certain militant atheists, I have been attempting to read up on the Intelligent Design controversy.  Following is a list that I don't claim is comprehensive, but it might be a good starting point for those interested in finding out more.

First of all, I think it's important to recognize that no one writing in this field is coming from a place of neutrality.  Darwin, Dawkins, Gould et al. have their agenda; so do the authors I read.  Like it or not, everyone has his mind made up before writing a book or article on this subject.  I chose to read authors who were at least open to the idea of a Designer, and I'm guessing most readers of this blog will appreciate the same.  Remember, I'm not an expert scientist or debater in any sense of the word, but these sources were helpful to me as an average homemaker trying to make sense of current debates.

I'll start with a general recommendation for World Magazine, my go-to source for anything relating to Christianity and Culture.  It regularly tracks the controversy and provides more current information than I'm able to.  And the movie with Ben Stein, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, is a good visual jumping-off point.  It introduces some of the major players, and highlights the issue of academic freedom and censorship (blacklisting of those who have published I.D. works is almost universal, it seems, even to guilt by association).

Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, by Michael Behe of Lehigh University (at least once his Wikipedia entry has been hacked to read "pseudoscientist" rather than "biochemist") is the book that started the I.D. ball rolling and has received a lion's share of the media attention.  Behe introduced the concept of irreducible complexity, the huge stumbling block for evolution at the cellular level.  In fact, Behe accepts the evolution of species from a common ancestor, but demonstrates the impossibility of evolution at the microscopic level.  It would be intellectually dishonest to dismiss him as yet another "creationist" as many have tried to do.

Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells is an eye-opening journey through standard science textbooks and the mythology they cultivate.  As a teacher, this was the book that angered me the most and inspired me to read further.  Literally, multiple generations have been acculturated by their supposedly neutral science textbooks to accept such unproven or outright fraudulent concepts as "the tree of life", "Haeckel's embryo drawings", or "the evolution of the peppered moth."  It's outrageous that we should offer second-rate propaganda to our young minds as science, and then take legal action against those who question it.  This is not a book advancing the I.D. argument as such.  Read it and you will want to remove your children from the public schools, but look elsewhere for an explanation of the movement.

Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer, is a groundbreaking recent book in the field.  If you can make it through the lengthy book, I found that the writing style and scientific explanations were actually easier to follow than Behe's book, which occasionally broke into technical-ese that I couldn't follow.  This work addresses the question of the origin of life from the standpoint of DNA (Behe's deals with things like flagellar motors of bacteria, not the genetic code).  When you think about it, we can't even talk about the human genome without using language that is itself an argument for I.D.: the "genetic code," "genetic information," "sequencing," "mutation" (from what? Maybe a "pattern?")  This book sets the standard now; it will be interesting to see what evolves in the coming years of the I.D. movement.

If I (decidedly not a scientist) made it through these three books, it should prove they are reasonably accessible to the intelligent reader: but if you're looking for a quick summary of the basics, you could do a lot worse than this surprising source: the last four chapters of Godless: The Church of Liberalism, by Ann Coulter.  (Warning: read at your own risk if you are a Democrat, particularly if you also have a blood pressure problem).  I think I've mentioned before how much I like her writing style.  As a lawyer, she can lay out the case against evolution and the case for I.D. like no scientist ever could, and, as a bonus, I averaged at least one LOL per page.  Your mileage may vary.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mother-daughter skirts and a new car

A little sewing project I did last week from a tutorial I found here.  Thanks to Joyce for the Michael Miller fabric -- there was just enough (I had to piece one ruffle and one waistband).  Steve had to get the new van in the picture as well!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spring Cleaning - better late than never

The old aquarium sold on Craig's List... yay!  And to a nice vet from the Oregon coast who needed an emergency habitat for an abandoned corn snake.  He took the whole setup in hopes that he could find a home for the snake and use it for fish someday.  He had a lot more compassion on the "poor little guy" than I would have had.  Catch me leaving a snake in a cardboard box in my living room for even a second!  I would be climbing on top of the piano.  But it's a relief to have that out of the house and a little bit of time to give the living room a much-needed reorganization.  Not much time, though -- guests are arriving for Bible study in less than 4 hours.

