16 December 2011

Dorothy Saves Christmas

I readily admit that the Christmas season kicks my butt.

I get overwhelmed by the pressure of it all, saddened by the consumerism, frustrated by the greed, and worried about spending the money.

Tis' the Season to completely freak out.

But this year, I felt myself compelled to seek out an old friend, a book, actually, by a personal hero of mine, Dorothy Day. The book is The Long Loneliness, and I picked it up this morning and started re-reading it.

"We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community." --Dorothy Day

If I stay with these pages, I think I'll make it to the Epiphany in fine form. Thank you Dorothy.

* * *

09 December 2011

7 Quick Takes: The Christmas List Edition

Seven quick Christmas wishes for my family.


For Little T:  My wish for you this Christmas is that you learn to think first and scream second.   Because that thing you do in the car, when you object to something I'm saying, or something someone else is saying, that blood-curdling shriek?  I think it endangers us on the road and I would like it to stop.  Lest you think this is a selfish wish, I have the best interest of your vocal cords in mind here, sweetheart.  You could probably do permanent damage to them if you keep up that obnoxious behavior.

And I also wish for you that you charge into 2012 with as much joy and verve as you are closing 2011 with.  And maybe a movable stuffed animal puppy.


For Lady E: My wish for you this Christmas is that the adults around you find ways to respond to your bright, inquisitive, lightening-quick mind.  May that brain be lit on fire and may that fire grow and grow throughout your life.  May you remember us little people when you are famous for some fantastic contribution to the life and culture of humanity.

And I also hope that your siblings put several "TEASING FREE DAY" coupons in your stocking.  They are ruthless, aren't they?


For La-La-Loopsie: I wish you so very much, my first born daughter: May you be showered with art supplies and soccer gear, and may you be deprived of mosquito bites, paper cuts, twisted ankles, broken bones, and bonked heads.  We've had enough of those, yes?

And my other wish for you is also a wish for me: that you and I enter your tween years with the best possible mother-daughter relationship.  May we talk and talk.  May your inevitable disgust with me be delayed as long as possible.  May the peace and promise of Christmas become the peace and promise of us, together.


For my 2nd born, Yeller-At-The-Wind: May you live in the land of art supplies and legos all the days of your life.  And may there be Fire-Bellied Toads there, too.   And a life-time subscription to National Geographic Kids.  Sorry, I do not wish for an endless supply of nun-chucks and wii remotes.

But I do hope that for Christmas you receive the gifts of peace and confidence.  Fortitude.  Kindness.  Thinking first, yelling second.  (We could use a family-pack of that one around here.)  May your amazing sense of humor continue to bring all of us laughter and joy.  And perhaps I should also wish for a slight tempering of that sarcastic wit: trust me when I say it will get you into trouble in your life.  This Christmas, let's hope Santa sticks a small box of mellowing agent in your stocking.  And for you, dear son, may all your wishes come true.


And first born, O Great Experiment:  My Christmas list for you, much like your own, is endless.  Like I do for your brother, I first and foremost wish you peace and confidence.  Confidence and peace.  Peace and confidence.  An infinite mantra of confidence and peace.

And so much more.  I wish you parents that learn how to give you that confidence, parents who figure out how to set boundaries with more love than frustration, how to be detached so that you can grow up without us getting in your way but with as much help as we can provide.

I wish for you to be brave and strong.  I wish for you to break your goal scoring record in a single season.  I wish for you to play guitar until your fingers bleed.  I wish for you to rest in the knowledge that you are loved beyond your comprehension and that your presence in the world fills me with gratitude.  You are a light in this strange and complicated world.  May you learn to walk by your own light, and not the lights of the strange and complicated world.


For my dear spouse: As one half of the sacramental We, I wish the same things for both of us: Sleep.  Exercise.  Good wine.  Great beer.  A quiet morning or two.  

And what we need more than anything: Grace.  To see our life with right eyes, to respond to broken dishes, spilled cider, car troubles, children's fights, miscommunications, muddy bathrooms, limited options, 1940's kitchens, and lost soccer balls with grace.  To wake up with the confidence we need to give to our children.  To treat them with the patience we want them to show each other.  To enjoy them.  Every day.


And for myself.  See items 1-6 above.  I seem to have a lot to wish for this Christmas.  And none of it can be found at Target.

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Please visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!  Merry Christmas everyone!

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08 December 2011

The Price I'm Willing To Pay

The other day a friend of ours brought 5 coca-cola cans over for my children.  He was dropping off a bunch of other stuff, and thoughtfully decided to include the sodas so that I could enjoy the resulting caffeine-induced frenzy: THANKS!

This was in the morning.  So of course, I didn't let anyone have a soda that early in the day.  And even though coca-cola cans look exactly alike, and even though it does not matter which one you get, my 5th born child decided that one particular can was definitely hers.   She wanted a label on hers while the cans chilled in the fridge.  She brought me a very small slip of paper and instructed me to write the following on it:
"No one drink this soda, because it's Tallulah's and if you drink it, then after I take it back and drink it I will hit you in the head with it."
She knows how to protect her own.

And no, she doesn't get that violent streak from me.  I am a peace-loving person.  And I don't even like soda.

I don't know where she gets it.  I don't know why she calls people stuck in traffic "suck-ahs" as we comfortably pass them from the carpool lane.  I don't know why she asks her sisters questions like: "Do you want the passcode to my butt?"  I don't know why she screams like a chimpanzee whenever anyone is saying something she doesn't want to hear.

But I do know, without a doubt, that this is one joyful, free, confident, irrepressible kid.

And I know I'm willing to put up with a lot in exchange for a joyful, free, confident, irrepressible kid.

* * *

02 December 2011

You Never Know

My husband used to be a teacher.

Actually, I should rephrase that: My husband is a teacher, and he used to get paid to teach full time.

