Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paging Martha Stewart



As you might guess, this was truly a cooperative effort among myself and my two older children, during which I strove to not throttle them and enjoy the process, rather than obsessing over the result. I'm actually happy about the way it turned out -- in case you can't tell, it's a medieval castle.

We have this situation every year, and I feel like I'm learning the same life lesson, over and over until one day I'll grab the brass ring and be able to hop off the merry-go-round. It's a point of pride with me to make all my kids' birthday cakes, because I entertain this rather ridiculous notion that when they're lying on the therapist's couch one day recounting my shortcomings as a mother, they'll pause for a moment, reflect, and say something like, "But you know what? My mother MADE all of my birthday cakes. From scratch."

Um. I used a mix this year. It's all about letting go, isn't it?

(Tangent: I am developing some sort of friendship with another mom from our church with whom -- may I be candid? -- I never in a hundred years would have thought I could have a relationship. This is another instance of God chuckling at/with me. He has arranged for our sons to become friends, and them to live on the other side of town, so that when she brings him for a playdate, she stays. It's happened a couple of times now, and it's really quite marvelous how the Lord can gently topple my concepts about Why This Person Is Not Compatible With Me. Last time, we were actually discussing the abovementioned subject -- how parenthood is all about balance, sifting through all the nonessentials with which we initially define ourselves as parents ("MY child will not ..." or "OUR family is not going to ..."), figuring out what's really worth hanging on to, and then grace-fully letting go of the rest.)

OK, so back to the kitchen, where Hurricane Birthday has ripped through and left its mark, I'm sweating and sticky from frosting, and the kids are oh! so! eager! to help decorate -- and point out what I've missed, of course. I'm gritting my teeth and trying not to snap at them as they offer their helpful input and not being altogether successful. Then I have the same thought I have every year: Aren't birthdays supposed to be about making memories together, and giving the gift of time -- not just what comes wrapped up in a box? Isn't this exactly what I want my kids to learn -- to value people above things? Don't I want them to know, with all certainty, that I love THEM more than my tenuous reputation as a maker of spiffy cakes?

The other thought that popped into my mind is that one reason I think we're passing through this period of financial constraint while Tim is in graduate school is that we end up doing a lot of things ourselves. The budget doesn't really allow for a bakery-purchased, professionally decorated theme cake. So, we make it ourselves. Emphasis on WE. Because we have to, my kids and I are sweating in the kitchen together, watching our masterpiece take shape and complimenting EACH OTHER on the end product. We're sort of ... in the trenches together, you know? And I'm being stretched in a way that I could not be if I could just farm out the job. (Note: If you're reading this and you buy birthday cakes for your kids, please don't be offended. We all have our particular journeys.)

It's sort of like the pool bags. At the beginning of the summer, I had this vision of monogrammed canvas bags from Lands' End or the like, in which each child would keep his or her swimsuits, goggles, towel, etc. -- thus reducing some of the pre-pool chaos around our house. I went as far as putting three monogrammed bags into my online shopping cart and calculating shipping before I ran up against the familiar sticker shock. Well, two days later I was in JoAnn Fabrics and what did I see? Blank canvas bags. Oh sure, they don't come with a lifetime guarantee or anything, but at five bucks a bag, um, hello? They'd do. And guess what our art activity of the week was? Yup, all three kids sat around the craft table with me and hand-painted their pool bags. I might even be so bold as to say that a very good time was had by all.

I guess what I'm saying is, there will probably be a season in our lives when we have more "wiggle room" for extras like monogrammed bags or whatever, but in the meantime, perhaps my repeated requests to the Lord to teach us whatever He has for us in the leaner times are bearing fruit.

Oh, and the party? Half the guests couldn't make it, it was still crazy hot at 6:30 p.m. at the park, I had to transport all this food plus fifty water balloons, the pool was being cleaned from an "accident" when we arrived, and Ian got into a fight with one of the kids at the end. But the people who came were all family and close friends, and they were fabulous and helpful and cheerful, and we swam and played some games, and the fight turned out to be a learning experience, and the other mom understood what happens when sugar and birthday adrenalin combine, and Ian was happy the rest of the time, and we all hung out until it was pitch dark and the screech owls began serenading us, and, and, and ...

