Monday, May 24, 2010

Long weekend

We had another three day weekend thanks to Pentecost. After growing up in the states with separation of church and state, these religious holidays always catch us by surprise. Inevitably we forget to do our grocery shopping, and with everything closed down, well... it gets kind of interesting.

My eyes started feeling well enough Sunday afternoon for a little hike in the forest. We went with some friends, and though I have no idea where we ended up, it was amazing. The trail moved upwards between high stone cliffs that had been etched by water probably thousands of years ago. There were little caves at our sides and a small rivulet running under our feet. Someone had meticulously built wooden bridges and staircases leading up over this whole expanse. My pictures don't quite do it justice, but it was really breath-taking.

At the first summit we reached a prairie full of families playing frisbee, sunbathing, and barbecuing. There was even a playground for the kids. Just five minutes more hiking led us to another summit-- a restaurant and a pasture with camels! That's right-- camels in Switzerland! How funny is that!?!

Even funnier, we were told that the Wanderweg, or the trail, that leads into the next village goes through this camel pasture. So naturally we decided to walk on this trail to get a better look at the camels. There was a mama and a baby, so just as naturally this turned out to not be the best idea. The mama chased us and growled. I didn't know camels could growl, but this one did. It was a very throaty kind of sound, and the message was very clear: Stay the heck away from my baby! Still, it was interesting.

On Monday my eyes seemed almost back to normal. I spent a little bit of time in the garden putting yummy starts in, thanks to our gardener friends, and Sunburst managed to scrub the rat cage for the first time by herself. It took her All. Day. Long. Have I mentioned before that she's equal parts choleric and sanguine? She dives head first into a project and then gets completely distracted... I had to remind her what her focus was when I found her hours later walking the rats under our big shade tree, complete with harnesses she had fashioned out of knitting yarn.

I realize these pictures are a tad blurry, but I swear it's not my eyes. Have you ever tried to take a picture of a running rat? I'm sure a few of you have!

I'm off to get my eyes checked again tonight... hopefully all will go well. The pharmacist I spoke with on Saturday thinks that I was having an abnormal reaction to the dilation drops, so I don't think I'll be having those again. Today I can see just as well as before my first exam, and neither the sunlight nor the computer screen seem to be much of an issue for me. You can imagine how much I'm rejoicing!

Thanks again for all your kind words over the last week. You mamas are the best!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eye update

My eyes are still terribly sore, so I'm only popping in here for a second. But I wanted to say thanks for the kind comments and wishes and prayers. I really appreciate it so much!

I made it through my second round of tests, and they can't figure out what happened. I had the symptoms of a sudden retinal detachment or tear, if I understood him correctly. But after scads of testing, he doesn't see it. I've had some chronic twitching under my eye for the last few months, too, which is maybe related to eyestrain? Or rat allergies? Completely inconclusive results. If my symptoms continue they said the next step is an MRI.

I don't wear glasses, and if I did the prescription would be minimal. I had my eyes checked for my driver's license just last year and the doc shrugged and said, "Eh, maybe just don't drive at night."

Now that I've been in for the testing, my eyesight is awful. For three days now everything is blurry-- both near and far-- and my eyes ache. I can't handle bright lights or read or look at the computer screen for more than a few minutes or I get a splitting headache. I'm just walking around holding my head. I don't know if this is a reaction to the testing medicine or what, but it's really scary and confusing. And of course the doctor gave me a prescription for glasses at the end of my second appointment.

Today I took that prescription into an Optik to order glasses. They took one look at it and said my prescription was very strange and probably wrong. After I explained my symptoms and my normal eyesight, they said it was most assuredly wrong and strongly recommended I get a second opinion. So I will undergo more testing next week.

Meanwhile, life goes on in a very minimal fashion. Including homeschooling, or what I can see of it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wedjat eyes

I wanted to post yesterday, but I honestly couldn't see the words on the screen. My left eye has been twitchy for the past few months, but it did something crazy night before last. I spent yesterday in a considerable amount of distress and went through a gamut of emergency testing that left my pupils as large as moons and looking like I had wedjat eyes. They told me I would recover my sight in three hours, but six hours later my eyes were still completely messed up. ( I couldn't even see my own eyes reflected in the mirror, so Einstein took this picture for me.)

Today they hurt. A lot. And things are a little blurry. I'm wearing sunglasses in order to type this, and tonight I go back in for some other kinds of testing. There was a bit of a communication break-down, so I'm not even sure what is going on. But I think the doctor said my eye wasn't falling apart, as the symptoms indicated. But perhaps whatever testing I have tonight will tell-all. Fingers crossed.

In the several hours of non-seeing yesterday I was really surprised at how much of my daily activities are directly reliant on sight. Mothering. Cleaning. Reading. Knitting. Mending. Writing. Gardening. And homeschooling, of course.

Right now Sunburst and I have our feet dug figuratively deep into the Egyptian sand. We're talking about Isis and Osiris and Horus... and this wedjat eye, the eye of Horus. It's supposed to symbolize, not just sight, but an agent of action. And that's what eyes are! Everything I do and am is sight-dependent. And not being able to see, even for a few hours, felt completely debilitating.

And it would be. In the hours of waiting and wondering yesterday I couldn't help but entertain the awful thought of "what if." What if I was losing my sight? If I lost my inability to see, you know, how terrible is that? On the extreme end, I wouldn't be able to see the sweet faces of my children again-- or my grandchildren someday-- or my beautiful husband. And how would I continue homeschooling them? We use an arts-based education, and art is at the heart of everything we do together*. Watercolor painting, pastels, crayons, pencils, fiber, clay-- you name it, we make use of it. Not only use, but joy. How do you live without that?

I guess you learn, but I can't imagine the kind of internal damage that does. I knew an artist once who lost his eyesight to macular degeneration, and how hard just being awake must have been for him! The walls of his house were lined with his life's work-- work which he couldn't see! He kept painting, but as his condition progressed, well... you can imagine how that effected the process and outcome of his work, emotionally and physically.

I guess I'll find out tonight what the future holds in store for my eyes... meanwhile, for my sighted readers, here's a bit of our recent Egyptian artwork to tide you over. I hope these photos are in focus-- I can't tell.

*Imagine how hard it would be to teach a child the nuances of drawing with block crayons if you couldn't see? Or watercolors? Oy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Here comes the sun!

Finally! We've had it in fits and starts the last two weeks-- a minute here, an hour there... not much more than that. And always at 11 am. Ask me how I know?!

Today, however, we've had sun for a couple of hours. We're all rejoicing, especially Sunburst. For the last two weeks she has been painstakingly monitoring the sun's presence and trying to build a sundial. It's not so easy when the sky has been constantly filled with rain and dark clouds and terrible gusts of wind.

It would have been much easier and more accurate to make one on paper, and we eventually will, but I think this way she's learning so much more than she ever imagined. And she's having loads of fun doing it. She opted to make the numbers in cuneiform, as they might have done in ancient Babylon.

Plus, any excuse to go outside and visit the horses is a good one...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Recipe for trouble

2 rats + me = asthma

Sadly, it's true. It has turned out that my seriously bad Spring allergies this year are not actually Spring related. These sweet little rats are causing me all sorts of grief. We're at the point where any contact with the rats (or being in proximity to anything/anyone who has touched a rat) sends me into fits of coughing and wheezing.

This was not what any of us had bargained for.

It's still cold and raining, putting a hiatus on most of our outdoor lesson plans... so our focus has now shifted to allergy containment. Sunburst is pretty upset about the whole thing, as you can imagine. This morning we went around the breakfast table making a list of possible ideas for ways to remedy the rat-allergy situation. One of the kids suggested a solar-powered venting fan. Kitty Bill thought a hermetically-sealed, outdoor, rock cage might do the trick.

While not feasible ideas, they sure are interesting... which makes for a whole new range of homeschooling questions. How could one build a solar-powered venting fan? What's the range of temperature change from one area of a room to another, or one floor of the house to another? And what is an allergic reaction anyway? Is it fair to hermetically seal a rat's cage? And do they make plastic bubbles for people like mom?

The question-making is tireless. Can the same be said for my ability to breathe? Stay tuned.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day surprises

It was a fantastic Mother's Day. The kids surprised me with the sweetest handmade gifts, and I was so tickled by them that I had to share.

Sunburst secretly knit a sea otter from the pattern in this book. She improvised a knit sweater for it and sewed a tiny card onto the front paws. So cute!

Moonshine carved a blue chaffinch with her very first pocket knife. And she only cut herself once doing it. Whew. It's so sweet!

And Kitty Bill, not to be left out, gave me a small cut-out doll of myself-- a mini-me! Sunburst helped him make clothes and glue the hair on, but the rest is all his hard work. The picture on the shirt is him, of course, where I keep him right next to my heart...

It was a lovely day-- the sun came out long enough for Einstein and I to build a small house for our tomato starts, and then it poured rain the rest of the long, lazy afternoon.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

"All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her." --George Washington

I saw that quote earlier today and it just touched my heart.

Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I'm wishing you a wonderful, peaceful mother's day.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A wee bit of sewing (and muffins!)

Though it's still raining, we got a bit of sunshine in the mail this week when our order arrived from Superbuzzy. There's nothing like pretty fabrics to cheer a girl up!

We're all having serious trouble focusing this week. So as an impetus for us all to get our work done, I promised the girls I would sew up a couple of skirts for them after lessons. I've never seen kids work with so much gusto! I might have to order more fabric for our next rainy spell.

I made these from half a yard each, but because of the design layouts, they're different styles. Sunburst helped me pick out the fabrics, and Moonshine was extremely pleased and surprised with her Matryoshka pattern. When Sunburst picked out the mushroom pattern for herself, I had to laugh. After we finished the lower plants, she begged for a break from Botany so we could do more history together. Since that break she has done nothing but talk about plants. I even caught her embroidering fly agaric mushrooms onto a pair of jeans the other day-- and not just mushrooms, but soil and mycelium as well. She is too funny!

