Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grab a Box of Kleenex

Head over to Rachel's blog for a video gone viral that is sure to make you bawl, baby, bawl.

Rachel went on to relate a story that involved my son, Tim:

A few weeks ago, we had our last home games for Junior Varsity. There were two boys on the team who hadn’t scored yet (they hadn’t gotten tons of playing time this season, which is only nice in that it means we had a lot of close games that we actually won!). So this, our last home game, Paul put them in the game. 
You could tell the boys on the team were focused on getting the ball to those boys. A few minutes in, one of the point guards passed the ball to William. He shot that ball and…SCORED! I think it may have been a three. The gym went nuts. I looked across the court to see Paul (William’s dad) standing up with his arms raised in the air. I was standing next to my mom and we both had tears welling up in our eyes. His victory was his dad’s victory was the entire home team’s victory. 
The other boy, Tim, came in after that. The boys fed him the ball and he probably took about six or seven shots. He didn’t end up scoring, but I don’t really feel like that diminished all the love that was just pouring out of the stands for that kid. I know that sounds hokey but I don’t care. Everyone was chanting “Tim! Tim! Tim!” and I was proud to be a part of a school that knew exactly who that kid was and how badly they wanted him to score. 
Sports can be so awesome, y’all.

And in the comments, I wrote this:

Tim’s  Mom weighing in . . . 
The scene at our basketball game was something to watch, and several funny things happened after the game. 
First, Rachel’s oldest son, Ethan, was named MVP at the end of our tournament. He came up to Tim after the game, held out the trophy and said, “Really, Tim, this should go to you.” 
 “Yeah?” Tim asked. 
 “Uh . . . no,” Ethan said, shaking his head. 
And they both laughed. 
 A few days later I was asking Tim about the varsity team which, to put a positive spin on it, is in a building year. 
 “Why haven’t they won more games,” I asked Tim. 
 “Most of our best players are freshmen or sophomores,” he told me “But we are so good. In a year or two, we’re going to rock. We are, like, great athletes.” 
I was surprised by the reflexive way Tim used first person plural – we, and not third person plural – they
“Does it ever bother you that you’re not as good at sports as some of the other boys,” I asked. 
“Nah, I’m amazingly gifted in lots of other ways,” he informed me without the slightest trace of irony. 
“No self-esteem issues, huh, Tim?” 
“Uh . . . no.”

Since birthing my first child, I've thought long and hard about the maelstrom of motivations and emotions that comes with the job. Performance anxiety is one of them. Beginning with T-ball and ending with, well, I have absolutely no idea when it all ends and come to think about it, some of the struggles we moms face began l-o-n-g before T-ball when the mother sitting next to us at the park innocently said, "Janey slept seven hours last night," and we wondered why our kid had slept for just two.

It's walking and potty training, phonics and backyard soccer, the fourth grade play and the middle school honor roll.

For me, this game of compare and contrast pre-dates motherhood. I distinctly remember my niece's  first skating recital. Did I actually say or merely thinkHannah, you're the cutest one out there!

Whole volumes could be dedicated to The Pinewood Derby alone and its uncanny ability to sift the hearts of men (and mothers). The year Kolbe came in dead last in every single heat was a turning point for me and, honestly, I look at all this very differently today than I did then.

And I know this much is true: We love the children we're given. 

Never has this been clearer to me than this year when we've faced challenges of an entirely different nature. You can ring your hands and wonder Why, Why, Why or you can face them and get on with it.

I have a child in my atrium who faced a significant brain injury at birth. Today we sat around talking about the Pope's resignation, and I realized that most of my students are eight and under and have never known a different Pope. We went around the room, and I asked all their ages.

"How old are you, Elijah," I asked.

"Thirty-one," he informed us.

And we all laughed. He's hilarious and sweet and will likely never be able to do some of things other children do every day. 

We love the children we're given.

Last summer Rachel contributed a chapter to Style, Sex and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter. I have a half-written book review on it and plan to give away a copy one day real soon, but here I'll highlight one simple but profound truth that Rachel learned from her mother and highlighted in her piece: Someone else's win is not your loss.

Behind that sentiment -- a sentiment that is simple to type but very challenging to live out -- is the knowledge that God is a loving, sovereign God. The physically challenged boy in the video, the brain-injured child in my atrium, the kid who tries but doesn't make a shot, the top player -- they are wholly loved by God and precious in His sight.

When I thought about Tim's exchange with Ethan and my exchange with Tim, I realized that Tim very much considers the school his school and the basketball team his basketball team. Ethan's win is not his loss. 

We need to be able to cheer someone else's success, to laugh at our own foibles, to shrug off some of our limitations.

I am heartened to live in an environment that encourages the One for All and All for One mentality, an environment in which friends can rib each other and share a laugh together.


Cari is rounding up pictures of joy. Head over to her blog and add yours. Here's my best shot:

A moment after John swam for the first time.
Subtitle: An Orthodontist's Dream

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I love board games, really I do, but this afternoon Sorry! lived up to its name.

