Saturday, June 30, 2012

green goodness

The vegetable garden in our backyard is on a great run.   Earlier this spring we had dumptruck loads of beets...
younger lass pushing dumptruck full of fresh beets with one boot on and one off
The lads' Tonka dumptruck makes a great produce-hauling mobile, especially with the younger lass at the wheel.

  ...garlic ...
homegrown garlic
homegrown garlic.  Who knew?!
 ... and peas.
elder lad holding garden-fresh peas in his school uniform shirt
School uniform shirts are good for holding freshly-harvested peas that younger sisters will soon devour.

We also had spinach, radishes, and carrots.  In recent weeks we've been enjoying green onions, white onions, an array of heirloom tomatoes...
heirloom tomatoes

 ... and some sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers.   My beloved has been tweaking his salsa recipe with the rest of us (even me, shockingly) serving as taste-testers.
hierloom tomatoes and Jimmy Nardello peppers
Juan Flamme heirloom tomatoes and Jimmy Nardello peppers from our garden with some thyme from Grandmare's garden
The elder lad has taken upon himself the morning watering duties, all the while doing his level best to keep his baby sister from plucking the unripe fruit from the tomato vines.  That's proving to be a mighty challenge.
green tomatoes in dumptruck

All the bambini have gotten into the garden-tending spirit, even sampling the fruits of their labors (some more willingly than others).  Seeing them out there working alongside their daddy is as sweet a sight as the taste is delicious from the "farm to table" produce just beyond our doorstep.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lego-rific birthday party

It's little secret that the seven-year-old elder lad likes Legos a whole lot, so it should come as no surprise that the theme for his seventh birthday festivities drew inspiration from those "bricks".    The lad's birthday coincided with Father's Day, which made me think back to the lad's very first weekend of life.  He was born in the first hour of Friday morning (after a long, long, long time in labor), and Father's Day was that Sunday.  We had our dads, the new grandfathers, come to our little house for a quiet but festive Father's Day celebration that year. 

This year we celebrated the two-in-one holiday with a Father's Day brunch after Mass for the dads on my beloved's side of the family with swimming and water frolicking that morning, followed by a birthday party that afternoon for the elder lad with our immediate family at our house.

For the family birthday party, Grandmare of course dreamed up some fun games with a Lego spin, including a board game...
lego board game
...the rules to which soon tweaked by the game players (which is just like them to do).

The games also included one involving plastic tubing (already a winner in our lads' estimation, as they very quickly began to imagine all the fun they'd have with that tubing and some water) and the manipulation of Legos through it in race-like fashion, and a Lego piñata that the lad made with his grandmother.

lego pinata
 There was a chocolate cake that the lad and I made together using Cooks Illustrated's "simple chocolate sheet cake" recipe that we (and by "we" I mean he) frosted with chocolate buttercream using a recipe I adapted from Martha Stewart (meaning I cut the sugar practically in half and added a little bit of cream cheese to the mixture).  In keeping with the Lego theme, he decided early on he wanted to use his prize Lego firetruck that stays assembled all the time.  We made the cake a warehouse on fire in need of the firetruck's services.  This worked out beautifully for me, as I only needed to pipe on some windows and doors and the requisite "happy birthday" conveyance. 

lego warehouse cake

Since his birthday was the day before Vacation Bible School, I made arrangements to supply a birthday treat for him to celebrate with the friends in his VBS group.  He requested a double-layer cookie cake.  Whoever heard of such a thing?!  Apparently it was quite the rage this past year in First Grade.  Using this recipe from Ghirardelli (minus macadamia nuts) times two and more buttercream frosting (ee-gads), we came up with this:
double-layer cookie cake with Lego minifigure decoration
Imagine, if you will, the Lego minifigure head.  This will help greatly in deciphering the frosting code of this cookie cake.
 More than sufficiently sugared up, the elder lad and his buddies went on to have a fun day riding the "Vatican Express." 

The festivities are over, but the Lego-ing continues even as the lad has fallen ill to a sore throat of sorts the past couple of days.  For the possibilities the Lego bricks provide by way of imagination into reality (of sorts) and the opportunity to parlay our lad's love for Legos into a celebration that was fun for the whole family, we are grateful for the blessing that is the lad's life and all that he brings to each of ours.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

twenty-some-odd questions: 7yo elder lad

Mama is seriously slacking on the post-birthday write-ups for the elder lad's seventh birthday.  At least I managed to interview on his actual birthday, and he was actually cooperative (if distracted while he was building with his Legos)...

How old are you?
elder lad: seven

How does it feel to be seven?
elder lad: good

What do seven-year-olds do? 
build thousands of Legos  

What's the most important thing you've learned in life so far? 
I don't know.

Are you a morning person or an evening person? 
night -- midnight person

What do you like learning about? 

Do you know what God's plan is for your life? 
Yes: to be a truck driver

Do you think you'll be a daddy someday? 

What's your favorite thing to do with Daddy? 
play Wii

What's your favorite thing to do with Mama? 

Tell me about our family. 
Um...  Uh... our family is big.

What are some of your hobbies? 
Well, Legos, play with trains, that kind of stuff...

What's your favorite color? 
reddish orange

What's your favorite food? 

What's your favorite restaurant? 
What's that restuarant called with the good sushi?
(a local place near our first family home; he goes for the fish roe on the outside of the salmon rolls my beloved orders)

What's you favorite dessert? 
chocolate cake

What's your favorite thing to wear? 

What's you favorite book? 
Magic Treehouse

What sports do you like to play? 
baseball, basketball, football, and golf

What's your favorite part of the playground? 
the monkey bars 

What's your favorite thing about school? 
meeting new friends

Who are your best friends?
[boys from his class]

What's your favorite TV show?  
Wild Kratts

What's your favorite movie?
Cars 2

What's your favorite song? 
Workin' on the Railroad

What's your favoirte toy to play with?
my Lego rocketship
to that I would add his maroon pick-up truck.  It's never far from him.

What are you going to be when you grow up?
a truck driver 

Anything else you want to say?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ringy dingy

Today would've been Aunt Robin's 51st birthday, and I didn't call my Grannie

I always try to call my Grannie on Aunt Robin's birthday -- or Papa Jack's -- and most definitely on Grannie's own birthday.  That's just how we do things.  As with there always being lamb cake for Easter, we always call each other on our birthdays, or on what would've been the birthdays of those we love but who are now departed from this life.

Grannie called late last week as we were driving to the last day of Vacation Bible School.  It was pretty early to be hearing from her, so I was initially concerned that something may be amiss.  It wasn't.  She was in good spirits, about to head out to help one of my aunts with some organizing.  Grannie has wizard-like skills in the organizational department -- specifically in the kitchen.   It had been a while since I had called her, in spite of my best intentions to call her at least once a week.   

*Once a week, Bonnie!  Is that so difficult?!  Especially considering how much time you spend driving in the car with that handsfree phone gadget?!*  

Not so long ago I did ring my Grannie-o to catch up on the "doings", as she calls them, only to chat for a minute with her dear friend there visiting all the while thinking it was Grannie.  Another time I called and interrupted her weekly bridge game with her "lady friends".  It was her turn to host.  She called me back later. 

Every time she calls she says something along the lines of, "I wasn't sure if this was a good time to call, so I just decided to try." I'm so glad she takes the chance.  I do that now too, not just with Grannie but with a few other cherished people.  I boldly acknowledge that I've taken the calculated risk of calling a fellow mother with young children at what might be their siesta time, hoping with great fervor that I won't awaken a bambini *thisclose* to drifting off to sleep for a sorely-needed siesta. 

When I've been on the receiving end of a call that I can't prudently answer, I don't answer it.  I hope this doesn't offend the caller, but most people who call me anymore realize that I'm not exactly sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.  It may take me a little (or a long) while to return the call, but knowing with certainty that someone I cherish has taken the time to call me has such a buoying effect on my spirits.  

