Friday, February 25, 2011

keepin' it real

Yes, that was my precious girl letting the faithful gathered for school Mass that "I want the PURPLE bow!"  She also wanted to know if we could "go now" and "have a snack in the car?"

"Soon," I told her in a stage whisper

On the bright side, no kneelers were dropped on anyone's shins or toes (though the lass did trip on a kneeler as we exited our pew to go to Communion and wanted to be carried the rest of the way).  The younger lad didn't attempt to slither out into the aisle from our pew (as he is sometimes given to do).  The baby girl registered some squawks as punctuation, but saved the yelling for later in the day when her brother the younger was all up in her face (understandably).  I caught a glimpse of the elder lad with his Bon Jovi hair sitting with his class (and looking the other way), but we made a hasty exit after Mass and thus didn't see him again until pick-up time.

So we made a minor scene today, but that's how it goes sometimes.   It's all part of learning how to behave in church just as anywhere else.  Little children have as much a place in church as adults do.

For the most part, the bambini did just fine. The color commentary (or "signs of life", as the associate pastor who presided at Mass this morning described them) often have impeccable, terrible, or simply comedic timing.  But they're are all a part of keepin' it real.  God willing, we'll be back next week.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

playlist: quiet time

Just right for rainy days like today; siesta, Happy Hour, or bedtime; or whenever anyone's emotional temperature is perilously high...
    • You Are My Sunshine :: Elizabeth Mitchell my Papa Jack sang this to me, as I have to both my now almost 18-year-old sister *and* my bambini 
    • Ladybug Picnic :: Elizabeth Mitchell This is a sweet, slower version of the rootin' tootin' tune first seen on Sesame Street, now immortal on YouTube 
    • The Bells of Ireland :: Dan Zanes A beautiful, humble tune 
    • Hush Little Baby :: Dan Zanes fresh lyrics and color commentary make this familiar lullaby both endearing and entertaining 
    • Good Night, Good Night :: Dan Zanes I always take a deep, cleansing breath as this song gets going. 
    • Foster: Slumber, My Darling :: Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O'Connor, & Alison Krauss from Appalachian Journey, a gossamer song -- a mother's lullaby -- now almost achingly poignant as I sit rocking my own bambini 
    • All Eyes On You :: Justin Roberts part poetic observation of childhood, part prayer for a child 
    • Firefly Lullaby :: Recess Monkey I'm not one to catch the winged creatures, but a field trip of this nature is just my speed.  
    • I Will :: The Beatles This song could so easily be about my beloved and me, traversing the same college campus for years but not crossing paths until much later -- or did we? 
    • Better Together :: Jack Johnson One afternoon when the elder lad was much younger (and should've been napping), I put this song on, and he said "this is a nice, quiet song." 
    • Fruit Jar :: Justin Roberts featuring Nora O'Connor gentle acoustic guitar and gentle encouragement to keep on keepin' on 
    • A Place For Us :: Dan Zanes & Friends An extended instrumental coda at the end of this beautiful dreamer makes for peaceful, hopeful imaginings. 
    • Tiny Telephone :: Recess Monkey The elder lad thinks of his aunts and uncles when he hears this song. 
    • From Scratch :: Justin Roberts  a masterful child's point of view with no shortage of wisdom and wistfulness 
    • Smile Smile Smile :: Dan Zanes & Friends one of my most favoritest Dan Zanes songs -- and that's saying a lot 
    • I Will Be Your Friend :: Guy Davis a rugged, charming, musical expression of self-giving and charity -- lessons never too young to learn 
    • Rocketship :: Justin Roberts some things to think about as one is drifting to sleep... 
    • Side By Side :: Dan Zanes & Friends I sang this one to my baby sis, and then (years later) to the elder lad who could not be convinced to sleep any other way. 
    • One Tiny Light :: Recess Monkey As if it isn't difficult enough to fall asleep -- and stay asleep -- as it is, who can resist investigating a twinkling star outside one's window?   
    • Linger For Awhile :: Dan Zanes & Friends Wouldn't we all love to live in a neighborhood like this, where everyone is out until way past bedtime just visiting? 
    • Banana Pancakes :: Jack Johnson We're big on pancake breckies around here. 
    • Little Raindrop :: Justin Roberts waiting on rain to come and water the freshly-planted garden... 
    • I've Just Seen A Face :: Dan Zanes covering a Beatles favorite, Dan Zanes style 
    • Belle :: Jack Johnson short and sweet; par les vouz Francais?  (me neither) 
    • Apple Tree :: Justin Roberts little people someday grow up, God willing into loving, giving beings 
    • I Will :: Alison Krauss some more of Alison Krauss's sweet singing would be just lovely right about now... 
    • In My Life :: The Beatles To sum things up, all roads have led to this moment with these precious people.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011


    The sweet two-year-old lass is turning on the charm these days, telling me I'm "precious" and "I yuv you."  at least as often as she tells me to "go 'way, Mom" when some calamity befalls her (having heard similar edicts from her brothers).

    Much of the time she sings songs to herself or recites snippets of text from books we've been reading, or dotes on her baby sister with much tenderness and affection, even calling the raven-haired lass "my best friend".

    She's made of sugar, spice, and more than a little spunk, and she's oh so very precious.
    Don't even get me started on this little one...
    or these guys, trying to fix a wooden play toaster for their spunky sis who liked to toast all sorts of things ...

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    God calling

    The pastor emeritus of the parish I served as director of music and liturgy in my former life rang me on the telephone this afternoon.  He called to wish me early felicitations for the feast of St. Polycarp, a saint this pastor holds in high esteem who the Church remembers in a special way tomorrow (February 23rd).  Come to think of it, he calls me every year on February 22nd, I think to make sure I remember that tomorrow is his favorite saint's feast day, but mainly to capitalize on an opportunity for a quick hello and aural snapshot of how we're doing here now that I don't see him in the church office on a daily basis.

    It might as well have been God himself calling me this afternoon speaking through the voice of this Irish Catholic priest who has long and often affirmed mothers tending to their young children.  He never fails to offer concrete words of encouragement such as "it's important work you're doing," or recognize the intensity of our experiences -- albeit in a lighthearted way such as good-naturedly teasing a mother in a grocery store with multiple children in and hanging off of the shopping cart by asking her what she does in her spare time. His timing was impeccable today, as we were in the throes of Happy Hour here.  The pick-me-up was much needed and appreciated. 

    My friend the St. Polycarp fan was instrumental to my having a profession as a liturgical musician before my vocation of marriage led me to motherhood (as he was the pastor of that parish when it instituted the full time position I held for a few years), and he's instrumental now in my living out this vocation of marriage and motherhood.  Having served Christ in untold numbers of faces over the years in various pastoral capacities and still now in retirement, this man of God brings Christ to those who seek him and those who might otherwise not be looking for him, simply by encouraging us in our daily doings with uplifting words and sometimes ornery humor.  God love him.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    C.W. Anderson's Billy & Blaze books

    On our afternoon drive to collect the Kindergartner from school (the one who came charging around the corner today, backpack bouncing from side to side on his back, huge grin on his face, Bon Jovi-esque hair flapping every which way in the wind), we drive past a home on a large lot with "miniature horses" for sale.  Said "miniature horses" (not ponies, though I still don't know the difference) are often grazing in the large yard in front of the manor house, and we always look for them.

    (Well, the lass usually looks for them, if she's awake; the younger lad is often on his way to zonking out for a power nap by that point.)

    Whenever the lads are playing with cars and trucks, very often at least one of them has a horse trailer hitched up to a truck or similar vehicle.  Neither of them has ever ridden a horse, but the lads find the creatures especially fascinating -- at least as seen from the safety of their car seats.

    By happy accident, my eyes landed on some books by C.W. Anderson on the top shelf of the children's section at our branch library that have since become some of the lads' favorites.   Their hero is a young squire named Billy, a country boy who loves horses more than anything else.  He receives a horse for his birthday that he names Blaze.  In various adventures, the inseparable pair inspire a neighbor boy and his pony, save a number of homes from destruction by forest fire, vanquish a mountain lion, befriend a wild stallion, and make new friends and discoveries exploring both the wooded area around their home and places the family visits (horse trailer hitched up to the family vehicle, of course).   Anderson's pencil-drawn illustrations bring the stories to life while allowing plenty of room for  imagination.