Sorry, Martha, but it was just right for US.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Me Calvin. You Hobbes.

Caroline's alter ego of the day derives from her older brother's obsession. As we merrily filled 50 water balloons this morning on the patio (all of which were demolished within 5 minutes at the party, thank you very much), she informed me that she was Calvin, and I was Hobbes. For the rest of the day, I was expected to address her as such. If I lapsed, she'd remind me like this:
"'What are you doing, Hobbes?' says Calvin."

Ian used to do the exact same thing. Not the alter ego thing, he's never done that, but the narration, as if he's reading aloud a book about himself. "'Look at the dump truck, Mama!'... Ian shouted." It always made me want to scoop up his old-souled toddler self and cover him in kisses, and it turns out I'm still just as susceptible this time around.

I am way too bushed tonight to give particulars about the party or to regale you with my lofty reflections about my firstborn turning eight and all the life lessons he has inadvertently bestowed upon me. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, let's hear it for the CAFFEINE AND WATER BALLOONS party-planning strategy! Highly recommended!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Crazy Day

Highlight of insanely busy time that was today: Taking my niece, who turned 8 today, to see Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. One of those rare movies that is genuinely G-rated and entirely pleasant. Besides, I got one-on-one time with Ashley, who's getting too old for most toys anyway (We gave her a couple of the American Girl books, too). All in all, quite a treat!

Low point of today: Watching two adults, both apparently in their fifties, argue over a spot in line at Hobby Lobby (Hobby Lobby, folks! Not the soup kitchen!) The dialogue went something like this, as they migrated to a newly-opened register:
Man: Excuse me, I was ahead of you in line.
Woman: Mumble mumble [I think she said, "It's not that big a deal.")
Man: YES, it IS a big deal. I was here FIRST!
Woman: What an ass.
Man: No, YOU'RE an ass.

My jaw was literally hanging open. Had Mary Poppins been there, she'd have crisply intoned, "Close your mouth, Hannah; we are not a codfish." I honestly felt like planting myself in front of those people, particularly the man, and saying to them, "And what would your mama say if she could see you now?"

Silver lining of low point: I can congratulate myself for having successfully parented at least two of my young children past the maturity point of some adults out there. I think even Caroline could have given them a run for their money.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sure is quiet

Um. Not to complain or be needy or anything but, gosh, is everyone on vacation? I know Jenny, my most faithful leaver of comments, is traveling, but all of sudden it seems that the trickle of cyberlove has dried up. I'd better come up with SOMETHING to dazzle the readers I keep discovering I have before everyone falls asleep or goes off to read The New York Times or something.

But therein lies the problem. NOTHING exciting is happening around here. Is it possible to write an entire blog post in which I do nothing but kvetch about the heat and how it is slowly but surely sapping any semblance of energy or motivation I previously had? Methinks this is whence the phrase "dog days of summer" arose. My gosh, I knew I was a bit on the lazy and dispassionate side, but lately? It's like I'm moving through my day in a vat of Jell-O.

For example. We just returned from my niece's 8th birthday party, an outdoor affair at which any sane guests (meaning the adults) all vied for seats in the shadiest spots. The insane ones, of course, were in the pool, taking refuge under water. But my sister-in-law, in the space of an afternoon, managed to transform her home from the tornado path it had reportedly been to company-ready presentability, and then throw a barbecue, complete with hand-decorated cakes, without ever showing a trace of sweat or a smudge of melted mascara. I'm not sure I ever saw her sit down for more than two minutes put together. I, on the meantime, was at my most celebratory while sprawled, motionless, in the hammock under a tree with my two year old. I actually had enough spare energy to speak coherently! And laugh! Out loud!

