Friday, February 27, 2009

Learning Highlights

OK, one set of keys has been recovered (a fellow I serve with at AWANA found them and brought them over last night, hurray), one still to go.

But in the meantime, life goes on. I've recently read the snort-cranberry-juice-through-your-nose-while-laughing I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Awayby Bill Bryson. Bryson always gets my belly laugh, and this book was particularly pleasant because I could relate to so much of the commentary on American culture, and because unlike some of his others (A Walk in the Woods springs to mind), the language was clean. I actually attempted to read this on an airplane recently, and my dignity was only saved by the fact that both my seatmates were snoozing while I shook with barely-contained mirth. Brilliant.

Ian has read a couple books he loves this week, but I'd like to highlight one called George Washington's Socks. Goofy title and all, it's quality historical fiction that a picky eight-year-old boy couldn't put down.

Eliza and Daddy (and sometimes Ian) are reading through The Long Winter (Little House)at night. Shouldn't the LHOP series be part of every childhood at some point? Particularly when it's shared with a parent? I think so.

Caroline, well, she does things like this. I call it a "self-guided Montessori education."
Step One: Chop celery.

Step Two: Grasp celery morsel with improvised chopsticks.

Step Three: Consume celery.

Yeah, we'll keep her.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Car Chronicles

Y'all, I am so frustrated. No, no, that's too mild a word. I want to crawl into my bed, pull the covers over my heard, somehow receive a lobotomy, and reemerge into society when I have a brain that actually FUNCTIONS.

This is the sad, sad story, in five parts.

First, I run out of gas while driving home.

Second, I am forty five minutes late to work (two weeks ago) because I have to tear the house apart looking for my car keys, which turn out to be in the cupholder of the stroller.

Third, last Sunday, my keys slip through the fingers of a certain child of mine and slide into the sewer opening of the curb by which we parked. (Note: this is the SECOND time this child has dropped something into that sewer opening. We are NEVER parking there again.) Another child had to shimmy under my van and into the opening to fish out my keys. I promised him I would share this story of his heroism at his wedding, in about twenty years. One of our elders made me sign a contract indicating my intent to do so.

Fourth, last night at AWANA, I lose my keys. Thinking I've locked them in my car, I send out an SOS, and a very nice AWANA lady drives the children and me home. I pick up Tim's keys and she drives me back to get my car. (The spare key, hitherto kept in a magnetic lock box, has wandered off on vacation.) Oh, and when I finally get into my car? No keys. But we had a lovely visit, driving around in the dark.

Fifth, this morning MY HUSBAND CANNOT FIND HIS KEYS!!!!!!! The ones he lent ME last night! We searched the house for TWO AND A HALF hours. I am not making this up. And this is the first day he's supposed to be back at work after lying in bed sick for five days. "Can you remember what you did when you walked through the door?" he asked so sweetly, a few times. Well, of course not, because I was talking to my neighbor Emily on my cellphone and was immediately assaulted by my wakeful three year old, and because I have seem to have NO SHORT TERM MEMORY WHATSOEVER. We. Still. Cannot. Find. Those. Keys.

So. Our family is currently in possession of ZERO keys.
Maybe you can pray for us because my prayers/accusatory conversations with the Omniscient One, are going unheeded at the moment. (Although He did send our nice friend Virginia over with dinner when she heard about Tim's adventures with the flu.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's not about winning

I love this about Eliza.

At the AWANA Games on Saturday, some of the most savory aspects of her personality were on display, proving that you can be a natural optimist without being a laid-back person.

This child is NOT about speed. We just don't do anything fast. So imagine, if you will, a human train of six little girls, racing other groups around a large circle in the middle of a gymnasium. My daughter is, inexplicably, positioned at the forefront of this group. As other groups jog more or less in sync around the circle, Eliza, beaming, leads her train in a WALK. The the other girls are bunched up behind her, trying to step on the gas, but their fearless leader continues to walk. Parents beside me are shouting, "Eliza, RUN!" but apparently all she can hear is that "Gosh, people are shouting MY name! Hurray for me!"

She was the picture of blissful innocence. And later that day, while Ian complained about his "horrible" performance at the games (his evaluation, not based upon fact), Eliza responded cheerfully, "Well, I must be pretty good at the games, because everyone congratulated me afterward!" Pause, then afterthought: "Even though we came in fourth place [out of four]."

What's not to love about that attitude? I so hope she hangs onto it, that ability to just enjoy the experience and accept her best effort as an unqualified success.

Let's be honest, she gets it from her father. Whereas with my son? All I can say is, we're in this journey together, buddy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Offer Limited Choices"

Ian to me at Friday Co-op:

"Mom, will I be going to play at Truman's today, or will he be coming to our house?"

Isn't it charming when they throw your parenting strategies right back at you???

