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RSSBack Issue: October, 2008

The Anniversary


Two days after our wedding anniversary this year, my husband says to me, “Honey!! We forgot it! Again.” An even dozen deserves to be remembered. But we both are wise enough to know that the act of timely recalling a significant date is not nearly as important as what’s in our hearts on a daily basis.

Which is why he didn’t watch my face with apprehension as he broke the news, but burst into a sheepish, roll-your-eyes kind of laugh, knowing I would join him in making fun of ourselves — what! we’re not even 50! At least we remembered in the same month. For all the special people whose birthdays we forget, you can see that we are no respecter of persons (um, that doesn’t mean we don’t respect people…it’s a phrase that means we don’t discriminate!).

Again. My husband added that word to his announcement because, yes, indeed, we’ve done this before. Most memorably, it was our 7th anniversary. We were about to sell our first house. It was a small 1970s home with low popcorn ceilings and dreary, dark cabinets–at least that’s what it looked like before my husband went on a remodel craze. He completely updated the place, tackling everything from that horrible ceiling texture to the trim to the windows, and even added on another bedroom, bathroom, and family room.

At the very last minute, I, who had offered nothing to the entire project (except birthing babies and changing diapers, which, as all mothers know, is essential to any long-term home enterprise), decided that the 1970s brick fireplace MUST go. I recommended retiling it with slate. Fine, except we had the house on the market and a couple traveling from another state to look at the residence in two days.

Women can be impulsive like that. Especially nursing mothers whose hormones are still totally out of whack. Miraculously, my extremely fussy artistic (and surely sick of remodeling) husband agreed and even trusted me to pick out the slate myself at Home Depot. People, I can’t even hang my own pictures in the house! But it was clear that this last remaining vestige of the 1970s was an eyesore amongst the otherwise upgraded design.

This is how we found ourselves on that August night five years ago, him mixing mortar and laying stone, me cutting (yes, running a motorized, acutely sharp object in my hormonal state!) squares of slate as he marked them. We worked at a frantic pace, with me occasionally having to stop to nurse the baby and check on the toddlers. I pondered our sanity. Our buyers would arrive the next day.

Sometime about 4 a.m., as I joined him at the fireplace in laying slate over dated brick, desperately wondering if we’d make it, he looked at me with bleary eyes and mortar-smeared hands and face. With a bit of a startle he announced, “Honey, it’s our anniversary!” We were utterly exhausted and filthy dirty, but working side by side and enjoying our combined efforts–not a bad place to be. We laughed and wished each other a most sincere “Happy Anniversary.”

I’m just glad it was him that remembered first.

We’ve promised each other that next year we’ll remember. We have the best of intentions, but it’s safer for us to treat each day as a special one, cherishing every moment of our crazy life, not saving our best attention for one certain day.


68th Carnival of Homesteading – the putting up wood edition


thcWelcome to the 68th Carnival of Homesteading. It’s that time of year…fall is here with a chill in the air, and winter stands at the door. We’ve been putting up wood. There is a comforting warmth of a wood fire that can’t be matched, and I’m so pleased we have this opportunity in our home. Dad and the kids have been busy.

First, there are the logs:
downed trees

The axe…
the ax

And the beautiful pile, a nice beginning, stacked by my nine-year-old son…
the wood pile

Here are the wonderful entries for this week:
From the Sojourner, My Kids thought I was crazy…a dog food bag made into a tote bag. How fun and cool…but will all the neighborhood dogs be following her around?

Fowl Visions brings us Backyard Plans for Wild Bird Feeding and Bird Watching…welcome to some great bird watching in Clay County, Florida!

Hobby Lawn Care tells us Why Is Proper Lawn Clipping Height So Important? Hint – it’s not “as short as possible.”

Make it From Scratch prepares Pumpkin Pie – my absolute favorite! It’s the homemade crust that makes it extra special.

Stop the Ride has some Soil Surprises…thankfully, this post has nothing to do with diapers or laundry.

Little House in the Suburbs teaches us about Clipping Chicken Wings…for chicks who escape.

From the lighter side, we have German Fresh Apple Bread – mmmm, apple bread from any country is delicious.

A Pondering Heart says I Nominate…it’s time for the homeschool blog awards.

It’s a Learning Experience asks What’s On the Menu? This is for a family of eleven, for a whole week…wow.

From Vermont’s Northland Journal, I found this lovely little story about the warmth of a woodstove. Here is an excerpt I enjoyed:

Townsfolk and neighbors not only judged a man by the color of his chimney smoke, the shape and size of his woodpile were also scrutinized. A woodpile, besides being straight and sturdy, needed to be piled so the wood would cure and keep, while at the same time look like a picture. There was an art to putting up a good woodpile.

Next week’s Carnival of Homesteading will be hosted by Oak Hill Homestead. You can submit your homesteading blog posts here by next Sunday, 9 p.m. EST.


Cat up a Tree


Cat up a juniper tree

A few weeks ago, I found Tawny high up in a tree, meowing rather pleadingly. After spending an hour finding a ladder tall enough to reach the cat, coaxing him with soothing kitty calls and finally food, I rescued the feline. The cat could starve or freeze to death, trapped up here indefinitely, I had thought.

Later that evening, when my husband returned from errands with the kids and I related to them the cat story, my 9-year-old son laughed, “Mom, Tawny always climbs up there and gets back down by himself!” Oh.


Recent blog carnivals:
Carnival of Education
Carnival of Family Life
Christian Carnival
Carnival of Homesteading

Up next: Carnival of Homesteading, here at Diary of 1, on Monday, Oct. 20. Submit HERE by Sunday, 9 p.m. EST.


The Child’s Inventor’s Box


An “inventor’s box” full of odds and ends that has a permanent place in your home play area or in your classroom–this is the child’s invention kit, the perfect tool for science exploration and innovation. The idea is to create the atmosphere of an inventor’s workshop, where there is no fixed set of materials and no particular goal established in advance; rather, the bountiful collection of materials is there for the child to explore, experiment, and give creative expression to his ideas. And voila, an enthusiastic and independent science mind is being created in the process.

I. For the frugal and simple approach, here is a list (in no particular order) to get you started. These materials can be gathered over time from a craft store, RadioShack, around your house and garage, thrift stores, garage sales, lumber yards, and more. Let me know what else I should add to my list, and some simple experiments to go with this list!

  • mirrors
  • magnets
  • metal rods
  • weights
  • small motors
  • coils of insulated wire
  • mounting base and mounting bracket
  • insulated tubing
  • D-cell battery
  • balloons
  • paper clips
  • string
  • rope
  • tape-duct tape, scotch tape, two sided tape
  • tacks
  • rubber bands
  • washers, nuts, bolts, screws, nails
  • pvc pipes with connector corners
  • wire
  • springs, hinges, clothes pins
  • pulleys
  • pipe cleaners
  • casters
  • straws
  • pins
  • scissors, exacto knife (be careful, adult supervision!)
  • cloth patches, scrap material
  • cotton balls
  • bottle caps, wine corks
  • markers
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • drawing paper, notebooks
  • paint
  • paint brushes
  • felt
  • poster board
  • popsicle sticks, toothpicks, craft wood, dowels
  • connector ties, zip ties
  • clamps and glue
  • knobs, dials
  • cardboard–toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes
  • 1-quart milk cartons
  • tinker toy pieces
  • styrofoam pieces
  • propellers
  • tuning fork
  • plastic soda bottles
  • pH test strips
  • hammer and small saw
  • cheesecloth
  • droppers
  • filter paper
  • forceps
  • funnel
  • litmus papers
  • magnifiers
  • fluorescent light
  • Now, what can you do with all these materials? Here are some ideas cards to keep handy, if your child/student wants a specific activity:

    1. Human conductor of electricity

    one ballon, one flourescent light.


  • Darken the room. Hold the fluorescent bulb in one hand and the balloon in the other. Rub the balloon vigorously on your hair.
  • Bring the balloon near the bulb and watch what happens. Was that a flicker of light? Did the bulb really light up?
  • Move the balloon up and down the bulb without touching the bulb. The light should sort of follow the balloon.
  • Touch the balloon to the glass and see if you can get a spark to jump.
  • You can’t believe your eyes… so, go back to step 1 and do it again.
  • 2. Periscope-mirrored tube that lets you see over walls and around corners:

    Two 1-quart milk cartons
    Two small pocket mirrors (flat, square ones work best)
    Utility knife or X-Acto knife
    Pencil or pen
    Masking tape


  • Use the knife to cut around the top of each milk carton, removing the peaked “roof.”
  • Cut a hole at the bottom of the front of one milk carton. Leave about 1/4 inch of carton on each side of the hole.
  • Put the carton on its side and turn it so the hole you just cut is facing to your right. On the side that’s facing up, measure 2 3/4 inches up the left edge of the carton, and use the pencil to make a mark there. Now, use your ruler to draw a diagonal line from the bottom right corner to the mark you made.
  • Starting at the bottom right corner, cut on that line. Don’t cut all the way to the left edge of the carton-just make the cut as long as one side of your mirror. If your mirror is thick, widen the cut to fit.
  • Slide the mirror through the slot so the reflecting side faces the hole in the front of the carton. Tape the mirror loosely in place.
  • Hold the carton up to your eye and look through the hole that you cut. You should see your ceiling through the top of the carton. If what you see looks tilted, adjust the mirror and tape it again.
  • Repeat steps 2 through 6 with the second milk carton.
  • Stand one carton up on a table, with the hole facing you. Place the other carton upside-down, with the mirror on the top and the hole facing away from you.
  • Use your hand to pinch the open end of the upside-down carton just enough for it to slide into the other carton. Tape the two cartons together.
  • For more amazing science activities for the home or classroom, visit The Exploratorium.

    pico-kitII. A more high-tech and a bit more costly approach, but nonetheless an excellent option, is the PicoCricket Kit. This is an invention kit that integrates art, music, and technology, and is especially attractive to girls as well as boys.

    The PicoCricket Kit uses a tiny computer which allows the student to make things spin, light up, and play music; you basically make your creations come to life with simple robotics. The price tag is $250 for the complete kit, which includes the following: motor and motor board, display, beamer (send programs from your computer to your PicoCricket), resistance sensor, sound sensor, colored lights, sound box, PicoCricket programmer (to control your creations), touch sensor, and light sensor.

    Also included in the kit is easy-to-use software for programming the Cricket (PC and Mac compatible), USB cable, a collection of craft materials and lego bricks to create motion modules, and ten project placemats with sample Cricket activities.

    This is a reusable kit–only the craft materials are consumable, but are inexpensive to replace.

    Mitchel Resnick, an MIT professor who worked on the project, made an important point about the accessibility of the PicoCricket kit:

    We knew that lots of kids are interested in art and music, so we wanted to make sure that there were lots of ways for them to be able to use art and music as an entry point to explore math, science and engineering.   

    Wow~whether your budget is small or large, there are options. The basic inventor’s box is more time consuming to put together, but cheaper; and the pre-packaged kits offer efficiency but at a cost. I hope you’ve been inspired to provide some creative science outlets for your child or classroom!

October Exploring


unknown rust colored spiderOur first October hike around the property began with a surprise greeting from this rust-colored fast-crawling spider. If the image is fuzzy, it’s because my hand was shaking a bit as I took the photograph. I’m not a big arachnid fan, however, I’m always fascinated with a new species, especially if it’s going to be my neighbor, and especially if it’s a potentially venomous creature.

Can anybody make this out? No further pictures available, as the elder daughter poked it with a stick, immediately followed by the dog having it for snack.

new juniperJJ discovered a new juniper, we think. You need to look closely, as the earthy colors blend into the ground. Seeing that the sapling is right next to a mature juniper, and seeing that junipers are the only naturally occurring tree on the entire property, it’s safe to say the kids made a good assessment.

An interesting tidbit on juniper berries:

Juniper berries have long been used as medicine by many cultures. Juniper berries act as a strong urinary tract disinfectant if consumed and were used by American Indians as a herbal remedy for urinary tract infections. Western tribes combined the berries of juniperus communis with Berberis root bark in a herbal tea to treat diabetes. Clinical studies have verified the effectiveness of this treatment in insulin-dependent diabetes. Compounds in these plants when combined and ingested have been shown to trigger insulin production in the body’s fat cells, as well as stabilize blood sugar levels. Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive.

I love this lone juniper tree inclining over the cliff at the east end of our property. It seems to grow straight out of the rocks, showing the strength and hardiness of this ancient evergreen.
juniper on the cliff

hole in the rockJust beside this last juniper, I discovered a moss covered rock, its variegated colors indicating countless seasons of moss-growing, which I hadn’t observed before–not that unusual being that there’s thousands of rocks on this land. But I never noticed the handy little hole, and the smaller rock sitting in there, just ideal for pounding corn or something. We know the Northern Paiute Indians inhabited this land before us, and I I can’t help but wonder, has this been there since then?

rock grinder?

Tawny in a rock holeTawny was out for his first explore to the edge of the cliff, and left the children screeching in terror and delight with his kittenish antics of racing up trees and scampering down rock crevices. Just when they were certain he was down to eight lives and lost over the precipice, he would meow his way calmly back to the family.

A fresh rain left this exhilarating scent in the air, and the cat and dog both seemed to understand that this was the perfect October day. Other than an occasional stray onto a neighboring property, the animals were fabulous scouting companions.

The three explorersThese three explorers likewise recognized an ideal day, and with Mom armed with bags for the hunt, we gathered moss, owl pellets, bones, feathers, and chips of obsidian (more Paiute relics) unearthed by the recent downpour. Analyzing the artifacts later will add to the experience. Little L would squeal with glee whenever he found a complete little rodent skull–”Look, Mama, it’s got teeth!” And a particularly large chunk of obsidian found by JJ was met with “it looks just like a canoe!”

One of my young adventurers sums up our October Exploring perfectly:
JoJo loves to explore!

Pure fun. What do you or your children enjoy doing this time of year? And tell me, what do you think of that hole in the boulder and the small rock sitting in there?

Looking up the Exhaust Pipe


Tawny's spot under the van

What does one do when her life feels like she’s looking right into the exhaust pipe, ingesting toxic fumes? When I took this cute picture of our cat a few days ago, these reflections were far from my mind. I just thought, “isn’t that a sweet little photograph – Tawny has his special spot under the van.”

The metaphor hit me later, as I struggled to wade my way through a myriad of chores, overwhelming undertakings, serious concerns. I wanted to curl up like my cat and lie down (but not under a tire!). I know without a doubt there are many brothers and sisters facing life in front of the exhaust pipe of toxic trials, because I’ve talked to several of them this past week – it’s a grim diagnosis, a financial predicament, family chaos.

As Christians, we can flounder about trying to find God in the midst of these stresses and strains and stretchings. We can sink into depression, question our faith, fail to see His bigger plan, and even ditch Him altogether.

BBC2 last month began airing God on Trial, a film written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. In it, a group of Auschwitz prisoners decide to put God on trial. They summoned a rabbinical court, put God himself on trial – and declared him guilty. (God on Trial will be shown in the United States on PBS stations on November 9, 2008, on the new anthology series Masterpiece Contemporary).

In The Guardian (UK), Cottrell Boyce wrote a very interesting article, and I particularly found this bit revealing:

It’s a fact that, although many people lost their faith in the camps, just as many had it renewed. As French philosopher La Rochefoucauld says: “A great storm puts out a little fire, but it feeds a strong one.” Reading the Bible in the light of the Holocaust was a bit of a storm for me. It came close to putting out my fire, but in the end it blew stronger.

I didn’t tell you the end of the story. After they find God guilty, one of the rabbis says: “So what do we do now?” The reply is: “Let us pray.” Is this a wry story about Jewish stoicism? Is it about a failure of moral courage? Or what? For me, it’s about faith.

When I was 21 years old, a fresh college graduate enjoying life and a new job in Washington, D.C., I felt compelled to memorize James Chapter 1. I worked on it each day as I walked from the Metro station in Silver Spring, Maryland, to my cousin’s house, where I was living for the year. The beginning of the chapter basically extols the benefits of tribulation, and though I had no outstanding troubles during this period of my life, it was God-ordained that I have this stored in my memory for the future.

I was especially good at verses 2-4, coming at the start of the chapter:

2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

By the time verse 27 came around, I was a bit fuzzy, but still, after 17 years, I basically have James Chapter 1 memorized. Good thing, because when I have those days when I feel like I’m under the van sucking exhaust or about to get run over by a tire, or when I want to put God on trial, it’s critical that I remember there is a purpose to our hardships. That purpose being a faith-producing experience, an endurance-strengthening exercise, and the goal of becoming more and more perfected in Christ Jesus.

I wonder, have you been looking up the exhaust pipe lately? What has helped you the most through these times?