Thursday, September 01, 2011

minor victories :: drop the needle edition

College music majors know well the concept of "drop the needle".  That's the not-so-affectionate (and now rather outdated) term that refers to the listening portions of music history exams where a snippet of music is played and the students must identify it, its composer, and varying degrees of information about both (such as the specific movement of this selection if it is a multi-movement work, the composer's life span, defining characteristics of that person's music, other works by the same composer, etc.).  The selection played during the exam can come from any point in the piece as though a record needle were dropped on an LP -- it rarely starts at the beginning.

So as we're driving to preschool this morning, the younger lad requests "the one with the drums," and I couldn't help but think that this is the preschool version of that rather stressful game from my college days.

But I got it right. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

good night already

The nightly ritual of reading, prayer, and snuggling is a precious time, except when Mama is hoping for sleep to come to overtired bambini post haste both for their sakes and so that she herself can settle in for the night.  When things don't work out as hoped (as they often don't when overtired bambini are involved), Mama can get a little antsy.

I try to spend those (hopefully) quiet moments as the bambini are drifting off to sleep in prayer.  I haven't been very diligent about this effort lately, though.  When I struggle to get into that mode like a child fighting sleep, sometimes I imagine Mary the mother of Jesus either holding my hand or sitting beside her son Jesus, just as I do with my own bambini.  It can be a conduit to the prayer that I wish to offer.

If ever I can be a model of how to handle my own anxieties and reticence to submit to sleep, prayers, or some other healthy choice, I hope it will be in this area of prayer -- to pray always, trusting the prayers are heard, and settling myself down enough to listen to the responses (and prompts). 

And with that, good night.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

letting go while holding on

Depositing the younger lad at preschool that first day last week was bittersweet for me. It was a long time coming, having debated whether to enroll him last year at age three. That wasn't the right time for him. It appears now is the right time, as he has a spring in his step and an eagerness to return. I am so grateful for his positive beginning, and I pray it continues to go so well. What a happy, fun place his preschool appears to be, staffed by people who truly care for the souls entrusted to them and skilled in the art of early childhood education, in a community of faith.

Spending time with my sister the new college freshman last week made me consider anew the prospect of someday taking my own children to college, depositing them there, and returning home without them. Children grow up to become adults -- God willing, adults who answer God's call to serve him by serving others. We as parents are here to see that process fulfilled.

I let my lad go a little that day, but not entirely. I'll never do that. The Lord may call him (and his siblings) to vocations that entail traveling both far and near or obligate the bulk of his attention to the care of others such as a wife and children or the people of God, but my love and prayers are portable enough to carry along with.

From preschool to college to beyond, parents will always be parents. The roles and responsibilities will change as the seasons of family life change, but the love of Christ that binds us together as a family will remain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

angels at work

With a healthy dose of uncertainty that didn't devolve into tears, the younger lad started preschool this morning.  He was familiar with the setting from Vacation Bible School this summer, and he was buoyed by the hope of seeing his brother the first grader on the playground.  They did in fact see each other, which was the declared highlight of their respective school days (that and lunch, according to the newly-minted preschooler). 

After school we visited my sister all moved into her spiffy dorm room.  This brought back a wealth of memories for me of her as a wee lass about the age of my preschooler visiting me in my college dorm room.  Those weekly visits she and my mom paid me were always highlights, and it's an honor to return the favor now.  We love having Babycakes so close by.

Enveloped in the grace of God and the protection of his angels and ours, we have so much to be thankful for such a relatively smooth transition to the school scene and this latest round in our Game of Life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

getting organized

School starts this week. Yesterday the elder lad started first grade.  The younger lad starts preschool tomorrow. So long as we weather the adjustment to the earlier wake-up calls, I think we're in for a good year.  I just have to get myself organized.

Along with the new school year has come the influx of handbooks, procedures, forms, and paperwork to be read, completed, signed, returned, filed, and otherwise digested. Then there are the calendars.

Snack duty * Cafeteria lunch menu * Parent volunteer schedule * School year * Birthdays

Instead of posting all the various calendars that come home in plain view, I try to glean the pertinent information from each and put it on my central calendar. Otherwise, it's apt to get overlooked as all the calendars become part of the visual landscape only to be dealt with accordingly when I just can't stand it anymore (or company's coming).

In the past I've tried several different printed calendars, but in the end I've always defaulted to a computer-based calendar and have been using Google calendar for a while.  I'd like to get back to an actual calendar, though, if only as a means of preservation.  Enter this little cutie...



 It's a simple spiral-bound calendar I can tuck in my bag meant really for students but with plenty of space to write on each day to suit my purposes. Along with my Google calendar, I intend to use this paper calendar to keep track of our family doings and developments. Wish me luck.  I've kind-of fallen off that wagon.

I like the tangible aspects of the spiral-bound calendar not only for its aesthetic appeal but also for the example it sets to the bambini -- that of writing down what's important and not relying on technology to the exclusion of everything else. The convenience of being able to access my Google calendar from my phone is huge, though, and makes it my default calendar.  Still, I endeavor to strike the proper balance between technology and posterity.

My strange fixation on calendars is becoming more evident the longer I yammer on about mine.  As for what to do with paperwork that needs my attention and response, I'm still refining my system. Generally I try to respond as quickly as possible when necessary and send it back so it's off my plate, so to speak. If I have to wait to return something, I tend to stick it on the fridge (where it is in danger of becoming, like the calendars, part of the visual landscape). Still, it's my not-so-failproof way to protect it from getting lost in the shuffle or falling victim to my deck-clearing compulsion, which seems to have intensified with each child I have borne. Hmm.

Lots of information comes home from school that I like to hang on to for future reference (including those calendars). Presently I have a three-ring notebook in which I try to file things in as I receive them. This reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent first) system is one I learned as an intern at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and I've applied it to pretty much everything I've tried to organize into notebooks, including children's health records and household paperwork. Things like school handbooks that don't easily lend themselves to being three-hole punched are tucked into a plastic envelope that itself is three-hole punched and held closed with a hook and loop closure.

I have come to realize that not every piece of schoolwork needs to be archived. For the past two years, I have collected the elder lad's work in those plastic zip-up cases that sets of sheets, curtains, or comforters come in. I slide the case under the elder lad's bed. A few times he'd trot out all the work (much to my chagrin, as it usually coincided with happy hour) and play trash truck. It finally dawned on me to have him actually sort through the work he wanted to keep, stash that back in the case, and put the rest in the household recycling sack. (I went through it myself later to save things I thought were "keepers" from the recycling bin fate).

Backpacks and lunch boxes live in a low kitchen cabinet for bambini to stow and retrieve themselves. I try to assemble as much of the next day's packed lunch after dinner is cleaned up so that there is less to fuss about in the morning when all bets are off as to my lucidity and the availability of both my hands for food preparation.  Backpacks are readied for the next day with contents like homework, school library books, things for quiet rest time, and correspondence with the teacher.

We're not to the season yet of having bambini going in opposite directions to activities, which simplifies the family calendar a lot. In trying to hone my organizational skills now, I hope to be well-poised to take on that logistical quagmire as it comes our way.