I've moved the bookshelves in the living/dining rooms around, and we now have 3 by the front entryway.  One is holding the 10-gallon aquarium and A-list theology books, and the other 2 are probably designated for the Great Books set and more theology and history.  That's about as far as I've gotten, besides trying to locate the missing pieces for 2 chess sets, 3 checkers sets, and 2 sets of dominoes.  Some of my children apparently have a compulsion to drop them behind bookshelves (I suspect Tertia).  The worst is the random playing cards I find all over the house in odd corners.  I keep putting them with the massive Hand and Foot deck in hopes we will play that again sometime.  I'm going to make an attempt to tackle the scrapbooks this summer too.  I'm writing it down here so I can't weasel out.  The scrapbooking gene completely missed me, so unless I get to write the captions under the photos that somebody else organizes and puts in place, I have no desire to do it whatsoever.

I made Kale Chips with the bunch of Kale we got from Grace's Garden this week.  They're actually quite nice - in the way that healthy food is "quite nice" if you adjust your expectations because of its healthiness.  Secundus has been snacking on them a lot, but the girls took one look at the dark green leafiness of them and shuddered away.  I'll put them out tonight next to the chocolate chip cookies Primigenitus made.  Wonder which will be gone first?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Finished Shirt-Stripe Boxes

From Kaffe Fassett's Passionate Patchwork, a lovely book all around.  I made this with Steve's old shirts, and I love just about everything about it.  It's 54" x 87" and closely quilted in a cross-hatching design that gives it a crisp, modern feel.  It's tentatively spoken for by Primigenitus.
A closer look.
I put a hanging sleeve on most of my quilts... that way you have the option of displaying it as a wall quilt on a curtain rod.  It's not fancy, just a 5" wide rectangle of muslin folded lengthwise and sewn in along with the binding.  I hand-stitch it down at the same time I stitch the binding.  It's usually good for two or three long evenings of TV watching.  Notice the binding is also shirt-stripes, 2 1/4" strips cut on the bias and pieced together.  I like the thriftiness of scrappy bindings, too.
And a down-and-dirty quick label on the bottom corner.  I'm designating this quilt as "Wear it out" in the 4-quilt scrappy quilt series I'm doing, but the actual name is an unimaginative "Shirt Stripe Boxes." I could have delayed sewing on the label for another year if I had tried to come up with something creative.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Roman coins quilt finished at last

A few notes of explanation.  This quilt counts as a 2010 finish, but had been lying folded in my sewing area for a long time because it still needed a label.  I finally got around to making and sewing on a label last weekend.

Roman Coins is actually what most people call Chinese Coins, but I'm a Latin teacher so they can be Roman coins.  The actual pattern was Roman Square from Quilter's Cache, but I fail to see any great difference between the two, so they can be Roman coins.  And they do look a little like conjugation charts, don't they?  Amo, amas, amat... The idea was archeology from my scrap stash, as it has been with all my quilts recently. 

This was the first of my series of scrap quilts inspired by the old motto, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."  This was intended to use up a lot of my strips of random leftover fabric and is even more randomly scrappy than most of my quilts are.  I tied it together with solid black fabric from previous projects.  You can find Bob and Larry, Mickey Mouse, and all sorts of conversational fabrics in addition to leftover quilting fabrics.  It doesn't have a home yet.
Closeup of the quilting: I did feathers and heart-shaped leaves in variegated thread.  At 87" x 60" it's a twin-sized quilt.  The backing was pieced from scraps, too.

This was all it needed to finish it up.  Silly, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Grandma Quilt

This is one of my mother-in-law's quilts; I laid it out and pinned it for her last week.  I think the pattern is "Winding Ways" and it's machine pieced.  As I described in an earlier post, she pins her quilt tops to pre-quilted fabric and then ties them: once the pinning is done, it's all work that can be done sitting down at a table.

I have some quilt progress to share as well, but haven't taken pictures yet.  And when I think about doing that, I look around and realize the house is a wreck and needs to be dealt with first.  So I will attempt to get the aquarium cleaned and dried and ready to sell and the books back in their bookcases.  Or maybe I'll take a nap before I have to run the next round of errands.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Head wounds bleed a lot

I was going to photograph my recently finished quilts and blog them today, but the best laid blogs of mice and men gang aft agley, and it has been one of those agley days.

I knew it was going to be a busy Monday.  I had plans for the two boys to clean out the garage and at least give it a thorough sweeping before we pick up the new car - we thought it would be today, turns out it will be tomorrow because it's still in transit now.  The old car is driveable as long as you don't turn on the A/C - I knew this going into the weekend and it wasn't an issue because of our weather, but what I discovered was that if you turn on the defrost to clear a foggy windshield, the car will also start to make a bad smell and smoke will start coming in through the vents and up from the hood.  And this will panic your youngest daughter.  But that was Saturday's crisis, not today's.

