Seeing books anew

We’re used to doing books in this house.  Whether it’s working in libraries or compiling libraries of our own or assigning piles of them to our students, I thought we knew books.  But the kids are putting their own spin on things.  Katherine asked me to take her to the public library because she’d run out of history books to read, and, wow, there’s no way I could afford to keep her in books on my own.  I worried that Nathaniel would not have the same enthusiasm, since he can’t yet read on his own, I don’t sit down with him as much as I should, and Katherine, though willing, can’t always read to him.  But after I let him wander around for a bit, he found a book on machines in space, one on Thomas the Tank Engine, and several on spiders, science, and puppies.  He’s now just as enthusiastic as she is.  The reading time they do in his kindergarten class is helping to reinforce the message.

The public library staff make things easy.  When we arrived this afternoon, they encouraged us to join a book group: read at home to your kid, enjoy knowing that hundreds of other families are reading that same book, and get together for a party at the end.  They even gave us a copy of the book, Peter Pan, which I haven’t read with the kids.  Score!  They also had an “I spy” game with bugs and bird nests in one part of the library, and the kids got to bring home Dr. Seuss notebooks after they finished the game.  Now I’ve sentenced the kids to two hours of “quiet time” as we transition out of nap time in our house, and both ran off to settle in with books as soon as lunch was over.


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First Day at School

Katherine, 2nd grade:

Katherine abandoning the photo session to point out a hummingbird in the front yard:

Nathaniel, kindergarten:

Nathaniel forgetting all about the school bus (even though he got up at 6, excited to ride it) because of a friendly neighborhood cat:



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Our neighbor said she hadn’t seen us outside much in the past couple of weeks.  I think she’s gotten used to us working out front at all hours.  I explained that we were off plowing up a three-acre plot of land that Sydney is using to start a farm operation, and she looked surprised.  So, this is what we’ve been doing:

Sydney plows, occasionally has me spell him, and has me digging out rocks.  Meanwhile, the kids have a nice shady spot and a picnic blanket on which they color, read, and play with magnetic sand.

Katherine is headed into second grade halfway between baby teeth and adult teeth:

And Nathaniel, who giggled deliriously when I asked him to look into the sun, has lost his first tooth just before kindergarten:


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Two Years Later

Two years after moving in, our house is starting to look and feel more like us.  Sydney ripped out the yews that covered the windows and put in garden beds early on.  I’ve painted the inside walls inside green, blue, and purple, as schedules allowed.  This spring, Sydney did something with the flat square of lawn in the middle of our front yard, and throughout July we’ve been tackling the front porch.  He’s built, and I’ve painted.  It’s feeling much more like us.  I’m sure our neighbors are a bit confused by our seemingly random bursts of energy, but they may not be used to people who live by the academic calendar.  We have two weeks until school starts, when everything will slow way down.

The house when we bought it:

The front of the house now:


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Ready for School

Although I’d been sailing along pretty happily with our home life–some reading, some writing, much painting and playing and cleaning–the kids have been nudging me toward school this past week.  When we got Katherine’s teacher information and supply list in the mail a couple of days ago, the questions about “When can we get supplies” started.  We now have supplies for both kids labeled, bagged, and ready for open house in two weeks.  Kentucky schools start in early August, and we’re likely to see a good six weeks of heat before things cool off, so there’s really no point in trying to think of “new school clothes.”  All of the kids will be in summer sandals and shorts well into September.

Nathaniel is doing everything possible to show me he’s ready for kindergarten.  When he pointed out that his old sneakers had several holes (they’ve been great for mud and hiking and yard play this summer), we dug out his new ones.  And then I remembered that I foolishly bought shoes with laces.  I wouldn’t have, except that he’s now in a size where that’s normal; apparently they don’t realize that some five-year-olds just have big feet.  But Nathaniel surprised me.  I quickly tied his shoes once, a bit distracted, and he said, “That was too fast.  Do it again.”  When I’d done it a second time, more slowly, he tried it himself and got nearly all the way to the end.  In less than a day, he was tying his shoes perfectly, with much celebrating by Katherine and me (we’re both still scarred from her efforts to learn that skill).  This morning, Nathaniel also showed me a wiggly front tooth.  He really needs to slow down with the business of growing up!

Sydney’s lined up to teach several classes at Asbury this year, so we have, for the next several months anyway, a game plan that involves dual employment in the same location.  Two weeks from Wednesday, we’ll be putting Nathaniel on the bus, and then Katherine half an hour later (two different schools), and then Sydney and I will walk in to work together.  We’re teaching two sections of the “welcome to college” class for freshmen.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a day I’ve been looking forward to for almost seven years, when all four members of our house will go to school!  I love the easy cuddles and drawn-out breakfasts of summer, but I love even more when my kids have lives that extend beyond mine, with interests, friends, and activities of their own.

I do, though, really enjoy having my husband work at the same place.  We went to college together, one week after marrying we started graduate school together (on the same floor of the same building of the same university), we once had graduate teaching offices across the hall from one another (that was a bit much for Sydney), and last spring I proctored one of Sydney’s exams at Asbury.  I think our students are split between horror and giggles at the prospect of having both of us during their college careers.


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What we’ve been up to

In case you’ve been getting radio silence from us over the past few weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time tackling house projects.  The day I got back from England, Sydney started planning out how to build porch columns to replace the old ones that had rotted.  I thought that sounded like a great reason to repaint the house trim, which was four kinds of dirty beige.  Now at least a quarter of it is bright white.  Along the way, we’ve been replacing and redoing: Sydney discovered some rotted wood as soon as he took out the first column, so he rebuilt part of the porch frame and redirected water flow from the roof.  We replaced the porch lights and house numbers and will be painting shutters, gutters, tables, and anything else that happens by at the wrong time. I’ve learned that I really don’t like being up on the roof, and I think I deserve a major prize for painting around a wasp nest at the peak of our roof.  Sydney, however, scoffs, and practically did a jig on the roof to tease me.  I’ve learned that I have almost no practical skill to contribute to my carpenter/gardener/repairman husband, so I’m doing painting.  I’m not good at that, either, but you can’t say I’m not dedicated!

We are also providing entertainment for the neighborhood; Sydney’s muttered more than once that we ought to put out a bucket to collect viewing fees.  Most of the neighbors have come by to inspect Sydney’s construction up close, and at least a dozen cars slow to a crawl, stop in the middle of the road, or pull over so the driver can holler out encouragement or ask for the names of plants in the front yard.  Yes, things are slow during summer in a small town, but people are also just trying to see what all of this activity is going to yield.  Sydney’s construction work will be over, we hope, this week, so that he can get on to preparations for the school year, but I’m sure I’ll be dragging him back into my painting troubles on a daily basis until I’m done (perhaps by the end of the month?).  I am, however, just finishing up my preparations for my fourth course for the fall, so I should be in good shape for the semester.  Of course, I say that now . . .

My perch from near the roof gave me a good view of the backyard.  There are benefits to painting there: I had to put up with being higher than I liked, but each time I came back down I could swipe a blackberry from the vines directly under the ladder:

This picture makes the house look a lot more “done” than it is, but, still, you can see the contrast between old and new under the roof line on the upper left.  Part of me wonders why I’m bothering with the paint, however.  The vine on the wall on the left is a wisteria that will, we hope, soon cover the entire side with beautiful flowers and leaves.  And the little tree in the box front and center is a magnolia that will eventually get quite large.  Soon nobody will even be able to see the outside of our house.


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The West Coast of Ireland

I didn’t fancy trying to drive in Ireland, so we took a coach tour that got us out of the city limits.  It also gave us front-row seats to Ireland’s wonderfully changeable weather, which is why the sky gets as much attention from me as the castle in the first picture:

My favorite part of the trip was our two-hour stop at the Cliffs of Moher.  I love walking, I love seeing natural beauty that is distinct about a place I’m visiting, and I loved the stiff breeze coming off the ocean. I kept a close eye on my watch as I walked, since we were warned that the bus would not wait, but every curve I passed revealed another curve . . . I’m glad I turned back, though, since our guide told me that the path along the cliff goes on for 15 or so miles, and I wouldn’t have seen any reason to stop for a long time!

It’s hard to tell that the cliffs rise 700 feet above the water, but the presence of a tower lends some sense of scale:

Mom surprised me by loving the wind along the coast.  She and I had clearly had enough of the stultifying heat and humidity back home.


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As is usual with me, what I most enjoyed of our trip overseas was the freedom to walk everywhere.  Only once did I get a bit too much walking in.  On our first night in Galway, we left our apartment late in the evening, looking for food. Without too much difficulty, we found our way to a fantastic Spanish tapas place.  Three “helpful” guys offered to guide us when I stopped to look at street names, but they weren’t local and they heard “tapas” as, well, something else, which really made their eyebrows shoot up . . . After dinner, though, we took a different route out of town to pick up groceries, missed the road back, and found ourselves walking the path along the highway well after 10 at night.  This being Galway, there were not only pedestrian paths, but also random helpful people just when we feared we had left civilization behind.  It was the night Ireland beat Italy in soccer, so everyone in Ireland was in a good mood, and had walked to the nearest pub for the game, so we had lots of help.  Still, when I told Mom we had covered about 7 miles in that outing, I knew it was a low estimate.

Although Mom had every right to be concerned about leaving the apartment with me again, she did it anyway, and we were rewarded with sights like these, of the town and Galway Cathedral:

And then I saw a sign I really need to put on our front door:

Heidi, that picture was for you (you scarred me with all of those “weird signs” pictures from your trips).  We see plenty of “Beware Dog” signs, but this would be more helpful for people courageous enough to enter our house.



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After my conference in Leeds, Mom and I flew back to Dublin to spend a few days in the city.  As I suspected, two full days were enough to tire us out and make us glad for a move to the country.  But while we were in town we made some fun discoveries.  The first was that we arrived in time to see Dublin mark the centenary of the Easter Rising revolt, which marks the beginning of the modern move to Irish Independence.  Copies of the 1916 proclamation of independence were plastered all over the city, our hotel was just down the street from the post office that served as the revolutionaries’ headquarters, and a national gallery was filled with images of the revolt (and Britain’s armed response).  The devastation to Dublin’s downtown looked very much like the pictures of WWI bombings in London that I am used to seeing in my work.  Below is a view of the National Library of Ireland, from the steps of the National Museum of Ireland–Archaeology, which holds several bog bodies that date back to roughly 800 BCE.

Another surprise was just how lush the city parks were.  Compared to Kentucky (which likes its grass, and even that must be golf-green short), the parks in Dublin seemed almost jungle-like!  We wandered among several of those during our city strolls, enjoying rejuvenation from the green before we headed back out to traffic.  Yes, apparently high rain fall really does mean different plant life, to which the parks attested.  Everything was in bloom, too, and they had a lot of variety of trees and flowers.  I have also, apparently, not entirely forgotten my maternal instincts.  I was quick to note playgrounds everywhere we went.  In a former life, those would have been a big help in getting my kids through a long day out and about.  But now, not only did I not have my kids in tow, but even if I did, they would be too big to get much out of the equipment!  Apparently I’m slow to make the mental leaps needed as life rolls on . . .


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Ralph the Resident Starling

As you have probably discerned by now, Sydney is a big bird-lover.  Interestingly, though, he hasn’t been a big fan of starlings, given that they do a lot to drive other birds away.  So it really seemed just too funny that a baby starling adopted our family earlier this month.

Ralph, as we called him, landed on Nathaniel’s knee and shoulder in the yard one afternoon (making Nathaniel smile and then start to cry) and immediately hopped around all of us, making that annoying cheeping sound that is the universal signal for “I’m hungry and I’m going to continue making this atrocious sound until you feed me.”  So, Sydney dug up earthworms all over his garden.  We graduated to canned cat food (yes, there is a cosmic joke in there somewhere), delivered via tweezers from 6am to 8pm each day for roughly a week.  The feedings took place on the deck until we realized that impatient Ralph was all too ready to simply fly in the patio door if given a chance (as it was, our cats watched every feeding with great interest from just behind the patio door).

The day I left for England, however, Ralph failed to appear, and Sydney hasn’t seen him since, but we took several pictures of this bold little bird who would swoop down onto our heads and shoulders (quite ticklish, that) and who didn’t even mind if we pet him.  We’re not likely to get such an invasion of the wild in the future.


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