The real challenges both now and in the future will lie in
*not taking on too much,
*remembering what's most important to us as a family on the path to Heaven, and
*making the organizational system work for us -- not the other way around.

My system is working for me so far, though I know there's always room for improvement...

Monday, August 15, 2011

lost in translation


Judging by the books littering the living room floor late this afternoon, the younger lad was looking for something else to thumb through.  He settled on the foreign language dictionaries that I kept handy for translating the arias, songs, and lieder of the students whose voice lessons I accompanied when I was a piano major in college. 

"What are you reading now?" I asked him.
"It's a mystery."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

seventh anniversary

Holding a bouquet of white roses like these in one hand and with my other hand tucked inside my beloved's, I walked toward the altar of our diocesan Cathedral.  These first steps on the path of our shared vocation seem both recent and long-ago, with so many blessings,challenges, joys, and sorrows to have come our way since that morning seven years ago today.  By God's grace we are still walking hand in hand.  For this and for so many reasons to celebrate every day, I am more grateful today than ever before.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

sisterly advice

unsolicited advice to my sister starting college next week (and all those embarking on something new)...

Give it a chance.
Trust in the Lord.
Seek his will for you.
Keep the faith.
Say your prayers.
Listen for the answers.
Be the face of Christ to others.
Look for Christ in the faces of the people around you.
Take the high road.
Get some sleep.
Make your bed.
Be yourself.
Have fun.
Know you are loved!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

famous last words

The Lord has blessed our region with abundant rainfall the past few days, bringing relief to parched land (and fried senses). Temperatures in the 90s are a welcome reprieve from day after day (after day after day, and into the nighttime hours) of daytime highs upwards of 110 degrees.

With all this rain, it's mud season revisited.

Standing at the window watching the rain (for which we are so grateful), the lads can barely contain themselves and their desire to get out there and play in the rain. I can understand that. I also know, though, that the deluged planter boxes with what was our vegetable garden before the heat spell scorched it now thick with mud will prove too tempting to lads who claim they only want to go outside to wash their dirty, dusty trucks. As I was not in a position to clean up a huge muddy mess this morning, their request was denied, with empathy.

They promised they wouldn't get in the mud, which I believe was sincere. Such a promise is no match for the kind of mud we're dealing with, though. It's the stuff of mythical monster truck rallies.

Acknowledging their disappointment but holding my ground, I tried to offer some equally enticing indoor activity ideas, such as putting their clean laundry away.

(I'm a kill-joy, remember, but the elder lad at least did oblige.)

In a last-ditch effort to obtain the elusive permission by promising (again) to stay away from the mud, the elder lad made one final appeal.

"You can trust me. I'm a six-year-old."

Epilogue: The bambini reveled in the soggy sandbox at my beloved's parents' house this afternoon while I went to get a haircut.  When we got home (and with my permission), they practically ran straight from the garage to the back door to their happy little mud hole.  Just as I expected -- and just as it should be, they were soon covered in enough goo to warrant the moniker "mud bugs" when they came in.  They knew to head straight for the laundry room, then the shower. 

And every day the elder lad is growing in trustworthiness, becoming more and more of a "big kid."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

foley artists

Ours is not a quiet household.  If anything, the baseline decibel level has increased in the last few months.  (The lassies may have something to do with this.)  In a typical day, the garden variety truck zooming, space ship blasting, and animal roaring to which we've grown accustomed co-mingle with the hum of the refrigerator and whir of the washing machine.  

In the movie industry, the people who recreate natural noises to add reality and depth to the soundtrack are known as foley artists.  I know this bit of trivia because I wrote a research paper on the movie production process when I was in high school at the pinnacle of my interest in film scores.  I fancied myself a future composer.  The one composition course I took as part of my music degree in college helped me reconcile with this not being God's path for my life.

Highly imaginative and truck-obsessed though he is, the elder lad hasn't historically been given to making sound effects to accompany his maneuvers.  (This is in keeping with his somewhat reserved nature.)  The younger lad has long been more likely to provide some vrooming, zooming, honking, beeping, and clicking noises to add reality to his generally more energetic play.  (He is, generally speaking, more expressive.)  They both, however, have lately taken to replicating a type of natural sound that is categorically- and stereotypically-speaking universally funny to boys age six (or so) and under.  I'd offer three guesses, but I bet only one is necessary for most people.

I can only imagine highly successful foley artists began their careers in a similar manner, and look at them now.  Their mothers must be so proud.

Monday, August 08, 2011

school spirit

School starts next week for the lads.  The elder lad is going into first grade.  He is looking forward to having a "buddy" at school in the form of his brother, who is enrolled in preschool three days a week.

To get us in the school spirit, we've been reading some school-themed picture books...


Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?  by Audrey Vernick is one of my favorites.  Its appeal lies in its wacky premise of a buffalo (of all creatures, brought to life by illustrator Daniel Jennewein) going to kindergarten and learning to interact with other kids, follow classroom procedures, and "get along without using your horns" (ahem). 

The elder lad often admits to wondering what we're doing while he's at school.  He's obviously not the only one.  Toby Forward's What Did You Do Today? follows a mother and child through their respective first days at work and school, beginning at home with them packing their lunches and getting ready.  Throughout the day each is thinking of the other while enjoying their respective environments.  When they are reunited, they are both eager to know the title question. Carol Thompson's illustrations carry the story with poignant secondary illustrations such as pictures the mother and child have of each other in their respective cubbies. 

One Smart Cookie: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Year and Beyond is the latest in the series of cookie-themed vocabulary books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, charmingly illustrated by Jane Dyer and her daughter Brooke.  Ideals like empathy, punctuality, initiative, diligence, and honesty are conveyed with the sweetness only cookies can deliver.  I've mentioned these cookie books before, but have I mentioned how addictive these whole-wheat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are?   

Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand is a classic in the canon of books designed to prepare kids for the experience of going to school.  Chester Raccoon is nervous about being away from his mother, expecting he will miss her.  His mother acknowledges this and has a tangible solution for those times when Chester needs some reassurance that their reunion is coming soon.  We have adapted this for our own farewells.  I daresay it really works.

Along the same lines, Llama Llama Misses Mama by Australian author/illustrator Anna Dewdney is one of several books featuring lovable Llama Llama and his loving mama.  Llama Llama is starting nursery school, and though it looks like fun, he wonders if Mama will really be back to pick him up like she has promised.  When the younger lad went to vacation bible school earlier this summer at the school that will soon be his (not just his brother's), he had fun but missed me.  I hope that experience will serve as comfort if and when the lad misses me at preschool, since he'll know I'll be back before he knows it.

In our school-readying efforts, we're also queuing up our schoolhouse rock playlist.  Still, it'll take all of us some getting used to this sight:  


All signs point to a great experience on the horizon.  Here's hoping for that and praying for the grace to allow ourselves the best possible outcome.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

in the fog

The temperatures are still sweltering, but it's almost time for school to start.  In recent days and weeks there have been dates with Mama for school supplies, highly-anticipated deliveries of school pants for certain soon-to-be preschoolers eager to try on his togs, and measurements of rapidly-growing first grade feet that no longer fit into last year's school shoes.  There is much excitement about school starting, but there's also a tinge of uncertainty about it all, and an experience-based bracing on my part for the adjustment that is soon to come to a new routine and environment. 

