Monday, September 29, 2014

Seven Quick Takes

1. Fall has arrived. Let us rejoice and be glad! The other night I carried some plastic out to the recycling bin and was -- for the second time since April -- cold. Cold! Mind you, it was ten o'clock at night, and I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse. But I was cold. Gloriously, mercifully cold! I nearly cried.

I am sure the heat will fire once last shot across the bow, but the end is near. Let us rejoice and be glad!

2. In the spirit of the new weather, Ainsley is compiling  a Naughty and Nice List. I am happy to report that I made the Nice List. In fact, the preliminary Nice List had only three names on it: Hope, Mama, and Ainsley. I think this had less to with virtue than with the fact that these are the only three names Ainsley can spell. In a moment of charity, she asked Kolbe how to spell his name and added him as well.

The Bad List consists of the devil and, at least initially, dinosaurs. John and Ainsley had an animated discussion about dinosaurs, and John is relieved to see they have been transferred to the Nice List.

3. Tim, oh my Tim, has been burning the midnight oil. Among other endeavors, he is in the early stages of his first full length research paper. Here I must offer a shout out to one Linda Finnegan, Tim's middle school English teacher, who had her students write short research papers, MLA format and all, three years straight. Teachers get a fair amount of, ahem, push back from students and parents alike when they embark on ambitious projects and hold kids to high standards. In the long run, short term pain bears enormous fruit, and we are seeing that now.

Tim is writing about Ernest Hemingway, and I will confess right here that I encouraged him to choose a shorter novel than For Whom the Bell Tolls. Time is of the essence, and while Tim is a strong reader, he is not necessarily a fast reader, and that bad boy is 500 pages long.  Well, he chose it, and he finished it around 11:00 last night, a full twelve hours before the deadline. I made him a milkshake by way of celebration.

My bleary-eyed scholar begged me to call him late for school, and to my enormous credit, I made no smart remark linking the bleeping alarm clock and For Whom the Bell Tolls. I didn't call him in, but I did make him a big cup of coffee.

4. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd began yesterday against all odds. About two weeks ago, our directors went into the atrium and discovered we had no water. A brief investigation showed some enterprising thief with the potential to be a successful welder had crawled under our building and stolen all our copper pipes!

Note to thief who probably doesn't read family blogs: We are a non-profit organization operating on free labor and a shoe-string budget. Our plumber estimates you made a whopping $25 hawking our pipes. When it looked like we would have to delay our start day by 2-4 weeks and face thousands of dollars in repair bills, two friends stepped up and re-plumbed the entire house in twelve muddy, nasty, backing-breaking hours for a fraction of the original estimate.

2nd note to thief: The new pipes have no black-market value.

3rd note to thief: We prayed for you, prayed that God's grace would be on you, prayed that if this was to turn quick drug money, that you would be freed from addiction and restored to wholeness.

5. In preparation for our first atrium session, I had about fifty-two pieces of paper to print out including a spreadsheet we use for attendance. I tinkered, I saved, I hit print. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a message that read something like, "printing page 1 of 2,752 pages."

Faithful readers are familiar with my long-standing feud with Hal, the device formerly known as Printer. Kris, especially, will be pleased to hear we have a new printer, a laser jet, a wireless beauty that hums and prints two-sided copies and did I mention that it is wireless and comes with all sorts of handy features that have come about in the past decade?

Sometimes, for reasons I can't fully explain, I still turn to Hal. This reminds me of when we replaced our ancient Buick with a newish van. I missed the comfy seats and the cavernous trunk.

"You are seriously complaining about the van," Dave asked me one day, wondering about the state of my mental health.

No. No. But I get accustomed to how certain things work. I used my $10 hand mixer for years before turning to my state-of-the-art Kithenaid. I am a creature of habit.

But back to yesterday . . . Hal groaned to life. I spotted the error message, and in a move that would amazed Jackie Joyner Kersee, Olympic hurdler, I lunged at Hal and yanked the plug. No messing around with "Cancel print job," a function, I am convinced, doesn't actually exist. I cancelled, I cancelled, again, I cancelled some more. If I plug Hal back in at this very moment, I am confident he would resume printing that oft-killed job.

Hal, to be honest, reminds me of something out of a Stephen King novel, and, really, I think maybe I need to carefully carry him to the backyard and dig a big hole.

6. A good friend shared this scripture the other day:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


7. And if that isn't positive enough, let me end by saying my sweet Ainsley is lying on the bed behind me reading Bob Books. "I readed it," she tells me. "I readed it!" Cold weather, new pipes, and Bob Books? Life is good. It is very good indeed.

On that upbeat note, head over to Jen's and add your Quick Takes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I'm Up Against

Note to self: Every Saturday around two o'clock, take the little people and go somewhere. It doesn't matter where. Just go somewhere. Just go.

The park or the Greenway. Our favorite secondhand book store or the swamp. If it's raining or boiling hot, try the library . . . on the far side of town. The McDonald's play-land will do in a pinch.

Coolest ever four part fort.
Here is the thing: Everyone can't stay inside all day. It never goes well.


Oh, it always looks like it's going well. I thinks it's going well. And then, about four in the afternoon, things fall apart.

When we have a Saturday at home, we typically pass the day full-steam-ahead in project and cleaning mode. Bushes and shaggy hair get trimmed. Lawns get mowed. Pictures hung. Homework completed.

John added a window.
John and Ainsley don't play a huge role in these endeavors. Oh, they like to rake leaves, and they're the only Dolins we can lift into the cans to smush the leaves we've already loaded. And they do other things around the house. Mostly, though, they spend uneventful Saturdays with Legos and forts, Rescue Heroes and, their latest favorite, playing spy.

Eventually, though, they get bored. Their boredom seems to coincide with my peak efficiency. I am making progress, and suddenly and with little warning, they're reversing my progress.

So Ainsley added one, too.
You know, in theory, I am all about one toy/game/project at a time. Really, I am. The problem, as I see it, is that I don't notice when a child is moving from one mess to the next without any "clean up, clean up, everybody do their share" in between. And, actually, it should be "everybody do her share" because a) that's grammatically correct and b) my sweet yellow-haired angel is far and away the biggest culprit.

Seriously, the girl is positively unstoppable. These days it's art, art, and more art. And is this a bad thing? Of course not. But by the eighth hour of the day, when I have tripped over seven crayons, put away the markers three times, searched the entire length of the house for the tape that has gone missing, and spied those horrible little scraps of paper leftover by pages torn out of a notebook, well, I no longer see the developmental benefits of art of any kind. She might as well be spray painting the walls.

I begin formulating household management principles in my mind and even try to communicate a few on the fly.Things like:

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place.

If You Open it, You Close It.

If You Spill It, You Clean It Up.

And here is the thing: These are good and valuable lessons that I should (and do!) work on everyday. But the best time to make progress is not when Mom is tired and irritable. A friend of mine recently wrote an insightful article about self-control. We need self-control when we encounter out-of-control drivers on a crowded freeway, when we deal with acerbic customs officials at the tail end of a long trip, when we spend five hours waiting in the emergency room.

But my friend added a brilliant piece of advice: The best practice in self-control comes when we're not  in a crisis. We can practice self-control when we're not late for a doctor's appointment, rushing to catch a flight, urgently trying to meet a deadline.

Self-control is a virtue we can grow in the mundane dealings of life so that it's waiting there in times of crisis.

So back to last Saturday. Progress on several fronts! But then I'm tripping over more markers and trying to dodge princess dolls and puzzle pieces. And replacing pillows that have migrated to the floor. And picking up stray playing cards and Silly Putty and a yo-yo and a magnifying glass.

This is the point at which I should have regrouped, loaded up the troops, and headed across town.

Discretion, I hear, is the better part of valor. Because this post simply demands an adage, I think I can throw that one in here. The best strategy in a moment of frustration in the midst of what was (mostly) a highly productive day would have  been a simple one: Change the scenery. While the little people clamored around the McDonald's play-land, I could have sipped a mocha frappe and brainstormed brilliant, creative ways to work on those habits and routines that could use a little attention.

But I'm no quitter.

I spied John swiping the stapler.

I remember years ago Danielle Bean wrote a funny, funny post about her dear dad -- the father of nine, if memory serves -- who chained a pair of scissors to the kitchen counter.

Where, exactly, can I buy one of these chains? Because I am totally in the market for one . . .  or twenty. We could anchor the living room throw pillows, the toothpaste, Dad's favorite flashlight, the remote, the good scissors.

But back to John who was about to abscond with the stapler. See, he had been hard at work at the dining room table making a book about wepens (sic). Now isn't that special? He was making a book about wepens (sic)! And, of course, he wanted to bind his book.  And that, too, should be special, but, really, I was just miffed. The stapler was leaving the room, and, rest assured, it would not return anytime soon. I'd find it on the bathroom sink or in the silverware drawer or next to John's pillow. And this was only a big deal because it was the 86th item I had put back in about 90 minutes. Seems I have a limited capacity for stuff out of place, and that limit happens to be 86 plus a stapler.

"Don't take the stapler out of the room," I told John, perhaps a bit gruffly."Bring your book to the stapler."

John shot me a look of shock and incredulity. Bring the book to the stapler????? His eyes were wide; his jaw was slack. I began to lament that my deepest fears were true, that I have, in fact, taught these kids precisely nothing.

But then he said, "Mom, there's peanut butter all over the stapler."

And that, friends, is what I'm up against.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Didn't Know Rodentia Was a Word

Tim, thinking aloud: I'm trying to decide on a term paper topic.

Kolbe: I think you should research Stuart Little and the theme of rodentia in children's literature.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Slumber Parties, er, I Mean Sleepovers

So I survived Kolbe's 13th birthday party, and I have the empties to show for it.

The whole shebang was a 16 1/2 hour affair. For the record, this is 15 hours longer than most parties I've thrown.

I have a love/hate relationship with parties, birthday parties specifically.

On the hate side: gift bags, moist cake crumbs everywhere, pairing up, leaving out, incendiary marshmallows that become airborne, water gun fights turned mean.

On the love side: Tim, Kolbe, John, Ainsley, simple joys, camaraderie, life-long friends, childish delight.

In an effort to maximize the fun and minimize the need to binge on chocolate cupcakes and/or sneak a glass of wine early (because, as a friend told me yesterday, it's always five o'clock somewhere), I go into Control Freak Mode.

Here are a few tactics in my arsenal:

1. Ninety minutes start to finish.

2. Hold it all off-site. Let someone else vacuum up moist cake crumbs.

3. If one on one defense is required, enlist the aid of the husband and arm him with explicit and gory details of past parties run amok.

4. Make firm plans that begin approximately six minutes after the party in the off chance that a mother calls and asks, "I know the party ends at three, but could Ralphie hang out until nine?" Recognize that you are a lousy liar, and arm yourself with a plausible out.

5. Note that "No, sorry. I'll be drinking wine and perusing Pinterest right about then" may, in fact, be a plausible out, but it's not one you should share.

6. Keep them moving. Keep them moving. Keep them moving.

7. Did I mention ninety minutes?

8. Don't dwell on the gift bags. Think: death and taxes. Death and taxes and gift bags.

9. But feel free to dispense with the gift bags around age 10.

10. Thank our good and gracious God you have two summer birthdays and can usually skirt the whole party issue by being conveniently out of town for five or six years running.

11. Light a candle to Our Lady of Sorrows in thanksgiving that these summer-born children remain wholly ignorant of that nefarious trend called the "half birthday."

12. Bite the bullet every now and then and schedule a summer birthday party anyway. It's easier than  ministry and cheaper than therapy. Really.

13. Consider the fact that your childhood included more than a few incendiary marshmallows, but you and your siblings still made it to adulthood fully sighted.

14. Always, always, always  keep in mind the words of your precious (now teenage!) son at the end of an uneventful, not exactly Pinterest worthy party: Thanks, Mom, That was awesome!

15. Pause between the pinata and the birthday cake, between cucumber sandwiches and pizza to recall those ineffable moments when you first set eyes on four red-faced, squalling babes who have cleaved both heart and soul and left you forever changed.

One day a year it's all about them, them, them. Happy birthday, dear Kolbe, my one-of-a-kind boy who has flavored our lives with humor and warmth. You are a gem. A gem.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Words Never Before Heard in this House

Me: Do you want to help me make cookies?

Ainsley: First I want to do my homework.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

He Really Is Boy Wonder

Hilton Head 2014 was our best family vacation by far.

Lots of factors played a role in this -- the kids are a little older, the weather was amazing, two of our laptops went belly up right before the trip so there was limited temptation to game the week away. On our first afternoon at the beach, all four kids pulled together to build the most elaborate sandcastle one could erect armed with a flimsy shovel and a bucket on the verge of cracking.

They loved it. And I loved watching the four of them at work.Later we stocked up on better entrenching tools and really had some fun.

We biked everywhere. If you enjoy biking, Hilton Head's the place to be. Miles and miles and miles of wide, flat, mostly shaded trails.

After years of clinging -- literally and figuratively -- to a baby seat that she had long ago outgrown, Ainsley graduated to the tag-a-long.

A friend and I were chatting about baby and child gear the other day.The more kids you have, the less you want. Exersaucers, swings, bouncy chairs -- they cost a lot, baby uses them briefly if at all, usually you can borrow them from a friend, mostly they take over the house and don't give you much of a return on your investment. But there are a few baby/child gizmos that make the cut, and a tag-a-long is among them.

On our last afternoon at the beach, we planned to haul the buckets and the shovels and all the things, so I told the kids to get in the car. I was met with a howl. "Can't we ride bikes," they all wanted to know. Music to my ears.

We spent one long afternoon biking to the south end of the island. John loves nature. I pray, pray, pray that this endearing quality proves to be an enduring one as well. He loves bird watching and hunting for sea glass. He loves turtles and frogs and lizards. Hilton Head was just the place for John. Egrets, deer, raccoons, alligators (including one that got just a tad too close).

Our longest bike ride went a little longer because John stopped at every Horseshoe Crab and Sand Dollar he spied. Eventually he and I ended up w-a-y behind the rest of the tribe. I began urging him forward when he yelled, "Mom! Look at this!"

I rode back to him and looked at the ocean behind him just as a dolphin surfaced six or eight feet away.

Absolutely amazing.

And then he found three intact and living Star Fish.

So cool. So worth the wait. So worth the ride.

So worth the trip.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seven Quick Takes

1. He's back!

Boy Wonder has rejoined the land of the living. Back to his smiling, laughing, mischievous self. A tad droopy, slept until 11:00 this morning, but fever-free.

A benign condition that causes him to run a fever every seven to eight weeks doesn't seem quite so benign when it starts hitting every seventeen days, lasts four days, involves 104 degree fevers, and includes all-night bouts of vomiting. We need wisdom and direction, and we covet your prayers in these areas.

2. Do you know there are crooks on the Internet? Well, I now do. I can't  share all the details at present, but I have encountered all manner of money-grabbing schemes in the last few days, and I am shocked. I don't know why I am shocked, but I am.

3. So all that time I was supposed to have on my hands once school started? WHERE  IS  IT, I ASK YOU, WHERE IS IT? Not happening yet. See item #1 involving 104 degree fevers and all-night bouts of vomiting to understand the key reasons why. We have thirty-four weeks of school to go, so I'm just sure time is coming my way any minute now. Any minute now.

4. I've always known my fashion sense slouched toward the conservative if not the boring. Now it's official. I was perusing the sale pages of Lands' End and stumbled upon a cute skirt for Ainsey -- kind of a classic style, clean lines, tasteful. Turns out I bought the girl a school uniform. Yes, a school uniform. She already wears a uniform five days a week, and now her mother has bought her yet another one.

And then there's the shorts. Do you know it's hard to find shorts of a decent length for a five-year-old.? Do you know there are crooks on the Internet? Yes, it's true. I have an astonishing grasp of the obvious. So I find khaki Bermuda shorts at Walmart and pick them up for Ainsley to wear next summer. And as I'm headed home, I suddenly think, "I bet they're boys' shorts." And sure enough, they are.


I may keep the school uniform, but the boys' shorts (not to be confused with boy shorts) are back at Walmart.

5. I would like to poll parents of adolescents on a perplexing housekeeping dilemna. Scenario: A nameless child's room could just about make the tabloids. Do you:

a. Ensure the door is securely closed and spray a little air freshener in the hallway? 
b. Confiscate all electronic devices and place the culprit(s) under house arrest until the room meets minimum specs? 
c. Grab a large trash bag and a pitch fork and do the job yourself?
d. Combine the above three?

6. Do you know which job is hardest to accomplish when everyone is home? The floors. It's funny, but I find washing floors rather soothing. But it rarely happens during the summer. The other day I walked through the kitchen and nearly lost a shoe in some wide-spread glob of ick. So this morning in the silence of my home, I will  mop. I'm looking forward to it.

This combined with the fact that I outfit my daughter in school uniforms and think she looks cute? I'm scaring myself. Really, I am.

7. I am on day five of Jillian Michael's Thirty Day Shred. In the interest of full disclosure, I should rebrand this program the Thirty Month Shred because my ambitious timetable looks something like this:

January 2012 - Purchase Thirty Day Shred
May 2013 - Remove shrink wrap
September 2014 - Begin program

Just a little bloggy hyperbole you say? Sadly, no. The actual timetable give or take a month or two.

Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes.