Friday, July 24, 2009

Family Vacation

The Post
I've been lax in seeing to this blog and am hoping there is still someone out there to read it! I had planned to do a flight-themed post for June, but June and almost all of July have I'll do flight later. For now, I'm thinking of family and vacation (for some strange reason!) and I have some books in mind that cover both, so I'll focus on those instead.

Before I get to the family/vacation picks, I'll mention what we've been reading this summer. My 12- and 15-year-old have been devouring The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. I read the first book, in which the lead starts his training as a "Spook," which protects society against witches, boggarts, etc., and found it intriguing but dark, maybe a bit too dark. I just finished The Mysterious Benedict Society, a NY Times bestseller by Trenton Lee Stewart about a group of orphans sent on a mission to save the world from a mind-controlling madman. It might be a bit long for kids who aren't avid readers, but it was a lot of fun. My 10-year-old is working on Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and if we're readling aloud everyone stops to listen.

The Books:
Picture Book: Arthur's Vacation, by Marc Brown.
Even my older kids still stop and listen if they hear me reading this to my five-year-old, and we all laugh at the tiny hotel pool and our favorite picture spread with everyone crammed into a green motel room on a rainy morning.

Middle Grade:
Fudge-a-Mania, by Judy Blume
I've only read pieces of this one, but my ten-year-old son loves the whole series. I just focused on Fudge-a-Mania because it takes place on a family vacation to Maine. Every time my son reads it, he sits and snickers through the whole thing.

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall
I think I've mentioned this book before, but it's so much fun I had to put it in. A family of four girls and their widowed dad vacations at a cottage behind a mansion (somewhere in the east, but I can't remember the state, sorry), getting into all kinds of mischief.

The Etymology: "vacation"
I haven't looked this up before, so I'm curious. I imagine it has the same root as "vacate," although I can't help but wonder if it has something to do with cows, as in "vaccination" (vaca meaning cow, & the small pox vaccination discovery coming from immune milkmaids who had been exposed to the similar cowpox). Okay, here it goes:

From L. vacationem (nom. vacatio) "leisure, a being free from duty," from vacare "be empty, free, or at leisure" (see vain).

Okay, so it's similar to vacate, not vaccinate. And vain comes from the same root, too. I wouldn't have come up with that.

The PHP (Personal History Prompt):
What are some of your favorite vacation memories? You could start with childhood or most recent. Did your family have vacation traditions (we always had pastrami with cream cheese on onion roll sandwiches)?

OR What are some favorite summertime reads for you? How do you associate them with your summers? (For example, I always used to read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to counteract long, hot Arizona summers.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

For the Birds

The Blog:
Since my boys and I have been bird watching for scouting requirements over the past couple of months, I thought I'd do a bird/flight theme for May. But May is almost over, so it'll be birds for May and flight for June.

The following is an entry I posted on a different blog a few months ago about trimming my parakeet's beak. It seemed to fit the bill. No pun intended. Really.

Recently I trimmed my parakeet’s beak. I’ve had parakeets most of my life, but this was the first time one of my birds’ beaks ever grew too long. The beak became monstrous, actually, curving and scaly like a rusted scimitar poking into poor Gordy’s green chest. Ew. I had no idea how it happened, being a faithful hanger of cuttlebones and sprinkler of gravel on the cage floor.

Was this vet-worthy? I wondered and vacillated, not being a subscriber to parakeet insurance. Somehow Gordy managed to eat and clamber, but I knew something had to be done. Finally one day I walked into the bathroom—yes, due to cat issues we keep two parakeets in the master bathroom—and something snapped.

Grabbing a pair of fingernail clippers and a washcloth, I took a deep breath and approached the cage. “This won’t hurt a bit,” I cooed, sliding open the door and inserting a washcloth-draped hand. Gordy didn’t believe me and exploded into squawking green fireworks. Persistence paid and I caught her, gently, and proceeded with the trim. When I finished, both of us felt a bit shaken. However, not being a farm girl accustomed to animal husbandry and the like, I felt a bit heady also. I clipped the beak!

It was a Minor Triumph. I like Minor Triumphs, little surprises that pop into days often filled with perplexing problems that require long-term efforts to solve, or at least manage. Small or quirky as they may be, they are still triumphs, worth a little smile and a lingering savor.

The PHP (Personal History Prompt):
Do you have any memories of birds? Pets? Birds that lived or nested near you? Finding a nest or trying to make one? Did you know someone who liked birds? Or did you ever try to fly or wish you could?

The Etymology: Bird
O.E. bridd, originally "young bird" (the usual O.E. for "bird" being fugol), of uncertain origin with no cognates in any other Gmc. language.

I thought it interesting that bird actually came from Old English--not Latin through French or a Germanic language. Hmm.

The Links:
This looks like a fun site with coloring, games, and facts about birds for kids.

Here's a site about the "corridors" hummingbirds use when migrating and the loss of this habitat:

How about identifying bird songs? I think this is cool.

The Book: Guardians of GaHoole Series, by Kathryn Lasky
My oldest three kids, two boys and one girl, with an age range spanning five years, all got into this fantasy series a few years ago. It's about good owls fighting the evil ones. I only read a couple, but they were fun. Might be a good summer read.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Humor Me

The Blog

Every once in awhile I read something funny and decide I need to try to write something like that. Mary Roach's essays in Reader's Digest are always make me laugh while being so on point. Dave Barry's silliness borders on genius, if that's possible. So even though I don't consider myself a funny person, here's my attempt.

Fitted sheets fall in that category of things I need but really don’t like, like vacuum bags. I mean, I’m glad I don’t have to use flat sheets on the bottom. I really am. My husband freely admits he sleeps like a tornado and I know a flat sheet would get whisked away in the storm and end up in a tangled heap on the floor—every morning. Fitted sheets help batten down the hatches, so to speak.

Still. Fitted sheets are sneaky. They nab innocent co-tumblers in the dryer and deposit them into their corner pockets, where the unfortunates slowly twist in, constricted and hidden until the dryer dings. When I pull out the sheet all the weight bulges from the bottom like a water balloon. The sheet takes about ten minutes to untie, which reveals a bath towel, three socks, and an orange pair of boxers, all still wet.

Fitted sheets are also mean. For example, they hate getting folded. Every week I promise myself this time I’ll do it right and dutifully match corner pocket to corner pocket, fold, smooth, match corner pockets again, fold…smooth…and…what the heck, I roll it into a glorified wad and hide it under the much-more-cooperative fitted sheet already nestled in the laundry basket.

As I’m sure anyone knows who has tried going one-on-one, fitted sheets also hate getting put on the bed. Sure, they act sweet as the first corner slips over the mattress, but just try the others. Slip on the next corner and the first one pops off. Lay spread-eagled on a king-sized bed, hold one corner down with your foot and try flipping the next corner into place. Both hold for two seconds. Then one pops off.

They're extortionists, really, holding me captive to their whim in exchange for keeping the tornado at bay.

The Etymology: Humor

From Latin "umor," body fluid, "Humor" first appeared in the English language around 1340 with the same meaning. It didn't acquire the connotation of funniness until 1682.

The PHP (Personal History Prompt)--Pick one question or many:

What is your sense of humor like? Quirky? Literal? How has humor helped you in your life? Have you learned over time to use humor to diffuse tension or stress? Any specific stories?

And what is one of the funniest things that has happened to you in your life?

The Book: Brave Potatoes, by Toby Speed and Barry Root

We discovered this book in the library several years ago, and I should have just bought it because we keep checking it out. It tells a rhythmic, almost rhyming, goofy story about potatoes who get kidnapped from the state fair by a chef who needs them for soup. Very fun.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Math Reads for Kids

My friend Liz, a math education major, forwarded these recommended math reads for kids:

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (A Math Adventure) by Cindy Neuschwander and
Wayne Geehan(there are several sequels to this one about Sir Cumference)

Math Talk: Mathematical Ideasin Poems for Two Voices by Theoni Pappas

The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas

Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales by Theoni Pappas

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus EnzensbergerA Gebra
Named Al: A Novel by Wendy Isdell

The Journey of Al & Gebra to the Land of Algebra by Bethanie H. Tucker

One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi and Demi

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Grapes Of Math by Greg Tang and Harry BriggsGreedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns

Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Masaichiro Anno and Mitsumasa Anno

Friday, March 6, 2009

Math Musings

The Topic: Math

The Blog:
Lewis Thomas wrote that Montaigne, an early essayist, frequently explored topics which interested him without researching or claiming expertise. I’ll have to take my cue from Montaigne today because I’m thinking about math.

Math fascinates me because it is the language of patterns (I think “language of patterns” came from The Calder Game…?). In that sense, it is a universal language. But let’s get this straight: I’m not good at it.