Last year when the elder lad started Kindergarten at a new-to-us parochial school, the younger lass was a newborn.  More than one mom I met at the school noted in recognition of my tired eyes, pale face, and obvious challenge of managing four young children that I was "in the fog."  They promised it would get better, that someday I would regain some semblance of steadiness.

They were right.

Not that things are "easy peasy lemon squeezy" now (as the elder lad has been known to parrot), but a year into life with four young children and the whole school scene has taught me a lot.  This year will bring new challenges, adventures, and (God willing -- here's hoping) allies on the journey we're on toward heaven via domestic life.

I still run a pretty steep sleep deficit and struggle with the consequent "brain fog" most of the time, but going into this new school year, I think the clouds are lifting...

Saturday, August 06, 2011

outtakes

Sifting through scads of digital photos I've taken of the bambini in the past month or so (remember my strategy?), I am searching for those images that are in focus, well-lit, not too cluttered in terms of what's in the background, and interesting.  Those images that meet these criteria are added to a "favorites" folder that serves as my screen saver -- a veritable slide show of the past three or so years (the lifespan of my current computer) -- and organized into albums to share with our loved ones.

Notice I didn't include among my "favorites" criteria that bambini be looking at the camera.  I don't often ask them to do that.  Instead I try to document their doings, expressions, and interactions as they unfold in real time.   In my experience this makes for better photos -- at least the ones I end up taking. 

There are times I try to get all four bambini together for a photo to mark a certain milestone or holiday.  I don't think I've ever gotten a photograph of all four of them looking at the camera that is better than those that result from the logical progression of a "photo shoot" with four young children.  With these characters, there are plenty of goofy expressions and silliness shining through the awkwardness of being posed.   Among the candid images are usually several "outtakes", some of which may or may not end up as the favored photo for the intended purpose (such as a Christmas -- or Easter, in our case -- card).

Sometimes the best pictures aren't the posed ones.  That's not my area of expertise.  They may not be of portrait studio caliber, but their authenticity trumps the fancy factor.  The relationships among the siblings and we who love them are evident.  The accomplishments and milestones are documented as they happen, and the expressions captured for posterity are genuine.  These photos tell our story. 

Friday, August 05, 2011

drama queen

We are experiencing some unprecedented displays of emotions of late from one or both of the young lassies.  Sometimes these displays are amplified by siblings either directly affected by whatever is causing the upset in the first place or indirectly affected by the highly charged conditions that result from prolonged or impassioned protestations.

Maybe it's the heat, or the summer sniffles making the rounds through the family, not enough rest, developmental milestones, or some combination of these -- or something else entirely.  Maybe it's estrogen-related.  Whatever the explanation, it claims a huge amount of bandwidth to weather the outburst, determine the proper course of action, and try to keep from getting swept up in the furor myself. 

As the queen of my castle, my loyal (?) subjects are looking to me to make it all better.  I can't always do that -- nor should I.  Here's hoping I can respond to the bambini in their times of need while dispensing with all of the drama...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

higher math

Four-year-old younger lad: "Mama, what's four plus four?"
me: "eight"

him: "What's eight plus eight?"
me: "16"

him: "What's 16 plus 16?"
me: "32"

him: "What's 32 plus 32?"
me: "64"

....................................................................................................................................................

him: "what's 512 plus 512?"
me: "1024?"

him: "is that how old you are?"
me: "no"

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

minor victory :: Lego edition

Here in Legoville where lads have been known to spend the better part of broiling summer days pawing through boxes of "bricks" and constructing all manner of imaginative vehicles (Honeywagon, anyone?), there is a familiar appeal that Mama has come to fear on account of her hallmark short fingernails.

To wit: "Mama, will you get these apart for me (please)?"

Separating Legos can be a painful experience for both six-year-old "Legomasters" and the responsible adult (whoever that is) supervising all this creativity whose job it becomes to pry the especially stubborn bricks apart.  Apparently I am not the first person to experience the agony of shoving Lego bricks into the quick of my nailbed, because Lego markets this tool to apparently avoid such injuries.

*or* you or your designated Lego Separator could use a staple puller like this...


... and save yourself anywhere from $3.50 to $10 on what "gastrophysicist" Alton Brown would call a "unitasker".  We've also used pliers, but those run the risk of breaking the bricks.*

*Common sense caution: Legos liberated with this handy device (especially those itsy bitsy teensy tiny lights and similar embellishments) *might* become projectiles, so take proper precautions.

I believe this might be known in modern parlance as a "hack," but I'm not certain.  Few things mortify me more than making grammatical gaffes (just kidding -- sort-of), so I will simply sidestep the lingo and share this stroke of genius from which we are all benefiting and for which I am most grateful.

Carry on and keep Lego-ing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

sanity saver: audiobooks

For his first birthday, the elder lad received a two-CD set of Dr. Suess books read by celebrities such as Kelsey Grammar, Jason Alexander, and Walter Matthau.  A second two-CD set soon followed with more stories read by more celebrities, including John Lithgow, Mercedes McCambridge (whose talent for voices is amazing), and Michael McKean. The stories made for excellent listening as we motored all over town, and they still do now five years later.  The lad will still ask for them occasionally on our drive home from school.

The latest hit in our audiobook experience is Richard Atwater's Mr. Popper's Penguins, a recommendation of one of our favorite librarians.   The hardbound edition of the book wasn't available for checkout from the library right away, so I went with the audiobook instead.  One afternoon when the lads were lobbying for some glowing screen time, I put Mr. Popper's Penguins on to listen to instead.  Initially they went about their Lego business, but slowly they started creeping toward the stereo, eventually finding positions of repose on the floor nearby.

Berenstain Bears authors Stan and Jan Berenstain narrate the popular stories they wrote on their audiobook, as does Arthur Lobel, author of the Frog and Toad series. Glynis Johns (the mother from the film version of Mary Poppins) narrates the Frances books, which rank right up there with Dr. Suess's Hop on Pop (read by David Hyde Pierce) on the after school drive request list.  Speaking of Mary Poppins, that audiobook is next in our queue.

Other favorites of ours are A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh tales (read by Jim Broadbent) and Michael Bond's Paddington stories.

In the car, during siesta time, at happy hour -- any time, really -- audiobooks can be real sanity savers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

miss popularity

My precious summer sweetie girl,

We celebrate your first birthday today.  What fun we have had!  We who love you (and that's a lot of us) have taken much delight in marking the occasion of your birth one year ago.  What joy you have brought us in that time.  It seems you are always happy to see your "people" -- your siblings especially, who now stake their claim for the seat next to you at the table much like they used to call dibs on holding you (back when you allowed yourself to be held, but you're too busy for that now that you're walking all over the place). 

In a home that's always humming with activity, you are by turns easy-going and assertive.  I hope through the course of your life you will hone the process that helps you decide which of these to be in a given moment or situation.  And above all else, I pray you will be blessed with an awareness of the love Christ has for you, the plan he has for your life, and the unwavering support you have from your family as you seek God's will for your life.

Keep that sunny outlook and friendly demeanor, sweet girl.  The rays of God's love shine through your cheerfulness.