I've had a 55 gallon fish tank in the livingroom for several years now - mostly it was growing algae, but when I originally set it up I wanted to have a lush underwater paradise with lots of pretty tropical fish and healthy plants.  The plants never did as well as I wanted, and I haven't had the time to give it the maintenance it deserves.  I decided summer vacation would give me time to downsize it into one of our two 10-gallon tanks (we only have 4 fish at the moment), and change around some bookshelves in the process.  So I began the labor intensive process of breaking it down, siphoning off 5 gallons of really icky water at a time.  I brought up the first and slightly newer 10-gallon tank from the "coal cellar" storage area in our basement, vacuumed off the cobwebs, then went back for the second one which had all the gravel in it and some of the accessories.  Okay, so to get down from the coal cellar (really it was probably where they stored the sawdust that the old furnace burned) into the basement proper you have to step onto a cinderblock because the coal cellar's about 18" higher than the main basement level.  I had too much in my arms and didn't place my foot just right, so the cinderblock rolled.  All I could think of as I was falling was "don't let the aquarium break!"  And it didn't, but just when I thought I was free and clear my head landed on the concrete.

I have done my share of triage for head wounds (Secundus alone has had so many ER trips for scalp lacerations I've lost count: Quarta has three parallel lines of suture scars), and I knew the important thing was not to lose consciousness without summoning help first.  I'm actually rather pleased I thought of that in the pain and shock, with an (unbroken) aquarium sitting on my lap and my back resting against the spidery bare earth of the oldest part of the basement.  So I yelled as loud as I could "Help me! help me!"  No good.  Primigenitus and Quarta were outside cleaning the garage and riding a scooter, respectively, Tertia was at school, Secundus was still in bed two floors up and couldn't hear.  So the next coherent thought was "Head wounds bleed a lot," which is the main thing I've learned from all my experience with them.  I placed the (unbroken!) aquarium to the side and ran up the stairs and outside, where Primigenitus had his first opportunity to be a first responder.  He got me a bag of ice and clean rags and called Steve, who took it from there.  I was toying with the idea of having Primigenitus drive me to the ER himself, but it would have been his first highway driving and we didn't think either one of us was ready for that.  I probably didn't even need to go to the ER, since there were no stitches needed - but my primary care doctor didn't have time for me so that's where we ended up - $250 dollar deductible and all. At least I got a tetanus shot and a neurological exam for that.  And a dead spider fell from my clothes onto the white sheeted examining table.  There's literary symbolism in that somewhere, but I'm experiencing just enough cognitive dysfunction to

This is how much gravel spilled out of the (unbroken!) tank when I fell.

And this is what I need to clean... tomorrow.  The boys carried it outside themselves -- before they emptied the gravel and the last of the water.  And they didn't realize the top part can come off the stand, so they get points for muscles.  They also caught the fish and transferred them to the older of the two 10-gallon tanks - the one I saved!  If I had been home I would have used the new one, but this one had the gravel already in, most of it anyway.

And this is the condo-sized new home for the 4 fish (and 1 aquatic frog).  Note that it is unbroken.  That's really all I wanted.  Well, that and the time to reorganize the books and bric-a-brac that will now have to wait until tomorrow.

Anybody want a used acrylic 55-gallon fish tank and stand?  I'm thinking $50 or best offer, but I'll need to clean it first.  Tomorrow.  My head hurts today.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book reviews: D'Souza, Godfrey, Coulter

These are some of the books I've been reading lately.  It's an eclectic mix and I don't have time to do a thorough review of each one, but I'm sure you can deal.  I'll have quilts to show soon.

Life After Death: The Evidence by Dinesh D'Souza is something of a companion piece to his What's So Great About Christianity, which I reviewed a few months ago.  I believe his argumentation skills have improved measurably since the first book.  This is a book to recommend to agnostics and any atheists who are intellectually honest enough to be interested in evidence.  It's also good for believers who interact with atheists and agnostics, or who merely want to understand the terms of the conflict we find ourselves in.  D'Souza describes himself as a kind of "Christian cage-fighter" who likes to handicap himself when arguing against secularists by using only secular proofs, kind of like tying one hand behind his back.  He doesn't ever really untie the religious hand, but the final chapter is pretty much guaranteed to anger the hard-core New Atheists if they manage to get that far.  It's a difficult read in the sense that most of us don't have a strong grounding in philosophy (or our memory of Rel/Phil in college is rusty).  But D'Souza carefully spells out the history of the debate and uses clear examples to make deep philosophy understandable.  I appreciated this book and -- the ultimate testimonial for me -- it's one I'll probably try to buy after reading it from the library.  Well worth the reading for people serious about the great questions in life.

