Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the Move

We are packing, packing, packing, painting, painting, painting and everyone keeps asking How's it all going? and I keep saying Great! until I remember that I offered John fifty cents if he would remind me of his piano lesson on Wednesday.

When the seven-year-old is in charge of the family calendar, you're on thin ice, no two ways about it.

Lots of plates to keep spinning, and I think it is all just a touch easier now that the sun has started to shine once again. Two weeks of molton skies and drizzle didn't help anyone's mood. Vitamin D, we need you!

Anyway . . .  pondering lots of things -- paint samples and room dimensions, the kids' academic progress or lack thereof, fitness or lack thereof, aging parents, the power of prayer, why my skin looks as bad as it does, how Lord Grantham  has evolved (devolved?) into such an insufferable windbag, surprised that I'm beginning to love Baxter and even Mosely when he acts like a man and not a nine-year-old in the principal's office.

Head over to Rachel's for Downton conspiracy theories and lively discussion.

Back to packing, packing, packing, painting, painting, painting.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Heat Never Bothered Me Anyway

1. We are up to our eyeballs in all things related to the move -- painting, packing, changing utilities, etcetera. Despite this, certain members of the family (read: the whole lot) continue to expect an uninterrupted flow of clean socks and rides to basketball games, laundered uniforms and balanced meals. Ainsley alone was the voice of reason the other day when she sweetly asked, "Is this going to be another snacky dinner?"

Yes, Sweetie. Snacky dinners are on the menu for the duration.

2. So Georgia is cold. As in windchill of 5 cold. We really don't do cold. The younger pair would wear shorts year round and never, never, never, ever, ever, ever don  footwear in the house. Unless it's part of a costume. Think: plastic high heels. Truly, I get cold just looking at them. I don two pairs of socks under my slippers and crank my automatic mattress pad to ward off the chill.

We have a low intensity Thermostat War waging here. Oh, how I remember my dear Dad going nearly postal when he'd come home and find the heat set on 83. Sorry, Dad. I guess this would be a fine time to admit it was me. Well, Dave likes the house chilly and a certain unidentified adolescent boy whose name does not, for the record, appear on any utility invoice that passes through our hands, tends to crank it up. As he recently quipped: The heat never bothered me anyway.

3. Do you own an automatic mattress pad? Back in the day, these were called electric blankets. Now they go on under the sheets and are automatic (and I guess it's supposed to be a secret that they still plug into an electrical socket). Anyway . . . Automatic mattress pad = best purchase ever. Mainly this is because we sprung for the queen-sized, dual control number. Yes, dual control. Dave can set his side on a nippy number 1 while I am toasty on six or seven. Truly a thing of beauty. And also one of the best gifts I've ever bought the unidentified adolescent. Teenagers, they like their comfort.

4. Sometimes I get major props from the kids, especially the younger boys, when they dwell on the fact that their mother once wore Army boots. I am seriously cool because I fired a Howitzer (once), because I threw a live hand grenade (once).

These bright moments aside, the kids have discovered that I never saw combat, that I never once put my hands on C-4 (plastic explosives for civilians), that I never was embroiled in a hostage crisis of any sort. I think they sometimes confuse the U.S. Army with a Swat Team.

I was deployed during wartime, but, sadly for them, I spent my five and a half months of active duty briefing pregnant soldiers on their maternity benefits and trying to convince very young enlisted folks to take advantage of the GI Bill. Oh, and I watched a lot of CNN. I think I remember ordering new reflective vests for my unit's physical fitness program.

"I was a personnel officer," I told Kolbe today. "I filled out a lot of forms."

"Really, Mom," he says, shaking his head sadly and shooting me a look that spoke of keen disappointment. "Really?"

5. So I was cleaning up our camera, trying to cobble together the few photos I shot of Christmas 2014, and I found this:

Let me zoom in:

I hope this wasn't on display when we were showing the house.  Please say it wasn't. And when the appraiser pops in next week, remind me to check all wall surfaces for stray underwear.

6. I also found this:

A terrible shot of a really neat evening we hope becomes a family tradition. Saint Lucia's Day. This is, I believe, a Swedish tradition. The oldest daughter greets the family with candles on her head and a tray of sweet rolls and hot chocolate in her hands.

So fun.

I have to project all my girly-girl expectations onto just one child, but, thankfully, Ainsley is only too happy to comply with my wishes.

7. So a new season of Downton is upon us. I don't think I'll be writing much about it because, hello!, moving! But also because I tend to just nitpick and besides that my friend Rachel will provide incise weekly commentary and discussion over at her corner of the Internet.

Here's my contribution to her deconstruction of Episode 1:

My theories:
1. Edith is totally Rosamond’s child.
2. Can’t believe Bates killed anyone.
3. Gregson will return. Would have to Google what was happening in Germany to keep him away so long. (Let me add: Fellowes pulls from the headlines quite a bit. Government scandals, Spanish Flu, election results. Nearly every plot twist has  a bit of foreshadowing -- someone reading a headline, an off handed comment in a conversation).
4. Teacher = 100% insufferable. You can disagree and not be quite that horrible.
5. Mary has a short memory when it comes to clandestine trysts. But I bet she takes Lord Gillingham up on his offer.
6. The Dowager’s trying awfully hard to get Mrs. Crawley and the good doctor together. I think it will work. And I hope it does.
7. How many more servants will have secretly done hard time? I really like Baxter, but this seems too much like the Bates’ mystery in season 1.
What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear from anyone but Christine who's seen it all over in Scotland.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Favorite Post of 2014

I started to draft a year in review, but made it only through February because, hello!, we're moving.  But this one made me cry . . .

A Perfect Fit

"I'm a perfect fit," Ainsley tells me as I carry her through the backyard.

And she is.

I can still carry her. Not too far. But I can carry her. She fits in my lap at church. She snuggles up to me on the couch. She moves with great stealth and slides in between Dave and me every. single. night. I had to laugh when Dave put her to bed the other night. No pretense of Ainsley crashing in her own room, no, no, into our bed she went right from the get go. Ainsley proved handy during our recent power outage. Having a three foot long hot water bottle is helpful when the indoor temperature is hovering around 50.

She is a perfect fit.

Seventeen years ago, my friend Laurie was pregnant with her youngest when I was pregnant with my oldest. Tim and Caleb are six weeks apart. Laurie was teaching school when the  boys started pre-school together. Once or twice a week, Laurie would drop off Caleb for a few minutes before I drove them to school.

Except that she didn't drop him off.

She usually carried him into the house. And did that ever seem strange to me!. Tim was my oldest. Five! Kolbe was a newborn, and by comparison Tim was practically an adolescent!

But now I look at Ainsley -- my baby -- and I see how very small she is (how very small he was). She's a perfect fit, don't you know, and there's nothing odd about carrying the baby around.

I popped over to Clover Lane the other day and was truly touched by Sarah's words:

I've also learned over the last two decades that when I find the joy in mothering, yes, even when it requires every ounce of me, when I look through the world from the eyes of those who call me mommy, when I stop thinking "oh, this is hard" and started thinking "oh, i'm so lucky", I've fully enjoyed all the aspects of parenting.  I think I owe love and devotion to my children - I think all parents do. 
I like to visualize each of my precious babies as little gifts I was chosen by the grace of God to receive - spiritual perfection enclosed in a tiny bundle of cute human-ness - I have such an obligation (sometimes overwhelming for sure!) to care and nurture these gifts - their little lives depend on us really, to survive and thrive for the rest of their lives.   

Sarah had cruised the Internet and found plenty of copy lamenting what a drag parenting can be. I, too, have stumbled on a few blogs that make motherhood look like one monotonous trip to the dentist's office sans Novocaine. I'm not talking about the cathartic blog post full of poop, a cyber-rant following an ice storm coupled with a stomach blog served with a generous side of Science Fair. I write those. I read those. I laugh at those. But blogs that leave you wondering if these mothers like their children at all, ever? Those are sad.

One long night I was up late rocking a sick baby (croup? ear infection?), doing one of the hard things that, as Sarah points out, parents simply do. I flipped through the channels until I stumbled upon The Octomom talking to Suze Orman.

Quite a combo.

Suze was offering her financial wizardry to The Octomom who was facing bankruptcy and foreclosure. Not content to stick to money matters, Suze felt a pressing need to lead The Octomom to confess her sins on national television, to repent before Dr. Phil and all of America, not for gross mis-management of her finances, but for bringing all those kids into the world. And Suze's nothing if not persuasive. She got The Octomom to utter the words I'm sure many wanted to hear: If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't have had them.

Believe me, I am not here to cheer the decisions this obviously troubled woman has made, but coaxing someone to say aloud I wish you'd never been born is simply hateful.

I wish you weren't.


But on to lighter topics . . . Do you get sucked into those Facebook quizzes? Oh, how I used to mock them! Which one of the Seven Dwarfs are you? Really, I have a life to live and laundry to do. Which character from Gone with the Wind are you? Um, no.

But then I spotted Which city should you live in? and I bit. I was hoping for London but settled for Paris.Which character from Downton Abbey are you? I wanted Lady Cora but settled for Anna. And then there was this one: How many kids should you have?

Now maybe the testers read too much into my reservations about dealing with pet waste. Yes, I admitted I would hold a vomiting child while simultaneously attending to the mess, but that's just common sense in my book. Well, they must have picked up on some latent, long buried OCD tendencies because the brains behind this test concluded I should have two children.

So which two wouldn't be?

When we sit down to dinner, more often than not, I'm harried. It's on the table. I've herded the troops, corralled the forgotten condiments, checked the burners, given the little people the pep talk about sitting up straight, no arguing, yadda, yadda, yadda. Harried, just harried.

And we start to pray.

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts . . . 

And invariably I think not of the food in front of us, but of the child sitting closest to me, the little blonde pixie on my left, the one who came so unexpectedly when I was 45, the one who defied fertility statistics and the Facebook quiz and added sparkle and pink tulle and blue eyes to the mix and left us forever changed.

And I lean over nearly every night at that exact moment and kiss her downy blonde hair.

Because she is a gift.

They all are.

And four children?

A perfect fit.

Friday, January 02, 2015

On the Road Again

Since I've last written, the family Dolin has once again survived the trek to Michigan and back. Sixteen hundred miles, approximately 31 hours on the road, gallons of coffee, a little snow, too much fast food.

Since you haven't had the firsthand pleasure of sharing a three by seven space with six Dolins and their thirty-seven favorite bags, I thought I'd give you a taste of the experience. Let me begin by introducing The Cast of Characters who routinely show up for these jaunts.

1. Commando Man

Commando Man has not voluntarily donned an undergarment since mastering potty training around age three. No matter the length of trip, no matter the climate we expect, commando man will pack no undies. His dedicated mother will dutifully slip a few pairs into the suitcase. There they will remain until they are unpacked upon arrival home.

Call me a sexist, but there is no Commando Girl. No, if Ainsley leaves town for three days, she is sure to tuck away about seven flowered panties. No plain panties. They remain in the drawer, thank you very much.

Winter Coat
2. My Little Surfer Girl

Ainsley is, however, very much like her brothers in one respect: No matter the season or destination, she will pack shorts. Detroit in December? Shorts. Toss in a few summer dresses and summer jammies, and she's good.

3. Oscar Madison

This person will remain unidentified outside of the pseudonym. That Oscar, he's a faithful soul who dutifully packs every last item on his list and nearly every article of clothing is positively filthy. This frustrates Oscar's mother to no end as she discovers the grisly evidence long after she has patted herself on the back for finishing the last load of laundry. Time and experience have taught her there is no last load. There is no last load. There's always one more nasty sock, one more sweaty t-shirt.

4. Marian the Librarian

We have several of these and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should name myself among them. With a fifteen hour drive looming ahead, Marian begins dreaming of all the reading she hasn't been able to accomplish in the hurly burly leading up to the trip. Always the dreamer and something of an optimist, Marian will pack a veritable library of which she will actually read approximately seven pages of a single volume.

Dress Clothes
Oh well. Marian is better than her ignoramus alter-ego who, upon being instructor by his mother to pack three books, does indeed pack three books. Upon being instructed to find one of the books and stop complaining about being bored and actually read one of the darn things, Ignoramus will readily confess that he grabbed three random books he had absolutely no interest in reading.

Ignoramus' mother will scratch her head unsure of whether she should praise Ignoramus for at least being obedient (a trait usually in short supply as the family is packing up) or soundly deride him for missing the whole point of the book packing thing, namely, to have something to alleviate the boredom.

5. Techno Man

Techno Man may lack both books and underwear, but he will have a laptop, a charger, earplugs, various and sundry games and movies. He can be counted on to find the GPS, locate phone chargers, in short, to handle all jobs related to keeping the family wired. Techno Man knows full well that we don't want to waste a single minute of that fifteen hour drive just thinking or talking or praying. Oh, no, no, no. This guy's motto is Be Prepared. When the going gets rough (and the going always gets rough at some point), everyone's glad to have Techno around.

6. The Galloping Gourmet

Galloping, too, lacks both books and undies, but he is sure to lay in a healthy store of provisions. And by healthy I mean generous not, well, healthy. Food is to Galloping what gadgets are to Techno Man. Cheez-its are his love language and, again, when the going gets rough, everyone's happy someone remembered chocolate milk and sunflower seeds.

7. Johnny Carson

Several family members vie for this coveted title that captures the person who keeps Mom laughing, a critical job indeed. Tim probably clinched this on our most recent trip went he climbed into the van -- still parked in our driveway -- and quipped, "This would be a great time to go into a short coma."

Indeed it would.

8. The Holy Spirit

I swear we couldn't do this without the grace of God. Or we'd do it and leave someone at a rest stop. Intentionally. Or we'd do it and require marriage counselling. God is good, all the time. Even when I-40 narrows to a single lane and there's sleet on the horizon and a pre-schooler moaning,"I need to go potty."

And it's so very, very good to be home again, home again.

Very good.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Yo Grandma's So Old

Each summer my kids return from summer camp with two things: the mother lode of indescribable socks and a fresh supply of Yo Mama jokes. My favorite? Yo mama is so old she sat behind Moses in the third grade.

John recently skipped a generation and gave us a laugh with an inadvertent Yo Grandma joke. Seems he and Grandma were watching the trailer for Night at the Museum III and a brief exchange followed.

Grandma: You know I've been to the Museum of Natural History.

John: Did you see the dinosaur bones or the actual dinosaurs?

With all that's been going down of late, I'm guessing Grandma feels about 65 million years old, but we're fairly certain she isn't really 65 million years old.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Nativity

If you're in need of a little mid-Advent encouragement, read Keep It Simple, Sweetheart by Elizabeth Foss.

She writes:

The soul who is not simple is represented in the Gospel by Martha, who was restless, anxious, and concerned with many things. The simple soul is represented by Mary, tranquilly seated at the feet of the Master, drinking in each word and solely mindful of His pleasure. The simple soul has found "the better part," "the one thing necessary"; [Luke 10:42] he is wholly given to God.

This reminds me of a piece from a few years back, words I need to take to heart today . . .

I just gleaned some useful Christmas advice over at Faith and Family Live!. Commenter StephC was responding to a mother who is where most of us have been at one time or another: overwhelmed. Tired, out of steam, even a tad hopeless -- and riding the Polar Express full speed into That Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Steph's advice? Keep your eyes on your own nativity.

I have a dear neighbor right across the street who wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving, gathers a few capable sons, and proceeds to put up every last Christmas decoration. It's pretty; it's tasteful; most impressive of all, it's done -- all before I'm finished de-boning the turkey. Yes, I peer through my front window and see my friend moving with great purpose while I shuffle around in my slippers and nurse my second cup of coffee.

I could engage in a lot of comparisons, but I'd much rather take Steph's advice: Keep your eyes on your own nativity. Or lack thereof. Because that nativity of ours? The day after Thanksgiving, believe me, it was still sitting in the attic.

No matter what our spiritual disposition, it is an undeniable fact that Advent and Christmas bring a degree of busyness and stress. For the record, I had my first moment of pre-Christmas panic this very morning. You know, a moment of Oh My Goodness I've Barely Made a Dent in My Shopping, and I Just Bought Advent Candles Yesterday. This was quickly followed by a major reality check, a trip to confession on unrelated issues, and a lengthy venture into the attic. The nativity is now down!

Best Christmas picture ever!
This was just the first of many forays into that vast repository of stuff we call the attic. Our attic. Our attic is both a blessing and a curse.

Some years I take down Christmas with the same care that I put it up. I label boxes; I discard broken and unused decorations; I do a little organizing as I go. Other years, I pull down the attic stairs, do the heave ho, and slam.

Last year must have been just such a year. Why, you ask? I had no excuses whatsoever. Four of the last five Christmas seasons have found me early pregnant or nursing a newborn. Great excuses to pare back, keep it simple, even be a bit slovenly with the take down. The year I was expecting John, I crawled through the entire season  with one eye on the clock wondering when I could finagle my next nap and one eye on the bathroom door wondering how soon I'd be hurtling myself through it.


Worth every last ounce of suffering, but ugh!

Somehow we managed the trek to Michigan for the holidays that year. I think my logic went something like this: I can remain in the fetal position here in Georgia and do all the shopping and cooking by myself, or I can manage to haul our sorry selves to Detroit, assume the fetal position there, and let my mother-in-law and sisters wait on me hand and foot. No brainer!

I remember the trip home was heinous with a capital H. I was throwing up before we left my sister's house. I was throwing up as we crossed the border into Ohio. We had a portable DVD player that I was known for employing with great moderation and discernment. On that trip I said, "Have at it, boys! I'll see you in Augusta!"

It was the quietest fifteen hour drive we've ever had.

God willing we will all celebrate many, many Christmases. Some years find us in fine form, ready to enter the season of preparation, and excited to celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Other years find us (okay, me) scrounging for Advent candles on December 23rd and happy to come up with three burgundies and a red when purple and pink prove to be somewhat elusive. True story. While three burgundies and a red might make fine choices when buying wine, they're just a touch out of the liturgical norm when preparing for Christmas.

Oh well. Keep your eyes on your own nativity!

My dear friend went to confession one Advent. She lamented to the priest how far short she felt she was falling in pulling together a holy season of preparation. This priest is a good man, a holy man, a man who loves liturgy and the church seasons. You know what he told her? Relax and enjoy your family.

Nearly every magazine in circulation is now featuring a story on dealing with stress this holiday season. They'll print to do lists and last minute buying guides and handy calendars you can post on the fridge.To be sure, celebrations -- all of them -- require work. But Father Brett had it right -- it's also about simply enjoying your family.

For us that means lots of egg nog -- Tim's favorite drink. It means multiple viewings of Elf and The Santa Clause -- liturgically bankrupt and really very funny. It means boiled peanuts and chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and potato soup.

It means pulling out the Advent candles, even if a few days late. It means writing out cards to people I look forward to hearing from once a year. It means fun and busyness and a gentle tug back to the true meaning behind all this hurly burly.

And this year -- to increase our joy and to minimize my stress -- it means taking Steph's wise counsel and keeping my eyes on my own nativity.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Santa Baby, Christmas Shoes, and The Little Drummer Boy

Since I am up to my eyeballs in The Move, no time to write.

The good news about The Move? (Aside from the obvious fact that We're Moving!) I am not in the least bit worried about Christmas except for an occasional fleeting thought that goes something like, "Gosh, you're not worried at all about Christmas. Maybe just give it a passing thought or two. Maybe? No?"

I plan to permanently adopt this No Stress Approach to the Holidays. It basically involves jotting down ideas as they come to me, making a few on-line purchases when I have time, avoiding nearly all brick and mortar shopping, trusting God, realizing that it all works out every.single.year.

And that's it.

So in lieu of anything more involved, I offer you a re-run of my thoughts on Christmas tunes -- those I love and those I love to hate.

I love Christmas music, except for the songs I loathe.

Among the worst:

1. Last Christmas I gave You My Heart - I am sad to report that at least two new versions of this tired and ultra-schmaltzy tune have hit the air waves this year. As if the over-played original weren't painful enough! My teenage son came home from school mocking this song. Gosh, I'm proud of that boy! Just one more heartening example of how his school passes on transcendent values.

2. Christmas Shoes - So I made it to the third Sunday of Lent without hearing this one that is, without question, right off the schmaltz-o-meter. Pretty sure this is the reason the schmaltz-o-meter was invented. Doink!

3. Santa Baby - No need to elaborate.

4. Elvis' Blue Christmas - Ditto.

5. Unnamed Song -- This ghastly number starts out "Where are you Christmas? Why can't I find you?"  I don't know the title because, in truth, I have never gone beyond the opening line. Where's that seek button? Or that left-over air sickness bag?

Tunes we like:

1. The Little Drummer Boy - Strictly speaking, this, too, musters some serious schmaltz, but I just like it. David Bowie and Bing? Love it. Bob Seeger? I like this one, too. An added plus? He's a Detroiter.

2. Carol of the Bells - From Transsiberian Orchestra to Kenny Rogers, this is a fav.

3. O Holy Night -  Love Celion Dion. Josh Groban? More than I can take.

4. Anything sung by The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, or Andy Williams - Yes, some undeniable schmaltz.The Carpenters scream 1970s, but I came of age listening to their eight-track recordings. The others were childhood staples and bring back happy memories of sitting near our fireplace and watching the snow fall.

5. The Messiah - I never get tired of this.

6. Christmas Canon- Makes me want to take up piano or violin.

7. The Grinch - This one hearkens back to Christmas 1986 when I was attending my Officers' Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. What can I say about Arrrrmy training? Hour after hour of some of the most painfully boring lectures ever endured. My caffeine addiction dates back to afternoons attempting to avoid nodding off as field grade officers droned on about who knows what.

The little bit of levity was Captain Al Rommel (I'm not making this up. I trained with a Rommel and a Patton). If a lecture proved particularly heinous, Al would lean over and whisper, "stink, Stank, STUNK!"

7. Anything my kids play - Tim and Kolbe (and now John!) have brought the gift of music into our home, and I love it.

Googling Worst Christmas Songs Ever will produce a list far more colorful than mine. Did John Denver really sing, "Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas"? That even tops "Christmas Shoes."