With all my heart I love you~
your mama

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

favorite authors: Rosemary Wells

Some of my sweetest memories of storybook reading with the elder lad as a very young child are thanks to a book called Only You by Rosemary Wells.  My beloved's grandmother chose this book for our family.  She always seems to know just what will resonate with us at a given season of our family life or at a particular age.  In this story, the little child revels in the knowledge that his (or her) parent loves him (or her) no matter what.  That security enables the child to grow in confidence and explore more of the world around him, even though ultimately the child's favorite place remains the close comfort of his parent's lap. 


Along with this sweet story, we've come to delight in several more of Wells's prolific output, especially the stories about a little West Highland Terrier named McDuff (McDuff Moves In, McDuff and The Baby), the beautifully depicted and tender account of a kitten named Yoko learning origami from her Japanese grandfather before moving to America in Yoko's Paper Cranes, and the shennanigans of an overtired and plucky guinea pig named Felix in Felix Feels Better.

Wells is also the originator of the popular Max and Ruby books upon which a children's television show is based.    We've read a few of these books, but they haven't captured our affections like the others. 

Adept at both sentimental stories and those that have a life-lesson dimension to them, Rosemary Wells is an author we are always happy to read.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

team players

By God's grace I managed to evade ever having to participate in team-building exercises via a ropes course in the course of my working career or church camp days.  It's not that I'm not a team player.  It's just that I've been on enough "teams" where I was among those pulling more than our share of the weight so that now every time I hear phrases like "team-building" and "teamwork", it's all I can to suppress the darn near involuntary rolling of my eyeballs.

As overused as these closely-related terms are, they are very useful in family life.  After all, and as I often tell our bambini, God has built our family for a reason -- or several.  We probably won't fully understand those reasons this side of heaven.  Nonetheless, each of us has unique God-given abilities to help the others in the family become the people Christ calls them to be, and we are to use those gifts always with that service to others in mind. 

This focus on teamwork is a revelation to me of late as a means of counteracting selfish tendencies -- we all have them -- and a tool in both developing empathy and cultivating virtues like courtesy, respect, generosity, gentleness, and humility.  The virtues serve as the framework for my "phrasology" (to quote Mayor Shinn from The Music Man, which was our movie night feature last weekend) to expand upon the token "teamwork" buzzword I loathe but use anyway in certain circumstances.

So it is with reluctance that I continue to utter the "T" word, knowing that it's a good, quick reminder that each of us has an obligation to the others to help us all get to heaven.

Friday, July 22, 2011

minor victory: crouton edition

Caesar salad on the menu with no croutons in sight = shortcut, please!
Here's one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

summer reading

Hot summer afternoons make for excellent reading time (if the bambini are cooperative).  When the stars align, we all pile together to thumb through some pretty picture books.
If the lassies are sleeping (or primed for sleeping), the lads and I work our way through a chapter book.  It helps stave off the requests to turn on the glowing screen when pleas to go outside in the brutal heat are shot down.  We just finished The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.  The title character named Chester (a country cricket who rode into New York City underneath some sandwiches in a picnic basket) turns out to be graced with the gift of perfect pitch and the ability to remember and perform music of any genre after hearing it once.  This talent soon becomes known, and the cricket (with some help from his friends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat) is soon the toast of the town from the subway station newsstand in which resides.  Fame isn't what Chester wants, though.

Before that satisfying story we read My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (illustrated by her mother in law Ruth Chrisman Gannett -- this very easily could get me off an a tangent about having a spouse with the same name as one of your parents.  What's that like?) and will start the next story in that set of three soon.  The rich character and scenery descriptions make it ideal for reading aloud. 
  
The relentless heat is taking its toll on the tempers of certain lads ages four and six, who have been likened by their hapless mother to the tigers in Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Babaji (illustrated by Fred Marcellino).  Handsome Little Babaji parcels out his beautiful clothes to tigers who threaten to eat him.  Those tigers' respective needs to be the greatest among them force them into a showdown that results in their dissolving into butter that Little Babaji's father Papaji collects and takes home to Mamaji to cook with!  In honor of this story, we recently had pancakes for supper, just like Little Babaji and his parents. 

As usual, the two-year-old lass is happiest thumbing through a stack of books reading to herself and anyone else who wants to listen.  
And despite his protestations whenever I ask him to read to me, the elder lad has been observed reading books to himself, things like the comic-book style series of Lori Mortensen and Jeffrey Thompson including A Day at the Fire Station, Going to the Dentist, and Working on the Farm.  Rumor has it he's even been reading Mary Pope Osborne's The Magic Tree House series with his grandmother on those days she's been hosting "camp" at her house. 

As many times as we stack up the books and get them just-so into the canvas Trader Joes bag imported from Chicago that serves as our library bag, they are shortly thereafter strewn all about with children in various degrees of recline poring over their pages.  And that's okay by me -- especially if it precludes them from chasing each other until they turn into butter like those tigers...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

the long view

In the midst of extreme close-ups and rapid fire attention-seeking maneuvers from multiple children, I try to detach myself in a way so as to take a long view.

Where is this all going?  What am I supposed to be learning from these people at this moment?  How is that going to affect what happens tomorrow?  Or next year?  Or ten years from now?   Or how our bambini ultimately come to treat themselves and those around them?

Finding that sweet spot of grace that is staying in the moment yet keeping it all in perspective is one of those holy grails of parenting -- of life, really, isn't it? 

Years from now there will be memories of family life both exhilarating and heart-wrenching that will stick out in my mind, as I'm sure there will be in each of our bambini's memories.  I pray the overall picture will be suffused with peace and the sure knowledge that Christ has been with us at every moment.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

the enforcer

Six-year-olds, I'm learning, are keenly aware of rules.  They may not always follow them.  They may attempt to tweak or place certain conditions on the rules.  But should some sibling deign to break a house rule, woe to that one.

The Enforcer will see to it that the perpetrator realizes the risk involved in choosing not to fulfill a certain obligation in order to merit a certain incentive.  He will likewise be swift to point out the longstanding logical consequences that follow some injustice one sibling does to another.  Never mind that it may not actually be his place to do so.

To be fair, The Enforcer is also taking on more responsibility for his siblings of his own volition and showing more concern for them as well.  He especially likes helping care for the younger lass.  Sometimes she'd rather him not cart her around (she'd rather walk), but there have been many times he's been a big help to me in caring for her while I am engaged with one of the other bambini.  He's got big plans for her first birthday coming up.   He's also been very encouraging of the two-year-old lass as she has recently attained a certain "big girl" status.

So yes: justice must prevail, but always with mercy and empathy.  For some of us, the latter aspects come more naturally.  For others, it's the former.  Together we'll work to find the balance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

good idea: batch grilling

The dog days of summer wear us down handily enough without us doing it to ourselves slaving over a hot grill (or stove).  Batch grilling in the morning (on a weekend!) helps us help ourselves.

Get the full scoop here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

fresh start

After such a long hiatus from this venture, it's difficult to choose a starting point.

