Thursday, December 30, 2010

(not so) sweet dreams

For some people, the thought of speaking or performing in front of a crowd might be something of a nightmare.  This is not so much a problem for me, provided I am prepared for the event.

When I am fretting about something, the anxiety I feel plays out in my dreams in one of two scenarios:
  1. I'm about to give a piano recital for which I have not practiced, or 
  2. Mass is about to begin, and I'm on the bench frantically turning the pages of the hymnal accompaniment book looking for the opening tune.
If it's the former scenario, I am usually my current age, but I am right back at the bench of the shiny black nine foot Steinway concert grand piano known as "The Hamburg" (since that's the Steinway factory from which it hails) in the concert hall of my alma mater.  My college piano professor and merry band of music major cohorts are all there, along with the people present in my life now.

If it's the latter, the church setting varies. 

Over the coarse of my catnaps through the night, punctuated by the nursing sessions and tucking back into their beds of two certain young squires, I dreamed last night that I was about to "wing" another recital.  It wasn't going to be pretty.

What's to blame for this anxiety?

A routine dentist appointment scheduled first thing in the morning.  I was (obviously) nervous I wasn't going to get up in time for it given my sleep deficit.  Not that I'm not usually up at that time, but I'm hardly ever out the door at that time.

Happily, though (and thankfully), I made it in time *and* got a cavity-free bill of health.  That calls for a homemade chocolate milkshake, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

not this year

Christmastime is here, and with it much merriment with family (and coffee filters).  Getting to the celebration was a challenge, as in the final days of Advent we were all fighting The Sniffles whilst trying to "get things done." 

Decking the halls for Christmas is one of my favorite things to do, but not with the full array.  Not this year. 

Many of the (breakable) Christmas decorations I wanted to put up at the end of Advent are still in the box  (which means less to put away later!).  Our Christmas tree went up on the Third Sunday of Advent, and I marveled to myself how it has evolved since the first year I had a Christmas tree of my own -- one waist-high number in my first apartment, trimmed in a monochromatic white and silver scheme, my massive Persian cat shedding on the velvet tree skirt underneath.  That tree has been replaced by one trimmed with ornaments that tell the story of our family life thus far (but only about three-fourths of the way up its nine-foot stature, with breakables at my eye level or higher for obvious reasons).  I like this one better.

There have several family gatherings over the course of this past week.  It's always wonderful to see everyone -- so much so that we have a difficult time extracting ourselves from the festivities in time to make it home for a reasonable bedtime.  After so much fun commotion, it's difficult for little ones to wind down, which makes us question why we even went out after contending with the late night and the resulting fussiness in the morning. Even while trying to stick to our routine, the inevitable deviation catches up with us eventually.  Someday, we'll be better able to partake of the later evening festivities, but not this year.

Awash in the many expressions of delight from our four bambini at the wonders of the Christmas celebration, we draw them close and are reminded once again of this brief but intense season of our family life.  Together with our extended family, our celebration of Christ's birth continues.   We might not be out and about as much as other folks, but that's alright.  Grateful for the gift of this time together, God willing, we will never forget this Christmas.  Not this year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

opposite day

In the eerie quiet of a house with three simultaneously-sleeping children while the elder lad is at school, I have an opportunity of unknown length to ruminate on the events that transpired yesterday, which included a trip to Target, a fun outing with a family we are getting to know from the elder lad's school, and a gathering of moms from the Kindergarten class (hence the napping children today, for which I am most grateful).

The trouble is, amidst the many highs and lows of the day, what stands out is what's missing:

Coffee filters. We have none.

At this point in the narrative, my dear friend Simply's jaw likely drops in horror as she's reading.  Today her eldest lad turns 16, and while I hate the thought of marring this day with such a disturbing notion as a house without coffee filters, I know she'll laugh knowing I typed "draw jops" first and thought it looked normal the first eight or 10 times I read through what I'd written.  Sorry to put a damper on your Mama Day, Simply. Love you and your lad!

In spite of reminding myself not to forget the filters as I unloaded the bambini into the cold shopping cart and trucked inside as fast as I could *and* having taken a picture of the exact ones we needed to fit our drip coffee maker, I neglected to write the item on my shopping list, and here is where it all goes downhill.

By the time the 22-month-old lass had fallen asleep sitting up in the seat of the shopping cart (first child of mine to ever do such a thing outside of my sling or the "baby bucket" car seat) and I had had some near misses with the shopping cart and the heels of my three year old lad who insisted on walking "with" me *and* I had nabbed some slacks that I thought I could wear to the moms' gathering that evening (wrong), the coffee filters had fallen out of that primacy of place that is the single driving thought propelling me through Target (well, that and "must get this finished *as soon as possible*").

This doesn't mean, however, that we got nothing. Quite the contrary. We got a gift for the birthday party the elder lad is invited to tomorrow that the younger lad would love to go to as well but for which the whole siblings-invited issue is rather murky; a Lego truck Christmas gift that will be a surprise to only one lad (as the other discovered it after he escaped from the cart); the afore-mentioned ill-fitting slacks; sundry dairy items (including a ridiculous amount of yogurt); some molasses for another batch of our most recent cookie success -- chocolate ginger with chocolate chips (among other things) -- for our new friends; and the list goes on...

except for coffee filters
(and contact lens solution, which *was* on the list but overlooked somehow)

So while I may feel like bellowing this deeply-rued fact, I am instead going to employ a tactic I ought to use more often with my bambini: I'm going to whisper.

We have no coffee filters.

This explains a lot.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

special day every day

The younger lad had his "Special Day" on one of the family Advent calendars yesterday.   There were tasty chocolate ginger cookies to devour, a cousin visiting from Chicago to play with, and a new bouncy ball to cause trouble.  We went to school Mass and got a wave from the elder lad.  'Twas a full day.

This morning we went to check and see whose "day" it now is.  After we had announced who we'll be keeping in our thoughts and prayers today, the lad said "but please still pray for me."

We assured him we do every day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

company

My cousin is visiting from Chicago as she interviews for her internship and residency years following graduation from medical school this coming spring.  The bambini took to her instantly, chattering and showing her around, and telling her random things.  Her love for children is evident in the way she converses and plays with them.  She's a young lady of many talents, great intelligence, much warmth and great compassion.  What a delight to have such pleasant company. 

Monday, December 06, 2010

(not so) secret santa

me, conducting an impromptu poll: "What do you think Daddy might like for Christmas?"

lass: "green!"
younger lad: "a green ax!"
elder lad: "a green remote-controlled hot rod!"

We may or may not have looked for these things as we shopped for the children whose gifts we signed up to procure from our parish's Angel Tree as part of our St. Nicholas Day festivities.

This alms-giving aspect of the feast day is equally as important as (if not more so than) the treats our bambini found by their shoes on the hearth this morning (fresh crayons, clementines, and small squares of chocolate wrapped in gold paper).  That's why I chose to go through with the shopping after school (i.e. approaching Happy Hour) and in spite of the chill in the air.  

We are humbled by the tremendous blessings God continues to lavish upon us.  It is our honor and duty to share these with those less fortunate than ourselves, and to teach our bambini to tend to the needs of others  that go unmet.  It involves learning we don't always get what we want when we want it, but God always provides for our needs.

Case in point: a green remote-controlled hot rod...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

on the list

Fresh off the surprise of the covert Christmas light maneuver, the elder lad eyed me suspiciously as I jotted something down on a piece of paper above his eye line.

"What are you writing?" he wanted to know.
"Something on my shopping list."

"What?"
"A card for Grannie's Christmas gift."

"What else is on the list?"
I read it to him, then ask if he has something to add.

"Yes."  he said soberly.
"What?" I asked.

