Tuesday, November 13, 2012

good advice

Five-year-old younger lad, dreamer and sage:
"Never hug a charging rhino."

Saturday, November 03, 2012

eight-legged empathy

Remember when I used to post reviews, usually on Mondays, of the books we've been reading and relishing together as a way of remembering those books that stood out from the scads we haul home from the library on a regular basis?

Yeah, I barely do myself.

So here it is, a few *weeks* (sigh) since I last posted anything, and already after Halloween (about which I've aired my true feelings before), and I'm going to talk about two books concerning, of all things, spiders.

Yep.  Spiders.
I try not to react to a spider sighting like this, but it takes *great* effort. 
Sophie's Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jane Dyer

I thought I was going to have to shelve this post for next year, but then I vanquished another one of those big ol' wolf spiders today.  I took that as I sign that a spider book post might still be relevant. 

So here we go...
who knew spiders were so fashionable?
Sophie's Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jane Dyer

Both Sophie's Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli (illustrated by Jane Dyer, who also illustrated the Cookie books we like so much) and Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham seek to show the softer, more lovable side of spiders.  Spinelli's Sophie strikes out on her own and sets up residence in a boarding house operated by the lovely lady in the picture above.  After a few near-misses with residents who aren't exactly spider fans, Sophie finds one resident who doesn't wig out at the sight of the spider.  The stalwart young woman is knitting booties for the baby she is expecting, but Sophie sees to it that the baby has a soft blanket to sleep under. 

Spiders have redeeming value, apparently.
Be Nice to Spiders, by Margaret Bloy Graham

Graham's Be Nice to Spiders is set in a zoo where the animals are beset by annoying flies that leave the animals fussy and ferocious -- the animals without a spiderweb in the corner of their living space, that is.  Even though the zookeepers see the spiderwebs as messy-looking, it turns out the spider who spun them is relieving the animals of the nagging flies that vex them so, which is apparently similar to what those wolf spiders do here in the suburbs.  This knowledge doesn't exactly make me want to leave all the spiderwebs up in the corners of our house (not that there are any, ahem), but it makes for fun reading.  Published in the late 1960s, Be Nice to Spiders has that vintage charm and wide-eyed wonder thing going for it.  Such books are always fun.  We've also enjoyed reading the Harry books written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Ms. Graham (Harry the Dirty Dog, Harry by the Sea, Harry and the Lady Next Door, and No Roses for Harry!).

Try as they may to elicit some empathy for the eight-legged ickies that dare to cross the threshold into our home, Sophie's Masterpiece and Be Nice to Spiders are entertaining, if not entirely convincing.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Ever notice a quote in a newspaper article or other written source that has an obvious typo or grammatical gaffe followed by [sic]?  That part in brackets means "thus was it written", basically owning that the writer knows that the something's amok in the quote with spelling, syntax, or whatever, but that's how it was originally stated.

  • The Kindergartner in the family greatly enjoyed his snack from [the lucky pot] (otherwise known as "potluck") one day this week. 
  • The Second Grader was eager to tell his dad that the lad had been allowed to bring home the  classroom 2013 [alamanack] to peruse at his leisure. 
I'd add these to [stoo-dul] in our family dictionary of toddlerisms, were it not for the fact that the lads who utter such endearing blunders are hardly toddlers anymore.  Apparently, a new chapter is in order.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

up for review

Shopping for shoes, clothes, or just about anything else with four bambini in tow (or even one if that one isn't in the mood to shop) is rarely easy or expeditious.  That's why I do a lot of online shopping for everything from apparel to household items.  Many online retailers now offer the ability to post reviews of products one has purchased, which I find immensely helpful when I am perusing the wares.   Positive or negative, these reviews are major factors in the decision-making process, especially for something sight-unseen. 

For example, I have been weeding out the well-used plastic sippy cups, plates.  I'm  looking for sustainably-sourced, well-made (ideally by people who work for a company respectful of its employees) replacements that won't leach toxic chemicals or end up in a landfill not too long from now.   Recently I ran across some tempered drinking glasses purported to be kid-friendly (as evidenced by their use in French cafeterias) even though they are glass.  Of them one reviewer wrote

 "I have four boys and a clumsy wife.  They break glasses all the time.  I was thinking of buying [another brand of glass tumblers] and I ran into these.  I read some of the reviews and one of them convinced me to try these. WOW. They are perfect."  

God bless that clumsy wife.

The world's largest online marketplace isn't the only website offering reviews.  Plenty of online retailers do now, including those hawking shoes, apparel, and just about everything else.  Man on the Street testimonials like "I'm [yay] tall and weigh [x] number of pounds, and a size [q] fits great on me!" are far more convincing than the advertising copy when you happen to have similar measurements.

Whenever possible I try to learn from other people's mistakes.   Factoring in the opinions and experiences of others when considering a purchase (online or otherwise)  or researching companies I'm considering hiring to provide a service at our home (such as to our air conditioner) is sort of like that.  We have to keep in mind, however, that not everyone has the same expectations, standards, or objectives for a product.  What I would consider fine quality might be junk to someone else, and vice versa.  What others might consider a great book to read with their children as evidenced by their glowing reviews of the tome, I might find to be a "dud" (or worse).

As much as we rely upon each other for help in making decisions not only about online shopping but about anything in life, allowing others to make decisions for us is a risk to recognize and avoid.  Ultimately, we are responsible for our choices, decisions, and behavior.  When taking advice from others, let us look to trusted sources, most especially to those who help us remember our identities as children of God and encourage us to behave as such.

We can't reclaim the time, money, and energy spent on things like drinking glasses and apparel that are not that important in the grand scheme of things.  We can't take these things with us at the end of our earthly lives, nor do they define us as people.   Other people's opinions should never matter more than the Lord's opinion of us and the ones we hold of ourselves by way of a conscience informed by study of God's law and the precepts of our faith, prayer, and discernment. 

In the final analysis, we will each undergo a review of sorts.  The choices we've made and the work we've done may or may not be graphically rated on a scale of one to five stars, but the love we've given and the willingness we've shown to align ourselves more closely to Christ each day can only help recommend us to the Father. 

*I haven't actually purchased the drinking glasses yet, but if and when that day comes, I'm going for the tumblers that withstood four boys and a clumsy wife.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

mama duck

We may have put the kabosh on living, breathing furry friends for the time being, but there's no house rule against imagining oneself a critter.  The elder lad was known to declare himself a dog when he was about two or three, and now the two-year-old younger lass has been telling us that she is a duck.   This means, of course, that I am her mama duck.  "I need my mommy duck!" she says, with eyes far more expressive than any duck I've ever seen.  Many times I do in fact feel like a mama duck with my ducklings not necessarily all in a row, so I play along...

Monday, October 08, 2012

face time

The bambini love calling family members via FaceTime on our gadgets that support the application.  It's a bit like The Muppet Show while we are waiting for the call to connect, with much jostling and jockeying for that front and center spot, as well as some last minute reminders hissed by the director (that'd be me) to "modulate your voices" (as Grannie would say) so that the people on the receiving end can hear what we're saying. 

Being able to connect with our loved ones by seeing their faces and hearing their voices in real time is an amazing boon, one of the biggest advantages of our present-day technology.  When we can't be in the same room with our friends and loved ones, we can still see and hear them.  It's not quite the same as being able to reach out and hug them, but we'll take it!