For a glowing report on all the benefits of board games, click on this.  Here you'll find pearls of wisdom such as these:

Just learning to be a graceful loser.

  • Board games allow you to spend quality, intentional, and uninterrupted time with your children
  • Second to quality time together as a family, children learn how to take turns and be graceful losers when playing board games.
  • Finally, board games are excellent for your child’s cognitive development
You know what? I agree with every word of this. But then there was this afternoon's game of Sorry. 

Gruesome, I'm telling you, gruesome.

It's cold and rainy. It's going to continue to be cold and rainy. For several weeks it's been rainy. We're running short on diverting activities suitable for all ages and doable indoors. If it hadn't been 42 degrees, we might have grabbed umbrellas and stomped in puddles. But it was 42 degrees, so as I finished up a call or two, I told Kolbe to grab Sorry.

John's reading now. He's shown interest in board games. How fun would this be?

I vaguely remembered having penned a piece long, long ago about the perils of attempting to play and, more to the point, actually enjoy board games with young children. As I read this and this, it all came back to me -- the flying pieces, the meltdowns, the games that have never, never, never, ever, ever, ever in the history of life been played to a conclusion, the time my sweet niece entered into the Game of Life firmly intent on producing girls and girls alone, but getting one boy after another at which point she stood on a chair, pointed a shaking finger at her plastic sedan and shouted, "Get! Them! Boys! Out! Of! My! Car!"


Quality time at its best!
This afternoon I put my game face on, and we launched into Sorry.

Before we started, I took Kolbe aside and laid down one simple, ironclad ground rule: Sorry me all you want; John and Ainsley are off limits.

And so it began.

John picked up his card.

"Move for, for, for. . . " he read slowly, practicing his phonics skills with great concentration.

"Forward," Kolbe and I helpfully offered.

"You read the card!" John wailed. Off he went in a huff.

I corralled John, offered a pep talk, regrouped. Onward into Mordor and all that. We're having fun, darn it!

The game's more fun if the pieces won't stand up!
I should add that this is not just any Sorry game. No, no, this is Sorry the Madagascar version and comes with various animal shaped pieces that are large and unwieldy and well nigh impossible to keep standing. Ainsley managed to knock over four or five game pieces every. single. turn.

We soldiered on.

Ainsley drew an eight, counted to thirteen or fourteen, knocked over a few more pieces and moved her guy backwards.

Kolbe began to object. I silenced him with a glare. Ainsley wanted another turn. I handed a card to John. Ainsley pouted. John wanted a Sorry card and didn't fully appreciate that Two -- Draw Again is about the most auspicious card in the whole blooming deck.

An elusive smile.
Ainsley drew a ten. She needed a seven to win. I fudged the count. Even Kolbe didn't object.

Game over. Mercifully, blessedly over.

Is there a patron saint of board games? Is it permissible or at least understandable for a mother -- okay, maybe not me, but some mother -- to ditch her coffee and perhaps pour a glass of something a little more soothing? No? Really?

As I cleaned up later, I glanced at the box and saw that Sorry is recommended for ages six and up. They don't mean five and a half. They certainly don't mean three.

Lesson learned.

I think I'll take the advice of that website and give Hi Ho Cheerio a try. Or maybe I'll just pray for sunshine.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Son Jethro

John has penned his first story. Allow me to translate: The cat kan (sic) jump to the other cat.

John, thrilled with his new-found spelling skills, comes running up to me and says excitedly, "Mama, I can spell you jump. J-U-M-P! I can spell you jump!"

So maybe the English teacher in me is wondering: Do I delight in his first attempts at writing or cringe and rename him Jethro?

Way to go, Jethro!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seven Quick Takes

1. There's nothing like teaching someone to read, write, and count to underscore the inconsistencies in our alphabet and numerical systems. After emphasizing THIRTY-one, FORTY-seven, SIXTY-two, why should I be surprised when John sees 13 and dubs it ONEDY-three? Or writes 3D for what sounds to him an awful lot like THIR-DEE?

2. Dorian Speed over at Scrutinies is building a website of resources on the upcoming papal conclave. Electing the Pope is full of questions and answers. We headed over there tonight and began talking about how the pope gets elected, who can vote, how many cardinal electors there are, how many American cardinals have a vote.

Interesting stuff.

3. As part of Lent, we have been watching Catholicism  A Journey to the Heart of  the Faith, a
DVD series by Father Robert Barron.

We bought it used on Amazon for $50.Very well done. Tim is flat mesmerized.

4. I have embarked on a program called Couch to 5K in 9 Weeks. If you're looking for a gradual introduction to the active life, this may be the plan for you. Slow and steady, slow and steady.

5. I've heard from a fair number people who are interested in OT type activities that develop fine motor skills. Sometime next week I hope to post ideas we use in the atrium, which is a Montessori-based catechism class and includes lots of practical life activities.