"Keys for [my brother] and me." (the ones that are painted in the school colors of our alma mater and said school's arch rival they spotted on a trip to the hardware store with their daddy yesterday for extension cords.  Presently they fancy themselves janitors with big wads of keys.)

"Oh.  Those go on the Lowe's list.  You'll have to talk to Daddy about that.  He keeps that list."
Skunked again...

Saturday, December 04, 2010

drumroll, please

There were no shooting icicles or sleeves stapled to gutters, but still I couldn't help but think of Clark Griswold in the 1989 movie Christmas Vacation as my beloved (whose motto for such endeavors is "safety first") scaled a gargantuan ladder to hang Christmas lights on the exterior of our house today.  The elder lad has long been lobbying for lights, but this is the first year for us to hang them outdoors.

It was meant to be a surprise for the bambini, but when the elder lad spotted his father on the ladder out the front door, the lad knew something was up.  "Did you guys plan this?" he wanted to know.  When I answered in the affirmative, the look on his face read "whoa.  I wonder what else they talk about when I'm not around?"  If you only knew...

However disappointed the younger lad may have been to miss out on the ladder scaling fun (as climbing really is his favorite pastime), he and his brother were happy to help flip the switch when the moment was right.  They and their "sissies" were delighted to see the little lights twinkling, and no nuclear generators were necessary to supply electricity to the surrounding houses because of our festive but not ablaze light display (as in the movie I called to mind). 

It was a fitting if freezing activity to usher in the second week of Advent, building upon the preparations and decorations we began rolling out last weekend.   As we prepare to welcome Jesus, the Light of the World, I will always remember the expressions of glee emanating from the bambini as they took in the beautiful light.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

drive like mom

My dad drove me to school most of the time.  It was a special time for the two of us, triggered in my memory by hearing renditions of "Zippity Doo Dah" and other such ditties.  He and I have logged a lot of miles together, not just to and from school, but back and forth to Chicago lots and lots of times over the years. 

Sometimes we needed to make haste in the direction of our destination (which was usually not too far from our starting point, my hometown being small-ish and all).  At such times I am reported to have suggested he "drive like Mom."  That meant... with purpose (or something like that).  Nothing illegal or aggressive.  Just determined. 

My mom, you see, is a self-proclaimed gearhead and likes to get where she's going.  It's part of her charm.  We love her for it.

That's how I drove this morning when my beloved had to catch an early flight for a business meeting, which meant I needed to get our elder lad to kindergarten.  Four bambini plus Mama tripping over each other to get out the door at sunrise for the forty minute commute equals some fantastic feats of daring and silliness (such as Mama donning a sweater with a pretty butterfly -- a noticeable departure from my usual solid-color selections -- and declaring with great fanfare that it is "Fresh Contact Day" for Mama!!!), but we did it.  We made it to school on time. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

hurry up and wait

Yes, I've started Christmas shopping and am getting in the "holiday spirit," but we haven't put up our Christmas tree yet.  We've deferred that for a couple of weeks to live the season of Advent -- that liturgical season leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas.   

Our Advent wreath is in a place of prominence (if out of reach and in need of some greenery) and we've begun the family Advent calendar my beloved's grandmother puts together every year.  Each day of Advent we pray for a person, couple, or children in the extended family.  It's a beautiful, long-standing tradition in his family, one in which we "pray with one another... for one another," as she pens on each calendar. We have a calendar for both sides of my beloved's family.

We got out the nativity scene and have stashed tucked the baby Jesus in a drawer until Christmas morning (here's hoping he stays there).  Mary, Joseph, and the donkey are over yonder on the kitchen counter; the wise men and their trusty camel are on the mantel. 

I'm hoping to put together a Jesse Tree, an Advent activity in which ornaments symbolizing events from  Creation through the birth of Christ are hung on a tree branch (or in our case, the ornament tree I received for Christmas last year that has stayed up year round, holding paper bird ornaments for the lass's first birthday party decorations, Easter eggs during that festive season, and an array of bambini hats after that).  I've wanted to do this every year for the past several but haven't gotten all the ornaments together -- and that's still the hang up this year.

As with other celebrations and observances, I'm trying not to get mired down in the minutiae of decorations and details, taking the bambini with me on a confusing, stressful decline.   If we don't get a Jesse Tree together this year, God willing we can work on the ornaments later in preparation for next year.  Advent is already evident in our praying for our loved ones with the aid of the family Advent calendars, lighting the Advent wreath, serving others by our St. Nicholas Day observance, and retelling the nativity story. 

Tuning into the stillness and wonder of the reason for this season is a tall order amidst all the hustle and bustle.  A taller still order is helping our bambini focus on the true meaning of Christmas with so many distractions, temptations, and mixed messages about what's really important.  By rolling out the seasonal decorations incrementally, we hope to deepen the bambini's understanding and, by turns, experience of Christmas.

In some stores it's been Christmas for weeks or even months now.  We're not there yet.  This time before Christmas is one of expectation and hope.  I know what it's like to be a month out from the expected day a baby is due to arrive, wondering if the day will ever come, trusting it will, and using that time to prepare our hearts and minds to receive the gift of God Incarnate at Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

my Peanuts gang

We checked out A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving from the library again this year.  Beyond the lovable absurdity of a Thanksgiving dinner consisting of popcorn, toast, and jelly beans, the lads are loving the personality quirks that define each of the Peanuts kids.  The younger lad gets to giggling each time Marcie calls Peppermint Patty "sir."  The elder lad likes how Peppermint Patty addresses Charlie Brown as "Chuck."  Hearing the bambini's laughter has been my favorite part of watching this classic animated TV show.

I've long been a fan of the Peanuts gang -- Schroeder being my favorite (with his ever-present piano, of course).  Sometimes I like to match up the fictional characters with my real life cast of characters.  No one is an exact match -- except maybe for me.

Who am I?  The teacher, of course.  The abstruse sound of her voice was (according to this) created by a trombone with a plunger as a mute.  I can relate.  O the sheer glee the lads would express during attempts to recreate her mellifluous sounds in the comfort of our own home...

Friday, November 26, 2010

the high road

In every instance of interpersonal struggle for which I've sought advice from my dad, whose birthday we've been celebrating today, he's always told me to "take the high road" -- no matter how the other person chooses to conduct him- or herself.

It's time- and battle-tested advice from a man who treats others with compassion, kindness, sensitivity, and generosity.  He gives others the benefit of the doubt, and he applies his finely-honed analytical skills with gentle precision to sticky situations and other such dicey prospects.

The depth of my gratitude for this man being my father cannot be quantified.  Time and again he has shown me -- and many others -- the gentle, loving face of Christ.  Today and every day I pray he is blessed to experience the love of of Christ reflected in the faces of those my dad encounters.  I know he's looking for Christ in each of us simply by the way he treats us, as though Christ himself were standing in each of our places -- because he is.

I find myself telling my lads to "take the high road" time and again.  Delivered with "as Papa say... take the high road," the young squires often receive the advice with a different kind of openness knowing it's practically coming from their grandfather.

Happy birthday, Dad.  For all you are and all you do to care for all of us, we are so grateful.  I'm trying to navigate the high road.  Thanks for showing me the way...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

my domestic monastery

A new-to-me idea has taken up residence in the forefront of my active thoughts (along with the heap of laundry, discipline or lack thereof, the season of Advent beginning this Sunday, the suddenly shorter length of all the elder lad's pants, self-care or lack thereof, pumpkin roll for Thanksgiving, and random other things).  Those are, obviously, all over the place, but this one is hefty: it's the concept of our homes being domestic monasteries.

Yup.  Monasteries.  Homes with young children being monasteries.  As if. 

I know better than to say I stumbled upon the idea, because truly the Holy Spirit led me to this piece by Fr. Ron Rolheiser in which he describes a monastery following the discipline of the monastic bell and grafts those principles onto home life.  When the bell rings, it signifies the beginning of a new activity, regardless of the person's readiness to undertake that activity because of his or her involvement in some other activity at the moment.  Responding to the bell requires the development of discipline, a stretching of one's heart to allow God's will to prevail over one's own, and a submission to the will of God, whose time it is that we are spending -- not our own.  

The monastery, then, is "a place set apart" -- not just for vowed religious, but for anyone who is trying to use the time God has given each of us in this lifetime for God's glory and according to God's will.  In the home as monastery we are removed from what Rollheiser describes as "the centres of power and social importance" and placed in close proximity to those who are among the mildest of the mild -- i.e. young children (though they don't always seem so mild!). 

Beyond seeing myself as the heart of the home or even striving to create a home sweet home, as an inhabitant of the monastery I am attuned to the sounding of the monastic bell (or bells, as it sometimes seems, sounding simultaneously) so as to be attuned to the voice of God speaking to me through these particular people and circumstances. With each passing day I constantly reminded that my time is not my own -- it is God's, and conforming myself to his will is my primary objective.  He sees fit for me to serve him by caring for this family, right here and right now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

go-to guy

On observing a full and strangely buttery yellow moon as we drove home this evening and not getting a satisfactory response to his inquiry as to why it was so yellow from his mother, the elder lad knew who would know why:

"God. Because He knows everything."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

can o'crayons

I've had this can o'crayons bedecked with stickers (including one scratch 'n' sniff strawberry) since somewhere in the vicinity of second grade.  (The mail truck came much later.)  When they were new they had green wrappers on them.
Those wrappers have since been removed by some little artists who create such masterpieces as these:
They didn't draw trucks in my hands.  (Rainbows, hearts, and flowers were their specialties.)   And I didn't imagine then that someday they'd be used to draw this:
  That'd be the six of us, gathered 'round the family soccer ball... he finally obliged my request.

Friday, November 19, 2010

the eye of the storm

Kind of a tough day here:

The 21-month-old lass is running a low grade fever and has needed extra "Mommy-O" attention.  In the final minutes of dinner preparation, the younger lad took a header off the sofa during a jumping episode (still against house rules) and hit his jaw with a sickening whack on the corner of the coffee table.  He's OK, if a little puffy and sore.  All the emotional residue of a day filled with fussiness converged at the table, when the eldest and youngest bambini had reached their limits and let the stress they felt be known in their respective ways.

Had we not made it to school Mass this morning, I think the course of the day would've been much different.  The graces poured out upon me there sustained me as I tried to manage the rest of the day in a triage situation.

Since the lass had not been able to sleep during siesta time today, both because she fell asleep on the way home from school Mass rather than at siesta time and because she felt so crummy, she hit the hay early even as her three-month-old sister lamented some tummy trouble of her own.  With one lass asleep, I was able to snuggle the elder lad for bedtime prayers, whose snuggling requests are often fulfilled after his sisters have gone to bed.

Truly the grace of God infused this challenge-filled day from beginning to end.  He got us out the door and on the road to Mass at a time when I am often still trying to get myself together (not to mention everyone else).  He held me up as I held both lasses and corralled the younger lad during Mass.  And he kept my head in the game, so to speak, throughout the long day with no pause for resetting myself.  It is for this last gift I am most grateful (though I am for all of them).  It was the difference between me hitting a wall and me having the grace to go on, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Yes, I know the Grace is there for the asking, even if I'm not at Mass when I ask for it.  Going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist opened the door, though, and helped order my thoughts and heart in such a way as to receive that Grace.

I have wanted to make weekly school Mass part of our regular routine but been daunted by the logistical considerations.  Experiencing the surge of spiritual nourishment from having gone (even if I didn't catch every word of the readings or lose myself in prayer because I was trying to keep the younger lad's truck-vrooming noises in check those last few minutes of Mass) helped confirm the desires my heart has continued to express to put forth every effort to make it to that weekly liturgy.

The elder lad asked if we'd come back to Mass again.  I told him we will.

And now I'll go finish my dinner...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

queen of my castle

"Your majesty,"  he says as he ceremoniously hands me the remote to queue up an after-school episode of Curious George.
I think I might prefer this to being likened to a front end loader...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

music appreciation

Bona fide percussionists perform barefoot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

in the picture

Photography is a family hobby.  While my beloved has taken the craft to another level after studying its technical and artistic facets, I just snap away on my camera and hope one of the images turns out nicely.  He makes photographs.  I take pictures.

I have a vague understanding of the technicalities of photography, but when I hear such terms as "F-stop," I am inclined to think first of an organ (the musical instrument), rather than how much light my camera is letting in when I take a picture.  Having said that, I have developed a rudimentary understanding of what makes for good photographs such as considering the source and direction of light cast on my subjects while also considering what's in the background of the picture field so as to reduce "noise." 

Sometimes after I post batches of pictures that I've captioned for family and friends to view, reviewers ask me where I am in all the pictures.  I'm behind the camera in most of them, unless I've tried to take a self portrait of me with one, some, or all of the bambini (which happens on occasion if I happen to luck out and have a good hair day, or if I want to show off my cute slingling).

When Grannie was here last month, I was determined to take lots of pictures to document her visit.  We took a few together toward the end of the week, I asked my beloved to take some with me in the picture so we'd have that "multigenerational" thing going.

A few weeks ago we had our family photograph taken for the upcoming parish pictorial directory.  I signed us up to participate not because I wanted to order family photographs (because we can make those -- equally as good or better -- at home for free), but because I wanted the directory that will be coming out soon so I can put names with faces of fellow parishioners.  Having these directories at my disposal when I was new on the scene as the music and liturgy director of another parish was hugely helpful in getting to know people.  In order to get a copy of the directory, we had to have our picture taken.

Coordinating everyone's attire for the photograph wasn't so much of a chore, but getting myself ready to have my photograph taken proved mighty challenging.   Of course I fretted about it way too much.  With little time to primp, I hoped to try to resurrect some of my curling iron skills (not that I ever really had those) to freshen up my limp curls.  This resulted in a tangle of hair and several pointed warnings to not touch the metal part of the curling iron issued to curious lads who rarely see such a gadget in use in our home.

The resulting photograph is decent enough.  It pretty much captures us as we are today, from the skeptical look on the 21-month-old lass's face to my "come as you are" appearance.  I'm sure this will resonate with people who look us up in the directory.  They might not recognize us if I was all coiffed and curled, accustomed as they are to seeing me in a state of quasi-dishevelment. 

Truth be told, I'm usually not too keen on having my picture taken, as I don't really want to have a permanent reminder of looking pale, puffy, tired, and disheveled.  But it occurs to me that this camera-dodging business might have some negative consequences down the road....

Someday when the bambini look through the multitude of photographs we've taken over the years, I want them to have a few with me to go along with the oodles they'll have of themselves and their other family members.  I know they won't be looking for a supermodel (or Super Mommy).  They'll just be looking for their mom.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

my little Macgyver

elder lad: "Mom, where's the Allen wrench?"
me: "I don't know."

him: "That's alright.  I fixed it."
me: "What?"

him: "the coffee table"
me: "How?"

him: "with a rubber band and two twist-ties"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

songbird

All it takes is a dinner table rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" by the lass to break the tension at the twilight of a long day.  Lads may be sparring, baby fussy, parents wilting, but hearing her sing that simple tune snaps us all out of our collective funk (at least for the moment).  Next thing we know, we're singing along, charmed by her sweetness, and on to happier topics such as the approaching weekend and the rainbow we saw driving home from school today...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

not Super Mommy

Some well-meaning people when marveling at my posse of children have made the declaration "wow!  You must be Super Mommy!"