I am often reticent to pick up the phone and call someone to say hello or indirectly ask for a pick-me-up in the form of a brief conversation for fear that they might be in the middle of something, but when I take the chance and hear his or her voice on the receiving end, I am so much the better for having done so. 

I'm sorry, Gran, that I didn't call you today.  Be expecting a call from me tomorrow...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

love song

The lads have been at Vacation Bible School riding "The Vatican Express" this week, doing art projects a la Michelangelo lying on the floor while painting pictures taped to the undersides of the desks they lie under and learning classic VBS songs like "Father Abraham".

A few nights ago before bedtime the elder lad had everyone up and dancing, arms flailing and voices singing along.

This morning the younger lad sang "skida-ma-rinky-dinky-dink, skida-ma-rinky-doo." to me, adding that he'd have to teach me the rest later after VBS because it was about a railroad.

He has yet to finish the lesson.

Monday, June 18, 2012


white board message written by elder lad
"Happy Monday Ev'ryone!  (Do not erase until all see.)"

Our elder lad turned seven yesterday.  He penned this message a few Sunday nights ago then covered it with a paper towel to keep everyone in suspense. That's just like him: always thinking of ways to get his message across, often employing his ten-dollar vocabulary and quick thinking to be as persuasive as possible.  He's rarely satisfied with half-baked responses, and he has developed an intriguing abhorrence to clutter and mess (the exception being the closet he shares with his younger brother, though he will get in there from time to time and work things over quite handily all on his own). 

His love endures for trucks and Legos.  He seems to have his father's mechanical inclinations, he is justifiably proud of his egg-scrambling skills, and art class is often the highlight of his school day.  He dotes on his baby sister (the younger lass) and is usually the only sibling who can convince the elder lass to share a book from the pile she brings along in the car (with the understanding that she'll get it back when he's finished with it).  He likes his brother, though in typical brother fashion each knows exactly where to push the other's buttons for spectacular effect. 

The seeds of his spiritual formation are taking root, and soon he will begin formal preparations for the sacrament of his First Eucharist. In the year to come, I pray the Lord will bless our lad with a deeper love for Christ and a willingness to use his many God-given gifts in service to the Lord by serving the people around him with kindness, respect, gentleness, and generosity. 

And please, Lord, let the spontaneous hugs and eagerness to work with me in the kitchen and elsewhere continue indefinitely...

Friday, June 08, 2012

this really happened.

Sometimes right on the heels of a sibling row comes a surprising note of harmony and hopefulness.  Here's another gem from the "I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried" collection:

Elder lad to younger lad: "I like you. I wouldn't have anything to do if I didn't have a brother."

Younger lad: "you would just stand there and cry?"

Elder lad: "no. I'd just sit on the sofa and stare at the fan. Wanna see?"

Thursday, June 07, 2012

chatty cathy

Out and about on my own for a little while today while the bambini were having "camp" with my beloved's mother, I found myself having a conversation with the girl who checked me out at Target, who eyed the stack of camo-patterned cargo shorts and pink polka-dotted swim shorts in various sizes and wondered aloud how many children I have.  Upon learning the answer, she divulged that she has four older brothers.  I asked her if they treated her well, and she said yes they did and that she liked to bake cookies for them, which inspired me to tell her that my father (who has three sisters) has long made a point of telling our lads how important it is to take good care of their sisters.  She concurred.

On the way out of Target I stopped for my favorite beverage, a rare indulgence.  As we waited for the espresso to brew, the barista asked me where I was off to from there.  "To pick up my four children," I answered, along with a few pleasantries.  I don't think that was the answer the barista was expecting, though I could be wrong.

At another stop on my list of errands, I had a lengthy discussion with the clerk about the return process for items ordered online and how some people expect the store employees processing said online returns to be "miracle workers" when unwanted items are brought in without receipts or other necessary paperwork.