Six years ago (or was it 7?), he left the classroom for the garden, and began designing native plant gardens for a living.  He's good at it.  He created a virtual paradise for us here, and when other people started asking him for help in their own gardens, he -- we -- took the leap and he changed careers.  He can visualize and then create really beautiful outdoor spaces.

But he's a teacher at heart.

Flash forward six years.  (Or maybe 7?)  The other night, he stopped into a local liquor store to get me, his grateful and lucky wife, some Stone IPA.  There, behind the counter, was a former student.

"Mr. A!  Whoa--that is so wierd!  I was just talking about you an hour ago!"

This was a kid Mr. A remembers well, and was delighted to see.  But an hour ago?  So Mr. A asked him why on earth he was thinking about his high school English teacher one hour ago.  And the kid (young adult) said:

"Because I was writing a poem."

Could there be more golden words to an English teacher?

Turns out, this kid (young adult) works part time at the liquor store, part time at a local hardware store, both of which help him write and play music.  And with the good fortune or Rick walking into his liquor store (the good fortune of Rick having a thirsty wife), he had a chance to do something not many of us ever have a chance to do: tell a teacher that he or she made a difference.  He had a chance to tell his teacher that he has never forgotten the lessons he learned in Rick's class, that Rick was the kind of teacher that a student takes with him everywhere he goes in his life.

He was writing a poem.  And that reminded him of his high school English teacher.

You never know what impact you have on the people around you.  Unless they tell you.

Go tell someone what they mean to you.  It will make their day.  I know, because over the top of my Stone IPA bottle, I could see the light in my husband's eyes as he told me all about this chance, and most fortuitous, meeting.

* * *

11 November 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 45


This week marked the birthday of Dorothy Day, one of my personal heroes and saints.  So this first take is devoted to her.  She said:

The greatest challenge of the day is: 
how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution 
which has to start with each one of us?

In the midst of the Occupy movements happening all over the country, this question is more relevant than ever.

I have two books to recommend in honor of Dorothy's birthday.  The first is hers, The Long Loneliness, a wonderful, spiritually uplifting book about her conversion, her life and her work.  The second is the book The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, by Paul Elie.  Described by its publisher as "the story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God," this engaging book weaves together the biographies of Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Thomas Merton.  I received this book as a gift years ago, and although it's been awhile since I read it, it remains a well-loved favorite.  If not for my wonderful husband and five beautiful children (so, if not for my entire life), I would run off to live a life like these four people did: part social activist, part hermit contemplative, all writer.

Both books are well worth your time and your brain.

* * *

And that's the only important take I've got today.  The rest are silly little things my kids did and said this week, and a couple of odds and ends:


Son: "Mom, can a marriage survive without dishonesty?"

Mom: "You mean without honesty."

Son, with twinkle in eye: "No, I mean dishonesty.  Can a marriage survive without it?"

Mom:  "Remind me to be less sarcastic with my next family."

Because clearly, it's too late with this one.


Son, looking at an animal encyclopedia: "MOM!  Did you know there's such a thing as a SPERM WHALE?"

And before mom can answer, he runs out of the room to find his brother and shouts: "I KNOW WHY THAT WHALE IS NAMED MOBY DICK!  BECAUSE HE'S A SPERM WHALE!!!!!"


No words needed.  And none could I find.


Late one night, just as I was drifting off to bed, I heard the alarm on my son's phone go off.
BREEP BREEP, breep breep.  BREEP BREEP, breep breep.    BREEP BREEP, breep breep.  BREEP BREEP, breep breep.  BREEP BREEP, breep breep.  BREEP BREEP, breep breep.  BREEP BREEP, breep breep.  
The darn thing doesn't stop until someone presses the OK button.  And this has happened before.  Once, the phone was right next to him, and it woke up his brother, but not him, and his poor brother didn't know how to turn it off and was tormented by it for 15 minutes before he came and got me.  (And yes, I suggested that next time he wake up his brother, and not me.)

This time, the phone was in the living room, and neither boy heard it.  But I did, even though I was upstairs.  Disgusted, I threw the warm blankets off, and stormed downstairs in righteous indignation.  What is so important that he needs to set an alarm for this hour?  I picked up the phone and gave the OK button a vigorous, annoyed poke.  And then saw the event that was important enough for him to set an alarm:  Mom's Birthday.

Oh.  OK.  That's worth it.  Except he slept through it.  But it's the thought that counts.  I guess.


We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium this week.  What an amazing place.  My favorites sighting?  The Leafy Sea Dragon!  This creature is, I think, the single most amazing living thing I've ever laid eyes on:

I want to be this guy!

I made the boys super mad at me right before we left the house that morning by telling them they could not bring their ipods.  Call me crazy, but I sort of wanted to have a shared experience, even of the driving time, and wasn't interested in watching them bury their faces in electronic devices and plugging their ears with headphones.  So we had a high grump factor as we began our day.  But then, we listened to the story From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler during the car trip, both directions, and lo and behold, they all loved it.  This is a great story, so I guess I'm offering up a second Recommended Reading (or Listening).

The day was great.  The traffic at the tail end nearly killed me.  I can't wait to go back.


My youngest asked me this week: "Mommy, how does a person come from another person if the person the new person comes from is already in the world?"

Translation: how are babies made?

I think she was confused because we had been talking a few days earlier about how we all come from God.  So she's thinking something like: "Wait.  A baby comes from God?  I thought a baby comes from a mommy.  And a mommy is here, not in Heaven with God.  So what's the deal with that?"

I told her that it's kind of like planting a seed, and that God (!) plants that seed inside a mommy, and then the baby grows from there.  She said:

"I don't get it."

I tried again with basically the same idea.  She said:

"I don't get it!  How does a plant become a person?"

I tried to explain that the seed in question is not a plant seed, that it's a person seed.  She said:

"Whatever.  Can I have some candy?"

Yes, sweet Jesus, yes!

* * *

Please visit the 7 Quick Takes host at Conversion Diary, follow a few links to other Quick Takers, and throw out a comment or two.
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04 November 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 44

I don't care if Monday's blue • Tuesday's grey and Wednesday too • Thursday I don't care about you • It's Friday, I'm in love.

And it's Friday, I'm writing Quick Takes.


Time to say goodbye to our 2011 Birthday Season!  Every Fall, we have 4 kid birthdays in 6 week.  The last one was a few weeks ago, but the party is officially tonight.  I am hosting four little girl guests for a sleepover.  There will be pizza.  There will be face painting.  There will be movie watching.  There will be cake.

There will be a tired mommy at the end.

Hopefully, there will be a happy 7 year old at the end, too.

And thus endeth the AIRY5 2011 birthdays.  If I start planning now, maybe the 2012 birthday season will go a bit more smoothly.


And this great advice letter made the rounds on Facebook this week; I've seen it before (it's been around since 2007), maybe you have too, but certainly, it's worth another read or two or ten.

Thankfully, I have no friends who have ever expressed the ignorance of the letter writer, who basically admits that she doesn't understand what a stay at home mother does all day or why a stay at home mother has less time for other people.  I've never heard someone be so blunt and clueless about the subject before.  So it's not really the in-your-face, take-that quality of Carolyn Hax's response that I enjoy, although that is pretty delightful.  Rather, it's the reminder to me of what I do all day long.  It's easy to forget what we moms are doing here, raising kids and such.  Stay at home dads (HM) too.  Anyway, everyone should read this, especially if you are in the trenches, wiping butts and noses, cleaning messes, doing laundry, negotiating toddler peace deals, and wondering where you put your sense of humor.


Obligatory halloween costume photos.


Andy Samberg, Random Clown, Judy Jetson

Pajama Girl


I ♥ Stephen Colbert.  And Michael Pollan.  And food.  So this video clip?  Is golden.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Michael Pollan
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive


If you live in the Bay Area, and you like nurseries and finding lovely native plants to stick in your garden, there is a little out of the way nursery you really must visit.  Native Here Nursery, which is part of the California Native Plant Society, is a fantastic small nursery located in Tilden Park.  Going to visit is like stepping into another world.  It's quiet and woodsy.  The plants are healthy and inviting.  You'll feel like you stumbled upon a well-kept secret.  And you can combine the trip with a hike in Tilden Park and a visit to the Botanic Gardens.  

You really must go.  


My kitchen, this morning.  Kid X turned around and shouted at Kid Y, for no reason:  "YOU'RE DUMB!"

Five minutes later, Kid Y walks into the living room and whacks Kid X, who responds with incredulity.  

Mom: "Well, if you shout at someone and tell them they are dumb, you should expect them to be unhappy with you.  It's not surprising she would lash out at you."

Kid X: "Oh come on.  That was five whole minutes ago.  And she already hit me for that!"

Oh, well, in that case, it makes no sense whatsoever.  

Sigh.  Kid logic makes me crazy.


And one more little Halloween gem for your enjoyment.  This Shouts and Murmurs column appeared in the Oct. 24th 2011 New Yorker magazine.   I think you will enjoy it.

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Please go visit Conversion Diary, the host of 7 Quick Takes, visit the links of 7 Quick Takers playing along, and through out some comments.

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03 November 2011

Support The Writer's Almanac

I received an email this morning that started out like this:

Dear Friend of The Writer’s Almanac,
We’re writing because we need your help to support The Writer’s Almanac digital content, such as our daily e-mail newsletter, podcasts and extensive audio archive.
You can listen to The Almanac in the time it takes you to drink one cup of coffee or make one sandwich. Its purpose has been to make five minutes beautiful and memorable.

That's all it took.  I clicked through.  I gave some money.  Because The Writer's Almanac does make five minutes of my morning memorable and beautiful.  Not that I get to listen everyday.  In fact, I listen maybe 50% of the time, and 50% of that time, my kitchen is too loud for me to really hear anything.

BUT!  I still love it, and when a little gem of information or poetry breaks through the cacophony, my day is enriched.  If you are so inclined, join me.  Click here and give.

Poetry, history, anecdotes, and Garrison Keillor's lovely, soothing, resonant voice: that's a pretty great way to start the day.

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28 October 2011

7 Quick Takes, Volume 43


The five AIRY5 children are all sick.  That's 5 stuffy noses, 5 sore throats, 5 aching heads.  Time for 5 little shots of whiskey, all for mom to make it through the day!

Since everyone is sick, this will have to be the quickest 7 takes ever.  So for the remaining 6, here are some homeschooling takes I've been thinking about lately:


I highly recommend Draw Write Now for Language Arts for young children.  My girls are all enjoying these activities immensely, and ask to do them even when we aren't "doing" school.  Here are some of our creations:


Reading out loud is magical.  We are currently reading By the Great Horn Spoon, by Sid Fleischman.  Reading out loud makes us slow down and spend time together.  By reading out loud to my kids, I have discovered that my reluctant readers are amazing listeners: their comprehension is outstanding, and I would not have known that without taking the time to read to them.


When I showed the kids on an atlas that in order for gold-seekers to get from Boston to San Francisco, they had to sail all the way down to and around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America, my son said "Why didn't they just cut a channel through THERE???" pointing directly at the spot where the Panama Canal is today.

Great idea kid!


Tuesdays are movie day at our little escuela.  I usually pick a movie that has some (but not oodles) of educational value.  I mostly just look for great stories.    This week, we watched Chariots of Fire.  Last week, it was Maverick.

But this take is about Netflix.  Oh Netflix, WHY is it that 95% of the movies we want to watch are not available via Instant Streaming?    It's making me crazy.  I think of a great movie, we get all excited, and then BAM!  Our hopes are dashed by seeing the dreaded "not available" in the Netflix search results.  Curse you, Netflix!


In a few weeks, we are going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a field trip.  I'm a native Californian and I've never been there.  I might be more excited than the children.  If you've been there, please share a highlight: what should I be sure to see?  What was your favorite part?


My little 5 year old is soaking up the learning.  

Yesterday, I was flipping through Brain Quest cards with her older sister, and we came to this question:  "If you have 12¢, and then you find 4 pennies, how much will you have?"  The 7 year old guessed 14, and when I said "Nope!  Try again!" the little one piped up: "16!"  All 5 of us in the room did a double take.  

She probably memorized it from hearing the same question before, but it was pretty darn funny, I must say.  We all got a big kick out of it, and now, everywhere she goes, she's telling people she meets what 12 + 4 is.

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Visit the original 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary.  Click on a few links.  Throw out a few comments.  Enjoy your Friday.

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25 October 2011


Today we locked wills.
Today, you wanted yeses and all you got were nos.
Today, we both shed tears of frustration for the same reason: not getting what we wanted.

I understand, my sweet.
I see your amazing strength, your goodness, your will to kindness.  I see you.

So no, you are not just a handful, not just a challenge, not just defiant.

You are the light of the world.

And in a darkened living room, at the close of a day that swirled with anxiety, tension, conflict, you, your sleeping sweaty-ness, your warm weight on my lap, are my reward.

One I may not have earned today, but which God in his infinite goodness and mercy, has given me anyway.

Peaceful Little T

I want this to be enough.  I want to be grateful enough and clear-sighted enough to let this beautiful face carry me through the day.  To keep me on the right path, to keep me hopeful, to help me be your light of the world, until you go on to light up other places.

* * *

24 October 2011

I Finally Figured Out This Parenting Thing

On good days, parenting is one of the most amazing, collaborative, relational, life-transforming acts a person can do.

On bad days, parenting is basically one miserable battle between the parent's sanity and the offspring's self-esteem.  Both cannot win.  One goes down in defeat while the other rises from the dust and struggle.

Guess which kind of day I'm having?  I'll give you a hint: the highlight of my day was listening to the phppt! of the Racer 5 cap as it was released from its bottle.

Oh, I've had the other kind of day, too.  Why else would all five of them still be alive?

* * *

23 October 2011

At Least She Knows What She Likes

Today, in the car (of course), Lady E and Little T got into a bit of an argument about who has the better life.  It started with Little T complaining that she never gets to have play dates with friends.  Lady E, to her credit, was merely trying to make Little T feel better by pointing out all the fun things the youngest one gets to do.

"You get to play in the garden!  In your sand castle!  In your pirate ship!  You get to play dress up!  And you get to go visit Emmett (our neighbor)!  And you get to play with Tule (our dog)!"

She went on for awhile.  It was a little too much for Little T, who started getting madder and madder.

Finally, from the backseat, Lady E said: "Mom!  I'm trying to make her feel better and she just said to me: 'Oh, yeah, and here's another thing I like to do: ANNOY YOU!'"

Sighing inwardly, I chided Little T: "Little T, that is not a very nice thing to say.  Your sister is actually trying to make you feel better."

Little T: "Oh yeah, and another thing:  NOT LISTEN TO YOU!"

I have very little chance of ever having an impact on this child.

* * *

22 October 2011

If I Lived in San Francisco...

...which, sadly, I do not, I would vote for John Avalos for Mayor.  San Francisco readers, as you know, election day is on Tuesday, November 8th.  For your benefit, I am sharing the following video produced by Madnomad Films for the Avalos Campaign.

Once upon a time, in what seems like a life time ago, I worked with John, so if he wins, I'll get to say that I personally know the mayor of one of the country's best cities.  So if you live there, vote for him, so I can have the bragging rights.  Plus, San Francisco, my native city, is near and dear to my heart, and I can't have just any ol' yahoo at the helm.  That wouldn't be right.  So again, vote for him, so my city can hold its head high.

What will you get out of it?  A mayor with integrity, vision, humor, humility, and skill.  A rare kind of mayor, one you can trust.

Plus, he's got the cutest kids!

* * *

21 October 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 42

Well, another Friday has arrived.  Honestly, I'm not sure that's a good thing.  It's soccer season, so Friday just means it's my day to cattle prod the kids into getting ready for their games on Saturday.  By the time I close my eyes tonight, I will need to know the precise location of 6 pairs of soccer socks, 7 jerseys, four pairs of shorts, and two sets of team warm-ups.  Not to mention cleats, shin guards, and water bottles.  And since I'm not supposed to be doing things for the kids that they can do themselves (whatever), this Finding of Things will take forever.

Remember when Fridays were actually relaxing?  Yeah, neither do I.

But here's a relaxing thing to do!  Click over to Conversion Diary, our 7 Quick Takes host; click a few more times to peruse some of the other bloggers who are Quick Taking today, and by gosh -- leave a comment.  Comments are good.

And now...my takes.


I have been watching Little T "skip" for months now.  Except she hasn't actually been skipping, just doing some weird little shuffle and saying: "Mommy, watch me skip!"

So yesterday, I decided it was time to teach her to do the real thing.  Hand in hand, we mastered the art of the step-hop, step-hop, and then skipped around Sutter's Fort in Sacramento with her two sisters and a fun friend.  And you know what?  I remembered how much fun skipping is.  It's almost like flying, like dancing and flying, and it's very hard not to smile while you are doing it.

And then, today's Writer's Almanac featured the poem Skipping, by Robert Morgan.  I do not have permission to reprint it here, but Garrison Keillor does, so click over to WA's site to read it.  Discovering that poem in my inbox the day after my first skipping in many years and Little T's first true skipping ever was...serendipitous.  Enjoy the poem!


I wish my kids were more interested in the Greek and Roman roots of English words.  I know, that sounds geeky.  But I can't help it...I wish I could entice them to play around with words and figure out how they fit together like puzzles.

Not gonna happen.


Halloween is looming.  I am not a fan of this particular holiday.  Too much work for very little pay-off.  In fact, I'm not sure these kids really are turning over all the Snickers they haul home, and even if they are, it just doesn't compensate for the headache that is costuming five children and riding the wave and crash of five sugar highs.  But it's coming.  So I'm preparing.  This year, we are outfitting the following costumes:

  • Andy Samberg;
  • Funky Clown (nearly done...just need a rainbow wig);
  • Jane Jetson (help!);
  • Crazy Pajama Girl (easy peasy!);
  • and Darth Vader.  For Little T, of course.

Wake me up on All Saints Day, please.


And speaking of getting Halloweeny, if you need an easy craft idea, do what I did: go visit Secret Agent Josephine!  Click over there to see what inspired me to do this little activity with my girls yesterday while my boys were at math tutoring:

I don't have any good pictures of them in completed form...but Secret Agent Josephine has some great ones, so do click that link up above.


6 Flags Discovery Kingdom is having this dealy-bop where K-6th grade students can earn a free park ticket if they do extra, non-school related reading.   Nice, right?  I've got a reluctant reader who salivates every time we drive by that place, so this sounded perfect to me.  And that's despite the fact that I detest amusement parks and will have to be either sedated or armed with a flask to spend an entire day at one.

But get this.  The requirements?  Read for 6 hours.  6 itty-bitty, eensy weensy hours.  Between now and March 2012.

SERIOUSLY?  I'm all for achievable goals, but 6 hours of reading in 6 months?  Really?  Do we really need to aim that low?  If I'm going to spend a day at a place like 6 Flags, I'd kind of like the kids to earn that free ticket with something a tad more substantial.  Ya' think they'll hate me when I tell them I'm upping it just for them?

Yeah, I think so too.


So homeschooling has been a little bumpy this year.  But we had a good week, so yesterday evening, I asked my son if he had had a good day, a good week.  He said yes, and then we had a brief conversation about how homeschooling is maybe not such a bad thing.  I thought that was the end of it.

But later that night, just as the house was settling into sleep, he came back to me and said: "Mom, you know what else I like better about homeschooling?"

Ah, I thought, it's happening!  The positive side is sinking in!  The magic is taking hold!
We don't have to eat those deli sandwiches you used to buy for our school lunches.  I hated those things.  They were gross.
Reality check, mom.


Raising chickens is popular around here.  I have a few friends who keep chickens in their backyards, and so I've been lucky enough to learn the difference between a store bought egg and a farm fresh one. Much like garden tomatoes and their store-bought bland counterpart, farm fresh eggs make you feel like you are eating eggs as God intended.  They are that good.

I am quite happy that other people are following this trend and that occasionally I get to reap some of the benefits.  I have sometimes felt tugged towards chicken-keeping myself, but I snap out of it quickly when I realize that the last thing I need is more little lives to keep track of.  I couldn't even manage zucchini this year, and zucchinis don't have mouths.

So the eggs are one benefit.  The other is watching chicks grow.  We stopped at a friends the other day and my girls got to spend some time with the chicks.

If you have chance to visit a farm and hold a baby chick, do it.  It's fun for all!  And if you haven't tasted a farm fresh egg, then I have news for you: you don't really know what an egg tastes like.  Thanks Kelli for the peek into urban homesteading!

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20 October 2011


We've been field tripping all over the place.  Trippin' with Little T is quite an experience.  While getting ready for one of our trips this week, I stood in the shower and listened to Little T pound all over the house yelling "I'm not ready to go yet!  I'm not ready to go yet!"

Later, in the car, watching all the people stuck in our hideous Bay Area traffic, I remarked on the awesomeness of the carpool lane.  And as we zipped past all those barely moving cars, my sweet five year old pointed at them and said: "Yeah, SUCK-AHS!"


Anyway, our trips this month: We went to the John Muir Historical Site, and learned about one of the greatest hippies who ever lived.  He had a "scribble den" in his big beautiful house.  I want a scribble den.    A photo from the trip:

We went to the California Academy of Sciences, a place that rocks.  And that has lots of cool rocks, too.  A video of that trip:

There are a surprising amount of fish in the Academy: everywhere you go, there is a fish habitat, or a huge tank, or some way to see fish behind glass.  Later, on our way to a soccer field, Little T said:
This is wi-wee weird, mommy.  I feel kind of like a swimming fish right now.  Because we saw all those fish through glass today, and now we are sitting here with the car windows around us, and I feel like I'm a fish behind glass.  This is wi-wee weird, mommy.
See? Trippin' with Little T.

We went to Sutter's Fort State Historic Park, and learned a little about life right before and during the Gold Rush.  We learned, for example, that if you had strep throat in the 1840s , the doctor at the Fort would stick a glass tube down your throat, with an opening at the bottom just big enough for the mouth (but not the body) of a leech to fit through, thus allowing the leech to feast upon the swollen tissue of your throat, thereby removing the bacteria from your body.  I think the "thus" and "thereby" in the previous sentence do a nice job of balancing the disgusting subject matter.

We also went to the State Capitol building and took a very informative tour; the highlight for me was seeing the State Assembly Gallery, where Assemblymembers cast their votes and make the laws that govern our lives.  Very cool.  Some more photos:

The awesome dome.

Jerry Brown, our state's youngest (from 1975-1983) and
oldest (currently!) Governor, and his super funky portrait.

Where the Assembly debates and votes!

I am all field tripped out.  Must rest up before we go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium next month.

17 October 2011

Monday Morning Pop Quiz

In order to get your intellectual and creative juices flowing for the coming week, I've come up with a little quiz.

As the last few posts have shown, teenager-ness is dominating my life right now.  I'm sure (I hope) that by the time my 3rd, 4th, and 5th kids are teenagers, I will be a pro at this, but for now, everything is new and challenging.  I'm definitely still getting my Teenager Legs.  I'm almost at the point where I don't need to run to the starboard side and vomit over the railing every time there is an upheaval.  Almost.

Anyway, I've got Teenager-ness on the brain.  Thus, this quiz.

(1) Finish the following sentence:  "Trying to get a teenager to help with the weekend yard work is like ___________________."  (Bonus points if you include "with a helpful attitude" after the phrase "weekend yard work."

(2) Scenario: Your teen has an evening guitar recital for which he is less than prepared, and he has expressed to you that he really needs to practice because he can't get through his song without mistakes.  He is spending the entire afternoon hiding in his room, playing video games on his iPod Touch rather than practicing.  You should handle this situation by doing which of the following:

(a) Stuff a sock in your mouth to keep yourself from reminding him one more time to practice.  Stifle the urge -- at great cost to your equilibrium -- to obsess over how he is going to feel if he falls apart during the perfomance.  Ignore the rising anxiety and agitation you are feeling until you explode.
(b) Serenely remind yourself that it's his gig, and his responsibility, and that whatever happens will be just fine and wonderful, either a great performance or a learning experience.  It's all good.  Go pick tomatoes while he click-clicks the afternoon away.
(c) Give in.  Remind him.  Scold him.  Badger him. Yell, if need be.  Make the little ingrate practice.

(3) Which of these actions produces the least desirable result:
(a) poking a bear.
(b) waking a teenager.
(c) smashing your car into a telephone poll.

Write your answers on the back of a gift certificate for a full-service afternoon at the Claremont Hotel Spa and send it to me asap.  (Yes, I did take that from the Car Talk guys...although they don't aim high enough...)

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15 October 2011

Takes 8, 9 and 10

Yesterday, after posting 7 things I've learned since welcoming my first teenager, I thought of three more!  So, here they are.


I have learned that when lecturing your teenager on the importance of self-control, it's a good idea to maintain a little yourself.  A tirade about self-control that includes none whatsoever is not effective and worse, makes you look ridiculous.  And a teenager needs no help seeing his parents as ridiculous, so it's best not to give him any fact-based evidence to support that view.

My kids love the story their dad tells them about his Pop Warner football coach, who would come unglued at some player's mis-step, and then scream like a wild animal, with eyes bulging and arms flailing: "COMPOSURE!  COMPOSURE!  KEEP YOUR COMPOSURE!"

I'm learning just how much I do not want to be that coach.  Oh, and also how hard that is.


I have learned to love the electronics that my kids obsess over so much.  Oh, I still hate the 24-7 access they potentially have to pop culture, YouTube, Snoop Dog, questionable Facebook friends, stupid video games, shopping, and mind-numbing Disney sitcoms.

But I love, cherish, adore the well-placed threat of taking away the almighty iPod Touch if I don't get the behavior I want.  It's magical, what a teenager will do when faced with the prospect of not being able to play his FIFA Soccer 2012 game, or not being able to take a silly picture of his dog, Obama-ize it, and make it his FB profile picture.

Oh, iPod Touch, I am learning to see you as a partner in this adventure called Parenting a Teenager!


I have learned what a hormone tidal wave-induced melt down looks like from the outside.  Very informative!

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14 October 2011

7 Quick Takes, Volume 41: The OMG I HAVE A TEENAGER Edition

It's official.  I have a teenager.  Life has fundamentally shifted.  I am still getting my bearings.  Here are 7 things I've learned so far:


Do.  Not.  Under any circumstances.  Attempt to fight every battle.  There are just too damn many.  You'll tire yourself out and the enemy will win.  Actually, both of you will lose, because no one wins when everyone is yelling.


It's true: teenagers live inside a bubble of self-absorption that is nearly impossible to burst.  It would be impressive to behold if watching it didn't feel like an all over body itch on the inside of my skin.


My teenager really does believe, with all his heart, that I am daft.  Nerdy, daft, pitiable, and so, so clueless.  I do not need to take this personally. I just need to wait a few years, until I suddenly become brilliant again.  (Of course, given that he has four youngsters beneath him charging inevitably towards the Teenage Years themselves, I actually have something like 13 years before none of my offspring think I'm an idiot.)


All those years I spent thinking I had plenty of time to put clearer boundaries in place, to hone my skills at being consistent and holding the line with detachment and calm?  Poof!  Gone!  Time to step up and show everyone (really, just my kids) what I can do.

It's like every day that has passed since now has been practice.  I got up everyday, I sweat a little, I tried new strategies...

Now, it's game time.  Now is my chance to use all those years of training in the Big Game, with everything on the line.  No more practice drills or simulated game situations: this is the real deal.  Here's hoping all those crunches and sprints did the trick!


I have also learned that I am a micro-manager.  And being the micro-manager of a teenager is just a recipe for frustration and insanity.  So I am hopefully also learning the art of letting go, of letting the kid make mistakes and letting the chips fall where they may.  And OK, but this is ridiculously hard.

Case in point: Do I hover over him while he is "washing" the dishes so that I can point out, every so helpfully, that while the top of that dish is basically clean the bottom is covered in grease and therefore cannot actually be placed in the dish drainer just yet?  Do I stop him after every dish that needs to be re-washed?  Or do I just let him know that anything not clean will have to be re-done, and then walk away like a Zen Maiden?  Let him sink or swim on his own?

