Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I'm Lovin' It

As we make the mad dash to the door this morning, Kolbe snags a stylish grocery bag to hold his P.E. clothes. Seeing the logo on the bag, he immediately says, "Walmart: Save money. Live better."

I start to laugh at this boy of mine who, I promise you, knows more jingles than anyone I know. He dons a serious face and launches into, "'Sometimes life gets, well, a little difficult."

This is a commercial for -- brace yourself -- a stool softener. But that's not all folks! He knows the Dulcolax commercial, too. Dulcolax doesn't make you go; it just makes it easier to go.

We've played this game before. I'm telling you, the kid can recite slogan after slogan until he has the entire family in stitches. We pass a Checkers, and he says, "Little place. Big taste." A Subway? Eat fresh! For no reason whatsoever  -- dollar for dollar, nobody protects you like Allstate. Geico? Fifteen minutes could save you 15% on car insurance.

By the time I make it to the car, I am laughing so hard Ainsley and John start saying, "Don't cry, Mama! Don't cry!"

I truly am lovin' it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Growth Spurt

Soccer is upon us, so I pull out Tim's cleats from last season hoping against hope that they still fit. Turns out they are size 5.5. Just twelve months later, Tim now wears size 9.

This could explain my grocery bills.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the Archives

On the eve of our 8th Pinewood Derby -- amidst a growing pile of sawdust and with a vapor of metallic spray paint wafting through the house -- I repost a recap of a derby two years back.

A Derby to Remember

We raced in our sixth Pinewood Derby this morning. Over the years we’ve built a lot of cars, and we’ve built a lot of character. At the moment, I’m tired on both accounts.

We’ve engineered tug boats and rockets, fire engines and tanks. We’ve been up into the wee hours of race day adding fins or turrets or stickers. We’ve been found, hair-dryer in hand, finishing a paint job minutes before the checkered flag (or whatever) flies.

We’ve spent a pretty penny on these jobbies. Base price: $4.99. Purchasing a new Dremel on the eve of the race will set you back another $60.00. Then there’s the ultra-accurate scale for $19.99 plus shipping. Reminds me of camping. Every year is pretty much the same.

Today’s race, however, was a first.

I show up a few minutes into Kolbe’s race to meet a grim-faced Dave.

I get the verdict: The weight of Kolbe’s car is pushing the wheels into the wheel wells. His car is slow. Painfully slow.

I plunk myself down track-side to hear the dad behind me quip, “We just come to watch the meltdowns.” He’s a father with five boys and a good sense of humor. He's been there, done that. I give him a friendly slug and tell him to be quiet already – this year it’s my son facing drama at the derby.

Kolbe loses every heat. In point of fact, he comes in dead last in every heat. We dry a few tears and give the standard pep talk.

All this is hard. Because parenting is hard. Because being a competitive person turned parent is even harder. I have laughed about this with my friends over the years. Oh, we put a good face on it. We say the right things and encourage the correct responses. We’re building character, by golly! But at a certain point – character schmaracter – we just want our kid to win. We maintain a thin veneer of civility, but scratch the surface and you find a Hollywood stage mom.

We get to the awards. A little time and a bowl of junk food leave Kolbe downright jovial. The Cub master calls the awards for Kolbe’s den.

“And second place …Kolbe!”


Kolbe collects his trophy and makes a joke about it. Dave has a chat with the Cub master as the tournament of champions finishes up. The Cub master calls Kolbe forward.

"I asked Kolbe how I could make this right," the Cub master shares. "Kolbe said he'd be happy to take the first place trophy, or he'd settle for ten bucks."

That's my boy. We laugh and applaud Kolbe being Kolbe.

The Cub master calls up the actual second place winner, Kolbe’s good pal, Daelyn. Kolbe hands over the trophy. Daelyn’s dad, a kind man and a class act, makes a point to share a few words of encouragement with Dave and me. All is right with the Derby world.

After the race I putter around in the kitchen and overhear Kolbe talking to his dad.

“I had a great time at the Pinewood Derby today, Dad,” he says. I want to cry. Maybe there’s something to this character schmaracter.

I vacuum up sawdust. Dave boxes up the Dremel. We put paints, sandpaper, brushes, and decals into the storage room to race another day.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Newton's First Law of Inertia

Seven Quick Takes:

1. Science Fair is upon us, so I'll begin my takes with an excerpt from a Dave Barry classic:

Although a science fair can seem like a big ''pain,'' it can help you understand important scientific principles, such as Newton's First Law of Inertia, which states: 'A body at rest will remain at rest until 8:45 p.m. the night before the science fair project is due, at which point the body will come rushing to the body's parents, who are already in their pajamas, and shout, `I JUST REMEMBERED THE SCIENCE FAIR IS TOMORROW AND WE GOTTA GO TO THE STORE RIGHT NOW!'

Read the rest here.

2. This week could have been The Perfect Storm -- the Pinewod Derby, the Science Fair, a social studies' diorama, and a Boy Scout camping trip -- all in the span of about five days. Add one stomach bug and two sinus infections.

The good news is that Lent is also upon us. While this sinus infection prevents me from articulating exactly (or even approximately) what I mean, there is a renewed grace in my life. And let me tell you, this is a good thing because I've needed every last ounce of grace I could muster.

Click here to read Elizabeth Foss articulate what I can not manage at the moment. This line captures it all for me:

After the busy happiness of Christmas and the inevitable juggling of schedules and commitments that comes with the new year, I like to peel back the layers of abundance and get down to the basics of relationship. Lent is renewal; it’s a chance to renew relationship with God, with family and with myself.

I'll add a sniffly amen to that.

3. File this under I'm glad I noticed -- Kolbe gets a projects and gets to work. My job is to help locate odd items and to hold things steady as he glues. Two words for this boy of mine: awe some!

4. Overheard -- Tim and his friend compiling a packing list for their camping trip. My job is now to help locate odd items and to pack a big lunch. Two words for this oldest boy of mine: awe some!

5. File this under Something to look forward to -- John and his best bud, Henry, watched their big brothers get ready for the camping trip. "When we're big," Henry said en route to pre-school, "we get to be Boy Scouts. Aren't you exciting?"

Yes, John is nothing if not exciting.

6. From a four-year-old at the atrium -- On Ash Wednesday we go to church and get rashes.

7. Details matter  --  John is putting the finishing touches on the crucifix he had drawn in the atrium. "Wait," he tells me. "Jesus needs a belly button."

Go to Jen's blog, congratulate her on finishing her book, and add your Seven Quick Takes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From My Kitchen to Yours - Rotisserie Chicken Rocks

This cartoon over at Barefoot and Pregnant summarizes an angst I regularly experience.

Cooking is just not my thing. Problem is, I have these kids. And they have a pesky habit of wanting to be fed something hot and nutritious -- or at least hot -- every evening around 6:00. We manage breakfast and lunch just fine, but dinner is a challenge. Basketball makes it even more of a challenge as we either eat way early, way late, or on the run.

By the time any sports season runs its course, I am anxious to serve up something – anything -- that doesn't come packaged in styrofoam, in a square cardboard box, or with a plastic toy. I want real food, reasonably healthy fare that everyone will eat.

Let me tell you, the pickings are slim.

I attended an ultra-couponing class a while back. One of the first steps in saving big bucks is to identify the meals you regularly cook. We were asked to jot down our twenty most commonly used recipes. Sounds easy enough. I got stuck at ten and really scrounged to come up with twelve or thirteen entrees I make with any regularity.

Early in marriage, I was fairly inventive and energetic in the kitchen. I loved Southern Living (still do) which offers recipes that are both easy and doable. I've peeked at Martha Stewart a time or two, but tend to avoid any recipe that begins with "Step 1: Get out your pasta machine." Pasta machine? Ummm . . . no.

Despite the lack of a pasta machine, back in the day, I really did put effort into cooking. Fifteen years and four fairly picky eaters later, I shy away from inventive and find myself considerably less energetic.

A year or so ago I uncovered a dangerous truth: Little Caesars offers Hot and Ready Pizza for $5.35. No calling ahead. No wait. Six minutes from their oven to my dining room table. Unless I'm splitting Kraft Macaroni and Cheese five ways (not that I've ever done THAT!), I can't feed the tribe for $5.35.

And then I discovered rotisserie chicken. These babies typically run $4.99. Occasionally you can pick one up for $3.99. Check the refrigerator section for a few birds marked down to $2.99. Yes, for five dollars or less, here's decent nutrition. The added bonus? Someone else scours the roasting pan.

Rotisserie chicken in hand, what meals can you concoct? We like:

1. Red beans and rice with chicken.
2. Chicken and dumplings
3. Chicken enchiladas
4. Chicken pot pie
5. Chicken soup
And last but not least . . .

6. Rotisserie chicken

Tim has hit a growth spurt and consumes protein like a rabid Pit Bull. Rotisserie chicken enters the house, the lemon pepper aroma wafts his way, and he downs a leg and a thigh.

"Mom," he pleaded the other day. "Can you just buy me my own chicken?"

Relatively cheap, low fat, healthy . . . yeah, I can supply an occasional chicken.

Here's one word to the wise: If you're pulling a shock and awe grocery run at 5:32 (not that I ever do THAT!), avoid the rotisserie chicken marked 10:00 a.m.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Downton Finale

So the last episode of Downton began with a stunning Christmas tree in the front hall and ended with a proposal in a snowy courtyard. It was worth Daisy's endless whining. It was worth the specter of Patrick Crawley. It was worth all of Branson's posturing.

The Mr. Bates storyline was wrenching. Poor, poor Anna! I cried.

As much as we all hated Richard Carlyle, I loved the way it all played out, even (or especially) Mary trying to make amends at he left Downton for the last time. He tipped his hat as he left which makes me reconsider the accusations I levelled against him last week. Maybe, like O'Brien, there's more to him.

I loved Mary this season. I hope Michelle Dockery is enjoying her new found fame. She knows how to nuance a role.

I am a sucker for a happy ending. I read Tess of the d'Urbervilles right up to the bitter end, dead certain that it would all turn around in the final chapter. Shudder! I watched Saving Private Ryan, the whole while thinking some mother out on the plains of Nebraska would get that miraculous news that her boys had come through. Didn't happen. I loved Jane Eyre because there's redemption and even an epilogue! Happy sigh!

So there we were watching the snow fly in front of Downton Abbey. It was everything that makes this show a visual wonder -- Mary's stunning maroon gown against her milky white complexion, Mathew's blue eyes, her excited "yes!," their kiss, their laughter -- call me a sap, but I cried.

Even better than that, though, was the return of the venerable Lord Grantham as Newt exited stage left (hopefully never to be seen again). The Earl of Grantham tells the hard, hard truth under pressure, admits to Mary that she's not the only Crawley to have erred, advises her to go to America and bring back a cowboy who will shake things up a bit. Honorable, decisive, dashing -- and sweet to his wife once more. Cora and Robert are a long married couple who has endured war, family crises, and Spanish Flu -- and the sight of them embracing was even sweeter than watching young love blossom. I cried here, too.

I have all sorts of crazy ideas about next season, but rest assured that Jullian Fellowes will have even wilder ones.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Seven Quick Tales - The Valentine Edition

1.  Ainsley sporting her new shades.

2. Love was in the air this morning as John said, "My sister is the goodest baby of all!"


2. On fluorescent food. Years ago we adopted the Feingold Diet. We eliminated all dyes and preservatives. Once you've taken a good, hard look at what goes into food, you can't fully go back again. Nothing tests this principle more than Valentine's Day and Easter. I see this multi-color candy and think I might as well tell the kids to suck on a pink highlighter doused with sugar.


3. Of course this didn't stop me from consuming an entire box of deluxe grahams that the hubby gave me. They are not pictured because they are gone, baby, gone.

4. The hubby (just when did I start referring to my husband as "the hubby"? Pardon me while I finish gagging.) also bought me these which will last a little longer than the cookies:

5. I bought him a card and then fell asleep very early. I'm feeling like a really bad wife.

6. The calories and the artificial colors aren't the only problems with Valentine's Day. We inevitably deal with this:

7. Kolbe's Valentine's bag - below. Not as funny as last year's, but very much indicative of the mind of a ten-year-old boy. I want the chocolate; I'll pass on the love nonsense.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Offer It Up

Back in the day, Catholic children whining about this or that suffering would be told "Offer it up!"

Growing up in the post-Vatican II era, I missed this line entirely. When we whined about this or that suffering, we just whined . . . without any understanding that our sufferings -- both the trivial and the soul-wrenching -- could bring about a spiritual good in ourselves and in others.

I have been thinking about what it means to suffer and what it means to offer up these sufferings. Before Mass yesterday, I picked up a pamphlet produced by the Diocese of Savannah. It addresses this very issue -- offering up our sufferings.

Colossians 1:24 reads, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church."

I was once mystified by Paul's words to the Colossians -- what could be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? While attending a Bible study about ten years ago, we discussed this scripture. Jesus was betrayed. He was abandoned by his friends. He was beaten, ridiculed, crucified.

What was lacking in his afflictions? The answer, I think, lies in the How not in the How Much.

Jesus never buried a child, never endured a loveless marriage, never faced the trials of old age. Jesus most likely never faced unemployment or cancer or surgery.

Throughout the centuries, thinking men and women have pondered the seemingly unanswerable question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Some choose to beg the question entirely. Some Christians embrace "The Prosperity Gospel" and preach that true believers will receive blessing after blessing. Twenty years ago, friends of our lost their child to a fast-moving infection that attacked her brain. They attended a church well versed in the tenets of the prosperity gospel and their fellow church goers simply did not know how to take this tragedy. It didn't fit the paradigm, and my friends were left both bereft and somewhat abandoned.

On the other end of the spectrum you have New Age thinkers who, in a similar vein but for different reasons, think we choose our burdens. I had a boss who would routinely come up to a sniffling, sneezing co-worker and ask, "Why are you choosing to be sick?" I always wanted to ask her, "Why do you choose to need glasses?"

Suffering is part and parcel with life here on planet earth. It rains on the just and the unjust. How can we embrace this suffering and use it as a channel of grace for ourselves and for others?

The pamphlet I picked up suggested the following:

1. Start the day with the morning offering

2. If possible, comfort others who are suffering

3. Accept the services of others with patience and love

4. Recognize and appreciate God's gift of suffering to you

5. Refuse to give in to complaing self pity, bitterness, or hopelessness

6. In times of great pain, unite your sufferings to Christ's *

The morning offering I remember well from my days working with the Missionaries of Charity:

O my Jesus, I adore and I love you. Source of all mercy, look upon me with compassion. Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I unite my cross with yours and offer you all of my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this days for the intentions of your Sacred Heart. Amen.

Finally, this gem of a pamphlet includes a quote from Saint Francis de Sales -- hopeful, comforting words that made me cry:

Your God in His divine wisdom
Has from all eternity beheld the cross
He bestows upon you -
His precious gift
from His heart.

He contemplated this cross
With His all-knowing eye
Before bestowing it upn you.

He pndered over it
With His divine mind; He examined it
With His all-wise justice
With His loving mercy
He warmed it through and through.

And with both His hands
He weighed it
To determine if it be
One ounce too heavy for you.

He blessed it with His all-holy Name
With His grace he annointed it.
And with His consolation He perfumed it.