I hated math all through school—working through the box of math cards in second grade more slowly than other kids, multiplying three numbers by each other in fifth grade, grinding through algebra and trigonometry in high school. I based my college major on how I could get through without any math since I didn’t want to ruin my GPA. And I still let my mom figure out the right amount of material for making curtains.

To my surprise, though, I’ve been able to help my ninth-grade daughter with algebra right up through the third quarter, but that doesn’t mean I really understand it. All I do is find the pattern to follow, then follow it. I have no idea how the concepts would be applied in real life, but using the pattern helps in the meantime. Math is more approachable if I separate it into pattern recognition and pattern application.

I love the idea that math can describe patterns in nature and music; that math can predict future patterns based on present ones. Last summer I read The Secret Life of Numbers, a collection of essays about math for laypeople. It exposed a realm of thinking which, since I generally lack a frame of reference in which to apply it, I have largely already forgotten. One story that struck me, though, was one in which some mathematicians did a study on the shapes, or patterns, which are most efficient for tile-layers. That is, they figured out which shapes take the least amount of perimeter while enclosing the most amount of space. The answer? Hexagons. Then the author pointed out that bees figured out that same thing long, long ago, and hence the patterns we see in their honeycomb. Pattern and application.

As a naturally disorganized person, since the beginning of the year I’ve been thinking about organizing myself better both in writing and in life. I think I’ll try taking some hints from math—starting small--and find a pattern here, an application there.

The PHP (Personal History Prompt):
How did you feel about math growing up? Was it easy or difficult? Why? Did you have a teacher that helped or hindered your progress?

The Etymology: Mathematics
"From Greek mathema (gen. mathematos) 'science, knowledge, mathematical knowledge'; Math is the Amer.Eng. shortening, attested from 1890; the British preference, maths is attested from 1911."

The Picture Book(s): The "Sir Cumference" books by Cindy Neuschwander
Set in the time of King Arthur, these books tell fictional tales while explaining mathematical concepts like pi, circumference, the volume of a cone, etc., and are full of clever wordplay. They are so fun and were a delight to explore with my math-loving son.

The Links:
Try this link for games, explanations, etc. for different ages:
This site has preschool spring-theme count & trace worksheets:
I hope I can get back to this site; it lists books that explain the histories of math games (tic tac toe from Egypt?),board games for strategy, probability, etc., and more computer resources:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sweet *clean* Romance

The Blog:
There's nothing I dislike more than immersing myself in a new book, throwing myself into the plot, identifying with the characters...and then getting brought up short by unexpected sleazy material. February's blog will focus on different aspects of love, but as far as the romantic type...check out some of the authors and their websites below. Guaranteed fun reads, squeaky clean.

The Links:

Try these!!

Midieval romance by Joyce DiPastena:

Rachel Rager's CleanRomance4You:

Sarah M. Eden's historical romance:

Or Liz Adair's romantic Mist of Quarry Harbor:

Or a List for the Library:
Kerry Blair
Barbara Cartland (fun but formulaic (: )
Janet Cox
Betsy Brannon Green
Dee Henderson
Dorothy Keddington
Lori Wick

The Etymology: Expressions of Love
Etymonline has a fun timeline of love idioms, like
love (beloved person): 1225
love-letter: 1240
love song: 1310
fall in love: 1423
in love with: 1508
lovelorn: 1634
love-hate: 1937 (psychological jargon)
For more, go to

Monday, January 26, 2009

Quilt Stories

The Blog: Quilt Stories
Thanks so much to everyone who contributed stories. Not surprisingly, the common theme of painstaking love seems to run among them all. I hope you can take a minute to read through!

The Stories:

From Monique Leutkemeyer
No one in my family quilted. That's not to say they weren't crafty, my mom is very good at crochet and my grandmother made all the dresses for my aunt's wedding. However I didn't even know you could quilt until I was in my mid twenties. But once I discovered the quilting world I couldn't be stopped. I lived with my best friend at the time and we both got started small. We made pillows for everyone for Christmas one year. By the time I was done I had made like 10 pillows or something like that. I got a little cocky with all my "experience" and decided I would try my hand at making a full size quilt. What a disaster that turned out to be! Not a single line was straight and it became so disproportionate that I had to scrap the whole project.. That was only after ripping out the stitches about 100 times and trying to fix that ugly thing. I really wish I had taking a picture of "the worst looking quilt ever made." It was so bad it was funny. I have yet to try a full size quilt but I still love the process, think I'll stick to pillows and wall hangings though.

