Thursday, August 29, 2013

Theme Thursday: Shadows, or Really Shade! Or Really, Our Totally Kick-Ass Tree House

Also check out:

Wanna See the Beach House Part I

Wanna See the Beach House Part II

Joining Cari and all the others who enjoy sticking to the theme for Theme Thursday: Shadows!

Which is a perfect opportunity to brag about our Totally Kick-Ass Tree House, which is also probably the World's Most Unsafe Tree House, Don't Let Your Kids Play Here! (Choose your own title!)

So part of what attracted us to this rental house is this extraordinary clump of just about the most magical trees you have ever seen ever. Hyperbole not necessary. I believed them to be banyans, which grow in this mysterious, climbing, clinging, gripping, spiralling, entertwining manner that does not let your brain NOT think of poems and metaphors, but a neighbor said they were actually overgrown ficus trees, you know the pretty little tame ones that are in living rooms and church vestibules? Well, both the banyan and ficus belong to the fig family, so whatever they are, they are magnificent in an otherworldly type of way. 

Botanists, please weigh in.

Even without touching them with a nail, they are pretty fantastic climbing trees.

But do you think these two could resist?

Joseph heaven.

The catch is that we have all been busy lately (like we ever haven't been)and we don't feel like sinking any more money into this house we may only be in for a short time. Luckily, we had a bit of building materials ourselves, like a slide and a giant rope, and found a horde of goods under the house. 

So this is a spend absolutely nothing, completed in about three hours tree house. Keep that in mind when judging Obi's skilz.

I have no idea what their plan in with the rope. Weird. Why don't they just let it hang down?

Well, there is this, I guess.

And this. Please note Isaac did start out fully clothed (for once.)

All the kids helped. Doesn't it look totally safe? And clean? Totally.

Tarzan helped for about 45 seconds.

Until he got a text. Bye Brother!

Basically it is just a platform, nudged into the main crook of the tree. The dog just LOVES that they added a pulley!

This post brought to you by Juicy Juice.

With another little platform for the slide.

A too steep and dangerous slide! (That gwina hafta be fixed.)

They cleverly built steps for the ladder by sawing down and tying together some bamboo poles found under the house. Pretty cool! Yes, I absolutely know every good mother is cringing just looking at all these feet. That's what separates us, darlings.

And then they raised that darn rope. I really don't get it. Really. Even me.

View looking up from the platform. Oh my gosh, look at all the shadow, I think I'll link this up with Donaldson!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday: Not So Big House

Joining Housewife Spice for my first What We're Reading Wednesday!

I am not a great reader of non-fiction, mainly because I need a story line to keep my interest, and because I have a horrible knack for not forcing myself to do something that doesn't bring immediate rewards, you know, like a really dark novel does!

But...overcoming all my hang-ups, a few days ago I  picked up The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka out of Obi's architecture books collection. And read it, didn't just look at the pictures.

Why? Well. Something about how we keep moving furniture around in this place and keep feeling like it isn't really conducive to the way we live and I needed inspiration and a reminder of why we moved to this little house or I would go insane.

And I think it did the trick! The first half of the book is basically an extremely repetitive persuasive essay in which Susanka begs on hands and knees that her very limited audience would so much better enjoy living in a well designed 2400 sq ft Not So Big House (her caps, not mine) than the 4500 sq ft McMansion they think they want. Which was not at all useful or informative for me because I am not her audience. And it was a bit frustrating because I believe Susanka is trying to make it seem like this is the normal human experience, and that if we had all just designed a "receiving space" into our home where coats and muddy shoes go (complete with the space angled just so to show off some work of art or other architectural feature) then our homes would not require the triple story marbled and vacuous 400 sq ft foyer to make you feel welcome (but it would still cost the same.) Her point is basically this: 

"Tailoring is a basic ingredient to the Not So Big House. If you just make a house smaller, but still generic, it won't have any more appeal than its larger cousins. What makes the Not So Big concept work is that superfluous square footage is traded for tangible but more meaningful aspects of design that are about beauty, self-expression, and the enhancement of life."  
But that is basically the crux of it, and there is a breaking point, because we all aren't sitting around planning our McMansion, so people like me and Obi with our six kids could basically afford a heavily tailored and beautiful 300 sq ft cube. Come on over!

The second half was much more palpable, and I loved her well thought out ideas about living simply, designing the use of rooms based on purpose and beauty, and manipulating atmosphere within rooms to promote intimacy of space. Lovely!

here i am feigning successful "intimacy of space" at our old big house.
in this brilliant panorama by annemarie, we are half moved out, most belongings
gone, yet somehow the place was still a mess, the baby escaping, momo half dressed, and the mother still neglectful (i faintly remember i was trying to
figure out what the heck was wrong with amanda bynes at that point.)

