Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29th

Happy Leap Day, everyone!

I got roses, a beautiful dozen, and some dark chocolate from my sweetheart today because ... today is the anniversary of our first date! It's been twelve years since that day we sipped hot chocolate in the student union on a rainy day, but we only get to celebrate it on the Actual Day every four years. And we do this instead of Valentine's Day, because it just seems more special and personal.

Our good friend Steve, who recently stayed at our house for a few nights before he could move into his new apartment, offered to watch the kiddos so we could go out for dinner. Now that's what I call generosity. :-) There are so many fabulous places in Austin, not necessarily that expensive but still delish, to choose from ... I think we're going to try a little place called Mandolo's this time, though.

Oh, and I was going to write up this long post about our day at Friday co-op, but something happened afterward that struck me as more blogworthy (or not fit to print, depending on your taste, but you probably wouldn't be reading this blog if you belonged in the latter category): after co-op, we stopped by the library so I could pick up the Herriot books that were on hold for me and the kids could make their selection.

Mistake #1: Taking overtired two-year-old who had missed afternoon nap to the library.
Mistake #2: Thinking that after the FIRST time I took her to the bathroom and she pushed out a poop of impressive size, she was done.

If you can picture an older sister sitting on the potty while the younger one dances around shrieking that she needs to make "another poop!", the mother pleading with the older one to make shorter shrift of her business, the younger one finally getting her chance and doing her own business (clutching her mother's neck for support) while two other patrons open the door (which the mother forgot to lock) for the ONE bathroom in the library, only for the mother to find that part of the business has somehow, without her noticing, ended up on the bathroom floor, and thus on the bottom of the toddler's bright pink Ked, and thus in tracks all over the floor, resulting in the mother's needing to scrub the bathroom floor -- and the shoes! -- with paper towels and hot water, shooing her daughters out the door to stand with the desperate patrons in the hallway, and then needing to shuffle up to the library desk, mumble an apology and a recommendation for Lysol to the librarian (the librarian! with gray hair! and pursed lips!) and have to admit, in answer to said librarian's question, that the mess in question was "Number Two" ... well, you've got the picture just about right.

Once again, Happy Leap Day, everyone. May yours be markedly more fragrant.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

He wants his money back

I opened my much-thumbed copy of Creative Sketches for Scrapbooking tonight, determined to finish my layout on our September excursion to Walden Pond in MA. I have to tell you, I scraplift from that book ALL THE TIME (which is to say, all the time that I scrapbook, which is pathetically little, which is why I totally rely on inspiration from others). Why re-invent the wheel when the brilliant Becky Higgins has already done all the work to draw these nifty layouts, to be adapted at one's fancy? She shows a sketch and then shows how she and three or four others designed scrapbook pages from it. Anyway, guess what I saw, at the bottom of the page, in the unmistakable, spindly handwriting of a certain 7 year old?

"I thought there were sketches in here." (WITH QUOTES!)

Dude. So aggrieved.

And so sneaky.

And yet ... so endearing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

To sleep, perchance to dream ...

Here's a quirk of my youngest's personality: throughout her short life, she has gone through phases where she takes at least an hour, often more, to fall asleep (we're talking after the nursing and bedtime stories). We are currently in such a phase. Since she is my third and I have a sense of perspective I didn't have previously, I can be generally hakuna matata about it, except on those nights when we have people over and I would really like to be out there, singing or playing Wise and Otherwise (a game for adults and the most enthused Ian). And, I can make lemonade by using the time to read -- big bonus. Sometimes I suspect my being in the room with her is actually preventing her from settling, but if I leave, she cries, and I'm not a fan of letting kids cry themselves to sleep.

Any thoughts from the gentle-parenting peanut gallery?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Book/Movie Recommendations

For our most recent Family Movie Night, we picked a winner, thanks to a recommendation in Wondertime magazine (which I love, it's like the perfect niche-filler between Mothering and Family Fun). First, you must know that our kids are by way of being somewhat nuts about the story of Robinhood. They've read at least one book about it, listened to the story on CD dozens of times, watched the Disney version two or three times, you get the pic. So, we procured, from Netflix, the 1938 version, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It had just the right amount of swashbuckling and swordfighting for Ian and just the right amount of everything else for Eliza (and the rest of us). And the right amount of foul language and, uh, innuendo. That is to say, zero. They don't make family movies like this anymore! A delight.