And here's even worse news. On Tuesday evening, it's MY turn to throw a party. Ian is turning eight, and he has the itch to boogie woogie! I managed to convince him (meaning, I wrote it on the invitations and mailed them, then informed him) to have the party at a nearby park and pool, rather than our house. The idea of a mob of hyper tweens, fueled by a frightening cocktail of testosterone and cake, stampeding through our house and small yard just made me need to lie down. Maybe permanently.

OK, so we're at the park, but still! Providing pizza, cake and activities for about thirty people (including adults and siblings) requires ENERGY. And ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS.

Or maybe just plenty of CAFFEINE. And WATER BALLOONS.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Randy Pausch, Rest in Peace

One of the people I mentioned (the most famous one) in my Sunshine and Shadows post, Randy Pausch, died yesterday of complications from pancreatic cancer. Here is the link to the news article/obituary.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Define Normal

This morning I was all ready to compose a post stating the following: "We're back to normal, the kids are getting along relatively well again after the constant bickering in Boston, the impulsive behaviors are down to a dull roar, my blood pressure is subsiding to its typical near-comatose levels."

OK, OK. Revision. "We're back to normal, which these days seems to mean that the kids have assumed their roles of making threatening moves (Ian) to elicit blood-curdling screams (Eliza) and frustrated slaps (Caroline). And I, of course, have a headache."

But aside from all that, I'm struck again by how dependent we are on our morning routine. By "we," I mostly mean Ian, which reminds me of how the psychiatrist said that kids like him, appearances to the contrary, really do function best with a high degree of structure. In our house, that means that nothing happens before the Morning List is done. Really, this is one of my most successful areas of parenting. I may be totally deficient in a number of areas (making crafts, planning birthday parties, etc.etc.), but by golly, we do the Morning List. Here's how it works. Back in September, I wrote the following five steps out on a whiteboard in the hallway: 1- Eat breakfast and clear dishes [this is when we read our Bible story]. 2- Get dressed, and put away pajamas. 3- Brush Teeth. 4 - Feed pet. 5- Do morning chore (ask Mom). Ian and Eliza each had a magnetized, laminated picture of him or herself, which they'd move down the board as they finished each step.

Well, the list has worked wonders for Ian (Eliza, not so much). He just DOES it now, and knows that his computer time hinges on completing the list first. The chore is anything from helping empty the dishwasher to wiping off the kitchen table and counters to starting a load of laundry to vacuuming a room. Hurray! Maybe I need to do a list for our entire DAY.

Okay, not really. I couldn't handle that. But it IS cute to have Caroline run up to me on occasion and inquire in her 2-year-old voice, "Mom, what's my morning chore?"

Yesterday -- AFTER the Morning List, of course -- my Mother-in-law and I took my three kids plus two similar-aged nieces to the IMAX show at the Texas History Museum. Here was the best part. As she and I sat at the outdoor cafe munching on our caesar salads and watching five kids pretty much swing from the chandeliers around us (as I told my SIL when she picked up her kids later, "The children were very ENTHUSIASTIC about the museum"), I mentioned to her with a sigh that I'd had some rather wild and impulsive behavior to police during the recent trip. She sort of blinked at me and said, "But isn't that just how kids are when they're traveling?"

And for that, she earned big brownie points from this tired mama.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Home sweet home

We're back, and I'm like a walking -- no, sitting -- zombie right now between a very early flight and a long weekend of high-intensity parenting, especially of a certain child whose ADHD seems to crescendo into a travel-induced mania. Note to self: NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT HUSBAND AGAIN. At least, not with all three darlings.

But I DID get to see a bunch of very old friends at a wedding there, and I DID get to feel useful by getting up a couple times a night to help my dad turn over, and we DID pick blueberries under the blazing sun with my longsuffering sister, and I DID spend a delightful day with the Nelsons, which felt like the two-and-a-half year gap since our last meeting simply hadn't happened. The kids instantly re-bonded over throwing a teddy bear in and out of a window. Hey, whatever it takes. Why beat around the bush with "How was the trip?" niceties?

Thanks to my parents and sister for accommodating me and the Wild Things.

