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.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

All Saints' Party

Ainsley was Laura the Carrot from Veggie Tales. I know, I know, Laura the Carrot has been neither beatified nor canonized. We plan to initiate her cause someday soon.

The crucial point about All Saints' Day costumes? Throw your whole heart  and all your meager talents into them and NEVER, EVER, EVER check the price of a ready made costume because you might just find that the whole kit and caboodle sold for two bucks less than you just shelled out at Joanne's Fabrics.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Left Behind?

Over at In the Heart of My Home, Elizabeth Foss continues to unwrap mission and motherhood and vision. Her last point is one that hits close to home with me. Of her entry into the online world, Elizabeth writes:
I watched as women built social network platforms, broadened horizons, and took full advantage of all the internet could offer to further a ministry and build community and encourage creativity and even provide some income for a family. I remembered when I made a decision to be a mother at home nearly a quarter century ago. It wasn't even a decision! I had no regret leaving the professional world behind to stay home with my baby. But this? This online world? It crept in and became big in my life before I really recognized it for what it was.

I found myself chafing. I wanted to be working on my book. Instead, I was plodding through college algebra. I wanted to be researching moving my blog to Wordpress. Instead, I was filling out the teacher, parent, and counselor portions of the Common App. I wanted to be writing a blog series on the The Mission of Motherhood. Instead, I was struggling to oversee a home renovation for which my husband had long planned. I wanted to commit to a speaking engagement. Instead, I knew that I was needed at home (and on the soccer field) because Mike would be traveling. I was frustrated.

Both in real life and in my virtual world, I see exactly what Elizabeth is talking about -- women pursuing opportunities and doing neat things. Sometimes, I admit, I chafe, too. I struggle with the fleeting thought that I've been left behind. I scratch my head, especially, at women who are younger than I am, have more children that I have, maybe they're expecting another baby, maybe on top of all that they're homeschooling and somehow, someway they manage to write books and travel to speaking engagements.

I can't seem to get the laundry done or keep the pantry filled.

And then I blink my eyes, and my priorities come back into focus. My priorites. Not theirs -- not yours. What's under my roof isn't necessarily what's under yours.

And what's under mine?

I've got a five-year-old who got off to a rocky start in kindergarten. All those pesky g's and p's and b's -- who came up with these and why do they all look alike? After a pow wow with his teacher, I fully recognized our school experience with this little guy is going to be 180 degrees different from our experiences with Tim and Kolbe.

He needs me everyday.

I've got my first high schooler. He knuckles down to four and five hours of homework most nights. Now we're adding basketball to the mix.

For very different reasons, he needs me everyday.

I've got a fifth-grader who faces unique challenges and who also runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle as the wheel who rarely squeaks.

He just doesn't seem to need me everyday.

I've got a three-year-old who looks at me and asks, "When will I be a grown up?" I tell her, "Not anytime soon, sweetie pie." She wants to have tea parties and build tall tippy towers with her blocks, and (to the total delight of her mother) she suddenly wants to rocked to sleep at night.

She needs me everyday.

Then, of course, I have a husband, a man who lays his life down for us every. single. day. A man who stays up late and gets up early, a man who painstakingly has the older boys help with every job around the house, a man who carts one of the little people every time he goes out the door.

He needs me everyday.

I married relatively late in life (at 33), and I birthed Ainsley really late in life (at 45). I had Tim, my first, when many of my friends were having their last. Tim's early years were marked by hours and hours hanging out in our backyard with other moms. When this crew of little boys all went off to school, some of my friends went back to school themselves. Others resumed careers they had put on hold to raise children. As for the Dolins, well, we were just getting warmed up. The result is that most of my friends (not all) have lives that look very different from mine.

And I don't have a single regret.

I sat in bed reading Frog on a Log to John and Ainsley, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the little girl with pigtails sitting on my lap and for her rapscallion and totally charming brother curled up on my right.  John was the miracle we had pretty much given up on. And then -- Boom! -- along came Ainsley. (Yes, kids, that's how it happens. Watch yourselves, now).

A bunch of my friends finished a half-marathon a week or so ago. Years ago I might have spotted the pictures on Facebook and felt a wave of envy. Look what they did! Why can't I do that? But at this stage in my life, gosh, I'm just so proud of them, thrilled with their accomplishments, happy they're out there supporting one another.

This could be a sign of maturity. I could be growing in detachment. Then again, perhaps I'm just tired. I recognize that I can't juggle as well as some women. And as I approach the half-century mark, I'm (mostly) at peace with this reality.

