Monday, November 30, 2009

Three Months

Well, three months and one day old as of today, but who's counting.


One of the myriad of reasons we home-school is because of the flexibility it gives our schedule. Or, so I say.

I sometimes wonder, though, why I don't always let us be flexible. We slept in this morning until 8:30 a.m.. Once we were all finally up and moving I got all panicky about the time we'd lost out on from sleeping in. I almost let myself slip into Nazi mode, barking orders at the kids and insisting they hurry up already. And I have to wonder why. The kids were tired from a busy Thanksgiving weekend and that extra sleep made them happier and it eventually made getting through our schoolwork much easier, as I found out when we buckled down and easily and enjoyably got through spelling, math and reading.

It's easy, in theory, to say you're flexible but I've found it's much more difficult to actually execute that concept. It's so easy to compare yourself to others and think you're somehow not measuring up. "Ack!" I might think to myself, "The neighborhood kids have been in school for thirty minutes already!" as I look at Hank, hair all askew, still outfitted in pajamas and standing in the kitchen peeling an orange.

It takes a real effort to remind myself that that's OK. That's one of the reasons we do this. We get a lot done in short bursts of time. We might do that while we're still in our PJs, or while we're eating breakfast, but we get it done and, in my extremely biased opinion, I think we get it done very well.

We still have a lot more to get done today, but it's only 11 a.m. Madeleine is in the shower and Hank and Elisabeth are building a city with wooden blocks. My instinct is to disrupt them, to hurry them downstairs to watch the next installment of their Latin video. And I will in a bit. But I also have to tell my instincts that they'll go more happily and learn much more if they're not rushed and panicked. So Hank can finish his Empire State Building and Madeleine can get dressed without rushing. And that's OK. And that's OK. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hockey Hank

Finally, after years of begging, we signed Hank up to play hockey. It's a huge pain for Joe and me; there are multiple practices a week, often late in the evening, games at far away locations and on top of all that, it's COLD watching those games.

But I have to say, it's really, really a fun sport. Really fun. It's fast moving, it's exciting and these seven-year-olds are already great skaters. Plus, since they're just kids, the only people watching the games are the families of the kids playing so you can get nice and close and really watch the game. I am getting a crash course in the game and am picking up the rules quickly.

I don't know how Hank developed such an affinity for the sport, but I have to admit it's pretty fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The obligatory Thanksgiving post. Sort of.

Today I am thinking that I am tired.

That I have consumed entirely too many calories.

That my house is a complete wreck.

That our calendar for the next month is so full that it's making me panicky.

That I miss my friend Erin's presence on the internet and that I hope she gets her laptop fixed soon.

That I have to go grocery shopping.

That I have the cutest baby in the world smiling up at me right now and that I am happy.

That I am going to leave my to-do list behind today and have one last calorie-fest in Silver Lake.

That it is a beautiful, sunny day.

That I'm over my bitterness about last winter and I am ready for snow.

That Joe was really sweet to text me a gazillion updates from Hank's hockey game this morning.

That I forgot to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

So, here it is. Happy Thanksgiving, two days late!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Harvest Soup Party

In honor of Thanksgiving, today Elisabeth and her class hosted a harvest soup party. Every child brought in a vegetable (Elisabeth chose green beans) and they were all dumped into a large pot with some broth that one of the teachers made. The kids chopped and added the vegetables during class today and by the time Madeleine, Hank, Caroline and I arrived at 11 a.m., the party was ready to start.

Elisabeth waiting for perform the songs she and her class had practiced for all the parents and siblings.

The bowls of hot, delicious soup waiting to be eaten.

Elisabeth taking her turn in the performance. Each child added their own plastic vegetable to the pot on the middle of the rug and took a turn stirring their "soup" as the song about soup continued.

The big kids enjoyed the soup.

Elisabeth wanted to sit by her friends, not her family. *sigh*

Afterwards the kids played in the classroom.

What a fun party a group and three and four-year-olds can give!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Deer Hunt

Joe and Hank got back from Wisconsin's Northwoods today, where they spent the weekend stalking Wisconsin's deer herd.

I hate deer hunting because of the huge block of time it takes Joe away and asked him point blank this afternoon if he thought he'd ever not deer hunt and instead bird hunt more frequently throughout the year.

In reply Joe relayed the following exchange. This morning, after he and Hank were sitting out in their tent for a few hours, Hank said to Joe, "You know what my favorite part of hunting is, Dad?" Joe said, "No, son, what is it?" And Hank smiled that goofy Hank grin and patted Joe to indicate that Joe was his favorite part. Just sitting out in that cold, boring tent drinking hot cocoa out of a thermos, looking for nonexistent deer and peeing into mayonnaise jars was enough for Hank because he was with his dad.

I admit it, my heart melted. As much as I like Joe to be around, clearly our boy got a lot out of having some special alone time with Dad.


The word "ant." Written backwards. Penned by Elisabeth's hand. Where she learned the letters and that, in combination, they spell an actual word, I know not. She's been pointing at letters in books and asking about what sounds they make for awhile now. I suspect some conclusions were drawn from the answers she received.

These pre-reading stages in kids never cease to impress me, not only as a parent, but even as an impartial observer. Humans are, by nature, curious beings and our innate ability to explore and discover and learn impresses me a little bit more with each child as I watch them learn.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Have a nice fall...

My knees are incredibly sore. Why, you ask? Because I'm a klutz. My goodness am I ever a klutz.

This morning I fell because of a combination of clumsiness and vanity. I was walking into our church through the side door (mistake #1) with Caroline slung over my arm in her infant carrier. There are three steps going down from the side door into our fellowship hall that are covered with that rubbery stuff that makes them skid proof (mistake #2; thanks, church ;) ). I was walking in with some friends and as I took the first step I twisted my head to say something to them (mistake #3) when all of a sudden my heel, which was, admittedly, a tall heel (oh, vanity!) got stuck on the non-skid stuff while my body was still moving forward.

BAM! Straight down on the hard, cold floor, right in front of about three to four other people (I am so thankful this is a low traffic entrance!). Caroline was fine, of course, since she was strapped in her car seat. She didn't make a peep and I don't think she even realized anything out of the ordinary happened. But me? I fell on my knees and hand and my left knee is throbbing. I can barely bend it and have been hobbling around all day like a doofus.

The moral of this story should be to stop wearing such impractical shoes and to stop gabbing. I will probably not do either of these things so I probably deserve to hobble around like an idiot.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mother of All Invention

It's funny, but sometimes being forced to alter a routine introduces you to a better way of doing something.

Since the entire contents of our kitchen were strewn about our dining room yesterday, where we usually do most of our schoolwork, we were forced into the basement with all our schoolbooks. Wonder of wonders,we all preferred it. Madeleine had more table space at my big desk, and squirmy Hank was able to wiggle and shake to his heart's content by sitting on the floor and using the coffee table as a desk. I appreciated the school mess being contained to the basement instead in one of our main living spaces.

The kitchen is painted now and all the pots and pans have found their way back into the kitchen, but our schoolbooks are staying in the basement for now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interrupted Sleep

Caroline has been a great sleeper since she was born. She's almost three months old and, pretty reliably, will sleep a 5-6 hour stretch every night.

Yes, yes, I know. I'm spoiled by her. That is not the point of this post.

Last night Caroline went to bed a little later than usual. I laid her in her crib around 10 p.m. I went to bed shortly after.

Around 4 a.m. Elisabeth walked into my room. "Mom," she said, "Hank's scared." Elisabeth sounded tired. And annoyed.

I walked into the room Hank and Elisabeth share and, sure enough, there was Hank buried under his covers, eyes open wide, looking like he had just had a bad dream.

The Hank-had-a bad-dream-routine goes like this. Hank wakes up, scared and crying. Elisabeth is woken and is sent to retrieve a parent. Whichever parent wakes up first stumbles into Hank's room, asks him if he had a bad dream and then, too tired to negotiate, sighs in surrender and invites Hank to spend the rest of the night with them.

So, there I am at 4 a.m., going through the motions when I realize how warped this whole scene is. First, my baby-- my not even three-month-old baby!-- is still fast asleep in her crib in her room. Secondly, my four-year-old little girl is sent into the dark night to search for help for her older brother!

But I went through the routine. I invited Hank into bed, grumbling inside my head about how I'd like just one solid night of sleep and if the baby wasn't going to wake me my seven-year-old son sure ought not to.

Hank and I woke at 7 a.m. this morning. And you know what else? That's when Caroline woke up! Her first night of an honest-to-goodness, sleeps through a whole night sleep and that night it interrupted by Hank.

You know what though? I was less annoyed when he told me why he was scared. In his dream there was a tornado and we all ran away from it but, once we were away, Hank realized we had forgotten Caroline and he wanted to brave the tornado to go back and get her.

Now, wasn't that dream worth being woken for?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rhythm of Today

Some days start out well; they develop a certain rhythm and things just go right. Other days that rhythm is off and things spiral downward. It's hard to fight the cadence of a day. The kids are going to react to each other how they choose to do so and the weather will be what it is; things will go as they're meant to and all I can control is how I react to events and my surroundings. So, generally, I choose not to fight it. If the day is good, I enjoy it, if it's going poorly I just suck it up and muscle through. Those are the only options there are, really.

Today started out well. The sun was shining and the two youngest girls under my roof when I woke were happy. The rhythm of today has been good, and each event has only made it better. Not only is the sun shining, but it's a gorgeous, warm fall day. Elisabeth was treated to a typical day at preschool but a normal day there is an extraordinary morning for her. She embraced the crisp fall air and was treated with a hike down to the shores of Lake Michigan to see the waves crashing against the shore. Caroline and I ran errands. They were errands that I set out on being somewhat nervous about what I would be told as I ran them, but the men who helped me at Ace Hardware this morning were helpful and reassuring. It's amazing how much a simple, somewhat stupid, household task being completed can add such sunshine to my day.

True, it is only 1 p.m., and with hockey and book club still on the agenda for the day, the drumbeat could change. My kids and I may fall out of synch. Clouds may yet screen the sun. If they do, so what? We still had a great morning, and I am thankful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Atlantis Launched

There is a scene in the 1995 Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13 that always makes me a little bit sad. It shows the astronauts in space aboard the Apollo 13 shuttle on that fateful 1970 mission and the astronauts are goofing around for the camera because they assume-- incorrectly-- that everyone back on earth will be amazed by the flight into space and will be fascinated by the video. However, the movie depicts a public that's bored with what is perceived as routine space travel.

I have no idea if that exact scene took place or not aboard the actual Apollo 13 shuttle. But I do know that here, in the year 2009, we would not air constant footage of a space shuttle taking off during prime television viewing. The idea of blasting into outer space no longer astounds the majority of the American public. We've been sending men and women into space since before I was born. What's novel about that?

Today the space shuttle Atlantis launched at 1:28 p.m. CST. It's on its way to the International Space Station to restock it with supplies. The kids and I huddled around my computer to watch the live feed and, later, turned on Fox News to watch it there as well. I haven't watched a shuttle launch in long while. I'm a guilty member of the "it's commonplace" group.

But not after today. Today I saw the launch through Madeleine and Hank's eyes. As they fired question after question and let out more squeals and excited yells as the countdown clock neared zero I realized that there is nothing routine or commonplace about traveling into outer space. Both kids imagined what the astronauts, three who were experiencing their first mission, were thinking as they flew into the earth's atmosphere. They discussed what their kids, their spouses or their families left on earth were thinking about and feeling. They were astounded at the shuttle's quickening speed and the release of rocket boosters and their descent back to earth.

It was an exciting moment to share with my kids, and I'm so thankful they could remind me there is nothing routine about traveling into outer space, no matter how long man has been doing so.

If you're so inclined, check out NASA's website and view the launch there. It is pretty incredible!

Choosing Chores

Why is it that the more you have on your plate to get done, the less apt you are to start working through the list?

For the past month or so I have felt ridiculously busy. Not in a over-booked on my calendar sort of way but in the sense that everywhere I turn in my home and yard I see about twelve little projects that need to be done.

Hopefully our academic work today will go quickly. I absolutely just must get some of these minor projects (clean out the basement storage area! the van looks like a bomb went off! there are twice the amount of plastic storage containers than there are lids! family pictures on my mac haven't been backed up in a year?! two years?! christmas cards need to be planned! I need a haircut desperately!)

One task at a time, right? Sometimes, though, when all the projects seem urgent and vital and choosing is next to impossible, it seems easier to just not decide and instead focus on the ordinary tasks of the day (picking up, cooking, laundry, etc.).

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Obviously I've been messing around with format of my blog. I liked the old header picture but, obviously, Caroline was missing. However, I really don't like the header I have up there right now either, but I don't have any more time to play around with it, so it's stuck there for now.

Is it even possible to capture all four kids on one picture where all look OK? I'm thinking no, so the kids may have to leave the header. Sorry, kids.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Coffee Mishap

I just poured hot water into my French press. The problem? I forgot to put coffee grounds in the bottom. It's only 8:30 a.m. and I have a feeling it's going to be a looooooong day.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I said something offhand to Joe the other day about not liking being the center of attention in a large group and it's gotten me thinking about the truthfulness of what I said. I'm not shy; those that know me know I certainly don't mind offering my opinion, or having my share of a conversation (probably more than my share, sometimes!), but that's usually in an intimate, conversational setting. But to have someone singling me out, pointing to me, in front of a large group? That I don't like. The very idea makes me squirm.

Saying it out loud sort of surprised me, though. I wondered, have I always felt this way? Didn't I, at one time, happily sing solos? Act in plays? Has motherhood, or more likely, the lack of attention-getting opportunities, made me more reserved than I once was? Is this a bad thing? Does it even matter?

I don't have good answers to these questions. Some people are comfortable with large groups and attention, others are not. Some people, in a cocktail party setting, say, will want a large group gathered around them so they can regale the group with stories. I often love being part of that group and laughing at the good jokes I'm sure to hear. But I'd usually much rather be part of a smaller group and have a real conversation about something. I think I've always been like that, but I can't always remember.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

Oh my goodness, what a tear-jerker.

Bye-bye, diaper bag

Last week, Caroline's diaper bag ripped. I was pretty sad for a couple reasons. First off, I loved the diaper bag. It was cute, functional and I was thinking that after she outgrew the need for a diaper bag it could still be used as a hand tote bag. Second of all, I love Land's End's stuff. It always holds up well and ends up being worth the money. This was a rare example of something not holding up to life's wear and tear and I was disappointed.

I'm even more disappointed today because I took the bag into a Land's End Inlet and though they were happy to make the exchange, they don't carry the tote in a diaper bag anymore. I could have gotten just a regular tote bag, but I wanted the inside storage compartments and all the other handy features the diaper bag included. Plus, I would have had to pay the difference in price.

I'm so bummed, though. It was such a cute bag!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Ack. I'm not trying to scare people, but it just hit me today that we're only three weeks away from December 1. Wisconsinites might remember that December 1 was the date of our first major snowstorm of the year in both 2006 and 2007. And, according to what I wrote on my blog on December 1, 2008, we also had snow on the ground that day as well.

Anyone ready? I'm not.

Making Bread

I often forget that kids have the same sense of accomplishment that adults do when they create something worthwhile and meaningful. You can see the pride on their faces when they paint a picture that's hung on the refrigerator or when they carefully put away a freshly folded basket of laundry or help me with something or another for Caroline.

Yesterday we needed to make bread. Madeleine and Hank wanted to do it and so I let them take the job over. I did supervise, of course, but that was about all I had to do. They've been helping me cook and bake for so long that measuring and mixing are second nature to them.

I demonstrated how to knead the bread, but they did it themselves.

They put the kneaded dough in bowls, they found a warm spot for the dough to rise, they punched the dough down, they shaped the dough for the bread pans, they baked the bread and they flipped the bread out of its pan.

When Joe got home later in the evening, the kids raced to show Joe their loaves of bread. Each child beamed with pride and excitement over the loaf they had created and couldn't wait to cut into it and sample a piece.

Monday, November 09, 2009


The other day I told Joe I sometimes envied his descriptions of early morning coffee in his office with co-workers discussing theology, politics and the law. I lamented that I filled my head with useless bits of information like which kids don't like cheese on their ham sandwiches and how much milk to pour at mealtime because one child or another never drinks more than half a glass. I grumbled that those were the bits of information filling my head instead of big, important things like legal arguments heard at the state supreme court level that could change the landscape of Wisconsin law.

There was a time in my life, not so very long ago, that I got up in the morning, got dressed in clothes that weren't covered in spit-up stains nor did they have elastic waistbands (don't judge; sweatpants are very appealing some mornings). I went into an office, talked to other adults and worked on things pertaining to what is still today one of my favorite topics to think and talk about: politics. I did that happily for a time. It was invigorating and exciting and it kept me on my toes mentally.

And Joe didn't even think twice about how to respond to my whining. "But Cate," he said, "that's the information you need to have to be good at your job."

And he's right. And in that moment I remembered every moment I worked all those years ago that I didn't want to after I had Madeleine. I remembered every morning that I dropped Madeleine off somewhere and missing her. Every evening that I arrived home with a tired, crabby baby and yet still had dinner to cook and laundry to wash and a house to clean flashed through my head as if it were yesterday. No, I have never seriously questioned my vocation; I'm doing what I want to be doing.

So, during this season of my life I will fill my head with the details that will make me better at my job. I will still whine, occasionally, about people I meet who seem to think I have nothing else to talk about. If someone assumes I am incapable of talking about things other than my daily life than that's their fault for not probing, not mine; I'm quite conversant in any number of subjects.

But still, as this morning's coffee was coupled with a yelling nine-year-old and a crying baby, I still wish that-- just sometimes--I could sit in Joe's office for one, quiet cup of coffee.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

RIP, Bread Machine

I know how to make bread without a bread machine. It's not hard. I get that. And with the dough hook attachment for my Kitchenaid it's even easier.

Still, clean up is so, so much easier with a bread machine. No counters to wipe clean of flour, no bowls, no oven to run... just toss some flour, yeast, milk, etc. in the pan, press start and go. No kneading, no timing, nothing. Couldn't be any easier, right?

The past few times I've used my bread machine the final product has been one floury, crusty and, yet, wet mass of kitchen strangeness, like some science experiment gone bad. Somehow the paddle isn't mixing the ingredients well enough and the bread isn't turning out.

I think it's time to get rid of my bread machine. Space-wise, I'll be glad to get rid of the appliance giant that takes up a lot of storage space, but the part of me that appreciates easy, homemade bread is sad to see it go. Back to making bread from scratch, I guess. *sigh*

Story of the World

Yesterday Joe had to spend the day down in Chicago for work which meant that, based on train schedules, he wouldn't be home until 10 p.m. Madeleine and Hank begged to stay up and wait for Daddy and I said they could. We decided to read together until his arrival and I told the kids they could pick whatever they wanted, the only caveat was they needed to agree on whatever it was they chose.

Madeleine asked me, "Can we read a chapter or two out of our history book?" After I picked my jaw up off the floor I said that we could. Hank wanted to make sure we weren't going to have to do any map work or write any narrations before agreeing but after hearing that we could just plain read, both kids enthusiastically agreed on the book.

After reading about Murad and the Ottoman Empire Joe got home and we closed the book. But this morning I'm still delighted that the kids like our history text enough to want to read it simply for fun.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The No-Obligation Book Club

I love to read. And I love to discuss books but, for whatever reason, I have never joined a book club (other than the book club I'm a part of with Madeleine). It just always seems like it's one more thing to schedule into our already busy lives.

However, when leafing through my most recent issue of Real Simple I saw that they offer an on-line book club that you can comment on and take part of when it's convenient, not at a set time. Yes, you lose a lot of the benefits of having an actual conversation with a live person, but hey, it still sounds fun to me!

I probably won't be able to read along until after the new year, but I think I might try it out!

Real Simple's No-Obligation Book Club

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Glass Castle

The other night I finished The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls. Every time I read a memoir of someone who is not famous (at least not very) I am amazed at how someone I'm not emotionally connected to or interested in can captivate me with the story of their life, and Walls' tale was no different.

Reading the story of her life I kept thinking how incredibly normal her parents seemed in so many respects and, of course, how incredibly dysfunctional they were. It's also interesting that, despite their childhood, three of the four Walls children seemed to be fairly successful in their adult lives, and certainly raised themselves out of the poverty they knew as children. With poverty these days seeming to pass from generation to generation, it's interesting to question what made their family different.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Waiting for Hank

I often try to explain to people that when I say Hank does things slowly-- like getting dressed, cleaning up, making his bed, anything, really-- I mean he moves veeeeeery slowly. Exceptionally so.

I get looks from people that say All kids do things slowly. They doubt that Hank is exceptional in this regard.

Let me give you an example. One measly example that is one of a thousand stories I could tell about this boy and his inability to do anything without it taking about ninety-nine times longer than anyone else.

Getting dressed for hockey, for any person, is a production. The steps for getting all the proper gear on are so specific and so lengthy and Joe and I used an email containing instructions on how to get dressed from a hockey playing friend the first few times Hank was expected on the ice with his team. Monday was a hockey night. We arrived twenty-five minutes before practice and I guided Hank to the proper locker room. Hank was already wearing his long underwear (most kids wear long underwear or PJs under their hockey equipment). After Hank got the first few pieces of equipment on by himself I realized I was going to have to help him get the rest on or he'd miss half his ice time. I might add, during the time it took Hank to get on his jock and one shin guard two other kids had entered the locker room and had not only gotten their jocks and shin guards on, but their socks, their elbow pads, practice jersey and breezers as well, and were moving onto their skates.

But that's not the story I was referring to. Hank, with my help, did make it onto the ice in time.

But after practice? Oh my goodness. I'm going to grant Hank one redemptive piece of information. I had to feed Caroline, so I wasn't in the locker room with him to assist him, even verbally. But still. Taking off hockey equipment is easier than putting it on, and Hank does know how to put it all on by himself. As I sat out in the lobby nursing Caroline I saw a few of Hank's teammates trickle out, hockey bags in hand, heading for the door. As time ticked by I saw a few more. And then more. And more. I chatted with a few parents. I finished nursing Caroline. By this time practice had been over for twenty minutes. TWENTY minutes. I saw Hank's coach and his family emerge from the locker room. They stood by the elevator. The coach's wife held Caroline as I went off to investigate what had happened to Hank. And as I opened the locker room door what sight greeted me? Hank sitting on a locker room bench surrounded by some of his cast off hockey equipment yet still half dressed.

My eyes bulged. I could do nothing but laugh at the absurdity of it all. I asked him, "Hank! How are you still not ready to leave yet?" And he said to be, very logically, "Mom, I'm supposed to get ready in the locker room to get to know my teammates. How can I do that if I'm paying attention to getting undressed?" I sighed. The idea that he might be able to talk and get undressed is one that Joe and I have tried to explain is possible, but Hank hasn't grasped the concept yet.

Instead, I walked to the elevator, retrieved Caroline and sat and waited. For ten more minutes.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tomorrow is another day

I had idea for the day. As I thought about the idea and as it mentally shaped up I liked the idea and was excited about taking some time today to sit down and think for a few minutes and try to flesh out an interesting blog post. Except today never provided an opportunity. Between schooling, shuttling to preschool and routine doctor visits, those quiet moments never materialized.

Maybe tomorrow?

Monday, November 02, 2009


Last Wednesday night, as I arrived home from hockey practice with four tired and hungry kids I was prepared to meet my poor husband who'd been so busy at work that he'd been leaving around 3:30 a.m. just to get everything done and also to deal with getting four cranky kids into the house and fed and into bed without incident. Instead I was greeted by a bag full of hot, fresh Chinese take-out bought up by Bob. It was a nice treat after a busy day!