31 January 2011


We bought another fire-bellied toad today. (We've sort of lost a couple in the past...but we've reformed our weak terrarium-covering ways and that won't be happening anymore.) Anyway, this isn't about the toad, whose name, for now, is Bob. This is about fuel.

On the way to the East Bay Vivarium, I noticed I was perilously close to running out of gas. Cenzo asked me what happens to the gas to make it go away. I sort of stumbled through an answer until I hit upon an analogy I knew he would relate to. He loves to make fires in our outdoor firepit, so I told him it's like adding wood to a fire; eventually, you need to add more fuel to the fire because it burns up. The same thing happens with car fuel; the engine burns it up.

To sum up, I said: "So it's fuel. Just like you have to add more wood to a fire, you have to add more gasoline to a car."

And my cute little 8 year old carnivore piped up: "Just like you have to add more steak to my plate!" She's consistent!

* * *

Shhhhhhh! Don't look now, but I'm home alone. Two kids are at the park with the dog (sweet Jesus, they are finally old enough to do this on their own); two kids are next door bugging the neighbor; one kid is at a soccer field with dad having some one-on-one time. I cannot plan for these moments; they drop like manna from heaven. I estimate I have exactly 2.34 minutes of peace and quiet. I'm pouring a glass of wine with one hand and typing with the other. Score!

* * *

Sad and Wrong on So Many Levels

We are a great and powerful country.

We have a grand and proud history.

We stand for human dignity.

We stand for freedom.

Apparently, that freedom includes the freedom to do really, insanely stupid things in the name of capitalism. Exhibit A:

Further evidence that maybe we should all adopt the following motto: Just because you can do it doesn't mean it's a good idea.

I'm sorry I stumbled on this because now I can't get back that 60 seconds of my life; I thought I'd share with you all so I wouldn't have to suffer alone.

* * *

30 January 2011


image credit: sarmonster.net

It occurred to me today, while responding to at least three interruptions while I was taking a shower in a locked bathroom, that parenting five children is a lot like playing Whack-a-mole. I am required to be ever vigilant, watching for little heads to pop and need something. Instead of whacking them (don't tempt me), I must quickly discern what the situation requires and deliver it promptly, leaving me free to respond to the next popping head.

Put your head down on a pillow? A head pops, needing a band-aid or a barf bucket. Sit down to Facebook? A head pops, needing a time-out or a missing sock. Attempt a conversation with another adult? A head pops, needing to process hurt feelings or exhibiting signs of developmental upheaval by shrieking at regular intervals. Try to watch something on TV or read a book in peace? Two heads pop, requiring you to step in as referee, which will inevitably end with one of the heads thinking you are evil and mean and accusing you of withholding your love and affection.

The best you can hope for is a positive ratio of non-popping heads to popping ones. Or you can hope that someone steals the mallet and whacks you into blessed unconsciousness.

* * *

Lessons from Egypt

I sat down with my kids to watch the news from Egypt this week. Yes, even the little ones. I wanted them to see people demonstrating for freedom and standing up for what they believe. The experience has led to some interesting conversations.

First, shortly after I told them how the Egyptian people are tired of a leader who treats them unfairly and doesn't let them have their freedom, it was time for our evening chores. The 10 year old announced: "Mom, I'm fighting for my freedom! I am not going to do my chore!" So...I am Mubarek in this scenario? Civics are more complicated and nuanced than I thought.

Second, one of the kids asked me this question: "Mom, if you lived in Egypt, would you be out there in the streets doing what all those people are doing?" I told them that I would. I said it was important to stand up for yourself, for human rights like freedom and dignity, for something you believe in. Then I thought about them: where would these kids be while I was out there in the streets with a fist in the air? At the same time, Lola asked: "Would you take us with you?" No way, I told them. This made me think of the mothers of Egypt. And all of the women in Egypt who are so absent from the pictures we are seeing on TV and the internet. I told the kids that I would have to see if I could demonstrate while also keeping my children safe, and also that I would have to consider the possibility of something bad happening to me. "That would be bad for you guys, so I might choose to stay with you, rather than risking being injured or killed. So I guess the real answer is, I don't know. But I do know that I would want to be there, and that I would support the demonstrators and teach my children to do the same."

Third, I asked them if they noticed anything about the crowds. "They're all angry?" Vincenzo offered. "There are a lot of them?" suggested Lola. They didn't notice the absence of women, as I had hoped they would. So I pointed out to them how few women were present. Lola said: "That's because they're all at home taking care of their kids!" Little as I know about Egypt, I picked my way through a general explanation of how the country is 90% Muslim and that in many Muslim countries, women cannot be as involved in public life as they are here and other places. So yes, some are home taking care of children, deciding that's a better place for them to be. But not all Egyptian women have children, and even among those who do, there are certainly many who would like to participate in the movement happening around them. They can't, because of the culture they live in. Lola: "That's just wrong." Yes, it is, my dear.

Fourth, my son made an Egypt scene out of legos, complete with army tanks. The scene is playing out on our coffee table as I type. I think this means he is a tactile learner.

I am surprised at how much I do not know about Egypt and the other countries experiencing upheaval this week. I have much to learn. My kids and I will learn together.

