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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