The same story from Monique's friend, Mary Watts
After growing up sewing on an ancient Singer sewing machine operated by the foot pedal, and stitching everything from hair scrunchies to small purses by hand after leaving my natal home for years, I decided to treat myself to an electric sewing machine. Suddenly an entire new world opened up for me. I could create so much in such a short amount of time! My roommate had purchased a quilt cutting kit for me at Christmas and and we thought making quilt-patterned throw pillows would be fun and simple enough, and so we went together to the fabric store galore and chose our colors and patterns and drew up designs.

That was a pivotal point in my life. Once my pillow was complete, I scanned the papers and each time there was a sale, added more and more hues and prints to my collection. I didn't answer the phone, didn't answer the door- Clandestine weekends were spent with my sewing machine... Eyes shining and cheeks flushed, I would glance at the clock and find it three am! Oh joy! Everyone with a birthday or wedding during those months either received a quilt patterned pillow or pillowcase or apron set (oh! I even taught myself how to applique! Bless!).

Ten I decided I was ready to make a quilt for my mother for her birthday. But it was going to be created in the free-form flow that reflected the style of our family. I chose the original design of the very first pillow, and created four of them, alternating the colors and patterns on the throw. They varied a bit in shape and size, forgiven by the cream-colored background. I then appliqued seven read hearts to reflect each family member randomly on top of the design and chose the most delectable to the skin blue underside I could find. The underside created a frame for the top of the throw, too. I ended up hand stitching quite a bit of it for the effect I was seeking. That quilt was a labor of love. It was non-symmetrical, unconforming, involved intuition and problem-solving, involved many happy thoughts and wishes, and has warmed and comforted many in these past seven years.

From Mary, Monique's stepmother
I've made many quilts & afghans over the years. The one that stands out is the one I made for my mother. I was a teenager - maybe 15. I spent months making squares. I knitted orange & brown squares and painstakingly sewed them together. It was my first attempt and I was so proud of it. I made brown wool tassles to finish it off. The following mother's day I gave it to my mother (who cried when she opened the box). I'll never forget the look on her face and the years she sat in her chair with my quilt on her lap. My next attempt was a few years later when I cut every piece of material I could find into squares (different sizes & all colors). When it came time to finish and to fill with batting I lost interest and never finished it. By then I was into crewel work which I continued for a number of years and made numerous pictures which I still hang today. I think every one in my family has either an afghan or picture which I created.

From Lonnie, Monique's stepfatherGift quilts, those are the ones, that are the most special.
I am blessed to have 4, 3 small individual quilts (for that little extra warmth) that are so nice in the winter while drinking that first cup of coffee on a cold winter morn, or watching the late news, just before bed..
The other one is a full size hand stitched quilt, featuring three massed schooners.
It is normally the cover for my Great-Grandmotherʼs bed, given to me buy my oldest daughter.

The thing so very special about them though, is not only do they look beautiful, but they warm you twice.
With the insulating factor they warm physically and with the love and care that went into making them, they can warm your very heart.
Blessed by Love
Lonnie v

From Kristie Vanover, Monique's stepsister
Quilting has long been a tradition in my moms family. If Granny wasnʼt cooking or in the garden she was most likely sitting at her quilting frame or the rocking chair in her room sewing pieces together. Mom still has quilts that Granny made when I was probably only the age of three. For the longest time I had my baby blanket she made, Bub still has his somewhere. Granny would make them and sell them for extra money.. She had a cousin in New York that would send her the material she wanted and the design and Granny would fix it up and send it to her. It was always neat to me, that she was sending quilts all the way to New York, still is neat. The quilt on my bed is one that mom paid Granny to do for me when I was in high school. Yes, itʼs over twenty years old. Barely though! :) The summer before my junior year Granny and I set out to make us a quilt a piece. That was when the paint in the tubes with the ball points was big. Her sister had given her several blocks that had different cartoon characters on them. I set out painting them and when I was done we split them up and we each had a quilt with twelve squares that I had painted. Unfortunately I got my top sewed together and band camp started, followed by school and I didnʼt get my quilt made. Granny didnʼt abandon the project like I did though. She finished both of our quilts and instead of being upset with me gave me mine for Christmas. When she died the next September Mom told me I could go get the other blanket before anyone else had time to see it and try to lay claim to it. I still have them both, they are safe in my son's closet and when heʼs bigger and needs a full size quilt he will get one. The other will most likely go to my first grandchild. Of course heʼll know the story about how my Granny, his Grannyʼs momma, set out to make the quilts and how special they are. Mom also makes quilts and has for years and years. And over the years I have made a few. Mom and Dad actually have one that Mom, my mom lol, and I made.And my son has a few different ones that his Granny made him and one that Mom and I quilted down. Quilts have so much love in them...and the love goes on forever. There are times now when Iʼm changing the bed or missing Granny that Iʼll lay on her quilt and run my hands over the stitches that she made. Each one as strong as the day she made them. Just like the love...