I also just finished reading James Herriot's Every Living Thing -- and I have to say, how did I miss out on Herriot for all these years? I'm not even an animal person, but I adored this book! Can't wait to go back to the beginning and start with All Creatures Great and Small.

Oh, and an unrelated weekend highlight: while Tim and Ian biked down to the Regional Science Fair, where Ian had a project on display (don't look at me -- his science teacher at co-op arranged the whole thing! Ian just had to talk about it to the judges -- oh to be a fly on the wall for that one!), and Caroline took a marathon nap, Eliza and I got to spend some lovely mother-daughter stamping time on Saturday. We made birthday cards for my dear friend Vanessa, who's turning 30 this week, and for my MIL. May I strut my stuff? I'm a novice, and I shamelessly plagiarize ideas from SplitcoastStampers, but I really like how this came out!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Being Blended

This morning as I was reading my Bible, I came across some lines in my study guide that talked about how in our service to God, we need to overcome individualism. In other words, God cannot be satisfied with our serving Him or even being righteous or pious, all in an individual way. He wants us to learn to coordinate with others, to be blended together -- which can be hard when we'll all emphasizing our own gifts. I asked the Lord how this applies to me in my own situation, since most of my service to Him consists in the things I do day in and day out with my own children, and it really is just me -- not a whole lot of opportunity to coordinate with others. Besides, the world around us really admires "Renaissance people," as our listening to the story of Leonardo Da Vinci today reminded me -- now that man was a genius at practically everything!

So I had a tiny experience later today that struck me as bit of an answer. Lately I've sort of been outsourcing more of our homeschooling (Anne, your post really struck a chord!) by participating in two different co-ops -- one on Monday, which we've done for five semesters now, and, mostly recently, one on Friday, which requires full parent participation (i.e., it's not a drop-off thing, as is Monday). The Friday thing is different in several ways, and I'm starting to enjoy the sense of community it engenders (plus, Ian gets to take a class on The Dangerous Book for Boys), but I'm always exhausted by the end of the day! Anyway, during the first of our three class periods today, I was assisting in Eliza and Caroline's class, called "Storytime, Circle and Craft." The mom who teaches is very sweet, very mild-mannered, and I have to admit that a part of my mind was critiquing her style a bit -- I felt she could stand to be a bit more, um, dramatic or engaging with the kids. Well, during storytime she asked me to read the book while she nursed her baby, and ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, that was my moment! I mean, storytime is totally my thing. I love to read/tell stories (and this one was a typed one with no pictures) in a way that pulls the kids in as much as possible. I like to use different voices for the different characters, stop and ask the kids questions, make silly faces, whatever, even if I know I may be making a fool of myself! And it felt good, because lately I've been so aware of all the things I CAN'T do.

So maybe, maybe, there was a teensy bit of pride going on there too. I knew -- may I be embarrassingly frank? -- that I read the story "better" than the other mom would have. But then we turned to finger-knitting. She got out the yarn, gave each kid, plus the moms, a stretch of it, and gently, patiently, began instructing us. I was all thumbs! Eventually I got the hang of it, but trying to teach it to Eliza, it took me all of thirty-five seconds and I was impatient and flummoxed. How do you TEACH something like that? "You just wrap it around like THIS and hold this do-hickey like THAT ..." Yeah, not so much. The other mom took over and in her sweet, mild way had Eliza hooked, and chugging along in no time.

Let's just say I'm glad we all have our different gifts, there's a reason we have one another, and none of us has to be Leonardo!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

But then ...

... he comes to me tonight and says, as he sometimes does, "Mom? Do you want to come read with me in my room?"
"You mean we both read our own books or I read to you?"
"We can read our own books [he's in the middle of Redwall]. And talk and just, you know, have like a date, like you-and-me time."

I defy anyone to resist a request like that!