If I stand there and micromanage, he usually goes from calm to MY MOTHER IS DRIVING ME CRAZY in 0.5 seconds and the whole thing becomes a soul-killing power struggle.  If I do the detached thing, I end up with more work.  It takes time to track him down, disentangle him from his headphones, and cajole him back to the sink. It's hard enough to get him there once, let alone to make him re-do the job hours later.  

Last night at dinner time, I pulled five plates out of my cabinet that were greasy, gritty, and grimy.  I was displeased.  He was not home.  I could not make him re-do them at that moment, and I didn't want them on my counter top.  I washed them.  I suck.  In Big Game parlance, I gave the ball away to the other team.


Teenagers don't like it when you stare wistfully at them.  The day my son turned 13, I realized that this birthday was a huge milestone for both of us.  The previous 13 years had passed in the blink of an eye. From the day he was born, he has been growing up and away from us, but now that movement to somewhere else will be the central theme of his life.  It's what we are charged with helping him to do, now more than ever.  So that day, I wanted to grab him and stuff him back down to toddler size, so I could have him for longer and so I could go back and do everything better.  In lieu of that, I just wanted to look at him.  I found myself fighting the urge to gaze at him in the exact same way I had 13 years ago, when he was an uncommonly alert infant, gazing back at me with calm intensity.  

We stare at our babies, don't we?  We spend hours just looking, wondering who they are, who they will be.  We stare in awe at their beauty, their perfection and their potential.  We are humbled by their presence and the awesome responsibility they confer upon us.  We are filled with a love so powerful and unexpected that we can't express it in words, we can just feel it, let it wash over us, and hope we rise to the level of deserving it.

The day my son turned 13, I felt all those instincts more powerfully than I have in years.  And I just wanted to look at him.  I wanted to stare, the way I would at an awesome mountain range or a powerful waterfall.

But that would have just freaked him out, so I had to content myself with sneaking quick glances and acting all cool and collected.  Freaking out your teenager is a no-no.


And the number one thing I've learned from having a teenager is the same lesson I've been trying to learn since I became a mom:  Be hopeful.  Be curious.  Be detached.  Be strong.  And find your sense of humor because there is nothing you need more than laughter when raising children.

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Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes and please visit the links to other people participating this week.  And comment!  Comments are like candy to us bloggers!  We love them!  :)

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10/15/11 Update: I thought of three more!  And posted them here.

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06 October 2011

A Family Scene

The scene: a minivan in middle America.  And by middle, I really mean on the edge of the country, one earthquake away from beachfront property.

The cast: Mom, Girl #1 (6 years old), Girl #2 (9 years old), and Girl #3 (5 years old.  Doesn't really figure into the story.  Spends the entire scene sucking her thumb.)

Backstory: It's been a long, grumpy day for everyone.  Lots of whining, shrieking, complaining, and yelling.  The kids haven't been all that great either.


Mom looks in her rearview mirror and sees surly Girl #1 slumping down in her booster seat, definitely not taking advantage of the safety benefits of said booster.

Mom:  "Girl #1!  Sit up straight!"

Girl #1: "No!  I don't want to!  Why should I?"

Mom: "Because it's not safe to sit like that."

Girl #2: "Yeah, you might get hurt if mom smashes into the car in front of us."

Mom: "Sit up!"

Mom sighs deeply and lets her mind wander to a distant, tropical island and a cabana boy or two.  Or three.

Girl #1: "ARGH!  I don't want to!  I don't want anyone to see me!  I don't want anyone to know I'm part of this crazy family!"

Girl #2: "Don't say that."

Girl #1: "I don't want anyone to see me in this crazy car with this crazy family!"

Girl #2:  "Girl #1, no one can tell we are crazy just by looking into our car."

Mom can't decide whether to laugh or cry.


04 October 2011

Not Sure What This Is

We do lots of stuff around here.

We make homemade pasta with friends.

We make cornbread.

We sport some lovely aprons in the process.

We do puzzles.

We write the most adorable stories about girls and dogs and flowers and suns and rainbows.

We weave beads.

Sounds fun, right?  We also watch great movies, do a little Kahn Academy, juggle soccer balls, make an insane amount of art, and read lotsa books.  We are almost finished with our current out loud book, The Thief Lord.

I'm not sure if we ever really do any science.  Or history.  Although, we do watch movies that could be classified as history.  And come to think of it, we did a pretty cool little project about bones, joints, and the skeleton.

The kids and I are getting ready for our first monthly meeting with our "Educational Consultant" at which the kids will need to hand in their monthly work samples in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies.  So it's my monthly round of a little mind game I like to call "Oh My God What Are We Doing I Suck At Homeschooling and My Children Will Be Criminals."

Because we do a lot of stuff...but I don't know what to call it.  And I'm pretty well aware of the stuff we don't do.  Most of the time, I'm fine with that.  But once a month, I have to reconcile the two, the What We Do and the What We Are Supposed To Be Doing.

It's time for the Homeschool Jive!  Join in if you know the steps...

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03 October 2011

12 hours later...

...and I'm nearly dead.

I made the dinner.  I do not have the energy, will, or desire to actually serve it.

Chili, corn bread, and salad, all ready to go, and whaddya wanna bet some of these people still starve, due to my recent announcement that if they want to eat, they need to serve themselves?

The angels have quieted considerably since the glorious chorus that attended my morning.

I'm going for day #2, anyway.

* * *

Ya' Hear That? Yup. It's Angels.

I did it!  I did it!  I got up before my family and did my morning routine!

Wait -- does one morning make a routine?

Doesn't matter.  I don't care.  I did it.

And it was, and is, glorious.  I'm sitting here sipping my 2nd cup of joe, having been awake for 2.5 hours and I haven't had to interact with a single solitary soul.  Which is a very good thing for my single, solitary soul.

So here's what I did.