    Along with other vintage favorites of ours such as those by Esther Averill and those by Edward Ardizzone, they have the kind of timeless appeal that keeps them relevant, entertaining, and inspirational in an age of glowing screens and urban sprawl.

    In fact, sometimes these books are about the only enticement we can offer those mud-lovin' lads to come in from the slop for some quiet time.  That's probably as it should be...

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    mud season

    Temperatures in the deep freeze two weeks ago have given rise to those in the 70s and even 80s this past week. The blanket of snow has melted, ushering in mud season (a la Toot & Puddle).
    boots necessary (preferably ones that aren't cracked after serving as brakes while riding plasma cars)

    As if my laundry pile weren't already formidable, now it is reeling from a few afternoons of lads (and lass) gleefully cavorting in the goo.
    lassies like boots, too (and leggings).

    In mud's defense, I'll allow that, in addition to its unmatched sensory satisfaction, mud also makes for good brother bonding.

    And while it means more challenging laundry, I'm grateful for sunshine, warmer temperatures, and the lovely rainbow my muddy lass drew on my muddy porch:
     But I won't be sorry to see the mud dry out... 

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    minor victories :: mobile edition

    The two passengers in the Way Back of the Honeywagon (they of the lad variety) have mastered two skills about which Mama can scarcely contain her excitement:  the elder lad can now buckle himself in (as well as the reverse), and the younger lad can *unbuckle* himself (and vice versa).

    O happy day!

    Those who've seen me leaning over the lassies in the middle row to buckle in the lads or climbing into the back row myself to get the job done (as well as those who've taken this endeavor upon themselves, among them my beloved and the bambini's grandparents) will easily understand my glee at these accomplishments.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011


    The moms from my elder lad's kindergarten class gathered last night to catch up after the long snow break.  I really wanted to go, but I didn't.

    It wasn't that I didn't want to socialize and develop relationships with those moms.  I did. 

    It wasn't that I didn't need some time to regroup after a day frought with the emotional highs and lows of life with four young children.  I did.

    As much as I would have loved to have gone to the gathering of moms from my elder lad's kindergarten class last night, when it came down to it, the price was too high to pay for a few hours out on this particular school night -- for everyone. 

    Yes, I know Mama needs some time to herself.  Yes, I know Mama needs to have friendships with peers such as those in this group.  Yes, I know it's just a few hours of one evening every once in a while.  Yes, I know it's good for my bambini to rely on other people (such as their father) for some things.   Yes, I know everyone benefits from Mama having aspects of life outside of child- and home-tending. Yes, I know I might come across as deferring too much to an overly child-centric approach at the expense of my own needs.

    This was the discourse chattering in my brain much of the day as I weighed the decision to go.  I was one big stress ball about it, as I could all too easily imagine a frantic baby, a Kindergartner up too late because of that, and the two middle littles similarly upset by the departure from our routine.  I had my beloved's support either way I decided (for which I am so grateful), but I really wrestled with making a decision and being at peace about it.

    Striking the balance between caring for these young children and tending to my own spiritual, physical, and psychological needs is an ever-present challenge.  I am actively working on ways to develop and nurture friendships as well as my own faith life without causing undue stress on my six-month-old baby who is by her God-given nature meant to be at home with her mother at bedtime (and everyone else at the same time).

    Maybe I make too much of it, but in our particular circumstances with three other young children, this is how it is for the time being.  It won't always be this way.  Maybe things will be different even by the time the moms get together again next month.