* * *

28 January 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 26: The Feel Better Edition

Friday. Deep fry day? French fry day? Small fry day? Fish fry day? Bats in the bell-fry day? Makes no difference to me, I'll take Friday any way I can get it.

Welcome to 7 Quick Takes Friday. This edition is short and simple, due to the fact that I am tending to little vomiters and cannot ignore my kids with my usual gusto. So today, I bring you a list of 7 things that make me feel better when I am overwhelmed or feeling like too much is going on around me. I will be doing all of these things today, which will hopefully carry me straight on through to bedtime.

~ 1 ~

Running my washer and dryer. Something about the sound of those machines humming along in my garage makes me feel efficient and capable. Go figure.

~ 2 ~

Straightening my couch cushions and pillows, and folding blankets. A tangible, immediately gratifying way to make order out of chaos.

~ 3 ~

Setting the timer for 10 minutes and putting things away. I'm always surprised by what a difference I can make in just 10 minutes. It's doable, simple, and satisfying.

~ 4 ~

Sitting down with a tall drink of water. Just sitting and drinking. Nothing productive, unless you count taking good care of yourself as productive. Which I suppose I do.

~ 5 ~

Listening to NPR. (For today, I'll add pledging to my local station to the list: why don't you do the same?) NPR is my lifeline to the world. Listening inspires me. Too bad Peter Sagal keeps ignoring me, but I find myself devoted nonetheless.

~ 6 ~

Reading. Pretty self-explanatory.

~ 7 ~

Saying a prayer or two. Or twenty. To be honest, my prayers run along the desperate cry for help lines, rather than meditative and peaceful lines. More God help me make sense of this chaos and help me through the next 5 minutes and less walking beside peaceful waters. There will, I trust, be time for that kind of prayer. Right now, surviving the years of young children necessitates the short bursts of intense prayer that remind me that I am loved, I am able to love others, and that like the lilies of the field, I need not worry. Twenty times a day.

* * *

Feel better? I do.

* * *

Please visit the original, and check out other Quick Takers.

27 January 2011


While waiting at a stop light today, I saw the following phrase on the back of the truck in front of me:

"If you can read this, your to close."

The lettering had been professionally painted, in fancy cursive script, and then outlined in a contrasting color. It was quite pretty, and clearly a certain amount of painstaking hard work went into the effort. Too bad no one threw any of that care and attention in the direction of a grammarian.

I wish I had been too far away to read it; instead, I sat at that light for what seemed like an eternity, staring at not one but two grammar offenses, waiting for red to turn green, so I could be on my way.

Grammar errors bug the crap out of me. Maybe it's obsessive or cynical or just plain weird, but bad grammar – public bad grammar – confirms my worst fears that our culture is dying a slow, painful, pathetic death.

You'd think I wouldn't have time to care about such things. Unfortunately for me, apparently I do.

* * *

What's your pet peeve?

* * *

26 January 2011

A Hormones Classic

Four more days in my cycle to go, I wanna be sequestered
Nothin' I can do nowhere I can go, I wanna be sequestered
Just get me a hot pad, put me in my bed
Hurry hurry hurry 'fore I whack you in the head
I can't control my hormones so I'll let them rage instead
Oh no no no no no

Three more days in my cycle to go, I wanna be sequestered
Nothin' I can do nowhere I can go, I wanna be sequestered
Just get me some Motrin, stay out of my way
Hurry hurry hurry 'fore I regret what I say
I can't control my temper, I scream and yell all day
Oh no no no no no

Two more days in my cycle to go, I wanna be sequestered
Nothin' I can do nowhere I can go, I wanna be sequestered
Just give me peace and quiet, shut your damn pie hole
Hurry hurry hurry before I go loco
I can't control the bloating I can't control the flow
Oh no no no no no

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go, I wanna be sequestered
Nothin' I can do nowhere I can go, I wanna be sequestered
Just put me in a red tent and throw away the key
Hurry hurry hurry before Linda Blair is me
I can't control the crazy so I think I'll let it be.
Oh no oh oh oh oh

Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sequestered
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sequestered
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sequestered
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sequestered

* * *

25 January 2011

You know you have a big family when...

...you are at a cafe all by yourself, and you grab a stack of napkins a foot high to use while you sip your tea and eat your red velvet cupcake.

* * *

Barrier Schmarrier

Apparently, my kids have decided that today's homeschooling lesson will be to play with the sound barrier and see if they can break it. I think they're damn close.

* * *

Daybook, 25 January 2011

Outside my window....bright, cold, sunny, gorgeous, with a side of police car siren thrown in.

I am thinking...that I'm never going to survive my to do list.

I am thankful for...friends with good advice about not trying to survive my to do list. Do what's right in front of me, right D'bee?

From the kitchen...chocolate chip zucchini bread.

I am wearing...green v-neck t-shirt, black work out pants.

I am creating...my own personal chaos theory!

I am going....to beat someone with my to do list after I roll it up into a baton.

I am reading...the situation, which is telling me I have no time to read my current book, which is (if memory serves) Diary of a Country Priest.

I am hoping...for 26 hours a day in an 8 day week.

I am hearing...my daughter singing "Lean on Me."

Around the house...two new sets of bunk beds are in boxes in the living room, waiting to be put together.

