Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a few things for which we're grateful:

Tim: Mama

Kolbe: Our house

John: Mom and Dad

Ainsley: Aunt Amy's baby

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Alarming Day in First Grade

So I had planned to spend the afternoon substituting in the first grade classroom. Then a friend called with an ominous report: She was the morning sub and down with a virus of the icky, icky variety. I generously offered to go in, get things situated with some other reasonably responsible adult and return home.

No such luck. I taught all day.

If I went in with some fear and trepidation, this stemmed from two reasons:
1. My exhausting (not bad, mind you, just exhausting) experience last year that I detailed here.
2. I had Ainsley in tow.
But here's the reason our small school continues to thrive: Everyone does what it takes. And today it meant Ainsley and I were up and out the door ready to teach first grade.

Now Ainsley was game from the start. A while back, when I was organizing clothes and uniforms in our neighborhood Clothing Closet, I grabbed a few uniforms that should fit Ainsey next September when she (sob, sob) starts! kindergarten! This morning she dressed in her miniature uniform with great excitement.

Can I just indulge in a brief moment of insufferable Mommyness?

Let me tell you, she was the cutest thing ever to don a khaki jumper and cable-knit knee socks. The picture just doesn't do it justice.

First period was Spanish. This was helpful because a) I didn't have to teach, and therefore, b) I was able to replenish my coffee, and c) I was able to to read and re-read the lessons plans. The teacher's notes couldn't have been clearer. Every single step highlighted and marked, copied and stacked.  But elementary teachers' manuals? Busy, busy, busy. Most Catholics are familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours. It's about that complicated. There's page 40 which is not to be confused with page 40 a. Every page has 15-20 suggestions for enriching and extending. I am sure that after a week or two with the materials, teachers get the hang of it. Subs are s-l-o-w. And as I've learned from experience, s-l-o-w with elementary students can be your undoing.

The kids returned from Spanish with Senora Funsch raving about the fact that Ainsley can count to ten in Spanish. I would like to claim she's a prodigy; really, she's just watched a whole lot of Dora.

Come on, Vamonos! Everybody let's go!

We jumped into our work, and you know what? I had fun. John is in a class of all boys, and they are sweet and charming, every last one of them. They are active, but have obviously grown up quite a bit from last year when seat work felt like playing Whack a Mole. John's buddy, Henry, charmed the cable-knit socks right off of Ainsley who insisted on sitting next to him and sharing his supply box.

The bad news was that the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down. Recess -- those blessed breaks for boys and teachers alike -- took place indoors. No quick run to the Ladies'; no resupplying the coffee; no running the wiggles out. I did abandon ship long enough to run out to pick up lunch. Ainsley and I dashed to the car in the middle of a downpour only to find that the driver's door -- which has been acting up lately -- wouldn't budge. It was cold, but I didn't think it was cold enough to freeze the lock. I went to the other side and was relieved to find the back sliding door unlocked.

Then the car alarm began to blare.

See, that silver Grand Caravan was not, in fact, my silver Grand Caravan.

Oh joy.

Ainsley and I dashed back through the parking lot and ran into the Mr. Funsch -- my good friend, former boss, and high school principal -- who had been attempting to teach Algebra I before the alarm began to sound not far from his classroom window. I confessed that I was the culprit and assured him that I would locate the person who could put an end to the siren.

I nabbed Mrs. Hebert, whose car I had broken into, and we went back to the high school and into the chemistry lab where her son, who had the car keys, was attempting to add water to sodium bromide.(I think?). We marched to his locker to retrieve the keys. Naturally, by the time we made it back to the van, the alarm had given up.

Every once in while, I told Mr. Funsch, I would like to fly under the radar. Just once in a while.

The afternoon was full of more rain, math, and C.S. Lewis. I can see why John is so excited about The Magician's Nephew. He's reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in school. We finished the day with a rousing game of Sight Word Bingo, and the boys played dominoes while I read a book that claims student achievement across every demographic is strongly linked to high parental expectations and apparently not linked at all to parental hectoring.

You learn something new every day.

I drove home and promptly browbeat Tim about Spanish and geometry.