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Candy Fairy cometh

The Candy Fairy has been hitting our house pretty regularly these days.

What does she do? Well, she searches for bags of candy that have been acquired at birthday or holiday parties, and pilfers them, replacing them with other desirable and less tooth-decay-inflicting treats. The Candy Fairy is a frequent patron of places like the Dollar Tree and the dollar spot at Target.

Just this morning, in fact, Eliza discovered that the Candy Fairy had exchanged her ziploc baggie of candy for a sheet of Strawberry Shortcake temporary tattoos -- just what Eliza had hoped for. (Which proves, you know, that the CF cannot be Mom, because Mom doesn't spend her money on stuff like that. ;-))

We've created a few things in the past couple weeks that I haven't shared on here.

First, a tutu for a friend's birthday present. No-sew instructions here (scroll down to 12/23/08).

Second, a hopscotch on the hallway carpet crafted from turquoise duct tape.

I have learned that my daughters are always happy when we are making things together, especially if I can sit on my hands, hum songs about patience to myself, and let them proceed at their own adorably messy, slow pace. See also, "cooking with kids."

Tomorrow we will be rising at some ungodly hour to proceed far south for the AWANA Games tournament. We have to check in at 8:40, and it's about 40 minutes from here -- past Cabela's, in fact. We will then enjoy a morning of much sitting around and waiting, and about three minutes of our two older children running around and snatching up beanbags. It's a parenting ritual, this spectating thing, through which all American moms and dads must pass. We've escaped relatively unscathed thus far, javascript:void(0)but methinks I hear the piper piping.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

And the little one said, Roll Over ...

Have you ever considered how much you move around in your sleep? Without any awareness whatsoever, you shift your feet when the blankets grow too heavy upon them, adjust various limbs for warmth and roll from back to side, or vice versa, for comfort.

I mention this because when I am visiting my parents, it is my responsibility (and privilege) to help my father do all the above during the night. With ALS, you see, you gradually lose the connection between what your brain wants your body to do and what your muscles are willing and able to. Sort of like the communication between myself and my children some days, but that's another story.

So once or twice a night, my cell phone rings, and I leap out of bed, tiptoe downstairs, and enter my parents' room to execute a series of delicate maneuvers, such as helping Dad roll from one side to the other, adjusting the pillow under his heel to prevent ankle sores, tucking in the blankets near his feet so they don't exert pressure on the skin, scooting him over in the bed, etc. Really, it's the least I can do.

But I will tell you something, even though it's a bit shameful to admit. I do not always feel like doing this task. When I was slumbering peacefully, and the covers are so warm and the night air so cold, the leap out of bed can sometimes be preceded by a brief hesitation. You know what, though? Once I stopped feeling guilty about feeling this way (after all, my inconvenience compared to the absolute frustration of being able to do nothing for one's own comfort can hardly register on the scale), and just talked to my merciful and un-shockable Friend God about it, we made a deal. I would get out of bed and JUST DO IT, if He would do it with me. Happily.

So now when the cell phone rings and I jerk awake, I whisper, "OK, Lord, let's go."

And we do this together, my Lord and I. A privilege untold.

(Note: I'm back in Texas now, just didn't have time to post beforehand ...)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Such a wedding

I really, really wish I had pictures to share of last night's festivities but -- get this -- I have to wait until my film (remember that stuff?) gets developed. Digital camera's still in the shop.

I will say this, though. There's nothing quite like kicking off your high heels and dancing to "YMCA" with people you used to be in diapers with. People who knew and loved you through your teenage awkward years, braces, bad haircuts, 10:30 curfews, and all. People who were, and still are, your tribe, who gathered on a cold February night to celebrate the happiness of a long-deserving brother. We proved last night, just as we did fifteen years ago, that it doesn't take much for us to have a good time. No alcohol required.

I am blessed to have grown up in the family of God.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A mini-vacation

Friends, I am in Boston. Not only are my parents here, but also my brother Paul. And a friend named Joe whom I have known all my conscious life is throwing a wedding this evening. What's more, he's been kind enough to give me the title "Honorary Groomsperson." Which makes me feel very, very special.

This is my very first trip here completely by myself. It felt quite appropriate, after kissing my little ones and gallant husband goodbye, to be delivered to the airport by my sister, only to be picked up on the other end, at 12:45 a.m. thank you, by my brother, swooping in to grab my suitcase and replace it with a hot cinnamon roll. This trip more than ever, I feel like the geographical journey has mirrored my temporary odyssey from mother to daughter and sister. Usually on these trips, I'm attempting to fill all those roles at once, which can be disorienting. I'm grateful for the chance to take a little break.

Funny moment: in the Austin airport, I was in line to grab some dinner from Waterloo Icehouse before boarding. While waiting for my order, I watched two well-dressed ladies walk by, and I guess I subconsciously glanced at their shoes (elegant boots) and then down at mine (comfortable, but rather scuffed, Danskos). A guy sitting a few feet away talking on his cell phone interrupted himself to toss at me, "I saw you notice their shoes!" I laughed sheepishly and conceded, "Mine are not as cute." "But you are!" he responded, then resumed his little chat.

Full disclosure -- the following thoughts popped into my head, in no particular order:
1-Well, nice to know that after three [invisible-to-him] kids, I haven't entirely lost my groove.
2-Puh-leeze, dude, you'd probably flirt with a barn door. I am so not taken in by you.
3-I *really* need to get my wedding ring re-sized and wear the thing. Especially on that very, very, rare occasion when I travel alone.

Off to do some shopping with Mom!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sweet hearts

Who knew that you could teach so much with a pack of those cute conversation hearts?

In ten minutes this morning, we had math, like this.

Then reading. Whichever hearts you read (Mom helps A LOT if you're three), you get to eat. Verrrrry motivating, She Who Is Five.

Then nutrition. Er, not really.

All I have to say is, Necco, U R COOL.

Be Mine

Caroline, our resident mini Martha, is my holiday queen. Even though we've never actually hosted a Christmas party, boy is there ever a bee in her bonnet about throwing a Christmas party. The timing of this party changes constantly -- it might be "in ten days" or "in six months" or "last week." But it's the event that's going to make all her dreams come true -- candy, decorations (which she's gradually gathering), etc.

But now a new interest has joined the ranks. On Monday, she received three valentines from children in her co-op class. Immediately, she launched her own Hallmark line. Industriously, she works her magic with crayons, markers, glitter glue, starting before breakfast to make valentines for her siblings. In fact, tonight she was cranking them out an hour past tucking time, armed with gel pens and magic markers which somehow snuck into her bed. Here's one for Eliza, featuring the much-to-doed Loose Tooth:

Ian's getting over being sick, although yesterday he lay feverishly on the couch all day, trying to clear his throat and blink his red eyes. Since I'm paranoid about pneumonia after my dramatic bout, I called my dad for free medical advice last night (I like to alternate between him and my friend Greta, and last week she got the dog-bite-on-face-is-it-infected? call). He said, in essence, what he usually does, which is: "He'll be fine."

Which, of course, he will be.

Since he was in no shape to do anything else, I read aloud to him and let him watch STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK -- for the first time ever (we are a G-rated family, plus this is a child who had a major panic session at Winnie the Pooh when he was three or four). Which, of course, means his sisters got to watch parts of it too. Sigh. It's much harder to shelter the second and third children! ("Darth Vader is MEAN!" was the authoritative word during breakfast this morning.)

I was feeling rather sorry for myself this morning, so ran away from the children to go sit in my front yard and talk to the Lord, just letting Him listen without insisting on answers. The sunshine, the constant wind chimes, the breeze ruffling the branches of our pecan tree, the pitter patter of toddler feet behind me, the silent curling up of a small warm body on my lap, the knowledge that Someone understood. All good.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sick Kid

While the girls spent the morning at their co-op, Ian and I whiled away an hour or two reading and writing at Starbucks. I guess you could call it our new tradition, if doing something two weeks in a row counts as a tradition (it does in Ian's book). Sitting there in a shaft of tentative sunlight, sipping mint tea as the boy slurps up his milk and lemon cake, one can quite easily fool oneself into thinking one has this homeschooling thing quite under control, thank you very much.

Now he's burning with fever, a different incarnation of what his ceaselessly vomiting sister had one night last week. Poor child, he's a wan shadow of his feisty nighttime self. I would take his temperature, but the Attic People stole our new thermometer. Clearly, they have no shame.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What a gas

Dudes, I ran out of GAS today. Literally. Haven't pulled that one since age 18, when a very nice fellow had to push me to the nearest filling station with his car in the dead of night from a deserted exit along Rte. 128. Thank God he was a nice fellow.

My daughter and I concluded our shopping trip with some extra quality time: walking the remaining half mile home (I had also forgotten my cell phone). Fortunately, I am such a delight to be married to that little inconveniences and idiocies like this matter nary a whit to my longsuffering husband. He actually loves to ride to the rescue! That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

Speaking of the husband, he just wrote two terrific posts on Daddy Magic. Check it out and boost his ego, if you will, with a comment. He deserves it after riding around on his bike with a gallon of gas sloshing around in that can. Have I mentioned we own only one car?

We also celebrated Chinese New Year today by reading some great picture books (Lon Po Po, Daisy Comes Home; Happy New Year!) and making our own potstickers with my sister and her husband. Who, by the way, is Asian-born. And knows a genuine potsticker when he tastes one. He was very polite. And hungry.

And on a food-related note, my younger daughter and I hit the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market this weekend, which we haven't visited in a coon's age. One thing I love about that girl is that everything is exciting. Look at the hundreds of dogs I can pet! The organic produce and chocolate-dipped strawberries I can sample! Such zest for living, especially when life involves wearing princess costumes to church, taekwondo parties, farmer's markets. I need to take that yoke upon me and learn from her, for her joy is infectious and her introspection refreshingly rare.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Fandango

I. Am. So. Tired.

We started Friday Co-op last week, and this week in earnest. So far it's shaping up to be a very successful semester. Eliza stipulated that I must participate in her classes in order for her to attend, so I am assisting (not teaching) this semester, in "Ancient Egypt" and "Fairy Wonderland." Fairy Wonderland is ... a little bit cheesy, just between you and me ... BUT, we dyed playsilks with Kool-Aid powder today, and you really can't get much cooler than that.

Ian is taking a Mad Science Experiments class and a Rube-Goldberg class, both taught by the same set of parents, and then after lunch, a class called "Battles and Biscuits." A few worthy attributes of this particular lineup:
1. His friend Truman is in every single class with him.
2. He gets to do fascinating science experiments that ACTUALLY WORK. (I am apparently under a SCIENCE EXPERIMENT CURSE, under which even the simplest of experiments go awry and fail to prove any valid scientific point.)
3. He's doing basic engineering in the Rube-Goldberg class, making contraptions that move things from Point A to B ... and you KNOW I wouldn't be teaching that at home!
4. Battles and Biscuits is pretty much exactly what is sounds like, studying medieval history by making food and weapons, and then enacting mock slaughter on the lawn.

Caroline is in the preschool class. Nothing to say there, but I WILL tell you that this afternoon the child tried to mop the chicken pen with my kitchen mop, dipping it in the water trough in between strokes. Apparently that dirt floor was just entirely too dirty.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

O What a Busy Day!

Don't worry, I'm not going to walk you through my entire day.

My title is actually the title of a children's book that I think we can safely call "vintage." I had it as a child, and I think by then the binding was already done up in duct tape (but then, many pages in my house clung together by virtue of duct tape).

Imagine my surprise and delight when our friend Jessica showed up at our house with her latest thrift store find. She was kind enough to bestow it upon us as a gift when I exploded into cooing nostalgia.

The book is adorable, taking you through an impossibly busy day in the lives of a passel o 'kids -- and I say "impossibly" because they seem to live all four seasons between sunup and sundown.

There is, of course, the bizarre interruption of an illustrated version of the "Babes in the Woods," poem, which features children either being snatched or wandering of their own accord into the woods, subsisting on berries, and then simply lying down to die. What's up with that? I used to skip over that page as a child, and I find it equally horrifying as a parent. What editor thought this an appropriate inclusion? Seriously, Mr. Fujikawa! Poisoning innocent minds!

Then again, when this book was published, carseats were unheard of and children frolicked on metal playgrounds, blistering their bottoms as they slid down those reflective slides.

The times, they have a-changed. But it sure is nice to rediscover an old friend.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Parenting with Humor

From time to time, the same old parenting tips and tricks just don't work. Plus, you get tired of hearing yourself say, "Let's use our WORDS," and "I'm sorry, my ears just don't understanding WHINEse!" That's when I like to introduce some of my favorite characters. They're quite a cast. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome ...

The Anthropologist. Useful for fighting children.
Example: Five year old and eight year old are embroiled in a conflict over possession of something trivial. Things are escalating.
Parent: Guys, this is so interesting! And helpful, because I'm doing some research for an article on How Siblings Fight. Let me write this down [unless I'm driving.] Let's see, you start with an object that both of you want, is that right?
Kids, startled: Yes.
Parent: Okay, great. Then is it particularly effective to add screaming? Maybe a few tears? Tell me, what works the best?
(This method works AMAZINGLY well, because of the shock factor. So don't use it very often. But be cheerful and detached when you do.)

The Village Idiot.
Example #1: Clothes left on floor after reminder.
Parent: Wow, isn't this amazing! I KNOW I asked for these clothes to be put away, but they've jumped right out of the hamper! Creepy!
Example #2: Child is whining about wanting something NOWWWWW.
Parent: Hey, I didn't know we had invited Nellie Olson/Veruca Sal* to the party today! (*Selfish brats from Little House on Plum Creek/Charlie and the Choc. Factory, respectively)

The Interpreter.
Example: Child has been given some treat but complains that it's not the right color, size, etc.
Parent: Oh, is that Japanese for "Thank you Mama so much for this delightful treat?"

The Surfer Dude.
Example: Child comes to complain that his/her brother/sister has committed some gross offense toward him/her. Child clearly hoping for big parental reaction toward offender.
Parent, not moving: Bummer!
End of conversation.

Aren't children delightful creatures?

Really, I mean it.

Before kids, I only had ONE identity. Life is so much richer now.