I was surprised to find that Pinterest is a great source for simple and free fine motor activities.  I thought Pinterest was just over-the-top crafts and houses don't look anything like mine. Nope. Lots and lots of doable ideas. Here are a few (along with a few other ideas dragged into the wrong board. Still getting the hang of this).

6.  We have had rain, rain, and more rain. After ten years of drought, rain is a blessing. But it's a blessing that requires a plan -- like around midday we'll plan to head across town to the McDonald's with the vast indoor play land.

Today's plan includes Playdoh.

I just found  51 Lego Challenges for a rainy day over on Pinterest. Maybe we'll scrap Playdoh and try a few of these.

Random picture of boy wonder.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

John calls it "the red eye." The doctor calls it conjunctivitis. Either way, it's icky.

And while I'm complaining . . . When my oldest children were babies, the drive through pharmacy seemed like a brilliant answer to prayer. In reality, it's just not. Nope.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Most Excellent Sneaker

A much younger John sneaking coffee.

I'm trying to pass John the last Oatmeal Pie without his sister taking notice.

"Here, John," I tell him. "You've got to be sneaky."

"I'm an excellent sneaker," he assures me.

He's had a lot of practice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Downton Finale

Send in your pledge or another Downton character dies!

So reads a cartoon lampooning the PBS fund raising drive following the harrowing close of Downton Abbey, Season Three.

Less shocking than Mathew's traumatic death was the fact that the anticipated two hour finale was, in actuality, a mere ninety minutes. We stared into Mathew's lifeless blue eyes and suddenly the Masterpiece logo appeared out of nowhere like a black lorry on a winding road.


Quick cut to Mr. Earnest and Miss Chirpy, the voices of PBS fundraising.

We're all suffering the effects of whiplash, and I'm still taking it all in.

Once again, I feel like the Monday morning quarterback picking apart every plot line and piece of dialogue. I stand back and ask myself what every T.V. executives on both sides of the Atlantic must be mulling over: What draws people to do this show? For me, I focus on two things: character and beauty.

From the blurbs I've read, most fans found the finale a real yawner, but I beg to differ. The last two episodes recaptured the elegant pace of Season One when the script seemed less enslaved to plot lines, and the camera could travel slowly down a telegraph line or linger over a train whistle and a plume of steam. The cricket match and the county fair, the Scottish reel and the Scottish Highlands, Anna's laughter and Bates' crinkling eyes -- glimpses of beauty.

This was a nice change of pace from the rest of the season which struck me too often as jarring. With an ensemble cast, the writers have  a whole lot of plates to keep spinning. At times, flitting from one character to the next felt like watching so many pawns advancing across a chess board. It might be necessary for the game, but it's not all that entertaining to watch. Yes, the show needs a plot but only so far as it develops character and showcases beauty. We're not tuning in to watch James Bond or Jason Bourne.

As my friend Rachel pointed out, no one cared about Bates in prison; we enjoyed Bates and Anna on a picnic. No one cared about Daisy and the farm; but we loved watching Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore howling over the pathetic pick up lines of a middle-aged grocer.

There seemed a forced tidiness to conflict resolution. Mary and Mathew are at loggerheads over the Swire inheritance . . . until we conveniently learn that Daisy mailed a letter for Lavinia as she was dying. Tidy. Cora and Robert are alienated over the decisions that led to Sybil's death . . . until Dr. Clarkson clears it all up for them. Tidy. Thomas and James eye each other warily . . . until Thomas dramatically rescues James. Tidy.

Real life isn't so tidy. If the script didn't dictate stingy quotas of minutes and lines to quite so many sub-plots, perhaps Downton could fully explore the slow, circuitous and not so tidy way real relationships evolve and resolve. Blogger Melissa Wiley called some of these plot twists"writerly" and I think that word captures it all nicely.

Quibbles aside, I still loved it.

Predictions for next year? O'Brien will grapple with the astounding news that she is not, in fact, the most dour-faced lady's maid in British Isles. Branson will marry Rose, attracted as he is to young, pretty, rebel daughters. Mrs. Crawley will marry Dr. Clarkson.

And dwelling on Mrs, Crawley makes me lament, "Oh, Mrs. Crawley!" Losing your only son, losing any son!

On a side note, the stunning scenery in the finale reminded me of the movie The Queen which was shot near Balmoral, the royal family's estate in Scotland. The Queen is an interesting movie with gorgeous views that make me want to bundle up and go for a trek. (Note to Christine: I'll pick you up in Glasgow!)

Monday, February 18, 2013

When Dr. Who Meets the Pinewood Derby

1. We produce a Tardis Pinewood Derby car, hands down our coolest car to date:

2. And a pic that Grandma is sure to enjoy:

3. What happens to the beautiful swamp near our house when we get six inches of rain:

4. A brief mealtime exchange:
Dave: Do you want oranges with your ham? Do you want grapes with your ham? You have to eat it with something. 
John: Can I eat it with my fork? 

5. What Tim produced today in Life Skills Class:

6. What happens to poor Ainsley when she falls asleep in a well-traveled part of the house:

7. It's probably too late to add your Quick Takes, but visit Jen on Friday.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dash Wednesday

"It's Dash Wednesday," Ainsley repeatedly told me yesterday.

At first I smiled. By evening, I was nodding in agreement. My girl, she nailed it. Dash Wednesday it was.

Dash --  
the perfect adjective to apply to a day that began with Freaking Out Over Lost Dogs Who Were Not Really Lost at All and then moved on to the other activities on tap for the day: school, mounds of homework, three car pools, a brief pause to issue credible threats, a two hour meeting, a piano lesson, a second brief pause to follow through on credible threats issued, serving Mass, attending Mass, dance class, more homework, collapse.

It could have been worse. My friend was pulled over for speeding, zipping to Dash Wednesday services and clocked at seventeen miles over the limit.

Because Dash Wednesday was followed by Valentime's Day, we also assembled cards and candy. Ainsley goes to a wonderful pre-school. Despite many years in the trenches, the teachers remain purists at heart. Ainsley came home with a tidy list of the students in her class and a note that read, "Please have your child cut out the names." Ainsley hacked five or six names to pieces. Then Mom took over. Valentine's Day needs to run like an assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan -- efficient, fast, well-oiled. Honing fine motor skills? Oh no, no, no. Not with a deadline looming. Assemble those Valentines; stuff those bags; get it done!

"Is the high school doing Valentine's Day," I asked Tim.

"We did it last week," he said. "The girls brought in a bunch of food, and the boys ate it."

This made me laugh.

I confess I could be a complete curmudgeon about this whole commercialized affair, saturated as it is with artificial dyes, landfills of red plush, loads of the really, really unattractive lingerie. But I have a three-year-old girl who is thrilled -- clapping her hands, jumping up and down thrilled! -- with her Hello Kitty mailbox and a five-year-old boy who loves -- loves! -- his Batman cards and an eleven-year-old who eschews the whole mess, too, but is all about -- I mean all! about! -- the candy.

And, gosh, they make life so much more fun! Nearly everything is more fun with kids. Okay, maybe not folding laundry or painting the molding or doing the taxes, but nearly everything else is more fun with kids. I am tearing up as I type this, overwhelmed by the simple, unsophisticated, childish delight that touches me every. single. day. These crazy little hooligans flat slay me with their affection, their enthusiasm, their joy.

It's good to appreciate this because upon our return home from Mass, I discovered this:

Glasses - funky John John style.

Kelly assembling valentines.
John's glasses. Except the word glasses is sort of plural, as in two pieces of glass, and, really, John's glasses now resemble a monocle (or two monocles?). And a monocle, well, that works just fine if you're Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes, but not so much if you're a five-year-old boy.

So I'll be dashing to the optometrist's office.

Days like this make me think of a priest who firmly believed that mothers need never take on extra penance -- mortification simply comes with the territory.


But if vexation comes with the job description, so does the joy, so does the fun.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Photo Shoot - Trees

Cari at Clan Donaldson is gathering photos and this week's theme is trees. I'm totally cheating because this is an old photograph, but one that I love.

John and I have a late winter/early spring tradition of combing the neighborhood looking for birds' nests. We started this two or three years ago, and he still talks about it all. the. time. While the trees are still bare, the nests are easy to spot and seem to be everywhere.

A special memory I'll always share with a special five-year-old.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent: Gentle Propulsion To Do Hard Things

I love Lent.

Lent to me is chock-full of everything that makes me love the faith. Beginning with smoke and ashes and ending with Resurrection, Lent offers a fresh start, a gentle propulsion to do hard things,  a few tangible reminders that this life is not all there is.

Above all, Lent offers hope.

But Lent is never easy. And the first day of Lent is almost invariably awful.

Lent 2010 was one for the record books. In my mind, we began on a sour note.  Despite heroic intentions -- on day one, no less -- I overslept, encountered a broken appliance, and growled at the kids. That was just the warm-up. Three days later Kolbe broke both his arms. Yes, two ulnas and a radius barely 96 hours into the season of penance.

Lent 2011 didn’t begin in such a dramatic fashion. Kolbe thoughtfully broke his arm in early February. With Easter being late that year, it was fully healed and out the cast well before the close of Ordinary Time.

Lent 2012 involved no broken bones whatsoever. 

And now we begin Lent 2013. Tim's been dog-sitting for our friends across the street. He had a basketball tournament yesterday, so I walked the dogs one last time. I swept up one mess and cleaned up a second, yuckier mess. Dave closed the door. A job well done. Or so I thought.

We expected to see the neighbor's car turn up sometime Tuesday evening, but never did. This morning, I hustled Tim out of bed to walk the dogs once more. Tim was unusually quiet upon his return. With a little prodding, he finally admitted the unfortunate truth: The dogs were gone.

Gone! Gone? No, no, no, not on our watch! 