Oh! And one more thing before I enter a coma. We introduced my dad to letterboxing while up there, going on a merry hunt through the pet cemetery nearby (nicer than it sounds). He was quite impressive, off-roading in his power-chair. But the cutest thing was at the end, when Caroline found a tiny toad, chased it, caught it, determined to bring it home, and named it ... guess. Should be "Toady," right? According to the Laws of Toddler Pet-Naming?

Ha. Try "Arlene." Go figure.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boston again

This has to be wicked quick because we're about to walk out to the door to the airport, doing our monthly part to keep JetBlue in business (Caroline, this morning: "Jetblue is saying (cue the squeaky voice) -- 'Caroline, I miss you! I'm ready for you to come see me!'"). I am so ready for a break from the daily 100 degree highs! Apart from the pleasure of seeing my parents, sister and BIL, etc., and trying very hard to be helpful and provide a nice distraction in the form of three lively kids, we also get a special bonus this time: seeing Jenny, Will and the kids!!! For the first time in 2.5 years!!! I am so hoping the kids all hit it off again; a lot can change in 2.5 years. Regardless, it'll be so good to see Jenny.

And like a herd of turtles, we're off!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And so goes the roller coaster

Yes, God has a sense of humor.

Remember my very recent post about my temptation toward discouragement regarding a certain child's public behavior?

Well, guess what happened THAT VERY SAME DAY. (I've been holding back on you because I've been hoping for pictures from the other parent present.)


The test was a surprise, sort of -- i.e. it was done in class, and not previously announced. It was Ian and one other child whom his teacher, Ms. Chapaty, thought were ready. And it lasted two and a half hours!

I was a wreck. At one point I couldn't look, because during the sparring he came really close to blowing the whole thing by forgetting the rules in the heat of the moment. But she gave him another chance, and he bounced back and did so well. Then there was the final event, the board-breaking. When he saw what he needed to do, after two hours of constant work, we could all see him fighting back tears. His instructor and the junior leaders poured on the encouragement, and we could see him steady himself and fight for his focus. Well, he smashed that board [with his foot] on his very first try!!!!! We all went bananas.

Ian was glowing afterward. He even remembered to congratulate the other child who passed the test. Ms. Chapaty pulled me aside to tell him very seriously how proud she was of him, and how well he did on the test. We marveled together at how far he's come in the past nine months, not only passing two tough belt tests but also developing his focus and perseverance. She almost used those fateful and oh-so-elusive words: "A pleasure to have in class." Heh.

You know, I think as parents we all hope that someone, or some ones, will come into our child's life who will believe in him, expect and demand the best of him, and give him the encouragement he needs to make it happen. Someone who trains for skill but values character even more. Tough but tender, you might describe it. Someone who is able, for an hour or two a week, to be that leader and mentor that we wish we could be for the other however 150 or so hours we're with them that week.

Ian's instructor has been that for him. We feel so blessed! She knows some of the issues we're dealing with, like the ADHD diagnosis, and so she takes a particular interest in his progress. And here's an example of how seriously she takes her job: A few weeks ago, she respectfully asked a mother not to return to the dojang because that mother was repeatedly being verbally abusive to her young sons [as other parents confirmed]. The way Cathy put it to us, she would never accept that behavior from herself or from the kids, so she can't allow it in her facility AT ALL. The family left in a huff, which no doubt involved financial loss to the business (which she owns), but upheld a high standard of integrity, which she feels is more valuable in the long run. That impressed me, because it couldn't have been easy to stand up to someone that volatile.

Another good thing that's come of Ian's experience there has been his interest in pursuing Junior Leadership. That opportunity comes with his next belt (green) but also involves logging a certain number of hours of leadership development -- by leading the warm-ups in class and by assisting with the younger class of 3-5 year olds. So, once a week he goes and helps out with the Tiny Texans, which honestly is the best thing in the world for him, as far as I can see.


Check out this story from today's broadcast of "All Things Considered" on NPR:

If you have time, I highly recommend listening to the full interview, which is only 8 minutes long. I found it so captivating I had to sit in my car by the gas pump at Costco, waiting for it to be over so I could get out and fill up my van!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ain't that the truth

Caroline's only ten minutes out of bed this morning before the following visual aid occurs to her.

She holds up her index finger and middle finger, stuck tightly together.

"Mom, this is YOU" -- index finger -- "and this is ME" -- middle finger.

Got it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Alien Invasion

They've really done it this time, those extraterrestrial invaders. They've sucked up my son and replaced him with a child who, at 8:10 a.m., is saying to his father, "C'mon, Dad! Let's get on the bike! We need to get to camp!"

Uh huh. I kid you not. This kind of martian is not altogether unwelcome.

On the other hand, I must, in the interest of full disclosure, tell you that when I picked him up today, something nudged me to ask the teacher how he was "doing" (meaning, "behaving") in class. She mentioned that he was OK but that there had been a bit of name-calling. Sigh.

He related to me right away that he'd had to sit out once or twice to chill out. No particulars on why, and he still seemed to have had a good time, but apparently we haven't achieved Full Angelic Status yet.

I was starting to feel discouraged as we drove home, starting to plot my little chat with my son. Cue the violin music -- WHY can my son not handle a classroom environment of any kind? WHY must he name-call when that's totally unacceptable at our house, and he's NOT a mean kid? WHY must he always be just a bit ... impulsive? (This happened at one of our co-ops last year on a regular basis, although he was by no means the only one). I grew up bringing home report cards, homework, essays spangled with "A's" and praise -- and most of it came pretty easily to me. Now, here I am doing the hardest assignment of my life, and whoa, there are NO easy "A's." There might not even BE "A's" at all. It might all be a big mystery, plugging away at the homework (Home Work) until after the final exam, whenever that may be.

Well, guess what? Got some light, folks. Every SINGLE time I question God as to WHYyyyy my kids are a certain way, despite my tireless efforts to turn out upstanding citizens, despite my secret craving for the kind of "joy to have in class" feedback that strokes the parental ego, He reminds me: I got exactly the children that I NEED.

"But darling" -- says God to me -- "if you had trophy children whose behavior constantly validated your success as a parent, wouldn't you be rather insufferable? So ugly in your pride and self-sufficiency? So disdainful of other parents who 'clearly don't have things under control'?"

Here's a little relevant something that shepherded my soul last weekend, from the study of the book of Luke we're doing as a church: "Although Christ as the High Priest is taking care of us, we all have our own thought and feelings as to how He should care of us; many times we do not know what is best for us or what the reason is for certain things; only the Lord as the High Priest knows the reason, and His care for us is always positive."

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Post-It Fun

The girls are in the other room, planning a "show" to be performed behind the curtain that is a silk blanket stretched across their doorway. They've moved on from a lengthy round of Post-It treasure hunt, in which they "hid" sticky notes all over the house for each other to find. Ah, summertime.

And where is Ian? Well, having uttered the phrase, "There's nothing to dooooo" one time too many, he is currently enrolled in Mad Science camp, learning all the technical and scientific aspects of being a Real Spy. I really thought we could make it through the summer without shelling out for any camps, but I seem to have overlooked the fact that it's at least 98 degrees here every day, that we don't live in a neighborhood with lots of kids, and that this is a child who needs a certain amount of stimulation. Kudos to my dear husband, who, twenty two seconds into my sales pitch last week, interrupted me to say, "Sign him up! I'll take him on the bike in the morning." Kudos also to my friend Stephanie for recommending the camp based on the experience of her own likeminded son. I am just PRAYING that he will enjoy it and not dig in his heels about finishing out the week, because I HATE those dilemmas. I'm just tough enough (and thrifty enough!) to know that finishing what we start is Good For Us, but not tough enough to send a miserable child back in there with a "Good Luck, Honey!"

Oops, the show is starting. Just heard my cue.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Did you hear that story in the news about how in the city of Atlanta, they're taking down all the "Men Working" signs because someone objected to the sexist overtones, and now all the signs just say "Workers?" Well, I am "working" on this blog page, trying to make it prettier, but severely hampered by my ineptitude with Photoshop. Be patient, please, while I consult with my muses -- Tim and Jenny.

I haven't blogged much this week, mostly for lack of energy and cute anecdotes to relate. My head is very, very busy, though -- even though my body, enslaved to the 100-degree heat wave we're having, is anything BUT busy. At least, it doesn't WANT to be busy. But the maids and nannies forgot to show up to work all week, so the poor mistress of the house is -- gasp! -- in charge of staving off domestic chaos all by herself.

Funny, they forgot last week, too.

You know, before you have kids, and even when they're wee ones and mostly agreeable, you're smugly convinced that you will NEVER ... and your children will NEVER ...

And then God chuckles tolerantly. And with a mind to prove you otherwise, lest you be haughty beyond all enduring?

OK, so let's take one of my hot-button issues as an example. We were NEVER going to have food be an Issue in our house. No no, we would just provide a variety of whole, preferably organic and naturally colorful foods, and our children would happily graze away on nature's bounty. Their palates, conditioned to sushi and pad thai and gazpacho and pasta with fresh pesto, would shirk from processed junk or anything containing partially hydrogenated oils. I wouldn't really care WHEN they ate, although I'd require them to sit down with us for the joyful dinner hour, because I'd rest in such comfort with WHAT they ate.

All I can say is ...

(How do you spell this word? Think early '90's, people ...) TCHAHHHH!

Which being interpreted is ... you ridiculous fool!

So now I feel myself morphing into a tight ball of anger over the fact that I buy wholesome groceries and certain people in this house will hardly touch them. They rummage for anything processed, anything with sugar, anything given to them by the Candy Fairies we seem to encounter on a weekly basis. They (one in particular) will happily munch on hotdogs and white buns at the neighbor's house, like a prisoner eating his last meal, and then claim to "not be hungry" when I set a home-cooked offering upon the table.

And I'm super frustrated with myself for getting to this point, for being resentful when I should be loving. At a meeting last night I attended on the book of Luke, I so enjoyed how the jubilee of grace, which is really just the person of Christ, sets us free from all our anxieties, which just come from giving room in our hearts to things other than Him. It all seemed so easy last night, to just live in this joy and let it spill over into these interactions I have with my band of three disciples.

So why so angry today? I feel it building in me like a coiled snake, especially the food issue. I guess at the bottom is the fact that there ARE other things in my heart -- mostly my expectations and aspirations for my children. I get frustrated because I want to be appreciated, I want my labor for them to be valued, I want to see that my values are taking hold in them RIGHT NOW. I want them, if the truth be told, to be more mature than they are, to stop being so CHILDISH. To hurry up and be 22 and prove to me that it all did pay off, and not only do they eat decently (fruit, even!) and clean up after themselves, but they also let me know that, gosh, Mom, thanks for all those meals and loads of laundry and books read aloud.

Hmmm ... let's see. Who's doing the growing up, here?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gas prices got you down?

Five Ingredients for a Free, Fuel-Efficient Mid-Morning Outing:

1. Two human-powered vehicles: a double-jogger and a scooter.

Oh, and legs.

2. A post-it note with a little scavenger hunt for motivation (something red, white and blue; something with four legs, etc.)

3. A near-by playground.

4. With a shady bench and a moment for Mama to commune with Jane Austen.(Or listen to computer game strategies -- ALMOST as pleasant. Sort of.)

5. Cat-tails to harvest -- useful for washing people's gardens and sidewalks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Baby is going crazy with Post-It Notes

'Nuf said.

So Eliza asks me a few minutes ago, fingers poised over the keyboard in the Google search box, "Mom, how do you spell 'Baghdad?'"
Amusing, a bit eyebrow-raising, but not entirely shocking. After all, this child is the best-informed five year old I know on the subject of Islam. (Mind you, I don't know any wee Muslims.) It's because she listens to Story of the World all the time, especially that section. Seriously, she can tell you exactly what the Hijira is. Next thing I know, she'll be asking for a burqa for her dress-up box!

Another tidbit is that my friend Melanie, stamp designer extraordinaire, is having a challenge contest right now, and I for the first time am entering! Why do I have the boldness? Because she's not judging the quality of the cards; she's merely drawing an entry at random to win one of her fabulous stamp sets. I've NEVER won anything before, but there's always hope! :-) Here's my card.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Showers of blessing

Too, too comical this afternoon. I'd almost written a post this morning that just said, "Send rain. NOW." Honestly, we're withering away here in a city (that I love) that manages to be hot, humid, AND dry at the same time. Go figure.

So we made plans to meet my friend Greta and her five kiddos for swimming this afternoon. I truly love this family, and Ian always has a blast with their zany kids (11, 9, 6, and 1 y.o. [undiagnosed!] twins]. The girls enjoy watching, occasionally participating, and lugging their babies around.

It started sprinkling here -- oh blessings! -- ten minutes before we were to leave, but I called her and we decided to meet anyway, since she was already halfway there. We arrived, and the pool was closed for a 30-minute break due to thunder. No problem, the kids go crazy on the playground.

No more thunder; lifeguard blows whistle, pool is open for business. We move eight kids from playground to pool, and the older four jump in. They play for precisely two minutes. Thunder. Lifeguard blows whistle again. Another thirty-minute break. Back to the playground for a raucous round of sliding pebbles and bodies down what is probably the tallest playground slide in Austin. It's metal. And wet. Therefore irresistibly shiny and SLIPPERY! Injuries during this activity: three.

No more thunder; lifeguard blows whistle; pool is open for business. Another mass migration. We get three minutes this time, just enough for me to schlep to the car for towels and goggles. Thunder. Lifeguard blows whistle AGAIN. Another thirty-minute break. Kids, totally unfazed, haul themselves out and head on over to the swings to see how they can further stretch the boundaries of Proper Playground Equipment Usage. Complaints: zero.

As I'm writing this, it occurs to me how differently the afternoon would have gone had it just been my own small clan there. The constant disruption of the pool, the insistent sprinkling from on high, would have been painfully felt and loudly noted. And the kids might have been worse. ;-)

But because we were among friends, both the kids and I could just enjoy the time for what it was -- time to be moms and kids together. There didn't have to be a POINT. Nothing needed to be accomplished. No "we came, we saw, we conquered." To borrow from a proverb often bestowed at weddings, in good company the joys are doubled and the sorrows (or in this case, minor annoyances), cut in half.

GOOD morning

You know what's an entirely pleasant way to begin your day?

Eating breakfast (a three-berry smoothie, to be exact) on the patio while the mourning doves earnestly coo and the children around you cavort and blow bubbles. And pop them, which is just SO funny.

It's quite lovely, really. Even if it only lasts about as long as a bubble. I recommend it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Glorious Fourth

Hurrah for the Fourth of July!

I love this holiday, especially with kids. I love the music, the color scheme, the swells of patriotism in the heart and lungs. The parades (WHY must every parade involve the tossing of insane amounts of candy?)! The barbecues!

Here's how we celebrated:
Our Allandale neighborhood parade, at 9:00 a.m., starring my husband and two older children on decorated bikes with patriotic mohawks:

Caroline and her friend Benjamin watching:

Then some fooling around in the yard with Shanta, our neighbor:

Some brewing of Robber Soup (my kids love to mix up these nasty brews using weird spices and any liquids they can find; the theory is that any ill-intentioned prowlers in our yard would spy the soup, slurp some up, and immediately fall over dead.)

Some playing in the other neighbor's pool:

A barbecue and HOURS of pool play at the home of the Meades', recent transplants from California whose home we have haunted as much as humanly possible in the past week, LOL.

A different kind of soup, this time of the kid variety:

The creative-jump contest:

The singing of God Bless America before tying into the Fourth of July cupcakes (sub-theme of the day: all-American refined SUGAR):

(I'd let you see the video of that moment, but since I was holding the camera, my own voice ended up being slightly too prominent for public consumption!)

The bedtime story, a book we read once a year:

Oh, and another tradition I can't post a picture of: Every year, as we drive around on the Fourth to our activities, we play a collection of downloaded patriotic music in the car. Our kids love this, especially (surprisingly) Ian! And this was the first year that I didn't get all choked up while belting out Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." But it was close! (What? Stop looking at me like that!) I've been reading a book about gospel missions in Asia, and so this year the fact that we can live in relative peace and comfort here (I know, it's not perfect by a long shot, but relative to many places in the world, we have it REALLY good!), and that we can worship and share our faith without being tortured or thrown into prison (and others of different faiths can do the same) is particularly poignant to me. Even that we have this much-debated election, as tiring as the back-and-forth can be -- look at Zimbabwe! They had an "election," but it was a total sham, the defeated incumbent still refuses to step aside, and his cronies are beating and killing anyone suspected of voting for the opposition. I mean, really.

Cheesy as it may sound, I AM proud -- no, humbled -- to be an American.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Four Mysteries

I really should be vacuuming and mopping my kitchen/dining room right now.

Funny, I think I feel a blog post coming on.

OK, I've got four mysteries for you. Let's all ponder in harmony.

#1. How is that a five-year-old girl can be happy and well-behaved at her Kindermusik class, cheerfully making penguins from cutouts of her handprint and even, against her shy nature, calling out a comment in front of everyone during the family-sharing time, and then have a complete, tearful, sibling-striking, parent-sassing, timeout-earning, meltdown while getting into the car?

#2. How can a seven-and-a-half-year-old boy claim to be staaaaarving as his mother marches him chirpily along a piece of the Barton Creek Greenbelt and then forces him to endure aforesaid Kindermusik family-sharing time, yes, how can he declare approximately thirty-two times that he's SO hungry, yet refuse to eat any of the giant cluster of grapes she brought along for a snack? Seriously, people, if anyone has any insight into this fruit-a-phobia we have endured for the last five years, please email me before I go completely crazy and stuff a watermelon down his throat (just kidding!) (mostly).

#3. How can the powers of Mommy Guilt be so insidious that a mom can spend one-on-one time with each of her three children, playing Legos, dancing with scarves around the living room, and reading The Wheels on the Bus many times over, respectively, but then feel like roadkill at the end of the day because a trip to JoAnn Fabrics with the Wild Things exceeded the limits of her sanity and brought out the Mommy Monster?

#4. How can a nominally-mature adult look at her flailing, whining two year old, formulate the words, "My goodness, you sure are cranky this morning!" in her mind (with cranky tone of voice to match!), and instead scoop her up in her arms and say, "Oh, little kitty cat [child's alter ego for the day], you're having a tough time right now, aren't you?" And then melt as the small arms go around her neck and the head droops onto her shoulder?

Oh, wait. Never mind that last one. I already know the answer. It's "not I, but the grace."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lollipop, Lollipop ...

The child DOES actually have a bed ...

(Can you see what she's clutching?)

Somewhere in the World ...

... at any given moment, it's morning. And you know why I'm filled with fresh appreciation for that fact? Because even the most promising of days can fall flat, especially when you're all either wilting or hibernating from the soaring temps and humidity. We've all been feeling tiiiiired lately (I actually lay on the couch and took a 30-minute nap this afternoon!). In fact, at this very moment, despite my desire to blog about, for example, how much we're enjoying having our distant-cousins-by-marriage move to town from California and buy a house with a pool and be really hospitable and fun and just generally all-around cool, I am approaching brain-death. But Lamentation 3:22 reminds me: "Jehovah's lovingkindesses indeed never cease/For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy Faithfulness." So sure, it's great to enjoy His mercies/compassions in the morning, but hey, when it's 3:00 in the afternoon here in Texas, it's morning in, say, New Zealand, right?

Let's see, 10:30 here ... sun's coming up in Greece, right? Thank You, Lord, for Your tender mercies! (And I'd say it in Greek if I could ...)