Hardly.
(but thanks for the vote of confidence)

Sometimes I lose my temper, I grow weary of caterwauling and shenanigans, and I'm not too keen on the idea of constructing a complicated Lego truck while also trying to manage a toddler who thinks she's as big as her brothers and a baby who'd like some nursing, please.  I would love to be more present in my elder lad's Kindergarten classroom, but I have an obligation to the little ones at home.  I can't be everywhere at once.

I was late to "Muffins with Mom" this morning.  I was behind from the moment I got up this morning, and my timely departure for school was adversely affected.  As I drove I imagined the lad waiting for me, seeing the other moms coming in and hugging their children, and wondering where I was.  I called the school to let them know I was en route (and to please pass that reassurance along to my lad, which they did), but I know that didn't really make up for my tardiness.

Once I got there, he (and the other moms) seemed relieved.  If he was upset that I was late, he did not let on.  Instead, he read me the book he had made for me entitled "My Magnificent Mom" and introduced me (again) and his baby sister to his "school mates".  (The middle two children went to the park with my mother and sister.)  As I looked around the room I spotted a drawing on the wall he'd done of us, his family. I've been asking him for just such a thing.  I think it's part of his "home sweet home" center.  I plan to break up some of the expanse of bare walls around here with it once it comes home.

After school the bambini successfully lobbied to play on the playground.  We do this at least once a week.  It's been a good way for me to meet some of the other moms.  As I stood near the play structure surveying the scene and drifting in and out of the conversation a few moms were having behind me, my eyes landed on the figure of a child lying face down on the ground on the opposite side of the structure not so very far from me, but out of arm's reach.  It was my child -- my younger lad, who had misplaced his foot on a spiraling ladder-type apparatus and fallen about five feet.  He'd been all over that structure lots of times before and is an able climber, so his fall was a sorry surprise to me. He was not injured but understandably shaken.  Of course I rushed right over, as did a friend of mine who'd seen him fall.  She spoke of seeing other children do the same thing before -- not to minimize the incident but to commiserate with me in a way.  After checking him over and hugging him close, we walked back to the car and went home.

I know I can't protect my children from every hurt, be they physical or emotional, though I try my utmost to do so.  I hadn't foreseen such an accident happening or else I wouldn't have let him climb up there.

As these most recent cases in point illustrate, I'm not Super Mommy.  Meeting the needs of these little ones can be an exhausting, emotionally draining endeavor.  I am humbled to be entrusted with their care and honored to give it.  I'm not perfect, but I'm not giving up.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

hunting for wabbits

The brothers are, for the most part, having fun together.  One even went so far as to call the other his "best friend" last night (coming to his brother's defense when Mama was taking the latter to task for some selective listening).

I think they might also fancy themselves Lewis and Clark, as this map shows:

Sunday, November 07, 2010

novel idea

"Fall Back" means an extra hour of sleep, right?   Crazy as the idea sounds in light of all there is to get done around here, I actually went to bed early last night -- after the bambini had as well.  They did it *again* tonight, so I'm going to also.

What a novel idea. 

This  time change is going to catch up with us -- probably around 5am tomorrow...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

time to make the doughnuts

We made doughnuts this morning -- the younger lad, all-things-purple-loving lass, and I.  Not fried doughnuts, because I'm too scared to fry things at home (and too lazy to clean up the mess), but baked


The elder lad eyed the mini Bundt pan with suspicion, asking if he could lop off the fancy part of his doughnut.  Once it was dipped in chocolate, though, he didn't care about the shape.  He ate that one and the better part of two more.   I'm still working on that perplexing vanilla frosting recipe using dry milk, powdered sugar, vanilla, and boiling water.  My taste testers were very gracious to eat the experiment anyway.  Cinnamon sugar paired nicely with the spices in the cake batter.

'Twas a fun start on a frosty morning.

Friday, November 05, 2010

minty fresh

younger lad: "what's that good smell?"
(this is a welcome change.)

me: "What kind of smell?"

him: "kind-of minty."

me: "I just used some minty-smelling lip gloss."

him: "I like the smell of your lip floss."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

internal memo

Dear Bonnie,

I see you literally going in circles, overwhelmed by the (not so) little things here and there and everywhere, cluttered counter tops, and the ever-growing mountain of clean laundry awaiting proper stowage, unsure where to start and much preferring to stand here at the computer and write or play the piano or -- heaven forbid -- go to sleep.

Just pick up the nearest thing out of place and put it where it goes.  Continue likewise for as long or as little time you have before the next feeding, diaper change, or fisticuffs between brothers.

Remember that this season of your life is about being present to the little ones in your midst -- obliging when they bring you a book (or three) to read, building, baking, and playing cars with them.  This effort shows its fruit in the spontaneous hugs from your Kindergartner, the cheeky grins from your three-month-old lassie, the notice from your three year old that "you're a keeper," and the commentary  "hug -- kiss -- beep [on the nose]" as your funny girl bestows these things upon you.

The most pressing household needs are met with determination, focus, and perseverance. The rest don't matter so much.  The bambini will eventually be self-sufficient.  God willing, they will remember that you were present to them, even as you tried to "get things done."

Laundry, dishes, diapers, and messes are all signs of the life that dwells within this home, the life of a family abundantly blessed -- and commissioned -- by the love of Christ. 

You may feel like you are so far behind, but when you're mothering your children and caring for your beloved the way you've discerned God calls you to, you're exactly where God wills you to be.  

Peace to you.

love~
me

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

civics lesson

Are votes marked by a five year old giddy at the idea of using "a marker that stains" at his mother's direction still valid?   Let's hope so.

I fulfilled my civic duty this election day with four little helpers in tow (which attracted the usual marveling) -- the littlest one in a sling, the middle two in our double stroller (though one made his escape), and the eldest pushing the rig. 

The prospect of seeing the sea foam green vintage charter bus with the name "Patsy" displayed in its destination marquee parked on the lawn adjacent to the church that served as our polling place with a "for sale" sign in its window piqued the collective curiosity in the Bambini Ride (she wasn't there, though).  After an explanation of the term "polling place" and why it was a church (but not ours) and a probably inadequate reasoning for this whole voting business, we unloaded and went in...

They did pretty well with the short wait, as they have when I've taken them with me to vote before -- even though it was after school and snacks were in short supply and we'd been in the car for a while already.  I'd read the ballot online before we set out on this endeavor, which sped up the actual ballot-marking process.

Choices made, I asked if either of the lads wanted to put the ballot in the reader machine.  They both just looked at me and then at the machine, curious about the beeps and clicks it was making and not wanting to be responsible for them.  That was alright.  The polling place attendants were generous with the "I voted" stickers anyway.  Each child (except the slingling) got one.

I was halfway expecting an election to be organized to determine the dinner menu this evening, but alas it did not come to pass.  (The gravitational force field of the planter box full of dirt out back won out).  I wouldn't be surprised to see one soon, though.  Someone I know has an insatiable interest in permanent markers, the cutting up of paper into smaller pieces, and the stashing of said paper tidbits into discarded Amazon.com boxes that could very easily be transformed into ballot boxes (minus the beeps and clicks)...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

family treasure

For sure, the best part of Halloween in my mind is celebrating my beloved's grandmother's 80th birthday.  I could do without the goblins and definitely without the overabundance of sugary foodstuffs everywhere that sends everyone bouncing off the walls (for a short while, that is, before the inevitable blood sugar crash), but I'm all for treating Grandma to any and all manner of festivities and merriment. 

From our first meeting, Grandma has shown me unfailing kindness.  She is an inspiration to me every day as I go about the business of caring for my young family.  She's been where I am now.  Whenever I wonder how I can possibly manage to do this job, I think of the times I've heard Grandma's response to remarks to that effect with regard to how she did it.  "You just do," she always says.   