I'm feeling kinda discouraged, and as opposed to my usual custom of proposing longwinded posts about it in my head and then feeling too exhausted by nighttime (which is when I can usually get time to post) too get into it, I'm going to steal the 5 minutes I have right now to get SOMETHING out.
I just wish, as I do more often than I'd like to admit, that I felt more successful as a homeschooler. That we had more "good" days instead of days when I constantly question my fitness for this position. What are "good" days, you ask? What is successful? OK, successful means that all the children, except possibly Caroline, are present when I call them to lessons (the first time!) and are eager and engaged in what we're doing. And really, I don't ask much. We spend a mere sliver of our day in structured academics, and even that is often done casually and, in my view, with plenty of interaction and variety (example: math baseball in the yard; short grammar lessons, reading Ian's favorite Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia of World History, copywork that I make easy for him by letting him trace my handwriting, etc.) But so often, I feel like I'm just barely managing to hang onto him, like he'd rather do anything else. He knows not to give me a BAD attitude about it, but how I would love a genuine enthusiasm for what we're doing. The only time I truly feel the vibe is when I'm reading a good book aloud or we're doing the occasional craft. So should I only do those things? No "vegetables," so to speak, but only chicken nuggets and dessert??? I so want to inspire a LOVE of learning, not the attitude that learning is a chore, a grind, a power struggle with Mom -- after all, that's one main reason we're homeschooling! Sigh. Double sigh.

I have prayed about this a lot and just don't have a clear idea of how the Lord is leading us. On the other hand, there is a ray of hope -- Eliza loves whatever I suggest to her! (Well, learning-wise, that is. Not so much the putting of dishes into the dishwasher.)

I'm sure we'll revisit this theme later ... but it's time for the biweekly scramble to taekwondo.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bittersweet Weekend

What a weekend! My house is sort of a wreck since I got NO time to tidy anything up as I try to do on weekends ... but it's for a good reason. Friday afternoon we drove down to Houston to visit Phoebe, my SIL-to-be ... and by good fortune, my brother Peter, who arrived in town for the same reason on Saturday! We also got to hang out at the Houston Children's Museum, stay with a very dear couple whom Phoebe knows, and spend lots of time with our pals Jon and Rebecca (Jon has become a friend of ours via my two brothers, and he and Rebecca are lots of fun ... some day I'll relate the story of how we accidentally gave them a half-eaten Chicken Nugget as a wedding gift!). Here are a couple photos, from Saturday lunch:
Check out that face! Caroline bonded with her new aunt.

The group, ensemble.

So after that merry excursion, today's was a little more somber. After our church meeting, during which Tim and I served with the kiddos (Shrinky Dinks with the 4-year-olds, hurrah for SD's again!), the adult members of his family (kids were happily occupied at our house by my sis and her husband) headed down to Seguin to visit the grave of Tim's brother, who was murdered about 16 years ago but only identified and given a proper burial 3 years ago. Yesterday would have been his birthday, so we wanted to visit and plant some flowers and reminisce and pray together a bit, especially since there have been some recent developments in the case -- which I can't talk about since it will hopefully go to trial. Truly, it was calmer occasion than it probably sounds like, but I think brought some more closure to the family members and a few friends who joined us. It's weird for me, a bit, because I never got to meet him and so only have a few old pictures to go on, plus stories. Never heard the sound of his voice, haven't seen any videos or anything, so I feel like my role at an occasion like this is not to grieve or remember personally, but to support my husband and his family.

And I can't believe it's already Monday tomorrow!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Flowers, a card, and stray chickens

Check it out! Two members of our home meeting blessed me with flowers tonight:

From Steve

From Jesse

I was so touched.

Also, here's a birthday card I made today for my brother-in-law, who's turning 40 this weekend!

I've lately been trying my hand at cardmaking, inspired by my talented friend Vanessa (you inspire me too, Jenny, but I don't have Photoshop!) and this card is far from perfect, but I'm sort of posting as a mile marker for myself so that if I get any good at this, one day I can look back at my "early work" and see some progress!

And in other news, since I know all my readers yearn for updates on the activities of our chickens, today the doorbell rang just as I was trying to get Caroline down for a nap. It was Stuart, my next door neighbor (a.k.a. Oscar's dad). He kinda scratched his head and said, "Hey, are those your chickens in my front yard?" Sure enough, those naughty girls had figured out a way to squeeze through the closed gate (!) and were huddled in the neighbor's bushes, apparently scaring the "heck" (he used stronger vocab) out of him when he opened his front door. He told me, with a gracious chuckle (and I got the feeling that maybe he'd been percolating on this one for quite a while), that we were "the most unusual neighbors he'd ever had," and as we flushed them out of the bushes and chased them back into their rightful territory, he remarked with some bemusement that he'd spent the morning lecturing students on screenwriting and now was spending his afternoon herding chickens. I told him maybe he could work it into a movie somehow.

Coming to a big screen near you ... one of these years.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


From library fines, I mean.

The answer to all the money I waste, I mean donate to the library, for overdue books (and videos, yipes, a dollar a day and no grace period!) is ... Library Elf. I just discovered this site thanks to Family Fun, one of my favorite magazines. It ties into your local library system and sends emails (or text messages) to remind you when your books are due or when your holds are in. So cool!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You haven't lived until ...

... you've listened to a four year old belt out "The Bare Necessities" at top volume while getting herself ready for bed. Such heart! Such spirit! Such uninhibited glee! Such charming disregard for the proper key! Even her big brother had to chuckle over her cuteness, and he's not really one to waste a compliment.

(The kids are all really into The Jungle Book movie these days. That's as Disney as it gets in our house, and they'd probably watch it every single day if I let them.)

Speaking of movies, we all watched Singin' in the Rain the other night, and now Lizey's quite hooked. "Moses supposes his toeses are roses," she chanted the other day, while bouncing in the Johnny-Jump-Up she supposedly outgrew three and a half years ago. Ian and Oscar even liked it, although they vastly preferred the tap dancing and other acrobatics to any of the "kissy, romantic scenes with GIRLS in them! Yuck!" One could easily mistake them for Fred Savage in the Princess Bride.

Let's enjoy that attitude while it lasts. :-)

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Belt Test

Guess who passed his first belt test in Tae Kwon Do on Saturday?

Ian is now an official Yellow Belt! Woo hoo! I promise you, I don't think I've ever seen him stand still for as long as he did, or sit quietly (without a book) for as long while waiting. Tim and I were definitely more nervous than he was (and we prayed for him together in the van on the way over), not that we thought he'd mess up his form or self-defense skills, but we were mostly worried about the waiting part, when goofing off could cost him the test. Oh we of little faith. Clearly, he knew what he needed to do and went in and did it. And now we're not allowed to talk about it or make any kind of fuss whatsoever(observe Picture #5). Go figure. :-) I told him in my best Jewish-mother fashion, as we arrived at the restaurant with the other families afterward, that we spend the time and the money to schlep him to class twice a week, so we have the right to do some congratulatin.'

Oh, and the reason I'm posting so late about this is that the best photos were sitting on my BIL's camera until last night. He and my sister attended (thanks, guys!) and even my crazy-busy FIL came by for a while to watch. I think Ian had the best paparazzi!

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Zees, my friends, ees a space trolley. Also known as a zipline.



Guess what? It turns out my publishing career hasn't completely shriveled up and expired after all! Two summers ago I wrote a day tripping column for the local parents' magazine, and the editor just contacted me a few days ago to ask if I could start writing again, effective immediately, for the next 6 months! Woo hoo! I said yes, of course, but then just as naturally I began to tremble. If you were a shrink pontificating on the Dr. Phil show or whatever, you'd say I was afraid of success, blah blah blah, but really I just get nervous at the thought of my writing being out in public, being evaluated, and being NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Which makes me not want to start. Which is the secret to my procrastination. (This is also why I procrastinate on my other creative endeavors, such as scrapbooking and cardmaking.)

However, I have dealt a blow to that monster by beginning today. I wrote 140 words so far, out of 500-word limit. I decided to just START, even if it wasn't good, and then stop when I ran out of inspiration. So there. I did it, while Tim and the kids put up the space trolley in the back yard. Yea!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Under "Why We Homeschool"

Well, we're just not going to talk about the second half of the day, which involved my poor mother getting into a totally-not-her-fault fender bender on the freeway and my going to pick her up and then talking to about eight mechanics at the tire shop where it was towed about all the resulting problems on my mother-in-law's very nice car -- a conversation which, if you know me, you know is totally not my cup of tea. I am so clueless when it comes to cars that all I can think about the whole time, as my blood pressure finally climbs over 100, is how they MIGHT be taking me for a giant ride, under the chauvinistic assumption that I am one of those females who knows nothing about cars and will therefore nod seriously but uncomprehendingly to anything they tell me. Wait -- I AM one of those females. Argh.

