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.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

the pause that refreshes

Backtracking a little, the Gospel reading this past Sunday is resonating with me several days later. Jesus and his disciples try to take some downtime, only to be met with people in need of their ministry and mercy.  The opportunity to fill in for an absent pianist was in itself just such a retreat from my everyday circumstances for a little while.  Afterward I felt refreshed and ready to dive back into the busy-ness and emotionally demanding work of caring for my four young children (if also a little sheepish about the mistakes that characterize some "rusty" piano playing -- the bambini couldn't care less about those).

How often does it happen to parents who try to take a moment's retreat before reengaging back into the challenging work of ministering to their children that something comes up preventing the parents from taking that time for the purpose of renewing what might be lagging spirits?  In my own experience, it's plenty of times.  I know I'm not the only one to face this.  In the Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are moved with pity for the people who meet them at what is supposed to be their resting place, and those in need are cared for and taught with compassion.  While I do my best, I can't say I'm always as gracious when this scene plays out in my own realm.  We can't give what we don't have. 

It's my nature to keep pushing through fatigue and similar symptoms, but the risk of burnout is great.  The effects of that aren't at all the kind of legacy I want to leave with my children.  While the extraction process for Mama to depart and go do something else for a while, such as play the piano at church or visit with friends or pursue some other hobby lately relegated to the back burner (or cooling rack, as it were, not even simmering anymore) can be fraught with emotion, it's getting easier for me to get out the door and do a few things such as these every once in a while.  The bambini have come to relish their days at "camp" with Grandmare or their time spent at home with Daddy-o while I am out for a little while.  This is a great relief to everyone, as it should be.  I hoped this would eventually be the case, and it often is. 

Sometimes I think I stay a little too close to home, but as the heart of ours, I am happy to be here.  Still, everyone needs a break now and then.  As I get a little more mothering under my belt, I find myself better able to articulate the legitimate need for a change of scenery, a little breathing room, and some time to regroup.  When a rejuvenated Mama returns, everyone is the better for it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

always listening

At the breakfast proceedings this morning, the elder lad said something that flat out did not make any sense -- highly unusual for our always-thinking analytical future Mack truck driver, not so much for me. When I questioned him on the gaffe, he said "oh, excuse me. I haven't had my coffee yet."

(For the record, he doesn't drink coffee.)

"Where have you heard that before?!" I asked, knowing the answer already.

"From you," he said with a sort of smirk, at once sheepish but confident.

Oh my.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

like riding a bike

A few times now recently I have warmed the bench of the piano at the Catholic parish where I had served as music and liturgy director before the elder lad arrived on the scene.  Going back to play the piano is at once easy yet challenging, comfortable yet awkward, as not only am I not exactly in practice like I was when I was playing several masses in one weekend, but also time has marched on for the people of that parish just as it has for my family and me.  Some things are as ever. Some things are a lot different.  In many ways, it's like riding a bike: it all comes back quickly once I settle down and get going.

Few things allow me a more direct route to that place of prayer in action like playing the piano at Mass.  It truly is a blessing and honor to be able to use this gift from God at his service.  Balancing serving him by playing at mass with serving him by serving my young family at home is something I'm still trying to discern and navigate.  I always envisioned my children nearby as I played the piano, either at home or church, somehow finding it completely normal for me to be doing that while they were doing something else.  It hasn't worked out that way.  Maybe the time for that is just now beginning, or maybe it has yet to arrive, or maybe the eventual solution will be somewhere in between...

Monday, July 23, 2012

for my favorite Anglophiles

With the London Olympics about to begin soon and my brother- and sister-in-law (the ones who lived in London for a while) about to arrive for a highly-anticipated visit, today I offer a selection of favorite children's books from across the pond.

Each one of M. Sasek's This Is... set of travel books for children is a trip of its own.  The books were written in the '60s, but some of them have been reprinted recently with necessary updates given in a list at the end of each book.  The fun watercolor illustrations and whimsical prose make these books great read-alouds to the younger ones, even if some of the references to historical events and people are obscure to the wee ones.  I find these books so charming and have been known to give them as gifts to adults (specifically This Is Edinburgh to my father, whose father -- my Papa Jack -- emigrated from Scotland with his family at the age of seven -- my elder lad's present age.) -- they're that fun.  With books on major cities of the world -- and Texas, oddly enough -- this series would be a fun collection to have if one had the shelf space.

paddington bear, M. Sasek's This Is London, and Peter Rabbit

My brother-in-law the Londoner once brought the elder lad (when the latter was an only lad) a stuffed Paddigton Bear and cup with super fun straw.  Thus began a long friendship with the bear from "Darkest Peru."  We've read most of Michael Bond's original story collections, listened to some of them on audiobooks, and pored over the picture books "for younger readers".  Suffice it to say, we are big fans of Paddington.

Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan. It's about a critter named Dodsworth who goes to London with his loquacious duck. They get separated when the duck gets on a double-decker bus without Dodsworth, who thinks the duck with the fascinator (who is the Royal Duck, pet of the queen) is his duck being silly. The pair end up lodging at Buckingham Palace at the queen's invitation.

What discussion of British children's books would be complete without mentioning Beatrix Potter?  Grandmare lent us her big book of Miss Potter's stories a while back, and we have yet to return it. 

As exciting as the Olympics are to witness, the best part for me will be the time spent with family in town for a too-short visit.  As with Britain's royal wedding a year and a half ago, the sporting events themselves don't affect me personally.  The connection to loved ones and opportunities to pore over good books with my bambini are golden.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

road trippin'

We recently drove a half day's distance from our home to a family reunion with my Chicago family. Long before we rolled out on this expedition, I was consumed by preparations. With the mental image of four restless children bickering with each other and chiming in on a chorus of ear-piercing screams not all that difficult to imagine (ahem), I searched high and low for ideas to while away the hours peacefully.  Thanks to lots of help from the bambini's grandmothers and that new-fangled time sucker Pinterest, we came up with an array of "amusements" that kept the kiddos engaged both in the car and at the hotel during "downtime" (such as it was), all tucked neatly (for a while, anyway) into "treat bags" with the bambini's names written on them.

I packed some sticker books, of course, Lego- and big truck- and build-your-own-cupcake-themed, in various sizes and formats according to age of the child who would be using the book. We brought along a haul of fresh library books too.  There were also -- thanks to the grandmothers -- car games (including this license plate game), flash cards, mazes, and Color Wonder markers and paper.   There were these nifty magnetic baking sheets complete with magnet-backed family photos which were perfect for playing with both in the car and using as a lap desk in the hotel (and now back at home).  Here are lots of ideas to run with the magnetic trays.

magnetic tray for road trip

There were games Grandmare authored herself relating to the family favorite "Cookie Mouse" books and guessing games to play with siblings, stuffed animal puppets for impromptu puppet shows, and books to read as the miles went by.

For the youngest traveler I was more than a little concerned about how to keep her happy on the long drive.  She flipped through the picture books and fiddled with the sticker books a little bit, but here again the grandmothers really came through with great ideas.  The younger lass loved fiddling with all the flash cards: putting them in the box, taking them back out, stuffing them into her treat bag, shuffling through them.  She and her sister were both mesmerized by these "I Spy" bottles filled with rice, small trinkets, and tiny photos, then glued *and* Duct taped closed.

"I Spy" bottle
What?  My piano cabinet is dusty?  Why would it be dusty?

The lassies also each got tiny little purses ...

tiny purse
if ever there is a perfect pastime for a toddler, it's a tiny purse from which she can pluck things then stuff them back in

filled with, of all things...
toddler hand in tiny purse
what's in there?
 tiny little piggies (and band-aids -- Grandmare knows these girls well.)
show me the piggie
show me the piggie!
With all these amusements (among others in the treat bags revealed one at a time) as well as those to see out the window (a truck that can run on the railroad!  huge Mack trucks!  enormous oddities of all stripes!), the traveling was, for the most part (and except for the last leg home), peaceful.  Even still, the biggest trick up our proverbial sleeve came in the form of one Mimivan, in which rode Mimi, Papa, and Annie, sometimes in front of us, sometimes behind.  The bambini were able to trade off riding in the two vehicles, and this was a great coup.  We realize what a blessing and help this was in the overall success of the trip and are most grateful.

Packing for the trip came down to stuffing packaging whole outfits (including underwear, socks, bows, etc.) into separate zippered bags such as those that sheets and comforters come in or plastic ziptop baggies (I didn't devote the time to cranking out my own homemade mesh bags, though this is where I got the idea).  While it might seem wasteful to use so many ziptop baggies for this purpose, we didn't throw them away when we got home.  We'll find ways to reuse the baggies.  This did simplify the dressing process on the trip a great deal.  I've put this idea to use in the bag I keep stocked with fresh changes of clothes for everyone that goes with us everywhere.  Interestingly, the bambini seem to take real pride in having their separate bags tucked into the larger one. 

My beloved packed the Bambini Ride the night before we rolled out so that early the next morning we could wake up, get everyone freshened up, retrieve the smoothies we'd whazzed up the night before, get in the car and go.  We had breakfast cookies and other snackies at the ready for breakfast on the go.  We stopped a couple of times to freshen up and allow the bambini to switch cars.  We still made good time to our destination and had the afternoon and evening to visit with our family.

Our return trip home went fairly well, though there were no nappers as I thought there would be since we left for home after a full morning of playing at the fabulous children's museum.  This made for some dicey times midway through the trip, but eventually the overtired bambina was placated enough to make it home in reasonably good spirits.

It wasn't without its bumps in the road, but our first major family road trip was a success thanks to many prayers and a lot of preparation (and not just by me).  Along with the renewed family ties and great memories we made, each of us learned some valuable lessons in flexibility and adaptability -- skills we all need for the long haul.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

family reunion

You know that scene at the end of Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase's character Clark Griswold surveys the scene around him after all of his relatives have witnessed firsthand the collision of reality with his dream of a "fun old-fashioned family Christmas" and says in amazement to himself, "I did it."?

I can relate.

Last week our young family mounted an expedition unlike anything we'd done before.  We took a road trip.  Not just a short jaunt to visit my parents and sister -- a trip upwards of 350 miles.  Sure: other families have done this sort of thing plenty of times.  I myself was a veteran road-tripper by the age of five, driving more than twice that distance one way with my father (who did the actual driving) to visit our Chicago family before my Papa Jack passed away.  Still, this was the first time the family my beloved and I are privileged to parent went on such an adventure.  We, along with my parents and sister, met our Chicago family for a reunion.  There were some among them we'd never met (children, that is), and vice versa, and although Grannie had come to stay with us a couple of times and each of my aunts had come for short visits, it had been a long time since nearly all of Grannie's descendants were together.  Even still, we missed my cousin the doctor who recently began her residency. 

The first moments of our reunion were similar to the scene in Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came, illustrated by Stephen Gammell.  There was lots of hugging and chattering and more hugging and laughing and more hugging.  In the story, the relatives have driven a long, long way from their family farm to visit their loved ones.  They pack the house and sleep practically piled upon one another (not unlike the many Fourth of July holidays happily spent at Grannie's lake cottage) and stay for weeks, helping the host family tend to their garden (while eating up all its produce) and other household upkeep.  Then, after lots more hugs, they pack up their station wagon and head home with visions of next summer when the ones who made the trip this year will be the hosts.  In spite of the physical distance that separates the two branches of the family tree, there is a bond evident that isn't diminished by time and space, one that every family surely aspires to retain.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

For our family reunion we met not quite in the middle and stayed at a hotel, which was a grand adventure for our bambini.  Our Bambini Ride isn't rainbow-colored like the station wagon in the story, but it was packed pretty much to the gills like the fictional vehicle. 

The book's illustrator Stephen Gammell won a Caldecott Medal for the artwork that brings this story to life, as he did for (among others) Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman, another book we enjoyed about a grandfather regaling his grandchildren with stories of his days as a vaudeville performer.

Seeing the cousins I'd spent many summers with as a child now all grown up like me (or are we?), one with children of her own, the bond between us was renewed.  When we were much younger, we'd write letters to each other.  Yes: letters -- as in paper, pens, envelopes and stamps.  I'd write them to my cousins, I'd write them to my Grannie, and they'd write them back to me.  So when I stumbled upon David Ezra Stein's Love, Mouserella, I hastily requested it. 

Love, Mouserella by David Ezra Stein

Mouserella has just bidden her grandmother farewell after a visit, and already Mouserella misses her.  Sound familiar?  So Mouserella writes a letter to her dear grandmother, telling her about anything and everything that's going on and providing illustrations.  This sweet story conjures up memories of me writing to my Grannie upon my return home from her house, missing her already and eager to keep the conversation going. We still try to do that now by phone and e-mail, not so much with letters.  The occasional card is always considered "fun mail."

Though we are separated by nearly 800 miles, the connection we have to our Chicago family is important to us to keep alive.  Though traveling has been difficult for us in recent years, we saw an opportunity to give it a go with lots of help from my parents and sister along the way as well as lots of help from my beloved's parents before we left.  Our family is blessed beyond measure to have the love and support of so many relatives and friends.  For all of that, for the gift of time we've recently had to spend together, and for the safe trip we made, I will always be grateful.