Panicking, I ran across the street to see if they had locked themselves in a closet or something. No dogs, in or out of closets, but I did see clear evidence that the family had returned late and left the house early this morning. 

But where were the dogs?

I schlepped the gang to school with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Do I scour the neighborhood? Do I call animal control? Check the closets again?  I called on Saint Francis to intercede for the missing pooches and tried hard not to panic some more.

I tracked down the phone number for the dog owner's mother (that would be the dogs' grandmother, I guess). I reached the dogs' aunt, spilled out the whole crazy story, and learned the happy news that the dogs were safe in her custody.

My heart rate is now going down, and I have freed Saint Francis to pray for other animal calamities elsewhere.

And what has this to do with Lent? 

A few years ago I wrote this about Lent: I find myself facing that unrealistic expectation that come Ash Wednesday, I will somehow be instantly different, instantly better.  Early on I run slam against my own willfulness, my own “I want what I want and I want it now!” In short, I fail.

I run up against broken arms and missing dogs and flairing tempers and bad attitudes. I really want grace and peace and holiness, really, I do. All the daily aggravations of life seem to conspire to ruin my Lent. In fact, they're the very reason I need Lent. I need a fresh start, a gentle propulsion to do hard things, a few tangible reminders that this life is not all there is. 

So have a great Lent. 

And if it gets off to a rocky start, persevere. 

The Internet abounds with great ideas for this season. Here are a few that I'm checking out:

  • For a list of family activities, click here
  • For Simcha Fisher's hilarious Lent for Rookies, click here
  • For Life Teen's list of Twenty-five Lenten ideas for young people, click here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lord Grantham on Ponzi Schemes

So I slept like a rock . . . until 2:00 a.m. at which time I began worrying about my every problem. Real ones? Yep, covered those. Imaginary ones? Check. I listened to and analysed odd noises. I prayed. I shifted the blankets here and there. I checked the kitchen. Twice. I wrote two, maybe three, entire posts in my mind.

So here's one of the them . . .

Can Lord Grantham really be such a dolt? Mostly a loving dolt, but clearly right down there with Daisy when it comes to usable brain matter. In the middle of his third (fourth?) tirade about Mathew's distasteful attempts to avoid a third (fourth?) bankruptcy, his Lordship launches into an energetic description of a promising investment:The Ponzi Scheme. Yes, in a bid  to link the financial blunders of our time with the woes of the 1920s, we hear Lord Grantham's ringing endorsement of The Ponzi Scheme. Robert's long on bluster (note the dining room scene at Isobel's) and short on common sense (note just about everything else he's done in Season Three).

And speaking of dolts . . . Either endow Daisy with a few firing neurons or send her to the farm already. I could hardly stomach the You made me marry William and now he's dead shtick, but this moronic love quartet in the kitchen and her endless snipping at Ivy? Stop the madness and be quick about it.

Photo credit: not me.
Ethel was another character I wanted to wish into the cornfield, but I like the way her story appears to be winding down. When she kissed her boy goodbye, I thought I'd choke. I don't know from suffering. Now, I doubt you'd go from an inability to make a cup of tea (Really? Come on, she's English) to producing some fancy schmancy souffle with just one lesson from Mrs. Patmore. But we'll let that pass. Ethel's moving on, and I hope she'll see her son grow up, if only from a distance.

And Edith . . . oh, Edith. Just as her career is taking off, she's heading willy-nilly into a relationship with a married man. Been there, done that in Season Two, my dear . . . Remember the farmer? How'd that work for you? Unemployment and another sad chapter closed. As for the wife in the asylum, let's dust off that copy of Jane Eyre and read the script. We, the viewing audience, had the benefit of hearing Mathew's words to Rose: The wife is always awful, and the husband is always just about to divorce her, or something to that effect. Flee, Edith, flee!

So who's not on the hit list? Cora, dear Cora. She spent Season Two drawing back curtains and gazing pensively at her daughters. This season she has stolen the show. Her scenes during and after Sybil's death were stellar, the best of the season.

And then there's the Dowager. Rock on, Maggie! That woman can convey emotion with the tilt of her head. She's a champion of family -- the reason Sybil and Tom returned to Downton and began grafting into the clan; the reason Robert and Cora are now reconciled; likely the reason the estate will survive.

Fellowes is at his best when the repartee is witty and the characters are given the range to be authentic, flawed, complicated humans just like the rest of us: the stiff and crusty Carson sings as he polishes silver; the flinty Miss O'Brien has a kind word for a traumatized soldier; the Dowager grasps Carson's arm in a gesture of grief; the broken Thomas stands up tall and says, "I am not foul. I am not foul."

One episode to go and one headline deems it "jaw dropping".

Monday, February 11, 2013

May No Adversity Paralyse You

Words that bring me hope at a trying time, in a trying Time.

HT: Lauren

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I had a moment of sheer panic the other night when I couldn't find Ainsley anywhere. Bedtime was upon us, I got distracted by one task or another, and I figured she had curled up in my bed or hers and put herself to sleep.