Do I give a rundown of what's been going around here, from eleven-month-old baby girls walking and big sisters championing milestones of their own?  Or should I rhapsodize on the blessing it has been to have all four bambini together (most of the time) and a reprieve from the pressure of the early morning school preparations?  I couldn't write about that without an accompanying long-winded expression of gratitude who have made it possible for me to have some regularly-scheduled and sorely-needed downtime to regroup and renew. 

Perhaps a minor victory in the sustained management of the family laundry load -- if only I have the self-discipline (and free hands -- which when I have two of those together I generally prefer typing chronicle entries to household chores) to fold the laundry one or two loads at a time soon after it's finished washing and drying -- and the developing sense of responsibility three-fourths of the bambini have for putting their laundry away? 

And whither all those book reviews that have gone uncomposed and unposted? 

The real explanation for the silence, though, is in the daily application of effort, attention, and will to making peace with the present, often chaotic conditions -- trying to bring peace to those situations where peace is lacking, especially within my own heart.  For that, it's been a matter of praying for the grace to be open to receiving the love of God and the strength he gives to fulfill the duties he's entrusted to us.

It's meant a diversion of my attention from crafting sentences and stringing deep (such as they are) thoughts together and instead being present in the moment, acquiescing to going several directions at once, and knowing that's exactly where I'm meant to be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

course corrections and mile markers

Miss July took her first few hands-free steps tonight. Her big sister is increasing the little mommy doting on baby sis, who often waves to Sis, Daddy-o, and other familiar faces. The elder lad is proud to be a first grader, getting his own library card and devouring the science kits he received for his sixth birthday. The younger lad survived his first experience at vacation bible school last week, weathering his wistfulness for Mama while enjoying the activities.

The six of us took our first weekend getaway to a destination other than my parents' house this past weekend for a family wedding. All four bambini were enthralled at the concept of the hotel and reveled in checking everything out. Like their mama used to, the lads quickly zeroed in on the complimentary pens and paper and set about writing notes and taking hypothetical orders for the hotel restaurant.

The summer days I fretted over those last few weeks of school have turned out to be a blessed time of resetting and renewal. Our midday siesta time could use some refining, but we're working on it. With the elder lad now moving into another stage of childhood, it seems the ideal time for evaluating both our routines and our expectations, tweaking where necessary. I'm sure just when we get it just right, something will change.

Friday, June 17, 2011

now we are six

Six years of mothering the elder lad and I'm still trying to figure some things out... such as how he internalizes things best by observing his loved ones and how they navigate life's trickiest moments.  Here's praying for the grace to be the best model I can be in real time so that I can love him, his siblings, and our family the way I'm called to...

Friday, June 03, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I'm still here.

A recent spate of stormy weather coinciding with an overnight business trip for my beloved requiring that I drive like mom one morning in the midst of many end-of-Kindergarten festivities for the elder lad has spelled a drought for this chronicle.  I'm still here, though, with a laundry list of salient topics (but lots of laundry to keep on, lest it bury me alive) in my mental queue.  So please stick with me...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

just sayin'

I went to the salon this morning for a little spruce up to my neglected mane.  O happy day!  Upon my return, however, there were some mixed reviews.

my beloved: "you look great, Sweetheart!"

younger lad: "why does your hair look like that?"
me: "like what?"

him: "weird."
me: "how?"

him: "like [the two-year-old lass's]."
me: "how should it look?"


him: "curly."  (the lass's is *straight*, and she thinks my hair looks "good".)

Once I came home from the salon all coiffed and curled.    The younger lad said I looked "like a tiger".  That was a compliment coming from him.  I assured him my locks would be back to wavy soon enough...

Friday, May 20, 2011

clearing the air

Invariably, I nullify the olfactory delights that linger in the air after baking double batches of muffies or breakfast cookies by later cooking something equally aromatic (in a different way) like a stir fry.  Afterward, the air quality takes a nose dive, as what was once aromatic and tantalizing is now just stale and stinky.

So on those occasions, I light a candle -- usually lavender-scented, as that's my favorite -- as I go about my other wind-down activities in the kitchen.  As the flame dances in the pool of wax, I offer the day's shortcomings with the candle's smoke floating heavenward along with prayers for the grace to do better tomorrow.

At our wedding, we chose a Responsorial Psalm with the refrain
Let our prayers rise like incense in your sight.  
May this place be filled with the fragrance of Christ.

Ancient as time and fresh as the start we will have -- God willing -- tomorrow morning, the failure to overcome our weaknesses necessitates an air clearing of sorts so that only the fragrance of Christ remains.  Lavender-scented candles don't accomplish that, but the symbolism of prayers rising like smoke helps this mama remember and be thankful for God's tender mercy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

muffin tops (aka "muffies")

My little helpers and I made "muffies" this morning with my new "disher."  Check it out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

minor victories :: selective listening edition

Identifying as I do so strongly sometimes with Charlie Brown's teacher, I admit to letting the frustration of not being *heard* (as in, requested response or a reasonable facsimile given) get the better of me.  That's right: sometimes I yell.  I'm not proud of it, but there it is.  I almost always feel like a big meanie immediately after I yell, so I am continually employing proactive measures to prevent the outburst, including big deep breaths, distractionary tactics, sign language, and whispering.

I am happy to report another alternative to the ranting and raving that actually seems to work with a reasonable amount of frequency: singing.

Now, when I say "singing" I mean silly sing-song singing, a little bit Ethel Merman and a little bit overdone operatic caricature.  In the classical singing world, this "sung speech" has a name: sprechstimme.

I make my request in sprechstimme, and like some sort of magic, there is an appropriate (usually) response!  Better yet, sometimes the response is sung back to me: "why are you singing?"

I answer in sprechstimme: "because if I don't sing I might yell, and I really don't want to yell.  Do you like it when I sing to you?"

on pitch (!): "yes."

And then there are the beginnings of grins, laughter, compliance, and cooperation. 

It doesn't work every time or with every child, but it works enough of the time to be worth giving a try whenever conditions warrant -- which sometimes seems like all too often...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

busted: the sequel

The two-year-old lass spies me popping a couple of bittersweet chocolate chips in my mouth.

"What you having?" she asks.
Is it that obvious?

Apparently it is.  Next thing I know she comes toddling over to the sofa I'm standing behind and says, "let me climb up here.  I have some?"

I oblige.

"You such a good mommy."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

myopic view?

Since he is still hyped up from the "come join Cub Scouts" ice cream social the elder lad went to with my beloved this evening, the soon-to-be kindergarten graduate is taking some extra time to wind down to sleep.  He is, however, doling out sweet smiles as he is telling me how much fun he had at the event, which reminds me of similarly sweet smiles he gave as a baby...

me: "when you smile at me like that, it's like sunshine to my heart."

him: "when you smile at me, you look like you have two heads and four eyes."