In this world with so many ways of communicating, there is still no substitute for time spent together face to face.  Phone calls keep voices fresh in our minds; and letters, e-mail, texting, and social media are better than nothing, but each of these media have their limitations.  We can only infer the intentions with which people write to us; we can't hear their tone of voice or see their facial expressions.  As the messages get shorter, such as in texting, there is ample room for misunderstandings to arise from such short snippets and exchanges.  While they are useful for a variety of things, they certainly can't be the primary means of communication between two people, and there are many situations for which these modes of communication are simply inappropriate.

Then there is the time factor.  It's difficult to have meaningful conversations when time is limited, conditions are noisy, or gadgets are involved.  When there is only time for exchanging pleasantries, how can any real relationship be cultivated or maintained?

While the tools at our disposal continue to evolve in capability, they cannot intuit the meaning of a human heart and convey that to another.   Only we can do that for ourselves, and the best way to accomplish that is face to face.  Until we can visit in person, we'll make use of the array of technological tools made to keep us in touch, always preferring actual face time to its virtual counterpart.

Friday, October 05, 2012

sugar shock

On Fridays the eighth graders at our parish school stage a bake sale for the rest of the students, who come with their quarters after school Mass.  Today was the first time the younger lad's kindergarten class went to school Mass (they had been going to chapel separately since school began) and bake sale, so I was eager to hear how things went from the younger lad's perspective.

"Good," he said, in his usual way

"What did you get at the bake sale?" I asked him.

The elder lad responded for his brother, "he got a graham cracker with frosting and colored chocolate chips.  I was going to get one, but it looked really unhealthy, so I got a donut."

Thursday, October 04, 2012

out and about

In the past couple of weeks we've been taking in some local attractions and special events:
  • We made it out to see the last B-29 bomber still flying at the local air and space museum, which made for good nostalgia considering it was the plane my Papa Jack trained to serve on as a flight engineer in World War II (though the War thankfully ended before he saw combat).  That event also allowed us the opportunity to sample some of the offerings from a food truck, which was fun from a foodie standpoint, if not necessarily one of expediency.  We waited for a *long* time for that food. 
  • We had a great time at our parish school's annual Fair, complete with tasty (and quick) food served by the Knights of Columbus, pony rides (for the horse-loving lads, anyway), a petting zoo, lots of fun games, an obstacle course, and a live bluegrass band.  It was a humdinger of a festival.
  • We've been on a few field trips.  The elder lass's preschool class went to a humongous fire station *and* the pumpkin patch (not all in the same place or on the same day), and the younger lad's kindergarten class went to the apple orchard. 
While we greatly treasure and preciously guard our stay home days more so all the time, getting out to these events has been refreshing, exhilarating, and delightful for everyone involved. 

    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    walking on eggshells

    The elder lass went rummaging through the fridge for some sustenance while I was helping her baby sister "freshen up," so to speak. Upon finding some hard-boiled eggs, the three-and-a-half year old lass came running to tell me of her discovery. Then she ran back to the kitchen, fetched a spoon, and began trying to peel the egg herself.

    When the younger lass and I arrived in the kitchen, we found lots of egg shell bits on the table, as the lass who was doing her best to help herself was chipping away at the shell with her spoon on the bare table. After I helped her finish peeling the egg (and retrieved a bowl from which she could eat it), we used the spoon to break the egg up into bites. Observing aloud the white and the yolk, she then asked, "is there yolk in every egg in the world?"

    "Pretty much," I told her, allowing for anomalies.

    After a couple of bites, she declared she didn't like it and was finished. Figures. She'll hold out for a yolkless anomaly.

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    temperamental, are we?

    Navigating the murky waters of mothering four young, distinctive souls, I learned ago that no one method of approach works for every child. This is largely because every child is different, as nearly any parent of more than one child would acknowledge. Each child is unique and special, and each one is "wired" a little differently. This is the Lord's doing, as he has a specific plan and purpose for every life he wills into being.

    With that in mind, I have been doing some reading (and re-reading) about the four classical temperaments and how to discern the defining characteristics of these temperaments in ourselves and those we know and love. I was first introduced to this idea which has its roots in ancient Greek medicine by a book called The Temperament God Gave You by Art Bennett and his wife Laraine. They've since authored The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse and The Temperament God Gave Your Kids. What I like most about these books is how the Bennetts take an ancient yet (one that many other researchers and theorists still utilize in their own work) and draw upon the writings of more recent sources as well as modern research in their application of Church teaching and the quest for virtue as a part of the Christian's journey toward heaven. 

    Temperament is not the same things as personality.  Temperament is one of the factors in one's personality. Each of the four temperaments (choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic) has distinctive markers. Most people are a blend of one or two of the temperaments with one being predominant, but we can have characteristics of all the temperaments or cultivate skills that are inherent in a temperament other than our own.

    Through the lens of faith we can think of these temperamental characteristics as the ways in which God crafted each of us in order to fulfill the purpose he has for our lives. We are not locked into the confines of our temperament's parameters; many other factors can influence our behavior. Our temperaments are simply how we feel about and react to people and situations by default. We can choose to behave differently, however, and sometimes we should.  Understanding these various factors is immensely helpful when it comes to tending to the temporal and spiritual needs of those entrusted to our care.

    In a family, it's likely there are different temperaments interacting with each other.  God does this intentionally to help each member of the family, each with his or her own God-given identity and temperament, grow in virtue by strengthening both the things that come easily and those that do not. We are called to be patient with each other even as we challenge each other to overcome the weaknesses that are the flip side to our many positive traits, always mindful of the presence of Christ in each of us.

    Each of us is a creation unique and precious to the Lord. We are not meant to all be the same, to handle things in the same way or experience life exactly as another person does. When I take the time to know myself better through prayer and discernment, including studying such time-tested ideas as the four temperaments in a faith-informed way, I am better able to be live each day as my true self, the one God created and calls me to be.

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    keep walking...

    Now that the three digit temperatures have thankfully given way, we've been taking advantage of a welcome opportunity to get outside after dinner for family walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes this means one child (guess who) claiming driving privileges of the sit and stand stroller that two of the other bambini want to ride in, leaving the one who probably ought to be in the stroller out to fend for herself -- just the way she likes it. Tonight, though, we left the stroller at home, which meant that the brothers were free to take their positions at imaginary starting blocks for a series of sprints that were punctuated by shrieks of laughter, pounding of feet, and the flailing of limbs and hair.

    These family walks have been such a hit that they've even made it into the daily reality check as the highlight of one or more family member's days (along with PE, coming home from school, "nothing" -- meaning it was all good all day, and staying home with Mama.). Even with the requisite "hold hands or I'll hold you" admonition to the one with the shortest, if spritely, legs of us and the stop and go nature of a walk with four curious children, I'd have to say these foot tours around the neighborhood rate pretty high on my day's list, too.

    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    humble pie

    A few days ago a woman walked into the coffee shop where my mother, sister, lassies, and I were snagging some liquid propulsion before picking up the lads from school. The woman had a much deeper than expected voice and asked for a cup of water, which the barista brought out to her.

    After flopping down in the easy chair next to me, she said, "I'm giving free manicures today.". I thanked her but told her truthfully that we would be leaving in a few minutes. She took the disappointment in stride and began to rummage through the few plastic shopping sacks she had brought in with her. She offered me a bottle of nail polish from one of the sacks, "for the road," she said. It was then that I noticed the polish on her own nails, done not quite exactly within the usual boundaries. She went on to give me another bottle of (green) nail polish and two mint candies. I thanked her again and bid her farewell, as it was time for us to get going.

    During this encounter, while truthfully a little uneasy near this woman who seemed maybe a little off somehow, I had the strongest sense that I was to show her the utmost kindness and respect, including receiving the items she so generously offered me and thanking her for doing so.

    How difficult is it for us to accept the generosity of others? Sometimes very much so. Whether it's the offer of a homemade meal during a time of crisis, illness, or happy upheaval such as following the birth of a baby, or help tending to or transporting children from time to time, or some other sort of non-monetary aid given freely, something trips us up in accepting such things.

    For some people, it is so much easier to be the giver rather than the receiver of these types of gifts. We are happy to do so and truly want to help others in need, be they friends, relatives, or strangers. For people of faith, we see it as part of living out our Baptismal vows or at least being Christ-like in giving generously of our time and talent in the service of others.

    This is all well and good, but when others attempt to do the same for us, some of us (I include myself in this and know and love several other people who would fit this bill, but I won't name names or point fingers.) are quick to say, "thanks, but I'll do it myself," or "no thank you, we're managing just fine.". We politely decline maybe because we don't want to impose on anyone or add to anyone else's already full plates, but in turning down such offers we deny our well-intentioned friends and loved ones (or even perfect strangers) the opportunities to be conduits of Christ's grace and mercy to us, which can be a source of blessing not only to us but to those who wish to serve us as well.

    People who volunteer in various service roles often say they "get more out it" than the people they serve. Framing it this way might make it a little easier to allow someone else to help us once in a while or show us extraordinary generosity beyond what we think we deserve.

    We may think we're slacking off or mooching or being lazy or somehow otherwise not taking care of our own responsibilities, but somewhere in there is a tinge of pride, where it's all about me.

    It's *not* all about me.

    I may have a lot to manage, and through continual discernment and in faith I trust that it is God's will for me to have a lot to manage, but he doesn't expect me to have it all figured out all at once or even to do it all by myself. Although it is humbling to accept assistance from someone else, there is grace in such humility, and more grace where that comes from for the asking.

    When we allow people to help lighten our loads, we cooperate with Christ in the bestowing of grace upon those who are serving us. Just as I desire to be a reflection of Christ's light and love to the people he places in my midst, there are others who are similarly motivated. Let us not be hasty to close the door in Christ's face when he wishes to bless both us and someone else with a chance to be his hands, feet, and beautiful face.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012


    Our kind-hearted Kindergartner the younger lad tossed this bombshell my direction in his usual nonchalant way: "A lot of girls have been noticing me, Mommy."

    me: "Who?  Where?"

    him: "In the cafeteria.  They asked me my name."

    The elder lad suspects they were sixth grade girls, as if that helps.

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    city slickers

    Maybe someday soon the lads and my beloved will embark upon the fantastic journey that is The Chronicles of Narnia for their bedtime reading, but for now they are reading -- for the most part -- lighter (while still adventurous) fare. The Little House books weren't without suspense, sorrow, or drama, but that was about as much of any of those things the lads are up for at bedtime.

    My beloved remembers reading adventure stories of the vintage variety by an author named Troy Nesbit. The Diamond Cave Mystery was my beloved's favorite, so when a search at our local library turned up nothing, I bought a used copy from that purveyor of any and all things (that would be Amazon Marketplace, which is a bit like rifling through untold numbers of garage sales for that which has been cast off but is still of some use to someone else) for Christmas two years ago I found it for him to share with the boys. They ate it up. According to the elder lad, "two boys find diamonds in a cave, and they try to find out who [the diamonds] belong to."
    younger lass holding Troy Nesbit's Diamond Cave Mystery
    The younger lass is a willing book model, even if she doesn't read the tome herself -- yet.
     Given the younger lad's continuing fascination with horses and cowboys, I was thrilled to find another novel by Nesbit called The Sand Dune Pony. That's the current bedtime read, and from all accounts it's as good as the Diamond Cave Mystery (and not too soon for the younger lad, who had had enough of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books).  In this story a boy catches and "gentles" a wild horse. For these suburban lads who dream of the day they might live on "some land," this book is perfect.

    Troy Nesbit's Sand Dune Pony

    These classic adventures are in the same echelon of heroic stories as the Billy and Blaze books by C. W. Anderson and the Little Tim books by Edward Ardizzone.  As we strive to steer our young squires on the right side of the high road, characters like those in Troy Nesbit novels are welcome passengers.

    Sunday, September 16, 2012

    identity crisis (not quite)

    Every time I interview the bambini, I find myself stewing about some of their responses.  I know I know: I invite this by posing the questions to begin with, and I know that their responses might be different if I were to query the bambini again tomorrow in a different context.  All that aside, I basically borrowed the question Jesus poses to his disciples in today's Gospel reading by asking them "who do *you* say that I am?"   Some of the answers from this latest round are cute and funny -- and true: I'm not good at crawling around on the floor like a horse. I stand a little taller than feet off the ground (but not much), and I definitely prefer smiling faces to screaming voices. I'm actually a pretty good dancer, thank you very much, having taken ballet from the time I was three until I was 17.  And while I do eat a lot of salad, why did none of the bambini name coffee or chocolate as my favorite foods?  Hello?

    Those pale comparison with the deeper questions of what my job is and how I convey my love for them in terms they understand. Yes, I do clean house when they're not around (but not as much as they seem to think. Let's keep that between us.), and yes I spend a considerable amount of time supervising our bambini. But is that my job? If it's as the elder lad eventually said "teaching us things" and "loving us," as the younger lad said, then I'd agree. There are, however, aspects of the day-to-day to-do list that are definitely mundane (such as cleaning up other people's messes and so forth). That's true of any job and part of every life.  There is honor in that work, even if it's not glamorous.  There is also a lot of joy in the work I do, knowing it is serving God by serving the people he has placed in my midst in this time and place.

    In today's Gospel, Peter answers correctly that Jesus is "the Christ", but even if he had answered differently, Jesus would still be the Christ.  I am many things including a wife, daughter, sister, mother, cousin, and friend, but primarily I am committed to being the person God created and calls me to be every day.   I struggle with the bambini not reporting a greater awareness of the musical side of me, but that's not their fault.  They do know it's a part of me, but contrary to how I imagined things, it hasn't been a large one in their existence.  That's probably as it should be.  Their view of me will change as time marches on, but God willing they will always know that I'm their mom who loves them unconditionally and that I am here for them, and that's all that matters.

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    twenty questions, volume three

    "snowy volcano cake" (otherwise known as [near] flourless chocolate cake) made by my beloved and the younger lass.  I'm a lucky girl.
    I am hellbent adamant about recording the collective memory of our bambini via interviews taken informally around birthdays.  Two years ago I launched this interviewing initiative (with some borrowed questions) on the occasion of my birthday.  Last year's birthday interview was about six months late, so it's only been half a year or so since I polled the bambini about their scatter-brained if well-intentioned mother.  I gave myself a little assessment yesterday.  Today it's their turn to weigh in on what Mama does best, what they seem to remember hearing me say, and the legacy I am leaving for them...

