Saturday, May 31, 2008

Warning: Whining

Just a question to throw out there.

How is it that a child you love so much can drive you so crazy? And, as a corollary, how is it that you can love so much a child who can drive you so crazy?

Just, um, wondering, that's all.

Nothing whatsoever to do with the evening's trip to Central Market with my two youngest (Ian and Tim are at the much-anticipated taekwondo lock-in for the night), and the fact that I heard from the mouth of ONE of them, as I tried to find the five grocery items on my list, the word, "MAMA!" every 2.5 seconds. And it's not like there's anything patently WRONG with this behavior; it's not like I can say, "Please stop calling me," or "please stop needing my attention so goshdarn constantly," as I entertain myself with deep breaths and an imaginary cash register in my head that goes ca-ching! every time I hear the summons.

Nothing to do with all that, of course. Nothing at all.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up for May 26-30

[Incidentally, last night I attended an informal information session, hosted in the home of a fellow homeschooling mom, about the concept/philosophy of Thomas Jefferson Education. There was a lively discussion, led by a woman from Dallas who's really into TJEd, and what it sounds like is that this is sort of a hybrid, believe it or not, of classical homeschooling and unschooling. Which intrigues me greatly, since that seems to be the style we're falling into, as the best fit for my eldest. I also feel like a schizophrenic homeschooler (see this excellent post) since we don't totally align ourselves with one particular style, category, or curriculum, but tend to borrow from all over the spectrum, which is why maybe the best already-coined term I've heard recently is "relaxed homeschooling" ...? I was laughing with Courtney, the really cool gal who hosted the thing last night, about how I attend a Charlotte Mason monthly support group, the Austin Area Homeschoolers monthly support group, which tends to lean toward unschooling, and occasionally the Well-Trained Mind parkday. Call me a chameleon, I guess! Either way, we're not dogmatic about anything except reading good/great books together.]

Books mentioned are in the widget at right.

History/Literature: Read "Horatius at the Bridge," "Julius Caesar," "The Sword of Damocles," "Damon and Pythias," and "A Laconic Answer," from Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Read "Jack the Giant-Killer" from The Blue Fairy Book [me, partway in: "sorry, guys, uh, this is a little gorier than I expected." Ian: "yeah, it's GREAT!" sigh.] Got about halfway through A Llama in the Family, by Joanna Hurwitz. At night, we're continuing with Shakespeare Stealer.

Math: Measured and compared the two vehicles in our driveway. Played "Number Race," a Ravensburger game. Ian made macaroons, mostly unassisted, and we talked about how to get the right measurements (e.g. half of a 1/4 tsp makes 1/8 tsp.) Ian did a logic puzzle from

Science: Read an article together from the June issue of Ranger Rick (Ian read more independently). Did an impromptu experiment showing how fire needs oxygen to burn when the electricity went out during breakfast and we ate by candlelight (I put a big glass vase upside down over the candle and we watched the flame disappear); discussed a bit. Watched an IMAX show from Netflix on dolphins. [Edited to add: I just remembered that we also read this book that the kids found surprisingly clever and funny: I Can Name 50 Trees!]

Writing: Did Mad Libs together. Ian wrote a letter to Alex Barton (see below), and typed up his birthday list on the computer.

Reading: Eliza read a Bob book to me, and did some phonics work on It's hard for me to keep track of exactly what Ian reads; I know there was plenty of Asterix, plenty of Calvin and Hobbes, some Prince and the Pauper, and some of whatever was strewn around.

Art/Music: The kids both made cards for Alex, the child who was in the news recently because his kindergarten teacher, unthinkably, had all the kids in his class say what they didn't like about him and then vote him out of the class. Barbara Curtis, an author, mom of 12, and blogger whom I read regularly, started the card project, and we were eager to participate. Ian also did his usual drawings, even a full-color one this week, which is rare. Eliza made a necklace from some beads I bought her during our last foray to Nomadic Notions. Both girls made some art projects with my sister while I was at work. Music was classical in the car and spontaneous singing. :-)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Boys and Girls

Ohhhhhh ... I am sooo relaaaaaxed. My siblings, who just rock, gave me a gift certificate for a massage at a day spa as a birthday gift, and I finally redeemed it. Don't know why I didn't do it sooner, because "nice" just doesn't even begin to describe the experience. Definitely one of the best massages I've had. Thanks again, guys and gals!

Anyway, Ian and Eliza announced their birthday wish lists today. Ian even typed his up on the computer, complete with tips on where to find these particular items. Without going into details, here are the CATEGORIES of their desires, as enumerated by them in the car this morning, unvarnished and unedited by me.

Eliza: New princess stuff, makeup*, butterfly stuff, candy, seed packets for herself and all the guests, and candy for all her guests.

Ian: Legos, Books, Missiles**, Action Figures.

(* I guess we started something with that sparkly blue eyeshadow ...)
(**Think model trebuchets and nerf bow-and-arrows.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not Quite Perfect

I'm scratching my head over this one. My son is -- let's just be super-blunt -- gifted with the pencil, and by that I mean the drawing pencil. He draws animals, weaponry and soldiers, with incredible detail. Here's a sample of some of his work, which he drew for Tim's birthday. Huh. The quality of the scanned version, or the upload, isn't so wondrous. Sorry.

