What with all the house and land hunting, premature planning of gardens and scrambling to find a new preschool – after all the hassle we went through finding one here in Brookline! – I may be blogging less, but that doesn’t mean we’re playing less around here!

And even though I haven’t posted her drawings lately, Amie is still producing on average more over three “pictures” a day.

Here are some she made yesterday:

Amie’s tree, 9 March 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I drew the large tree outline, which she colored with green and brown. Then she added her own tree: the blue one, on top. A trunk, a crown! She did this spontaneously, after observing the tree I drew – and the one her Baba drew for her to color yesterday.

First, “little guy”. The ears are now the prominent features, but for the rest, these tadpoles have become quite formulaic and she is getting rather bored with them.

Amie’s “little guy”, 10 March 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I suggested that she might want to draw the head higher up, next time, so there is more room for the body. She immediately took that advice to heart and drew Maisy and Cyril (“Cyril starts with ssssss” and so it does!):

Amie’s Maisy and Cyril, 10 March 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I don’t think it matters to her (yet) whether she has enough room for the legs. What seems to matter more is that she makes use of the entire space underneath (though all that space on top in the previous draiwng didn’t bother her a bit). She does like to draw those “long legs, Mama! Those are looong!”

And again, note the big ears. I don’t quite remember anymore how Cyril (to the left) works: I think the blue oval-ish shape is his head/body and the black oval and circle are his ears…

Then, the drawing that amazed me most! This is Bambi:

Amie’sBambi, 10 March 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

When she wanted to draw the spots on Bambi’s back, she had to ask, though: “Where is Bambi’s back?” How strangely they sort out their shapes and body parts and directions. wish I could see through her eyes (and brain)!

(About her signature: she wrote the A and the i by herself. I guided her hand for the M and described the E verbally as she drew it. )

(If you want to follow the development of Amie’s drawing, check this out or click here.)

Photograph of small farm on river bend

We are looking, in earnest.

We’re looking for a house, with at least 0.5 acre, in a beautiful town near Boston that used to be out of our league but that has now become possible, what with our somewhat increased income and lower real estate prices.

I’m dreaming away, but I’m also keeping the dreams on a tight leash (is that possible?). For instance: No, honey, it’s not a log cabin in Wyoming or a strawbale cottage in the Great North Woods. There won’t be wolves and moose and snowcapped mountains. But there will be land to grow carrots and potatoes and lettuce. Perhaps you can have a chicken coop + run (check with the town). And you might still spy a fox’s tracks in the snow.

And you’ll see, at least, the sky when I look out of the kitchen window!

Ah, we’re looking!

- Amie, what’s the opposite of short?

- I don’t know! [she even pfsh-es, with an attitude already!]

- If you’re not short, what are you?

- Naked.

Amie, 2 March 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

“I don’t know” (with the attitude) is now a favorite, as well as “why?”, “why?”, “why?”.

She is also afraid of wolves, now, suddenly. She doesn’t want to read Peter and the Wolf all by herself. But this morning she woke up giggling and when we asked what was up, she replied, shaking with glee:

“The wolf jumped out of the sea!”

Anjalika of Middlemonth tagged me. When I read it was an A to Z tag, I felt somewhat anxious: A to Z !! But then I found out it is a rather short questionnaire. Phew. You could so spot the ex-academic in my reaction: I saw myself despairing over pages of hypotheses, arguments and conclusions.

A-Available?: Nope.

B-Best friend: Lots. DH and DD, and many women – primarily women. Funny, that: in Belgium, in college, I had almost only male friends… [try to keep it short, Mama!]

C-Cake or Pie?: Cake, chocolate, homemade.

D-Drink of choice: Milk, wine.

E-Essential thing used everyday: Glasses, journal.

F-Favorite color: At the moment, a cloudless spring sky blue.

G-Gummi bears or worms: Neither. I grew up with neither.

H-Hometown: Antwerp, Belgium.

I-Indulgence: Books.

J-January or February: February. It’s the shorter of the winter months, closer to Spring.

K-Kids and names: One, Amie.

L-Life: Wha… Am I supposed to keep this one short? I mean… life! Life’s a box of chocolates: it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

M-Marriage date: August 18, 2001.

N-Number of siblings: 1 sister.

O-Oranges or apples: Apples, for sure. I’m a local eater and I live in New England, so it couldn’t be otherwise.

P-Phobias: None that I can think of… Wait! Being kept waiting. Oh, that’s not a phobia, sorry.

