Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All I Want For Christmas

As Dave and I reviewed The List the other day, he quipped, "When you're out shopping, could you pick up something really, really nice for my wife?"

I laughed.

This, people, is progress.

There was a time when his quip would have fallen flat and left me feeling slighted. I might have adopted a cool, slightly holier-than-thou countenance, and Dave might have scratched his head for a few days.

These days? Not so much.

In part, this is because I actually don't want much for Christmas this year. I have a lot, certainly all I need and a great deal of what I want. I had a growing sense of this before the events of last Friday, and it's even more pronounced in the wake of the awfulness.

I also feel this way because some of the things I really do want weren't advertised as Black Friday specials and can't be found on Amazon.

Here's All I Want for Christmas:

1. I want the deep, consoling prayer life that I experienced ten years ago, the kind that seems to elude me today.

2. I want all the fruits of the Spirit -- love, peace, patience, joy, goodness, kindness, humility, and self-control. And, by the way, I want them now.

3. I want to be the kind of mother I always pictured myself being. Can I trade in the grouchy model who shows up all too frequently at our house?

4. I want to be a better wife who, among other improvements, laughs more, who wears jeans a little less often and mascara a little more often, who gives more back rubs and offers fewer complaints.

5. I want to go on a week-long cruise, just my husband and me. Or maybe a hiking trip. Or a canoeing trip. Or maybe all three.

6. I want to get this body of mine in shape.

7. I want to love my neighbor as myself and be w-a-y more long-suffering with people who manage to irritate the fire out of me.

8. I want to start going to weekday Mass again.

In the meantime, I plan to tidy up a few loose ends tomorrow. My To Do List includes:

1. Buying a roll of Justin Bieber wrapping paper. With a dozen young men and boys to buy for, how can I resist?

2. Checking the weather forecast. Some people are predicting this:

I am hoping for this:

3. Finally, I'll invest a little time checking Facebook and You Tube for footage of my daughter in this morning's Christmas Sing. There she stood, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed darling -- smiling, singing, and pulling her dress right over her head. Can you say Wardrobe Malfunction? Honestly.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What They Said

I heard the initial news reports as I was Christmas shopping. My first response was to cry.

I didn't read much about it over the weekend because we faced the usual hurly-burly of activities that fall right before Christmas -- a Scout service project, a wedding of two sweet friends, homework and laundry, packing gift bags for the needy at church.

When I had time to click on a headline or two, I wished I hadn't.

Charlotte, Rachel, Dylan, Dawn, Catherine, James, Grace, Noah . . . I can't read any more about the children who died. I can't read any more about the principal who died (and left behind a husband and five daughters).

My Facebook friends said it better than I could.

My friend Nelson who, like me, is a parent of four young children best captured my first thought:

My heart is broken right now. I just want to go home and hold my kids . . .

And after you've hugged your kids, find a teacher to hug. My friend Lauren, a veteran of 25 years in the classroom and a woman who once faced a loaded weapon in the classroom, posted this:
As a teacher reflecting on the horror of the past several days, I really have no words . . . Many in my profession have been placed under tremendous pressures in recent years and our "effectiveness" as educators measured by test scores alone, all while the culture around us collapses at an alarming rate. To remark that this tragedy is a reflection of our society is a frightening thought, but one that bears reflection.

In the end, teachers at Sandy Hook did what all good teachers do -- they protected the children under their charge, in some cases with their own lives.

In my 25+ years of teaching, I have seen my teaching colleagues do many heroic deeds -- feed and clothe students from their own pockets, work long hours without compensation, and volunteer at countless school-based events, all to enrich the lives of the children in their charge. 
We are far from perfect -- like you we have our faults. But most of us still believe that we can change the world, one child at a time . . .

Isn't it time to recognize the teaching profession for its noble service to society and to our Children? Scores do matter, but in the end, it is the hope we bring to your child, the life lessons we teach, and the values we emote that remain long after the scores have faded away.
I am proud of what I "do" in the classroom in terms of content, but your child is why I teach.

Hug a teacher you know in the days to come, and remember to say Thank You for the many sacrifices they have made for YOUR child along the way.
May God have mercy on the Souls of the fallen at Sandy Hook and all the schools around our nation who have experienced similar tragedies . . .

And in the midst of this dark, dark deed, there were other heroes as well. My friend Carleene posted this:

We saw darkness yesterday. Yet this week we read, "Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it."

A seventeen year old who lives nearby hears shots and rushes to the school to see if his sister is okay. Love shines in the darkness.

A custodian runs through the school to warn kids and teachers to take action to protect themselves, and in the process putting himself at risk . . . Self-sacrifice shines in the darkness.

Teachers lock their doors and have their kids gather in corners and hide in closets and stand vigil themselves in case a shooter arrives at their classroom. Courage shines in the darkness.

Law enforcement officers escort kids to safety telling them to close their eyes so that they do not see what eyes should never have to see. Compassion shines in the darkness.

And many parents hugged their children a little harder yesterday. The hearts of parents turn toward their children. Love shines in the darkness.

Oh, Lord, our hearts are broken. We need the Light! Let Your light shine into this darkness.

While no one understands what was going through Adam Lanza's mind, this piece sheds a sliver of light into the lives of the mentally ill and those who try to love them.

Wrenching, just wrenching.

No more reading for me. Today, I am going to hug my kids a little harder and pray a lot more.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An Ode to Mrs. Heffley

Kolbe was in a friend's van when Last Christmas came on the radio.

"Kolbe," Rachel said. "This is your mother's favorite."

Rachel loves this song and especially likes  the 80's version. We shared a laugh about 80's music. It's like 80's hair or 80's make-up or 80's greed or 80's leg warmers -- big, colorful, over-the-top.  Rachel let me in on a secret: One of our very holy and seemingly reserved friends rocks out to Love Hurts.

Who knew?