Her bed? Empty. My bed? Empty. I checked the couches and then the top bunks and then became frantic. Had she escaped out the back door?

No, she had found a comfy piece of hard floor in the study and conked out.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Seven Quick Takes

1. So we are celebrating a significant academic achievement with Blizzards, tacos and a rousing game of Scrabble Slam! A word to the wise: Be circumspect about purchasing any game with the word Slam in its title. Second word to the wise: Scrabble Slam has virtually nothing in common with Scrabble, its calm and placid cousin. Scrabble Slam reminds me of an ill-advised Christmas gift I once sent the way of my nieces: Uno Attack. I think they'd still playing the first round of that game except that my sister probably managed to finagle into a bag destined for Goodwill.

Scrabble Slam is great fun. Loud -- really, really loud -- but great fun. Before we started the game, I directed Kolbe to find tape and put two layers of cellophane over the speaker. The tape helped, marginally.

2. While I'm on the subject of loud and annoying noises, early this morning, I was treated to some version of this exchange:
Ainsley, you wear underwear.
I don't wear underwear. 
You do too wear underwear. 
I don't wear UNDERWEAR! 
Yes, you do! 
No, I don't! 
Good gravy. I repeated the exchange to Dave who said, "'Ainsley, you wear underwear.' Them's fightin' words!"


For the record, she's a girl, and girls wear panties and don't try to convince her otherwise.

3. So British archaeologists have found and identified the body of Richard III. Does this excite anyone but me? When I spent the summer touring France, I had a near religious experience at the tomb of William the Conqueror. As I listened to the NPR reports this afternoon, the hair on my arms stood up.

Does anyone remember that poor soul, Anna Anderson, who convinced many people she was Anastasia Romanov? There's something so irresistible about an escaped and unknown princess or a missing king. No matter the oppressive policies of the Romanovs, we all hoped Anastasia had made it out alive. Well, it was all either an elaborate hoax or the delusions of a disturbed old woman.

But Richard III was there under the car park, battle wounds and all. Cool.

4. Dave took John and Ainsley to our favorite store, Mister Harbor Freight, where, I swear, everything is free or only a dollar, and came back with two pinchys which are sure to last two maybe three days. John came into the study saying, "Hey! Ya want a pencil?"

5. Tim drove for the first time. No casualties to report -- van, yard, neighbors' belongings, son, dad, and mom all survived.

6. The kindergarten is getting ready to celebrate One Hundred Day, so John and I collected one hundred pennies including this ancient one from 1964. I think my specs make him look mighty handsome.

7. Finally, happy, happy birthday to Dave!

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

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Photo Shoot

Still sharing about amazing Christmas gifts . . .

My sister Karen gave me the warmest robe ever manufactured. I will not be posting a picture of me in it. It's bad enough that, unbeknownst to me, Tim was skyping a classmate last night and managed to capture me and my bathrobe. (And nearly caught me giving the wayward printer what for).

My sister Kate gave Ainsley this precious hat and coat for Christmas. I  shouldn't just say gave; she knitted them herself.


Meanwhile Cari over at Clan Donaldson is sharing photographs, and this week's theme is hats and scarves. Head over and add yours.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Cool Toy

If you have a child interested in shapes and patterns, here's a great gift:

My sister looked at this Christmas morning and wondered why in the name of all that is sane and reasonable I had supplied my five-year-old with a box that included:

a) fifty wooden pieces
b) real brass tacks
c) a hammer

Had I taken leave of my senses? What can I say? It's an OT thing.

Mostly Kate was sure that if a single brass tack went AWOL, it would find its way into my father's foot. And, honestly, come April when my parents, the snowbirds now nesting in Florida, wind their way back to Michigan and pop into my sister's house, I will not be shocked to hear that dear old dad stepped on a brass tack that had bothered absolutely no one for months.

Risk factors aside, I highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Begin As You Mean To Go On

Last week's thoughts on habits and character and destiny reminded me of in interesting post I found in the archives of Like Mother, Like Daughter. Here is an excerpt of Leila's thoughts:

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” ~ C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

We want to be entertained, and are shocked that our children can't study. 
We allow our boys to lounge around playing video games in baggy pants, and are shocked to find men who won't work.

We fail to mention that your word is your bond, and are shocked when students cheat.

We never ask for a little more of ourselves or our children, and are shocked that they give in to every whim.
We are afraid of silence, and are shocked to find that our children need constant noise.

We treat our children coldly, and are shocked that they run for affection in others' arms.

We laugh at fidelity, and are shocked to find divorce in our midst.

We laugh at commitment, and are shocked to find we have no grandchildren.

Read the rest here.

When John was tiny and we were trying to help him get into better sleep patterns, I read a book (and I can't for the life of me recall the title) that offered a simple adage for parents: Begin as you mean to go on.

If you plan to have the baby sleep in your bed, let the baby start off that way.