An Unexpected Journey: Discovering Reformed Christianity by W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary in California, is a brief presentation of Reformed teaching and a spiritual autobiography.  Godfrey observes that the spiritual autobiography, while prevalent in other branches of Christianity, has been neglected in the Reformed tradition, and sets out to rectify that.  Godfrey was raised as a nominal Methodist but experienced a more vibrant faith in the Dutch Reformed tradition.  He notes the importance of family life, the catechism of children, and education as features of Reformed practice that appealed to him.  Although he comes down squarely on the side of Van Til in apologetics and I come from the classical apologetics camp myself, he makes an interesting point when he says that recognizing the presuppositions of secular intellectuals and thereby defusing them is important for young students.  He says, “The Reformed Christianity that I learned was not fearful of the world or eager to hide from the challenges of the day.  Rather, it was confident that the mind should be used as a servant of true religion.” (p. 79) Those of us in the Reformed tradition love our theology, and this is a very theological autobiography.  In the “Worship” chapter there is a discussion of how the Reformed tradition of simple, intellectually stimulating and heartfelt worship is threatened by the prevalence of worship styles lifted from the Pentecostal and Arminian Revivalist traditions.  I think this would be a good book for those who are dissatisfied with life in the typical American megachurch but don't exactly know what they're looking for as an alternative.

I know it's a Sunday and schadenfreude is a poor excuse for Christian charity, but I might as well confess it now -- I love Ann Coulter.  I want her to be Secretary of State (or perhaps even more powerful, White House Press Secretary) in a Palin administration.  I recently finished If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans and am working through Godless. It's hard, because every page is packed with the kind of wit you don't find in even the best newsrooms anymore.  Witness: "When a Democrat is in the White House, Republican senators vote by huge majorities to confirm extreme left-wing lawyers to the Supreme Court, such as former ACLU lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When a Republican is president, Democratic senators turn every Supreme Court nomination -- even lower court appointments -- into Armageddon."  (Godless, p. 106).  Been there, lived that.  I was in Washington for the Souter and Thomas confirmations.  I know, you wouldn't think Souter could provoke Armageddon.  But so true.  And to top it off, Coulter is blonde.  I'd like to see her handle the blonde jokes.  Payback time!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The slowness of socks

Charming picture, I know.  Somehow my socks never photograph well on the needles.  These are socks for Steve, made from Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock yarn in the Icehouse colorway.  Originally I had plans to do a fancier pattern for myself, but settled on the Fingering Weight Toe-up Gusset Heel Socks by Wendy Knits, which is my standard pattern for socks if I don't want to carry a pattern around with me.  I have the basic paradigms memorized and I usually make a few modifications to make it even simpler and less fussy at the heel turn.  I do these socks two at a time on two circular needles according to this tutorial that I found in the dark ages before Ravelry.  Except that I do Judy's Magic Cast-on instead and do them from toe-up, which allows you to try them on as you go and finish when you run out of yarn or whenever you get tired of knitting them, whichever comes first.

I started seriously working on them about 3 weeks ago and turned the heels last weekend.  Still going very slowly but maybe I'll finish them this weekend.  Men's socks take longer because they have more stitches.  I keep getting comments like "Oh, those are cute!" Steve is okay with people calling his future socks cute.  Just so long as he gets them.  Because as much of a pain as it is to knit socks (I'm not really a sock knitting fanatic like the folks behind Sock Summit), people I have knit socks for love to wear them.  They wear them out and want more.  So go forth and knit socks, but beware that if you give them away, you may not be able to stop.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Philosophy of Scrap Quilts

Framed In has the blocks sewn together and a 1" white border around it, bringing total dimensions to about 53" x 70" -- a little small for a bed quilt.  I took it outside and draped it over the back fence by the climbing rose bush to take this picture.  I will probably add a second, scrappy, border and an outer border of a single blue print to bring it up to about the right size for a twin bed.

I like to make bed quilts rather than lap quilts or wall quilts or crib quilts because, well, they get used and enjoyed for long enough to make a difference in someone's life, usually.  The downside is that they require substantially more time and sometimes, a will of iron, to see them to their proper conclusion. There are many pitfalls along the way and many quilt projects don't even make it to become used and loved.