To my children's utter amazement -- bewilderment might be a better word -- I have an 80's playlist of my own, one that includes 99 Red Balloons by Nena and What's Going On by Four Non-Blondes and Come On, Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Riders. Loud, brassy, and the musical equivalent of teased hair. Blood-pumping distraction if I'm in the middle of some detested chore like washing floors or entering a three inch stack of receipts.

As I've shared before, the boys look askance when my 80's alter-ego takes over and begins swaying to the music.

"Okay, Mrs. Heffley," Tim will say, patting my arm gently. "It's time to calm down."
My Hero

What? You don't know Mrs. Heffley?

Mrs. Heffley, that long-suffering mother from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, is my hero. For a proper introduction to Mrs. Heffley, please rent the second Wimpy Kid movie -- Rodrick Rules.

Now, I could issue a lengthy list of disclaimers and warnings about the movie, but let me be honest: I laughed harder watching this movie than any other movie, EVER.

I get Mrs. Heffley. She's a forty-something mom with glasses and shoulder length brunette hair. She's a writer. She has three sons. She's prone to launching into speeches that begin, "All I want is for you boys to be friends . . . ", "I am really shocked . . . ", "Is it too much to ask . . ."

Too, too funny.

Thursday morning was a fiasco. Three days of sickness capped off by twelve hours of rain punctuated by little sleep and a growing anxiety about all the Christmas shopping I was not managing to accomplish -- ugh. On top of all that, the pantry was cleaned out. Now, I could have sent the kids to school with ice water and Reese's peanut butter cups to sustain them. But, no, self-sacrificing mother that I am, I went to the store at 7:43.  That's 7:43 a.m., as in morning. Who does this, you may logically wonder. Believe me, I ask myself this same question time and again. But rather than reflect too long on these unanswerable mysteries, I cranked up some tunes as I returned home at 8:03.

Forget the 80's.

Play That Funky Music came on, and I was rocking out.

I briefly wondered what would happen if I suddenly crashed the car. Oh, the scandal! Forget everything your mother ever told you about unexpected accidents and clean underwear. Anyone happening upon the crash scene would confront much more shocking discoveries.

Coming back from the grocery store at 8:03 on a school day? Who does that?

Two bottles of chardonnay and  -- what's this? -- four lunchables? Lunchables???

Do people really go out in public looking like that?

And the clincher: What --- what! -- is that noise?

That,  my friends, is solid gold, circa 1976.

Play that funky music, white boy.
Play that funky music right.
Play that funky music, white boy.
Lay down that boogie and play that funky music till you die…
Till you die…oh, till you die!

But I forget myself.

Back to Santa 104.3. Anne Murray is singing Silver Bells.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent -- The Spirtual and The Material Collide

The ever-friendly Internet has recently been the scene of a discussion about Christmas and Advent, stress and busyness. An oh-so-very-helpful commenter expressed confusion that a devout Catholic, of all people, could find this season trying and then offered a thought that went something like this:

It's Advent -- four candles -- how hard is that?
Well, this encouraging fella gets The Hilary Rosen Award for Least Insight into a Mother's Life.

(You remember Hilary Rosen. In the heat of the election, she quipped that Ann Romney, a mother of five boys, "had never worked a day in her life.")

I read Hilary's comment and burst out laughing. And so I did when I read Mr. Advent's pithy prescription for a stress-free Christmas. (And, yes, I'm going  w-a-y  out a limb here to assume it's Mr. Advent (not Miss or Ms. and certainly not Mrs.).

Gosh, I'm being awful and judgmental and know-it-all and all sorts of horrid things that one certainly shouldn't be deep in the heart of Advent.

On the phone the other day, a friend threw out the term "Insta-Christmas." Perhaps you're not familiar with this concept. Someone wakes up on Christmas Eve, and, gosh!, the house looks great! The lights, the candles, the wreaths! The kids are all in matching clothes. They're clean! Mom just called to extend a heartfelt thanks for the tasty fruitcake that arrived in the mail. A Facebook friend commented on the lovely family photo just posted. At the Christmas pageant, the daughter's angel wings were sparkling and the son was nothing short of precious as the donkey in the manger scene.

If you're not familiar with "Insta-Christmas" that is probably because  -- wait for it now -- you're a wife and mother.

What is the point of my bombastic screed? It is not to husband-bash. Perhaps it's to bash the mistaken notion that there is The Spiritual and The Material and never the twain shall met.

And there's no such thing as "Insta-Christmas." You don't light the fourth Advent candle on December 23rd, wake up on Christmas Eve, and find "Insta-Christmas." If I fashioned an exclusively Spiritual Advent and saved up the Material for Christmas Eve, I predict two things would rapidly follow: misery and bankruptcy.

Therapy and marriage counselling would probably figure into the equation as well.

Elizabeth Foss has spent years writing about Advent and Christmas. Just yesterday, we read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, one of Elizabeth's suggestions, and later watched the movie. Thank you, thank you to Elizabeth and all the other bloggers who use the Internet to inspire.
Elizabeth shares ways to make this season beautiful and simple and meaningful.

She never says it isn't work.

A reader recently posed this question to Elizabeth: Do you decorate your house and put up your tree for Christmas before Christmas, during Advent?

And Elizabeth responded: Yes. Yes, I definitely do. When I am expecting a baby, I ready the environment well before my due date. I wash and fold tiny clothes. I freshen the co-sleeper. I find the car seat inserts. I rearrange bedrooms or dressers, as necessary. And I pretty much clean my house from top to bottom and stock the freezer and pantry. It's what I do . . . On December 25, our family welcomes the Baby. Hearts and homes are prepared well in advance.

In the atrium, we learn the liturgical colors. Purple is for preparation. We prepare to celebrate the arrival of Jesus on Christmas Day. Preparation requires effort.