Feeling a little more inspired by our small house choice, what I am most looking forward to is having the house in an order conducive to me sitting there and reading an actual book. Not non-fiction.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Seven Quick Takes, Stuff That's Happening Here


The first day of skool. Yeah. That happened. Over three weeks ago. These poor kids were actually cheated out of two weeks of vacation. This district ended two weeks earlier than our old one, and started two weeks earlier. The kids aren't smart enough to figure that out, though, they just keep wondering why all their old friends up in Central Flo haven't started school yet. I am waiting for that epiphany moment.


Joseph is doing virtual school, so it looks like this when I turn my back.


Momo, Exhibit A:

Caught a shark!!!!!!!!!! Exhibit B:

It was a pretty epic moment and no one had their camera down there. Obi had to beg a bystander to text him the above photo. Long story short, the shark almost won and dragged the little thing in. She wanted to haul it in herself, but come on, 32 lbs of Momo wasn't enough.

If you ask Isaac, he will gladly retell the story of when Momo. Caught. A. Hump. Back. Whale!   


There was a whole lot of rain, and now there are a whole lot of frogs. On our windows. 


Sneak Peak: working on "Wanna See the Beach House Part II: Outdoor Edition." Part I is here.


Babies are beautiful. But I might have mentioned that.

Thanks to Jen for hosting!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Coquina Soup: Theme Thursday Food!

no, joseph doesn't look that weird in real life,
yes, he does need a haircut
Is is just us (and by "us" I mean all members of the Family Es excluding me) or does everyone else make a hobby of "how many weird things can we eat?" 

Everywhere we have lived, Obi and his ever-growing crew of flying monkeys always end up asking themselves this question, "What in these here parts can we make into food?" 

When we lived in Arizona, it was prickly pear cactus, in Indiana, they actually ate the marigolds out of our garden (they are edible, look it up), in Louisiana, they spent hours in the mud setting and retrieving crawfish traps. 

A couple weeks ago the beach was literally glutted with these beautiful little coquina, each one seemingly individual in color and shape. The funny things sit just below the surface of the white sand, the waves lick the shore and the exposure is too much for them: their invisible bodies push their shells on end and they dig themselves under. So, so cute! The kids had endless fun piling a lump of coquina infested sand on top of their feet and feeling them dig through to the ground, right between their toes.

So the obvious question was, "Can we eat these things?" I mean, that's what anybody would ask, right?

Obi consulted Google (not Pinterest, he's a man), and discovered this lovely recipe for Coquina Soup! 

Honestly it was Joseph's idea, and he did all the work, other than stirring, because he insisted it was an unnecessary step, and Obi argued it was the most necessary. Life around here...

clearly, my food photography could use some work,
although I do contend that table crumbs and headphones
add a nice bit of realistic ambiance...

As pictured, the coquina are so tiny they really just make a sea-food-kinda tasting broth, leaving no meat, which is all washed away with the shells. It was mainly just butter, onions, potatoes, and yummmmmmmmmmm.  I'm not kidding. I mean butter and onions anyway, but I am still shocked at how delish this was. So much better than marigolds.

Check out Cari and all the other foodie photographers, or better yet, join in the fun!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mary of Rome or The Canadian Duck: The Finale

[This is the third and final installment about my friend Mary, Part I is here, Part II is here.]

roman girl: this is the scene directly around the corner
from her apartment. on the left is a chapter of The Sisters of Charity,
on the right is St. Peter's Square

After Mary had finished helping Ante settle into his home, the fall had already arrived, but she was eager to begin her undergraduate studies. Several wise people had recommended, knowing Mary's love and aptitude for deeper study, that she might find great success pursuing an education at one of Rome's Pontifical Universities, which begin their school years in October, thus giving Mary more time than finding a school in America. Not speaking Italian, or having an extensive background in Latin, The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, or as it is more generally known, the Angelicum, was a logical choice, as it offers its courses in English. Maybe, Dear Web Log, you are not familiar with this school, but I bet you would know the names of some of its former students, even without their titles, like Fulton Sheen, Timothy Dolan, or one of the most humble and beautifully brilliant men in modern history, Karol Wojtyla.

She applied, was accepted, and off she went.

On this last trip I asked her what that was like for her, arriving in Rome still a very young girl, on her own (there is no student housing so she lived in an apartment with roommates, quite a different scenario than living in a dorm.) I thought that she would respond with her usual vigor and excitement over a past undertaking, thought that this time must have been such an exhilaration for a courageous and high spirited individual. 

random scenes from her apartment. yes, she knits and plays the mandolin.
and piano.
and mouth trumpet (don't ask)

Instead, she responded with honesty that she experienced great loneliness for the loss of Ante, homesickness for America and the friends and family there she had spent so little time with in all those past years. It wasn't all cappuccinos and cathedrals.