Q-Quote: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity” – Thoreau.

R-Reason to smile: My daughter. The kindness of others. Things small, simple and beautiful.

S-Season: Fall.

T-Tag three people: Rebecca, Madeline, blueyondergirl.

U-Unknown fact about me: Unknown to whom? To you? To myself? Must be an existential question…

V-Vegetable you do not like: Belgian endive. Too bitter.

W-Worst habit: Too often I get inordinately mad at inanimate things. E.g., the stupid computer. It stems from having no patience – except with children, but they’re excused.

X-X-rays you have had: Leg, chest,teeth.

Y-Your favorite food: Frietjes (frenched fries fried Belgian style, i.e., twice).

Z-Zodiac: Leo.

Phew, that was rather painless. I pass it on.

Moonlight Chronicle no. 59 (c) Dan Price

I got my first Moonlight Chronicle way back in 2004. I loved it and subscribed to a couple of future issues. I got so hooked on that great feeling of opening the mailbox and seeing that small but thick envelope nestled there, with one or other MC stamp and Dan’s crazy handwriting on it.

So I requested all the MCs I didn’t have in one big order. What a feeling, getting that big box and sitting down for days on end to read through all of them! It was one of the most worthwhile splurges I ever made (did?), a close second to buying the complete collection of Glen Gould playing Bach!

I kept on receiving my MCs until issue 49. Then, for some reason, probably the one we call “life”, I failed to subscribe to new issues. I almost forgotten all about it when Amie discovered the big tin box I had stored them in.

She loves books, of course, especially small ones that easily fit her small hands. And she loves drawing and drawings. Books + drawings = Moonlight Chronicles!

She sat down and “read” through half of them! Commenting:

- Mama, Mama, there’s a house in here!

Leafing through two more, her frown growing more and more threatening. Comment:

- Mama, this is no good! These books don’t have houses in them.

Then, flipping through the next issue, with great relief:

- Ah! There‘s a house!

amie reading Dan Price’s Moonlight Chronicles (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I sat next to her on the floor, also reading, haphazardly, issue 41, then 30, then 7. I know Dan’s life story, so I didn’t get lost in the chronology. I think it was the first time in days that I was so relaxed!

Dan’s a goodhearted hobo who lives an enchanted life in a tepee and several handmade constructions (“hobbit-holes”) in a meadow by a creek near Joseph in Eastern Oregon. His life is enchanted – he searches for his style in drawing, a smaller ecological footprint, a closer bond with nature, and ruminates about life. But his little journals also reflect the hard side of that life, the isolation from his family and the discomfort of living simply. And all that in such direct language and illustrated, of course, by his neat little drawings.

Check out this cool documentary about Dan on the Oregon Public Television (not very recent, but it still reflects his life).

- Mama, are there more of these? (Amie asked)

- Of course!

- Can we get them?

- Of course!

13 more Chronicles have been written since I jumped off that wagon. We saved some money with our so-far-successful $200/week regimen, and with DH on board, I wrote to Dan and am now joyfully anticipating catching up! So is Amie!

Amie moving rice around, feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie has taken a great liking to this game, another one straight from a Montessori lesson.

A while ago I introduced the tea set and the pitcher to let her pour water as a game, and her own drink at mealtime. More recently, I also gave her the responsibility of filling the sugar pot. She loved it so much, she was heartbroken yesterday morning when Laura had already filled it up. We could have poured the sugar back into the bag and let her do it over, but she is still coughing and sneezing all over the place.

Then I remembered a small bag of old brown rice that has been sitting in our pantry for over four years (five? six?). The rice is nicer than water or sugar, for her because it is such fun to dig her hand in, and for me because it doesn’t make such a mess when spilled.
I gave her a bowl full, a teaspoon and a smaller sugar spoon, and her tea set. She played for a full hour, carefully filling all her tea cups and pitchers, emptying them again, and so on. She couldn’t stop commenting:

- I like this game, Mama! I really do like this game very much.

Project for DH: Put together sorting trays, like these, or these:

sorting trays (c) E & O Montessori

Amie is ill again. She has “upper respiratory problems”. One child sniffs > Amie gets a cold. Our trip to the Science Museum was fun, but by the evening I could see that we had brought home more than a bunch of good memories.

Yesterday she spent the day glued to me. She slept until noon! On me. DH took this sweet picture of us on the sofa.