I have always liked scrappy quilts, but learned when I took my first quilt class from Fabric Expressions about 15 years ago in Colorado that "the more fabrics, the better."  When you make a quilt with a very defined selection of fabrics, each fabric is very important to the overall effect and has to be chosen ("auditioned") very carefully.  And then the finished quilt is lovely, but can be somewhat impersonal.  But when you take all comers - for example, my rubric for fabrics in this quilt was (1) they have to come from my 3 boxes of scraps and (2) they have to have blue in them somewhere - you get unpredictable but very lively results.  And I, personally, enjoy the process much more.  I still need to have a pattern to follow - total random scrappiness is not my thing - but definitely, the more fabrics the better.  This top has scraps from my husband's worn out shirts and my late mother's aprons, several previous quilts I've made, leftovers from little girls' dresses, maternity clothes, old curtains, and several different times when I found "stuff a bag with scraps for $1" sales.  Even though the pattern was designed for a specific fabric collection, the magic of scrap quilting means the scraps play together in a charming way no matter how many decades apart they were made.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teacher Inservice - Need Therapy

Teacher training is not the way I would choose to put an end to a good school year.  Stuck in a small classroom with a laptop running on battery and trying to finish as much grading as possible while working on the umpteenth redundant revision of the scope and sequence using committee-approved verbage to please the accreditation team that will show up next year.  So for the last two days, the closest I've come to satisfying handwork is the progress on the socks I'm knitting for Steve.  Those are small enough to take along to inservice, and I had Knit Night last night. 

I'll need a lot more needlework, though, to recover from the trauma of trying to decide whether "The student will be able to identify and describe the major characters and events of Roman history" would fit better under "Information to Recall" or "Concepts to Explain" -- or perhaps it should be reworded entirely and filed under "Perspectives to Adopt."  And just between you and me and the internet, I have substantial doubts about whether the Harkness Method of discussion would be ideal or even adequate to convey Latin grammar rules to middle school students.  I can maybe try an open-ended discussion, but somehow... yeah.  Is lecture really that bad a word?
Meanwhile, I have two quilts that are calling to me.  The first is the Framed In Quilt I've been working on.  The blocks went together incredibly quickly and I was able to piece the body together over the weekend.  Now I'm adding a narrow white border and I'll plan to add a scrappy border and another final border before quilting it.
And I'm putting the binding on my Shirt Stripe Boxes quilt.  It's very comforting and therapeutic to see the finished edge grow slowly, while I watch or listen to tv.  Should be a finished object soon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Paging Honda: Check Your Grammar

Since it seems we have entered the world of the soon-to-be car-buyers, Steve and I spent Saturday morning checking out what's been happening in the minivan market since we were last there.  The Honda Odyssey is looking like a top choice, so we went to that dealership first to see if we could arrange a test drive.  And I came to a screeching halt (I think the screeching was in my head and did not come out of my mouth, but I can't be sure) when I saw the 5-foot high cardboard cut-out of... I'm not sure what, actually.  It might have been the zombie, or the superhero, or the cute monster.  But the kicker was the caption: "To Each Their Own."  While I appreciate the sentiment (I think it describes the individualizability of the Honda Civic), the grammar is an utter offense against nature.  I am not the first blogger to note this (well, of course. I'm seldom the first blogger to do anything): here's one take, and here's another.

As I explained to the nice lady who came up to see if we were being helped, "each" is a singular pronoun and "their" is a plural.  It should be "to each his own" or "to each her own" depending on the gender of the individual portrayed.  In the case of the zombie, maybe "to each its own."  "To each his or her own" would be unacceptable because of cheesy political correctness and wordiness, but at least it wouldn't have set my teeth on edge.  Or how about the elegant Latin solution: "cuique suum."  Two words instead of four, and all three genders are represented.

So after I did my bit to attempt to slow down the decline and fall of civilization, we test drove the Odyssey.  It's a nice car.  We'll probably get one.  But they may have to physically restrain me from defacing the cardboard ads in the showroom while we sign the papers.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Field Day

I have a love-hate relationship with Field Day.  True, I say I hate it, and I'm always scrambling to get grades calculated, and I always have an irrational moment of panic just before the teams are assigned that I will be one of the leaders and I'll have to lead silly cheers and play sports... but there's a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about it all. It is undeniably the end of the school year, and they seem to be going by faster and faster, and the kids are more and more... admirable, that's it.  I see a little payoff for all the hard work I've been putting into these young lives.  Eleven years now, and better than it was at the beginning.