    We go one day at a time around here.  I may miss out on some fun and worthwhile things, but in choosing to stay home with my littles and my beloved and end the day in peace, I haven't missed a thing.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    favorite illustrators: Catherine Rayner

    Commenting on art is not something I can do with profound insight or knowledge, but I know what I like when I see it.  Catherine Rayner's watercolor artwork found in several delightful storybooks, both those of her own authorship and those she's illustrated for others, is lovely
    We were first introduced to Rayner's work in Posy by Linda Newbury, about a playful little kitten of the same name.  The artwork is astonishingly complex and layered, but the effect is engaging and comprehensive, much like of an impressionist work but more modern.  We have since come to enjoy Augustus and His Smile, about a doleful tiger searching for his smile, searching amongst the wonders of creation in hopes of finding it.  Sylvia and Bird is a sweet story of an unlikely friendship between a dragon and a bird, each lending a hand to the other in times of great need.  Harris Finds His Feet tells the story of a little hare learning to be at peace with himself and his big feet thanks in part to the wisdom and encouragement of his "grandad."

    Rayner's most recently-released book is Ernest, The Moose Who Doesn't Fit.  The poor creature is so large he cannot fit within the confines of the book's pages.  So he cobbles together scraps of paper to make a page big enough to accommodate him. 

    With enchanting, fanciful artwork and satisfying stories of friendship, ingenuity, self-acceptance, and an appreciation for the world around us, Catherine Rayner's books merit a place on any family bookshelf. 

    Monday, February 14, 2011


    Baby Sis by Elder Lad

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    best medicine

    With temperatures now in the 50s and 60s as opposed to those hovering around zero last week, the blanket of snow that tucked us in at home for a good ten days or so (with a few exceptions) is melting rapidly.  In spite of all my yammering about cabin fever and cracking of potty jokes, I must admit the time spent at home was -- for the most part -- peaceful, pleasant, and suffused with grace.

    Still, humbling as it is to admit, I am prone to gloominess at the prospect of being unable to get out and about at my whim.  When I sense this mood coming on, I try to put it in perspective by thinking of the untold numbers of people who simply do not have the same freedom due to infirmity or even political circumstance.   Such realizations help snap me out of my pity party.  

    We are humbly blessed to have been able to retreat from the world and ride out the impassable conditions without much recourse.  My beloved was able to work from home (albeit with one or more bambini pressing noses up to the glass in his home office door wanting to make appointments with him), and we pretty much stuck to the routine (ever-evolving as it may be).  I was truly grateful not to have to answer to the alarm clock after the usual multiple rousings each night to tend to one or more bambini.  And my laundry-folding table stayed refreshingly visible throughout the week, as I was able to process the loads of clean laundry in smaller batches rather than chipping away at the usual mountainous pile

    On Friday the elder lad returned to school, and we went to school Mass.   It was our first real outing in a week.  Our Kindergartner sat with us this time rather than with his class as he usually does because we were celebrating Catholic Schools Week -- observed a week behind schedule because of the snow days the previous week -- and there had been a special invitation issued to families for this particular Mass (not that they aren't always welcome at school Mass, because they are).  After receiving Communion, I watched the elder lad walking ahead of me spontaneously grasp his little brother's hand as they navigated through the lines of people back to our pew.  I thought I just might dissolve in a puddle of Mama mush at the sight of it.

    The white out of the past two weeks is now a colorful memory.  We were all definitely ready for a change of scenery.  Emerging from our cave to go to Mass was more than that, though.  As it had been for us the first week of the snowstorm when we'd gotten out to go to Sunday Mass at our home parish, school Mass on Friday was the best medicine ever prescribed.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    movie night

    We don't watch a lot of movies around here, but we have begun having "movie night" with the bambini on occasion.  I make some popcorn (on the stove, of course), and they all snuggle up together for the show.

    Family movie night favorites include the 2008 feature Horton Hears A Who!, the Curious George movie from 2006 and the sequel from 2009, Mary Poppins, and the 2003 TV remake of The Music Man with Matthew Broderick.

    Tonight's feature presentation will be Cars, a perennial family favorite that always takes me back to when the lads were about as little as the lasses are now.  They were enthralled by all the action and we enjoyed all the witty banter.  The concession stand will be serving my new favorite pancake recipe.  I'm sure the lass will be all about "helping," as she is quite the little kitchen maven these days.

    Often enough to be a fledgling family tradition but not so often such that the novelty has worn off, movie night makes for good snuggling and fun times together.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    backseat drivers

    heard in my Honeywagon:

    elder lad: "whoa." [not whoa!] "We are waayyy too close to that car."
    me: "I'm watchin' 'im.  I know he's coming over."

    younger lad: "Mama.  You need to slow down."
    me: "I'm going the speed limit, babe."

    lass: "Go, Mommy."
    me: "See the red light?  We have to until it turns green.  Then we can go."

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    snow day snacks

    Venn diagram of snacks:

    One lad requests plain, dry O-shaped cereal. The other lad likes raisins.  This we know.  The lass will take some of each.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    cabin fever cure

    Some loyal readers might wonder if cabin fever resulting from more than a week of snowbound conditions has induced me to plumb the depths of decency and post about such things as Honeywagons.  Perhaps (well, that and a sinus infection).  But really, 'tis the season.

    My daily doings include a lot of time spent dealing with such (in)delicate matters, so I've chosen to take a light-hearted approach and go with the flow.

    (oh, sorry -- there I go again.)

    It's nothing a little homemade baked potato soup and brownies won't remedy (along with a trip in my Honeywagon to the doctor for antibiotics -- much as I loathe them -- to clear up my sinus infection *and* a weather forecast calling for temperatures near 50 degrees this weekend)...

    Monday, February 07, 2011

    some lowbrow humor

    One built-to-order "honeywagon" I commissioned from the elder lad (still home on snow furlough) while I was changing diapers this morning:
    That's me driving.  Note the windshield.  A must.


    Mama has been getting some static at the prospects of drawing pictures and writing stories, but I found a clear channel this afternoon with this:
    (pardon my slanted handwriting -- that's not what it typically looks like)

    At The Candy Store
    My favorite store is the chewy Spot candy store.   They have more pickles than you can fit in your arm.  There are chocolate-covered pencils, tasty jelly beans, and orange never-ending lollipops.  You can fart them for hours and they never shrink!  One time, I dared my gross little brother to stick five super spicy toilets in his eyelid for a full minute.  After ten seconds, he started to punch and then his face turned all sticky. My mom got so fat when she found out.  I wasn't allowed to squeeze any kind of prunes for a whole month.  Boy did I learn a sweet lesson!  Next time, I'll dare him to put them in his brain instead.

    Toilet humor never fails to elicit lots of giggles -- even from the mama who has to read "f-a-r-t" over and over again.  I thought the ditty paired nicely with the Lego Honeywagon.

    Next thing I knew, the lad was reading from the list of word choices for each symbol (alas, universally-appealing potty words included) and writing them himself to create this Pizza Party story:
    Not exactly literature, but noteworthy none the less -- mostly for the laughter it brought forth from all of us.

    Sunday, February 06, 2011


    I've reconstructed the piece I drafted and obliterated a few days ago.  From psychoanalysis to performance review...

    Before this snow mess caused the closure of school for four days last week, I witnessed a scene after school one afternoon that sticks with me, especially juxtaposed against the scene that played out at home later that afternoon.

    As I doled out the fruit snacks that are now somehow expected by my passengers once we arrive in the school parking lot, I saw what I presumed to be a father and son duo standing outside their SUV.  They aren't among the "regulars" of that parking lot (there are a few lots at school, and the ones who park where I do are mostly familiar to me now), so I took notice of them in an attempt to be observant of my surroundings.  The son was leaning up against the vehicle, his arms crossed and his head hung low.  His father took a similar stance as he stood facing the lad, arms crossed and back stiff.  The lad looked down at the ground, up at the sky, around the parking lot -- anywhere but at his father.  The father's body language suggested a chastisement being issued.

    Down-dressing finished, the two got in their vehicle and left.  I offered a silent prayer for them, that there would be peace between them and a peaceful resolution to whatever conflict brought about the scene after school.  The lad may very well have "had it coming" to him for some poor choice he'd made before or at school, but I felt so badly for him to have had that obviously stressful encounter with his father upon their reunion after they'd been apart all day.

