Monday, April 30, 2012

cheese and quackers

For many years, my beloved's mother has set up an incubator in her primary grade elementary school classrooms and served as surrogate Mama Duck to several generations of ducklings.  The bambini have always enjoyed seeing the hatchlings, so much so that one year the then not-quite-four-year-old elder lad drew this "duck crossing" sign to commemorate the blessed event as a gift to his grandmother.  This drawing holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the elder lad's first drawings of a figure from his imagination.

"duck crossing" sign Apr 2009 by the not-quite-four-year-old elder lad
This year, the elementary school's solarium is playing host to twelve wild baby ducklings and their doting mama duck.  We're anxious to meet the little fluffernutters.  Until that time, we'll satisfy ourselves with these hilarious books by Jez Alborough starring a well-meaning if spirited title character named Duck and his friends Sheep, Goat, and Frog.  

Captain Duck by Jez Alborough
Throughout the books, including Duck in the Truck; Super Duck; Hit the Ball, Duck; Captain Duck; Duck to the Rescue; and Fix-It Duck, the clever rhyming text and lively panel-style illustrations work hand in hand to convey both Duck's quirkiness and his eagerness to help his friends, who bear with Duck and his bumbling ways with love and good humor.

Hit the Ball, Duck, by Jez Alborough
Hit the Ball, Duck, by Jez Alborough
While the thematic material like trucks, baseball, and super heroes might initially appeal to young lads, our lasses ask for and relish these books just as much as their brothers.  We've requested many of the books from the library several times, nearly enough to warrant a collection of our own.  They're almost as fun as the real deal, with no incubator required.

We also like Lauren Thompson's books about Little Quack, his four older siblings, their mama and friends with illustrations by Derek Anderson -- especially Little Quack's New Friend, and a sweet book from my beloved's grandmother called Lemon the Duck by Laura Backman (illustrated by Laurence Clayet-Merle).  
Little Quack's New Friend by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Derek Anderson
Little Quack's New Friend by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Derek Anderson

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


dinner table debriefing in progress...

Elder lass to her daddy: "What did you do at your office?"
Her daddy (my beloved): "I sat in two meetings which took up most of the day."

her: "What is your office like?"
him: "Actually, we met in the kitchen."

her: "In the kitchen?!  Were there curtains?"
him: "No -- there were windows, but it wasn't so bright that we needed curtains."

her: "Did you have a picnic?"
him: "No."
her: "We did."

her: "Where did you take your nap?"
him: "I didn't get to take one."

With that unexpected answer, there were no more questions.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

chocolate cake. enough said.

Yes, I know I do yammer on about the merits of cooking with kids healthy things with less sugar and all that good stuff.  But there *is* a time and a place for this:

That time was this past weekend, when we celebrated my sister's birthday a few days late (we celebrate birthday seasons, remember?).  I made this double layer chocolate cake with ganache frosting, which, though it is a rarity, enjoys status as a family favorite after being the centerpiece of a couple of special birthday celebrations (her sweet sixteen being one of them, my beloved's birthday being the other). 

Even though I made this cake all by myself, with no little helpers oddly enough (lassies were napping, lads were helping my beloved with yard work), I overlooked a few ingredients and came up short on another one.  The party people ate it anyway.  Here's the whole story at Foodie Proclivities.  I do hope you'll head on over...

Monday, April 23, 2012

more zoo books

With the preschool field trip to the zoo a qualified success (and behind us), I realize one post about zoo-themed picture books is simply not enough. 

Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement have created two funny books about emus -- of all creatures -- that I think belong in any zoo-themed book list.  In Edward the Emu, the title bird thinks it would be more interesting to be any other animal in the zoo than an emu, so each night he sneaks out of his cage and climbs in with another animal.  Each successive morning everyone is surprised to find an emu in with the lions, seals, and snakes.  Imagine his surprise, however, when he learns that visitors to the zoo are looking for the interesting emu -- that's him!  When he gets back to his cage, he meets Edwina, the emu who replaced him when he went wanderin'.  Their life together is the subject of Edwina the Emu, who by now is the mother of ten emu eggs.  The illustrations in these two books crack me up (pardon the pun).  Who knew emus had such hilarious facial expressions?

Every so often the talented librarian who does the storytime at our local library branch will read The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie.  I think it's the way she reads the story that endears it to me.  I was delighted to find a copy of the book at my parents' house on a recent visit.  I didn't remember it at all from my childhood, but I'm so happy to share it with my bambini now.  A wee little baby beebee bird comes to live at the zoo.  As darkness falls and the animals settle in for the night, their sleep is disturbed by the "bobby-beebeeing" of the baby beebee bird, who is nocturnal by nature (like some children I know, ahem).  The animals all try to shush the bird, who is only doing what comes naturally.  The next morning, the zookeeper is confounded by all the sluggish animals.  The baby beebee bird tucks into her nest to sleep for the day, but the other animals will have none of that.  They roar, squawk, and pester the bird to keep her awake all day.  The next evening when darkness falls, the zoo is blissfully quiet. 

Some zoos have an in-house aquarium (but not ours -- that's a separate field trip).   Therefore the recently released One Cool Friend  by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by David Small (a favorite of mine) fits right in.  A proper young man named Elliot goes to the aquarium with his eccentric father and comes home with a penguin -- a living, breathing penguin.  Elliot is a thoughtful and generous host to his new friend, making the bird's accommodations (i.e. Elliot's bedroom) just to the penguin's liking and making all the family's frozen fish available to the guest for his consumption.  The dad is clueless to the fact that an actual penguin is living in the house (he thinks the penguin is a stuffed animal souvenir from the aquarium gift shop).  He is set straight in a funny and surprising way.

We've been working through many of David Small's books lately, with two of them making my ongoing "favorites" list: George Washington's Cows (which Small himself both wrote and illustrated) and The Huckabuck Family: and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back (one of Carl Sandberg's Rootabaga Stories).  I digress, however, from my zoo theme by mentioning them.

Back on topic, for the wee-est zoo-goers in the group, there is Eric Carle's 1-2-3 To The Zoo and Deborah Guarino's Is Your Mama A Llama?

We also really liked Jon Agee's My Rhinoceros, about a boy who adopts a rhinoceros as a pet even though he's told that rhinoceroses are only good for popping balloons and poking holes in kites.  Turns out, those talents are actually useful in certain situations.

My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee

Now I feel a little better about my canvassing of the zoo-themed books scene (not that I've even scratched the surface).  At least I've given a more complete picture of the books we will reach for should anyone suggest going to the zoo again anytime soon.

Friday, April 20, 2012


What a privilege it is to hear the bedtime prayers of our bambini.  The elder lad has offered the same prayer every night for a few years, praying for his loved ones in exactly the same order.   The younger lad tends to vary things up a bit, sometimes composing his own spontaneous prayers and sometimes asking his daddy to pray the Our Father with him.  The elder lass sometimes needs a little prompting, but other times she knows exactly who she wants to pray for -- and it's usually a mixture of her immediate family, extended family, and some random people all mixed up together in no particular order. 

It's always humbling to hear them praying for me.  Lord knows those are the prayers I need most.  Surely he hears them loud and clear, even if they are sometimes sleepily mumbled. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

not my thing -- or is it?

We made these cookies earlier this week for the elder lad's birthday snack at school -- even though his birthday isn't for another two months. His wonderful teacher works the summer birthdays into the classroom celebration calendar so that the summer babes can bask in birthday glory with their schoolmates before everyone scatters for the summer.

We used this oatmeal cookie recipe (with most of the oats ground into flour to smooth out the texture) and frosted them with this glaze. By all accounts, they were right tasty.

A mom of one of the elder lad's classmates -- one who has been unfailingly generous and friendly to me, a relative newcomer to the parish school community, for which I am so grateful -- asked me recently after I brought homemade baked doughnuts to a class party if baking is "my thing."

"It is now," I told her, relating how I'd taken up the craft as a way of both feeding my picky selective eaters well *and* having something fun to do with them. Before I had children there were a few recipes that I liked to bake (brownies being the primary one), but the activity usually wasn't my first choice when I had free time (whatever that is). Playing the piano was my thing. Making jewelry was my thing. Doing various paper- and fabric-related crafts was my thing. Baking and cooking?  Meh. 

When my beloved and I were courting, my attitude toward cooking began to change because it was a hobby of his.  He was (and is still) amazingly skilled and at ease in the kitchen, as his recent Sammy can chicken experiment shows, and cooking together soon became a favorite pastime of ours. 

Nowadays I spend a lot of time in the kitchen doing a lot of "from-scratch" cooking and baking -- and I like to do it (usually). Serving nutritionally-dense meals is important to my beloved and me, and this is one way we accomplish that.  It's not a matter of wanting to show off or be Super Mom or anything like that.  It's mainly about finding a way to satiate this formidable sweet tooth of mine (and that of my elder lad, gee willikers) in a way that precludes sugar high-related behavioral unpleasantries and negative impacts on physical wellbeing.

Rolled and cut out cookies with frosting decorations are definitely not my thing.  Those are generally more hassle and mess than I'm willing to take on with little helpers, but I am at times persuaded to make exceptions. Especially during Easter season, we revel in the sweet treats that often accompany celebrations like birthdays and sacraments. We can do so in good conscience by eating in moderation and choosing ingredients that are both wholesome and delicious. And if we get to make those treats together as part of the festivities, so much the better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

appetizing idea

The elder lad was at his persuasive best trying to convince the younger lad to try macaroni and cheese for dinner:
"You'll like it.  It tastes like Cheez-Its [the current favorite after school snack -- junior Scrabble style, please] but gummy like gummies."

appetizing (?) juxtaposition of flavors... and why the fascination with gummy fruit snacks?  Why?