I woke up around 4:50 and struggled to keep my eyes open for 15 or 20 minutes.  Then I stalled a little by playing scrabble on my iPhone.  Finally, I got up and started workin' my list.  I folded laundry, put it all away, rode the exercise bike for 20 minutes while listening to NPR (total NPR geek here), ate breakfast (Fruit Loops*. Can you believe that?  And a banana.  And water and coffee.), quick cleaned my bathroom, took a shower during which no one knocked on the door, prayed pretty much the entire time (please God, let this getting up early thing not be a huge freakin' waste of time), and now, I am happily blogging away in a still quiet house.

I think I hear angels singing somewhere.  That's how awesome this is.

Mentally, the whole process was a little easier since we only had four people sleeping under our roof last night.  Our three olders got to go to Sonoma yesterday (although not to Seth Rogan's wedding) to see this show with Grandma, and then to have dinner here, and then to spend the night.  Grandma is bringing them all back home around 1pm.

More angels singing.

I like angels!  Why didn't I do this ages ago?

* * *

*My kids get to pick a sugary cereal on their birthdays, and my son's birthday was Saturday.  They are always so excited about this little perk, but then since they aren't used to it, the cereals are always too sweet for them.  How else would one box of fruit loops last three days in a house of 7 people?  Back to Kashi for us.

02 October 2011

Ridiculous, But I'm Going For It Anyway

My whole nutty life could be summed up in one phrase: Attempting the impossible.

I'm certainly not the only one for whom this is true.  But I put it out there because really, I spend precious minutes being utterly flabbergasted by the truth: I can't do all of the things I am being asked to do, and I can't figure out what to delete from the list.

Take, for example, my morning routine.  My morning wish routine, as in, I wish it was my routine.

A few months ago, I decided that I needed to give myself a morning routine that would prepare me well for the day.  You know, as opposed to dragging myself out of bed at the same time as the kids and needing to hit the ground running over gritty floors in bare feet and then not stopping the running until hitting my pillow many, many hours later.

So a few months ago, I came up with my dream morning.  It goes like this:

  • Get up around 5am.
  • Ride the exercise bicycle OR walk the dog: 25-30 minutes
  • Pray: 15 minutes
  • Shower: 20 minutes
  • Fold and put away 1 load of laundry: 10 minutes
  • Quick clean the bathroom: 5 minutes
  • Eat breakfast: 20 minutes
  • Write: 30 minutes

That adds up to around 2-2.5 hours of stuff to do before starting the job of momming people and teaching people.

Crazy, right?  Who does that, beside fictional characters and people with OCD?

Well, not me.  For the past few months, it's been my plan to make this routine part of my daily life.  And I haven't done it once.  Not once.  I do bits and pieces of it, jamming this or that into spare corners that pop up in my day.  I realized the other day that I actually told someone that I clean my bathroom every day.  I didn't mean to lie, I just forgot that no, I don't actually clean my bathroom every day, I plan to clean my bathroom every day.  (We've just got the one bathroom, for all 7 of us, and making cleaning it a daily thing -- which at one point I was doing successfully -- saves me from that livin' in a frat house feelin'.)

So I haven't actually ever done that routine.  But I keep writing it down on my daily to-do list, keep saying it's a good idea, keep hoping that magically, someday, I will begin.

I know it's a crazy list and I know that reasonable people will tell me to throw that plan out the window and come up with a simpler one.  But the thing is, those things all need to get done.  And the earlier in the day, the better.  And without ball, ball, chain, ball and chain around to weigh me down.  It's not easy, it's not pleasant, it's a little like climbing Everest without an oxygen tank, but it all needs to get done. I just have to face it: raising 5 kids isn't for wimps, and neither is that list.

So here it is, blog peeps.  It's new month, and I'm giving it a try.  Again.  I need to realign my relationship with my life and start doing things I know (or think) will be good for me.

What's the worst thing that could happen?   I could try it out for a week or two and decide that it really was a ridiculous plan that doesn't make a difference and doesn't make me feel better about anything at all...and then I can stop.  But untested, that Morning Routine is simply mocking me, taunting me, blowing raspberries at my head.

So let's give it a whirl, shall we?  And with that, I must go to bed, because as you can see from the above list, I must get up very early.

* * *

30 September 2011

7 Quick Takes, Volume 40: The Twittery Edition

Quick!  Read these quick takes.  And quick! Go visit the Mother Ship and check out Quick Takes from whence all others spring.  And quick! Click on some of the links to other bloggers playing along.  And quick! Have a great Friday!


I avoid Twitter.  I need another distraction like I need another hole to pour food into 3x a day.  But I’m curious, so I’m experimenting.


Today is my last day in a Teenager Free Zone.  Tomorrow, I will have a teenager.  Tomorrow, you all need to start praying very hard.

Michelle Norris, do you talk to your kids in that soothing, velvety voice?  Can you teach me how?  Guttural barks aren’t working so well.

Homeschooling is a ridiculous proposition, true.  But so is having kids.  And getting married.  And getting out of bed in the morning.  So there.


Answer the questions you are asked.  If your daughter asks how to make a drink “on the rocks,” tell her straight up, no chaser.


Answer all the questions you are asked.  If your son asks if it ruins a soldier’s life to kill someone in a war, fumble through it.


Hardest thing about being a mom? Remembering that I’m supposed to be the calm, detached one. Not letting tantrums de-compose me.  Breathing.

* * *

Wow.  Twitter is a lot like Haiku.  Who knew?  OK, like millions of other people before me, I guess.

* * *

You Say Tomato

I say Boo-Yah!

If you plant tomatoes in April and completely ignore them for 5 months, you might get lucky and still come up with a few!

We haven't picked much from our sadly, reprehensibly neglected garden this year, but today Little T harvested strawberries, peppers, tomatoes and the last of our green beans.  And giggles and delight.

Giggle seeds.  Plant 'em.

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