I think Clark Griswold would be proud.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

back in business

There is much rejoicing in these parts over a tiny piece of six-pronged plastic:
blender coupler

It's called a coupler, and it connects the base of the blender to its jar.  This is our second replacement coupler, just arrived a couple of days ago, after searching high and low and everywhere else for the one I had ordered a few months ago and stashed for when the then-current coupler finally lost all its prongs in the process of twice-daily drinakable yogurt and smoothie blending.

blender full of drinakable yogurt
Considering the amount of blending that goes on around here every day with all the yogurt we consume, it's understandable a few parts of the blender would need replacing now and then.  In the interim we made use of this behemoth for the daily blending needs:

food processor
While it did an admirable job pinch hitting (blending?) for the laid-up blender, I'm ever so grateful my handy husband was able to get the blender back up and running like the washing machine (among other things).  I fully expect the missing part to turn up any day now that we've gone and ordered another one.  That's alright.  We may need it eventually, considering we whaz up (to borrow an expression from chef Jamie Oliver) 4,621 gallons of smoothies or thereabouts each year.

Occasionally, the elder lad has been known to swill a sip or two of drinkable yogurt.  He developed his own recipe...
elder lad's smoothie recipe

 ... and (with supervision) he takes care of the blending.
elder lad drinking yogurt and giving thumbs up sign

Here's the recipe I've come to expect for breakfast, a mid-morning snack, a drink to take along on the afternoon school pick-up run, or a bedtime snack (I blend it up after dinner and stash it in the fridge):

Mama's Go-To Smoothie:
3-4 frozen strawberries
3-4 frozen peach slices
5-6 frozen blackberries
2/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt (sometimes I use Greek yogurt for half of this amount)
1/3 cup apple juice
1/3 cup Green Goodness juice
1 Tablespoon flax oil

Welcome back, Blender.  It's great to hear you whirring again.  Food Processor, we thank you for going above and beyond.  We'll let you go back to blending up salsa and what not...

Thursday, July 05, 2012

free to be...

Our Independence Day observance began bright and early with some spectacular aural fireworks.  They flamed out once the drinkable yogurt was poured and the pint-sized firecracker was dressed in Fourth of July-appropriate attire, though there were a few more rounds of outbursts from some other firecrackers throughout the course of the holiday, which was a quiet one for us spent recouperating and resting.

Some of the fireworks had to do with not getting what one wanted when that one wanted it.  Such is not uncommon around here in this season of family life.  Dealing with the big feelings, underlying needs, and objective reality that are all wrapped up in one caterwauling little person is tricky business.  Reacting with empathy and objectivity are always my goals, but they aren't always the way I actually react -- especially with all the variables thrown in. Sometimes I am anything but empathetic and objective. We all have our moments.

After a day spent focused on pointing out the effects one child's behavior has on his or her siblings (and parents) in real time, the long view kicks in as I reflect on the day and its ups and downs.  With so much emphasis on "freedom" and "personal freedom" around our nation's Independence Day celebration, episodes such as these are powerful examples of what freedom is and isn't. In exercising our free will, our faith teaches us to consider the effects our choices and behaviors have on other people, as we are all part of the mystical Body of Christ.

We can't always have what we want when we want it. Someone else may be adversely affected, even hurt, by the way we act upon our desires, which we may or may not realize. What we want might not be good for us literally or spiritually. And while we may have the free will to act as we please, we will be held accountable for our actions by others and ultimately to God himself.

These are lessons we are presently teaching on a very basic level, but it's a lifelong process dealing with disappointment and learning how to channel the free will God gives us into the outlets he wishes us to utilize in his service. As adults we may know all too well that we don't always get what we want when we want it. We may not throw fits about that disappointing reality -- or maybe we do, each in our own way.  We might think ourselves so independent, as in "I'm an adult and I'll do as I please," or "I can do it all by myself," but we're all connected to each other in ways big and small, seen and unseen.

Free to be me yet dependent on Christ and on those around me, I pray for the grace to live in the freedom that comes from being the person God calls me to be, doing right by the people around me as best I can for the glory of God.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

parts of speech

The elder lad has been waylaid by a nasty summer cold, running a high fever for several days and struggling with a sore throat as well as head and nasal congestion.  On Saturday we worked our way through a few pages from our book of Junior Mad Libs (with Mama-imposed limits on potty word usage) during a break from the "glowing screen".  With an understanding of the basic parts of speech, he was able to choose words from the list of suggested ones easily to fill in the blanks, and he took great care in making his selections.  As fun as it was working through the short "libs," the best part was hearing him laugh at the resulting silly story.