And then once more
He considered you
And your courage.

Finally, it comes from heaven
As a special message of God
To you: an alms
Of the all-merciful love of God for you.

I don't suffer well; I never have. If there's one sliver of wisdom I can share it's this: It all begins with our knowledge of God. He is all good, all knowing, all merciful, all just. Nothing -- nothing -- that we do with our eyes fixed on Him is for naught.

* Excerpted from: Vocation Prayer Apostolate. Diocese of Savvanah Vocation Office.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deep Sea Fishing - The Photo Shoot

The intrepid fishermen - Grndpa and Kolbe.

An eight foot shark - cool, but not the shark that Kolbe caught.

The head.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Downton Abbey - Episode 6

I am donning a black arm band to lament the demise of Robert Crawley whose honor, decency, and self-restraint crumbled like the Ottoman Empire last night. Kissing the maid while his wife might be facing death across the hall? If I weren't studiously avoiding political commentary, he would hereafter be known as Newt.

Okay, okay, he stopped, kind of sort of. He summoned a pained expression, but all of us were left feeling that he was more broken up about turning away Jane than he was about violating his marriage vows. Even as he comforts Cora as she recovers, I couldn't help but think old Robert was far more concilatory and repentant over his falling out with Bates than he was over this whole debacle.

Looking beyond this (which I really can't), Downton Abbey improved on last week's performance. Here's my assessment:

1. As soon as Lavinia came down with Spanish Flu, I think we all knew she was a goner. The Mary/Mathew tension is riveting and pulls the entire show into focus. Just as Mary and Mathew couldn't have married at the end of Season 1, Lavinia and Mathew couldn't have walked down the aisle without shutting down one of the lifelines of the series.

Sir Richard is too caustic and driven to succumb to mere flu. No, he's going to go down eventually, but he'll go down fighting and, no doubt, there will be some nasty fallout.

But sweet Lavinia . . . she had to go, and she left as she arrived: giving, quiet, and self-effacing.

2. O'Brien rocks this season and last night was no exception.

3. Please, oh please, could the Daisy "I wasn't good to William" plot line go out in the dust bin and stay gone already?

4. Turns out old Branson does have a first name, and it's Tom. Sybil speaks it for the first time as the perky couple announces their grand plans to the whole Crawley brood. I was heartened to see the two act with more restraint than Sybil's beloved Papa and do the right thing.

5. Poor Anna and Mr. Bates. I, of course, have a theory about their grim predicament. Mrs. Bates, I suspect, threatened Sir Richard who promptly had her bumped off. When Anna ratted Sir Richard out to Mrs. Hughes (and Carson, and, ultimately, Lady Mary), I think Sir Richard played the long arm of the law and that led to Bates' arrest. Hmmmm.

6. I don't fully understand the Ethel sub-plot. Now that Jane is dispatched to parts unknown, my guess is that Ethel will be back in service at Downton. She's a little too pretty and far too fast, especially since our Lord Grantham -- er, I mean Newt -- has proved himself to be all too weak where the help is concerned. Note to Lady Cora: Hire middle-aged, unattractive help. Think: Mrs. Byrd.

7. For a laugh, head over to You Tube to check out "A Very Carson Christmas." Too funny.

I have to retract my comment that Downton Abbey jumped the shark. I was on the edge of my seat this week, even as I was groaning and growling at old Newt.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Seven Quick Takes - From the Florida Keys

1. So I send my ten-year-old off deep sea fishing with Grandpa with two CLEAR instructions: Take lots of pictures and don't lose the camera. I'm pretty sure I threw out "have fun" and "be safe" as well.

He returns with not a single photo of the shark -- yes, the SHARK! -- he caught, but with an entire photo essay covering what seafarers call "the head." That would be the bathroom to landlubbers like me.

Part of me is saying "grrrrr!" Another part of me is so grateful for the most excellent adventure Kolbe could have shared with Grandpa, documented or not.