I would be the first person to yell "enough" to the madness and soul-crushing perfectionism that add unnecessary stress and cost, that breed fatigue and greed and envy in a season that is supposed to be about anticipation and joy.

This time last year we had something like eight separate celebrations (dinners, parties, pageants) in an eight day period. No Joke. As one of my friends so eloquently and succinctly put it: Let's just not call it a celebration. Too much, just too much. This year, three of those events have been cancelled, and one has been scaled back significantly.


The first year we were married, I mentioned getting a Christmas tree, and Dave said, "We're going to Michigan for Christmas. Why get a tree?"

"Because I'll cry if we don't," I told him.

We bought a tree.

We've bought a tree every year except for two. One year we were having our floors refinished while we were in Detroit. Forgoing the tree was the smart thing to do. Another year I was just snowed under with all the preparations and thought, just as Dave had, "We're going to Michigan. Why do we need a tree?" We arrived home around New Year's Day, and let me tell you, I have never been so depressed walking around my barren, undecorated house.

There's a fine line between Simple and I can't be bothered. I had crossed the line, and I knew it.

One of the aspects I love about Catholicism is the emphasis on and use of stuff -- physical, material, elemental stuff -- water, ashes, smoke, oil, candles. There is no stark dividing line between the spiritual (celebrating the birth of Christ) and the material (accomplishing the physical tasks necessary for that celebration). The problem as I see it (and live it) is that the pendulum has swung so far towards the material, we barely have the capacity to take in the spiritual.

And perhaps that is what Mr. Advent was trying to communicate.

Elizabeth Foss captures it beautifully:

I am not Martha Stewart. I am an innkeeper. I am preparing a place in my home and in my soul for the Savior of the World. I need to be so grounded in prayer that Christ’s peace overflows from me to those in my home. Let the visitors come. Let them come whenever they want and stay as long as they want. I will make the house warm and the food filling, but above all, I will make certain that the Holy Infant is here. He will be the reason for our celebration. If He can cause the lion to lie down with the lamb, He can handle Christmas at my house. Despite all the other things on my list, I must make time for earnest, fervent prayer, because I know that I can’t do this under my own strength. I must invite the Baby. The only perfection here this year will be the Baby. Because a Baby at Christmas is what it’s all about.

My friend Rachel, to whom Mr. Advent's comment was directed, just posted this:

God loves us so much. Don’t forget that in the midst of your hurry. Those of us running ragged to do right by our family…well, that’s part of the deal. In this season, don’t chide yourself so much. Pray about what you need to do, ask God for joy and peace — and the wisdom to know when you are doing more than you should. And then trust in him. He does fill in the gaps. He’s aware. He’s here, in the middle of it all.
And one of her readers, commented this:

You and BXVI (Benedict XVI) are of the same mind and spirit. When someone tweeted the Pope and asked “Any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work, families and the world?”, his response was: “Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you” – Happy feasting!


Monday, December 10, 2012

For God So Loved the World That He Gave

A friend shared a scripture at a recent prayer meeting: For God so loved the world that He gave . . .

And there it ended.

From billboards to Bible school lessons, most of us are familiar with the entirety of John 3:16. But in this season of gift giving, how interesting it is to end that verse with a verb.

God gave.

In the atrium we just presented my favorite lesson -- The History of the Gifts. As I've written before, of all the materials and lessons we share, this is by far the one I love best, focusing as it does on the Kingdom of God as a history of gift giving.

We open a treasure chest that contains a sampling of God's gifts.

We crush nutmeg and ginger. We examine a speckled bird's egg lying in a nest.

We look at a lovely drawing of a baby in utero.

We pull apart a cotton ball and examine a lump of coal.

We ponder the mind and the heart behind the creator who fashioned this vast and diverse universe out of nothing.

We talk first about the necessities of  life and then move on to the niceties. As I wrote last year:

What is the point, exactly, of a dolphin or a dogwood? Why is a sunflower both edible and beautiful? Why do we have cows which many of us eat, but also dogs which we simply enjoy? What is the purpose of a sunset or a rainbow or a lush snowfall? Why are babies so achingly lovely?

I often reflect that God is not a minimalist. This world of ours is full and varied and surprising.

For God so loved the world that He gave and He gave and He gave . . .

I sat in a meeting with a group of pastors last week discussing, among other topics, fatherhood. What unique role does a father play in the life of a child? How do we encourage fathers? What should fathers try to do or, more importantly, try to be?

A friend -- a father of grown children and an experienced pastor -- said that he tells young fathers starting out, "If you view fatherhood primarily as a police function, you're completely missing the boat."

Fatherhood, in his view, means bringing forth life. Human fathers should emulate God the Father and seek to bring life into their family, to bring fun, to bring adventure, to start with the necessities and to then move on to the niceties.

What a beautiful perspective this is. In all of this, I couldn't help but think of my own father.

Now, he's a character, my dad. He and my mom made a quick stop off at my house just a few weeks ago. We sat in the backyard, enjoyed a glass of wine and some munchies . . . and laughed. My father is a funny, funny man.  Later we watched football, and Dad held Ainsley. We shared dinner and played chess.

I look back on my childhood and remember weekend after weekend spent boating and fishing. Some families are camping families or reading families or travelling families. We were a boating and fishing family. To my dying day I will remember 1975 for two reasons: First, it was the worst year of my life; second, my dad woke me up nearly every Saturday well before the sun came up and said, "Come on, Kel. Let's go fishing."

A bright spot in an otherwise grim year.

He gave. To this day, he is probably unaware of what he gave me.

He still gives.

As I sat with a crew of children looking at sharks' teeth and cinnamon, at a Praying Mantis and at a moth, I asked them what we can conclude about God based on this collection.

Which is but a meager, meager sampling of his gifts.

God is powerful, they said. God is creative. God is generous.

Finally a little boy with the face of an angel and the impishness of an elf, threw his hands up in the air and said, "He wants us to have an awesome time of it!"