And she prays -- a lot.  Her Catholic faith is the cornerstone of her life.
  
Grandma's life's work has been focused on caring for her eight children, their children, and several friends who've become close like family.   She is ever gracious, quick to offer a reassuring or positive word, and obviously delights in the antics of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

With a smile as radiant as the sun and a lifetime of wisdom to share, Grandma is truly a family treasure.  I hope she knows how deeply cherished and loved she is. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

pizza night

 We are homemade pizza aficionados here. The bambini do most of the work.

 

 Aerating the dough.

quality control

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
(It's a good way to blow off some steam after school, this pizza dough kneading business.)

Dinner is served!

Monday, October 25, 2010

books for pun'kins

When someone floated the idea of going to a pumpkin patch a few years ago, my internal response was something like "why would I want to do that?!"  This kinda prissy, allergy-beleaguered mama had no interest in tromping around in a probably wet, muddy field sniffing pumpkins and mingling with livestock at a petting zoo.  No thanks.

We went anyway.  And it was so fun.  We go every year now.  The lads love climbing all over the stacks of pumpkins and examining each variety for its idiosyncrasies.  The elder lad -- to all our surprise -- likes to take his grandfather through the dimly-lit maze as many times as possible.  There are rabbits to feed, horses to ride, guinea hens to laugh at, and a veritable cornucopia of pumpkins, squash, and gourds, among them cucerbits, a word so cute when pronounced by a toddler.

Of course I try to find books to accompany most any of our present day circumstances, and this topic is no exception.  There are lots and lots of books of a pumpkin nature out there, some of which are much better than others based on my own subjective scale.

While it may be too late to request these books at the library in time for Halloween, here are some of our favorite books about pumpkins ...

Rollicking, rhyming The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, is my default pumpkin book.  Two boys and their sister (I can't help grafting my lads and 21-month-old lass onto these characters) discover an enormous pumpkin. In spite of their sister's warning to leave it alone, they cut it loose from its vine, which sets off a series of comedically catastrophic (but ultimately tasty) events for the family members in the pumpkin's path.  (No children or pumpkins are hurt in the course of this book.)   Kevin Lewis authored a few other favorites of ours, including My Truck is Stuck!, Chugga Chugga Choo Choo, and The Lot at The End of My Block.

When a man's favorite field goes up for sale, he sells nearly everything he has in order to buy and preserve it from development in Pumpkins: A Story for A Field by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root.  He buys a packet of pumpkin seeds, plants them, and lets nature take its course.  At harvest time, he utilizes several modes of transportation (including a flying carpet) to ship the pumpkins worldwide and share with those unfamiliar with pumpkins some fun ideas for how to use the orange beauties.  Devoted to keeping the field free of "improvements", his pumpkin-aided mission has an obvious environmental message, but also one about greed (or lack thereof).  When it's time to plant pumpkins again and anticipate another handsome profit, the man instead gives the seeds away, in the hope that another field someplace else might benefit from the same care given by a similarly-minded person.

The Very Best Pumpkin, written by Marc Kimball Moulton, is a very sweet story.  Peter lives on a farm with his Mimi and Papa (which is what our bambini call my parents, by the way).  They grow strawberries, corn, and pumpkins.  Peter notices a vine trailing off on its own, and takes special care of the pumpkin at its end.  When the family opens their pumpkin patch up to visitors, he helps lots of pumpkins find the right homes, but he saves his special pumpkin.  One day a girl arrives with her family to pick a pumpkin.  They happen to be the new neighbors to Peter and his grandparents, having moved in over the summer.  The girl had spent the summer by herself reading and watching Peter tending the special pumpkin.  She thinks he didn't notice her, but he did, and he gives the pumpkin to her.  This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.   Karen Hillard Good's illustrations are simply charming, reminiscent of American artist Mary Englebreit, but not quite as bright. 

Margaret McNamara's How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? is a fun way to introduce or reinforce the mathematical concept of estimation (not one of my sharper skills).  The smallest boy in class is always last in line because his teacher lines them up tallest to smallest.  When the teacher gives the class an assignment to estimate the number of seeds in three pumpkins, one small, one medium, and one large, the lad is happily surprised at the results.  Illustrations are by G. Brian Karas, whose work appears in other favorites of ours including On Earth, Atlantic, The Class Artist, The Village Garage (all of which he wrote and illustrated), My Crayons Talk written by Patricia Hubbard, and Oh No, Gotta Go!, one of several bilingual books written by Susan Middleton Elya.

We've yet to make our annual trip to the pumpkin patch, but there's still time.  And these books (even Runaway Pumpkin) don't have to be put away after Halloween.  In fact, the less Halloween-y the pumpkin books, the better in my mind.  I'm not such a fan of the "holiday".  Were it not my beloved's dear and lovely grandmother's birthday, I might just opt to skip the observance all together (killjoy that I am).  The family  parlays the Halloween festivities into birthday celebrations for her, which has been a lot of fun.  The bambini are cooking up some creative and appropriate costumes for her 80th birthday this year.

With these books in our stash, this time of year is festive and fun for us and our little pun'kins.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

home sweet home

The kindergartners in one of the classes at the elementary school where my beloved's mother teaches third grade are apparently studying transportation.  On one bulletin board, black construction paper cutouts of VW Beetle-shaped cars are affixed to pages that say "my car is going..."  Each child finished the sentence and drew a picture to match.  A few of the cars were going to McDonald's or outer space or someplace equally exciting.  Six of them, however, were going "home."

The centers in our elder lad's kindergarten classroom have a Halloween theme to them, but their pretend play center is called "home sweet home." 

As the heart of this home, I pray that my loved ones -- the ones who spend many of their waking hours away from home (at least on weekdays), those who are here with me all the sometimes live-long day, and those who visit for a little or a long while -- may find this place to be one of refuge, peace, and joy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

young squire

The 1996 movie That Thing You Do! is one of my favorites. I could probably recite the entire thing. It's the story of a one-hit wonder band from the 1960s comprised of four clean cut, fresh faced young men. Their manager is portrayed by Tom Hanks (who also wrote the movie). He sees to it that they project an image of being "nice boys" (except maybe for the drummer, who is probably actually the nicest guy of them all).

Once they've made it big with their one hit, they're flown out to the west coast for some publicity maneuvers and recording. The porter at the hotel addresses them as "young squires." He treats them with respect and civility, in a way revealing his expectation of their behavior in return as living up to a certain standard.

My father addresses our lads "young squires," as does my beloved now. It's an appeal to the lads' love of a challenge and their budding understanding of character, integrity, and virtues. It has a profound and positive effect on the lads. They want to be young squires.

As we endeavor to raise these lads to be the men Christ calls each of them to be, many fine examples of honorable men to whom they can look for guidance in the family around them, family friends, and the saints help pave the way. How richly blessed the lads are for such men in their lives. I am humbly grateful for them myself.

Friday, October 22, 2010

soundbytes

Elder lad, throwing a nickel in a wishing well on a solo outing with his grandparents:
"I wish my brother would be a good brother to me.
I wish my sister would be a good sister to me.
I wish my sissy would be a good sissy to me.
And I wish I would be a good brother to all those guys."

Younger lad, from the backseat of the same grandparents' car as they left our house en route to the zoo:
"Mama looks so tiny!"
(I'm not tiny -- I was just far away from him by then as I stood on the driveway and waved good-bye.)

Lass, in reference to a scrape on her shin from a few weeks ago that healed quickly but has left a little scar:
"Boo boo healing.  So happy."

The raven-haired lass is finding her voice and adding a delightful dimension of babbles and coos to the conversation -- when she can get a word in edgewise.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

all star

These brown Converse All Stars are on their third child.  Don't they look nice with pink monkey jammies?  They're a little faded from lots of washing, but that gives them a kind of character you just can't get fresh out of the shoe box from Zappos.  I remember thinking how huge they looked on the elder lad's foot when he first wore them as a toddler.  I'm not sure they'll hold up for the fourth child, as they are starting to come apart in a few places, but we'll sure try.  Her brothers and sister would all get a kick out of seeing her wear them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

easier said than done

I know where I stand with my three-year-old.  One minute, I'm a "good mom," and the next I'm the opposite.

This valuation depends upon his perception of my cooperation with his desires, so if I dole out yet another yogurt refill or get that toy down off the high shelf (that was put there for a reason) or snuggle him close, I'm a "good mom."  If  I attempt to enforce the "eat what you take" rule or deny access to some plaything that has gotten him in trouble before, I'm a "bad mom."

These designations confound me, as we don't judge our children or anyone else as "bad."   We teach our children that God creates us all good, but we each sometimes make bad choices.  

When my lad renders these judgments I thank him for the positive ones and ask him to rephrase the disparaging ones.  Under no circumstances do whining or insults result in the fussed-for outcome.  This goes for all of us.

He's not really out to get me.  He's three.  Three-year-olds can be like that.  Whenever possible I try to use humor to deflect the negativity and get us to a place of resolution.  For this child especially, this approach is the most effective.  It is, however, easier said than done.

I haven't felt much like laughing things off of late.  I get pretty tired of the fussing, and I let that be known (often in a fussy voice of my own).  Usually, though, fussiness answered with fussiness only exacerbates the problem. 

My younger lad has a delightful sense of humor, vast imagination, sensitive heart, great concern for others, and a fun-loving spirit.  He also has a way with words, an admirable way of expressing himself that I wish to encourage and guide.  I am interested in his thoughts and feelings, but I expect him to express them respectfully. 

We all have our moments of brilliance and those where we know we didn't quite make the grade.  My better mothering moments are marked by humor, gentleness, and a certain perspective that serves as a reminder that I am for whatever reason the adult here, the one who has the final say in spite of whatever protests may come. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

tastes like chicken

In a feeble attempt to manage the morning to-do list, I try to prepare tonight for tomorrow.  One of the line items is packing lunches for my beloved and elder lad.  I set the lunchboxes out, pack the non-perishables, and group the perishables on the eye-level shelf in the fridge for fast retrieval in the morning when everyone is up too early and (ahem) imploring me for bagels/pancakes/applesauce muffins and yogurt.

My girl beat me to the task this time.  She likes to rummage through the cabinet where I keep the backpacks and lunchboxes and load 'em up (kind of like I do).  I opened up her brother's lunch box to start gathering things up, and inside I found her other brother's flip flops.  So that's where they were...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grannie-isms

Grannie may have gone home, but her unique expressions are a part of my vernacular:
  • When one or several of the bambini are getting a bit unruly, he/she/they are my yokel dokels. 
  • We don't have a designated cleaning day here.  We do the housework in dribs and drabs.  
  • Often Sometimes we give it a lick and a promise.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gran-tastic week

It's always so difficult to say good-bye.  We are not big on long good-byes.  Just a hug, kiss, promise to stay in touch, and "we go," as Grannie says.  Prolonging the farewell only makes it more difficult.

This was our way of doing things on the many airport runs when I'd fly to Chicago on my own to visit Grannie.  She'd usually drop me off at the curb and be on her way.  It wasn't that she was ready to be rid of me or I of her -- it was just that it was time to go. 

The visits always pass too quickly, which is a blessing really, since that means we enjoy them so well we hardly notice the passage of our time together until it has ended.  So it has been this week Grannie has spent with us.  It seems like she just got here, and now she is headed home. 

I miss her already.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gran-tastic conversations

Our Gran-tastic week is drawing to a close. Grannie will fly home to Chicago tomorrow morning.

We've had so many conversations about everything from present-day challenges to great-great-grandparents. It's been wonderful having her here. She's been a delightful guest and welcome presence in our little family. I'm going to miss her, and not just for her laundry-folding, dinner-salvaging help.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this time with Grannie, and for all the many conversations we've had not only during this visit, but throughout a lifetime of visits. For my Grannie and the wisdom she continues to impart, I am ever grateful.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gran-tastic family tree

Grannie has a charm bracelet with baubles and silhouettes for each of her grandchildren and now great-grandchildren.  Today is her birthday, so we gave her a girl's head silhouette charm for the bracelet with the raven-haired lass's name engraved upon it, as we have done previously with charms bearing the names of our lads and other lass.

As Grannie showed the elder lad the bracelet this evening, she named each of her littlest loved ones and explained their relation to him.  While he has met most of them once or twice, he doesn't know them in the sense that he could name their favorite colors or interests.  Still, they are his family, and that's been one of the biggest reasons I'm so honored Grannie has come to spend this week with us.  As the week has progressed, each of the bambini has come to know Grannie better, and vice versa.

The lad and his siblings are richly blessed to have lots of family close by with whom they are developing relationships.  We don't get to see our Chicago family very much, so any opportunity is one to be seized and savored.  There is much my beloved and bambini can understand about me by knowing the family that has nurtured me throughout my life -- my Grannie in a particular way, since she and I have built such a special relationship over the many years of visits and time we've spent together. 

The roots run deep and wide in our family.  There are many examples of faith-filled, honorable, hard-working people the bambini can look to on *both* sides of their family tree.  By the grace of God, we can see his goodness in the faces of our family members both near and far away, and feel his love in the many ways they care for us.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gran-tastic geography

puzzle building with Grannie and geography lesson all in one

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gran-tastic guest

My first lessons in hospitality came from my Grannie.  Every time we'd stay with her, we could tell she had gone to great lengths to prepare for our visit and had thought of many ways to make our stay comfortable.

From the spread of food awaiting our arrival, to the way she prepared our sleeping quarters with fresh bedding and space to unpack our things, to the deference she gave to our preferences when it came to our daily routines or comfort level with certain activities, and most of all the time she spent conversing with and listening to us, she made us feel welcome.  We knew she was glad we were there.

I hope Grannie knows how happy I am that she is here.  I didn't roll out the red carpet for her.  In fact, she's been folding laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, and making dinner for us -- and she's our guest!  But (she would protest), she's family, and that's what family does.

These past few mornings we've sat at the kitchen table, she holding the raven-haired lass and I refilling yogurt cups, each of us with our cup of coffee, just visiting.  It's been the logical progression from the days when I'd stay with her and come out in the morning to the sound of WGN on the radio, her puttering around fixing breakfast and reading the newspaper.  Now she's helping prepare food for her great-grandchildren, keep our household humming, and letting us love on her in the way we are able to at this moment.

She's both a gracious hostess and a delightful guest.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gran-tastic faith

Every trip to Chicago has included at least one trip to Mass. Going with my Grannie is always an honor, an outing I savor.

Hailing from a small town where Catholics are a minority, visiting my family in Chicago and going to Mass with them was a major source of encouragement for and reinforcement of my own faith. I was always astounded by the sheer number of people at Mass. Compared with our little parish, Grannie's was humongous. It was my first glimpse at the universal Church.

The number of Masses Grannie's parish would offer over the Christmas holidays in order to accommodate all those wishing to attend boggled my mind. Many Christmas Eves I'd go to (a usually very crowded) Mass with my cousins, the four of us girls (this was before my sister and boy cousins were born) in our crinkly Christmas dresses. We'd come home to a Christmas Eve feast and all manner of merriment.

We've spent many Christmases in Chicago, and they've come to celebrate Easter with us a few times. We've gone there and they've come here for many sacramental occasions including baptisms, first communions, confirmations, and weddings. The celebrations afterward are always festive.

Such happy occasions have been largely due to living the liturgical year, celebrating the sacraments together, and sharing a common faith.

Grannie's faith has long been a source of inspiration to me. As I reflect upon the events of her life, some very joyful and some filled with sorrow, I realize that it is her faith that carries her through them. So it is for me too, God willing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gran-tastic help

Grannie's lake house has been the family getaway for a good long time now.  We'd pack as many as 25 people in the four-bedroom cottage for the Fourth of July festivities.  What fun that was.   All the adults pitched in to help in various ways -- cooking, cleaning, taking people out on the boat, playing with kids, attending to household fix-it needs, etc.

While there were no boat rides this weekend and we didn't have 25 people staying under our roof, the same "many hands make light work" principle applied.   Among other things, my beloved manned the grill.  My dad put himself on KP.  Last night my sister made the breakfast casserole for this morning's brunch.  My mom picked up last minute groceries.  Grannie held the raven-haired lass as much as the wee one would allow her to before returning to me for some resetting.  Several of us chased after bambini on tricycles. 

As Grannie is at the lake, we might have been the hosts, but (at least we hope) everyone's at home here.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Gran-tastic fun

From a young age I spent a lot of time in Chicago.  As a family we'd visit a few times a year.  Most summer visits we'd make the trip together, but then my parents would return home and I'd stay a while longer with Grannie. My grandfather had died when I was five, so it was just Grannie and me for sometimes a couple of weeks, usually about three weeks, but a few times as long as five or six weeks.

(When I was in college I spent an entire summer with her while I was an intern in the development department of Lyric Opera of Chicago.)

My aunties always had great ideas for fun things to do when I'd be in for an extended visit.  One of my aunties has three daughters around my age, and she was pretty hip to the fun things to do in the area.  My other two aunties didn't have children when I was growing up; at the time they were glamorous single working gals who commuted by train to downtown Chicago.  Grannie too always went out of her way to make sure I had a good time.  My aunties would take my cousins and to the pool.  I took art and drama classes one summer.    I'd go with my cousins to their friends' houses.  Grannie would take me shopping and to the movies, and we'd always plan at least one trip downtown on the train.  We spent a lot of time at her lake cottage, too.

It was fun just being there among them, even if we weren't off doing something or going someplace. 

With one auntie in town this weekend along with her five-year-old son and Grannie, our activities have largely revolved around making things fun for the kids.  Our cousin (one of many in our family) and my lads are having a rollicking good time being silly together, building with Legos, and playing outside in the beautiful weather.  This afternoon we took them to a local playground with lots of things to climb on, plenty of swings for kids of all ages, and a massive climbing structure with several slides spiraling and bumping riders to the ground.

Seeing the young cousins having fun together reminds me of the fun I had with my cousins growing up.  We might not have been quite as rowdy as these boys have gotten at times, but we made our own mischief all the same.  Such fun times, just being together...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Gran-tastic welcome

The 750 mile drive to Chicago always left us hungry, even if we'd just stopped an hour or two before that for one last tank of gas and a snack. Grannie would be waiting for us, no matter how wee the hour of our arrival.

She would've been to the Jewel that morning and would offer us something to eat from her fully-stocked fridge.  The welcome snack was usually just lunch meats -- and brick cheese. Oh how we love brick cheese. We've been known to bring home whole bricks of it as edible souvenirs, since it's not available in our area. After the initial round of hugs, we'd make some sandwiches and visit (and eat brick cheese).

When Grannie arrived with my aunt and cousin this afternoon, the sandwich fixins were set out (sans brick cheese). After they assembled their sustenance, we sat around the kitchen table and visited.

No artful presentation -- just help yourself.  We're so glad you're here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Gran-tastic!

We are making ready for some special visitors due to arrive tomorrow.  My grandmother, aunt, and cousin are coming from Chicago for the weekend.  Grannie will stay with us next week as well.  I am so excited to see them and grateful she is coming to visit us for the week.

In a way, it's a role reversal.  I've been traveling to Chicago to stay with Grannie and visit family my entire life.  They've traveled to see us here, too.  Traveling these days is a lot more challenging than it was when it was just me to pack up and get there.  I've talked about that before.  Now Grannie is coming to me (as she has before). 

Over the next week, I hope to post some memories I have of the times I've spent with Grannie and the things I've learned from her.  As fun as it is to reminisce, however, it's more important to maximize the time I have her here under my roof.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

brotherly love

a little something for his younger brother, should the latter be missin' his big bro during the school day, hastily scrawled before heading out the door...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

baking up memories, one double batch at a time

From the time my five-year-old elder lad was a wee babe, I've been cooking and baking with him.  At first he loved watching the mixer churn up cookie batter (from a safe distance, of course, in my arms).  Now he mans the mixer most of the time (with close supervision, of course).  As his siblings have grown, they've pulled their own chairs up to the counter to bake with us.

There are all manner of great outcomes from baking with one's bambini, among them tasty vittles, an opportunity to teach about nutrition in a fun way, and even mathematical and scientific lessons right there for the taking.

Baking with bambini is not for the faint of heart, however.  When the adult baker is at peace with the possibility of messes, ready to mediate squabbles over whose turn it is to run the mixer or scrape the bowl, and prepared to answer pleas for "just one chocolate chip", things tend to turn out much better overall, as the inevitable minor mishaps aren't fuel for frustration that might lead to snappish tones of voice or the like.

Here's how this morning's cookie baking scene went down.  It's a school day, so the elder lad wasn't in on the action. 

The 20-month-old lass is tired and ready for a nap at 10am, but I am able to rouse her interest in cookies -- except she wants them *right now*.  The younger lad is rarin' to go mix up batter but balks at the idea of washing his hands.  (Why they do this baffles me, as they *love* to play in the water.)  Mama holds her ground on the hand washing, asserting no mixing is to be done until hands are clean.  The nine week old younger lass is rousing from a catnap and wants to nurse.  This holds up things in the batter-making process somewhat, but that's alright.

Hands are clean, so I scramble to queue up ingredients in an effort to simplify the process.  That in and of itself is one of the mightiest challenges of the entire undertaking.

Butter is churning in the mixer under the younger lad's watchful eye.  The lass is happily scooping and spilling the mixture of dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, edging out only a tiny amount of the mixture onto the counter.  She's angling for a chocolate chip, though, each time her brother asks for one.  "It's not time for those, yet," I tell them, and they register their discontent. 

Finally the moment has arrived to add the chocolate chips.  They each get one (and so do I).  When it's time to add the dry ingredients, the lass is not so willing to give up her bowl.  She will, however, if she can use the mixer, too, but this idea is a "thumbs down" according to her brother (even though he's had use of the mixer all this time). She dumps in her contribution, and because we are making a double batch, the batter begins to climb over the beater.

The lad is placated by the idea of him scooping the dough out of the bowl and plopping it onto the cookie sheets.  As I put the first four scoops in the four corners of the cookie sheet to hold down the parchment paper, he says the cookies are like magnets.  He and his sister each take turns helping me dole out the dough onto the cookie sheets, which then go into the oven.  The younger lass is climbing up my shoulder from the confines of my left arm.  This cookie baking business has lost its luster for her.

The waiting begins, and if not for the prospect of a banana and some yogurt (and some other "growing food"), I might've had mutiny from the little ones who want cookies for lunch.

Nutritional requirements met, the lass gets to try one of the cookies from the first tray out of the oven.  She wants another.   The lad has deferred cookie gratification until after his brief nap, as the thought of finishing his lunch at that time did not suit him.

Why do I put myself through such sometimes harrowing moments baking with my bambini?  Well, for one thing, I want cookies just that much.  But more than that, in this venture together we cultivate patience in the Mama, an understanding of and respect for the mixer's machinery in the bambini, consideration for those not present who might want cookies too; build valuable kitchen skills that will serve the bambini their entire lives; and have home baked treats to show for our efforts. 

Most of the time, baking with the bambini is a fun way to spend a chunk of time together.  The times when things get dicey have refined my multitasking and quick-thinking skills.  As much time as we spend together in the kitchen, I pray the memories we are making are happy ones for the bambini.  Through the lens of hindsight and with a healthy dose of humor, our family lore is being baked one batch at a time.

Now on to clean up the mess...

Monday, October 04, 2010

books for armchair travelers

Our bambini have a growing collection of postcards they've received from their aunt and uncle's travels abroad.  It's been fun to look up the locales on the map and see pictures from their trips.  From the British Isles to the land of Ephesus where the Blessed Virgin Mary lived her final days, it's safe to say they've traveled "hither and yon."

We haven't traveled like that, but some of our favorite children's books (mine, anyway) have been about places far away:

Adele and Simon (by Barbara McClintock) live in early twentieth century Paris.   Every day Adele collects her little brother Simon from what is probably similar to preschool here, and they walk home together by way of the park, art museum, and patisserie (among other stops).  Simon loses his belongings along the way, which elicits some big sisterly chiding from Adele, who warns of what Mama will say to Simon when he gets home.  McClintock's illustrations are beautifully rendered in a vintage style evocative of the time period in watercolor and delicate drawing.  We like to look for the lost items in the pictures.  In Adele and Simon in America, the two visit their aunt living in New York.  The three of them travel across the still-growing United States, Simon losing his things along the way but Aunt Cecile ready to recollect them.  Maps in both books show their trails, not unlike the points we're plotting on our map here at home of the places our family visit.


Many of the books in Miroslav Sasek's "This Is" series date from the 1960s and 70s, and thus aren't necessarily up-to-the minute accurate (though the recently-published editions have footnotes updating where necessary).  That doesn't matter one bit to me, though, as I am not looking for travel tips here.  What they may lack in guide book accuracy they make up for in the style and fun factors.  Our library only has This Is London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Hong Kong, Texas, and Edinburgh (from whence my paternal grandfather emigrated when he was seven years old), but there are at least that many more and then some, including Ireland, Israel, Greece, New York, San Francisco, and Australia.  Maybe someday...

We also like Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline books, especially Madeline in London, Madeline and The Bad Hat, and Madeline and The Cats of Rome.

From the comfort of our siesta nest we can travel the world with these books and others like them.  Bonjour!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

down home delight

buttermilk biscuits my beloved made from scratch with little helpers,
sweetened with Aunt T's homemade jelly.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

leaving a legacy

When they're grown and on their own...

Will they remember the silly songs I'd make up to give instructions -- or the irritated tone in my voice when instructions I'd given went unheeded?

Will the image of my face in their mind's eyes be one of me smiling at them or frowning?

Will they think of the countless hours happily spent snuggling them either awake or to sleep (and lots of other times, too) -- or the times when they asked me to snuggle them and I was busy doing something else like packing lunches?

If they scrape a knee or cut a finger, will they be able to bandage up themselves up as well as Dr. Mom (or Dad)?

Will they remember all the time we spent playing, reading, coloring, baking, and dancing -- or the times they asked me to do those things with them and I couldn't or wouldn't for whatever reason (cleaning, for example)?

When one of their siblings calls for a chat (here's hoping they'll do that), will they laugh about something funny that was said or seen -- or will they lament together some shortfall of attention or affection?

Will they come to realize by their own experiences that my mistakes and failings were those of a person trying to figure things out and do the best she could at that moment with what she had to work with?

Will they treat themselves and others with kindness, respect, and compassion? 

When they catch the aroma of coffee wafting through the air, will they wonder if the barista is making my favorite beverage?

Will they remember where the chocolate is hidden?

Will they take ownership of the faith they've been given, seeking God's will for their lives?

Lord, I pray you will make up the difference between what my bambini need from me and what I'm able to give them in the moments of their needs.  Please heal the unintended hurts and clear up any confusion I may have inadvertently caused.  Bless them with the peace that only you can give.  Hold each of them close all the days of their lives.

Amen.

Friday, October 01, 2010

natural consequences

Stalling during the bedtime routine does not delay Lights Out.  Choosing to dilly dally means there is no time left for book reading, something everyone looks forward to.

Haphazard handling of the slicing and dicing of homegrown peppers means fingers en fuego.  Good one, Bon. 

Consideration of one's siblings and their feelings (in the form of inviting them to join the "bug club" on the school playground at day's end) means more fun for everyone.

Prompt response to "it's time to go" (after fair warning, of course) means we get to come back again.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

directionally challenged

I ask the younger lad: "are you a north-going Zax or a south-going Zax?"

"I'm going forward.  Is that north?"

Could be.
(good answer)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

fishin' for a good book?

Since we go to storytime on Mondays, I had hoped to post a book review yesterday.  That didn't work out because instead I was trying to figure out how to broil our dinner.

Anyhow...

The books at yesterday's storytime were about fish.  One of them has become an instant favorite here.  I've lost track of how many times we've read it in the past 24 hours.  Normally I am not one to assign voices to dialogue when I read aloud, but I make an exception for The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen.  Dan Hanna's colorful illustrations bring the aquatic characters to life as they try to cajole, admonish, and tease the fish with the fat lip to get rid of his mopey expression (which he thinks he's stuck with).  Their respective voices just spring from the rhyming text.  I can't help but go with the flow. 

Trying to contain one's excitement is challenging at best for adults, but sometimes next to impossible for children.  At least that's the case for the little boy who brings home a fish he names Otto in A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer (illustrated by P.D. Eastman of Are You My Mother? notoriety).  The pet shop owner gives the boy very specific instructions as to the care and feeding of the fish -- "only a little, or something might happen.  You never know what."  By the end of the story, the boy knows...

For a wordless picture book to capture the imagination, check out Caldecott Award-winning Flotsam by David Weisner, the story of a boy who finds an underwater camera on the shore one lazy afternoon at the beach. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

what not to wear

The younger lad is a dapper little guy.  He knows what he likes and takes an interest in what he wears. 

When he suggested I wear a certain pair of shoes, only to discover that I in fact had donned a different pair, he was greatly displeased.  "No -- not those!  Those don't look good!" 

I had to explain to him that the shoes I was wearing were more comfortable at the time than the seemingly sensible flats he had chosen for me, as I had just been wearing a similar pair of flats that required some, um, breaking in and my feet were kind-of sore as a result of wearing them.  He found this excuse to be pretty lame.

He's probably right. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

perish the thought

They're after my chocolate.

The lass hears me rustling in a snack container and says "choc'lat" (as in chips) and makes it clear she wants some.   
How'd she know that's what in there?

The younger lad tells his elder brother as the latter boards the Bambini Ride, "we bought a chocolate bar at Target this morning.  Want to share it?"   
What's this "we" business?  Who said anything about sharing?

The elder lad moseys into the pantry and asks if he can have "something from the secret stash."
Apparently, it isn't so secret.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

safety first

Somehow, a few Goldfish were spilled into the cup holder of my elder lad's car seat sometime during the drive home from school.  As it happened, a little bit of water then found its way into the cup holder.  Turns out Goldfish don't really swim all that well.  The resulting aroma gave rise to some exclamations as to the degree of stinkiness the mixture of Goldfish and water measured, which led to conjectures regarding the hazardous situation now present.

"Mom.  We'll clean this up.  You won't have to." 
"Oh.  Thank you."

"We'll wear our masks and safety glasses."

Good plan.
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