So anyway. Except for that whole deal, the worst of which was just feeling bad for HER since she obviously felt so bad about it, our day was quite smooth. And here are a couple highlights:

Ian, who holds tenaciously to the philosophy of "Buy people the gifts you want for yourself," has designed a "star chart" for Caroline so that she can earn Bionicles. Now, she may be advanced in some ways, but the kid ain't ready to be assembling 86-piece Bionicles, so guess who's going to do the work for her? Anyway, he's super-motivated to help her along, so this morning as I cleaned the kitchen, he got her out of her pj's and into a clean dress and underwear, helped her brush her teeth, and then presented her for inspection. "Caroline did her morning list, Mom. Can she have a star on her chart?" Love that!

Then, I had a real coup with our "lessons" this morning. You know somewhat my constant angst over how to stir up enthusiasm among my young charges for the activities I have planned (by "charges," I really mean the eldest one). Well, they had an absolute barrel of fun with this one! I traced the outlines of Spanish and Aztec shields (we're studying the explorers) onto some Shrinky Dink paper, they colored them and decorated them, we popped them in the oven, and lo and behold, let the Shrinky Dink fever begin! I felt like Mom of the Year, especially since crafts are not usually my strong point. Now that was one impulse buy at Michael's yesterday that really paid off!

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Duh! I forgot, in my complicated attempts to post photos of yesterday's outing, to add that the day concluded on a high note when our friends Sam and Vanessa, and their adorable toddler Benjamin, who is quite possibly the most photographed child south of the Mason-Dixon Line, came to partake of pizza and salad with us. Thanks for the great evening, guys!
Ahhhh ... yesterday was so nice. It started out not so great, as I woke up really groggy and felt that way the whole morning, while Tim was working in the lab (on a Saturday, ick). However, in the afternoon I dropped by a stamp party where a friend of mine was getting rid of lots of her stamps, and managed to net a whole bunch of stamps, for cardmaking and scrapbooking, for an almost embarrassingly low price. We were going to go out to Elgin afterward to visit my mom, who's still staying out there, but when I called her to confirm, she was just about to lie down for a nap and sounded absolutely beat.

So ... rather than stay home and do our same ol' same ol', we piled into the car anyway and went exploring. We discovered Bull Creek, on the Greenbelt less than ten minutes from our house, and even though Ian protested, every single one of us ended up having a blast! (A note on the protesting: When Ian was about three and a half, my brother came to stay with me in SC while Tim was away in France. We decided to take the little prehistoric nut to a dinosaur puppet show, but since he's a bit, uh, sensitive, the whole thing was pretty much an unmitigated fiasco as he spent all the carnivore-attacks-herbivore scenes diving UNDER his seat (but refusing to be taken out, go figure). After the show, we ambled down Main Street looking to redeem the experience with some ice cream, and Ian began chattering happily away about the puppets, the show, etc. Peter's deadpan comment to me was: "Wouldn't it have been great if he actually enjoyed it DURING the show?" So now we've made progress. He enjoys things DURING the experience, we're just working on the BEFORE part. You know, trying to inject a little optimism, a little faith that his parents are not dragging him into the depths of misery when we embark on an activity outside the home.)

Anyway, that was a lengthy tangent. I guess what I was feeling, as I waded through the frigid creek and helped Caroline select rocks for plunking into a quiet pool, was that it was so soul-restoring to just spend time outdoors, on a perfectly sunny day at an uncrowded creek with the kids, not worrying about or distracted by anything, but just enjoying being there together. During the week, I feel like I spend so much of my time as the policeman ("no hitting your sister," "I've already asked you to put on your shoes," "someone's jacket is lying on the floor!") or the giver-of-unwelcome-directions ("It's time for your copywork!" "Your morning chore is to clean the bathroom sink and counter," "Your computer time is up!" etc.) It's necessary, of course, but not that fun. Not so bonding. And what I've learned is that countering all that takes planning and effort. Some of the fun family times do just happen spontaneously, but more often time can just drift by without the "seasons of refreshing" that add joy to our life together. It's easy for the weekend to fill up with errands (especially because I try not to do too much shopping with the kids during the week), with house projects, with visiting relatives ... and not with purposeful times that aren't for instructing or problem-solving but just for relaxing and playing together, for building a friendship with our kids.

I took a ton of photos; here a couple favorites:

(This is what Caroline looks like when I tell her to smile for the camera)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Late last night ...

Ian: Dad, can you bring someone for me to sleep with?
Tim: How about Ruff, or another one of your stuffed animals?
Ian: No, I mean a PERSON, like Eliza or Caroline. It gets kinda lonely in there by myself.