One of my favorite things...listening to my daughter sing. Offkey.

A few plans for the rest of the week: survive the to do list, accomplish the impossible, keep breathing, don't forget to eat. Shepherd the children through the day without damaging them too much.

And a picture:

Thanks Nicole for Daybook inspiration; play along at the simple woman's daybook.

24 January 2011

Late Night with Lady E

Daddy, can I have some of your blue painters tape so I can put it over my mouth? Because I want to go to sleep, but I'm all like "chat chat."
-- Lady E

* * *

Little T and the Cherry Pit

Little T is something of a force of nature, as documented here, here, and here. And a few more places I am sure.

So I was surprised the other day to come upon her in a puddle of tears, shaking and crying from fear. She was super freaked.

What's wrong, Little T?

Imagine a squeaky little miserable cartoon voice, with indistinct R and L sounds, attempting to speak between chokes, gasps, and sobs: "I was twy-in ... to eat dis che-wy ... and accidenta-wii ... da pit got down inside me ... I swa-whoa'd it, and it's in deh-w and I can't get it out!"

All of this was relayed to me with big, fat tears streaming down her panic-stricken widdle face.

So I gathered her up and reassured her that, while we do indeed tell her not to eat the pits, one widdle pit will not hurt her, and she is going to be just fine. (Note to self: ease up on the doom and destruction pit-eating warnings. Apparently, they left an out-sized impression. Interesting that the DO NOT LAUNCH YOURSELF OFF OF THE DRESSER OR YOU WILL CRACK YOU HEAD WIDE OPEN warning goes unheeded.)

And still the tears continued. Still with the panic. Wow, I thought. She has a tender, vulnerable side! Who knew?

Finally, after several minutes, the really worry was revealed. "But mommy (gasp, sob, choke)...how awe you gonna get it out?" Can you imagine what sort of tortuous procedures she was fearing?

We had great fun discussing how such things are voided from the body. I wish I had a camera to capture the look on her face when I explained that it would come right on out with her poop. That bit of knowledge dried her tears immediately.

* * *

22 January 2011

Can You Tell? You Can Tell, Can't You

When I re-read posts I've written about homeschooling, I am painfully aware that they fairly scream WE ARE NEW AT THIS AND WE (i) FEEL THE NEED TO DISCUSS OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS MORE THAN MIGHT BE SEEMLY OR NECESSARY.

I read other blogs, written by homeschoolers, that are not quite so...obviously newbie.

Oh well. Someday, I'll be a veteran.

* * *

Sometimes, We Learn What We Need to Learn

Yesterday was a particularly awesome day of being a homeschooling family. I was so high on the day's awesomeness, that by 1:30pm, I had pronounced the day a screaming success. Rick, in a very Glass Is Half Empty And Probably Has A Crack In It fashion, kindly reminded me that there was plenty of daytime left for things to go haywire. I countered that no matter what happened next, this day was already in the books as awesome, end of story.

So why was it a Pinnacle of Awesomeness?

This was a day where I had just enough ideas for things for the kids to do: not too many and not too few, and no expectations about what they would do with my suggestions.

I had a couple non-negotiables. Chores. Reading. And for my oldest, who would play Wii all day long if I let him, I actually made a list of things I wanted him to do. One of those was that I wanted him to look at an Anatomy website I have heard about. Getting savvy, instead of telling him I wanted him to learn something, I told him I needed him to check it out and tell me if it was any good. Brilliant. He spent about 20 minutes on this site, with his brother, and they both grossed out over muscles, bones, and bodies in general. Afterwards, Sam told me: "That site was totally gross." I mentioned, casually, "So, not a good one then? You might not want to use it anymore." "I didn't say that! I totally want to use it more!" Score.

Anyway, the kids did a handful of other cool things: the girls drew pictures of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. They all read their books. Sam practiced guitar. Lady E played a typing game. Lola built a hut out of popsicle sticks. The boys watched the Math Doodling videos I wrote about yesterday, during which, my suspicious and reluctant 10 year-old kept up a running commentary about how stupid they were the entire first time through them. I say "first time," because lo and behold, he wanted to go back to them twice more during the day, and try his hand at recreating the math doodles. Score again. I totally knew he would dig it. He loved it. He told me that he didn't think the site was teaching him any math, which is evidence to me of the skewed attitude towards learning and education we have all gotten used to. I told him I didn't suggest that they watch those videos in order to learn math, but because I thought he'd like the doodles. So there. Someday, somewhere, he'll remember something about vectors, angles, and severed heads (you'll have to watch the one on Binary Trees to get that), and voila! math will have been learned while he wasn't paying attention.

They played wii games after their chores and "schoolwork" were done. We continued our love affair with Just Dance II.

The afternoon was all about being outside, skateboarding, scootering, tric riding, tree climbing. We spent almost three hours at a park, enjoying the cool sunshine. We finished the day at a tacqueria, where everyone filled their young and growing bodies with good, delicious food.

And when we were finally in the car, bound for home, my 8 year-old closed her own head in the sliding door of the van. Hard. I watched the entire thing happen, paranoid as I am about the kids closing their fingers in the door: I watch nearly every time to make sure their fingers are in a safe position. Guess I need to add heads to that watch list. It was bad, people. Ouch, OUCH, OUCH!

After I tended to her for awhile, we finally headed home. She asked us to help keep her mind off how much her head was hurting, so Vincenzo and I peppered her with questions: What is your name? What is not your name? Have you ever climbed Mt. Everest? Have you ever eaten an ice cream cone? What's your favorite ice cream flavor? And then I asked her what she learned today, a day I had proclaimed the Pinnacle of Homeschooling Awesomeness.

"Not to close my head in the van door."

* * *

20 January 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 25: The Link Love Edition

Hello Friday, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again...

Welcome to this week's 7 Quick Takes! Today, I'm sharing links to sites and resources that have helped me this week to think, laugh, eat, pray and/or waste time I could have otherwise used to fold laundry or fill my childrens' minds with knowledge.

Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary, our host and author of the original 7 Quick Takes; check out the links to other people participating this week.

~ 1 ~

I am always searching for new ways to make math interesting...okay, palatable, to my boys. My girls seem to be fine so far, but my boys think math should be prohibited by the Geneva Convention. Somewhere in my searching, I found The Math Mom, and signed up for her newsletter. She is awesome. The latest gems I found via her are: (a) that wonderful video clip of Donald Duck learning a little Pythagorean math (I remember this from some former life) and (b) an amazing series of videos called Mathematical Doodling. I hope to use The Math Mom's site and ideas more and more in the future, and I love her tagline: Life is a puzzle. Solve it with numbers.

~ 2 ~

Here is another homeschooling resource my 6 year old enjoyed this week: For Crown or Colony? It's an interactive site that takes the user through history about the Revolutionary War through the eyes of a young boy in Massachusetts. I had intended to have my older kids use the site -- and probably still will -- but Lady E was at my side when I was looking at it for the first time, and she kind of took over and did most of it on her own. From what I've seen so far, it looks like a pretty cool way to introduce kids to the history of the late 1700's and to show them what life was like for a family during that time. My kids always respond to history "lessons" that uses kids to tell a story: go figure!

I learned about For Crown or Colony? from the Clickschooling daily email I receive. Clickschooling is offered by the same person who sends out the History on the Go email I've written about in a previous 7 Quick Takes (take #2). You could do a lot worse than using these two resources for your entire homeschooling curriculum!

~ 3 ~

OK. This next one made me laugh so hard I could hardly breath. A Facebook friend posted Damn You Autocorrect! to her page, and I clicked. I was supposed to be making dinner, so I was alternating between stirring my Mushroom Barley Soup and surfing this site. It is absolutely 100% not appropriate for children. I'm not sure my kids have ever seen me laugh that hard; they've never seen tears streaming down my face from laughing. Suffice to say they were really curious. This is one instance when their curiosity was not satisfied. While not all of it is...salacious, if you are easily offended or uncomfortable with sexual innuendo, you may want to skip it.

~ 4 ~

And here is a link to my Mushroom Barley Soup recipe. And here is a link to purchase the cookbook it came from, the Frog Commissary Cookbook. Both are excellent.

~ 5 ~

My husband and I use our computers a lot. Too much. Bordering on excessive. We are slightly addicted to email. We've talked about what we can do to control the situation. The most obvious of which -- having a computer free time of day -- has been surprisingly difficult for us. So we decided that one very tiny thing we could do was to change our home pages. Because we fire up that screen first thing in the morning, we are often bombarded immediately by the news of the day. This doesn't make for a peaceful beginning.

So we changed our home pages to the daily readings on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This is a simple, easy way to use our computer obsession for the power of good and to remind us to pay attention to what really matters.

~ 6 ~

I cannot imagine there are very many parents out there who have not read 11 Step Program for Those Thinking of Having Kids. I first saw it several years ago. But as a public service, I will link it here today, since not only is it funny, but it just might save you from thinking that you are all alone in the vast minefield of parenting. We're all in this thing together, and if you didn't bring your flak jacket, chances are someone will share. I found it today at a site called Downstream Parenting, but if you do a google search, you'll see that it's everywhere. Is Amy Lawrence the original author? I'd sure love to know!

~ 7 ~

Lastly, I'll just put in a plug for my favorite Saturday morning radio show, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. Not, technically, a website link, since to fully appreciate it, you'll use your ears and not your eyes, but a gem nonetheless. Plus, I noticed from their Facebook feed today that one of their guests tomorrow is Lucinda Williams; she'll be playing Not My Job. I love Lucinda Williams' music, and she plays a starring role in a little anecdote I shared in this post.

I love Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, even if they have never responded to my queries to be a guest on their show. I bet I'll finally hear from them one week when all the kids have been barfing, I've been working on my taxes, painting a bedroom, and getting the garden ready for a tour, and will have had no time to listen to NPR that week, and then I'll be on the show, and I'll completely suck, and Carl Kassel won't record my voice mail outgoing message, and I will slink away in shame and misery, and will probably start listening to commercial radio out of spite. Peter Sagal, would you sleep at night, knowing you had driven away a devoted listener?

It could happen.

* * *

Because a child softly creeping,
Left her bed while I was sleeping,
And the body that was planted next to mine
Still remains
On a Friday morning.

* * *

16 January 2011

A Good Vocabulary Is Overrated

My six year old was a little stinker today. She was flashin' tude right and left, and shaking her hips like...well, like she shouldn't be able to.

At Mass this morning, I pulled her from behind me right after I had received the Eucharist, so she could receive a blessing from the priest. She wasn't pleased. I think she just wanted to hide behind me, and I thwarted her. So right there at the front of the church, as I turned to take the cup, she stomped her foot, crossed her arms over her chest, gave me her best Stink Eye, and then whirled on one foot and stomped all the way back to the pew we had been sitting in. Near the back.

I calmly received the cup, said "Amen," crossed myself, and headed back to have a few choice words with her. I gently took her head in my hands, leaned down to speak into her ear so that the parishioners lost in prayer wouldn't hear me, and whispered her the riot act. She dissolved into tears. My work was done.

At least, until her next tude fest/melt down, of which there were many today. She got in trouble so many times, she finally started referring to herself as "The Unbeloved One." At one point, she came up to me with her two hands in the shape of a heart, forcefully ripped her hands apart, thereby splitting the heart in two, and uttered one word: "Unbeloved." She then flounced away with feeling.

She tends toward the dramatic. And I'm not teaching her any more interesting words.

* * *

15 January 2011

What God Wants

My four year old has had a bout of the runs today. Nothing too serious, but awfully unpleasant for the little sprite. She had to change her underwear once, and was fairly devastated.

Tonight, after sending the three girls off to get ready for bed, to brush teeth and change into pajamas, Little T spent about 5 or 10 minutes in her room howling for me to come. When I finally got to her, she has hiding behind her door, buck naked, and squeezing her little bottom cheeks together so hard her legs were shaking. She was trying to hold back the tide. I felt terrible for not arriving sooner.

Off to the bathroom we went. Without being too graphic, let me just say that the leg-shaking clench did not quite do the trick, so we had some clean-up to do. While I was cleaning her up, we had the following exchange:

Little T: "Can God change me into you?"

Me: "Oh, I think God wants you to be Little T, just the way you are."

Little T: "No. (said emphatically and sternly) God wants me to be you!"

Me: "Why is that, sweetie?"

Little T: "Because you don't poop your pants!"

I assured her that God loves her as is, poopy pants every now and then and all, and that if she were me, then I wouldn't have her, and God definitely wants us to have each other. Then I left the bathroom and had a good laugh.

* * *

Also: you know how people name their ipods, things like "Cindy's Ipod" or "Best Music Ever" or something that actually makes sense? My 10 year old named his: R-dizzle fa shizzle ma nizzil off da hizzle drizzle. He charges his ipod on my laptop, so I have to look at this ridiculous name on my screen, or as much of it as will fit.

Does this mean he is destined to live with us for the rest of his life, work at Best Buy, and never get a driver's license?

I'm worried about that kid.

* * *

What the Heck is THAT?

You know how google generates targeted ads, based on content from your emails or searches? I use gmail, so on the right hand side of my screen, ads appear that usually have something to do with a keyword in a recent email. It's kind of creepy, but I'm getting used to it.

Today, over there on the right, there is an ad for a Feminine Husband Bra.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what content from my emails might have generated this ad. I'm afraid to click on it, because I really don't want to encourage similar ads being put into my sight lines. But I'm curious. And I have all kinds of odd images floating through my head. And I want them to stop.

The Virtual World is a strange, strange place indeed.

* * *

14 January 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 24

Welcome to 7 Quick Takes Friday! Friday's child is loving and giving. May I deliver no less to my own children this Friday. Especially since Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were somewhat lacking in that department.

Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary, our lovely host and author of the original 7 Quick Takes; sample the links from other Quick Takers playing along this week.

~ 1 ~

My calendar is killing me. We are juggling: art class, theatre workshop, soccer clinics, soccer practices (the ones for my kids' teams and the ones for the team my husband is assistant coaching), guitar lessons, indoor soccer games, futsal games, plain old soccer games, girl scouts, and carpentry class and that's just the stuff I can remember off the top of my head. Chances are I'm leaving something, or someone, out. Last night, I spent FOUR HOURS in my car. I finally broke down and let the kids bring the portable DVD player with them, since the three who got to watch it were strictly along for the ride while we got the other two to the various places they needed to be and ran mundane errands.

I regret the DVD player, because as soon as it was off, the bickering was fast and furious; the dreaded screen-time virus hit hard, and with deleterious effect.

Yet another example of a quick fix biting me in the ass in the long run. So I think the lesson here is for me to let my calendar kill me. Then someone else will have to haul these kids all over kingdom come to the 12,000 extracurricular enrichment activities meant to ensure that they are well-rounded and frickin' exhausted at the end of each day.

~ 2 ~

The good part of driving around in my car was that I got to hear a little bit of President Obama's speech at the Tucson Memorial; the speech was Wednesday and I missed it, but heard coverage of it on NPR. The following quote brought tears to my eyes. I am grateful to President Obama -- and his speech writers -- for giving our nation these words about Christina Taylor Green:

"I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

~ 3 ~

As I've listened to the various responses to the Arizona shootings, I've mostly been disappointed by the media coverage and the talking heads of all political stripes. The one commentary that did speak to me, that gave me hope that we will rise above this tragedy, came from neither a politician nor a pundit. It did not come from a journalist or a prestigious news source. It came from a comedian. Please take 10 minutes to listen to his response; you may not enjoy the silly pajama bit at the beginning, but watch past that. I think you will be glad you did.