As I walked out of that store I laughed inwardly at how chatty I had been with these people I'd never met before, beyond the basic friendliness that is characteristic of our region.  I don't consider myself all that great a conversationalist.  I can make fairly decent small talk, but I'm a little rusty from lack of sleep, and my attention is often divided among several entities.  This makes a conversation of much substance more challenging.

Fortunately for me, sometimes it only takes a few words of kindness to leave a lasting impression on another person, stranger or not.  I cherish the opportunities for more lengthy discussions with loved ones, and I hope the few words I can muster in my default soundbyte mode will be ones that uplift, heal, and encourage.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

help yourself

Somewhere in the mix of not being a cruise director yet still being present to the littles, there is this idea of cultivating in each of them the art of doing things for oneself.  This takes patient instruction and coaching.*

*she says as one lass flails on the floor upset about having to share a couple of toys while the other tugs on Mama's pant leg demanding to be held while the lads are chasing each other through the kitchen with blunt objects rather than completing some age-appropriate task such as making one's bed or clearing one's cup and plate after lunch, and the collective emotional temperature gets higher and higher...

I have to write about such pie-in-the-sky ideals to keep sight of the long view I try to take, especially when it seems everyone is all out of sorts, with siblings going feral on each other and Mama close to wit's end to try to restore some sense of peace and positive vibe (or endure, at the very least). This does happen, believe it or not, more often than I would like. We all have our moments.

From the beginning, the idea of mothering has a daunting, breath-stealing, overwhelming idea for me to imagine myself being successful executing. Taking a proactive approach to everything from the day's routine to the tending of infants and young children has been my way of trying to do what sometimes seems impossible.

In terms of logistics and efficiency, sometimes it is simply easier to do things for the bambini that they (at least some) can now do themselves because not so long ago we had multiple very young children in need of diapering, feeding, clothing, and just about everything else. Engaging everyone in activities fell right in with these other needs. Given the temperaments of our children and the resulting dynamics, this proactive approach has been necessary.

Now as the bambini are getting a little older, they are finding more opportunities for self-directed exploration and entertainment as well as lending more practical help with household duties like emptying the dishwasher and putting laundry away. They are still very young, but there's a lot they can contribute to the family's functioning well being.  They can also do a lot more for themselves, though they don't always want to, and they play together a lot of the time, though they don't always get along very well.  They still need close supervision, but they don't always need me right next to them, though they don't always agree with me on that point.

Along the way I may have inadvertently deferred their growth in self-sufficiency out of a sincere desire to do something constructive mixed with a little bit of fear of the resulting chaos that comes from a lack of direction/sleep/attention/growing food/whatever. I was doing the best I knew to do at the time, and the experience I have gleaned from that informs the way I manage things nowadays, which may or may not be the same as how I did them in those freaky early days of motherhood.  As we all grow up a little more each day as a family we're each figuring out how to take care of ourselves.  It's all part of the journey, isn't it?  

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

the happy medium

It's not like I'm trying to be like an activities director on a cruise ship by having a daily agenda with planned activities (and snacks) throughout the day, although there are some definite similarities between managing a brood of young children and captaining a large ship.  I'll steer clear of corny puns (oh, sorry) and leave it at the skipper reference -- although any kind of group maneuver does take a long time to execute.

I'm hoping to find that elusive happy medium between being someone the bambini expect to entertain them and an all-but-absent adult presence in an otherwise kid-ruled space.  My goal is to provide an environment rich with possibilities for the bambini to learn, think, imagine, and create with loving guidance and sincere encouragement -- an environment in which virtues are cultivated by the consideration we show for each other and the obvious primacy of place our faith has in our lives.

It's a proactive approach that does take a lot of work on the front end, but I'm hopeful that we are laying the foundation for a lifetime of exploration, study, and prayer that each of our bambini will feel confident in undertaking as they seek out God's will for each of their lives.