For God so loved the world that He gave . . .

Saturday, December 08, 2012

I Need a Wife

I can't participate in Seven Quick Takes this week. I might be able to pull together two thoughts, maybe three, but seven? Not happening.

But I did head over to Conversion Diary and laughed at what Jen had to say:
A friend alerts me that the new trend among homeschoolers is to hire tutors so that busy parents can outsource some of the grunt work. These aren’t necessarily experts in the subject (at least not for elementary school kids); rather, they function more as teacher’s assistants who answer questions and help young children stay on task. This was a bad can of worms for me to open, because it got me thinking about the resources I could use to make homeschooling run a little more smoothly around here. My list ended up looking something like this:
  • Tutor
  • Babysitter for baby
  • Second tutor
  • Masseuse
  • Sommelier
  • Grape peeler
  • Security guard (to stand outside my bedroom door while I take a nap)
This is just a start, obviously. I haven’t even gotten to the tour guide to arrange engaging field trips and the chauffeur to take them there.
For me, it comes down to this: I need a wife. I may be plagiarizing Barbara Walters who, at the height of her career with ABC, once expressed this very idea.

I need a helpful someone to point out to me -- preferably while I'm still in a store -- that, in fact, I've been in some sort of retail establishment that sells bread every. single. day. this week. And do we have bread? No, we do not. I guess I will be visting one of those establishments again today. An unbroken record! Go me! I think a wife could help me with this issue.

I would find a wife who is under forty and who has better eye sight than I have. She could point out the flaws in my make-up that I can't see even with a magnifying mirror.

My wife could handle all the meal planning. I'd even be willing to do all the cooking if only I had that helpful someone who would just plan the darn things. I'd handle breakfast and lunch -- which go fine around here (as long as we're not out of bread). Wife, handle dinner for me, please, oh, please!

I'd keep my wife busy running items to the boys' school. I went in there yesterday and told our beloved secretary that they really should install a revolving door with my name on it. Better yet, the school could initiate a courier service that pops by my house each morning around 10:00 to collect the forgotten lunch, the PE shorts, the calculator, the Secret Saint gift, etc., etc., ad nauseam. If I had a wife, the courier service would be rendered totally unnecessary.

I need someone to keep track of my appointments. My wife could analyze my calendar and conclude that there is no logistical way the Dolins could be at six places at once. She could make the seventeen phone calls required to iron out the whole mess.

If I had a wife, I would be free to concentrate on those elements of marriage and motherhood I love -- relaxing with my husband, reading to the kids, finger painting with the little people, going to basketball games, watching Monk with the big boys.

My friends and have laughed about the life captured in Downton Abbey. If I woke up inhabiting that universe, no doubt I'd be Daisy the kitchen maid and not the glamorous Lady Grantham. If somehow, someway I woke up and found myself to the manor born, it wouldn't be O'Brien the lady's maid, I would most appreciate. No, I think every family could use Carson the butler -- that calm, unruffled stickler for detail to iron out all the pesky details of life (and even iron the newspapers).

Carson's not showing up anytime soon, so I'd best get back to it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

One Big Mess

And a whole lot of fun!

If you're not in a hurry, if your kids and their clothes are washable, if your table is, too, then this is a really, really fun way to spend an afternoon.

Love the tongue.


We started so very neatly.

Finger paints!

Or hand paints.
A little out of her comfort zone.

Forgive me for finding this hilarious (and for taking a picture before I plopped her in the tub).


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Get Off Your Duff Parenting

If you are regularly locking horns with a young child or two, my friend Rachel has a great post here that might inspire you. She has been addressing an issue or two involving John's pal, Henry.

Rachel writes:

One of our favorite family mantras, “When I Call You Come,” well it meant absolutely nothing to this child. It was more like “When I call, you ignore. And then I call. And then I call again. And then I come find you and grab you and drag you to where I say.”   
. . . we started a little thing called “follow through.” Which meant that every time Paul or I told Henry to do something, we got up off our duff and made him do it. When I call, you come. And if you don’t come, I walk over to you (immediately) and there are consequences for not coming.

The Dolins are dealing with a a few behavioral challenges of our own, most of them involving a blonde-headed spitfire named Ainsley.

What? The long-awaited girl child -- she who was to be all sugar and spice and everything nice -- she's giving us grief? Yes, this surprised us, too. In fact, that's been half the problem.

We shouldn't label our children, but, face it, we all do it. Ainsley was Easy Child. Label affixed.

But the thing about kids is this: Once you've got them good and labeled, they change. Mind you, they send you no warning of this, no helpful status change on Facebook, no text that says Ta Ta For Now; Easy Child Is Outta Here!

No, one tranquil night Nice Boy goes to bed and, unbeknownst to his parents, morphs into Hormonal Grouch in his sleep. The next morning the unsuspecting mom says, "Have a nice day!" He snarls, "You're always telling me what to do!" 

Mom scratches her head and wonders what just transpired.

So it has been with Ainsley. One day it slowly dawned on me that Easy Child almost never does what I tell her to do. Why was I so slow to grasp this glaringly obvious fact? She was flying under the radar mostly because she wasn't all up in my face about it. Unlike her older brother, John. John lets it all hang out there. Always has. By the time he was nine months old, we knew we had a tiger by the tail.

But Ainsley, well, she's a wily one. Until very recently, she wasn't prone to fits. She'd just quietly disregard any instructions not fully in line with her plans. For reasons unknown, this all changed, oh, four or five months ago. Easy Child is now Drama Queen who employs a variety of tactics to get her way.

There's negotiation:

"I wanna milkshake, Mama," Ainsley tells me in her sweetest voice ever. "And if I get one, I'll sleep in my own bed forever."

There's clarity:

"I want chocolate milk," she says.

"We'll see," I tell her.

"I don't want 'see'," she responds in her non-nonsense voice. "I want chocolate milk!"