    Back at our house later that afternoon, the elder lad was having some trouble respecting his siblings' personal space.  He's really made some great strides in the past several weeks in this area, showing great consideration of their feelings and wishes and offering his able assistance to them in many ways.  We've made sure to commend and thank him for these valiant efforts.  But we all have our moments of lesser than greatness, and he was having his.  It was happy hour, after all.  After fair warning, multiple attempts to engage him in positive interaction, and ample opportunity to remember himself and his young squire principles, I finally insisted he regroup in his room until he could treat others with the respect due them.  I wasn't exactly using my kindest voice as I led him to his room, but I made sure to let him know I would do the same for him should he be on the receiving end of similar garden variety (or worse) ill treatment from his siblings or anyone else.

    Although my lad ultimately pulled it together and we ended the day in peace, I still rehashed the scene in my head when I followed through on the disciplinary measure I let him know he would incur (that of removal from the scene until he could be respectful of others).  I always do this, because I want to analyze the contributing factors that led to things coming to the point they did in an effort to minimize those that cause such trouble in the future, paying special attention to how I handled myself in the heat of the moment -- and how I can do better next time.

    I pray that we who are entrusted with the care and tending of these young souls always exercise our God-given authority in as Christ-like a manner as possible, with love, gentleness, compassion, and a commitment to justice, so that our bambini will develop the self discipline to conduct themselves similarly.

    Saturday, February 05, 2011

    signs of the times

    I talk with my hands.  It's just me.  Not quite conductor-like, but still ... illustrative.  I also love to study languages and etymology, so when we were expecting the elder lad and I was doing all manner of reading about baby care and development, the idea of learning sign language as a way of communicating with the babe resonated with me as something I could reasonably take on.  I'd had friends who'd taken sign language classes as part of their baby preparations, so I looked into them around town.  I was anxious to get crackin' before the baby was born, but the organizers of the classes recommended I wait until the baby was six or so months old until I enrolled.  By then they weren't offering the classes anymore. 

    (I did eventually find a class for us after we had already built up a decent vocabulary of signs.  The teacher and I struck up a friendship that continues today.)

    Enter the book Baby Signs and the Signing Time DVD series.  I pored over the book and learned some basic signs that my beloved and I started using every time we'd use the corresponding spoken word -- signs for book, diaper, nurse, car, various food and animals, and so forth.  The Signing Time  DVD series was one of the few shows that held the elder lad's interest as a toddler, and I suspect it might have something to do with the rapid development of his vocabulary.  Now the videos are high on the list of requests from the younger lad and two-year-old lass.

    With each addition to our family, we've gotten out the Signing Time videos and brushed up on our signs.   The older siblings seem to relish teaching the younger siblings new signs.  Having a way for the pre-verbal set to communicate their thoughts to us has been an invaluable aid to us in caring for themAs toddlers, the bambini used signs along with spoken words, signing as they spoke (which is what we did, too -- it was just habit).

    Using signs in lieu of words comes in handy in many settings, such as in quiet places, as we're waving good-bye and "I love you" to my beloved and the elder lad on a school morning, or when we're trying to practice alternatives to shouting.

    The younger lass is reaching the age now where she is obviously understanding many concepts and making connections between words and objects or people.  It's the perfect time to get back in the habit of signing as we speak to her.  With any luck we'll soon know what's on her mind, and see what she has to say...

    Friday, February 04, 2011

    to each his own

    over small scoops of ice cream while more snow falls outside...
    younger lad, eating rainbow sherbet: "I don't like chocolate.  It's too chocolaty for me."

    Wednesday, February 02, 2011

    bagel as inkblot

    I obliterated the post I had drafted for today with some over-zealous "control-Z" (i.e. "undo") action as I was tweaking  fine-tuning the prose prior to "publishing", so instead check out this picture of one of our most favorite foodstuffs -- bagels and cream cheese.  Tell me what you see...

    The elder lad sees me in it, holding his littler sis with a blanket on her.

    I wonder if pictures of bagels are among those used in inkblot tests these days...

    Tuesday, February 01, 2011

    the snowy day

    We don't get knee-deep snow with drifts taller than Kindergartners all that often around these parts:

    Tucked under our blanket of white, snow day activities included ...

    The two-year-old lass insists her daddy made all that snow out there.  The elder lad set her straight: "God did that."
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