    While I attempted to interview the two-year-old younger lass, it became obvious very quickly that doing so would be an exercise in futility.  Maybe next year.

    1. What is something Mama often says to you?
    7 year old elder lad: I love you.
    5 year old younger lad: I love you.
    3.5 year old elder lass: I love you.
    2 year old younger lass: I sew.

    2. What makes Mama happy?
    elder lad: I love you.
    younger lad: when [we're] not fighting
    elder lass: when I smile

    3. What makes Mama sad?
    elder lad: I hate you. [I'm guessing he means the verbalization of these fighting words.]
    younger lad: when [we're all] fighting
    elder lass: when I scream

    4. What does Mama do that makes you laugh?
    elder lad: tickle me
    younger lad: tickle me
    elder lass: tell funny stories

    5. What was Mama like as a little girl?
    elder lad: I don't know
    younger lad: I don't know
    elder lass: I don't know

    6. How old is Mama?
    elder lad: 34
    younger lad: 34
    elder lass: ummm.... 33

    34th birthday cookie cake
    cookie cake made by my dear dad, as has long been tradition,
    with six happy little music notes for the six of us in my little family
    and one grand piano with precisely-placed chocolate sprinkle keys.  I'm such a lucky girl.

    7. How tall is Mama?
    elder lad:  let's say about five feet tall
    younger lad: eight feet high... [but] that would be taller than Dad!  Dad's six feet high.  Maybe... aha! You're five feet high!  You're a little bit shorter than Dad [demonstrates with his hand].
    elder lass: We'll have to measure you again!

    8. What is Mama's favorite thing to do?
    elder lad: sew
    younger lad: sew
    elder lass: sew

    9. What does Mama do when you're not around?
    elder lad: clean house
    younger lad: love me still
    elder lass: sew

    10.  If Mama were famous, what would it be for?
    elder lad: her love
    younger lad: loving us
    elder lass: I don't know.

    11.What is Mama good at?
    elder lad: cooking
    younger lad: sewing
    elder lass: sewing

    12. What is Mama *not* good at?
    elder lad: crawling on the floor like a horse
    younger lad: dancing?
    elder lass: she's not good at..... [looks sideways at me] I don't know.

    13. What is Mama's job?
    elder lad: to watch [my sisters]... and me and [my brother]... to teach us things... to watch us so that we get along............taking care of us
    younger lad: to take care of us
    elder lass: to sew

    14. What is Mama's favorite food?
    elder lad: potato soup
    younger lad: salad! [points upward victoriously]
    elder lass: salad!

    15. What makes you proud of Mama?
    elder lad: [thinking long and hard on this one] I don't know.  (then later) I said I don't know what makes me proud because you do all kinds of stuff that makes me proud but I just couldn't say it.  I don't know.  ["so you're proud of me, but you're not sure why?"] yeah.
    younger lad:  that she snuggles me
    elder lass: 'cause she snuggles me

    16. What is something we do together?
    elder lad: bake
    younger lad: sew
    elder lass: sew 

    17. How are you and I the same?
    elder lad: We both have dark hair.
    younger lad: We both are humans.
    elder lass: We both have black hair. [Actually, we both have brown hair.]

    18. How are you and I different?
    elder lad: You're a girl and I'm a boy.
    younger lad: You have long hair and I have short hair.
    elder lass: We don't have the same color skin.  [This elicits my quizzical face, as we are both fair-skinned.]

    19. Where is Mama's favorite place to go?
    elder lad: Missouri
    younger lad: [a local pizza franchise based in the town where I went to college, answering again with the victorious hand gesture]
    elder lass: [a locally-owned purveyor of "crispy bite-size chicken"]

    20.  How do you know that Mama loves you?
    elder lad: 'cause she says so
    younger lad: because she tells me that.  Am I done now?
    elder lass: because she tells me that.  Am I done now? [yes, they both answered exactly the same in separate interviews}

    I'll save the analysis and my response for another time.  For now I'll just say that I think I may have hit upon the way to conduct these interviews successfully -- that would be by parking them in the glider we've had since the elder lad was a newborn.  That way they can rock and fidget and gesture and wiggle around, thus allowing the answers to come freely and resulting in a quick and relatively painless interview that serves as a gift of sorts to Mama and fodder for much navel gazing.

    Thursday, September 13, 2012


    My birthday was last Saturday.  Judging by the mountain of clean but unfolded laundry, someone seems to think she's still the Birthday Girl with a "get out of folding laundry because it's your birthday" pass.  Today is my lovely friend Katie's birthday as well as that of my beloved's grandfather and our cousin.  Another cousin's birthday earlier was this week, so I'm thinking the laundry folding can wait another day in honor of all the festivities.

    Birthdays have a way of serving as a checkpoint or annual review of sorts.  Here's mine in a nutshell, with plenty left out but enough both to work at and build upon...

    Things I thought I would be better at by now:
    • getting kids to sleep 
    • staying calm in the face of a temper tantrum or prolonged fussing
    • going to bed
    Things I'm pretty good at (surprisingly):
    • using silliness or humor to convey instructions or cut through kvetching 
    • laundry stain-fighting (knock on wood)
    Things I am getting better at:
    • getting things done -- not everything and not all the time, but more often, even if I have to chip away at whatever it is a little bit at a time
    • winnowing down the number of things at which I am multitasking so that I can complete at least some of them before starting new ones
    • getting dinner on the table
    • staying on top of the laundry (sort of) 
    • estimating the amount of time tasks actually take to accomplish
    • arriving some place on time (or at least closer to it)
      Things I'm not so good at (still):

      For my birthday buddies and me I pray that by God's grace, the year ahead may bring continued growth and understanding, peace and fortitude for the journey still to come, and laughter to bridge the expanse between expectations and reality.   Sleep would be good, too.

      Thursday, September 06, 2012


      Polling the school-going bambini for lunch box requests, there seems to be a theme going in spite of their vastly different tastes: they all want a note in their lunch box.

      I've been tucking notes into lunch boxes here and there (not every day) for as long as I've been packing lunches for people. I didn't realize how much the notes meant to the people opening the lunch boxes until a couple of recent occasions when I didn't stick a note in. That was the first thing I heard about when we were reunited. I have learned my lesson.

      It's nothing fancy, usually just a plain square of white paper with a short, not too mushy sentiment such as "I love you!" or "I hope you're having a great day!" or "see you soon!". Sometimes I'll throw in a joke, though:

      I can't take credit for this clever joke.  I found it online. 
      I don't know if the jokes are read to friends at the lunch table.  I hope they are. 
      I try to write as legibly as I can for the new and emerging readers among us, especially considering my standard quirky handwriting is a mix of cursive, printing, upper and lower case. 

      If the most important thing in the lunch box is a note from Mom (or Dad), does it even matter what else I pack?  The answer is a resounding *yes*, but it's gratifying to know how something that seems like a little thing to me is of such significance to my little loves -- at least for now.

