Saturday, April 27, 2013

Round Up

I was going to link to Five Favorites over at Hallie's but I dithered around so long, I'll add two items and call it Quick Takes.

1. Check out Quizlet.

From their website, "Quizlet is a free website providing learning tools for students, including flashcards, study and game modes. It was created by high school sophomore Andrew Sutherland in 2005 and now contains over 400 million study sets. All of the material is user-generated."

For example, you can search Sadlier Vocab Level E Unit 8, and up will come vocab words, quizzes, and games. Students can generate their own quizzes as well. Kolbe has cranked out some Latin in the past month, and all credit goes to Quizlet for making it challenging and fun.

Hat Tip goes to my sister, Kate, who discovered this little gem. Check it out!

2. Then head over to Aldi.

ALDI LogoBring your own bags, make sure you have a quarter to rent a cart, and get ready to see your grocery bill drop. Among the better deals:

Milk - $2.69 per gallon
Bread - $1.29 (for the loaf that runs $3.69 at Kroger)
Eggs - $1.29 per dozen

3. Have a dressy affair coming up?

Clip on tie rolls right off your screen!
While Walmart is not my favorite store, they earn high marks for their Shirt in a Bag. Preparing for Confirmation, I took Tim to an upscale department store to get a shirt and tie. The saleswoman measured Tim's neck and pointed us to young men's department where we found an Izod Shirt in a Bag for $40 marked down to $28. But wait! There was a door buster special! So the total wound up being $22.

Got it home. Tried it on. The neck was gaping.

I picked up Walmart's Shirt in a Bag and, get this, the shirt both looked and fit better. And the price? $10! The downside of Shirt in a Bag (at either store) is that even size 18 comes with a clip on tie. An enormous clip on tie, but still a clip on. Tim and I shared a laugh about that.

4. And still more on clothes . . .

While we're on the subject of clothes, I am thrilled that Tim now enjoys dressing up. He, in fact, wants a bow tie (which, sort of like a bikini, costs a darn fortune for an awfully minute piece of fabric) {not that I would for love or money would buy a bikini no, no, not even}.

Tim was not always interested in fine clothes. Boys' clothes are sort of like girls' hair accessories  You gotta start young and just insist. For perspective, I offer this brief photo essay told from a boy's perspective.

Here we have clothes:

And dress clothes:

And cruel and unusual punishment:

And just to give my northern readers a laugh, this
would be a winter coat:

5. On a completely unrelated note, here is my attempt to snap a sweet picture of of the little people:

This one's better, but I could not for the life of me get them to actually look straight into the camera.

6. Our next door neighbor, affectionately known as Grandpa Jim, turned 91 either Sunday or  Monday. He was delivered at home by his grandfather who was a doctor. When Gramps filled out the paperwork a few days later, seems he penciled in the wrong date. Grandpa Jim discovered the error when he joined the Navy at the end of World War II. He's been celebrating two birthdays ever since.

We love Grandpa Jim!
7. Grandpa Jim's daughter, Anne, showed Ainsley her doll house and oh! was I ever inspired. Electric lights, a cat drinking spilled milk, a piano -- love it, love it, love it! A for real doll house is right up there with The Easy Bake Oven and Little House on the Prairie on the list of Things I'll Be Enjoying with my One and Only Daughter.

Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes. She's home from the hospital with her sweet baby.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hold on for the Ride

May is typically a high speed ride with several unexpected, hair-pin turns. This year we hopped on board early, around April 15th.

I spent last Saturday on retreat, a retreat focusing on deep prayer -- appropriating faith, hope, and love more fully into life; developing a habit of daily, meditative prayer.

As one of the talks got underway, a thought popped into my mind. I leaned over to Tim's piano instructor and whispered, "Is the piano recital really in two weeks?"

This sort of explains why contemplative prayer is such a challenge for me.

I want to reach the heights of contemplative prayer, I sincerely do, but first I feel the need to buy Tim a dress shirt, find two more  pillar candles for the First Communion retreat, locate and sign Ainsley's permission slip, and get two of the kids to the dermatologist.

First Communion retreat, Confirmation, soccer tournament, The Glory Run, piano recital, Spring Formal, Mothers' Day, Spring Dance (not to be confused with Spring Formal), potential Scout camping trip.

And that's just hitting the high points.