As an extra treat we made pumpkin muffins from our fall freezer stash. The weather certainly feels like fall, so why not?!! They're packed with yummy seeds, which really makes me smile. I'm trying to be better about writing down recipes as I make them up-- you can imagine the kind of trouble I get into when Einstein or the kids ask for a repeat and I have no clue what I did. So since I remembered to write it down, here's the recipe... with yet another clever title. ;-)

It's Raining Vegan Pumpkin Muffins
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/2 c evaporated cane juice
1 1/2 c pumpkin puree
1/2 c oil
2 T water
1/4 c pumpkin seeds
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c raisins

Preheat over to 350 F. Mix the dry ingredients together. Add in the wet ingredients. Stir until just mixed. Bake in greased muffin pan for 25-30 minutes or until done. Makes 12.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ziggurat veil painting

For our first attempts at veil-painting I chose to incorporate the temples from Ancient Mesopotamia and Assyria. Since this was a time of great expansion, I thought we should expand a little too and try some new art techniques. Not too shabby, I think, for a first try.... though we still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Spring is officially over. We've turned back to let Winter have another go at us... or so it seems. The powers that be came and turned the heat back on yesterday. I didn't request it, but I'm not complaining. It's cold and wet and only threatening to get colder and wetter.

So naturally, Sunburst and I spent some time today admiring the natural order of the universe.... in the vase of tulips on the table.

Amazing things are happening inside these plants. We kind of knew that already, but for grins, we took a closer look. It's all there-- spheres, triangles, star patterns, symmetry... amazing. Stunning. Wonderous. Perfect... except that one of them had 7 petals. We kind of liked that, as imperfection in nature still results in something splendid.

We did a fair job trying to capture them in pastels, though they are much easier to capture with a camera!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Songs on Sunday

The rain kept us in all weekend.

We spent most of Sunday singing together and playing music and then recording it. We had such a blast!

It all started when Sunburst realized that her rat Ronia didn't have a signature song. A while ago Einstein, the dad, made up a reggae song for Sunburst's rat Pepper, and all the kids sing back-up on it. It's very cute. But poor Ronia, Sunburst felt, was feeling a bit left out. So Einstein came up with the chords, and Sunburst set to work creating "Redwall-style" lyrics with three verses and a chorus. Here's just a taste:
"If'n you see a rat who's sweet as can be
Who can cuddle like a babe an' seem so free
Eat like a hare an' go like a flow
An' have a belly white as the snow

Yer lookin' at
Ronia, Ronia
Love 'er, hug 'er, hold 'er
Ronia, Ronia..."

We were having so much fun that we decided to change the words around into a birthday song for Einstein's mom. Yep, we're one of those families that will call on your birthday and sing the most ridiculous things just to show you how much you're loved-- our style falls curiously somewhere between the Partridge and the Addams families. (Did the Addams Family ever sing?) Anyway...

There was quite a bit of flute music going on, too. I've been writing a lot of songs lately to go with Moonshine's lessons, but I've been struggling with finding the time it takes to write them all out in musical notation. Now that Moonshine has really taken off with the flute, she has been delightedly compiling each song she learns into her own music book. This is great fun, and such a joy for her! Except that she has to wait around for me to write them out. Waiting for mom is... well, not so much fun.

My ultimate plan with having Moonshine compile this music book is so I can eventually teach her to read the music that she already knows, like I did with Sunburst. Ergo, it's important to have the songs all written down properly.

Enter the new love of my life-- Finale Notepad. I don't have a ton of free time to sit around and write things out, but I can enter them into this software, tweak and tweak, and play it back until it sounds right. I was so inspired by how quickly this process went, the songs just came flying. The program is easy enough for Sunburst to work on her own. And it's a great way to self-check your own musical writing, at least for me, because sometimes I screw up. It's true. Or worse yet, I make a song up and completely forget it an hour later. I hope that's a sign of a full life and not an aging brain. ;-)

Here's a simple little math song:

Don't forget to notice the clever title. ;-)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Have you seen Jack-in-the-Green?

Thomas Crane & Ellen Houghton, London Town, 1883

I was just over at A Polar Bear's Tale-- she is always putting such inspiring artwork up-- when this one in particular caught my eye. I had no idea that Jack-in-the-Green was associated with the first of May. To me it has always been a song... still remembered from childhood. And always, it makes me think of my dad.

He and I were blessed enough to see Jethro Tull play live, twice. Though my dad has been gone six years this May, I can still hear him singing along.

I found a nice little video of Jethro Tull singing Jack-in-the-Green, 1982.

May Faire, sort of

Today... nonstop rain. All this week, rain.

I'm so glad we weren't counting on today to do anything special. In fact, we had a pretty awesome celebration last weekend. One of our dearest friends was in town, along with her baby, and the glory of May was already here.

The fields were bursting with dandelions, laughing children, and song. We made daisy chain garlands and dandelion garlands, picnicked in the yard, made a visit to the Goetheanum and castle ruins, and picnicked again by the river. It was a gorgeous and soul-filling weekend, ending with a trip to the Black Forest where we hugged our goodbyes.

There's nothing like surprise visits from an old friend, laughing late into the night, and for the first time seeing her features reflected in the shining face of her child. It was a weekend we'll treasure for a long, long time.

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