Then there's plain old garden variety rage.

She puts on her coat and says, "I want it zip-did." And when no one jumps to do her bidding, this becomes, "I want it zip-did!  I Want It Zip-Did!  I WANT IT ZIP-DID!"
Let me tell you, she can fold those arms, jut out that chin, produce a glare, and stomp her foot.

As in any behavioral trials, dealing with this requires patience, a sense of humor, and follow through (all of which seem to run in short supply around 5:00 in Casa Dolin.) It requires, as Rachel explains, Get Off Your Duff Parenting.

Our friend Dennis used to say, "If you do the right thing long enough, you'll eventually be successful."

We hope he's right.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Late Night Algebra Humor

Tim: Dear Math, I am tired of looking for your X. She's not coming back.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Public Enemy Number 1

Wednesday is known as "hump day", but for me, Thursday is the really kicker. Yesterday was no exception. I lay the blame squarely on a man named Herman Hollerith.

What? You've never heard of Herman Hollerith?

Here's what Wikipedia says about my nemesis:

Herman Hollerith was an American statistician who developed a mechanical tabulator based on punched cards to rapidly tabulate statistics from millions of pieces of data. He was the founder of one of the companies that later merged and became IBM.

Herman's name came up in our house just a few months back. Tim is taking Computer Skills, a class, interestingly and ironically, that I taught many, many moons ago. Tim had a test on the development of computers. He was studying off scrawled, hand-written notes.

"Who developed the punched cards," I quizzed him.

"Harmon Hollerith," he replied.

"You know, Tim," I told him, reaching into the distant recesses of my memory. "I think the guy's name was Herman."

"It's Harmon."

"I thinks it's Herman. You know, I used to teach this class."

"Mom, that was, like, twenty years ago."

"Tim, you know, the guy who invented punched cards hasn't changed much in twenty years."

We consulted a friend's notes. Herman it was.

(I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. Hmmmm.)

Herman or Harmon, the guy invented the punched card which led to IBM which led to the microprocessor which led to a wide array of devices designed to save time, money, and paper.

I wanted to torch the whole lot of them yesterday.

I was preparing for my atrium session. I planned to meditate on the gifts of God and to celebrate the start of Advent. I went into Word to print a song sheet and an album page but then remembered that all my files had been temporarily lost when the hard drive on our last computer crashed. Dave managed to rescue the hard drive, if not the computer, and the files now reside on some external drive that this former computer teacher could not access despite prayer, persistence, a few choice words, and no end of frustration.

I gave up on the album page. I looked at the song sheet and thought of three options:

1. I could copy it on our printer --  This would prove to be a  S-L-O-W option and one that would probably require an entire ink cartridge.

2. I could run up the street and use the copier.

3. I could re-type the blasted thing.
I furiously re-typed it, not missing the ironic fact that the first line was "Light one candle for peace, one bright candle for peace."

I arrived home in the late afternoon, wiped out and trying to gear up for a busy evening of dishing up dinner, attending a prayer meeting, and helping Tim with his Romeo and Juliet essay. My twenty minute power nap was interrupted by the phone ringing. Ignore it, I told myself and continued to doze. Then the cell phone in my pocket began ringing.

Somehow, someway I am convinced Herman Hollerith is behind this as well.

It was Dave calling to ask me to fax a letter to his allergist's office. Is it just me or do other people feel their stomach clench at the thought of sending a fax? See, we fax about once every two years. Consequently, we don't know what in the world we're doing. I told Dave I'd give it a whirl, but all the while I was sure on three points:

1. We've moved the printer across the study. The telephone cord wasn't going to reach that far.

2. The chances of me putting my hands on a longer cord were slim to none.

3. Even if numbers one and two proved false, something else was sure to go wrong.

Gosh, I hate being right all the time. I told Dave it would have been faster if I had jumped in the car and driven the letter over to the doctor's office.

And who do you think is to blame for this minor debacle?


I have a delightful collection of letters and columns written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura has an essay in which she muses about what happened to all the time they hoped to enjoy when the automobile replaced the horse and buggy.

I wonder if Herman ever tinkered with cars.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Santa 104.3 held off on the Christmas tunes until Thanksgiving week, if not Thanksgiving Day. When we're not tuning in there, we're listening to this:

Ainsley singing to the tune of Where is thumbkin? Where is thumbkin?:

There is turkey.
There is turkey.

Big and fat.
Big and fat.

I am going to eat you.
I am going to eat you.

Just like that.
Just like that.

(Now clap your hands)

Kobe, singing to the tune of Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow:

Where's my toe?
Where's my toe?
Where's my toe?

Here's last year's post on Christmas music.

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 Advent without hearing this one that is, without question, right off the schmaltz-o-meter. Doink! Pretty sure this is the reason the schmaltz-o-meter was invented.

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.

Does this not capture the essence of family photo shoots?
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!"

8. Anything my kids play - Tim and Kolbe 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."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ultra Couponing Once More?

The best deals on Black Friday?

Batteries and lipstick.

The lipstick I buy typically runs $6 a tube. CVS had it for $2.99; it was a Doorbuster at Walgreen's for $1.99.

A while back, I wrote about my brief foray into the world of Ultra Couponing. I have friends who swear by it. I, too, have had limited success and most of that success involved our area drug stores. I perused the circulars and came up with a plan.

No sweat, I thought. I'll load up on lipstick, batteries, and the other items that are free after rebate.

Item # 1 -- Crest with Whitening -- $3.99 with $3.99 back in Bonanza Bucks (or whatever they're called).  Sold out.

Item#2 -- Lipstick -- $6.99 with $5 back in Bonanza Bucks. I stood in line f-o-r-e-v-e-r to buy two tubes of lipstick. I watched my the first $5 coupon print, but where-oh-where was the second one?

"Oh, no," the nice cashier explained, "you can't get two coupons at the same time. You'll have to get back in line and return one of the lipsticks and then buy it again."


Once again I waited f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I successfully returned the lipstick, the cashier rang it up once more, and I handed her my $5 coupon.

"Oh, no" the nice cashier explained, "you can't use the coupon to buy the same item."


I hunted down the other deeply discounted items -- batteries and Chapstick that were buy one, get two free. Turns out the Chapstick wasn't actually Chapstick, but a substance known as Chap-Aid.


I endured the line for the third time. The cashier rang up my items. I handed her batteries and Chap-Aid.  Thirty-five cents! Victory!

I went in search of conditioner and another tube of toothpaste -- both nearly free with Bonanza Bucks. Back in the line once more. Bought them without a hitch, snagged my second tube of lipstick, scored another $5 coupon.

I had the $5 coupon and  another $2 coupon burning a hole in my pocket. What to buy, what to buy? In the candy aisle I spied a box of chocolate coins, perfect for Saint Nicholas Day. The tag read $1.99. I grabbed several boxes of Kleenex to bring my total to $7.

"That'll be $12," the nice cashier told me.


The Haul
Turns out the chocolate coins were actually $5.99, not $1.99. I told her to scratch the chocolate, but then my total fell below $7, so I couldn't use the coupons. I grabbed a decorative tin that I thought was $1.50 but turned out to be $1.99. Three boxes of Kleenex and a decorative tin for eighty-seven cents or something.

I left the store unclear as to how much money I had actually spent and how much money I had actually saved and how many times I had actually stood in the line. While all this was so very muddled, I drove home with two crystal clear thoughts: First, retailers know the system much better than consumers; second, the only sure fire way to save money is to stay home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Best Thanksgiving Ever

Re-running an oldie:

This was our best Thanksgiving ever.
To start, I love Thanksgiving, which stands alone as the sole American holiday that does not demand over-the-top perfectionism with all the trappings. No gifts, no pageants, no cards, minimal decorations. I wrote last year about the Insidious Plot to undermine all that is essential about Thanksgiving. The plot grows ever thicker – and I have implicated myself in its inexorable plan. But still, for the time being, Thanksgiving remains simple.

But that’s not what I most appreciated this year.

Dave and I slept late, drank coffee, read the papers together, and then took Ainsley to Mass.

All this was good, but it’s not what I most appreciated this year.

I spent the day cooking and schlepping around the house, nibbling on this and that, totally relaxing, watching Mary Poppins with the kids.

But that’s not what I most appreciated this year.

The weather was fabulous. Sunny and beautiful during the day; nippy enough for a bonfire at night.

But that’s not what I most appreciated this year.

I pumped up the Christmas tunes -- Frank and Bing and Dean, The Nutcracker and Kenny Rogers.

But that's not what I most appreciated this year.

For the first time ever, I neither over-cooked the turkey nor unknowingly baked the bag of giblets and the neck. Last year we blew out two different meat thermometers, so this year I had to go with the “Are the juices running clear?” line of inquiry to see if the bird was done. Everyone at the table agreed: best turkey ever!

But that’s not what I most appreciated this year.

So what was the best part of our celebration?

Well, John’s been battling croup. "I'm freezing," he announced just as we were starting dinner. He spent the balance of the meal wrapped up in a quilt with his head on my lap. I remember so many, many interrupted and disjointed meals when my children were babies. Cutting meat and refastening bibs. Wiping faces and retrieving sippy cups. Like every other mother on planet Earth, I was absolutely convinced that never again would a hot bite of food pass my lips.

And suddenly they’re older and less needy.

Until they’re sick.

I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my favorite five-year-old huddled on my lap.  And I considered two thoughts.

First, I thought of the power of the human touch – a husband’s caress as he walks through the kitchen; a three-year-old’s grip as you amble through a parking lot; the tight, late night hug of a teenager. John routinely sleeps clutching his favorite toy of the day -- a little red Corvette, a Batman action figure, a spaceship.

I woke up in the middle of the night a few days back, and he was clutching my big toe. No joke.

Dave wanted to move John to the couch; on Thanksgiving Day I wanted nothing more than for John to stay put so that I could sit and be grateful for the love, the affection, the touch that comes my way much more often than I appreciate.
Then I reflected on the joy that stems from doing my best for the people I love. I looked across a table full of food that I had spent three days purchasing and preparing. The fare was neither fancy nor innovative. The d├ęcor was festive, but in the age of Martha Stewart and Pinterest, predictable, maybe even plain.

But it was the fruit of hard work and love. I did my best, and my kids, my husband, well, they were thankful.

 They were thankful.

(And so am I.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This Is About As Pinteresty As I Get

(When I dropped these off, I noticed that every one of the boys was dressed as a Native American, and the sole girl in the class was dressed as a Pilgrim. Given the choice between Indian and Pilgrim, no self-respecting five-year-old boy would ever be a Pilgrim.

John's one lament? Our school has a very strict no weapons policy. No musket, no tomahawk, not even a lowly sling shot.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eight Strategies for Struggling Readers

John got off to a rough start in kindergarten.

This didn't come as a complete surprise. He's young, he's John, and kindergarten is much harder today than forty years ago.

I taught Tim and Kolbe to read. I bought Teach Your Child To Read and away we went. Thirty lessons into the book, both boys were reading. No sweat.

I didn't try this with John. At three both John's mother and his pre-school teacher wondered if he were color blind. Everything -- from stop signs to bananas -- was "greent". Color-blindness runs in my family, so I wasn't unduly alarmed.

But then John learned his colors. And color-blind people, see, they don't learn their colors with time or effort or anything. Ever. So something else was behind this.

A number of other factors (some being my time and John's temperament) led me to back off and not push.

He started kindergarten, and I started getting concerned phone calls.