"Maybe for breakfast," the younger lad -- ever the diplomat -- hedged...

... he opted for a mini bagel with cream cheese instead.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

pride and joy

Had he been alive to see my sister (the one my bambini call "Annie" in place of "auntie", followed by her given name) all dolled up for a formal dance last weekend at the Newman Center (i.e. Catholic student center) of her university, I'm sure my maternal grandfather would've cried tears of joy just like the ones I saw in his eyes the that afternoon she made me a sister as we camped in the hospital waiting room with several other close family members and friends.

My grandfather would've turned 100 years old yesterday.  That's right: he was born in the wake of the Titanic disaster.  He died in his mid-eighties when I was in high school and she was just a baby, so he didn't get to serve my baby sister Total cereal with a side of Oreo cookies on the mornings after a sleepover at my grandparents' house like he had done for me when I'd had sleepovers as a young girl.  Come to think of it, I don't even know if she likes Total cereal.  I'm fairly certain she likes Oreos (as do my elder lad and I).

He may have only gotten to know her as a baby, but she was his "pride and joy", a description he'd used with me many, many times, and one I'm happy to share with her.  As the only children of his daughter (an only child herself), we were the lucky beneficiaries of lots of grandfatherly doting and the subjects of extravagant bragging. 

We celebrate my sister's birthday today, and we honor the memory of the six-foot-four man she might've called "Bum-pa" as I did at a very young age had she had more time with him.  His heart was as big as he was tall, and he gave away so much love in his long life.   She is following suit, giving generously of her love.  Because of that, her many accomplishments, and the lovely young lady she is, "Annie" would surely hear no end of his praise were he alive to give it.  Even though he isn't here in person to tell her so, I'm sure she is still his pride and joy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

zoo books

In order to psyche myself up for honor of an upcoming preschool field trip to the zoo, I give you a few of my favorite zoo-themed picture books of recent memory:

This Dictionary of Ordinary Extraordinary Animals by Lisa McGuinness and Leslie Jonath has *extraordinary* illusrations by Lisa Congdon.  That's the first thing I noticed.  As I thumbed through the beautiful pages, I then noticed the neat details in the entries for many animals commonly featured in children's books.  The elder lad was enthralled by this book, barely looking up from it as we drove home from school the day we checked it out of the library.

Jan Ormerod's When We Went to the Zoo has going for it an engaging story with interesting prose and meter -- not quite rhythmic, but still poetic.  This is not a new book -- just new to us, but it has become one of my favorite zoo books because of the writing.

Recent release A Zeal of Zebras: An Alphabet of Collective Nouns by Woop Studios speaks right to my word nerd heart, even though I am not really that big a fan of alphabet books.  This one is different because of the creativity in describing a multiplicity of a certain animal -- not necessarily one whose name begins with the sequential letter of the alphabet. Initially the elder lad dismissed this book as a bit beneath him -- he knows his alphabet already, after all, but once we got to the page with "A Quiver of Cobras", followed soon after by "A Shiver of Sharks", both he and the younger lad were paying attention.  I bet they were all along. 

These books along with A Sick Day for Amos McGee (which I reviewed here) and Michael Bond's Paddington Goes to the Zoo are the first ones that come to mind when I think of zoo-themed books ... for good reason.  They -- along with the wonder and excitement that bubble up from each of the bambini -- might just convince me that all the effort to pack up and trek all over the zoo might just be fun after all.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

upcycling for Sunday dinner

Talk about upcycling: remember Sammy the robot from the younger lad's fifth birthday?   When his robot days were over, his parts were used to make a tasty Sunday dinner with no metallic aftertaste.  Check it out at Foodie Proclivities.  My beloved cooks up some pretty good ideas.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

get this right

The younger lass rifled through a filing cabinet with some of my piano scores and found a spiral-bound booklet of the repertoire assigned to me my senior year of college. She slapped it up on the music desk and toddled off to do something else.

As I walked past the piano I caught sight of the score she had left open, and I stopped to thumb through the pages. It was the "working copy" where my piano professor and I noted all sorts of things related to the piece and its performance: fingerings, pedaling, dynamics, harmonic analysis, and phrasing, among other things like this note I scribbled:

get this right.
as in: quit making this same mistake here.  You know it's coming.  It's tripped you up enough times to merit a note in the score *and* a highlighter, so fix it already.  Don't make it again.

How many times in a day do I make the same mistakes or allow myself to edge too close to that line where I can't help but bungle a situation that presents itself over and over again -- one I've had the opportunity to address and learn from and traverse successfully going forward?  For whatever reason, I still make some of  the same mistakes.  