I read this reflection by my friend Rachel who was ruminating about how families with lots of kids survive extracurricular activities. She asked an older friend for advice, and their exchange is just priceless:

"What’s your schedule like,” I probed, “how do you decide who does what? How do you get to all the activities? What’s your plan and process?”
“Hmmmm,” she said, and kinda left it at that.


That says it all, really.


As Rachel pointed out it's grace and a sense of humor and a certain amount of shrugging it off and saying, "Yeah, well, these days are busy."

As we've been moving into high gear, I've thought of  a few tactics I employ that seem to help me:

1. Put the big rocks in first.

2. Prayer is a big rock. When my mind is spinning from the busyness, I take a simple, simple approach to prayer. Read the Psalms. Pray the rosary. No time for complications, not much space for creativity.

3. Laundry and dinner -- Big rocks! Like it or not, they are big, BIG rocks. They drive the whole day. Is that crazy? I swear it's true. One missing soccer uniform gums up the whole operation.

4. Be at peace -- With God and others. Big, big rock. Nothing -- nothing! -- drains me first emotionally and then physically more than unresolved conflict. And let me just say what I've said before: The sacrament of confession is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

5. Avoid the library - More broadly, avoid any and all places, animals or things (we've been studying nouns) that involve due dates and/or fines. One more thing to remember? Thanks, I'll pass! The library is a great cause and, gosh, I'm glad my late fees are going there rather than the IRS or the corner Red Box. But before they dedicate a wing in my name, I think I'll just try pulling books from the limitless stacks under my own roof.

6. Keep a list  -- Read it. No, really, read it. Read it again.

7. Keep cash on hand -- Fives and ones, specifically. Every field trip costs four or six dollars, never five, rarely ten. Eight grade lunch sales -- roughly $7.25, but at least they take checks.

8. Track spending -- This is a scary one as I'll be the first to admit that when money is flying out the door, I much prefer to bury my head in the sand and hum a little ditty. Denial is a beautiful thing. But then I try to remember that this year is not last year when one of our two AC units went belly up to the tune of a sum of money so hideous I won't even mention it here. I may cringe over the $78 tuxedo rental that came on the heels of an expensive car repair. I may chaff at the $20 dance ticket I bought just after writing a hefty check to join the pool. But really I should just step back and think, "Cheaper than an AC unit!"

This time of year requires a little tunnel vision. Do what you're doing, said some spiritual adviser from days gone by. If I'm reading to Ainsley, I won't be answering the phone. If I'm on a First Communion retreat, I'll work hard to be fully present. If I'm reading Tim's research paper, I'll give it my best shot.

And I'll remember that our busyness flows out of an abundant life.

Lots of opportunities. Kids healthy enough to enjoy them. Let me say that one again: kids healthy enough to enjoy them! Reliable cars. Good teachers. Dedicated coaches. Sacraments.

On top of saying Hmmmmm, I really need to add a simple and sincere Thank You.

Monday, April 22, 2013


The princess at a younger age. Note: no dirt.
Ainsley, donning her fifth outfit of the day: A princess can't wear a dirty dress.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


It's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson. This week's theme is boys. 

A new picture:

An old picture:

My best picture:

A Valentine's bag designed by a ten-year-old boy. I don't really love you. You are just a friend. 


Head over to Cari's to add your photos.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Liebster Award

My apologies to Bobbi over at over at Revolution of Love who nominated me for a Liebster Award several weeks ago. (”Liebster” is a German word meaning “sweetheart, beloved person, darling.” The award is passed on from blogger to blogger to smaller blogs with less than 200 followers). I'm bad about these things because they usually involve more steps than I can manage, but here goes!

Here are the questions:

1. Where were you on 3/13/13 when you saw the white smoke or heard that we have a pope?

It was a complicated day. I had a sick child and at the same time was helping our dear neighbors through a difficult time. I had kept my face glued to various screens for forty-eight hours, but finally resumed normal life. Kolbe happened to turn on the TV and reported the white smoke. I was actually running late for a meeting, but then the entire team was late. You can't walk away from a moment like that.

2. If you had a whole day to yourself (without your kids or hubby) what would you do?

I would go to Mass, have lunch with my homies, chat with my sisters on the phone, read a book, watch Foyle's War, and go to bed early.

3. What was your favorite childhood cartoon?

Scooby Doo. Totally.

4. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?

As my fiftieth birthday approaches, I've been mulling this one over. Might go to Acadia National Park in Maine. Might canoe part of the Lewis and Clark trail in North Dakota.

5. What is your favorite prayer or devotion?

The Divine Mercy Chaplet. The grace is there. All we need to do is ask for it.

6. What is your favorite “go to” outfit to wear?

Jeans, white t-shirt, cardigan.

7. What is something that not many people know about you?

I'm shy, and I have huge, huge struggles with small talk. If you don't see this is me, it's because I trust you, I really, really trust you.

8. Are you a Downton Abbey fan or a “what’s all the fuss about” girl?

Fan. Swearing that this seasons I won't go near the spoilers (although I was glad I knew Mathew was done for before it actually happened).

9. How did you meet your hubby?

We met through the Alleluia Community and through our parish singles' group. We ran in a fairly small circle, but didn't actually meet for an unusually long time. A really odd fact is that we met and married in Georgia, but grew up about eight miles apart in suburban Detroit. We had the same French teacher in high school, attended the same college, and actually worked in the same place one summer. I always say Tim was supposed to be our third or fifth child, not our first.

10. What was your favorite song/album/band/artist growing up?

Early on - Partridge Family. Loved that David Cassidy.

Later - Elton John and David's younger brother, Shawn.

11. What is a lesson you've learned that you want to pass on to your children?

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him.

I tag AmyRachelJanetMaryChristine, and Natasha. I'm fairly sure all of these are larger blogs than mine, but that's the best I can manage.

Thanks to Bobbi for nominating me, and no, Bobbi, it wasn't too taxing! Visit Revolution of Love to see cute children and great photographs.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


It's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson. This week's theme is grow, a great theme for Augusta, Georgia, in early April. There's a reason The Masters comes to town this time of year -- the city explodes with color.

One of the neat things about gardening in the South is that many annuals act like perennials and just keep coming back. For lazy gardeners like me, this is a good thing.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

But, like Cari, I have my shot(s) on theme and then my real shot of the week, one that captures Grow not in the colorful sense, but in the ultimate sense of the word perennial:

My precious John has struggled mightily in the math department. He came home with a similar homework sheet a while back, and I'm telling you, it might have been written in Roman numerals for all he could decipher of it. We have worked, worked, worked on numbers. Last week, I called on every bit of my Montessori training and then asked the Holy Spirit to pour down the Isaiah gift most needed: understanding.

Something went click.

Yesterday John sat on the floor, set up a small fan to keep him cool, and finished this bad boy without problem or complaint.

He asked if he could bring it to school to show his teacher.

That, my friends, is growth.

Head over to Cari's to add your photos.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five Favorites

Hallie , who just delivered baby Charlie, is rounding up Five Favorites. Naturally, Hallies' Five Favorites are all pictures of her gorgeous newborn.

I hesitate to participate because, on considering my favorite things, I immediately snapped a picture of this:

This, my friends, is Joke Master Junior. If you have a child between five and twelve, this is a most excellent source of jokes that will not embarrass you when retold in front of the pediatrician or the parish priest. What does a rain cloud sleep in? Its thunderwear.! That's as racy as it gets.

But, see, most people participating in Five Favorites post pictures of things like this:

Mismatching, but coordinating, linens!

Stunning, stunning, stunning! Might just inspire me to revisit my brief period of sewing pillow cases.

But back to the mundane . . . I also snapped a picture of this:

If you want police drama that's not gory, crimes that are just normal crimes, excellent actors, and interesting characters, try Foyle's War.

Here's another Fav:

It's not the guitar; it's the hook that keeps the guitar off the floor, off the bed, off the couch. If I ever write a book about housekeeping with kids, I would highlight one nugget of wisdom: Make it easy for kids to put things away and they just might try it once in a while.

And there's this:

I get flowers every day. And the dandelions disappear from the yards. Win-win!

Head over to Hallie's, pour over pictures of her baby, and add your Five Favorites.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Captain Underpants

I'm strong-arming John into a little penmanship and math. He's resisting arrest. It's mild resistance, but, believe me, he has more pressing things to do than addition and handwriting.

In walks his sister.

"I  l-o-v-e  homework," Ainsley gushes. "When I'm in kindergarten, I'm going to l-o-v-e homework!"

Sometimes Ainsley is just the stereotypical, goody-two-shoes girl.

Years ago the boys' school put on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Produced by my friend Amy, the show was hilarious. The best character? This holier-than-thou girl named Alice. "I don't think it's nice to say Mary was pregnant," she sniffs in disdain.

There's a little of uppity Alice in Ainsley, and I'm not about to discourage this, nope, not one little bit.

Years ago my women's prayer group brought to our weekly meetings a mess of pre-schoolers, only one of whom happened to be a girl. She was (and is) a precious girl, a pint-sized sweetheart who would come running, eyes wide, to give us moms a full report on the unseemly antics of the boys.

Let me tell you, when you've birthed three boys running, when you've been on the receiving end of any number of phone calls detailing behavior that's marginal or worse, when you've faced irrefutable evidence that your little sweetie taught his peers at least one really, really choice word, you Can Not Wait to produce just one goody-two-shoes, one sanctimonious little tattle-taling Alice.

Ainsley's my best candidate, really my only candidate.

Of course this is the same child who came to me not long ago just a whining and a wailing, "John called me a tattle-tale!"

Oh, the irony that's lost on young children.

Right before Ainsley declared her love for all things academic, she had raved on and on about how much she l-o-v-e-s Mass.

"I love going to church," she told us with great fervor. "We get to sing, 'glory, hallelujah!' I love it."

Everything Nice
She should have stuck to the topic of school.

I think Ainsley will, indeed, love homework. These days she'll spy me working on phonics with John. "Do Teach Your Child How to Read with me, Mama," she'll tell me.

I loved school. During summer vacation, I'd get together with my best friend Susan and do penmanship worksheets. We taught ourselves cursive before we hit cursive in school. State capitals were fun. Really.

On the issue of Ainsley loving church, well, we might want to consult Snopes because that, my friends, could charitably be called an Urban Legend, A.K.A. one Big Fat Lie.

Snopes, no doubt, has credible affidavits from our parish priest, from the little old ladies in the black veils who sit behind us, from the older couple with the walker who have moved from the pew in front of us clear to the far side of the church.

Ainsley does pray, and it's a very sweet sight. Devotion has its place, of course, but it's not to be confused with Ainsley's overarching focus during Mass which centers on two pressing concerns: Will I get a donut? and When does this end?

John, meanwhile, handles himself pretty well until the last measure of the closing hymn, and then it's time to ensure that one of the parental units has a firm grip on him because after an hour and fifteen minutes of sit, kneel, stand he's ready to sprint, jump, climb.

The Captain
We had a little incident Saturday during a wedding we attended. Toward the end of Mass, John turned to me and unceremoniously announced, "I'm not wearing underwear!"

To his credit, he whispered this important message, and most likely the only person besides God and me who heard it was a friend of ours sitting in the pew behind us. He's a good sort, a tad on the stern side, the father of many children who, I am quite positive, never darkened the door of the church without suitable undergarments in place.

Oh well.

All this reminds me of a brief exchange the kindergarten teacher reported to me not long ago. Seems one of the boys announced to the class, "I wear pull-ups to bed!" Needless to say, this generated quite the buzz among five-year-old boys. Not to be outdone, John felt compelled to add, "Well, I go commando!"

True story.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Two Photos that Capture My Current Mood

In the atrium tonight we'll meditate on the parable of the True Vine. I'm looking forward to the soothing balm of God's word.

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Theme Thursday is focusing on funny.

I tried to catch a sweet picture of the little people playing in the snow. "Hug your sister," I told John.  Whatever you say, Mom.

And then there's the one below. Not exactly an award-winning shot, but it captures one of John's many April Fool's Day pranks -- funny in that it said "five-year-old boy" in the very sweetest sense.

I love that the little people in my life have no guile, no sophistication, no spin. Their unvarnished, slap-stick brand of silly brings much needed levity into my life. 

Head over to Clan Donaldson to add your funny pics.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


If John should one day become a television star, I'm afraid he'll be best known for repeat appearances on Hoarders: Buried Alive. The stuff that boy collects. Oh my. In truth, I'm beginning to think the entire family has attachment issues when it comes to stuff.

On our first night in D.C., Ainsley clambered into bed with her pink backpack and there unfolded a scene reminiscent of Mary Poppins and her carpet bag. Two no name dollies emerged and then a newborn who answers to Susie and then Raggedy Ann and, finally, Madeline. Plastered to the bottom of the backpack were a  butterfly known as Bixie and a small stuffed pig.

John, meanwhile, brought a nameless blue dragon with a large zippered pocket. It clanked and rattled all through the streets of D.C.. I drew the line when John wanted to bring Dragon into the Library of Congress. I figured Dragon was stuffed with Matchbox Cars, and I didn't fancy having to disgorge the collection for the benefit of the security folks (and I figured the two hundred people waiting in line behind us wouldn't appreciate this either). Besides, I had already frisked a few kids and confiscated all manner of items  -- most notably switchblades belonging to John and Kolbe. 

It doesn't matter that they morph into harmless combs, I informed the boys. Switchblades are not welcome in the Smithsonian.

I try to impress upon these kids of mine that security guards, border patrol agents, the fine folks with TSA, really anyone wearing a uniform and badge, well, they're trained to be suspicious and a sense of humor isn't necessarily in their skill set.

So Dragon was out in the cold.

We returned home and in the hustle and bustle of of unpacking, Kolbe discovered his wallet and cache of change had gone missing. He eventually came to report that he had found his wallet in the collection of treasure John has been accumulating at the foot of his bed.

John's bed.

There sits a broken keyboard, a mahogany box, key chains and cars, fake credit cards and string -- a treasure trove of stuff, a collection that has grown so large, John has begun sleeping on the other end of his bed.

John is now known asTempleton.

Collecting string, and dice and other odd items is all well and good, but your brother's wallet? Not okay. It was time to raid Templeton's lair. Let me tell you, it was a sight to behold. 
I had to laugh when I found this magazine buried among all sorts of random junk:

As I rifled through an astonishing array of booty, my thoughts turned back to Dragon. I found him, unzipped him, and found that the rattling noise came not from a collection of cars, but from approximately $13.73 in coins -- all purloined from brother Kolbe.

The early morning raid led to a full day of deep cleaning  I actually think of it as excavating. I find amazing things when I deep clean. What I found that day was that John -- clearly -- is not the only hoarder in our midst.

Take this:

You and I see a pile of cardboard. But Kolbe? He sees a turret or a guitar or a prop weapon for his next movie. He's a visionary, my boy, a truly creative kid, a child with an inborn desire to build, build, build. I go through his room and seriously wonder about Thomas Edison's mother. Was Thomas forever setting fire to things? Burning holes in her pots and pans? Did Mom fund his inspirations? Did she help him dream big dreams? Did she run to the store late at night to pick up, I don't know, test tubes and filament? Did she wring her hands? Did she mutter about the noise and the smell and the mess? Did she launch into a perpetual novena to Saint Joseph in hopes her son would come to his senses and become a plumber or an accountant?

Tim, I'm happy to report, has a bit of a minimalist streak. Like his mother, he has a bed full of books, but other than that, he doesn't cling to things.

I have my own collections of untouchables -- china I don't use, teapots grown dusty. Clothes, linens, everyday dishes -- I keep these pared down to a bare minimum. Books? Too, too many.

Stuff. We have too much of it. We are forced to take care of it. We attempt to teach our children to respect it.  

"Is there still pirate's treasure," John asked me one day. "Cause I'm going to find some."

I thought of a line from one of my favorite Jimmy Buffet songs:

Yes, I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothing to plunder
 I'm an over-forty victim of fate 
Arriving too late, arriving too late 

John can don his eye-patch and shout "Argh!".  If I had a cannon, I'd let him thunder away. But as to the plunder, it's time to learn this doesn't include his brother's loot.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Holy Week in D.C.

We spent most of Holy Week with our friend Mike touring Washington D.C.

We attended Palm Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception along with thousands of other people. Who did we spot processing in? Deacon Kevin O'Keefe, one of my favorite students! What an unexpected surprise!

One of the highlights was walking the monuments. I first did this as a seventeen-year-old high school student on a Model United Nations trip. The last time I walked the monuments, Mike was also our tour guide, Tim was four, Kolbe was six months old, and the weather was blistering hot. I much prefer the cold! (And I had to scoff at the endless tour buses shuttling teenagers from one monument to the next. If you want to appreciate this city, you gotta walk.)

 And walk . . .

And walk. But this is what you get to see . . .

And there was unexpected snow . . .

And a snow man . . .

Crabby kids . . .

And happy kids . . .

Kids hiding under a pile of jackets.

And the Dolin clan very grateful to Mike (far left), our patient and generous host and tour guide.