I am now looking forward to an evening baking cookies with the little people and possibly watching a little of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of my all time favorite children's movies.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ten Thousand Reasons for My Heart to Sing

I attended a great women's meeting a while back. Different friends shared those things in life that make their hearts sing. The topics varied widely -- from the practical to the heart-wrenching.

My friend Rachel shared about the new and much-improved chore chart she had devised. After some hand-wringing and much prayer, she abandoned what she thought it all should look like and came up with a plan that brought order and peace to her family, her house. Neat.

My friend Diane shared about the palpable outpouring of God's grace over the past heart-breaking months as she's coped with the unexpected death of her husband, Barry.

God meets us -- God loves us -- right where we are.

What makes your heart sing?

Do you find grace in the both the mundane and the profound moments of life?

Here are a few moments that have made my heart sing:

1. Reading The Magician's Nephew with John. He is enthralled, totally mesmerized. One of the bonuses of having children after a large gap it that you get to revisit your best memories of your older children. (Yeah, yeah, you get to revisit potty training and Don't go near the street!, but I'm focusing on the positive here). The wooden trains came out of the attic, and Curious George moved back to the bookshelf. You blink, and they get a tad older and
begin to love the things you love.

I love C.S. Lewis. And I love John.

2. Many years ago when I was an insufferable, know-it-all teenager, I had two names for my mom. She was Mom if all was right with my world; she became Mother when I was in mood. So it is with our resident teenager. But late at night, when the homework's done and the stresses of the day have been laid to rest, I once again become Mama, and this boy who now towers over me (not too hard to do if Mom is 5'2") wants a hug.

Heart? Singing!

3. So John looks at a note I had written, screws up his face in confusion, and informs me, "I can't read curse words!"

So glad to hear it, John. In third grade, you'll learn cursive.

4. Ainsley had an entertaining conversation with Grandma last night. From what I could gather, it went something like this:
Ainsley: I just love the polka-dotted dress you sent me, but the purple one is itchy.
Grandma: Well, maybe some other little girl would like the purple dress.
Ainsley: No, Grandma. No one wants that itchy dress.
She had Grandma laughing her head off. Little people bring much-needed little levity in life. They make our hearts sing.

5. John loves the Christmas station that begins belting out the holiday tunes around Veterans' Day. The other day he was watching his shadow as he took giant steps through the Kroger parking lot while singing "Walking Around the Christmas Tree. . . "

Too, too funny.

6. I stumbled on some dreadful story on the Internet the other day. People being horrible to small children. I picked up Ainsley and asked, "When you're sad, who do you want?"

"Grandma," she told me without hesitation.

I tried again.

"When you're scared, where do you want to be?"

"Mama's bed."

Okay then. I asked her why she comes into our bed most nights.

"I'm scared of bears," she informed me. "And I like to snuggle."

Heart singing.

7. I dozed off on the couch the other day and woke up to find Ainsley's sparkly baton tucked carefully under my arm. So sweet.

As we head toward Thanksgiving, let's all examine those things that make our heart sing.

Friday, November 22, 2013


So yesterday was Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson. This week's theme is Shaming, and I drew a complete and total blank.

Oh, I've got archived evidence like this:

And this:

And this one's a favorite:

But for the here and now, I came up with nothing. I hopped over to Cari's this morning to peruse what other mothers had posted.

Rebekah writes over at Rebekah's Web Log. Oh Rebekah, dear Rebekah! Can I call you "dear" when I'll we've done is chat in comboxes? Hiding chocolate from your children doesn't get filed under "S" for "Shameful". No, no, no. File it under "C" for "Common Sense" of "I" for "Important Life Skill."

And there's Annery who write at Annery at Home. Annery declares Shameful the fact that she's wholly uninterested in potty training her seventeen-month-old. The good news is that Annery seems to be ashamed only in a detached, sort of academic sense, as in "What kind of mother doesn't respond to a child's interest in potty training? Well, me, I guess. Now where's the crossword puzzle?"

In my book, that's progress, Annery.

Hesitation over potty training a seventeen-month-old? See my comments to Rebekah:  "C" for "Common Sense, "I" for "Important Life Skill", maybe "W" for "Ways to Avoid Xanax".