But at the same time, her studies came alive for her in a way she had never anticipated. All the giants of Literature, Theology, Philosophy were introduced to her by professors who in their own rights are brilliant and famous. When Mary spoke of this period of academic awakening, she did indeed light up, was overcome thinking about the past and those first exciting moments of being lit on fire with a true thirst for Understanding. 

Her excitement translated evidently to her work. She excelled in her classes, and was a favorite among professors. Over the course of the next few years, she would earn her Baccalaureate (Bachelor's), Licenteate (Master's), and stands now as a candidate for her Doctorate, providing only the completion of her thesis, the subject of which is so high-falutin' my mere mortal typing skills and public education couldn't do justice. But I believe it has something to do with Aquinas, Bonaventure, matter and form verses potency and act. Yikes.

parking outside Mary's office

And of course in this time she has made a life for herself. Countless friends from countless walks of life: the homeless men in the doorways know her by name, and by her kindness; the shopkeepers who know her favorite meals; seemingly every priest or religious we bumped into had a "Mary story" they were dying to share with me. And of course the other students at the University who came from all over the world. Her history with the city seems so much deeper than the nine odd years she has lived there. She dated both a Swiss Guard and a screen writer for Italian Soap Opera, waitressed in a wine bar, conducted guided tours, witnessed the election of two Popes.

exterior and interior shots of the intimate wine bar
where Mary worked

Most importantly, in her earlier days as a student, she was led to a job at L'Osservatore Romano, Engligh Edition, the paper owned and published by the Holy See. At first Mary translated and was a general office worker at the paper. But her competency must have been noticed, because year by year her hours and responsibilities increased, until just before the retirement of Pope Benedict, Mary was offered tenure, and given the position of acting editor. 

As well as I feel like I know her, it was such a trip to see Mary in her environment, the little girl who teased to get attention, and couldn't ever, ever sit still. The teenage girl who left home to work in a refugee camp and orphanage. Made me feel a certain kind of oldness to see her navigating this amazing life so fluidly, instructing her employees at the paper, managing her desk to the point she wanted to hide the lip gloss when I asked to snap a picture of her at work, cooking a dinner for me and a group of friends in her city-girl apartment, literally steps from Vatican City. 

Finally, The Canadian Duck Part

A certain kind of oldness, but at the same time, this feeling that there is a constancy of goodness that stays with us, essential to each of us at our core, which time cannot alter, so long as we guard and nurture those God-given gifts of ourselves. 

I realized this the first full morning I spent with Mary in Rome. She had arranged for me to meet a longtime and dear friend of hers, Father Wojciech Giertych, one of her former professors at the Angelicum. It just so happens that Father Giertych now holds the position of Theologian of the Pontifical Household. Yes, he is the Pope's theologian, the one the Pope himself consults for accuracy in theological matters. He lives in the Apostolic Palace accessible after countless check-points and interrogations of Swiss Guard. Mary brought me there for coffee and cookies, prepared and served by the Most Reverend himself, on his own little stove and kitchen table. 

Of him I will say that of course his brilliancy and generous nature are obvious, but so is his love for Mary, and his eagerness to spend time with those she loves. I was overjoyed to listen to this gregarious, people-loving priest joke with Mary about old common friends, or explain to us youngsters the two thousand year history of the evolution of perception of grudges and revenge amongst various cultures. 

So you know that I am shy, and like listening, but his is such a nature that I felt welcomed enough to speak, and I asked him of the history of his friendship with Mary, specifically asking what it was that drew the two of them together. 

And he began in the same manner he had approached the other topics of conversation, with a detailed back story. He asked if I had ever observed the way the Canadian Ducks conduct their long migration to the South each winter. (I do believe he meant geese, but I am sure you wouldn't have corrected him either.)  He said that as the ducks settle at the end of their daily flight, they come to a place of rest and of course sleep through the night. But always there is one awake. Always one watching through the night, observing the world, on the lookout for predators or other disaster, and in this way, the rest of the flock rests easy.

He said that after one of the first classes he had taught Mary, she confronted him afterwards with an indignant expression and immediately reproached the arguments he had put forth in class as being in error. She didn't want him leading the class astray in their thinking, and couldn't leave without letting him know her thoughts. 

Now the two of them laughed about the story now, but neither of them divulged who won that argument. But it was then that Father Giertych recognized Mary as being that Canadian Duck, the one who watches diligently, with open ears and eyes, ready to alert the others of danger, recognizing that protection of the flock is protection of the individual. From that moment on, when he taught the class, he taught to Mary, the ever alert, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And that is the part that endures no matter how much we experience or age, that good eternal part, essential to our individuality. The alert and discerning Mary I met when she was just a little thing with thick glasses and a bowlcut, waiting impatiently for the next story to be told. Although I didn't know the right words, even then I loved her for being that Canadian Duck.