If you want the baby to sleep in a crib, start with the baby in the crib.

If you don't mind life without a schedule or a rhythm, don't sweat it.

If you want rhythm, work on it from the start.

Begin as you mean to go on.

(I could insert a dozen disclaimers and exceptions to this, the chief one being a newborn is totally different from even a three-month-old baby. In the long run, I never intended to feed my children multiple times each night, but teeny tinies have unique needs.)

That being said, I think the idea Begin as you mean to go on has merit. And I think the piece from Like Mother, Like Daughter highlights the surprises we're in for if we don't keep our eyes on the prize.

Leila concludes her post with a word of encouragement:

Let's devote ourselves to stopping all this rejection of standards. Let's find the energy to live, and offer our children the chance to live, a life that struggles towards virtue, for the sake of God's goodness; just starting today in a small way to work, rest, love, and laugh healthy, not destructive, laughter.  
We will fall short. Evil will still roam about. That's not the point. The point is to strive.
A life that struggles toward virtue.

I like that.

And now I'll struggle toward the laundry room. 

Monday, February 04, 2013


Three-year-olds are a funny breed. Monday through Friday, the house is mostly empty during school hours. Ainsley flits seamlessly from one activity to another -- making tea, playing with her dolls, hanging our in her Dora tent. She finds me when she wants me to read a book or get out the paints or simply chat. She's content for the most part.

When everyone is in residence, boy, she seems to pull out all the stops.

Saturday came and Dave and I decided to tackle a few maintenance jobs, jobs that involved pulling out the refrigerator and the dishwasher, in short, throwing the entire kitchen and dining room into a state of tumult. We could have knocked it out in short order but for Ainsley who was either a) pestering the fool out of John or b) dumping something -- anything -- that we had pulled off the top of the fridge, or c) clambering over the tool box and around the shop vac trying to scrounge another cookie.

I like to hold on to the belief that in some small part I'm getting older and wiser (I fairly confident about the older part). And I know from past experience and a quick browse through my blog archives that Parenting While Distracted isn't pretty.

Now there's a time to push through. When you're ten hours into a fifteen hour drive and everyone's bored to tears and bedtime isn't even close and the all you hear is John spilled his chocolate milk! I dropped my crayon! Are we there yet?, you just keep driving. You dole out a few more snacks, crank up an Adventure in Odyssey, and locate a coloring book or two, but, above all, you press on. Around the house, too, kids need to learn that they are not the center of the universe and that Mom and Dad are sometimes busy and that they'd best find something to do.

Saturday all I saw was mounting frustration and interruptions and frayed nerves, and I began to consider whether to Push Through or Reboot.

If Tim and I get off to bad start in the morning, he has a sweet way of putting his arm around me and saying, "Mom, let's reboot." Usually we are able to do just that. Start over. Take it from the top once more.

Friday night I managed to hit Control Alt Delete on a disappointing evening. I had planned on a quiet family night watching a movie and devouring the birthday cake we had been too stuffed to tuck into on Thursday. Tim was at out of town basketball game. Kolbe ended up going off with family friends. Dave had to go back into his office. So much for family night. Dave called around eight. I groused and whined and ended up calling him back later to say that I had decided to quit pouting and instead see this as an unexpected opportunity to spend alone time with the little people.

I hit reboot.

Of course by the time I rebooted, the hour was getting late. We didn't pop popcorn and sit in a tent reading stories by flashlight. We didn't make a memory. We didn't do anything exceptional  I planted myself on the couch, and John and Ainsley fell asleep on my lap as I watched Foyle's War.

But I quit pouting, and we had a little snuggly time.

And then came Saturday. Do we Push Through or Reboot?

I considered my options and weighed how successful those options were likely to be. I could:

1. Consign the little people to the back yard loosely supervised from the back window. 
Yield: 30 minutes tops. Threat of interruption: High.

2. Consign the little people to the backyard and impress an unpaid older sibling into babysitting.

Yield: 60 minutes. Threat of interruption: Medium (if I entreat the boys to try hard) to Low (if I threaten the loss of screen time).

3. Consign the little people to the backyard and impress a paid older sibling into babysitting.

Yield: 2 hours. Threat of interruption: Low (My boys will do a whole lot if cash is involved).
Instead I turned to a fourth option: Impress an older sibling into service as Dad's apprentice and take the little people some place interesting. We loaded up the van and off we went to hike through the woods at a nearby swamp.

I've had moments in January in Detroit and in July in Augusta, moments when I've pondered why-oh-why any poor settler, long before the age of central heat and air, settled these inhospitable climates. No doubt, they rolled into Michigan in June and into Georgia on a day like Saturday. Bright blue skies and about 58 degrees. Beautiful.

We enjoyed an hour long walk through woods and grassy fields interrupted only by Ainsley's occasional wail when John would run ahead of her.

"I'm the line leader. I am the Line Leader! I AM THE LINE LEADER!," she bellowed. Note to all pre-school teachers: You give a three-year-old girl a taste of authority, and she morphs into Napoleon.

The rest of the time I spent listening to birds, looking for turtles, and appreciating conversation unique to small children.

"I haven't heard the word Mug come out of my mouth for a long time," John informed me. "You know, Grandma's basement is the betterest."

Meanwhile Ainsley was looking to the future. "When I grow up and turn into a mama," she wondered, "will you be the little girl?"

"No, sweetie" I told her. "I get to be the Grandma." This was a little too much for her to take in.

We came upon no turtles, no snakes, no alligators, but walked right up on an Armadillo grubbing for roots. Toward the end of our hike, John and Ainsley began to flag and lay prostrate on the path a few times. But all in all, it was a lovely day, an enjoyable walk, and a sweet reminder of how precious little children are.

A successful reboot.

We arrived home to find the job done and the refrigerator back in place. John and Ainsley ran out back to play.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Just one more reason I'm grateful for my husband and my little people.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Counting the Cost

It was time for the semi-annual balancing of the American Express Account . . . Okay, we actually accomplish this each month, no thanks to me who would put it off indefinitely, all thanks to my much more organized husband.

I poured a fresh cup or Joe, polished my specs, and got to work. I noticed a warning prominently featured at the top of the statement:
Minimum Payment Warning: If you make only the minimum payment each period, you will pay more in interest and it will take you longer to pay off your balance. For example, if you pay only the minimal payment, you will pay off the balance in 8 YEARS! and you will pay an estimated $1700 in interest on $1700 in purchases.
Good for American Express, I thought.

If there is anything people should understand now more than ever, it's long term costs.

A friend recently took her daughter to visit an expensive private college. This young woman is a top student, valedictorian of her class, in fact. The college offered a variety of scholarships and then explained the loans she could get to make up the rather substantial shortfall.

Most seventeen year-olds have never paid a bill or calculated a budget. What does fifty thousand dollars in student loans mean when you've never earned a pay check, never paid taxes, never rented an apartment, never scrounged enough cash for security deposits, never tried to land a job with a B.A. in English lit? Nothing.

I was finishing up some after school grading one day way back when, and a friend came into my classroom. He had just graduated and landed a prime job. Time to ditch the rust bucket he had been driving for five years and purchase a real car. He handed me a pile of gleaming photos of the nifty SUV he had picked out. It was awesome and so was the bottom line, especially when you considered not just the car payment, but the insurance as well. He bought it, and his loving friends nicknamed it "The House." It really did cost about that much.

The American Express warning left me thinking about how other elements of life should come with a warning about the long term costs, the long term consequences.

When I moved to Augusta, Georgia, twenty-five years ago, I had a friend who was then about the age I am now. "Floss and wear sunscreen," she was always telling me. She had hit mid-life, that point at which teeth and skin begin to show the cumulative effects of both use and misuse.

I am there now. To my young friends, I would say, "Floss and wear sunscreen!" And then I would add, "If you don't want a wrinkle between your eyes that makes you look like you're perpetually annoyed, wear sunglasses, too!"

When you're seventeen and basking in the sun, no alarm comes over a P.A. system shouting, "Warning! You will have a scar three-quarters of an inch long at the left side of your hair line because you NEVER manage to slather that part with sunscreen, and a basal cell carcinoma is now forming. P.S. Your diagnosis will follow the most embarrassing physical exam EVER!"

One of my unspoken new years resolutions is to take better care of my body. I've shared before that I have the early, early stages of osteoporosis, the bone disease that causes my mother so much suffering. My mom was diagnosed late. I was not. In a sense I have the American Express Warning right in front of me. I can see quite clearly the cost of a crumbling spine and repeat fractures. I have visited the nursing home, gone through physical therapy, pushed the wheel chair, assembled the port-a-potty. What clearer picture do I need?

And the result? I take my calcium intermittently and still do no regular exercise. Shame on me!

And then there's the moral life.

We recently dealt with one of young sons who has suddenly begun swearing. I could easily have blown my stack over the whole affair, but instead we had a little heart to heart chat about how actions morph into habits.

"Years ago I never struggled with swearing," I told my son. "Then I started using curse words when I was joking around. All of a sudden, I found myself swearing a lot and really struggling to stop."

Things have a way of getting away from us.

A trivial example, perhaps, but I'm reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny. 

We can apply this to any one of a hundred decisions we make in a week: Do we say the kind word or the impatient one? Do we tell the truth or fudge? Do we dither on the Internet for an hour or read our kids bedtime stories? Do we sleep in or make it to church?

No one gets into drowning debt after a single trip to the mall. A spine doesn't crumble when a patient skips her calcium for a day or a week or even a month. But habits eventually brush up against destiny. 

Would that we all understood and could quantify the final cost of our choices.  That cigarette . . .  that website . . . that cold response . . . that lie.

And in the midst of all our tallying -- moral and medical and financial -- let us never forget that there is grace and healing. Always, always, always there is grace and healing.