Gee, thanks. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

above & beyond

Elder lad to his brother in the most suppliant tone of voice he can muster, "it would be really considerate of you to put these socks [that he's worn all day] in the laundry basket for me..."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

cause celebré

All the hoopla surrounding the royal wedding has made for a fun diversion, if nothing else.  For this commoner far *far* removed from the actual festivities, the best part about the event has been the opportunity it has afforded to
  • spend time with such dear people as my friend "Simply" (named thus after a confounding -- and giggle-inducing -- misunderstanding of her given name)
  • hear my Grannie reminisce for just a moment about the fashionable accessories known as "fascinators" and whether (or not) she would wear one 
  • take notice of the similarities between the new Duchess of Cambridge's timeless wedding gown and that of my beloved's beautiful grandmother
For all the excitement and grandeur and everything else, the bridges to people I cherish are my own reasons to celebrate.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

sliding scale

The highest compliment our younger lad gives for tasty foodstuffs is not two thumbs up but all ten fingers.  Such things as birthday cake for his auntie, her lamb cake, Aunt D's Easter cookie pops, and the coffeecake lovingly made for us by my beloved's grandmother have recently merited the ten finger "raise the roof" gesture.

Of course, there is the confounding moniker for the latter delight, in spite of the exponential rating it received...

"What's a coffeecake?"  the lad wants to know.
"A cake you eat with your coffee. Would you like some coffee?"  (I'm kidding, of course.)

"No!!"

"Would you like some yogurt?"
"Yes!!"

"So for you it would be yogurtcake."
Thumbs up.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

lamb cake

To say that it isn't Easter without lamb cake might be a teensy bit sacrilegious, so I will try put into context the place of prominence the lamb cake occupies in our family's traditional Easter festivities in a slightly less egregious manner.

We have *always* had a lamb cake for Easter.  It has *always* been this way. 

Whether we've celebrated with our Chicago family either by way of going there or them coming here (the latter recalls pictures of my cousins and me rocking some fancy '80s style Easter frocks with neon purses, for some reason), there's been lamb cake.  When we've celebrated with the family from which my sister-mama hails, there's been lamb cake.   When we've celebrated with my beloved's extended family, there's been lamb cake.

There's always lamb cake.

There is always discussion as to which end to cut first, who wants the sheepie's ears, and whether the smile of chocolate chips (or raisins) is appropriate.  My sister delves a little deeper into the origins and traditions of the lamb cake (and gives the family recipe -- you're welcome) at Foodie Proclivities...

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

egg-cellent idea (or was it?)

However attractive fresh boxes of crayons are to me (and they are),  I have not purchased crayons for home in a long time.  That’s because we have a bucket of crayons we've amassed from various restaurants, gift sets, and elsewhere.  Most of them are broken, and a good number of them have their wrappers peeled off. 

As I ruminated over the possibilities for non-candy Easter basket fodder, I thought of egg-shaped chalk, which led to egg-shaped crayons.  I had run across the idea of melting down crayons to make new ones (would that be upcycling?), so I found this post detailing the seemingly simple process for easy-to-hold egg-shaped ones using plastic Easter eggs and thought, "I can do that!"

You see where this is going.

One morning last week when the elder lad was at school, the youngers and I rifled through the bucket and began sorting the already-peeled crayons (and gleefully peeling others) by color into muffin tins.

Into the oven on its lowest setting went the well-seasoned (ahem) muffin tin.  The melting of the crayon bits took much *much* longer than I expected.  I didn't factor in the varying sizes and densities of the crayons before I blithely popped them into the warm oven.   Because of this variable, some colors liquefied before others.  I stirred those up with plastic spoons, ladled them into the waiting plastic eggs, and stuck them in the freezer while putting the muffin tin back in the oven to keep melting down the stubborn ones.

When the elder lad got home from school that day, he saw the project in mid-stream (about to be scrubbed, in my mind, exasperated as I was at the project's progress -- or lack there-of).  He wanted to get the prototypes out of the freezer.  When he "hatched" the first crayon from its plastic eggshell, he said incredulously "you know how to make crayons?!  Awesome."

Oh great.  I can't quit now.

So the next day I heated up the oven again and melted more crayons, because one measly muffin of broken crayon bits does not fill up a plastic egg. This meant more peeling.
At long last, all the colors melted enough to be reshaped into eggs, and the project was blessedly finished.

What I envisioned as a quick, easy, inexpensive (as in free), "green" (in the recycling/upcycling sense), and cute idea for the bambini's Easter baskets became one big deposit in the bank of experience.  In spite of the many twists and turns of the project, though, the result is (wait for it) ...

egg-cellent.

Monday, April 25, 2011

warm fuzzies

Books about rabbits and chicks and springtime are as numerous as, well, rabbits.  But here are some currently causing our noses to twitch in a bunny-like manner:

Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry -- there is something about this Caldecott-award-winning book from 1943 that has me hooked.   Marshmallow is a cute little fluffy white bunny adopted by Miss Tilly, who didn't consult with her tomcat Oliver before bringing the white fluff ball into their cozy apartment.  Funny little poems about rabbits and the obvious parallel of sibling rivalry in furry friend form drive the story with watercolor illustrations in an almost monochromatic scheme that bring an ethereal dimension to the story. Her illustrations have much in common with those of Catherine Rayner's, whose latest book The Bear Who Shared is among those favorites in the present library cache -- even if it's not about rabbits.


Kevin Henkes has authored and illustrated several of our favorite picture books. Little White Rabbit is the latest.  The rabbit imagines himself taking on the characteristics of several things he encounters as he cavorts around the countryside. 


From the Reading Rainbow era we have Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco.  This is another yearly favorite, about a babushka known throughout the Russian countryside for her hand painted Easter eggs of unmatched beauty.  Every year she takes her eggs to the Easter festival in Moscow to be judged in the competition.  She usually wins.  One year she nurses back to health an injured goose.  The goose, named Rechenka by Babushka, accidentally knocks over the basket of fragile eggshells that Babushka has spent the long cold winter painting in preparation for the festival, shattering them all.  By some miracle, Rechenka lays eggs whose shells are decorated with intricate patterns and beautiful colors.  There are enough for Babushka to enter in the festival.  After Babushka leaves for the Festival, Rechenka leaves one more egg before departing herself.

Along with the two books An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy, written by Diana Hutts Aston and illustrated by Silvia Long which I reviewed last summer and such classics as Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny, these books of a springtime nature are lately party to some moments of warm fuzzies with my own funny bunnies.

Friday, April 22, 2011

loving action cross revisited

Good Friday
for loving actions ~
helping hands
kind words
treating one's brother or sister as "my best friend"

We present these efforts to Christ crucified today and pray for his continued help in loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

picture books for Holy Week, Easter, and beyond

We've been toting The Road to Easter Day by Jan Godfrey to school Mass throughout Lent.  Marcin Piwowarski's chalk drawings really make this book.  They tell the story so beautifully.  The text is written in a simple, lyrical style, telling the story from the perspective of a young boy named Ben who watches the events from the time Jesus enters Jerusalem through his resurrection.  Like the bird-themed books I wrote about around this time last year, this one is published by Pauline Books & Media. 

From Jean Francois Kieffer (the author of The Adventures of Loupio) and friends comes The Illustrated Gospel for Children -- destined for our bambini's collective Easter gift.  Based on how the lads have devoured Loupio and the two volumes of Tintin that we've checked out, I'm hoping they'll be equally as enthralled with this book.