Monday, June 04, 2012

the next chapter

Now that the elder lad is reading independently, we've moved into a new category of books to consider.  While he may read 12 books in a day in order to fill up a reading log, he has also been spotted curled up with some books of longer length and greater depth that he can work through on his own (which he prefers to reading at the appointed time on the agenda).

elder lad reading on the sofa with his shoes on
I'm willing to overlook the shoes on the sofa pillow this one time because he's reading Little Tim.
The children's librarian at our local library branch offered some suggestions for the lad's exploration based on his affinity for Mary Pope Osborne's The Magic Treehouse series that he started reading last summer with his grandmother.  They include the Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures series starring Flat Stanley from the picture book by Jeff Brown (by a different author), as well as the Andrew Lost series by J.C. Greenburg about a precocious young inventor who shrinks himself in the course of his scientific escapades.  The lad and his father and brother read several of the Andrew Lost books over the winter.  The Flat Stanley books are now in the queue.  She recommended several others, including a few different mystery series and some science-based ones, both of which seem right up the lad's alley. 

elder lad reading with a stack of books beside him
a little light reading
On a recent trip to visit the Chicago family, my dad returned with a sack full of books as gifts from his sister (the younger lad's godmother) for the bambini from -- get this -- a *local* bookshop.  One of the books was Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty for President -- a comedic crash course in politics for the newly-minted chapter book crowd.  Having finished that volume, a few more Bad Kitty books came home from the library in today's haul of fresh books.

While we were at the library this morning, Grandmare suggested the lad try reading Buttons: The Dog Who Was More Than A Friend by Linda Yeatman and illustrated by Hugh Casson.  Apparently it is a favorite among her third graders

We haven't seen the movie yet, but we did lay claim to a new-to-us volume of Herge's graphic novel series about a detective named Tintin, a character near and dear to the lads' hearts.

Along with the home library favorites starring Edward Ardizzone's unassuming but heroic Little Tim, some non-fiction tomes explaining the "hows" and "whys" of things, and some denser picture books (including Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums, a new one by Audrey Vernick, who wrote one of my favorite getting-ready-for-school books Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?), the lad also digs The Berenstain Bears and Scooby Doo.

As he nears his seventh birthday and his second grade year, the elder lad is all about helping out.  I'm so glad and grateful that he's also often about reading, even if he may deny it.  When it's on his own terms, he's much more enthusiastic.  With an intriguing and challenging array of books such as these (among others), here's hoping his love for reading will continue to grow.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

recorded for posterity

To the almost-seven-year-old elder lad: "would you please unload the dishwasher?"

With no trace of guile he responds "oh yes! I hardly ever get to do this!"

I can fix that.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

survey says...

We go through a lot of yogurt in this house.  A lot.  One might reasonably expect our digestive tracts would be the healthiest on the block (such a pleasant mental picture. You're welcome.).  We go through so much yogurt that we ought to try making our own, but we haven't gotten there yet.  Seeing as how the elder lad is always in search of a science project, maybe that should be our next one.

(or maybe not)

The brand of yogurt we buy has a reward system going wherein we enter codes from the yogurt lids and accrue points that can be redeemed for coupons and "freebies" and what not.  Once when I went to enter in a stack of codes, as the lids tend to pile up on the counter before I get around to entering them in, a brief survey popped up before the code-entering screen loaded.  The multiple-choice questions were mainly about how much yogurt we buy and in what ways we use yogurt.  It seemed the most appropriate response to each question was the maximum one -- how much yogurt we go through in a week, if we bake/make smoothies/finger paint with yogurt (just kidding on the last one -- except the toddler), things like that.  My beloved and I got a good laugh out of the survey.  At its conclusion we appeared to be ideal candidates for a "man on the street" advertising campaign for the company.

children licking their frozen yogurt bowls clean
lapping up "sweet milk" -- the melted frozen yogurt that no one can bear to waste
One way we love to use yogurt is for making our own frozen yogurt -- chocolate, no less.  Here's how we do it...
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