From Susan Corpany
Mom had a quilt on her bed with pictures painted to tell a story. There was a square that was a representation of each of us five kids. My square was a young woman chasing after a boy, Sadie Hawkins style. Every time I would start dating a new guy, Mom would get out her paints and change the hair color of the guy I was chasing. To make matters more difficult, I never dated two guys in a row with the same hair color. I told her to stop changing it, to wait until I got married. By the time I married Paul, if you laid down on that quilt, there was a little bump--that guy's three-dimensional hair.

Another quilt Mom made for me was a red, white and blue bicentennial quilt for what she hoped was going to be my bicentennial wedding to Matthew Smith, who now, incidentally, I have discovered faithfully reads my Meridian column. When Matthew and I broke up, Mom ditched those plans and I got a quilt out of it. Many years later after my non-bicentennial wedding, Mom and Dad were visiting and I had pulled out the patriotic quilt to put over the twin-sized pop-up trundle bed on which my dad was going to sleep. Mom was sleeping on the daybed. They had been married long enough that the two twin beds we had to offer didn't cramp their style too much. Dad decided one afternoon to take a nap. Because it was a queen-size quilt, it draped to the floor on the twin bed. Mom and I both looked at Dad lying there and it hit us both at the same time. He looked like he was lying in state at a military funeral. I grabbed a bunch of silk flowers out of a nearby vase and laid them on his chest. "He was a good man." Our laughter must have been what awakened him, and somehow he didn't see the humor of it the way we did.

When Paul and I got married, Mom had started working on another quilt for me, with the same painted hillbilly pictures. She had put dates on it for our special days. There were little sayings that went with each picture. The last quilt square showed a mother and father and three or four children. Mom was still working on that quilt when Paul died. She picked off that last square and replaced it with a Mom and Dad and one little blond boy, knowing we would never have th group of children in that picture. She could never bring herself to work on our quilt after that. She worried that even if she finished it, if it would only serve as a reminder to me of my loss. She finally put it in a bag and stuffed it in the back of the closet.

About six months after Paul's death, she was getting ready for work one morning when she had a feeling she should pull out that quilt. She could not think of any good reason for doing so, so she went to work. The feeling stayed with her, so much so that she drove home on her lunch hour and pulled out the quilt. There on the first block was the date of January 26--the date we had met. She realized that it was January 26th. "Okay, I listened. What do you want me to do?"

Later that day I came home from running some errands and my next-door neighbor came over almost immediately, carrying a beautiful bouquet of flowers. "These came for you. Have you met someone?"


I could tell she wasn't going to go away until I opened the card. "What does it say?"

It says "From someone who loves you."

"Maybe you've got a secret admirer."

"I doubt it."

"Is today a special day?"

"I don't know. What day is it anyway? I don't keep track much these days."

"January 26th."

I was stopped in my tracks. "Yes, it is a special day, but nobody else would remember about today. Only Paul would remember the day we met. Who else would possibly remember the day we met?"

And so, with the help of a quilt, I got flowers from the great beyond.



From Angela Judd
I love quilts! I've often told my mom that i am sad my grandma's crocheted instead of quilting. My mom has one quilt she made, just a crazy patchwork one and she knows I've got my eye on it. Back in the day when I had so much time... I pieced and made several quilts, nothing fancy just patchwork. Two used the fabric from bridesmaid's dresses. (It's telling that each dress had several yards of floral fabric... can you say early 90's?) I also cut up all of our old t-shirts and made a quilt out of them. I'm glad now for my thrift and industry. I'm not sure where that thrift and industry went, but maybe one of my kids will have their eye on one of my quilts... :)