Things I love about Cedar Tree: morning hymn, prayer, and flag salute continue as usual, and Mr. Bradshaw always wears his suit, even on Field Day.  The talent show has a delightfully quirky mix of acts; violin and piano solos, yo-yo tricks, pogo stick jumping, "Mr. Chin" (don't ask), a band act or two, and even an all-sister singing group to rival anything on "O Brother Where Art Thou."  The teams always have silly animal names: warthogs, jellyfish, cows, skunks, lizards, weasels, seagulls, dodos.  They have to come up with a team cheer (bonus points for classical allusions) and form a pyramid.
 Then the physical games begin, and I bury myself in my classroom (which is used for summer storage) and try to finish grading, surfacing occasionally to chat with parents or other teachers but quickly going back inside because, although it's June, the Pacific Northwest hasn't got the memo yet and it's below 60 degrees.

I chase down students who won the vocabulary game competition to give them their $5 gift cards for Cold Stone Creamery.  Today I bought a "Got Logic?" t-shirt and some raffle tickets (and was given a few more by a parent) - and I actually won... twice!  A bug-catcher and a $10 Starbucks card.  And Quarta won a $5 KFC coupon.

Our school has upper level students divided into two "houses" (a little like the Harry Potter books).  They compete academically and otherwise all year long and the house with the most points at end of year gets a trip to Oaks Park.  My kids are Saints: the other house is Phoenix (they dislike being called Phoenixes, so in my class they are Punici: Phoenicians).  Anyway, the two houses were in a virtual tie (subject to margin of error and late-incoming grades), so the contest was decided by a sudden-death 6-minute soccer game, with two balls in play at once.  Saints won.

The car... stay tuned.  The compressor is shot and the estimate is $1760.00 to fix it.  Steve is out playing paintball with Secundus so he will have to decide tonight or tomorrow if a 10-year-old car with 125,000 miles needs functional A/C.  In this climate, maybe not, actually, but it might get hotter by August.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Last day of school - random observations

You can never play too many games of Latin Jeopardy.

I received the sweetest note ever from one of my graduating 8th graders: "...I can't think of anyone who would make a better Latin teacher.  You are amazing at Latin and teach it in such a way that I enjoy it.  Thank you soooo much!!"  ....aww!

Overheard from Secundus, when asked if he was sure he was really a freshman: "Well duh, of course I am.  I didn't fail two subjects more than two times."

The triple-booking will get better soon.  It really will.  But today was... challenging.  The van is squealing and giving off unpleasant odors when AC is turned on, which it was for the first time since spring break today.  It has 123,000 miles on it and should be given the title of Emeritus very soon.  But money does not exist in the budget to provide for its replacement yet.

I desperately need to clean our refrigerator.  Attempting to retrieve the yogurt container on the top shelf to make myself a smoothie for breakfast, I knocked over the jar of dill pickle slices.  It upended and landed top down, lid off (my leg broke the fall).  So I cleaned the kitchen floor but not the fridge, and went to school smelling of pickle juice.

Primigenitus gave his oral presentation of his Junior thesis today at 1:35.  I stayed late because I had to do the calligraphy on the National Latin Exam certificates, and then watched him, then went home.  That's when I discovered the smell coming from the AC in the van.

We had a meeting with Tertia's old and new teachers at her future middle school at 3:45.  Secundus had to walk to and from his Kumon tutoring, but didn't mind because he stopped at Target on the way home to buy the latest video game he's been longing for.

First pickup day for vegetables for the CSA at 5:00, then dinner from the crockpot (chicken curry with bottled sauce) then a rush over to Tertia's elementary school book fair before heading off to Cedar Tree's awards night.  The chairs were set up on the lawn and Quarta played in the handbell choir.  We've been having such nasty weather for so long that we didn't mind being outside even if it was a little windy.  National Latin Exam awards - let's see, 3 gold medalists and 6 silver medalists at the Latin I and Latin II levels, and 10 purple ribbons at the intro level - including the girl who got the perfect score (only 300 out of 18,000 did this - it's a big deal!)