My dad says I use my music degree every day, even those days when I don't touch a piano.  Maybe this is what he means.  And thank the good Lord for his infinite mercy in forgiving those mistakes, even though I make them time and again.  Isn't that what Easter, which we are at last celebrating, is all about -- forgiveness of sins and everlasting life?

I don't operate under the delusion that I am perfect or will always handle every situation perfectly, but I would like to eliminate some of those oft-made mistakes by considering the factors that contribute to my making them and doing what needs to be done to set up a better outcome.  

Here's what I hope I did get right today:  I hope I made good use of the time God gave me this day to show his love and mercy to those around me.  I hope in those moments when I felt like I might lose my patience or withdraw from interaction in the face of some drama that I was able to recognize them inwardly and overcome them either by expressing those emotions in a healthy and respectful way or by waiting a minute to let them blow over.   I hope to have shown my bambini that Mama does make mistakes sometimes, as we all do, and that when I do I try my best to make amends, tend to the hurt I may have caused, and move on.

We do our best, says my Grannie, and that's all we can do.  Part of that is built on learning from our mistakes -- God willing, before warranting a highlighter's notice.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

big kid stuff

My dad calls it "big kid stuff": appliances breaking, ill children, school decisions, relationships, which end of the lamb cake to cut into first on Easter Sunday and who is going to have that honor...

It's the stuff of life, really: the daily joys and struggles that we have the (sometimes dubious) honor of navigating ourselves.  We are blessed beyond measure to have family and friends whose help we can trust is available, but ultimately we are responsible for making decisions that affect our bambini and ourselves, for following through on those decisions, and bearing the consequences (good or bad) that result.

Sometimes I have moments where I wish I could defer this navigational responsibility to someone else -- to revert to a more childlike state, but ultimately, I don't really want to go back there.  I'm a pianist, remember, independent by nature.  Along with the considerable responsibility of being a "big kid" comes the freedom to decide for ourselves and our family -- always with a heavy reliance on prayer for discerning the will of God.

I am deeply grateful to my parents for helping form me into the person I am today, one who is able to take life as it comes and roll with the punches. My beloved and I are working diligently to do the same for our bambini so that one day they might each know the freedom that comes from living in the stream of grace. 

Saturday, April 07, 2012

fun for all ages

At every holiday I find myself thinking of celebrations I experienced as a child.  The adults in my life worked hard (I now realize) to host fun events for me and any other children present, such as my Chicago cousins or the family with four children whose dad has been my dad's pal since high school.  They made it look so easy.

Now that my beloved and I have the honor of creating celebrations that I hope are happy-memory-filled for our bambini, I realize that it's not easy, that a lot of work goes into these types of events.  All too easily, the big day can arrive with parents too bleary-eyed to see the expressions of delight on the faces of their children and too snappish to be any fun to be around.

What a pity, considering all that work was done to make it fun for the kids. 

Much like planning a birthday celebration, when it comes to crafting a jolly holiday, collaboration and preparation go a long way toward making the event fun for everyone.  When it's a religious holiday, such as Easter we're celebrating this weekend, it's imperative to keep the focus on the entire reason for the celebration -- namely, Christ's redemptive sacrifice, God's infinite mercy, and the hope we have in eternal life because of those.

Sure: it's fun to go on Easter egg hunts and consume vast quantities of yummy treats (lamb cake, anyone?), especially after a long Lenten season of self-denial, but we would not be celebrating at all were it not for the Passion we celebrated on Good Friday and the Resurrection we herald on Easter morning.

With all that in mind, let the rejoicing and revelry begin!

Friday, April 06, 2012

via crucis

On this Good Friday...
The younger lad drew this on Ash Wednesday

"We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."
--from The Way (or Stations) of The Cross, or "Via Crucis"

Thursday, April 05, 2012


It's been a big day on our family calendar, as we've been celebrating my beloved's grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary, my beloved's birthday, and the anniversary of our engagement. The blessings stemming from these milestones are humbling in their magnitude and have been life-giving in many ways. What an honor it is to share in this jubilee.

Monday, April 02, 2012

my little librophile

We missed Storytime today but made it to the library after school to pick up our latest haul of books.  At bedtime when I asked, as I always do, the elder lass what the best part of her day was, she said first that she didn't want to tell me, then reluctantly (but without hesitation) she said, "getting fresh books."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

hand wash only

The elder lass seeks me out with some important information...
"Mom. There's a stomp rocket on the washer."
 from a recent field trip one of the lads took to the Air and Space Museum

"Does it need to be washed?" I ask her.

The look on her face is answer enough, but just to be clear she responds indignantly,
"No!  Stomp rockets don't go in the washer!" 

Which doesn't mean it wouldn't happen, which might precipitate this...
 ... and that wouldn't be good.
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