2. As I swam in the pool yesterday, I watched European tourists taking photos of each other in front of a replica of The Mermaid.  The Florida Keys are such a unique place, and it struck me as so very odd that our guests from abroad might be thinking, "Well, this is America!"

3. Every morning I look across the canal and see an older Mennonite couple going about their routine. This, too, strikes me as odd. The sun-drenched Keys -- bikinis and charter boats, emaciated runners and tattooed waitresses, wave runners and shell shops -- and Mennonites.

4. Yesterday I feasted on a Mahi Mahi Reuben that was absolutely to die for.

5. Today I spent hours having my mother kick my backside in game after game of Scrabble. She may be frail of body, but she can still pull out "reloader" in a pinch.

6. I spent a morning in the ER with my mother as she had a banged up elbow patched together. We passed the time watching Family Feud. The Regan family lost. This is interesting only if your maiden name happens to be Regan (and mine is).

7. I called home and was gratified to hear my precious four-year-old say, "Mama, you come back home right now!"

Glad to be here. Looking forward to being back there.

Visit Betty Beguiles to post your Seven Quick Takes.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

You've Got That Going For You

Me, the picky mother: John, it's cold. You have to wear a sweatshirt.

John, the quick thinking pre-schooler: Mama, it's okay. I've got skin.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Downton Abbey Jumps the Shark

Seven Late Takes - The Downton Abbey Edition

1. It is with a heavy heart that I state the unvarnished truth: Downton Abbey jumped the shark Sunday night. It's been coming since Edith decided to cap up off a long day at the farm by kissing a married man far beneath her in social rank (and -- let's just be brutally honest here -- a not very attractive man at that).

How else has this series gone astray?

2. The cat fighting between Cora and Isobel was contrived from the word go. Why did Isobel then run off to France?

3. I could see the growing chemistry between Sybil and Branson in Season 1, but this once fetching couple now does nothing but hang out in the garage tossing barbs at each other. Do they have a relationship? Can't they drive off to Ripon for -- I don't know -- bandages or something, and actually interact like normal people? Sybil tells Mary, "You can talk to the chauffeur. He's a person." But they never talk. He's getting more grating by the episode, but it seems a fait accompli that they will run off together. Does he have a first name or will she call him Branson at their wedding?

4. These odd looks between Lord Grantham and Jane? If they take the most decent character on this show and have him embroiled in some tawdry romance, I'll occupy Downton.

5. If only to lend the above scenario a little context, Cora is constantly dismissing Robert, leaving him on his own for luncheon (war is hell, as the saying goes), and blowing off dinner parties. Again, it doesn't ring true. These were difficult, trying times. Would this formerly loving couple not turn to, hmmmm, each other for strength and comfort? Guess not.

6. The plot line that has the entire downstairs crew bullying Daisy into marrying William seemed forced. Over and over and over again, everyone but the cat got his two cents in. I didn't get that.

7. Finally, the Patrick Gordon construct is ripped straight from that pivotal episode of Dallas. Painful, painful, painful. Oh Jullian,  you've let us all down! When I've heard Downton Abbey compared to a soap opera, I've bristled a bit. The elegance, the pace, the acting -- these made Season 1 something beautiful to watch. Yes, there were twists, but none that so lacked believability.

Mary rocks this season, as do Sir Richard and Mathew. Their performances are stellar, and their choices are believable (even if painful). I was heartened to see Thomas, the evil footman, gain a modicum of humanity. O'Brien , too, seems more developed. Her compassion for Mr. Lang was genuine and understandable. Mrs. Pattmore is in top form (except when badgering Daisy). She's more than the stereotypical grumpy cook. Like Maggie Smith, she's just plain funny.

So we're left with one essential question:Will I continue to watch? The answer is yes, of course I will.

(Visit Betty Beguiles for more Seven Quick Takes!)

Friday, February 03, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. Photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, visit Soulemama to leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.