I've been given this evaluation by many folks outside the family, so I'm not just being Proud Mommy here. And I take no credit; he was probably born with this particular talent, and gets lots of time to indulge himself.

But yesterday -- ah, how do I even describe this? -- he was SO depressed about his work. He came to me declaring that nothing he ever draws is "good enough," and when I expressed my shock, clarified that "it's never on paper the way it is in my head." He also managed to get out that he starts a drawing and then loses focus/gets distracted, and has trouble finishing it. Since the girls were happily flinging the contents of the rice box hither and thither on the patio, I was able to sit down with him and try to give a good listen. Ever have those moments, where your kiddo opens his heart to you and you're telling yourself, "Tread lightly here. Don't mess this one up." He actually came to tears over this one, and when I tried to point out to him that Leonardo da Vinci, whom we've recently studied, had TONS of unfinished ideas, possibly from distraction (ADD?) and possibly from perfectionism. His response? "But MO-OM! He painted the MONA LISA!"

Sigh. I prayed for wisdom on this, because although we eventually moved on, I have a feeling that this issue will resurface. How do you help a child navigate the waters of near-impossible ideals? How to you encourage him to strive, to always "let his reach exceed his grasp," as the poet Langston Hughes put it, but then help him to be content with his best being "good enough?"

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

It's late, and although I'll probably go on and on in my usual fashion, I'm going to try to keep this short and sweet. Uh-huh. Famous last words ...

We had a wonderful weekend, after the whole toe drama (to which I have NO comments, despite my obvious bid for sympathy, LOL!!!). We drove up to Dallas for a church conference (I saw some of you guys there, including readers I didn't even know I had -- c'mon folks, how can I coax you out of hiding into an occasional comment? :-)). We don't often get to attend events like this, and when we do, neither Tim nor I gets to sit in on all the meetings, but maybe because of that, we really, really appreciate what we get. I mean, if you eat, say, smoked salmon every week, it's not quite the same as if you get it, fresh from Alaska, twice a year, know what I mean? Thanks to some willing friends/relatives, I got to attend two meetings and serve with the kindergarteners during another meeting.

For my kids, the highlight was either the pool or the glass elevators, which they rode ad infinitum (the conference took place at the Hyatt Regency). For me, I think it was the fact that between the spiritual nourishment I received and the opportunity to catch up with friends I hadn't seen for various lengths of time, it was just so good to get out of my "box." When I'm here at home, I guess I get caught up in my narrow focus of my family, the quality of my parenting, the happiness of my children and husband, the health of my parents, and my own walk with the Lord. It's so refreshing to be truly broadened, rooted and grounded once in a while.

And another thing that touched me: Ian was, for much of the weekend, rather on the hyper side, as he tends to get sometimes when he's out of HIS box. It wasn't the most enjoyable time in THAT respect ... but. Last night as the session with the kindergarteners got later and later, Ian came next door from his own class just as we adults were starting to really lose our oomph (we had 42 kindergarteners in one room.) Ian literally rounded up those kids, at least the ones who were left, and had them doing freeze tag, 20 Questions, Simon Says, and all manner of games. They were glued to him. They literally migrated from my presence to his. He'd say, "Now, everyone line up here. Make a LINE. Like THIS." And by George, they'd do it. I felt proud of him, but humbled at the same time, like the Lord was giving me some insight if I'd just be quiet and pay attention. This child was glowing, and he KNEW he was doing a good job with these kids. The more he has opportunity to serve, to take on leadership, to be responsible and to exceed anyone's expectations of him, the better he'll do.

And on the way home, Tim and Eliza and I were playing 20 Questions. Eliza had us guessing about someone alive, real, who lives in Austin, whom we'd never met, wearing an orange hat, and we finally got it down to, "someone we saw at Yobel and Priscilla's soccer game." Um, hello? That would be one of the many Lady Longhorns games we attended a year and a half ago when said friends played for UT? We gave up. "The man with the BRAAAAIIIIIDS!" DUH! Such dense parents! How could we POSSIBLY not get that?!?!

I think we laughed for five minutes straight, and she just couldn't figure out why.

The Answer

Good votes, people. Anne was the closest, with "Shakespeare," and I love the variety, from "Dr. Seuss" to "Plato," but the answer is ... Agatha Christie.
Tim points out that the "number of translations" means number of works written times number of languages translated into. Since Ms. Christie wrote approximately 42 billion mystery novels, assuming each of them was translated into at least one other language, she got the edge on Shakespeare et al.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Broken Toe; Mended Friendship

NOTE: I was intending to post this yesterday during the day, but events conspired to change my day and make that impossible. In short, I broke my toe by accidentally kicking the stroller while walking around it, had to go to the ER, spent a few hours there during which the following sequence of events happened, in between lots of waiting time and time with witty nurse: 1- doctor comes in, asks what happened, I show him my jutting-away-from-foot toe, he immediately tries to yank on it to set it WITHOUT PAINKILLERS, I scream, he stops and suggests they try it again with painkillers. Ya think? 2- I get the painkillers, finally, and while waiting for the doctor, start suffering my trademark horrible, cold-sweat, I-think-I'm-gonna-die stomach cramps, possibly as a result of the combination of the meds plus little food and drink in stomach. I ring my nurse bell like crazy, until they shoot me up with phenergan. 3- My toe is set, wrapped in buddy tape, put in a beautiful splint, dh and kids come to get me and take me home, and I go to bed, all of the above occurring while I'm completely unconscious. Wow, am I ever caught up on sleep! I'm eager to hear, when everyone else wakes up, what all went on yesterday, since the last thing I remember is the welome prick of the phenergan needle. Hey, I'm all for doing these naturally, but there is a point at which one resigns oneself to "Better Living Through Chemistry." :-)


It's funny, this growing up thing. Until a couple days ago, Ian was pretty convinced that Lilith was his enemy, simply by virtue of having that second X chromosome (they were in Monday Co-op together). I could tell all along that SHE felt differently, but was savvy enough to be subtle about it.

Then there was Tuesday, the pillow fight, etc. etc. at our house while I instructed her mom, Carla, in how to handle the co-op finances.

Then there was yesterday, when we actually went to the bank with our five kids, put her name on the account, and attended a free concert of Latin American folk music downtown. Ian and Lilith are pretty much BFF now, having discovered an instant common ground in MAKING UP PRANKS. (That's how Ian usually finds his buddies: either they have a toy-collection interest in common (Bionicles, dinosaurs, Legos, whatever), or they bond by walking hand-in-hand on the dark side (maybe this is why Eliza doesn't make new friends as easily as Ian -- as sweet and loyal a friend as she is, she's not into toy collections OR tricks). All through the concert, they scribbled Top Secret Notes and Hideous Plans to each other. As soon as Ian got home, he immediately typed one up (soon to be emailed to Lilith). It's a note for Daddy's pillow and it reads: "TIIIIIIIIIMMMMM, TIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMMM, DO NOT DRINK COFFEE FOR THE NEXT TEN BILLION YEARS OR A DEADLEY [sic] DOOM WILL BEFALL YOU!!!!!"

It's an interesting twist on his memory verse for this week -- Romans 12:18. "As far as it depends on you, live in peace with all men." I now have hope that in Ian's case, "all men" may one day include "all women" as well ...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grief and Joy

My heart is breaking for the family of Christian singer and brother in the Lord Steven Curtis Chapman, who lost their youngest daughter in a tragic accident yesterday. What the website doesn't say is that his teenage son accidentally backed over the little girl in the driveway. To deal with losing a daughter so suddenly, but also helping a teenager work through unimaginable feelings of guilt, is just beyond comprehension. I am praying for them, and I know many others must be too.

Here's a video of one of his songs, inspired by his daughters. The second half of the video is him talking about how he wrote it -- one of those parenting moments I think we can ALL relate to, of feeling impatient and frustrated with our kids when they're not on our page, and then sort of getting a smack upside the head about what REALLY matters.

On a more selfish note, my heart is very, very cherished by some older friends, like almost my parents' age, who recently moved here from New Zealand and are visiting our home meeting. They arrived early and are right now outside whipping the front of our house, including the cluttered carport, into shape, doing DRASTIC things to reduce our redneck curb appeal. ;-) And I know from last week's experience that after dinner, they'll be totally invigorating our singing time, taking us to a new level of the heavens. The fact that they can do both those things with such a happy heart completely exudes Jesus to me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This Just In ...

... from this month's issue of National Geographic. There's a cute and colorful chart showing the top 50 most-translated authors of all time. Care to hazard a guess as to who's the Number One (besides the Bible)? Leave a guess in the Comments section and I'll post the answer in a day or two.

Oh, and I knew I was forgetting something last night in the Calama-line post. Act IV: Caroline spies another parents observing the taekwondo class from outside the door. In fact, he's standing next to us. He has an impressive lower-torso protuberance, i.e. a LARGE beer gut. She points, and asks -- and the child does not mumble -- "Mommy, what's in his tummy?" Arghhhh! I 'm like lightning, down on the floor next to her, whispering in her ear, "FOOD, and shhh!" She looks at me in bewilderment, probably expecting to hear "a watermelon" or some such thing, and clearly unsatisfied with my answer, but I immediately start chattering brightly about something going on inside the class, and avoid eye contact with said parent for the duration.

Eliza finally had her coveted sleepover last night, with her best friend Rhynn. They're quite a pair, Rhynn with a precocious imagination and Eliza with her gullible loyalty ("Rhynn has a SECRET WORLD, Mama. Acacia said it was her imagination but she's WRONG."). If Rhynn ever runs for office, Eliza's going to be her campaign manager. Rhynn will make all sorts of wild claims to the voters, and Eliza will look straight into the camera and swear up and down that the candidate is NOT making this up. So anyway, everything went quite well, and I have to admit, it was both weird and ... bad-mommy-points, about to be awarded to me ... kind of, um, peaceful this morning, to just have the other two. We all slept in a bit. After breakfast tacos, during which the phone kept ringing every two minutes and we didn't get our customary reading time, Ian and Caroline decided they were going to have a Reading Festival in Ian's room, and went off hand in hand (literally). Amazing. When I went in there later they were both sprawled out with books, and Caroline informed me that she was reading Little Engine That Could TO Ian. It is sooo interesting, and I say this with complete neutrality, how removing one child from the equation changes the whole dynamic sometimes.

Just for a couple hours, of course.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Milestone for Calama-line

Caroline turned two and a half today -- wow! She's just a couple weeks shy of being the age Eliza was when we moved here, and a couple weeks older than E. was when C. was born! Here's how she celebrated her newfound maturity:
(Scenery for all Acts: Mother temporarily absent, engaged in some industrious activity, unless you count "jabbering with friend in other room.")

Act I: Caroline smears half a tube of Organic Grooming Aftershave all over her face, hair, and body.

I stick her the shower for a few minutes, but at the end of the day, her hair's still matted down and she smells, um, kinda sexy. Like maybe she's been working out and has a Special Lady Friend. :-)

Act II: Caroline gets caught in the crossfire of a rambunctious pillow fight among Ian, his friend Lilith, and Eliza. Result: Cut all the way through chin, much blood. Child cries for five minutes, possibly a record for her. We ice it, and my friend Carla validates my instinct to take her to the doctor because it is ... deep. Makes me queasy, although it doesn't take much. (Good thing Carla was there, because as the child of a pediatrician, I grew up having my dad woken up at all hours of the night with "urgent" calls from parents whose children just sneezed TWICE, and I now live in fear of being That Mom. Especially since she literally sang songs about her doll's shirt and pants all the way over to the doctor's office.) Result #2: Doctor, after waffling on the bandage vs. stitches issue, thinks a steri-strip will hold it together (quote: "Caroline is probably my only patient this age who I think could handle this"), but if not, we have to get in with a plastic surgeon tomorrow morning for stitches. So far, so good, the bandage is holding. Darn. I was hoping for a sort of family deal with the plastic surgeon ("so, while I'm in here holding my daughter, what do you think you could do about ...")

Act III: Caroline dumps half a bottle of garlic salt onto a stick of butter, thus combining two of her favorite guilty pleasures. (Sorry, no picture.)

I'd better go tuck her in. It's definitely time to draw the curtain on this Day of Drama.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Still crazy ...

... after all these (11) years. Yes, I know everyone's dying to hear about our romantic weekend away (that would be, our romantic 22 hours away), but FIRST, an aside:

As much as I commented last week on my appreciation for NPR, I must confess that no entertainment rivals driving a two year old around town, especially one who talks like this:
"Hey, guys! I have a story to tell you."
"OK, Caroline, we're all ears."
"Once upon a time, there was a girl named Goldilocks. [Schoolbus passes us.] No! Once upon a time, there was a girl named Goldi-BUS!" Uproarious giggles. She cracks herself up. "And she drawed a house ..."

Okay. So. Le week-end. It was, in brief, fantastic. We deposited our cherished offspring and then headed over to Central Market for a smoothie, since we hadn't eaten since breakfast and had burned lots of calories clapping for Eliza at her dance performance. Then it was on to the Omni Hotel downtown (yeehaw for Priceline; we got it for a steal on graduation weekend, no less!) where we were reminded of one of life's little lessons: When celebrating your wedding anniversary, always, always, mention it to any hotel or restaurant staff you might encounter. You never know when there will be goodies. In this case, a bottle of wine and a fruit and cheese plate when we returned that night.

We ate an early dinner at Z Tejas, avoiding the UT commencement crowds, and arrived in plenty of time to find a spot on the hillside for the Much Ado about Nothing performance. Ah, so much fun! Since I love the movie, I knew most of the lines, but it was so neat to see them performed differently. And the actors who played Benedick and Beatrice just exactly nailed it. Amazing.

Sunday morning, before picking up our kids at our church hall, we got to wander around downtown Austin, one of the The Coolest Cities on da Planet, pick up breakfast tacos at the Hideout, hold hands, and pretend to be tourists, which we NEVER get to do. It truly felt like assuming some kind of stolen identity, escaping for a little while from our mommy-and-daddy routine, which after all, was sort of the point.

Oh, and because this is US after all, we did have one of Those Moments. Waiting for the elevator Sunday morning, we watched packed elevators pass us by again and again, until we, and the college guy waiting with us, decided to chuck the whole thing and find the stairs (it was the fifth floor, after all). Well, let's just say the stairs were clearly never intended for Omni guest use. Nothing posh about them, and here's the rub -- no escape. We literally came to the bottom of the stairs and had to choose between a door that would set off the fire alarm or a locked door. Trapped with the dead grasshoppers in the stairwell of a grand hotel -- is this what you get for not paying full price for your room? We waved to the security cameras, and finally the guy with us got his brother on the phone, who called the front desk and asked them to come let us out. Did we all feel a teensy bit sheepish and in desperate need of explaining the elevator problem over and over to the desk clerk? Oh, you betcha.

Eliza's Ballet Recital

How mega-cute is this?
Before the camera zooms in, she's the tall one with a big pink hairbow (and not a ponytail).

She seeemed to know what she was doing more than most of them, but for her, the best part was getting to wear sparkly blue eyeshadow. Of course.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Weekly Wrap-Up

Here it is, our record of weekly learning, at least the learning noted by me ...

Bible -- Still in Kings.

History/Literature -- Continuing our Shakespeare study, we read Bard of Avon and William Shakespeare's MacBeth together, plus listened to a summary of MacBeth on Story of the World, and the CD Shakespeare for Children, which is Jim Weiss' retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew. (CD links are in my widget.) (I wish I could track down a movie version of one of the plays that would be suitable for young eyes.) We read "Aladdin" and "Beauty and the Beast" from The Blue Fairy Book (Andrew Lang), and "The Elephant and the Six Blind Men" from Fifty Famous Stories Retold.

Writing -- Ian copied out his memory verse for the week, and did some captions for his drawings. We played a couple rounds of "Guggenheim," which is basically a simplified version of Scattergories, where you agree on three or four categories, spell out a three letter word across the top, and fill in each category with something beginning with each letter (does that make sense? Clearly, I'm not a technical writer).

Math -- We did a bunch of measurement pages in our Miquon Math book (and finished the book, hurray, had to celebrate with a new Lego), and then measured various things around the house and yard in centimeters and inches.

Science -- Better this week! We read two of the wonderful "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out" science books, one on thunderstorms (relevant; it's been quite a week here weatherwise) and one on rain. We looked up the definition of a cyclone and found Burma/Myanmar on the world map. Tim took the kids to the creek one morning during my doctor's appointment and they experimented with throwing all different things into the stream and making their own boats. And today, for the crowning touch, we went on a fieldtrip to Crowe's Nest Farm with some families in the Austin Area Homeschoolers 0-9 Activities Group. An all-around success, AND beautiful, non-muggy weather, which by this time of year is a real Act of God.

Music/Art/etc. -- Well, we didn't do much formally this week, besides drawing (Ian), scrapbooking (Eliza), taking pictures (Ian), and listening to various classical and Christian music, mostly in the background.

P.S. We made up our mind about the anniversary thing. Thanks to all who voted in the poll and in the comments ... it was tight!!! Ultimately, I had to bow to the fact that one of my poll voters was my co-participant in the trip, i.e. my actual husband. Result: We are staying at a very nice hotel (thank you, Priceline) in downtown Austin and going to see Shakespeare in the Park! (But I am TOTALLY keeping the B&B-in-the-country option in my back pocket. Because, you know, we get these opportunities on a regular basis. Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

Friday, May 16, 2008

So Ian says at dinner ...

Okay, imagine this all being spoken with great intensity, words dripping with delight in their delicious deviousness.

"Oscar and I are going to wake up really early, and no matter how early it is, we're going to go to the other boy's house. And my preparations include: two Asterixes, one sleeping bag, one Z-Bar, a pair of underpants* and a pair of pajamas, my spear, my giant axe,** my cape, my sweatshirt, and other various objects.

And we can make up plans and ideas. And talk about SECRET STUFF. And then when everyone else gets up and comes out, we'll just be sitting there very casually."

*So glad my ceaseless reminders are finally bearing some fruit!

** Think PVC piping and duct tape, people.

On my CD player right now

"We have a Father, whose heart is full of love for us
His heart is so great, and His love is so unlimited ..."

Mmmmm, feeling so thankful ...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I Love NPR

Did anyone else catch that amazing segment on NPR yesterday about the family in China who lost their toddler in the earthquake? I have to admit, I was out of it, I thought the big news was the cyclone in Myanmar, and lo and behold, as I was driving home from my tutoring job, I found out that I'd somehow missed the fact that there was this giant earthquake that's killed 20,000 people.

Here's the story. I literally had tears rolling down my face during the broadcast, especially when the parents found out their child had indeed died, and they both started wailing in that way that you know you would if your heart-walking-around-outside-your-body had been crushed like that. Even the translator was crying.

(And I love how, on the Today Show this morning, which I watch a couple mornings a week while on my elliptical trainer, they devoted all of about 45 seconds to the crisis, which is about one-tenth of the time they spent interviewing Angelina Jolie and gushing about the fact that she is having TWINS. That pretty much sums up the TVnews/NPR divide for you.)

You know, I'm ashamed to admit it, but when you hear numbers like "20,000 casualties" in China or Myanmar or the like, that kind of statistic is so mindboggling that it's easy to sort of dehumanize the tragedy and think subconsciously that the loss of each of those persons can't possibly mean as much to their family and friends as it would to US if that happened here in OUR country. As if the hypothetical loss of one of our children in, say, a car accident or something that we parents fear, would be any more grievous than the loss of one child among 20,000 in an earthquake. As if somehow, our children, and family, and friends, their presence and their absence mean more to us.

It's ridiculous, of course, and stories like that one put it all in perspective.

P.S. Not to mention the whole one-child policy and China's penchant for forced sterilizations; I wonder how that dynamic plays into all this ...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Help Us Decide

Miracles still happen.

Tim and I are celebrating our 11th anniversary this weekend (no no, THAT'S not the miracle!), and we are actually getting a night away! Caroline is having her very own sleepover with her very doting Aunt Kristen (my sis) and Uncle Allen (who can deny her nothing, and rocks at getting her to sleep). The older two are going out to Elgin to their grandparents' house to sleep over (and I use the word "sleep" lightly, since cousins will be involved).

So we have two options. One is to find some last-minute availability at a charming bed and breakfast in the Hill Country, like maybe in Fredericksburg -- like we used to do BK (before ...). It would be about an hour's scenic drive from the city, and let's call that the "getting away from it all" option. The other is to get on Priceline Hotels, shoot for a killer rate at a nice place downtown, and have an early dinner followed by some Shakespeare in the Park, which we did on one of our first dates way back when. The show is "Much Ado About Nothing," (love the play, love the movie Kenneth Branagh made) and is only running for a limited time, and it's not really an option with the kiddos, since it doesn't even start until 8:00 p.m. And it's free. Let's call that the "night on the town" option.