No knitting or quilting was accomplished today.  But I've graded 14 verses of the Dies Irae, does that count?  And the calligraphy was kind of artistic.  Tomorrow is Field Day (ugh), paintball for Steve and Secundus, and I get to take the van into the shop.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WIPs and UFOs

WIP = Work In Progress
UFO = Un-Finished Object

The difference, I think, is that the motivation to finish a WIP is a little greater.  UFOs just tend to produce guilt and negative energy.  I made a list of my quilting UFOs after organizing my craft area.  There are a lot of them (11), and some of them require a great deal of skill and time and mental energy to finish; so I just started a new WIP. 
This is the Framed in Quilt I mentioned before, from Moda Bake Shop.  I'm going for a twin size, so I need to make 48 blocks instead of 36: I have about 14 more to go.  I'm using only blue scraps from my 3 bins of scraps, and some plain white cotton for background.   I will probably set the blocks together in this way, once they are all made and squared up.  I like how fast and easily it's going together.

Unlike my UFOs.  Here's the list, with what's keeping me from finishing it in parentheses:
  1. Piecemakers calendar quilt from 1996 (too much applique and fiddly work)
  2. Feathered star wall quilt from 1999 (imperfect piecing, unsure about further design)
  3. Scrappy log cabin from 2004 (needs more blocks to make a bed-size quilt)
  4. Sports quilt to donate to NEXT year's auction (still guilty about not finishing this year)
  5. Jack's Chain from 2007 (set-in seams, slow piecing)
  6. assorted Americana 12" blocks (not enough blocks yet)
  7. assorted bright 9" blocks (not enough blocks yet)
  8. classical themed tote bag (at bottom of a pile)
  9. machine quilting for Grandma's Chinese Lantern quilt (don't know if I can do it right)
  10. quilting for "Aunt Maggie's" block-of-the-month quilt from last year (need to do Grandma's first)
  11. binding for Shirt-stripe Boxes quilt (just need to dig out my walking foot - there's actually hope for this one)
Maybe in a week or so I'll have a finished object to report.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Emperor's Day

The weather was chilly and the competition for 3rd grade was long and intense, but we toga'd our 4 emperors and led them in a triumphal parade around campus.
Then they gave the sheets back so they could play kickball.
High school students, having just read the Lord of the Rings, were celebrating Middle Earth Day.  Even hobbits and elven-maids have to go to school.
I've always maintained that the best costumes are the ones assembled in less than half an hour.  Primigenitus bought brown polyester pants at the thrift store for $3.  Everything else was stuff we had on hand.
It was my first time ever for applying makeup to feet.
The Roman honey cakes were popular.  There weren't enough left to take over to Rhetoric and call them Beorn's honey cakes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Roman Honey Cakes for Emperor's Day

As the school year winds to a close, my 6th grade students are eagerly anticipating tomorrow's Emperor's Contest at Cedar Tree.  All Latin students in grades 3-6 participate in a Latin Bee.  The other Kathy who teaches the younger grades has it all planned out, and has lined up some bonae matres to help with the refreshments.  I need to see about whether I need to bring in some old sheets for the togae.  The Emperor's contest is a "bee" format, with the last one standing at each grade level proclaimed as Emperor.  Yes, every year is the Year of Four Emperors, but without bloodshed.  Yet.

My students in grades 7-8 are really too mature to participate in the Emperor's Contest, but most have younger siblings and would love to watch.  And of course, everyone loves the Roman Feast that follows.

This year for the Roman Feast at lunchtime I am trying Roman Honey Cakes

6 eggs, beaten until stiff (I used my kitchen slave, Bosch)
drizzle in 1/2 pound honey (I eyeballed it)
add a pinch of saffron, and maybe some coriander
fold in 1 cup flour

Pour about 1/4 cup batter in each greased muffiin cup and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  I topped mine with a few sliced almonds, and I had plenty of batter.  Now the trick will be to get them out of the tins without damage.  You're supposed to serve them with more warm honey.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book review - Dove Song

I came of age during a long and dreary era in children's literature, when advocates of "realistic" fiction wrote novels for children in which they developed the theme that, to come of age properly, a character must be traumatized first.  All the usual trials of puberty were magnified several times over, and as an added bonus, dysfunctional families, drug addiction, death, suicide, abuse, various diseases, grinding poverty, and vastly age-inappropriate material were thrown in routinely.  As a result, the average kid in middle-class America grew up thinking he was missing something if he had a happy childhood, or, like me, grew up loving fantasy fiction and avoiding "realism" at all costs.

The tables are turned these days, and fantasy literature is the more popular genre.  It's a great time to be a kid.  But it would be a mistake to dismiss realism entirely; it has a unique ability to help young people process the troubles of life by bringing them out into the open and seeing how others cope.  The novels I find to be worth reading in this genre have the same qualities we look for in all good fiction.  I especially am drawn to stories that express a coherent worldview and have a positive resolution: not necessarily the same thing as a "happy ending," but I crave that too.