In the very best sense of what Elizabeth captures, I realize that we are in an intense and crucial stage with our family. I need to be present. I need to put first things first. Some of these are mundane, boring tasks -- chores, really -- but for this family to grow and thrive, the mundane cannot be ignored.

This morning I washed and dried the fabric for the pajama pants Tim will be sewing in Lifeskills Class. I helped John fasten the belt he still struggles with. I made sure Kolbe had his Chapstick, and I tucked the last two of the good cookies into his lunch.

A thousand details go into family life.

One of the oft overlooked details is taking care of me. Barbara Curtis' death shocked many of us. And I am totally with there with Elizabeth who, as an older mother, calculates how old her youngest would be if she, like Barbara, were to die at 62. A year ago I learned I have the early, early stages of the bone disease that has brought my mother so much suffering. The good news is that there is so much that I can do to keep it at bay. The bad news is that I'm doing absolutely none of it. Zip, zero, nada! First things first means taking care of the person who is taking care of everyone else.

Six years ago we received the wrenching news that our neighbor -- a 43 year-old mother of ten  -- had died in her sleep with her nursing five-month-old baby lying next to her.  We don't know how many years we'll have, but as Elizabeth wrote, "I don't want to spend those years living inside a screen, distracted, disconnected..."

And as I mull and type, mull and type, I hear the sounds of a riot breaking out just feet away. It seems John has absconded with the last plate of ribs. You don't take food from a growing teenage boy.

I'd best go practice what I preach.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

1. The Army has an adage I really ought to take to heart: Never volunteer for nothing. I suffer from Can't Keep Your Hand Down Syndrome, and I'm sure it dates back to elementary school when Hermione Granger types like me just couldn't keep their hands out of the air.

As a result of this syndrome that has lingered into middle age, one of the items at the top of my To Do List was Order Kazoos. If I'm going to Throw in the Trowel, I think I'd better not fill in the gap with a hundred other little jobs.

2. A friend invited me to lunch. I declined explaining that I had just polished off six Taquitos. You see, Taquitos are to snack food what Thin Mints are to cookies. Translation: Don't bring them into the house.

All of these food related confessions should underscore the fact that my Weight Watchers' efforts are not going swimmingly; in point of fact, they are not really going at all.

I like Weight Watchers because:

 a) It's how I lost my post-Kolbe baby weight.

 b) Nothing is off limits. Normally if you say diet, I think donut (even if I haven't thought donut in six months).

 c) It requires very little in the way of special foods.

 d) It's good for the whole family.

 e) It costs money.

I'm just cheap enough that if I'm paying for something, by golly, I'm going to do it. Except that I'm not. There is a Weight Watchers' zone, a Weight Watchers' way of thinking, a Weight Watchers' detachment from items such as Thin Mints and Taquitos.

I haven't found the zone.

3. Five, I've decided, is a most  excellent age. John is 97% delight these days.

4. We've encountered some problems of the automotive variety -- one cheap, one not. We were carless for a brief while and then borrowed a friend's wheels. Now, as Ainsley tells me, our car is sooooo fixed. Hopefully they'll both stay that way.

5. Listen carefully and you'll hear the sound of a hammer that is not my husband's. Yes, our friend David is finishing the bathroom redo for us.

I ran up to Lowe's to get something or other in the bathroom aisle and was confronted by at least three and possibly six vanity/sink combos that suddenly appeared way cooler than the one we had just installed. I hope that dark wood doesn't show water spots. Why did I get a white sink? That one has a cool basket . . .

I finally managed to shut my bad self right up, but, goodness, what is wrong with me? The older I get, the less decisive I am.

6. "When am I going to be grown up," Ainsley asked me the other day.

"Not for a long time," I told her.

When she was sick a few weeks back, she walked up to me looking pitiful and asked, "Would you rock me?"

Well, forget whatever it was I was doing. We rocked. And now she likes being rocked. And her mother couldn't be happier to hold on to one last vestige of babyhood because she's also drawn to things like mascara:

7. For Dave's Mom: We really did find a Dave Lyle Boulevard sign on the side of the road, and I really did pull over and nab it.

Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes and have a joyful weekend.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

En Route to school . . .

Ainsley, alarmed: I think I just pooped!

John, adamant: I'm never getting married! Kissing! Blech! Awkward!

Tim, shaking his head: Children.