To my credit and as clear evidence that I have Come a Long Way, Baby! in the areas of faith, hope, and love, I did not panic. I cried after one phone call. I prayed. Mostly I spent a lot of time thinking through all my Montessori training and perusing Amazon for items that might be helpful.

Ten weeks and a whole lot of money later, here's what we're doing:

1. Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons

Excellent book. Simple and clear instructions.

2. Mommy, Teach Me to Read

This book arrived in my home on a Friday, and just three days later the author, Barbara Curtis, died unexpectedly. Her life's work lives on in books that celebrate children and help families enjoy learning together.

3. Lacing Cards

 As you can see, Ainsley's mastered this skill.

4. Stringing Beads

Great for fine motor skills and patterning.

5. Japanese Water Painting

A huge hit for kids of all ages. Adults love it, too. Buy one and put it in a public area like a kitchen island or the break room in the office. Everyone will enjoy it. And no clean up required!

6. The Bob Books

Ainsley calls these "the blah blah books." Easy, easy first readers designed to build confidence through success. Kolbe HATED these; John loves them.

7. Matching Games

A great memory building game. Lewis Carroll fans will recognize the Cheshire Cat. John calls it The Pressure Cat which cracks me up to no end. 

8. Perfection

Fine motor skills and the added fun of the whole board exploding when time runs out.

School has been difficult for John. Is this a problem or an opportunity?

In the long run, this may indeed prove to be a problem. For right now, though, it has given me an opportunity to spend lots more time with John and Ainsley than I would have otherwise. That admission -- that John had to encounter academic problems for me to sit down and string beads with him -- could be a topic for another post (or maybe a book!). Life is fast-paced. Rather than feeling guilty, I'm choosing to be inspired.

Barbara Curtis wrote this:

Look closely at children's activities and you will see a sense of purposefulness, working toward understanding and mastering their small worlds . . .

God gives the child this drive to explore and learn. You see it clearly in the toddler years: learning is what we are made for. It is our drive to learn that causes us to seek to know more about God and the world he created for us. Watch any preschooler learning to peel carrots, write his name, or count his pennies -- you will see a child completely engrossed, a child who isn't learning because he has to, but because he wants to, a child who loves to learn.

Today I'm grateful for a new opportunity to enter into John's small world.

P.S. All these items are available on Amazon. I'm now their favorite customer.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

1. There's nothing like glancing at an already published post and noticing the word youself (among other overlooked errors). Youself! Youself! When a three-year-old lisps it? So cute. But a forty-eight-year-old English teacher? Not so much.

(And now Blogger's spell check feature appears to be kaput, which clearly isn't going to help my already challenged proofreading skills.)

2. You know what's funnier than a three-year-old girl blocking the doorway and announcing, "I'm a grumpy old troll, and you can't get across my bridge"? A three-year-old girl with laryngitis growling the same line and sounding a bit like Bob Dylan.

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind . . .

3. Our bathroom redo is done. I'm sure there are no type-A personalities among my humble readership who will fritter away part of a valuable day searching the archives to find out precisely when we began this endeavor. Suffice it to say, it's been a l-o-n-g time. My only regret? I really should have taken before pictures because you can't fully appreciate how nice this looks not having seen the original bathroom. Beat with the ugly stick, it was. Beat hard.

4. John found a lizard. In the house. He was thrilled.

5. Mothers of daughters are probably familiar with American Girl products. How can you not be? I swear the company has some sort of influence with the Department of Vital Statistics. No sooner have you cut the cord on a baby girl than the American Girl catalogue is dispatched to your mailbox.

Unapologetic materialism, shameless commercialism, and, oh, so very much fun!

Mind you, we have not actually purchased anything from American Girl, but the catalogue's arrival sparks quite a lot of excitement 'round these parts. A new one arrived yesterday. Ainsley and I were forced to put aside more pressing matters (dinner, homework) and have, as she calls it, "a tea set" along with a quick look through the catalogue. Given Ainsley's froggy voice, I thought the tea would be helpful.

 She picked up the creamer, drank the milk, and skipped the tea. Too fun. Too, too fun.

6. Froggy and I were going to watch Mary Poppins tonight while Tim is at basketball and the middle two are star gazing with Dave and the Astronomy Club of Augusta. Froggy has conked out on me.

7. And this will have to be Six Quick Takes cuz that's all I've got tonight.

Head over to Jen's and check out Quick Takes for youself.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Like Mother, Like Daughter

If you've never stumbled upon Like Mother, Like Daughter, click here when you have a cup of coffee and thirty minutes to enjoy a glimpse of  beauty, glean a little wisdom, indulge in a laugh or two, and find yourself saying, "Yeah! What she said!"

Leila reminds me of a woman my friend once dubbed Saint Erma of Bombeck. She lives real life. You gotta love a woman who offers mothers of small children a post on  How To Take a Shower and a post on discipline called Threaten. But Don't Be Dumb.

She gets it.

Leila offers a whole series on The Moderate Clean and penned the two most practical articles I've read on keeping house (The Reasonably Clean Kitchen Begins with Rules for Kids and Corral and Confine Kids and Dirt).

I recently read I don't want to be that yelling, screaming, crazy Mama. Too late, a few of my kids might quip. While Leila is addressing the mother of a three-year-old, her guidance rings true for an older child of mine with whom I seem to be locking horns on a regular basis.

Leila writes:

You must start today praying to your boy's guardian angel every day to help you know how to love him in just the right way. When you pray for your child, first of all you gain the peace that even your mistakes will be made into something beautiful by God. Second, little by little you will find the answers you need for him. It might take a while, but you will find them.

Angels are very practical. They are not the airy-fairy beings we think of. They are God's messengers to us to help us with the nitty-gritty of our interactions with each other and with the physical and spiritual world. Learn to depend on your child's angel. Ask your own angel to help you remember this.

Each person has an angel! This is in the Bible. You can name your angel and ask your son to name his if he would like to.

Also, if you are Catholic, make good use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this matter. The priest, in the person of Our Lord, will help you see that you must just be patient, because a little child will always be naughty. This is normal. Stop threatening. If you must say no, say it to mean it, wait, get a result, and move on.
Good stuff.

I called a friend the other day and casually mentioned issues we're facing with one of the tribe. She went on to tell me that her husband -- he who tends to be the stern, high expectations type -- has recently been unusually generous and merciful with their teenagers -- even when they have been least deserving of it. She mentioned this because these gratuitous acts of love seem to be moving hearts where lectures and consequences have fallen flat.

Isn't that how God typically deals with us?

For me, Leila's most valuable pearl is this one:

Do not fear. All will be well. Not because I'm such a font of wisdom -- I don't know you, and I haven't seen you in action. But because God is good, and He will not fail to help you if you ask Him.
Amen to that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Love Is Not Rude

Tim and I stayed up late catching up on a missed episode of Revolution on the laptop. We are semi-wireless around here. If my technologically impaired mind has correctly assessed the situation, we have wireless Internet but a wired printer. Our rule is this: If you move the laptop, you plug it back in when you're done. Well, I didn't plug. It was late, and I was tired.

Dave came home. It was even later, and he was even more tired. And he had something he had to print. And he couldn't do it.

The next morning my sweet husband called me out on it.

Now you might be familiar with that split second in which one is suspended between The Kind Response and The Angry Retort. I battle to find The Kind Response, but The Angry Retorts? Sadly, they are forever poised on the tip of my tongue.

And I guess you've never left the computer out?

Yeah, well if you had come home earlier . . .

And who did the dishes, finished the laundry, birthed these kids, nursed them, managed to get them potty trained?

In a moment of grace, I managed to locate the mute button on all these responses and instead simply said, "You're right. Sorry about that."

Argument aborted.

As we rub shoulders with family members day after day, year after year, we face a never ending supply of opportunities to choose the kind response over the rude one, the gentle over the harsh. As a former teacher, I sometimes imagine what it would be like to get a report card evaluating my responses. After little reflection -- very little reflection -- I conclude that, really, I could live without that sort of reality check.

I think I'd only gulp hard and gulp hard.

The kids have often asked me if I'd ever want to do a reality t.v. show. Are you kidding? With the state of my laundry room? That alone would nix reality t.v. for me. And then there would be the angry glances and the curt responses.

I'll pass on reality t.v..

1 Corinthians 13 is a poetic how-to manual for family life:

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not boast. It does not envy. It is not proud.

It's the little things: Do I wipe up that spill or leave it? Block someone in or park on the other side of the house? Close the door, fill up the gas tank, put the cap back on, put the seat back down?

Yesterday I walked into the bathroom to find sneakers and nasty socks left in there by the boy who had just showered.

"Kolbe, put you shoes away," I called into the next room.

"You know, Kel" Dave suggested, "you could to add 'please' when you say that."

And he was right.

Everyone gets cranky, of course. Everyone has a bad moment or a bad day or even a bad week. But what, I ask myself, is my usual response? Am I habitually grouchy or sharp, loving or thoughtful?

One of the kids is typically quiet in the morning. Another is always cuddly. A third is universally cheerful. And then there's Grouchy -- the one who wakes up mean every. single. day. Bar none. I don't want to wake Grouchy up, and, believe me, I never face the job uncaffeinated.

How often am I the grouchy one?

Imom offers this:

How do you like to be greeted? Doesn't it make you feel good and secure when someone gives you their full attention and an enthusiastic greeting? Well think about how your children feel when they see you in the morning, after school, or when you pick them up from an activity. At these times, loving communication is key.
So, here are the top 10 ways not to greet your child:
  • You're on the phone
  • You're texting
  • You're on your computer
  • You're checking your calendar
  • Asking what homework they have
  • Correcting them as soon as you see them
  • Bringing up something they recently did wrong
  • Not making eye contact with them
  • Not smiling at them
  • Letting your bad mood make you grouchy with them
Michael Card sings:

Home is a comfort and home is a light,
A place to leave the darkness outside,
Home is a peaceful and ever full feeling
A place where a soul safely hides.
My favorite translation of 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is not rude. Rude: discourteous, savage, uncouth, indifferent to good form. A quick perusal of the headlines tells me that we face no shortage of the uncouth or the savage in this world of ours. I'd like to see our home -- our family -- be a refuge from all of this, to be a place to leave the darkness outside.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Quick Takes

1. File this under Perspectives:

Kolbe: What's for dinner?

Me, with resignation: hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.

Kolbe, with enthusiasm: I love awesome dinners!

2. File this under Good thing our second bathroom is now finished:

A family was fined $2500 for public urination after their three-year-old, um, relieved himself on their front lawn. Read the rest here.

3. File this under Geography:

Ainsley: We live in Georgia. Not in Africa and not in China.

4. File this under I got no sleep last night thanks to a three-year-old who kicked the covers back and forth for hours on end:

Ainsley, patting the bed: I just love this space!

5. File this under Boys:
John, in total frustration: There's just nothing to hit around here.

6. File this under Why I pour a glass of wine most evenings:

I looked out in the backyard to see a band of kids getting ready to play T-ball. How sweet, I thought. I gave them the whiffle bat, confiscated the aluminum bat, and hid it under the shed. Not ten minutes later, I heard Ainsley wailing. And I knew, without a doubt, that someone had clocked her with the baseball bat. And I wasn't wrong.
She's fine. The bat is in hiding.

7. File this under Times flies:

Tim turns fifteen tomorrow. I can't believe it! His feet are bigger than Dave's, he shaves once in a while, and I don't recognize his voice anymore. The good news? When he's sick or tired and not irritated with me, he still calls me Mama and wants a hug. Love that boy. Love, love, love that boy!
Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes.