Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Kid

There was a new kid in school today.

He called himself

He was a little intimidating at first,

but he ended up being surprisingly good-natured and docile.

Once he figured out how to use his eyes, he buckled down and got right to work.

I wonder if he'll be back again tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh, Aidan. Further chronicles involving artichokes, a trash can and karate.

The other night I went to check on Aidan while he was taking a bath. He's usually pretending to scuba dive whenever I pop my head in on bath night, and, sure enough, he was submerged and swimming as much as a kid can submerge and swim in a bathtub. The only difference this time was that he had added goggles to his ensemble. Or maybe I should say goggle. I think that's what they're called when there's only one gog. His head surfaced and he squinted through that gog with a bewildered and disoriented look on his face. He must have really been taking his dive seriously.

Indeed, Aidan has a unique outlook on a number of things. I give you the next installment of Aidan's quips and queries.

*The other evening, Aidan asked what we were having for dinner. When I told him we were having Chicken in a Hurry, he was less than thrilled: "So it's a dead chicken and artichoke hearts? I don't like any of those things."

*A recent conversation with dad included the following remark: "I don't think I'd take karate because I don't like getting hit in the face and I like to protect all of my parts."

*The guys were watching a college football game. The marching band at halftime really made an impression on Aidan: "Boy, those guys all sure know their shapes."

*Aidan was feeling a bit under the weather. He asked if I would take his temperature, "'Cause I don't feel awesome, like I usually am." I took his temperature and tucked the sniffly boy in bed. After checking to see that he had a box of Kleenex and a trash can nearby, I prepared to leave the room. He wasn't satisfied. "I feel like I don't have enough supplies." I wasn't sure what more I could offer. He suggested that medicine might help. "I like Tylenol . . . ."

*I found my bedroom trash can in a rather warped state of being after the above mentioned sniffles had run their course. Naturally, I went to Aidan to do some questioning. He confessed, "I wanted to see if it was the kind of metal that was hard or the kind that squishes. It's the kind that squishes."

Stay tuned. I can almost guarantee that there will be more where that came from.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Faith Rests

My faith rests not upon what I am, or shall be, or feel,
or know,
but in what Christ is, in what He has done,
and in what He is now doing for me.
~C.H. Spurgeon~

Winslow Homer's 1873 "Girl in a Hammock"

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Very Important Purchase

I finally broke down and bought a new oven mitt and pot holder.

I figured it was about time.

Isn't it funny how we hold on to things? I'm pretty sure I got these at my bridal shower over fourteen years ago. The colors were perfect -- they matched my dishes, my wallpaper border, my youthful, blushing cheeks. I don't recall having another set. I just used them and used them and used them.

Over the years they were slopped on and burned. Finally, they became so threadbare that they weren't functioning as they should. The oven mitt developed a hole right between the thumb and mitten part. I could no longer shove my hand all the way into the mitt and grab the cookie sheet. I had to partially put my hand in and gingerly scoot the tray out of the oven.

I wore a hole clean through the middle of the pot holder. You would think that I would have considered getting a new one. But no. I folded it into a wad, avoided the gaping hole, and used it anyway. I even thought of repairing it. But getting a new one? The thought didn't even enter my mind.

One day, it occurred to me that I might just make a new pot holder. That would be so frugal and earthy of me. I thought about it for many days. Many, many days. Then I forgot all about it. And I kept on using those pathetic rags.

Well, I'm not sure when it finally hit me. Maybe it had to do with the kids starting to use the oven. What kind of mother hands her child a holey rag and says, "Grab that hot pan, please"? Not I.

Now, did I run out and grab the first set I found? Of course not. I started the search. I'm a bit like my mother in this respect. A purchase takes time. We must consider all the options, you see. I didn't find anything that really grabbed me, so I kept on using the rags.

The other day I was at Wal-Mart. On a whim I suggested to Bethie that we go look at the pot holders. I didn't expect to find the perfect set, but figured maybe I could find something to tide me over and save my poor children from being burned.

I stood in that aisle for a really, really long time. You would have thought I was making the most important decision of my life. Suddenly, the hilarity of it all struck me. They were three dollars each. Three dollars, people. It wasn't like I was about to sign my life away. No one was going to force me to use these -- and only these -- for the next fourteen years. If I found something I liked better in a month or a year, I could get them!

Into my cart went the olive pattern. They matched my kitchen and felt kind of Italian. Not a bad combo. But most importantly, they were well padded and completely whole!

I brought them home and placed them on the counter. They looked very stiff and clean. I was afraid to use them. But I cast one last glance at my trusty old pair and realized that it was time to move on. So I did. And guess what? I love my new pot holders.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brown Paper Packages

My curriculum is steadily trickling in. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that everything has taken so long to get here. We've been able to ease into the school year, slowly adding subjects here and there. I think if I would have gotten all of my materials at once, I would have attempted meeting all subjects head on. On the first day. My poor children. To think!