Mama reading and Amie asleep, feb 2008 (c) Satrajit Ghosh

I look so sleepy, don’t I? It’s not the book I’m reading  though. Try staying awake with such a warm, sleepy body weighing you down!

Cover of Rick Bass *Where the Sea Used to Be* (c) Rick Bass, Houghton Mifflin

The book is actually really good. It’s Rick Bass’ Where the Sea Used to Be. I love Bass’ short stories and novellas – I think I’ve read most of them. This was his first full-length novel. I must say I didn’t like the first 31 pages of it: they didn’t speak to me at all. Luckily I don’t give up on books so easily. I was on the verge of feeling very sad and disappointed when, on p.32, the book finally opened up to me, the characters became alive, the language beautifully evocative.

I haven’t been able to put it down since, but the new Orion Magazine arrived in the mail yesterday, so now I struggle to divide my time between the that, Where the Sea Used to Be and The Magic School Bus. And my own novel, and this blog, and some letters I need to write. And playing with the zoo, and the paints, the doll houses and their various assortments of denizens. And the dishes, and laundry…

Amie gets it! She was talking about something and suddenly said:

- Mama, more begins with M.

I had always found it strange that she could rhyme so naturally – she picked it up in one day, months ago – but that she couldn’t isolate the first letter, or sound, of a spoken word, until now and after a lot of practice. Rhyming seems to me a more complex task, especially the way we play the “rhyming game” (I say: “cat rhymes with…” and she needs to sift through her vocabulary looking for a word that rhymes with cat). I guess I was wrong.

Now that she is so interested in writing, we’ve been working on it, of course. It is a part of our day now, to analyze the words we say into sounds. But today she isolated the sound spontaneously, without help or recourse to her memory.

And in the evening, this scene:

Amie and Laura reading, Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

In the background, our lovely, newly-acquired roommate but old yet ever young friend Laura, reading The Magic Schoolbus while Amie tears through her favorite Kiss the Cow.

Oh, I feel so right at home!

We had a wonderful Sunday filled with family fun. A visit to the Science Museum (DH and I have lived in Boston for almost 10 and this was our first visit!), shopping together (wonderful to see Amie interact with strangers in the store), building and flying paper airplanes (from this wonderful book), reading books and playing with animals.

At the end of the long and tiring day, Amie sat down on the floor and spontaneously took some quiet time. She opened her arts and crafts box and cut pieces of paper (with her ziggy-zaggy safety scissors), colored them, and glued them to a page.

Amie crafting by herself, February 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I had nothing to do with it! It was one of those rare and harmonious moments when everyone was doing something exclusively by him/herself.

Part of our shopping today involved a certain do-it-yourself-hardware store, where I found a couple of simple binding posts with screws, like so (couldn’t even find a picture of it on Google Images!):

Binding post and screw

… So that I could finally assemble our “Bambi,” which we cut out of recycled cardboard and painted a while back.

cardboard “Bambi” pull toy (c) Katrien Vander Straeten cardboard “Bambi” pull toy, reverse side (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It’s a pull toy! It just took me a while to get sturdy enough fasteners, and these binding posts are very cheap, strong and reusable!

I think we’ll make more of these, if Amie likes it – she certainly did look forward to this one. I’ll have to get the hang of coordinating and weighting the limbs and whatnot needs to get moved by one pull, because this baby Bambi moves even clumsier than the newborn one in the movie!

More about having actually watched Bambi later…

Amie drew “The People” today. 4 of them. 1 big person and 3 tiny ones:

“People” by Amie, 20 Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She also signed her name on the back:

Amie signs her name, 20 Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We’ve been working on letters, and this is her first full written word (besides “8oo”, i.e., “Boo”). The A she has down pat. The M still tends to flatten out and go on at length. For the i and the e she needs a reminder in the form of a verbal description: “a line up with a dot on top”, “a line up and three short lines across”.

She has been very keyed up lately. Very repetitive, anxiously so sometimes, swallowing sounds and whole words in order to get it out as fast as possible: a song sung for the tenth time, a statement made the fifth time around. She talks and sings nonstop. She can’t fall asleep because her mind is racing. Her head hurts when you comb her hair. “Growth spurt,” we call it.

She has also been very imaginative, making up songs and stories, some cute (“Yesterday there was a dinosaur here and we played well together”) and some quite outrageous (“Mama pooped on the floor yesterday and I had to clean it up!” – so not true!).

Toddler life. Nonstop. Breathtaking.