Micaela offers a beautiful post on the end of nursing. No pithy commentary on that one; it is simply sweet.

Dwija posted pictures of her son's grave site. Last summer, Dwija and her husband lost baby Nicholas at twenty weeks. As for the issue of Shame, I agree with Dwija's readers: When it comes to writing, you share what you want to share, when you want to share it.

Motherhood: the good, the bad, the sad, the funny, the heartbreaking, the gritty.

Of course, after drawing a blank yesterday, I eyed my house and yard and instantly came up with about a dozen shame inducing sights:

- The pile 'o papers that was perilously close to toppling yesterday. Whoever predicted a paperless environment never had kids in school, playing sports, or attending Faith Formation. How do you spell Avalanche?
- The inside of my van which is full of hay from the Fall Fare two weeks ago.
- My son's unmade bed. Unmade as in no sheets. Unmade for over 48 hours. I didn't have the energy to make it (top bunk + bulky mattress pad = not fun). The kicker was when I observed that his pillow didn't even sport a humble case.
- John's lonely water bottle sitting on the counter where it will remain until John comes home from school because Mama's not driving it in. Nope.

Years ago I read Confessions of an Organized Homemaker. It's a great book, full of practical suggestions. I moved my coffee pot across the kitchen after reading the book, and that alone has probably saved me millions of steps. But the single most valuable piece of advice for all mothers but especially for mothers who stay home: Stop striving to say, "All the work is done" and instead say, "Today's work is done."

While I don't like the above list, I don't fret over as I once did  because it's just life. I've adjusted my definition of Shame because it's never done.

Except for the naked pillow. Which really does make me gulp.

And now I think I'll go play a game with my boy who is home sick this morning.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 15, 2013

One Long Whine . . . And a Prayer Request

Seven Quick Takes

1. Any life-long Catholic is familiar with the recommended response to suffering: You offer it up. You ask the Lord to give you the grace to bear your suffering well and to use it to remind you to pray for others in need.

I am so bad at this, so pathetically bad.

My first response to suffering is denial. I then move on to irritation. Ranting and raving fit in there somewhere, as does consuming gluttonous amounts of dark chocolate.

So here's the big break through: I successfully "offered it up" the other day. This may be a first for me. But here I am blogging about it, so I'm quite sure that negates any grace. Or maybe not.

2. This tiny, isolated victory helped me see just how whiny I really am. Case in point: We have a major traffic artery near our neighborhood that is under perpetual construction. Dysfunction Junction, I call it. I was leaving Walmart the other day with a van full of cold weather gear (hiking boots, hand and foot warmers, gloves, long underwear) for the twenty-five mile, cold weather hike my oldest son was embarking on, only, see, the whole adventure had been cancelled Monday night, but did anyone bother to inform the Logistics Manager (that would be me)? Oh, no, no, no.

But I digress. Because I'm really whining about traffic, not about Scout gear or poor communication. Traffic. Back to it.

So I left Walmart with a pile of useless items and hit the snag of all snags. As a bird flies, Walmart is about a mile from my house. Usually the drive is well under ten minutes. Not so when five lanes of traffic merge into what is surely a small and meandering sheep path hardly wide enough to fit John and Ainsley on their scooters.

Twenty-five minutes to get home. Twenty-five minutes.

The really good news? I get to go return the unused hiking equipment and perhaps hit the path all over again.

3. So that's Whine #1. Whine #2 involved a near collision due to faulty judgment on my part. See, if I'm turning left, and I see you coming down the road and slowing down and signalling that you're going to turn right, I assume (incorrectly, it turns out) that you are, in fact, going to turn right. And I just might pull out to turn in right behind you. But, no, you are busy talking on your phone and begin your right turn only to come to a complete. and. total. stop. in the middle of the entrance because, gosh, it's hard to talk and turn at the same time and, I don't know, maybe you were juggling hot coffee and an Egg McMuffin at the same time.

I'm relieved to be in one piece and never again will assume that the turn signal and the beginning of a turn will, in fact, be followed by an actual turn.

4. Whine #3 involves telephone solicitors who seem to know far more details about my life than my mother does. A typical exchange:

Me: Hello, God bless you.