How will we make this decision? With help from my readers, of course! Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend us your votes. I am going so far as to create a POLL, thus making this website a fully interactive, multimedia experience. If you need more details before voting, ask and you shall receive, in the comments section.

Our weekend happiness depends on YOU, so come and do your civic duty. (But, no promises to abide by the poll results, of course. ;-) That's the fine print.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Man Vs. Wild

This is why we don't need to pay for cable TV.

Background: Several months ago, we happened to be staying at a hotel with cable TV, and Ian discovered the show of his dreams on the Discovery Channel (OK, tangent: while helping me reorganize our art supplies yesterday, Eliza informed me that "I've found the crayon of my dreams!"). It was called --and I know everyone already knows about this except me, since we live in a cable-free cave -- "Man Versus Wild."

But you see, you don't need to WATCH shows about some tough guy dropping from a helicopter into a jungle where he must wrestle hungry crocodiles and drink his own blood to survive (I'm making this up, but just barely) ... when you have a back yard like ours.

On the surface: a cheery, semi-shaded postage stamp of a yard, complete with sandbox, tree fort, zipline, your basic American yadda yadda. Oh, and a chicken coop. Yes, let's not forget that part, because that's where it starts to get crazy (Steve, where are you with your movie-trailer voice when I need you?).

Be not deceived, this yard is anything but pastoral. Oh, no, my friend. It harbors dramas of a dark and sordid sort. We only THOUGHT our chickens were getting old and tired, or a squirrel was stealing their eggs. And everyone on the backyard-chickens email list (NOT making that up) my dh subscribes to assured it was squirrels, since it wasn't a snake this time. But last week, our fearless hero (henceforth referred to as "Tim") discovered the TRUE culprits. We had a RATS' NEST under the roof of our nesting house!

OK, forget about charming little Remy in Ratatouille -- this means WAR. We are now engaged in out-strategizing these little rodents. They've been unceremoniously shown the door, a.k.a. the fence to the neighbor's yard. But they've been feasting on free-range eggs for weeks now, and goodness knows, they'll stop at nothing til they get a taste of the good stuff again. We'll be monitoring any signs of their return. Traps are being discussed. Poison is on the table. And when I say "we," I do mean ... "HE." (This is why I make sure Tim wears a bike helmet. I'd make a horrible widow.)

Then. The peaches. We have a peach tree, and last year at the cusp of yielding its ripe fruit, the tree was suddenly, violently, and completely denuded of its harvest. There were pits all over the yard. Squirrels, obviously.

Well, the peaches are ripening again, and the squirrels are partying. They're getting ready to rumble. They're thinking Peachy Keen smoothies. Until today. Tim and the kids spent an hour knocking nests out of our shade tree (leaving me to feel sorry for the homeless babies). Only an hour later, he found another squirrel, calmly helping himself to another unripe peach.

I hesitate to even write this next part. What if, among my lurker readers, I have a PETA activist? All I can say, sir or ma'am, is that, number one, I would never wear a fur coat, and number two, IT WASN"T MY IDEA! Tim called his officemate, a West Point graduate, who happens to have done his time in Iraq, and it looks like there's going to be a little target practice in our back yard tomorrow with a pellet gun. And I'm supposed to take the children out to the library, of all places, so they're not exposed to any violence on our property. Because they are so sensitive, they might feel sorry for the squirrels. They might think about how the squirrel families are being torn asunder. They might imagine how some squirrel baby, maybe named Bambi, will never see his mommy again after she just stepped out for a few nuts, I mean peach pits, for his morning snack.

Would you believe that he actually offered to make squirrel meat for dinner????? I mean, what are we, the Ingalls family? (Newly discovered installment: Little House in the Suburban Section of the City.) I'm all for a night off from the kitchen while someone else cooks, but dear Lord in heaven, let it not be something that my engineer husband, the aspiring Professor Diller, shot with a pellet gun.

I mean, really.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Slideshow

Tracee SO hit the nail on the head here.

BUT, to his credit, I have to say my dh pulled it together in the nick of time and had the kids cranking out cards this morning, using the Cuttlebug machine that my very nice in-laws gave me for my recent birthday. So, no handprints or sappy poems, but cards nonetheless-- and of course, a drawing of monks and knights. Because my son is who he is. :-) And, you know, those monks and knights had to have mothers, even if they're not actually pictured.

We, meaning the immediate and extended family (parents-in-law, SIL and husband, two nieces), celebrated in our traditional fashion with a schmancy buffet lunch at the University of Texas Club. There is just something about a buffet like that that makes me feel morally obligated to leave no dish untried (well, almost). Like it would be this sinful WASTE to not stuff my face and waddle out of there. Like I have to eat for the next three meals or something. Especially since no one's come up with a way to sanitarily ship all that untouched food to the starving children in Africa. Gluttony, folks. It comes but once a year, so let's eat three kinds of dessert, shall we?

Here are some photos. Notice that Ian's just not so keen on mugging for the camera. As I said, he is who he is. Eliza's got it down pat. Caroline is, well, enthusiastic. As you can see from a couple of the photos, she gets that she's supposed to do something special with her face.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Those busy brains

Eliza and Amber (5.5 y.o. cousin): Can we PLEASE sleep over at Nonnie and Opa's house tonight?
Me: Sorry, Nonnie said not this week, because she's getting ready to go on her trip.
Eliza: To England?
Me: Yes.
Eliza, quite seriously: Why? So she can learn more English???
Amber: She's going to see the Statue of England!
Me: The Statue of England? I haven't heard of that; tell me about it.
Amber: It's just a statue of a lady holding up a giant stick with a sun on top.
Oh yeah! The Statue of Liberty!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Weekly Wrap-Up

Here I go, laying my records bare to the public eye again. This time I'm just going to put our book titles in my widget, rather than creating a zillion links from within the text. What can I say; it's been a long day!

Week of 5/5-5/10: (Abbreviated since I was gone for Monday and half of Tuesday)

Bible: Daily Old Testament reading.

Literature/History: We read, laughed over, and thoroughly enjoyed One Grain of Rice, which we noticed is based the same Chinese legend from which the picture book A Single Grain of Rice derives. Good stuff. In keeping with Asian theme, we read equally delightful Yoshi's Feast, and made sure they could locate China on the world map. We read three stories from James Baldwin's Fifty Famous Stories Retold, and the entire Welcome to The Globe: William Shakespeare's Theatre. Ian and I got through the first two chapters of The Shakespeare Stealer. We played Who am I? and What Came First? and of course, listened to Story of the World. The older two and I attended about half of a performance of 3rd-6th graders doing scenes from Shakespeare on the UT campus (while Caroline had lunch in Daddy's lab). Eliza read a BOB book with me (I wish I were more consistent with this ... but then again, she's not five yet ...)

Math: Ian did a logic puzzle and some word problems from

Writing: Ian wrote two long pages of "A Knight's Journal," with illustration, another self-directed history project. He also copied out his Bible verse for the week. They both made birthday cards for Dad and Mother's Day cards for the grandmothers. They (mostly Ian) did some journaling on their scrapbook pages.

Science: Huh. I feel rather weak in this area. When the co-ops were going on, I at least knew they'd each have "science" once a week. Now, I'm relying on random backyard inquiry and the occasional readaloud. Good, of course, but sort of hit or miss (especially as the weather gets hotter). Tomorrow Ian will attend Acorn Eaters Nature Club, which is a once-a-month Saturday class at McKinney Roughs State Park. We'll tromp around among the flora and fauna while he's busy with that.

Music/Art: Listened to Mozart's Magnificent Voyage from Classical Kids. Each of the older kids did a scrapbook spread. Ian did some drawings for Tim's birthday, which Tim is going to scan and put on his website. I'll post the link when it exists. This is really his thing.

Foreign Language: Our last Spanish class! They reviewed, stuffed their faces with tamales, chips and salsa, and then burst into the backyard to work up a sweat, probably remembering very little Espanol. (Honestly? It's more of a social thing for us. No one's going to mistake my chiquitos for native speakers any time soon, but it sure was fun to have these five other families in our home once a week all year!)

All in all, not a bad week. It really helps me to look at this stuff and see that our week consisted of more than me stumbling through kid detritus all over the house and assigning chores and saying "no" to more computer-game time.

And on a personal note of victory, I got all the closets and drawers sorted out and did the official seasonal switch. Doesn't that always feel like a fresh start? I can't wait to unload at Goodwill, too! It's a pleasant, anti-hoarding feeling for a clutterphobe like me. :-)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who's On First?

We had the most delightful rendition of carschooling today, on our way to the airport to pick up my sis and BIL. I try to either play games or play books-on-tape in the car, for the very simple reason that it preserves the peace among the small fry. Oh, and it's educational. Yeah, that too.

So we sometimes play "Who Am I?" where I fire at the older two questions like, "I invented the printing press," or "I painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel," or "I won the Battle of Hastings," and they fire back the name (Eliza gets simpler ones). Today's variation: "What Came First?" I'd call out, "The David or the Sistine Chapel?" or "Genghis Khan or Kublai Khan?" or "Henry the Navigator or Christopher Columbus?" and Ian would answer. Eliza would echo. Caroline would occasionally contradict ("NO! THE BLACK PRINCE!") Okay, disclaimer: We don't memorize dates. We don't even do a timeline. We just read a lot, Ian reads a ton of history picture books, and we listen to Story of the World ad nauseum. Sad fact: he was better at this game than I was. He kept grumbling that my questions were easy-easy-lemon-squeezy, but, uh, I was probing the outer limits of my own knowledge. I mean, duh, Edward the Confessor came before William the Conqueror because E. the C. was a Saxon king, and W. the C. was a Norman! Everyone knows that! There were even a couple times when I'd ask him a question to which I didn't really know the answer. Since he was getting them all right (can I enter him as a Jeopardy contestant yet?), I figured I'd just say, "Great!" to whatever he answered! LOL!

It really was fun, even with Caroline blasting away on the harmonica in between rounds. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go verify who came first, Martin Luther or Johannes Gutenberg. Anyone know that off the top?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

To Boston and Back

Home again.

Tired. Borderline braindead. Effect of horrible Dunkin Donuts coffee on airplane now fading. Procrastinating entering orders for my milk co-op into the database. Apparently seeing how long can write without introducing a subject into my sentences.