Also among the Easter books will be A Walk Through Our Church by Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  As the title suggests, this is a tour of a church.  It reminds me of the unit in religion the elder lad did recently, which included a tour of the church given by the associate pastor of the parish where the lad goes to school and a three-dimensional card stock replica of said church complete with stained glass window, altar, and a little priest.  Aside from the perplexing archiving challenge this artwork presents, it's a glimpse into how our children view our worship space.

I came upon Nelson's book after having received A is for Altar, B is for Bible from the elder lad's godmother.  Both books are a part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program of early childhood faith formation in the Montessori method.  Beautiful artwork distinguishes both these books, in true Montessori fashion.

As we celebrate Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, these books (among a few others) are pathways for helping make the mystery and majesty all the more tangible to our bambini, which we hope and pray will draw them closer to the Lord.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

domestic matters

Six weeks ago when Lent began, I had every intention of uniting the spiritual house cleaning exercises Lent facilitates with those of a brick-and-mortar house cleaning -- or rather decluttering/purging/simplfying/deck-clearing -- something like the Forty Bags in Forty Days concept.

Here we are with Holy Week underway, and I haven't reached the 40 bag goal.  I've been doing good to keep up with laundry and day-to-day housekeeping in the midst of allergies, illness, and general baby + toddler + preschooler + kindergartner care and feeding.

I guess that's all to say that I don't feel I've been overly ambitious about Lent. 

It is still my earnest desire and intention to filter through the material holdings of this domicile and pare down as much as possible, both from a spiritual perspective of not being inappropriately attached to *stuff* and for the collective and individual sanity of each person dwelling here.  When there's stuff out everywhere, I'm not the only one antsy.  Now I am more so, though, as the doe-eyed wee-er lass (one and the same as the raven-haired lass, except her hair seems to be lightening) is crawling and teething.

We go one day at a time around here.  Perhaps by week's end I will get some things accomplished toward the goal I set six weeks ago.  Maybe next year I'll be a little more prepared and proactive, but this year it's been about fostering loving actions, making the most of every day, and living out the resolutions I made as best I can.  God willing, this time next week we will be basking in Easter glory, hearts open to receive the graces God desires to shower upon us, with our house -- both the one with some ding-ed up baseboards *and* the intangible ones hidden in the silence of our hearts -- in order.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

diamonds and purls

You think you know someone, and then wham! you find out you're mistaken.

Take my baby sister, who turns 18 today. She knits. Who knew?! Not me. But she does -- beautifully. She's learning to knit and probably knows what the term "purl" means without having to Google it.

That's not all. She writes. She cooks. She writes about cooking. She sings. She plays a fierce (in a good way) game of chess and is happy to teach her nephew the strategies she's honed over many matches. She is a multi-talented, ever more beautiful young woman poised to take on the world with a solid foundation and a retinue of people who love and pray for her every day.

It's been my delight to know the girl I used to call "Babycakes", and it's my honor to know the woman she is becoming.

I pray she will always seek the Father's will for her life, ever confident in his love for her as well as ours.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

flux capacitor, anyone?

The days are getting warmer -- enough to warrant homemade sno-cones after the annual heirloom tomato planting proceedings.
the sno-cone maker we received from Aunt J is pretty nifty.

I sure hope our air conditioner is up to the task...

Friday, April 15, 2011

in her own little world

"Can everyone see the pictures?"

Two-year-old missy holds up her book.   When she's finished, she says "I home from storytime! I ride the bus. I set my backpack here for tomorrow."

She is ready to snuggle up with me for an early bedtime, so I ask her if I can lay her sleeping baby sister (the one she's been calling "my best friend") in the little rocker currently occupied by the backpack.

"Of course you can," she graciously allowed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I stand corrected.

My efforts to entice the younger lad to consume something protein-aceous (other than yogurt) are falling very, very flat.  Even string cheese, which he sometimes will eat.  I show him the funny string cheese fella on the package and all he can do, such as kicking soccer balls, shooting basketballs, and riding a bike -- all things the lad loves to do.

"I already tried those when I was two!" the four-year-old lad says.

"What?  You remember that?"  I am incredulous.

"Yes!" He is surer than sure.

"I think you are pulling my leg," I tell him.
Indignant, he declares: "no I'm not!  I'm far away from you!"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

truth be told

I don't relish the idea of being the mom yelling over the din of the air compressor into the bounce house such things as "no tackling!" and "let him go!" -- even if such maneuvers are "part of the game".

But I'll do it if I have to, because I love my children and am concerned for their safety as well that of the other kids bouncing around in there.

Likewise I don't relish the idea of some day being the mom who tells her daughter that a potential prom dress she's eyeing might not necessarily send the message that she's a daughter of God and should be treated as such.

But (God willing) I will find a way to convey the message in terms she understands and accepts that both her virtue and that of the young man that might take her to the prom (laying aside that scary thought for a moment) must be protected as the gifts from God they are, and that the choices we make in both apparel and behavior have impacts on the successful delivery of that message -- and help her find a dress that she fancies *and* that fancies her back, virtue and all.

I really hate to tell people things they don't want to hear. 

But I pray for the grace to speak and act the truth in love -- always seeking God's aid in my word choices and delivery manner so that his message of love is what comes across, and nothing less.  It might not be the message someone wants to hear, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be said (with love, tact, compassion, and consideration -- some might call it diplomacy, of course).

As the mom, being this messenger comes with the territory.  As one who shrinks from conflict, this is a tough place for me to inhabit.  Maybe it's a part of God's plan for my salvation, though, in forming this family for me.  Conflict can't and shouldn't always be avoided.  It doesn't have to be loud or combative, but the truth -- and there is such a thing -- must be told.

This requires the virtue of fortitude, which is something I pray for every day (along with wisdom to know the truth), so that the words I choose and the actions I take are guided by love and thus reflections of the love God has for each of us.

Lord, help me know when to speak up and when to keep silent.  When it's time to speak up, please give me both the words to say and the courage to say them. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

minor victories :: duct tape edition

My stock rose a few points in the younger lad's estimation* when I deftly used some duct tape to cobble together two pieces of a broken antenna for a radio-controlled car.  Even after the car's battery tanked, the lad was still thrilled that the vehicle would in theory still work.  When I later closed up some other gizmo's battery case with duct tape and the thing came to life, I was sitting pretty...

*until I hauled him to the pediatrician's office for his four-year check-up. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

girl talk: sugar scrub

File this among the less weightier of the topics I address in this forum, but open-toed shoe season is upon us and Mama must get ready. 

My dear sister and I like to go to the beauty parlor for pedicures together when we can, but since this happens as often as those "supermoons" come close to Earth, I have to come up with some quick and simple measures I can do at home to keep my feet looking decent in the flip flops and espadrilles I'll be wearing for the next several months.

The lads are keenly interested in my toe nail polish selections and have their opinions as to what I should wear.  Just the other day I slapped on a few coats of a very sheer polish, but the younger lad was quick to notice.  The elder lad also finds the whole toe nail polish procedure intriguing.  Go figure. 

As part of the sootsie shape-up regimen, I mixed together a very simple exfoliant and moisturizer.  It's simply sugar, olive oil, and lavender essential oil.  One could use salt instead of sugar, although the sugar sloughs off that which needs sloughing without irritating sensitive skin the way salt does.  The olive oil is a natural moisturizer.  One could also use almond or some other carrier oil, but I didn't have that on hand when I remembered this homemade beauty treatment (such as it is) late one night. 

