Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Weekend To-Do List

1. Welcome home husband after five looooooong days away.

2. Go to film festival at Apple Store, culmination of 2-day workshop in which Ian learned to use iMovie (and subsequently turned our home into the neighborhood production studio). Cringe upon seeing his 45-second film appear on the big screen, using as a backdrop the messiest, ugliest room in our house. Retreat to lick wounds by playing with iPad on display.

3. While boys attend archery tournament, begin packing for road trip to Colorado. Check weather. Dither incessantly about how to dress for temperatures in the '60's. Be completely incapable of using  imagination to translate this alien forecast into appropriate clothing.

4. Worry about what to wear to meet grandparents in ultra-chic Aspen, since they won't approve of anything too bourgeois. Consult the wisdom of Facebook friends. Regain perspective about source of personal security. Mostly.

5. Break up approximately 61 fights between daughters, who are supposed to be helping to pack. Remind self between gritted teeth, "They ... really ... do ... love each other." Decide that at least they're comfortable expressing feelings.

6. Wish for a little less expressing of feelings.

7. Express own feelings by clutching head and wondering just how many sinus headaches it takes to change a lightbulb.

8. Splurge on pedicure at Embellish (oh so girly!) as reward to self for making it through five loooooong days of single parenting.

9. At Embellish, choose nail polish color based on its name: "Kennebunkport." Decide that connection between that beloved town and scarlet toes is tenuous at best, but go with it anyway.

10. Pick up snacks for trip. Pick up next Flavia de Luce mystery on hold at library.

11. Apologize to the Lord for not spending much time with Him this morning. Remember that it's still morning somewhere in the world and there is therefore no time like the present.

12. Before and after making dinner, pander to type-A side by cleaning house so as to come home to ... a clean house.

Wow wow wow. So productive. Every item on list checked off. And what a list it is!

But wait! There's more!

13. Wake up in morning, spring out of bed, pack last items into van, glide smoothly and promptly out door with family in tow.

Hey, you can't win every time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why it's Easy to Homeschool A Preschooler

In the car, Caroline (4.5) and I are discussing the water cycle, at her prompting. Here's how the discussion ended.

C: Wait, so you mean the rain that comes down goes back up to the clouds and sort of gets recycled?

Me: Yes, that's pretty much it.

C, with genuine zeal: AWESOME! So the clouds are just like giant recycling bins!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Reading, Part Uno

When I was a tyke, one of summer's chief joys was the periodic library trip. Every three weeks, I could go reap a stack of twenty or more books to bring home and devour. No multiplication problems or dull reading comprehension exercises to interfere with my escape habit.

Gone are the days of The Giant Stack and hours of uninterrupted reading time, but it's still been a decent summer in my literary world. Here are a few of my favorites (or not):

The Hunger Games - This was one of the those books that kept popping up on the blogs of fellow readers, but I somehow kept putting off reading. I got the impression from its jacket blurb that it was chiefly a work of science fiction, and that's not really my genre (although hello? Which are the only two adult new releases I've seen in the past two years? Star Trek (2009) and Avatar (2010). Maybe I need to re-think my position on sci-fi.) But oh, my friends, this book is really not science fiction at all. In fact, what makes it so gripping, so deliciously page-turning and heart-racing, besides the great writing, characters, and plot, is that one can, with only minor stretching, imagine this dystopia becoming our future reality. The obsession with violence and with voyeurism (now known as "reality TV") that have characterized our culture since at least the days of the gladiators come into full bloom in The Hunger Games, and they're believable. Oh, and there's some romance. But it's not over the top.

Hurrah hurrah, this book has a sequel, Catching Fire, which I picked up at the library yesterday, and the conclusion of the trilogy will be out any day. I see late nights and "just one more chapter" dilemmas in my near future. (And that's the sound of me smacking my lips.)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  - And now for some nonfiction. The premise of this book is that what worked for hundreds of years to get human beings to do stuff -- the need to survive (Motivation 1.0) followed by a system of rewards and punishments (Motivation 2.0) is becoming archaic and fails to respond to part of our makeup that makes us essentially human. That's where Motivation 3.0 comes in. Here's the author, Daniel Pink, explaining the premise: (Y'all, this is a fascinating talk -- worth your time! Here's the link in case my video embedding didn't work. )

It's made me think. What do I do because it's intrinsically satisfying, rather than externally expedient? The big joke, of course, is always that you can't put a price on full-time mother- or parent-hood because you'd have to pay a housekeeper, tutor, nanny, chauffeur, etc. But can we do this job because doing it well is its own reward? In fact, that can be applied to any job or vocation, or even one's Christian walk -- are we doing this because we want the carrot, or because we love, believe in, or get into the flow of something larger than ourselves?

Mr. Pink does make some references to the home environment -- parenting, education -- although his primary focus is on business. I'd love for him to expand on how we apply this with kids, since so much of what we do as a general culture falls into the carrot-and-stick mentality.

But right now, I'm motivated to get my child to taekwondo on time -- and then give blood for the first time ever. Gulp. Shiver. Better bring a good book.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Help for the Chronically Distracted

So every morning, my kids have this Morning List they're supposed to work through. You know -- the brushing of the teeth, the clearing of the dishes, the putting away of pajamas, etc. Basic life skills.

And still, after all these years, my Girl gets, more often than not, completely off track. It drives me wonko-wonko, as a close relative would say.

Today I tried a different approach, when I caught her lollygagging yet again.

"Darling Child. Let's imagine that the steps of your Morning List are stepping stones in a straight path across a river. On the other side is a river bank, where you can run and skip and climb trees if you desire. In other words, free time. Now, you can take two hours to cross the river and and have no time on the river bank, because we have to leave the house at a certain time. Or, you can step right off those stones and land in the river. Or, you can put one foot right in front of the other and hop, skip and jump right across that river. Whaddya think?"

Oh, my friends. It was like MAGIC. We were so, so focused on stepping over those stones to that river bank. We even stepped on the Putting-away-the-Silverware stone, and the Help Mama Dust stone. Lollygagging? The word simply vanished from our lexicon.

Now let's just see if it works tomorrow.

Oh, and by the way? My mother-in-law and I took the five cousins out to Terra Burger for lunch today, since they have a sprinkler area on their playscape.

Here's a picture I took, just so you know what I'm up against. You figure it out.

Please send psychiatric help. Thank you. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Patriotic Humble Pie

See this picture? Pretty cute, huh?

Notice there's only one daughter in the photo.

That was just random; the other one was running around somewhere with her cousin -- but there's a little more to the story than that.

It was the Fourth of July. A holiday, in my mind, of considerable gravitas. We have certain traditions we observe: Decorating bikes for the neighborhood parade. Playing patriotic music all day and singing along, loudly. A special breakfast. Wearing red, white and blue.

This year the tradition had to bend a bit. No special breakfast. No bikes. No parade. We spent the morning flying home from Boston. But goshdarnit, I was going to have my family in the patriotic colors if it killed me.

And it nearly did.

Blame it on sleep deprivation (we awoke in Boston at 4:30 Eastern Time). But when Eliza decided that it wasn't fair that her little sister had a brand new dress and that therefore she would not wear the red, white, and blue dress she had received for her birthday just THREE WEEKS AGO, and that instead she would wear an outfit that, while vaguely patriotic in color, would challenge the limits of acceptable cheesiness beyond what her mother (me) could possibly handle, I just about came unglued.

Y'all. That is not the kind of mother I endeavor to be.

It was like the classic angel and devil sitting on my shoulders.

Devil: You CANNOT let her out of the house, into the public eye, wearing that getup.

Angel: Should I really care how my child chooses to present herself to the public eye?

Devil: But but but ... you were going to take a really cute family picture! And maybe even post it on  your blog! She's RUINING EVERYTHING!

Angel: How is she ruining everything? Does it matter what anyone thinks of my children's outfits? Will anyone love me less because of what my fashion-backward child is wearing, and if so, is their good opinion worth having?

Devil: Fine. Just let her wear the thing and look ridiculous. But make sure everyone knows that it was HER idea. Snark, snark, snark. 

Angel: What really matters here? And P.S., you need a nap. 

If you were to ask me what is the ONE THING that I hope my children learn by age ten, it would be this: They are unconditionally loved and accepted -- by God and by their parents.

Easy enough to say. But it's funny how quickly that resolution falls apart -- and over something as nonsensical as a dress.

So guess what? When we got out to my in-laws' Fourth of July barbecue, NO ONE ELSE was sporting the colors. For better or for worse, no one cared! My niece ended up wearing the dress. She looked fabulous. We forgot all about family pictures. And in the darkness, as Uncle Mike brought out the package of fireworks, all I noticed was how beautiful every one of those little faces looked, lit up by the glow of sparklers and joy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Five Reasons to Love Dell ...

... Children's Medical Center. (Not the computer company, although they're named for the same guy, and the company employs my brother-in-law, so I honor their existence.)

Today marked exactly one month since Caroline's pool accident, and we observed the occasion by bringing a small care package to the pediatric ICU where she received such top-shelf care. None of our nurses were available, but we did get to see her attending physician, who fawned over her most maternally. Love her.

The evening visit reminded me that I never transferred the bulleted love letter I'd composed from my head to my blog. So here goes.

Five Reasons We Love Dell Children's Medical Center:

1. Every single person who works there is, as far as I can tell, a High Quality Person. Including the folks they employ specifically to tend your soul. Including the folks you call up on the phone to politely inform them that your kid would like some chocolate ice cream, STAT.

2. The gorgeous, airy architecture, punctuated by colored windows and tranquil, fountain-spangled courtyards. Once you're not on death's doorstep anymore, you feel like you're at a resort ... almost.

3. The lobby features an amazing Rube-Goldberg machine. Okay, perhaps not as dazzling as the OK GO one, but still one that my children claim to be able to watch for "hours and hours" or even "all day long."

4. You can donate gently used children's books to the resource center there, and the books will find a good home at patients' bedsides. We've now been on the giving and receiving end of the Half-pint Library. It's a grrrrreat way to pass along some cast-aside favorites.

5. Volunteers come to do art projects or play Wii Sports with patients in the playroom, and special volunteers even bring their dogs to visit patients who need a little "pet therapy." Maybe not ideal for a canine-a-phobe, but for my dog-loving daughter, this was just the ticket.

May you never have the occasion to fact-check my claims (unless you're dropping off books) ... but should you be so unfortunate, Dell is the place to be!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thank you, Number 29

This animal here goes by the name of #29. 
Or should I say, WENT by the name of #29. 

#29 is now wrapped up in 1-pound packages in our freezer. Also, in my sister's freezer, my mother-in-law's freezer, and our friend Quinn's freezer. (It was Quinn's idea to ask our lovely rancher for a photo before our steer was, um, processed.) 

So you know how we were inspired by Michael Pollan and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Mealsto start owning chickens a few years ago, so that we'd know where that tiny fraction of our food (the EGGS; we don't "process" our chickens) was coming from? 

This is the same deal. A few years ago we bought an entire grass-fed bison with a few friends. A couple times since then, we've done beef. It's partly an ideological notion -- building a relationship with a particular rancher, supporting a local farm, knowing the meat on our table came to us thanks to one happy, healthy cow, reducing our pesticide and carbon load a bit, yadda yadda. It's also a way to eat organic, grass-fed beef with less of a whomp to the wallet -- New York strip steaks cost the same per pound as ground beef. 

(An aside: Don't think that if I come to your house -- should I be so fortunate -- I'll turn up my nose at your grain-fed, factory-raised beef. Food is about nourishment and communion around a table -- not about snobbery and judgments.)

We also got the organ meats. Am I brave enough to try and cook up the heart and liver? I know they pack a huge nutritional punch, but I'm just not sure I have the courage. Help me, Obi-Wan. You're my only hope. 

By the way, today I made reservations for the night we're going to spend at Great Sand Dunes National Park during our upcoming road trip to Colorado. A mom at swimming lessons this morning told me that was her favorite stop on their three-week trip. We'll stay at a lodge right outside the park, where we can see the sun rise and set over the dunes. 

Okay, that had absolutely nothing to do with beef. Or happy cows. Or #29. Just a bubble of excitement that had to work its way out. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Maybe It Does Take a Village

Yesterday after a swim date with some wonderful friends on the other side of town, we braved the Friday afternoon traffic and crawled back toward our side of the river, aiming for the dojang where Eliza was testing for orange belt in taekwondo. Oh! This much-anticipated test was the subject of not inconsiderable anxiety. Especially when she realized that, having worn her swim suit when leaving the house, she had no undies to wear under her uniform for the test.

The following conversation took place between my friend Nicole (mother of Eliza's BFF, resident of a house closer to the dojang than my own, and contender for Most Easygoing Friend on the Planet) and me via text. Go ahead and crucify me for texting at red lights. I needed this one to be under the radar in case it didn't work out.

Me:  Emergency! Could we borrow a clean pair of underwear? Eliza has a belt test at three thirty and traffic is not conducive to us going home first. She's upset.

Nicole: Sure!

Me [Feeling super abashed]: Terrific. How possible is it for u to meet us there by three thirty this traffic is terrible

[Wow. Awesome grammar.]

Nicole [Three minutes later, with three kids in car]: On my way.

Girlfriend literally pulls up to the dojang, thrusts the tidy whities out the window to me, laughs, and takes off, while I rush them over to a tearful girl.

An hour and a half later, we have a beaming, brimming-with-confidence orange belt in our midst.

Coincidence? I think not.

I also think that Nicole deserves some sort of medal ... or maybe a delicious strawberry shortcake cake delivered to her front door. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What She's Up To

Attention Imelda Marcos wannabes! Is your shoe collection losing its sizzle? Is your closet lacking that certain something, that perfect pair that will make your fashionista friends gape in envy?

Forget about Zappos and DSW. Friends, I have the solution for your footwear needs right here in my own home. Caroline has been busy, busy, busy with her favorite crafting material, the roll of aluminum foil. Last week she went whole hog on making spoons with bright red duct tape handles. This week it's all about the SHOES.

We have foil slippers. Foil boots. Foil elf shoes with pointy, curled-up toes. Foil "rocket shoes." Foil sandals adorned with sequins. Foil moccasins. No foil stilettos yet, but hang in there. They're surely just on back order.

So today we got back in the pool for the first time since The Accident. At first, Caroline demurred.

"You know what happened last time I got in a pool," she said darkly.

I immediately countered with, "Oh, but honey, we need to get back in the pool so that you don't feel afraid of pools. Just because something bad happened one time doesn't mean it's going to happen again. I will be RIGHT WITH YOU the entire time."

By the time we got to the neighborhood pool, she was ready to slip into her suit with no further comment. I think it helped that we went with our neighbors, who could provide both moral support and distractions in the form of playmates for my older two children. This particular pool complex has a HUGE, shaded toddler pool with a maximum depth of two feet.

I suspect I was a bit of a helicopter parent, but Caroline jumped right in and proceeded to tear up that pool like she was a contestant on Wipeout. We had somersaults. We had torpedo dives. We had choppy attempts at the backstroke.

"This is what I call the tuna can opener!" she explained, executing a maneuver that resembled a crawl stroke with full body twist.

Hello, normalcy, my old friend.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Maine Event

"You've been elusive," a friend accused me tonight. "No one seems to know where you guys are."

Here's the deal: If a whole week or more goes by and nothing happens on this blog, I'm probably not so much sucking my thumb in the back of my closet as in Boston with los padres. As indeed we were last week. And as a trip within a trip, we spent a couple days in Kennebunkport, Maine. (Aside: Someone needs to invent a website that caters specifically to travel with handicapped persons. Do you know how hard it is to locate a place that both offers the right degree of accessibility AND provides sufficient activity for the more limber members of the family?)

We ended up staying here, at the Seaside Inn, and it was lovely. Here is the view from our first-floor balcony. Blue line in background = Atlantic Ocean.

Here we are having crossed that lawn: 

And here we are a few yards ahead, right where the sea meets the shore: 

Excuse me! I have an announcement to make! For the remainder of my Texan life, I will be spending the months of June, July, and August -- oh, whattheheck, let's throw in September and live dangerously -- in Kennebunkport. Let's just put it this way. When my friend Caroline drove down to sit on the beach with us, cute baby in tow, she made the following remark: "I couldn't believe it! I got into my car to come down here [from Portland] and the thermometer read EIGHTY-SIX DEGREES!"
And I think she mopped her brow. Not that I'm bitter.

Like I said. Only came home to pack up the bare essentials.

We've taken our kids to beaches in the Carolinas, in Texas, in California, in Mexico, and now in Maine, and it never ceases to amaze me how they can spend HOURS making something out of nothing. At one point a gaggle of teenaged guys and girls paraded by, acting the way mixed company does at that age and generally off-gassing testosterone, and I looked over the other shoulder at my three kids as they industriously assembled a collection of sand bombs, conspiring like some tableau of storybook siblings. The urge to freeze time has rarely been more compelling.

Look! Even Dad made it down to the sand! I'm telling you, the seashore is a great equalizer. 
He felt there weren't quite enough lobsters on the Maine coast, so he decided to try a little camouflage by neglecting to wear sunscreen. 

Peter came from San Diego to join us. Paul and Betty hung out after work hours (while we were in Massachusetts). Renée brought baby Sofia over to soak up some lovin's.

It's not just the trip that's keeping me quieter, but life's been busy since we returned. Also, I'm feeling a bit shell-shocked, not just by events in our own family, but even more so by having to watch some dear friends walk through some deep valleys. One lost her husband in Iraq a couple weeks ago. Another has had to take refuge in a battered women's shelter, and our door and guest bed are a thousand miles away. Etcetera etcetera. 

I need to remember that I can render more help by praying than by doing. 

I also need to remember the good times. Writing, photos, humor -- they all help to beat back the blues, to remind me that amidst the stream of bad news, there are still beauty and joy to be found for the searching.