But in case anyone was wondering, just wanted to mention that the reason I've not blogged in a whole -- egads! -- uh, let's see, four days, is that on Saturday, my birthday*, my two year old and I flew to Boston for our monthly/bimonthly visit to my parents. I didn't blog while I was there (obviously). The extent of my creative production was to work the crossword puzzle. It was a tremendous benefit to my family to have me there. ;-)

But as slothful as I felt while I lolled about the house ostensibly "being helpful," I did have a good time visiting with my parents, sisters and brother-in-law. My dad and Caroline carried on their tradition of visiting the animal shelter up the street to say hello to Rosie the Pig, plus the sheep and horses. She rides on his lap in his electric wheelchair. He's quite a good sport about it.

And among our adventures together was one of Those Moments. You know what I mean. Those Moments you want to freeze. We all went in to Cambridge, specifically the Hahvahd campus, where my youngest sister was playing in an orchestra concert in Sanders Theatre, located in Annenberg Hall. Caroline and I, because I could easily foresee a situation in which I received icy glares from seasoned concertgoers who wondered how I DARED bring a chatty TWO YEAR OLD into a CONCERT, listened from outside the theatre. Talk about history. I had read about this in The Deserter: Murder at Gettysburg, but I defy anyone to walk through the breathtaking foyer of that amazing building, with its soaring, vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and its plaques commemorating the names, classes, and death dates (with battle names) of each Harvard student who gave his life in "The Battle for the Preservation for the Union" and not be moved, if not to tears, at least to a lump in the throat. Harvard men they may have been, with all the trappings of power and privilege, but when it came right down to it, their sacrifice was no more or less noble than those of their farmboy comrades-at-arms, their dying breaths no more or less painful (see Harvard president Drew Gilpin's new book This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War for the gory details), their loss no more or less grievous to the families they left behind.

Oh, and try to reflect on all this while following the clackety-clack of a toddler tripping across that hallowed floor wearing -- of course -- her beloved tap shoes.

(*How's this for dear? My son, who is totally NOT a morning person, struggled out of bed the morning of my birthday and beat me to the kitchen. He INSISTED that I go back to bed, but since Caroline was still in it, we compromised on the couch as he clattered about in there. Next thing I knew, a plate was being handed to me. On it were two smaller plates. On one plate was a piece of lightly toasted bread adorned with a hunk of butter. On the other plate was a pancake, ostensibly warmed up in our malfunctioning toaster but actually quite cold, with more butter and maple syrup.
The butter may not have melted, but my heart sure did!)

Friday, May 2, 2008

It's Friday

Okay everyone, just to clarify, the answer was "c; both of the above."

I'm not going to launch into full weekly review for various reasons, but I did want to submit reviews of two particularly delicious books we consumed this week.

The runner-up: William Shakespeare & the Globe, by Aliki. It's not always the case when we read nonfiction, but by the end Ian was glued (Eliza was sort of in and out). I suggested to him, with a twinkle in my eye, that we hop on a plane and go check out the Globe Theatre in London next weekend, and he seemed game. Sort of like my burning desire to go to Italy after reading all about Michelangelo. (My neighbors are taking their four kids to do that next week, by the way. For nine days. No. Not jealous AT ALL.) Anyway, the book is brilliantly illustrated, with real Shakespeare quotes throughout, and a nicely done modern tie-in, with a focus on the man who resurrected the Globe Theatre in our lifetime.

The Grand Prize winner: A delightful little book that I had never even heard of before (how did I miss this growing up?) called Twenty and Ten. Caroline took a LONG nap one day so our reading of the first chapter turned into greedy feasting on the entire book, all five or six chapters thereof. It's about some French refugee children during WWII, living under the care of a nun in the Alps, who shelter ten Jewish children from the Nazis who are hunting them down. With themes of courage and sacrifice and loyalty, this book is all that you hope for when you want to "show, don't tell" with your kiddos. When we finished, Ian went over to play with Oscar, and I heard him chattering about the plot, sort of giving him a gratuitous infomercial -- for a book! That I read to him! Yahoo! They begged to read it all over again the next day, in fact.

Speaking of reading aloud, in case you're wondering, yes, it's a nightmare when Caroline's awake. That's just the bald truth. Anne, Tracee, I know you know what I mean -- there's just no such thing as stringing three sentences together uninterrupted. You get so your child can be flooding the bathroom as she happily pours out "tea," as mine did this morning, and your older one says, "Mama, Caroline's getting water all over the floor," and you just grin and say, "Yes, I know," and think to yourself that the water bill will be high, but cheaper than preschool. I remember reading something on the famous-among-homeschoolers Susan Wise Bauer's website where she talks about sending her toddler to his bed with a dish of chocolate chips to keep him busy while she read to the older ones. Yup, entirely plausible. What, darling? You're emptying the contents of your rice box onto the patio? (true) You're stark naked and juggling steak knives in the kitchen? (not so much) But you're quiet and happy for a good 15 minutes? Excellent. Carry on!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

From My Brother

She's only been hearing this song since she was, oh, an hour old.
If you start singing it, she'll fill in the "mwah, mwah, mwah" part.
And one time, her daddy sighed, "Oh, sweet Caroline," and her big sister, age three, chirped, "Good times never seemed so good, Daddy!"