One of my favorite spots in the school room

But God knew what we needed, and I'm thankful for that. He always does. I'm still waiting for a few boxes. It's rather exciting, really. Every day when we hear the UPS truck enter our neighborhood, four little heads pop up expectantly from their school work. (Make that five -- I'm just as eager.) Maybe it's Drew's spelling book! Maybe it's Aidan's nature reader! Maybe it's Bethie's art paper! Maybe it's . . . all of Avery's curriculum!

Shhhh . . . . Drew is very focused on his art project.

The first time a box arrived I was kind of mean. We were definitely in school mode. The Man in Brown rang the doorbell. We jumped out of our seats. "It's from Rainbow Resource!" Drew announced. Curriculum. My heart raced. And then I became mean mom. "How exciting! Yes, we'll open it . . . as soon as we've finished our work."

I'm not sure why Aidan has a dart on his forehead. And he's usually fully clothed during class.

Bethie looks rather dejected here. Don't worry. This is just her "In the moment" look.

Now, I was just as eager as they were to tear into that box. But I knew that there's nothing like a little incentive to get kids to stay on task. Boy, did those kids stay on task. They finished their school work in record time. I stretched that enthusiasm as far as possible. Once they'd scrubbed the toilets and squeegeed the windows, I gave them the okay. (Not really. I just made them tidy the living room. And the family room. And the school room.) They tore into that box like nobody's business. It was fun.

Avery's haircut. Not that you can tell from this shot, but it's been cut.

As the boxes continued to arrive, I milked my little system. It occurred to me that I could steadily order curriculum for the next fifteen years and thereby guarantee a spotless house.

Books! Books! Books!

Today the doorbell rang again. It was another big box. My babes were up to their necks in grammar and math. Drew lugged in the treasure and confirmed, "Rainbow Resource!" Yelping ensued. All eyes looked to mama. I paused and glanced around the room. Taking in the mess, my first instinct was to devise a plan. But then I relaxed. Plans aren't always necessary. And I heard myself shout, "Let's open it!"

We did. It was fun.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oh, Aidan.

Aidan finds a new use for my tea cozy.

I have dozens of notebooks lying around. A few of them are dedicated solely to my children's quirky phrases and "isms." Lately, Aidan has been on a roll. I wish I could follow him all day with a video camera. He's a funny kid. His comments start out heading in one direction. Then he takes a seemingly sudden detour and finishes his thought with a totally unexpected line. His deadpan remarks kill us. I thought I'd let him kill you today, too.

* One afternoon, Aidan came down wearing my heels. My eyebrows shot up and he explained, "I wanted to see what it will be like when I'm nine." He figured that's about how much taller he'd be in two years. As he wobbled off he assured me, "I'll be more balanced, though."

* Again he approached me one day, out of the blue. He got really close to my face and asked, "How are my freckles comin' along?" (He's really hoping to be blessed with sprinkles like his sister, Bethie, and cousin, Ethan.)

* A little while ago we were pulling out of the parking lot at Ross. I saw a very distressed man wringing his hands and wandering aimlessly. I wanted to help, but felt somewhat uncomfortable since I was alone with the children. When I noticed that he was talking on a cell phone and also interacting with a person parked nearby, I figured he could at least summon help if need be. My help probably wasn't necessary. I explained all of this to the children, wanting them to understand the importance of exercising both compassion and safety. I continued by saying that I might have felt more comfortable helping a woman. I was proud of my gallant Aidan who said he would help a woman, too. His reason, however, left me speechless. "I would only help a woman because a man is smarter than a woman and would know what to do."

Just you wait, 'Enry 'Iggins. Just you wait.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

{The Dinner Helper -- It Works!}

Every once in a while I stumble upon an idea that helps me maintain that home rhythm that we moms so desperately try to cultivate. My most recent breakthrough is "The Dinner Helper."

First, though, some background. For several years I've used the "helper" system after learning about it from my friend, Darlene. Each child is assigned a day until all the days are taken. (Drew takes Monday and Thursday, Bethie has Tuesday and Friday, while Aidan has Wednesday and Saturday. Little Miss Avery Kate still resides loftily over the Sunday slot. No one has commented yet on the unfairness of this.)

On the child's "day," he is given all of the miscellaneous responsibilities that come up, such as setting the table for dinner or taking out the trash. Not only does this child have the day's responsibilities, however. They are also blessed with the simple privileges that brighten a kid's day, such as choosing the radio station in the car, running an errand with Dad or eating from . . . The Orange Plate. (Hey -- The Orange Plate is a coveted item in our home!).

So anyway, we've used this system successfully for a number of years and tailored it as the kids have gotten older. One of the helper duties we've always used is dinner detail. I was finding, however, that the "helping" wasn't necessarily always . . . helpful. Dinnertime is somewhat frenzied anyway -- pulling together last minute ingredients, fielding questions from the other room, feeling tired and hungry, etc. So I felt even more frazzled when I had to list off all of the things I needed my helper to do. I can multitask, but I'm not Wonder Woman. (I used to think I was, though. You see, my sister and I had these awesome Underoos . . . .)

Instead of freaking out, desperate Normal Woman devised a new plan. I call it, The Dinner Helper Checklist.

This really works, folks! I have posted a chart on the fridge with a very detailed list of Dinner Helper tasks. My helper walks up to the chart, reads what they need to do and they do it. While they're setting the table, I can focus on the soup or the muffins or the salad. I don't need to think or shout out orders. Our responsibilities merge so nicely that dinner gets to the table in a much more pleasant and efficient manner.

Here's a peek at our list:

1. Clear off the table.
2. Fill 6 glasses with fresh water.
3. Make sure each chair has a napkin.*
4. Place 6 forks/spoons at each seat.
5. Ask Mom about condiments.**
6. Help Mom bring plates to the table.
7. Ring the dinner bell!

*I use cloth napkins that the kids can tie around the chair rails.
**This includes all the extras, like salad dressing, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, etc.

I've noticed that giving specific details really helps. (I'm not sure why they have a hard time remembering that there are six of us, but Jamie and I actually get water now that I've posted the number.) I'm thinking I'll also post a diagram of a place setting so they remember where everything goes.

Emily Post's Basic Place Setting

The older ones often help with actual dinner prep, too, which is a lifesaver. Everyone's favorite part, of course, is number seven: ringing the bell.

After dinner, my helper looks at the second list. (All family members are supposed to clear their own place settings, but I've included that as number one in case someone forgets or gets sidetracked. Someone like, oh, say, Little Miss Avery Kate. Or . . . Mom. Yes, it happens.)

1. Clear away plates and utensils.
2. Clear away and rinse glasses.***
3. Put lids on condiments, condiments in fridge.
4. Tie napkins on chairs.
5. Wipe table with dishcloth.
6. Sweep the floor.
7. Push in chairs.

***We keep the kids' glasses in a row on the counter during the day to cut back on extra dishes. They use various jars, all different heights, so they know that the tallest is Drew's and the shortest is Avery's. After meals I ask them to rinse their glasses and put them back on the counter. I pop them into the dishwasher after everyone's in bed.

I've found that not only does this system help my children contribute to the family and develop responsibility, but it also keeps me on track. If they're on number six and ready to bring food to the table, my goal is to have the plates dished up and ready to pass off by that point. It also gives me a sense of shared accomplishment and camaraderie with my child. We can look together at our work and say, "Hey! We did it!"
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It Pays for All

Do all mothers with small children brace themselves just slightly on their birthdays? I'm not talking about the panic that comes in response to aging. It's the deep breath that anticipates all the . . . glitter. And glue. And popsicle sticks. And tissue paper. And beads. And pom-poms. All. Over. The. Floor. These things that, when wadded together into a marvelous work of art, become mama's birthday present. Because mama's babies really, really wanna give.

There's a whirlwind of activity on mama's birthday: The warning shouts if mama's footsteps happen to approach, "Don't look!!!!" The slamming of doors. "She's coming!!!!" The sound of tape being pulled (liberally) from its dispenser. The rustle of paper, the scratching of pencils, the innocent smiles and the twinkling eyes.

And then the giving. Mama opens her treasures. Suddenly, the mess doesn't matter one bit. She beholds the eyes, peers into the hearts, and sees nothing but love. The glue might have some drying to do, and the glitter might stick stubbornly to mama's face. (You know what I'm talking about. Glitter just doesn't respond to a gentle whisk.) But that's okay. Because, as L.M. Montgomery once wrote,

I am indeed a most happy and thankful woman. Motherhood is heaven. It pays for all.


It doesn't get any better than that.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

By All These Lovely Tokens

Helen Hunt Jackson

The goldenrod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian's bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer's best of weather,
And autumn's best of cheer.

Eight years ago I found a used copy of Helen Ferris' Favorite Poems Old and New, an excellent poetry anthology for children. I quickly fell in love with September, and proceeded to read it to my little preschooler, Drew. He picked up a line here and there, but his favorite thing to chant was, "From dewy lanes!" (Dewy is a very fun word to say. Go ahead. Try it.) I can still hear his little voice shouting out that stanza and see that merry twinkle in his eye.

Every September since then, we've revisited these lines. This year was no exception. I opened the worn volume, and as soon as I said, "September . . . ." they knew what was coming. They all took part in shouting about the "dewy lanes" (because, you'll remember, dewy is a very fun word to say), and the school year was duly commenced.

Tuesday morning I looked over my wee brood and marveled. Drew, now in 7th grade, Bethie in 4th, Aidan in 2nd and Little Miss Avery Kate in Kindergarten. I read to these rapidly growing people of the beauty of September, of the "lovely tokens" that greet us each year -- the apples, the sedges, the butterflies -- and my cup overflowed as my heart continued to add it's own "lovely tokens" to the list: the comforting rhythm of September, children who are eager to learn, freshly sharpened pencils, a basket full of library books . . . .

My prayer for this year is that my list of lovely tokens won't be forgotten. The list continues daily, because my Father has loveliness to lavish daily. My freshly sharpened pencil is in hand, my eyes are open, my heart is yearning, and I'm ready. Oh, how I love September.

Apple Picking by Camille Pissarro 1886
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Life With Little Miss Avery Kate: The Haircut

This evening I cut Avery's hair. She's been asking for "short like Bethie" for quite some time. Don't worry -- I wasn't about to part with that much silky-wispy baby hair. But she was still very pleased to see how dramatic the change was after parting with just a few inches.

She sat on the old wooden high chair in the kitchen, her baby towel from Noni wrapped around her shoulders. This was her first real cut. She's had wee, hesitant trims before. In the past I just couldn't bring myself to hack off any more than an inch. But somehow, tonight, it seemed right.

I combed through the damp tangles, parted and sectioned off the brown strands, glanced at Jamie for moral support, then dove in. With each cut, memories were evoked. My first thought was one of thankfulness. Several years ago I endured a hair fiasco with a four-year-old Bethie in which she gave herself a hair cut. Just some nice, obvious chops here and there -- bangs, top, back. Boy, was she a sight. (I'm really rather surprised that Avery never attempted this rash display of independence. But she seems content with chopping the hair from her stuffed animals. Not that I condone this.) So tonight I was thankful that I was cutting hair not because it needed repair, but because the time was right.

I thought about the soft little curls at the ends of her hair that probably won't appear again. Her baby curls. The curls that have been with us for five years. And I thought about how grown up it was to have a hair cut and be in kindergarten and have a new backpack and start ballet all in the same week.

After every snip she asked, "Is it done?" And after every snip I said, "Not yet. I'll tell you when it's done." Yet she still asked -- after every snip -- "Is it done?"

Finally, it was done. I looked at that blunt cut across her back, and it made her look so confident, so assured, so . . . . big.

She ran to the mirror and announced, "Whoa. It's short." I was nervous. It was still well past her shoulders. Surely it wasn't too short. "Do you like it, honey?" She smiled and twirled the strands, "Yes!" And ran to show her brothers and sister. They all seemed to experience some sort of brief mourning over the loss of her baby hair, but with a quick wink from mom they caught the prompt. "It looks so pretty, Avery!" She glowed.

Then she asked for curls. So I swept the mane into a ponytail while a mama-ache lodged somewhere in my chest. That ponytail was a big girl ponytail. We got out the sponge rollers, she found the green ones, and we rolled. After securing the bun with a hankie, I whisked my baby to bed. A story and prayer later, I tucked another hankie into her hand for the sniffles that had plagued her all day. And my baby-but-not-a-baby drifted off.

I know that when she wakes up in the morning, she'll suddenly remember. She'll feel the rollers and it will all come back to her. She had her hair cut. She'll want the rollers out, she'll run to the mirror, and she'll smile. And my big girl -- she'll be beautiful.
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

And Now We're Five

I blinked, and my baby turned five. This child who is full of life, energy and a thousand questions, this child who leaves laughter in her wake.

This child who is content -- as long as there's . . .

A snack in her hand . . .

An animal to love . . .

A brother to torment . . .

A Daddy to hold . . .

A bowl to lick . . .

A project to start . . .

A sister to admire . . .

A book to read . . .

A doll to dress . . .

A world to explore . . .

A knife to handle . . .

And a host of admirers . . .

Yes, she's really very low maintenance . . . .

Even so, my prayer for her -- and each one of my babes -- ascends to our Father each night:

Lord, would you bless my Little Miss Avery Kate. I pray that she would grow to love and serve you with all of her heart, soul, mind and strength. Would you grow in her the fruit of Your Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. I pray that she would be like a little lamb who would hear Your voice and know it, and that she would trust You all the days of her life, knowing that one day she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Would You put your hedge of protection about her, and guard her coming in and going forth from this time forth and forever. Would You grant her wisdom, Father -- wisdom to make good choices out of her love for You. Would you bless her with the heart of a servant, that she might look for ways to help those in need. And now may she lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, oh Lord, will make her to dwell in safety.
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