Well-informed telephone solicitor: Hello, Mrs. Dolin. Are you still at (correct address) and enjoying the Astronomy Club, redoing your house, and celebrating your son's 16th birthday?

Me: ????

I instantly regret saying "Hello, God bless you". I fight the urge to open the back of the phone and search for bugs. I somehow manage to disengage from the conversation without uttering bad words.

5. I recently received a bottle of Excedrin for Migraines in the mail. Gosh, I was thrilled. Who doesn't like getting a package in the mail? Eventually it dawned on me that this wasn't a random event, a mass mailing that happened to hit my Zip code. Someone is tracking my spending habits. Note to that someone: I could use a few Starbuck's coupons ASAP.

I guess that's Whine #4.

6. Number 5 is a doozy. I've never had a true laundry disaster until Monday when I found a black ink pen in the dryer. Oh my. The bright spot was that the rather large load that absorbed the ink didn't include a) uniforms or b) Dave's dress clothes.

What a mess.

I hit the Internet in search of solutions, none of which seemed to work. Bleach? Didn't touch the ink. Nail polish remover? Nope. Finally I took bleach soaked rags and ran them through the dryer on high. I'd say 90% of the ink was gone in twenty minutes. The clothes have not bounced back quite so well. Apparently rubbing alcohol is the ticket. We'll see.

Search those pockets! Painful lesson learned.

7. In the midst of the busiest week of Fall Fare preparations, one of our team members shared a beautiful scripture: Let not your hearts be troubled. If you're having a tough time, the tenth chapter of John will get your eyes off the things of the world. Just typing those words helps me refocus.

Ainsley is obsessed with photo albums these days. She loves to pour over the four-hundred-fifty-two pictures we shot at her birth.

"Oh, I was such a cute baby," she gushes before moving into a whine of her own, "and we gave away every. single. one. of my baby clothes!"

That's not precisely true, so we spent some time yesterday pulling out the keepers -- tiny onesies, newborn diapers that appear far too small for humans, Ainsley's beautiful Christmas dress, Tim's well worn navy blue Keds, John's cowboy jammies. Oh, did she have fun! Ainsley's Madeline doll, I'm sad to report, was forced into a diaper. Ainsley was nice enough to pair it with teeny-tiny ruby slippers, so maybe Madeline will recover from the indignity.

Life is full of its frustrations, but most of the time, it's simply full. For that, I'm grateful.

One of the children in my atrium -- I'll call him Max -- is in Texas this morning for significant hip surgery that involves cutting some tendons among other interventions. Max suffered a brain injury at birth. He is one of the sweetest souls I've ever known, both a light and a delight.

Please pray for a successful surgery, for protection from complications, for Max to tolerate the anesthesia, and for peace for his entire family.

Head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes. And have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Last Glimpse of Summer

We woke up to 25 degree temps today, but two weeks ago we were still in shorts:

Monday, November 11, 2013

First Things First

Our Fall Fare was Saturday, and it was great fun.

Sometime in August, Dave and I were asked to take charge of a major fundraiser for the boys' school. For twenty-nine years this had been a Christmas Festival held in early December. While it had morphed and evolved over the years, mostly the Festival offered amazing ethnic dishes, a silent auction, a yard sale, a bakery, and a variety of kids' activities all amidst thousands of twinkling lights.

Two years ago, I am fairly sure approximately two hundred people (I'm just guessing that all but two of them were women) simultaneously cried Uncle! We loved the Festival, really we did, but it was a monumental effort, a huge expenditure of time and money in a season known for a shortage of time and money.

Our fearless leaders listened.

Last year we took a sabbatical year with no fall fundraiser. This year it came back in a greatly simplified form, and the Dolins were in charge.

Dave and I thought and prayed and discussed it all in great detail before saying yes. See, I've done things like this before. You can have the most amazing plan on paper, but it's still hard, hard work and twenty-six thousand and two phone calls, texts, and emails.

Dave was pretty positive about it from the get-go. I didn't know if I could handle it. After much rumination, I agreed to take it on with two provisos:

1. Tim's sixteenth birthday would not get lost in the shuffle.

2. Neither would All Saints' Day.

Over the summer I had started thinking about Tim turning sixteen. I began to formulate a plan. If you queried Tim, his ideal gift list would probably include a) a girlfriend and b) a car. Oddly enough, these weren't on my list. But I did think about giving him his own space. We have a four bedroom house. Since the day we moved in, one of the rooms has been an office. And that's worked fine until we added four children to the mix and two of them hit adolescence.

I've pretty much always hated our study -- in point of fact, I dubbed it The Den of Iniquity. Close to the kitchen and to the front door, it has always been a magnet for Stuff, all sorts of Stuff. Over the years, I tried to wrest a little order out of this bedraggled room. I got rid of the couch and bought a cute chair. I hung nice curtains and attractive artwork. Nothing changed the fact that it was nearly always a cluttered catch-all for the detritus of family life -- the backpacks and the cleats, the coat the neighbor left and the stack of over-due library books, the pecan picker and the leftover collage of Antarctica.

Do you remember the oft-quoted line from Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come?

That's the theme of the study. I was tired of providing too much space for the junk to come. And I started to think about giving that bit of real-estate to my soon to be sixteen-year-old son.

So that was goal #1.

Goal #2 was to really enter into All Saints' Day with the little people. Two years ago, I had grand plans for Ainsley to be Queen Esther. She was just two, and no amount of cajoling on my part could induce her to don any sort of costume at all. Oh, she was all about the candy. And the jumping houses intrigued her. But an ornate, itchy dress and a crown? Pass. Thank you very much.

Last year we had group themes, and ours was Veggie Tales. Ainsley was happy enough to be Laura the Carrot, and John was Junior Asparagus. Yes, these were cute, but this year I wanted something special.

I don't always put First Things First. I remember studying Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The Covey system encourages you to put demands into four categories:

1. Unimportant, not urgent
2. Unimportant, urgent
3. Important, not urgent
4. Important, urgent

The ringing phone that turns out to be a telephone solicitor? Urgent and unimportant. But too often it gets our time as if it were both urgent and important. Investing time making costumes for the little people? Important but not urgent. Investing some time prayerfully considering who Tim is, what his needs are, how we can better meet these needs? Important. Maybe even urgent. But there's no alarm that sounds when you begin missing the boat with your kids. There's no warning that comes registered mail to tell you in unequivocal terms that you are about to close a window in a child's life.

Except maybe there is.

And that warning is the still, small voice of discernment that God gives parents. It began to tug at my heart this summer, insistently whispering that Tim needed space.

It helped me notice the exuberance of these small children of mine.  John and Ainsley are all about costumes and props, beauty and heroism.

That still, small voice reminded me that this is a season, just a season, and a relatively short season at that.

Tim is a young man who will all too soon be on his own. John and Aisnley will move on to other pursuits.

There will be other birthdays; there will be other All Saints' Days. But I felt a pressing need to be present right now.

Here's the thing about putting first things first: There is grace. There is peace. I find that things move faster than expected. I find windows of time to accomplish this or that.

One day a week or two ago -- when things did not seem to be going faster than expected -- I became extremely frustrated at the lack of progress on Tim's room. And then a thought came to mind: You have completely redone two rooms in under two months. While taking care of four kids. And planning a Fall Fare. Go, you!

The little people had nice costumes.

Tim is over the moon about his new room.

The other day, he actually said, "It's weird, Mom, but now that I have my own room, I want to keep it clean."

Be still, my beating heart.

And the Fall Fare? It was a great time

Thursday, November 07, 2013


So it's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson, and this week's theme is Thumb. Here's how Brad Pitt and teenage boys deal with pesky photographers:

Head over to Cari's to add your shots.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Five Favorites

Hallie over at Moxie Wife is putting together Five Favorites. Here are a few of mine.

1. Our favorite boy saint:

Saint George minus a few accessories and the dragon he just slew. Slew?

2. Our favorite girl saint:

Saint Agnes looking especially angelic.

3- 5. And our favorite teenager, who is turning sixteen sometime soon. I'm sure he'd love a car. We gave him the next best thing . . . his own room!