~ 4 ~

The boys loved their field trip to the USS Hornet yesterday, and I learned something new when they got back. The USS Hornet is also called the Apollo 11 Rescue Ship because on July 24, 1969, the Hornet recovered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and their spacecraft Columbia from the Pacific Ocean after their historic walk on the moon. There. You learned some history today.

~ 5 ~

I am forever striving to figure out my life. I am forever repeating the Serenity Prayer. I am guilty of overanalyzing stuff, worrying too much, making grand plans to change things I'm dissatisfied with, trying to let go, trying to do what I can, longing for a little peace and stability. I think I have some good company with respect to these neuroses. Many of us spend oodles of time thinking of what we want to change and not enough time enjoying the goodness in front of us. So I am grateful to Nicole for this post. It's a good reminder for us all and it's my recommended reading for today.

~ 6 ~

My four year old really, really wants to be finished with her 5-point car seat. She knows this cannot happen until she is 40 pounds. At her last docter's appointment, in December, she weighed in at 39 little ones.

So close.

Now, she tells anyone who will listen that she is on a mission to "bulk up." Tonight, she came out of her room after bedtime to tell me what she wants for breakfast in the morning: a PB sandwich. An orange. Another orange. A cutie. Some toast. Some yogrut. (That is not a typo.) A big banana. Another sandwich. And some cherries. And a fried egg. "Because I need to BULK UP, MOM!"

~ 7 ~

I have a child who sleepwalks. As in, right now, as I type, a child of mine is wandering around the house doing all kinds of strange things and resisting my attempts to steer said child back to bed.

OK, better stop blogging to go figure out what's up.

I'm back. Child is finally back in bed. But not before I found a very large piece of poster paper in my kitchen sink. I discovered my child walking around wearing a pair of my pants that I had evidently left in the bathroom. Said child changed out of said child's own clothes for some unknown reason -- and not because of any nighttime accident: that was the first thing I checked. Said child talked sporadically about a "big project" that said child is working on. This is freaking me out. Let's hope it doesn't become a habit, or my already poor sleeping habits will only get worse, as I lie awake waiting for the Wanderer to make an appearance.

And with that, I bid you adieu.

* * *

12 January 2011

What is a Meatball? My First Giveaway!

My boys are touring the aircraft carrier the USS Hornet today. As their guide, they have my dad, a former Navy pilot who flew off of this historic carrier back in his glory days. (This was before he lived in Africa, where he had a pet monkey and from whence he brought back a real, but dried and hollowed out, elephant's leg, which we kept our toys in when we were kids. It was our toy box. It was also before he was a hippie potter living in San Francisco and carting his kids from street festival to street festival; I loved those days, and the inevitable face-painting that went with them. It was way before he was an entrepreneurial Irish pub owner in Sonoma, California. He's actually had several glory days.)

In order to prepare the boys for their trip today, he gave them some questions to answer, and sent them links to YouTube videos about naval aviation. I watched them with the kids, and learned a few things about flying. I post the same links here for your education and enjoyment.

If you'd like to see the short quiz (5 questions) and the other links for all of the answers, let me know and I will forward it to you.

As a bonus question, he gave them the following challenge:
Answer the following question and we will go to lunch at your favorite burger place; otherwise, bring a sandwich. What is the "Meatball" and when is it used in carrier operations?"
I offered the following answer: "A meat ball is a big mushy ball of meat that you eat with spaghetti. It is used when the crew on a carrier has a potluck during a carrier operation." Suffice to say, I will not be going to my favorite burger place and am stuck here at home eating a PB&J. The boys, on the other hand, have burgers and shakes in their future.

So I throw it out to the blogosphere, and hereby launch my very first giveaway. Answer the bonus question above in the comments to this post. I will select a random winner from all of the correct answers (of which I'm sure there will be thousands), and that winner will receive...A BOOK! We have eighty bazillion kajillion books that we are currently trying to shed ourselves of. We have several boxes that fall in the "don't just drop these at the community recyclying center," category, because we've seen the book vultures that hang out there, just itching to be the first ones to rifle through your boxes when you drop them off and God knows what they do with them: sell them? Who knows, but those folks give me the creeps and I'll be damned if they're getting their sweaty, stale-coffee smelling hands on my book treasures. And yet, we are at a loss as to how to get rid of them. I'd much rather give one (or two) to my lovely readers. The books fall in the general categories of literature, gardening, landscaping, theology, religion, art...and random. I will accept answers today through Saturday, and will do the drawing on Sunday.

If you are the winner, we will communicate via email to find a book (or two) in this great sprawling collection that is perfect for you. If you hate all of the selections, I'll send you a pair of previously owned soccer cleats. That's the other things we have kajillions of around here. I can't promise they will fit you, or anyone in your family. They might make interesting garden planters. Maybe an herb garden?

What, indeed, is a meatball?

* * *

10 January 2011

I Am Blessed

I am blessed.

I have five beautiful children, all of whom are wicked smart, kind, and funny. I have a dining room table that is mostly clear of clutter. It is a clear, cold day, but the heater is turning the house cozy. My husband made me coffee, which is gently and deliciously bringing me into my day. I have big plans for a wonderful day of reading with the kids and delighting in the fact that we need not leave the house.

But give it time. Those five wicked funny kids are all still asleep.

In another two hours, I'll be writing another post entitled "I Am Cursed," about my chaotic house, my unruly children, my failure as a parent, and the general decline of Western Civilization.

It's an exciting life I lead, teetering as I do between abject despair and soaring gratitude. I changed the kids photo on my home page, and I think the new caption says it all: my family -- my life -- makes me dizzy.

For now, I am peaceful. I'm off to shower, so that at least I will be nice and clean when I turn into a raving lunatic later on today.

* * *

06 January 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 23

Ah, Friday. I dare say I love you more than Robinson Crusoe does.

After a brief 7 Quick Takes hiatus, I have returned today with 7 bits of randomness. Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary, the host of 7 Quick Takes; check out the links to other people who are participating. This week, Jen is not writing her own, for reasons explained on her blog, but she has still made it possible for the rest of us to play along.

OK, here we go.

~ 1 ~

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we just finished reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. In case you are not familiar with this book, at the very end, the President of the United States invites Willy Wonka, Charlie, and Charlie's whole family to a big party at the White House, to thank them for their extraordinary service to the United States, rendered when they saved 136 people from certain death in an orbiting space hotel.

So my son says wistfully today:
"Wouldn't it be great if our family did something really special, and Obama invited us to The White House to thank us?"


"But that won't happen, because we break stuff."
~ 2 ~

Fun Homeschooling Thing: When we started homeschooling this past September, I signed up for a few different list serve/email groups. Through one of them, I get a "History on the Go" email each month. It lists a historical, cultural or otherwise interesting fact for each day of the month. I have ignored these emails until this month, but finally printed January's and have been reading each day with the kids, which has been fun. Simple...easy...no big project...but fun and engaging. So far this month, we've talked about Betsy Ross and the first American flag (her birthday was January 1st), learned about why birds fly in a v-formation when they are migrating (January 5th was Migratory Bird Day), and made jokes that are only funny to grammar school kids about the fact that yesterday was Bean Day. We could have read Jack and the Beanstalk instead, but farting jokes were more appealing to most of the people in the room. Each entry in the calendar comes with a few ideas or links for activities you can do to explore the topic further.

I like the fact that these calendar items expose the kids to all kinds of different topics, from Elvis Presley being the first rock musician to be featured on a postage stamp (January 8th) to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart being a child prodigy (January 27th). Sign up for this e-zine here. It's cool.

~ 3 ~

Seriously? I need some advice about how to get my kids to fight less and complain less. Or maybe someone can just tell me it's normal. But lately, I seem to reach that intolerance level awful darn quick, and then I usually spiral into some narration about how it's all my fault and if I were a better mother they might actually act like they like each other and if they keep on this path, they will all grow up to be mean, mean people. This is the first time I haven't shipped the kids back to school after Christmas Break, so perhaps that has something to do with it. But seriously? They are making me coo-coo for cocoa puffs. And I hate cocoa puffs.


~ 4 ~

Recommended mommy blog: Many of you have probably already discovered Mommyland, but woo-boy is this some funny stuff. If you are looking for a really funny, sarcastic, not-pollyana-ish take on motherhood, visit their site, Rants from Mommyland. Thoughtfully, they created a link called Is This the Right Blog for You? so you can figure out if you belong there. They also have a glossary, for all of the Mommyland Lingo you'll want to be up to speed on. Check them out and get ready to laugh.

~ 5 ~

My girls are physically incapable of giving me breathing room. As I type, the three of them are having a contest to see which one of them can achieve the highest percentage of body-to-body contact with me. They'll grow out of it, right? I will miss it someday, right? Right now? Coo-coo again.

~ 6 ~

We received the fewest holiday cards we ever have this year. Now, I can't exactly complain because we didn't send any out either. But every year, I aspire to send out cards, and for the past several, I have failed. I always figured I would jump back on the Card Sending Train when my kids are a little older...so it saddens me that the Card Sending tradition seems to be going the way of railroad travel. I love getting Holiday cards in the mail, reading the letters people write, or even getting the ones that are simply signed. I imagine all those cards criss-crossing through the mail all over the country, weaving hand-written connections between family and friends. Their decline is a loss.

Did you send out cards this year? Did you get many?

~ 7 ~

And, because I can't think of a 7th, I'll throw it out to you. What books are you reading or recommending these days? Teacher Mommy and I discussed books via email this morning (we're so erudite) and she has ordered me to get myself to a bookstore (I'm sure a library would do) to get a copy of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I actually have a pretty intimidating stack of "must reads" right now, but what the heck, let's add to it, shall we? Please suggest a favorite book in the comments, and tell us why you like it.

Also, has anyone read An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken? Sounds intriguing. And surprising.

Thanks! And Happy Happy Friday to you all!

* * *


Today, my 10 year old son's chore was to clean the bathroom. For a kid who complains about chores as if he were a bottle of Angostura Bitters, he actually does a pretty good job on the bathroom.

So today, after I saw how much better the place looked, I complimented him. "You did a great job in the bathroom today, sweetie."

Apparently, he's been in there more than once today, because he replied: "Isn't that kind of a little too personal?"

* * *

Thank You, Roald

Today, finally, we finished reading aloud Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator.

We started this short book quite awhile ago...and I'm chagrined that I let it go for so long. I wish I could tell you that we have been so busy excelling academically that we just haven't had time for the frivolity of Mr. Wonka, but alas, this would not be true. Instead, our reading together just fell by the wayside, another victim of our chaotic life and my poor planning.

Sometimes, I feel like there is too much going on to make sense of anything.

So imagine my delight, when I arrived at the last page of the book and read the motto that Roald Dahl lived by:

"My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night,
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light."

I am hereby stealing this motto from Mr. Dahl. Today, I will travel through the world with a lovely, crazy, unsustainable but exhilarating light.

* * *

03 January 2011

The Abandoned Road

I drove past an abandoned road the other day.

It was an old farming road, not paved, and it bent away from the main highway and into marshy hay fields that bent and swished in the breeze. An old and unconvincing fence stood across the entrance to the road, keeping out people, but not time. The marsh lands had begun to take the road back, grasses and weeds encroached its edges, rising up along its center and asserting their quiet, persistent strength against human enterprise. About 75 yards down the road, off to the left, stood an empty threshing house, only its frame still standing. The concrete floor was swept clean by the breeze, as if at any moment it could be used once more to catch, cut, and cube bales of hay for a prosperous farm. But it too was abandoned, no longer an active or thriving place.

I had a few moments to gaze at this essentially empty scene, sitting as I was in an unmoving line of bumper to bumper traffic, impatiently waiting to thread through a two lane highway and into the business of the coming day. Cars stretched out endlessly in front of me and behind me, and I sat there frustrated by this inconvenience which had interrupted my progress, my productivity, my efficiency.

But with the interruption came the gift of this little abandoned road. As I looked at it, I imagined a time when it was heavily traveled by trucks and tractors and men whose livelihood depended upon the threshing that happened at its end. I imagined the farmer, employing the men and working beside them, all of them striving together to accomplish a task, to bring in the hay, and send it back out in a useful form. They must have worked very hard, sweating daily at a dirty and tedious task, but there no longer existed any trace of their efforts or struggles.

My fellow travelers on the highway were, like me, scurrying to work, to errands, to things that must be done. Some of us, no doubt, were bound for important destinations, such as hospitals to care for the ill or schools to teach the young or markets to deliver needed goods. Some were probably going shopping, or headed out to the beach, or on their way to the dentist. But all of the sudden, none of those destinations mattered. Because once upon a time, the threshing house at the end of this road mattered, too. Once upon a time, it represented a family's sustenance; now, it stands empty, abandoned, unimportant. Once, it was the center of a worker's day, the sum total of his productivity and purpose; now, it is useless and ignored.

But somewhere, there is a child whose father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather, drove down this road every single day, in order to bring back food to his family's table and keep them healthy. Somewhere, a child lives and breathes because of another person who traveled this road and worked in this threshing house each and every day. Behind the work and the struggle: a beating heart, a grasping hand, a dripping nose, a lilting voice. Because of the work and the struggle: generations roll forward, people meet, children grow. This is what lasts, what does not become abandoned or forgotten. This is what transcends utility and productivity.

Someday, all our efforts and struggles and projects and goals will be taken over by marshy wetlands and quiet, persistent weeds. Someday, none of what masquerades as important today will matter. But there are other things, things that do not tremor with utility or economy or productivity, things that seem lesser because they simply exist and don't do anything at all.

And as my car finally toiled away from the abandoned road, I saw with clarity that the business of the coming day was in many ways only a distraction, not to be confused with what really matters. So I will tend to those lesser things, the things that do not produce, that are not useful, and that will not pass away. I will tend to you, my love, and to the small sweaty hands that come from our tending of each other, and to the hearts that beat because ours beat together.

Happy Birthday, my own true love. I love you with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength, and all my breath.

* * *

This reflection was written 11 years ago, originally as an Anniversary Essay; converted to a Birthday Essay this year, and shared with my readers.

* * *

Wise Words for 2011

"Consult not your fears
but your hopes and your dreams.
Think not about your frustrations,
but about your unfulfilled potential.
Concern yourself not with what
you tried and failed in,
but with what it is still possible
for you to do."

* * *

01 January 2011

What's Her Secret?

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to ask the questions that lurk in the corner recesses of my mind, to face the things I wonder about. So here's one:

My kitchen windows face my neighbor's kitchen window, the one right over her sink. She has a young family, like me; she's got four kids, and is a stay at home mom. So can someone please tell me why I never see her standing at her sink? Or why her kitchen light is never on? How is it that she spends so little time in the kitchen? I am always in mine. Sometimes, like now, I'm sitting at the kitchen table surfing the web and blogging, but my lights are on and I'm moving around, making coffee, cleaning up messes left behind from last night, planning for another 21 plates full of food (today's three squares for 7 family members), and her kitchen? Dark and quiet, as usual.

What is up with that?

* * *

Happy New Year everyone! May we all find answers to life's tough questions this year.