Later that evening I took him to urgent care to be tested for Strep throat.  That came back negative.  The doctor said it was likely a summer cold, albeit a miserable one, and let him know that popsicles* counted as "drink" in an effort to push the fluids.

Once we finally got home from urgent care and got the lad tucked into bed, I laid next to him for a few minutes as he was settling in.  I told him that I loved him more today than I did yesterday, and that I would love him more tomorrow.  This is not the first time I had said such a thing to him (or his siblings or their father). 

"How can you love me more tomorrow than you do today?" he wondered aloud, if a little sleepily. 

"Because love grows," I told him.  "It doesn't keep to itself.  It reaches out and keeps going.  Love is a verb.  It means working for the good of the other person as well as the feelings we have for that person.  I want to be the best mother I can be for you, to do all I can to help you be the person God calls you to be.  That's loving you."

That might been a heady explanation for a sleepy, sniffly lad seeking some assurance of his mother's love and presence throughout the long night ahead when he struggled to sleep, but it laid the groundwork for future discussions about how we are called to place ourselves in the service of others. 

We'll save those discourses for when he's feeling better...

*as for the popsicles, we've (and by "we" I mean my beloved in collaboration with other non-sniffly bambini) been freezing fruit juice in popsicle molds I found in the dollar section at Target a few years ago, sometimes fancying it up a bit by layering one flavor of juice on top of another.   Nifty. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

sugar and spice

The baking and frosting of the elder lad's birthday confections were collaborative efforts (though the consumption was every lad for himself).  As fun as that was for both of us, the birthday lad and I, if we had had some helpers like the ones in Who Made This Cake, that would've been infinitely more exciting.

Who Made This Cake

In this charming story written by Chihiro Nakagawa and illustrated by Junji Koyose, tiny construction workers bring in big construction equipment and even a helicopter to bake a birthday cake (in the microwave, oddly), frost it with whipped cream, and festoon it with birthday felicitations.  Does it get much better for a lad who likes to have "cooking camp" in the kitchen with his mama and still has an insatiable interest in trucks and construction vehicles?  The elder lad thinks not.

I've reviewed some of our favorite baking-related and construction-related books before (with a follow-up to the cookie post here), but never one that combined both fascinations.  That virtually guarantees its place among the perennial favorites and a must-read for every birthday celebration.

Sunday, July 01, 2012


We took the Bambini Ride to the car wash not too long ago, an outing the bambini usually heartily enjoy.  Even without my glasses or contacts on I could tell that the wash we'd been through was not satisfactory, with soap left on the vehicle as well as dirt.  At first I thought I'd go rinse it myself at the quarter car wash, but that didn't seem right. So I called the car wash manager, explained the situation, and asked for a pass through to rinse off the vestiges of soap and dirt.  He said to bring it back, so we did.  He gave us a higher dollar car wash on his nickel than the one we'd purchased, and the Ride looks great (snack remnants on the inside notwithstanding; vacuuming wasn't part of the deal to begin with).

My dad has been known to describe himself as essentially lazy, preferring to do a good job the first time with the requisite preparation and seemingly extraneous attention to detail that makes for the best end result than having to go back and do the job over again.  He says he learned this the hard way, having to wash his grandmother's windows more than once when his first effort didn't pass her muster. I've had to redo some lackluster jobs of my own, and I always think of him saying that bit about him being lazy, which is the last word I would ever use to describe him.

Speaking up for myself to ask someone else to redo a job they did for me that wasn't good enough does not come easily for me, like so many other conversations with conflict potential.  I did it anyway.  It's part of the growing up I'm doing as a mother.

We all make mistakes.  We all might even cut corners from time to time for whatever reason.  Don't we all hope for the opportunity to do it over when we know we need to?  That's a tactic we've employed with our very young bambini -- the chance for "do overs" when they've mishandled a situation.  Second chances aren't just for toddlers learning how and when to use their "inside voice".  Adults need second chances sometimes, too.

The car wash conundrum may have been a first world problem (and an insignificant one at that), but it afforded a teachable moment for our bambini (and for me) about the inherent dignity in and importance of doing a good job at whatever task is at hand, to take pride in the work we do for the glory of God, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable for doing that kind of good work, accepting responsibility for when we don't quite make the grade.

That's what I tried to tell the bambini on our second pass through the car wash, but I think the colored foam, octopus-like brushes, and blow dryer might have drowned me out.  That's alright.  Perhaps the actions of speaking up, going back, and seeing the final fantastic result spoke for themselves.
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