Dove Song, by Kristine Franklin, is a sweetly-written book of (relatively) recent history.  Bobbie Lynn's father has just been deployed to Vietnam; her mother has always been subject to "delicate" spells and has abruptly relocated the family from Texas to Tacoma, WA to be near him before his deployment.  When word comes that he is MIA, she spirals into severe depression and mental illness, leaving Bobbie Lynn and her older brother Mason to care for her unassisted, and trying to hide their situation from any adult authorities who, they fear, will break up the family.  Amidst this stress, Bobbie Lynn and Wendy Feeney form a bond as playground outcasts.  Wendy's profoundly retarded sister and her loving family provide a much-needed haven of ordinary human connectivity.  The doves of the title are metaphors for the presence of God's grace in our lives; not, as I had at first assumed, a reference to the peace movement.  Or at least, not primarily.  The recurring theme of guardian angels makes this a book of realistic fiction with redemptive qualities, albeit with a very Roman Catholic flavor.  Without giving away the ending, I'll say you may cry, but not the cry of the hopelessly despairing who have invested in too much postmodern realism.  This book would be appropriate for most middle school aged children, but the subject matter may be too disturbing for some, although it's handled sensitively.

I actually know the author slightly; we've crossed paths on Ravelry, that great meeting-place for all things relating to the fiber arts.  I believe she commented on one of my sweaters... why yes, I believe it was the one I'm wearing in my profile picture.  She has a fiber arts blog as well.  Anyway, I've read another book of hers, Grape Thief (also published as Cuss), which contains a fair amount of Latin.  It's a truly wonderful book that deserves a post all its own, so I'll do that one another time.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spelling Bee

We just finished watching our recording of the National Spelling Bee.  I love doing this, every year.  It's so great to see middle schoolers up there, being smart, using their Latin.  I love the ritual of it, the guessing what the language of origin is before the question is asked, the humorous sample sentences.  I've always had a bit of a crush on the pronouncer, Dr. Bailly, who was the national champion the same year I went out in the Northeast Ohio regionals on "poignant."  (I missed "paroxysm" in the local bee but advanced anyway; the school used a written test on which I only missed "panicky." Something about those P words.)

More P words in this year's bee... I was excited when I heard "pinetum" (a grove of evergreen trees, basically) because I used it as the name for one of our school teams at the Latin Certamen for the past two years.  And I wish that the girl who misspelled "privatim" had asked the part of speech -- because if she had realized it was an adverb she would surely have not spelled it "privatum."

I gave the final exam today, and graded it too.  It's always an exhausting and somewhat depressing task, as I start to question either why I'm so hard on these kids, or why they don't study more -- sometimes both.  I also graded the 8th grade's Nicene Creed worksheets.  Still to come next week - Dies Irae (all 20 verses) for 7th grade and Nunc Dimittis for 6th.  But sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.  Only one more week to go.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Longing for the Contemplative Life

Yesterday I accompanied Cedar Tree's 3rd grade on a field trip to Mt. Angel Abbey, a Benedictine monastery about an hour and a half from the school.  It rained both ways but the weather while we were at the Abbey was fine.  We took in the Abbey's museum, highlights of which include a Vatican-authorized replica of the face of the Virgin from Michelangelo's Pieta, an 8-legged calf (stuffed), and some large bezoars (petrified hairballs, basically) from the stomachs of pigs.  We spent some lovely moments in the rare book room of the library, perusing illuminated manuscripts and learning the meaning of incunabulum (it's a printed book from the earliest or "cradle" days of the printer's craft).

We observed the monks at midday prayers and followed along in the prayer book as they sang their antiphons, then ate our own packed lunches while the kids asked Brother Basil questions about life in the Abbey.  These kids have spent the year learning about the Middle Ages and the feudal system, as well as introductory Latin - so they knew about Ora et Labora and vows of silence.  But they had lots of practical questions, like "Do you get to see your family?" "Why do you have a hood?" and "What do you do all day?"  Brother Basil was young and kind and could relate easily to the kids, so it was a memorable time.

I'm now entering the final rush of exams and crazy grading schedules leading up to the end of the school year, so the peaceful sojourn at the Abbey was all too short for me.  Especially since, on the drive back to school, all 5 girls in my car practiced all the memory songs they've learned since Kindergarten, and then at school, one poor little guy got sick all over himself and the girl standing in the line of fire.  Thanks to St. Benedict, I was able to clean up vomit with a little better grace than usual.