Were one of the mind to get fancy about this sugar scrub business with the intention of giving the resulting gritty goo as a gift to either herself or someone she cares about, she could mix up the ingredients in a pretty little jar and put a fun label (like these) on it.  I just put mine in a plastic container with a lid.  It's important to keep water out of the mixture for obvious reasons.  It won't keep forever, but if you mix up a little bit a time, that won't be a concern. 

With a little slather of my homemade sugar scrub and some pretty polish, my feeties are now in flip flop condition.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

yes: we have no bananas

Hearty banana muffins for my beloved's birthday today, made with love and a side of Legos.

Monday, April 04, 2011

books the lads are loving

With stiff competition from Legos, dirt, trucks, the Wii, and the schoolday schedule, reading books with the lads is a little more challenging these days.  Sometimes they balk at the idea of sitting down to read with me when there are other diversions calling their names.  Still, I insist, and often as soon as I start reading aloud they snuggle up next to me to listen.  If I add color commentary or edit the text, the elder lad is usually quick to notice.

Along with fact- and picture-filled kid-friendly tomes on bugs, snakes, dinosaurs, and trucks, the lads are showing an increasing interest in comic books (or "graphic novels").  We hit upon a neat book called The Adventures of Loupio by Jean-Francois Kieffer, about a young orphan who befriends St. Francis of Assisi and his wolf.  The lad learns much about life from Brother Francis.  The comic-book style is engaging to young lads, and the Christian moral of the vignettes comes across in a most accessible way.   The book is published by Magnificat, which produces a monthly magazine containing the daily readings and prayers of the Church, along with morning and evening prayers from the Psalms in the style of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The illustrations in the Loupio book are reminiscent of those in Hergé's Tintin books.  These are classics of the comic book genre, inspiring many other comic book illustrators to come.  We've checked out a few of these compilations from the library, and the lads have been engrossed in the illustrations.

We're also working our way through some books by Jane Yolen starring Commander Toad.  We laughed our way through Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes, with all its corny grape jokes and references that will entertain the adult reading aloud to the children gathered around the kitchen table eating an after school snack (at least they did for me when I was in this situation).  Commander Toad and the Dis-Asteroid is rife with similar wisecracks.  Next on our list to read is Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole.  Bruce Degen's artwork reinforces the fanciful stories.  We've had his Jamberry in board book edition since the elder lad was a baby, and its status a family favorite is evident in the condition of our copy.

It might take a little more effort to get our lads to take time out from a day of fun to curl up with me and read, but I'm not giving up.  These fun books and others like them sure do help.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

near miss

The sickening thud that results from a child on an uncontrolled trajectory that ends in collision with a hard surface is one of those unmistakable sounds that every parent probably hears at least once never wants to.

In the moments that follow such a calamity, there are questions coming rapid-fire.  Is she hurt?  Is she OK?  Is something broken?  Should we take her for x-rays? 

Please, Lord.  Grant me wisdom to know how to handle this situation.  And please hold me together so I can help her.  

I like to think that I'm pretty good under pressure at such times, but I know I'm toeing the line when one of my bambini is injured.  For example, the two-year-old lass took a spill off a window seat cushion this afternoon in the midst of an otherwise delightful afternoon of happy family fun time.  After that terrible sound, there came the cries of a little girl in pain.  She held her arm tightly against her side.  She had landed on it, and right away the area around her elbow began to turn purple.

I went running for some ice and Arnica Montana, a homeopathic remedy indicated for bruises, muscle soreness, and traumatic injuries that we keep on hand.  We refer to it as "bonk medicine".  We scooped her up and snuggled her close.  My beloved -- aka "Dr. Dad" -- fashioned a sling out of a tea towel and tucked some ice and a baby doll inside.  She could still move her arm without much pain, but we still worried and wondered.

After a little downtime she was back up and playing, using the arm with little noticeable difficulty.  She seems to be doing OK.  We'll of course keep an eye on it.

There have been a few other times when one of the bambini has been injured when I really wrestled to discern the need to seek emergency medical attention on their behalf.  (The younger lad can claim most of these.) After the dust had settled in each case, as I did today, I can't help but conjure up images in my mind of how that would play out, and it's never a good feeling.  What if it had been worse?  Oh, how I can work myself up over such uncertainties.

Scary though it may be to think about, there is little good to come out of fretting about things that haven't happened.  It's important to be prepared, because accidents happen.  We can take every reasonable precaution to secure our bambini's safety, but we can't keep them from ever getting hurt.

So I tell myself when I'm not holding a child in pain after falling just out of my arm's reach doing something she's done a thousand times before and likely will many more times to come.

Perhaps the day will come when we will need to summon help for some medical crisis.  God forbid something like that should happen, but if it does, I pray for the courage to be the strong mother the hurting child will depend on to secure that medical care as well as offer the comfort that only comes from Dr. Mom.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

made with love

On a nearly daily basis I blitz together the ingredients for the much-loved drinkable yogurt* my younger lad and two-year-old lass guzzle more than water.  I recently asked the lad if he could taste the love I had put into making the beverage as he sat sipping a fresh Foogo-full.

"That's not an ingredient," he said. 
Au contraire, mon frere.

Just as I put love into the smoothies I blend together, so too do I include it in all the baked goods we make together -- including those using alternatives to all-purpose flour such as I'm discussing today at Foodie Proclivities...

... and everything else I make, whether they can taste it or not.

*the recipe in its current version is
2 cups milk
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 cup V8 pomegranate-blueberry Fusion juice
4 oz. peach baby food 

Friday, April 01, 2011

stride right

The raven-haired lass is now eight months old.  She's not a newborn anymore.  She's well on her way to being a mobile toddler, as she can now roll wherever she wants to go as well as push herself up to sitting once she gets there.  She's often seen up on her hands and knees (or toes), as though she's about to take off either crawling or sprinting. 

While she's still very sweet-natured, she does put up protests of considerable volume now on occasion. 

She's more aware of  my presence (or lack thereof).  She doesn't always initially notice my departure if I slip away for a little while (since that's as long as I would be away from her anyway given her age), but once she realizes that she and I aren't *thisclose*, her deep brown eyes fill with tears and bottom lip turns upside down.

Her brothers and sister can get her laughing with great guffaws.   Siblings are good for that.

With the passage of time (and some new thyroid medication), I have been able to reclaim a certain dimension of peace and sense of steadiness, for which I am most grateful.  In a few ways I find myself hitting a stride of sorts.  There are still plenty of harried moments, but there are also more freshly-made dinners (though still many from the freezer), smiles from bambini (along with the displays of displeasure), and moments of clarity when I have my wits about me and can thus employ my proactive tactics.  There are also renewed and deepening prayer practices that help immensely in everything from the minutiae to the big picture.

Having been down this road four times now, though, I know full well that just about as soon as I feel settled in some semblance of routine, at least one variable will change to cause that routine to be amended (again) -- summer vacation, for example.  Knowing to expect that helps.  I will do what I can to plan for that and pray for the grace to rise to the occasion.
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