      Tuesday, September 04, 2012

      hit or miss

      the game of Battleship
      man your positions...
      On our recent Labor Day weekend getaway to my parents' house, my sister introduced the lads to Battleship, the maritime warship game.  They were familiar with Battleship via the Wii, but the younger lad was fascinated with the version that he could hold in his hands and position the ships and pegs just so.  He grew so attached to the game that my dad let the lad bring it home with him.  After Mass on Sunday, the lad set up the consoles to play with his dad and brother, team-style.  Later in the day the consoles became laptop computers for the younger lad and elder lass to pretend they were typing on. The younger lass is our "grease man," able to retrieve pegs that fall into the hinge part of the game console when it's open with her tiny little fingers.

      The more I think about it, the game of Battleship and its hit-or-miss song and dance routine are the perfect analogy for daily life with young children.  One minute they're planning something spectacular, the next they're quarreling.  Sometimes there are warning volleys.  Sometimes not.  If only I had a radar screen to steer clear of troubled waters.  At least I have a life jacket.

      Saturday, September 01, 2012

      cold-brewed coffee

      Any time I can work in a reference to the movie Steel Magnolias, I try to do so.  I've done it again talking about cold-brewed coffee over at Foodie Proclivities today.  Have a look-see and try it! 

      Thursday, August 30, 2012


      Since having children, I've often wondered how mamas who sewed finished any projects. Until very recently, the last time I sewed anything was when I was expecting the younger lad (more than five years ago). I made a few baby blankets--two girly ones, because I was *sure* he was a girl (I'm so glad I was wrong and that he is who he is) and one just in case the "wee babe" (as I referred to the bambino in utero, though he was the least "wee" of the four, weighing more than nine and a half pounds at birth) was a boy.  That blue waffle-weave blanket with chocolate brown trim got a lot of use. The two floral, ruffle-edged blankets would have to wait -- not really all that long, as it turned out -- for the lasses to come along.  They still use those blankets.

      In the past couple of months I've gotten the sewing machine out for some "quick" projects. It's been a lot of fun. I set up my work space near the bambini's play space, which gives me a chance to work on projects little bits at a time (which is, by the way, how I get pretty much anything done) while keeping tabs on the bambini (and receiving trays of play food tea party treats and other pretend play fun).  I've been able to carve out some longer stretches of time to work solo on these projects as well, which is a recent and still novel-to-me phenomenon.

      Working at the sewing machine in the midst of the bambini does attract their interest, so I've tried to explain what the various parts of the machine and let them help me as they can. The elder lad helped his grandmother sew baby blankets when the younger lass was on the way (when we referred to her as "Quattro", since we didn't know her gender either). He's manned the foot pedal of my machine (while reading the sewing machine manual and probably imagining he's driving a Mack truck) a few times recently in the construction of some nap mat covers for his younger siblings who nap (do they?) at school. The younger lad is fascinated by the machine, especially the needle-threading mechanism and bobbin winder. He'd love to take the whole thing apart and reassemble it (into a robot, I'm sure). For now, he's happy pushing the "u-turn" button that sends the fabric back under the needle for a little back stitching to secure the stitches.

      Of course, little hands in front of where I'm trying to work are not always easy to see around (or safe, for that matter, but I keep close tabs on that). Why do I let them help me? For one thing, it's something constructive to do together (and you know how I feel about that).  For another, it shows them a side of me they don't know very well.  For yet another, I'm hoping one day the elder lad will be able to sew the patches on his Scout uniform himself.  Maybe someday my machine will jam or otherwise break down.  By then the younger lad might be my go-to guy to get it up and running again. 

      Yes: plenty of times I'd like to be able to just sew it myself without little hands reaching in to "help."  By taking the time to teach them certain age-appropriate aspects of the job I'm doing, I'm hoping to honor their desire to be helpful as well as a part of what I'm doing so as to help them learn an array of life skills (including patience with and a respect for their mother and her creative inclinations) with which to serve the people around them now and in the days and years to come. 

      Monday, August 27, 2012

      minor victories :: arachnid edition

      Given my choice of greeting to come from any of my four bambini first thing in the morning, I'd nearly always decline "I need fresh clothes," or "Mom... spider."  Yet, I've heard both of these this week, and it's only Monday.

      Every August it seems we find one or two of those horrible huge wolf spiders (of which I will *not* post a picture.  Inquiring minds can Google it for themselves.) that are often seen in the landscape around here -- though never welcome in our home even if they do hunt other arachnids.   According to the elder lad with  encyclopedic recall a little too handy for 6:30 a.m. and no coffee yet, "tarantulas are the least poisonous of any spider," but that does nothing to ingratiate the silver dollar-sized arachnid (which I made reference to in a similar showdown with a cricket and don't think is actually a tarantula, those close enough for me)  presently sprawled from the tile floor up the baseboard in the kitchen, seemingly awaiting a bagel with cream cheese of his own. 

      I generally delegate the disposal of these ugly things to my beloved when he is on the premises, but there have been a few times when I've had to muster up every bit of bravery, channel all my mama bear protective instincts (and Ma Ingalls), and git 'er done myself.  This was one of those times.

      As the four bambini sat riveted to their kitchen chairs, French toast untouched, I stood stupidly staring at the spider, hoping it would somehow spontaneously combust or otherwise evaporate into thin air.  When it didn't, I grabbed a wad of paper towels and started to lower the boom, but chickened out and left the four children at the table with the spider close by (there goes my whole mama bear protective thing) in search of a pair of shoes and something with which to whack the intruder, all the while questioning the prudence of that in the event the spider was actually a mama spider with babies on board. 

      The elder lad was losing patience with my inaction thus far: "you're too scared," he said.  By the grace of God my response was not "do it yourself then" but "I'm gathering up all my courage."  Then I went for it, accomplishing the terminal goal so decisively that the younger lad, ever the diplomat and optimist, was moved to exclaim victoriously, "You tore off his leg!  Now he's really dead!" 

      The elder lad looked on approvingly at the mama he'd accused of being a 'fraidy cat.  His opinion had changed by then, and he went about his breakfast business.   I didn't need any coffee for a while after that incident...

      Saturday, August 25, 2012


      The younger lad is just embarking on his Kindergarten year, but he and his older brother are already thinking about college:

      elder lad: "When I'm in my third year of college, [my brother] will be in his first year... so we could be roommates."

      younger lad: "yeah!!"

      elder lad: "I'd get my own *crunchy* peanut butter."  (Some things never change, but I've never known him to opt for crunchy peanut butter over creamy; college does crazy things to some people.)

      younger lad: "yeah!!"  (He doesn't even like peanut butter.  no matter.)

      elder lad: "AND let's get salmon and tomatoes for sandwiches."


      younger lad: "yeah!!  and we'll make baking soda and vinegar volcanoes!!"

      Nefarious plans for those volcanoes and other pranks of increasing shock-value follow as their conversation gets more and more excited.  Downstairs neighbors of these two characters, be forewarned...

      Friday, August 24, 2012

      brown baggin'

      School has started for our bambini.  The elder lad is in second grade now, the younger lad is a wide-eyed kindergartener, and the elder lass is going to preschool two days a week ('twas her idea).  So far things are going well, though I always brace for a harrowing adjustment time the first few weeks(!) of school as everyone gets used to the new reality.

      Along with the earlier wake up call, school days signal a return to packing lunches.  The lads like to eat school lunch when breakfast is on the menu, but otherwise they take their lunch.  The elder lass has to take her lunch.

      Albert and Frances at lunch
      from Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
      Given my thorough treatment of picky eating preferences, I still try to keep things interesting as well as healthy and delicious in their lunchboxes. For ideas I pore over all the posts I can find on the subject, including this witty and informative post penned by my sweet friend Katie. I'm especially fascinated by the whole bento box movement, which places a premium on the presentation of food as a pathway to the food actually being eaten. I have yet to carve hot dogs into octopuses of cut out fruit in flower shapes, though. The closest I've gotten is my rainbow fruit skewer.

      While some of the bambini are more open than others to variety in their lunchboxes (I won't name names), this passage from Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban (we are, by the way, big time Frances fans) neatly sums up the attitude of at least one of our bambini when it comes to branching out a bit:
      "How do you know what you'll like 
      if you won't even try anything?" asked Father.
      "Well," said Frances,
       "there are many different things to eat,
      and they taste many different ways.
      But when I have bread and jam
      I always know what I am getting, and I am always pleased."

      Frances may not be open to spicing things up a bit (at least not at the beginning; I won't spoil the ending), but at least she and her friend Albert take a real lunch break to enjoy their food.

      Frances's lunch
      from Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
      With the prospect of recess looming for kids who are hungry but eager to burn off some pent-up energy, lunch is less leisurely, more pit-stop-esque, there's hardly time for doilies and tiny vases of violets...

      Tuesday, August 21, 2012

      wake up call

      With both lads in elementary school this year, we decided to put an alarm clock (the one I used in my former life when it was just my enormous yellow Persian cat Baldwin the former starving stray and me) in the bedroom they share. The idea is to begin cultivating within the lads the sense of responsibility to get themselves up and going, rather than relying on us to do it for them -- or something like that.

      I showed the elder lad (who can tell time pretty well) how to set both the actual time and the wake time on the alarm clock (see above about the whole cultivating responsibility thing). Off he went to make sure it worked after so long in cold storage.

      The ol' alarm clock does indeed still work, as repeated tests in one- to two-minute increments show.  This surreal experience was not unlike enduring a prolonged test of the Emergency Broadcast System or what I would imagine the master alarm on a submarine or Space Shuttle would sound like.

      Six days a week we are all up and at 'em, thanks to the time-tested little digital alarm clock with enough chutzpah to awaken an entire household.

      Sunday, August 19, 2012

      (not) helpless

      A few weeks ago, wildfires blazed across a swath of land not far from my hometown.  While the town itself was not threatened, the countryside and the homes, pastures, and outbuildings dotting the land were.  Many people were evacuated when it became apparent that the fires were posing serious threats to their property (and persons).  Among the people affected were lifelong friends who are family to us.  They were notified of the danger as soon as it looked like the fires might threaten them, and they began to take precautions and make preparations to evacuate.  As the fires approached, they tried to protect their property by dousing it with water as long as electricity powered their water well.  Ultimately, their home was spared, though their neighbors were among the many who were not as fortunate.

      With a decent amount of warning, those in the path of the fires worked with emergency personnel to combat the fires and try to minimize damage.  Many who were not directly affected stood at the ready, wanting to help somehow yet feeling utterly helpless in the face of convergent wildfires.  Those of us who don't live in the area anymore couldn't take in displaced homeowners or drop off provisions for firefighters or seemingly *do* anything but wait -- and pray.  We did both. 

      I'm sure each of us has at one time or another felt helpless to make a positive change to a sticky or seemingly hopeless situation.  As a parent, there are plenty of times when I've felt helpless -- and I'm supposed to be the mom!  In the seven-year history of my motherhood, there have already been many times when I've felt unable to be the one to control steer a situation to a peaceful, happy ending.  This is the precipice of a slippery slope toward despair unless I channel the mounting stress and anxiety into prayer -- from basic utterances of distress and pleas for mercy to longer vigils of formal or stream-of-consciousness prayers on behalf of other people undergoing trials of whatever magnitude.  This move from figurative or literal hand-wringing to a posture of prayer is something anyone can do to help themselves or someone else. 

      Senseless tragedies happen every day.  Natural disasters will have their ways.  Illnesses afflict us or our loved ones.  Things change in the blink of an eye.  We have no way of knowing what tomorrow -- or even today -- will bring.  When it seems we are helpless, may the Lord grant us clarity of mind to seek his assistance for ourselves or those around us, be they right here with us or off in some far-flung place.   The result may or may not be what we expect or desire, but with enough time, perspective, perseverance in prayer, and grace, may we eventually come to understand on some level how such dramatic events can be part of God's way of drawing us closer to him through circumstances that seem or are beyond our control.

      Saturday, August 18, 2012

      Super Tuesday

      Our eighth wedding anniversary was this past Tuesday, which was also the first day of school for the elder lad (now in second grade) and elder lass (who started preschool two days a week) with some medical- and school-related appointments for the younger lad thrown in the mix for some logistical bonus points.  (His first day of Kindergarten came two days later.)

      With everything going on that busy "super Tuesday", it didn't bear much resemblance to the peaceful day my beloved and I entered into the sacrament of marriage. To celebrate this anniversary, we had gone out to dinner the previous weekend, and I made a favorite meal on our actual anniversary, but the focus of the day was not so much on the two of us as it was about the young family for whom we are now caring.  This anniversary had its roots in that wedding day, when we consented to accepting children willingly from the Lord and bringing them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. 

      We are in a season of family life where the bambini are a primary focus of our efforts, attention, and energy.  As we continue to discern how best to balance their needs with our own, including the need for the two of us to stay in sync as we journey heavenward, I pray the Lord will continue to bless us with opportunities for refreshment with each other, for wisdom to know how best to care for the bambini he has seen fit to send our way (if only for a little while), for grace to see each other as Christ sees each of us and love each other accordingly, and for length of days to serve him hand in hand. 

      Sunday, August 12, 2012

      lessons learned (eventually)

      One happy day not so long ago, I slipped out for a coffee date with a friend (*thanks to our beloved husbands for making this happen).  We got to talking about all sorts of stuff, including the consequences that are natural results of our actions (or those of our children).

      My beloved and I have made a long-standing practice of allowing natural consequences to help reinforce important life lessons, as well as or along with logical consequences when conditions warrant.  Many such natural consequences are effective because of the responses people around us have to our words and actions.  Mean-spirited speech or play might result in the loss of playmates -- even siblings -- who don't like being treated so poorly.  Screaming demands for drinkable yogurt or assistance in some endeavor pretty much never result in the desired dispatch of whatever was sought via such a disrespectful address.  In fact, prolonged wailings might even result in the removal of the caterwauler from the common family area because of the potential risk of hearing damage (not to mention sanity) of those in attendance.  Rude or messy behavior at the table might risk the loss of future invitations to dine with a friend who prefers neater conditions.  Backtalking or definance usually results in the loss of privileges, which is not so much a natural consequence as it is a logical one.  Violence toward a sibling or parent usually results in the natural consequence of removal from close physical proximity as well as logical consequences, especially when the violence results in injury, which is the most regrettable of natural consequences.

      By allowing these consequences,  it's not that we are seeking out situations to put our bambini to shame or to book them on guilt trips or make them feel badly about themselves.  We are not.  But a significant part of loving these bambini is working to form their consciences, that internal voice of Christ speaking to each of us, helping us to navigate life's difficult choices.  So much of the early formation of conscience is teaching right from wrong, obedience to God the Father through obedience to one's parents and authority figures, and  how to treat other people (and along with that what kind of treatment to expect from other people).  One of the most effective ways of doing this is to allow the bambini to experience the effects of their actions and words, then help them to process those effects perhaps by labeling or verbalizing what those effects are.  Oftentimes this logical progression needs no explanation, although it might take a few (or several) episodes for the lesson to sink in.*
      *bangs head against the wall...

      Social pressure is a mighty force to be reckoned with, but it is not the end-all-be-all of our existence.  By this I mean that what other people think of us does not define us or determine our path in life or ultimately (and most importantly) our eternal destination.  Our individual identities come from our Creator.  With that in mind, he created all of us to live in harmony with each other, and in order to do that we all have to abide by some fundamental principles of behavior.  This forms the basic idea of "manners," wherein we order our actions in consideration of other people, hoping that they will extend the same courtesy to us but realizing that we can only control ourselves.*
      *this also applies to mamas mortified by bambini behavior in public and private venues
      in direct violation of long-standing house rules; see above head-banging reference... 

      Who among us has had to learn lessons "the hard way", experiencing disappointment or embarrassment for ourselves after refusing to heed instructions from appropriate authority figures?  Personally, I try to learn from the mistakes of others so as not to endure the resulting misery, but there have been plenty of lessons I've learned through the heartache or embarrassment that have resulted from not minding instructions. As difficult as it can be to stick to one's proverbial guns and enforce the consequences of a poor choice made by one of our bambini (not piling on unnecessarily, but not mitigating to the degree that the poor behavior is seen as excused), we would be doing them no favors by not holding them accountable and expecting them to face the music, make restitution, and move on.*
      *edging dangerously close to preachy now, which is not at all my intention...

      It's a long, arduous process, this business of cultivating virtue by working against the vices that seem to come so much more easily because of our fallen nature.  Thankfully, God supplies sufficient grace to overcome these vices -- even the one that leads one overtired mama to resort to drill-sergeant-like repeated instructions such as "Legos!" "Shoes!" "Napkin!"  "Gentle!" (not necessarily in that order or at the same time) when the selective listening switch has been flipped.    Over the course of a childhood (or four), we realize that the process is not only refining the bambini in this household; it's also having an effect on their parents who have not yet attained sainthood, but who are striving for it every day.

      Tuesday, August 07, 2012

      starry night

      Elder lad: "Mama, I love you more than all the "dually" truck tires they could make before the sun burns out in five billion years."


      Saturday, August 04, 2012

      fighting words

      Maybe the triple digit heat with temperatures upwards of 110 degrees have something to do with it, or maybe it's a consequence of us slacking off on our agenda, but I've noticed an unwelcome increase in the amount whining, fussing, and caterwauling heard in these parts -- yes, even from me.  What's going on?   The answer is probably multi-fold, but on my part I'm sure my sleep deficit isn't helping.  I thought this braid of homegrown garlic curing in our kitchen might help ward off the crankies (just kidding), but alas it has not.

      homegrown garlic braid

      I am not one to criticize, blame, nag, cajole, or be passive aggressive.  When I am extraordinarily tired, however, I am far less able to take the "normal" drama and shennanigans in stride.  Instead of employing humor, goofiness, or alternatives to yelling like singing or whispering, I am far more inclined to be snarky, snippy, snide, or sarcarstic in my terse responses.  I am never proud of those pronouncements.  They are anything but constructive. I don't like to be spoken to in any of those ways, and I always feel terrible when I allow such vitriol to escape my lips. 

      It is one of my highest priorities for our bambini to learn to authentically, respectfully, and honestly express whatever emotion or need they're trying to verbalize.   However will they learn to do that?  By replicating the way the adults in their lives handle themselves in times of stress and moments of need.  (That would be me, among others)

      When one of our children spouts off some poorly-phrased demand request or hurtful insult, I try to respond matter-of-factly with an opportunity to restate him- or herself and a script to use in doing so.  When the insults are flying among siblings or disrespectful demands are hurtled my way, adding my own yelling voice to the equation gets us nowhere good (even if I'm trying to communicate that some things are better left unsaid).

      Feelings of frustration, disappointment, hurt, and confusion are all part of the human experience.  It's important to sort them out and move on without name-calling, empty threats, or brute force, just as it's important to take ownership of the emotions we feel and take control of how we allow the treatment of others to affect us.  Similarly, we all have basic (and not-so-basic) needs for all kinds of things both tangible and intangible.  Not every need is of equal necessity, nor can every one be met *right now.*  And we can't always have everything we want -- not in this life.

      We owe it to our bambini, their future spouses, ourselves, and society at large to express our own emotions, needs, and desires clearly, respectfully, and as lovingly as possible -- even when we are tired, frustrated, hungry, overheated, or otherwise vexed -- so that when our little loves go to express themselves, they will have some positive point of reference to model.  They won't always get it right, but with practice comes a greater chance of success.

      On my part I have to get better about going to bed earlier so that I have easier access to the tools at my disposal.  When it comes to conflict resolution, I'm still working on developing the virtue of fortitude to speak up in a manner that honors the needs of all involved.  The best outcome of such a faithful response to conflict or insult instructs those who are watching closely to be ever mindful of the presence of Christ in every person and to be respectful of the inherent dignity in each of God's precious children, young or old, sassy or circumspect, willing or unwilling, peaceful or troubled, happy or sad, whatever and whenever.  It's how I wish to be treated, and it's how I endeavor to teach our bambini to treat others, to "do as I would be done by", and to tread lightly on the delicate ground that is the heart of the other.

      Wednesday, August 01, 2012

      living dolls

      Our newly-minted two-year-old younger lass has long loved baby dolls of all sizes and types. Presently she favors teensy tiny (or "tinsy", as the elder lad used to say) "vintage" Strawberry Shortcake figurines and other diminutive babies, but the doll my great aunt made for me holds pride of place in the girls' room as well as in their arms.

      When we read Rebecca Caudill's The Best Loved Doll, all three of us females in the family were smitten. In spite of its considerable length for a picture book, the sweet story held the attention of the three-year-old elder lass as well as her not-so-baby sister. The girl in the story is invited to a party one afternoon with instructions to bring her favorite doll. Prizes will be given to dolls in three categories, any of which the girl could win with one of her many dolls. As she wrestles with which doll to take, she keeps coming back to the doll she loves the most -- but who wouldn't be a contender in any of the prize categories. Knowing this, she takes her best-loved doll anyway.

      Barbara McClintock's Dahlia is the charming story of a girl named Charlotte who lives in the early Twentieth century (as in 100 years ago).  She's not a girly girl.  She loves to make mud pies, play in the the dirt with her stuffed bear Bruno, and challenge the neighborhood boys to wagon races.  When her Aunt Edme sends her a frilly-to-the-max doll, Charlotte is less than thrilled.  The tomboyish girl gives the newcomer a stern talking-to about what they do and don't do at her house, then packs up the fragile-looking doll for an initiation into Charlotte and Bruno's rough and tumble ways.  Charlotte takes notice of how good-natured the doll is about all the dirty doings, imagining her smiling through the smudges on her face and snags in her dress.  Charlotte names her Dahlia, like the flowers Charlotte's mother fancies.   When Aunt Edme comes for dinner that night, Charlotte sheepishly shows her Dahlia, who isn't exactly in mint condition.  Aunt Edme's reaction surprises Charlotte, and Dahlia's place in Charlotte's heart is secured.  McClintock's beautiful watercolor illustrations are amazing to pore over.  We also like Adele & Simon and Adele and Simon in America, two stories about a sister and her younger brother. 

      From the vast treasury of Little Golden Books come Little Mommy by Sharon Kane and Doctor Dan the Bandage Man by Helen Gaspard.  In Little Mommy a young girl describes in rhyming verse her days spent caring for her three dolls (named Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny) and home.  Quite the industrious little girl, she cleans, bakes, teaches the dollies, takes them for walks, has a tea party with her neighbor, cooks dinner, and gets the dollies ready for bed, but not before calling Doctor Dan to come check on Annabelle, who gets sick with "the mumbledy bumps," according to Doctor Dan, but should be alright.

      Doctor Dan the Bandage Man and Little Mommy

      The Doctor Dan in Little Mommy doesn't exactly look like the title character in Doctor Dan the Bandage Man, who has red hair and a caring heart.  After his mother fixes up a scrape he earns in a "big backyard cowboy fight" with his friends, he goes on to bandage up his little sister Carly, her doll "with a rather bad bump on her head," and their father after an injury mowing the lawn with a push mower.  With the patina of prose written in a different era (the far-away fifties), these two sweet stories are perennial favorites of ours.  By the way, aren't Dan's mother's shoes flat out fabulous?  If you run across any like them, please let me know!

      Doctor Dan and his mother

      Our girls can be pretty girly (depending on the day) and delight in their tea parties, tutus, and dollies, but they're often found playing with Legos, trucks, and tools.  This juxtaposition of dollies and trucks in our house has become part of the usual vista, along with scenes like this one:

      plastic tea cup on play tool bench

      Surely Charlotte and Dahlia would approve.

      Monday, July 30, 2012

      life of the party

      Our darling clementine is two today! She may be the smallest of the small ones, but she is (as Grandmare describes her) the life of the party. To her, everything is big: big excitement about all things strawberry (and tomato), big frustration over anything that doesn't go her way, even herself, as she considers herself every bit as big as her older siblings.
      younger lass holding small Strawberry Shortcake figurine in her hand
      I played with Strawberry Shortcake figurines like these when I was a little girl.  Now they're considered "vintage"!
      The relationships she is forging with her siblings are at once complex and simple. They dote on her (especially the elder lad), play with her (especially her sister the elder lass, who is often heard saying "I need my [sister!]), and find her both a snuggle buddy and an easy target (that would be the younger lad). From her perspective, life is better when they're around, and she's happiest when she's right in the middle of their games and shenanigans.

      For us, she is a ray of sunshine, a precious and refreshing ball of energy and exuberance. She may keep us all on our toes, but she gives *great* squeezy hugs and laughs with every fiber of her being.

      younger lass wearing brown shirt with strawberry painted on it

      She's been heard yelling "Hi, kids!" to those in passing shopping carts, and she is quick to notice the distress call of an upset child, whether she knows them or not.  She's empathetic like that.

      I've been a bit preoccupied making pinwheels.
      To celebrate her birthday, we hosted a pancake "brecky" for the family, complete with our favorite pancakes (expertly griddled by my dad) topped with whipped cream and strawberries, yummy breakfast casseroles (thanks, Annie, for your help with those!), strawberry muffins made by Grandmare, fruit and yogurt parfaits,  cold-brewed coffee (my current preferred coffee concoction), and a few other fixin's.  The younger lass truly was the "life of the party", shrieking with delight as she opened lovingly-chosen gifts from her aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.  Today we took a family trip to the aquarium and had a pizza party (at her request).

      pink vintage kitty cat clock
      My kitty clock!" the lass exclaimed when she unwrapped this iconic clock, a gift from her great-grandparents.  She had seen one in a clock shop several months ago, and was so excited to hold in her hands one of her very own.

      Imagine the ways the Lord will shine through her bright star if she allows him to. She does that already when she folds her little hands together to pray.  

      Lord, please help us her grow in grace, wonder, compassion, and joy as the story of her life continues to unfold. May the twinkle in her dark chocolate brown eyes only shine brighter with each passing day. Thank you for entrusting this sweet rosy girl to our care. 
      vase of miniature red roses
      miniature roses for our rosy girl

      Sunday, July 29, 2012


      I have always loved rainbows.  They're one of the few things I can draw reasonably well.  Recently I've taken to arranging things in rainbows -- my hanging clothes, for example. The effect is not quite on par with my favorite clothing stores' lovely ROY G. BIV arrangements, largely because there's still so much *stuff* on my side of the closet, but it's an improvement (and I keep chipping away at the mess little by little).

      clothes arranged in rainbow order
      Why am I posting a picture of my messy closet?  I'm just keepin' it real.

      See what I mean?  Not exactly boutique. Maybe if they weren't packed in there so tightly...

      Here's something easier on the eyes: a lass in a rainbow shirt.  Mama may not have much of a future illustrating children's books, but she can paint a rainbow. 
      rainbow painted on a turquoise t-shirt

      Happily, my countertops are looking a lot better than my closet. The kitchen has also been rainbow-fied:
      rainbow of fruit

      I've been on a roll with these fruit kabobs (remember the Fruit Bots?).
      rainbow fruit kabobs 

      I'm not the only one drawn instinctively to the rainbows. Fruit flies seem to like them too. Here's how we deal with that pesky problem.  I give you "The Fruit Fly Death Trap":
       cup with paper cone and apple cider vinegar to attract and trap fruit flies 

      What is it about rainbows that makes them so perfectly lovely and delightful in whatever form but especially arching across the sky into eternity?  They must be heaven-sent.

      Friday, July 27, 2012


      Following yesterday's post about taking necessary measures to ensure the overall health of a primary caregiver, I wish to backtrack even farther to two (almost three now) Sundays ago.  St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians, explaining the source of his strength in spite of some uphill battles he's fighting.  That source is the Lord's grace. 

      "...My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
      --2 Cor 12:9

      Were I to tally the number of times I felt unequal to the task of caring for four closely-spaced children, I think the number might be astronomical.  However could I, one person with two hands, meet all the simultaneous needs when flying solo?  Even trusting that the Lord wouldn't allow for circumstances that he and I couldn't handle together, the plain truth remains that I haven't grown any more limbs along with the multiple children to corral and hold, though I did have recourse to a third arm for a long time when each of our bambini was an infant. Plenty of times I considered it a Godsend.

      As much as I may want to be everything to everyone, that's not realistic -- or even reasonable.  I'm just one person -- a sinful, imperfect one at that.  The young lives entrusted to my care need much more than I as one person can give them, but the Lord knows that and -- I trust -- makes up the difference between my hard-working best effort toward meeting the various needs and completing the fulfillment of those needs by his many conduits of grace. 

      When I step back to take a long view, I am reminded that many people who the world would consider "weak" have accomplished amazing things by God's grace.  I'm not trying to be counted among them, but I do draw a lot of inspiration and reassurance from knowing that such has been the case.  May it be so in our circumstances as well.

      While it may seem lofty, naïve, or flat-out foolish to believe that the strength I need to fulfill my God-given duties would come in the form of some nebulous and invisible Grace (big "G"), I've experienced it myself, I've seen it in action, and that's enough for me.
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