Friday, February 26, 2010

Good Weekend

Our weekend will look like this.

And this.

And even this.

That's right, a busy, but fun weekend is on the horizon. First up is a weekend long hockey tournament. Hank's hockey games are fun, but hockey tournaments? They're really fun. And it's out of town, so they'll be a lot of socializing with other parents, playing in the hotel's pool and generally having a relaxing time. We're even looking forward to seeing Joe's parents at one of Hank's games, since the tournament is within driving distance of their house. Fun!

Then, on Sunday, it's back to Milwaukee for Madeleine's annual piano competition. She's ready. She sounds great and she's appropriately nervous but I bet the weekend of swimming and playing will help distract her.

Of course, I haven't packed yet. And Caroline has a doctor's appointment this morning. And we still have to get Hank's skate blades sharpened, so off I go. Lots to do in a short amount of time. This procrastinator wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Piano Lessons

A few years ago Madeleine started piano lessons. She did not want to learn, but Joe and I forced her to play; we felt it was important for a variety of reasons. For three years now we've heard Madeleine complain and moan about lessons and practicing and every other aspect of piano.

Finally, a few months ago, we agreed Madeleine could quit. She could finish up her spring semester, play at her upcoming piano competition and recital and then she could quit.

And then I noticed something funny.

As soon as we told Madeleine she was going to be able to quit, she started practicing more. On her own. Without being reminded. All of a sudden, going to piano lessons early Thursday morning wasn't quite the chore it once was.

And then, today. Today she tells me she doesn't think she wants to quit piano after all.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cauliflower Soup

It is days like today when writing a blog post seems impossible. I have no inspiration, no pictures, nothing. I am surrounded by an unfinished to-do list, piles of junk that need to be put away and a batch of cauliflower soup simmering away on the stove.

I am fixated on the soup, on its smell, its taste, each carrot that was diced and tossed inside. Cooking relaxes me; I love nothing more than to lose myself in my kitchen. But today I struggled. I looked at those heads of cauliflower and stalks of celery and was throughly annoyed. When I started cooking I did not want to; it gave no pleasure. Instead I wanted to surf the internet, read books to Elisabeth and enjoy the quiet of a house with only two small children occupying it instead of four.

But I was committed. I had promised others I would make the soup.

So, with my inner-self protesting, I started chopping, dicing and sautéing. Once I started I lost myself in the cauliflower and tasting to get the seasoning just so.

And yet, here I sit, once again, in front of the computer. But at least now I sit here with less guilt. Now one of the major (only?) items on my to-do list for the day has been accomplished. And with two hours to spare, even! Who said procrastination was my middle name?

And, if anyone wants, this recipe for cauliflower soup, the one I am making, is especially decadent and delicious.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sweet Madeleine

Friday night I went out with some friends which left Joe home with the kids.

Saturday I downloaded pictures from my camera and came across the following picture that Joe took while I was gone. I'll admit it, my heart melted.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Father and Daughter Dance

Saturday night Madeleine and Joe attended a father and daughter dance. The formal invitation to the dance came over a month ago and it would be no exaggeration to say that Madeleine was counting down the hours until the event's arrival. Over two hours before the dance's scheduled start time, Madeleine started choosing clothes, asking for help with her hair, wondering why Joe wasn't putting on his suit, etc., etc.

Finally the long-awaited hour of departure arrived.

After a few hours of a dessert buffet and learning new dances (the Car Wash, anyone?) the pair arrived home happy and full of tales about all they had seen (one of the dads brought his daughter in a LIMO!) and the fun they'd had ("Mom! There was a CHOCOLATE fountain!")

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shanghai Girls

I have not read a book in a while that I have really enjoyed. This morning I read the closing chapters of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and I really enjoyed it. I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also penned by See, a few years ago and I liked it, but I enjoyed this book even more.

I happy to have invested my time in a book that, for once, did not disappoint me and make me feel as if I had wasted my time reading it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Perfect, Ordinary Day

Today has been productive. Unfortunately productive usually equates to boring. Shuttling Elisabeth to preschool. History, reading, grammar and math lessons. Lunch. Piano lesson. Sorting out old puzzles. Goodwill drop. Horseback riding. Hockey. Blah, blah, blah.

Days like today are not exciting, yet still, more than the exciting days, I value these days. I really do. This day will blur together with all the other nondescript days we've had this year and I will not be able to single it out individually, but so what? I feel good; as if I've accomplished something. My house is clean. The laundry is a manageable size. My dream of purging unused toys is slowly being realized. I was able to watch Dad and Hank put a puzzle together. I spent time chatting and laughing with Madeleine.

No, on the exciting scale, this day scores a big, fat zero. But these are the kinds of days I would repeat every day if I could.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Psalm 51

Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent. This morning we read this psalm aloud in a brief service this morning at church and I thought it was a perfect psalm to reflect on during this penitential season.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grocery Store Survival

Why is it that every time I exit a grocery store with all four kids in tow I exhale and feel like I've just survived some sort of horrific battle?

Is it because my four-year-old is trying to climb on top of the car cart while my seven-year-old whirls around to talk to me every other second while not paying a bit of attention to all the people he's about to whack with the basket he's carrying? Or maybe it's because all three of my older kids jam their hands in the hard roll box and touch the rolls while I am trying to load the cart with actual groceries. It could be the sounds of, "MOMCANWEBUYTHISMOMCANWEBUYTHISMOMCANWEBUYTHIS!" coming from three different directions that make me hate grocery shopping so very, very much.

Whatever the reason, I hate it. I do. I cannot stand taking all four of my kids inside a grocery store. I hate it with a passion beyond reason. Because of that, I don't do it very often. I grit my teeth when on days, like today, I've planned ahead poorly and I find myself needing to grocery shop with all of them in tow. The entire trip through Pick-n-Save was as horrible as I had anticipated and I inwardly berated myself for not figuring all our food needs out over the weekend so I could have avoided the trip.

And now we are home. Tonight I will definitely have a glass of wine.

For what it's worth, though, Madeleine is actually more of a help than anything now, so I really should whine too much. Oops, forgot that red onion over in produce? Madeleine can dash and get it. Elisabeth starting to wander away? Madeleine chases after her. Hmmm. Maybe I need to reevaluate why I whine about things like this when, when I I really think back on it, it wasn't as awful as I'm making it sound.

Oh well. Whatever. I'm still having a glass of wine.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Clean Room

Today, I cleaned.

My house wasn't dirty. And, really, besides last night's late arrival home and dumpage of stuff, it really wasn't even that messy. But we've had these piles of weird things all over our house for months and it was starting to drive me batty because I just don't like mess. Or clutter. Or the appearance of mess or clutter. It really does make me crazy.

So, I cleaned. For, like, four or five hours. And guess what-- I got one room clean. One! That's how much junk there was to organize. One room!

But hey, guess what. That one room-- our bedroom--is stinkin' or-gan-IZED. Man, is it ever clean. The pile of books ready to topple to the floor on each of our night stands? Gone. The random piles of maternity clothes around our bedroom? Packed away and returned. (Except for yours, Erin; you're getting your stuff back the very next time I see you, not like the last time I was going to give them to you when I saw you. Or the time before that.) The stacks of coins and random tickets and scraps of paper are gone, gone, gone.

So, while I am a little concerned about how it took me an entire freaking DAY to clean our bedroom which, I have to tell you, prior to today wasn't really MESSY so much as it was cluttered, still, I am happy it's done. I am bummed more rooms in my house aren't stinkin' or-gan-IZED; I'll just have to seek solace in that one room that is cleaned to my liking. And maybe I'll just tell the kids that can't go in there. Ever.


Sort of.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ten Years

Ten years ago, on a day much like today-- sunny and cold-- Joe and I exchanged our wedding vows in front of friends, family and God. It was a beautiful day, and still one of my absolute favorite days, ever.

During the ceremony.

Our gorgeous cake made for us by my incredibly talented cousin (sixty-five's daughter!).

Happy Anniversary, Joe!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Open Letter

Dear Lego Luke Skywalker,

If I step on you or your twin sister or your father that turned to the dark side ONE MORE TIME I will wipe that Lego smile off your face with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser so fast your head will spin. I'll do it; I will. STOP hurting my feet or you'll be sorry.

And, oh, by the way, could you please tell the non-Lego Luke Skywalker to stop whining like a four-year-old girl in the movies?

Thank you.

Hank's mom.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Last Battle

As a family, we have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia books for a few years now. Madeleine and Hank love them and remember every detail they've ever heard, from The Magician's Nephew to The Horse and His Boy. Joe and I have loved them tremendously as well, and so, we have tried to spread the books out over a few years instead of reading them all at once and not having any more Narnia to look forward to.

Sadly, the end had to come eventually and, last night, with just two chapters to go in The Last Battle we decided to promote our ordinary pre-bedtime ritual of reading together into a Major Book Night and celebrate the last few moments in Narnia as much as we could. Sleeping bags were gotten, popcorn was popped and we all managed to make it through to the end without a great many tears being shed (those of you who've read the books can well imagine a few tears were shed).

We are all sad that we are done with the series, but we were cheered to think that in a few years we could start all over again when Elisabeth and Caroline might be interested in hearing the stories. And this, of course, ignited all sorts of debate about which order to read the books. This last time we read them in chronological order, but I've heard some say no real Narnia fan would read them in any order but the order in which they were written (more info about the conflicting orders here). Hopefully my blog readers can offer their opinions about the "right" way to read the Narnia books in the comments.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Beautiful Snow

I whine a lot about Wisconsin winters. I realize it can be annoying and pretty stupid since Joe could do his job anywhere, including warmer climates so living in this cold, snowy state is not a requirement for us, it's a choice.

I sometimes lament days being too cold or the winter being too long but, honestly, on a day like today, when the temperature hovers in the high twenties (warm, for winter!), the snow lightly falls all day long, and the kids play with other home-schooling kids who live down the street and together enjoy the magic of the freshly fallen snow, I am reminded that, most of the time, I really like winter.

Monday, February 08, 2010

What I am reading

I have always loved to read and lately I have been dismayed at the very few books I've muddled through this past year. I've read a book here or there, but nothing constant. I must confess is I usually get sucked into watching some dumb show on TV and then I'm too tired to move, let alone become interested in a book.

I am determined to read more and to cut back on the mindless TV shows I find myself watching most nights.

I have a stack of really appealing books in my house right now and I am anxious to read them. First up is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Yes, again. I received a beautiful edition of the book for Christmas to replace my tattered paperback copy and I have enjoyed the pretty appearance of the cover almost as much as the familiar story on its pages.

I am also reading a book recommended called The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling by Rachel Gathercole.

So far it's more describing things I am well aware of (i.e. the different ways home-schoolers teach their children, the deluge of social activities available to home-schoolers, etc.) than telling me anything new but I still always enjoy reading books about home-schooling. Usually I find at least a few helpful hints when I read such a book.

One thing I read that sort of surprised me was that, according to Gathercole's research, the number of people choosing to home-school is growing at a rate of ten-twenty percent per year. I have long realized it's a much more popular option now than when I was a child, but wow; that is significant growth.

I will also be spending time this week reading through my copy of The Well-Trained Mind since I am hoping to start making some tentative plans about different texts that I would like to buy for next year.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Joke

Why did the cookie go to the doctor?

Because he was feeling crumb-y. Get it? Crumb-y. Crummy.

It's funny, no? Madeleine says she made it up. Elisabeth told me the joke the other day and, I have to admit, I laughed.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Waxing Nostalgic

OK, so I just downloaded a boatload of really stupid pictures from my iPhone that have been sitting on there for months. Most of them were taken by the kids and trust me when I say, regardless of the photographer, the pictures are really, really dumb.

All but this one.

Why is that one not dumb? It's Hank eating a stupid tortilla chip, and it's not even a particularly flattering photo.

It's not dumb because this was taken at a restaurant on August 28, 2009 while I was in the beginning stages of labor. A few short hours later this would happen.

So, yeah, it's a dumb photo, but it says so much more to me than it might suggest on first glance. It makes me remember labor pains, the questioning of whether I was in labor or not, the timing, the pacing, the race to the hospital and, ultimately, meeting sweet Caroline who, let's face it, is the world's most perfect baby, even in stupid photos that come off my iPhone.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

It's All Gooey

Lately I have been thinking a lot lately about my life, my kids, what I do all day and how it all relates to each other. It's winter. It's February. February means introspection, doesn't it? And after too much time with myself and my kids I usually end up very frustrated and very annoyed, both with my kids and with myself. Too much self-reflection isn't always a good thing. Or maybe it's never a good thing. Who knows.

Anyway. I like things neat. Organized. This applies to the spaces I inhabit and to the life I live. Chaos in my home in the form of scattered books, toys and games makes me anxious and crazy, and I don't like who I am when I am anxious and crazy, so I make the kids clean up the messes. Or, if I'm really feeling manic, I clean up the messes.

Well, guess what. Chaos and a lack of a predictable routine in my everyday life bothers me just as much. I like relationships to be smooth and harmonious. I don't live well with discord or uncertainty. Life always has a certain amount of mystique about it, but once you have kid upon kid (upon kid upon kid!) the uncertainty involved in each new morning grows that much more.

Today Elisabeth asked to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and she wanted to put the jelly on the bread all by herself. I grudgingly handed over the knife, all the while thinking how much faster and less messy it would be if I just did it myself already. After she globbed on the jelly, Elisabeth handed me the knife and asked for help with the peanut butter. I reached out my large hand to make the exchange with her small one and guided the steel knife handle into my hand.

Oh! I blurted out. It's all gooey!

And it was. All sticky and messy and full of raspberry jelly and it was all over my hand.

And it hit me, right then in there in my kitchen as I washed off the knife's handle: kids are all gooey; they're messy and chaotic and they stick to you like Agrosik raspberry jelly.

The moral is, for me, I need to just relax. Embrace the routine and the organization when I can, but also remember kids are kids. Elisabeth didn't try to spread jelly all over the knife handle, it happened because she's four and can't yet wield a knife. She will learn because I will continue to let her rub jelly all over the knife handle until she gets it right and, in the future, maybe I will remember that it's not a big deal because I can, after all, just wipe off the handle.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Muddling Through, Yet Again

After absorbing some of the comments from yesterday's post I feel sort of guilty because the truth is that home-schooling is hard work. But the other truth is that it is not as hard as you might think.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, in the past to try and illustrate what home-schooling is like for us. Because that's the other truth about home-schooling-- it looks different in every family. I have tried on occasion to show what it looks like in our home, and ultimately failed, because every time I write something down it feels flat. It's missing something. It never paints a complete enough picture.

So I share vignettes here and there, usually when I am especially frustrated or especially excited about something we have done. And I think-- no, I know-- these ultimately give the reader an inauthentic impression of what home-schooling in our home is.

I wonder at the impossibility of accurately describing what happens in our home. Maybe it really is an impossible feat or maybe it is a failure on my part, a lack of the right words or an inability to string those words together in such a way that presents a cohesive, detailed picture.

But lest other home-schoolers begin to boycott my blog on the basis that I paint a sunnier picture of home-schooling than warranted or, worse yet, make it seem too awful for other families to ever contemplate, let me share one last truth: any parent could do this.

Please do not misunderstand, I am not suggesting every parent should home-school or that all parents should even want to, but I am saying that every parent has the innate ability to have their children home every day, successfully teach them everything they need to know to go out into the world as competent adults and even enjoy doing it most days. It is simply that desire to have our kids home coupled with the love we have for our children that gives families the ability to home-school and not anything else. The balancing act of school versus household duties versus free time are the same challenges all parents face, I suspect, whether they work outside the home or whether they're home with their kids and don't home-school and it is one that is just figured out, somehow, over time.

Anyway, I feel like I don't do this topic justice, which is why I rarely tackle it and I know this post has fallen short also, but I just wanted at muddle through one more post so as to not leave the impression that I have things all together (I do not) or, conversely, that I am ready to sell my kids to the circus and on the precipice of a mental breakdown (I am not).

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

More Interrupted Thoughts

I could, should I choose to, make a very expansive list about all the reasons I adore my children and how I'm thankful to have them home with me all day. And maybe some day I will do that. But not today.

No, today I am going to describe my number one pet peeve about having bodies-- busy, loud, talkative bodies-- around all the time to see how many others can relate.

My number one pet peeve is being interrupted, and not when I'm having a conversation, though I think that's annoying too, but being interrupted when I am thinking is what drives me the most crazy. It might be that I am writing something as inconsequential as an email, but even so, I want to think about what I am writing. I want things to be spelled correctly. I want to make sure I have conveyed all the information I want to convey and when someone is interrupting me every other second I can't do that.

It's reached a fever pitch lately with all of us being stuck indoors more than we would like. I try, as successfully as I can, to partition off my day. When we are doing schoolwork, that's all I do; the kids get 100% of my attention. But I do like some time to myself every day. Time to think and relax and do something that I am interested in. Usually that thing is blogging. Why do I blog? Because I enjoy the challenge of looking at the expanse of white and trying to fill it, even when I don't particularly want to. This is my thing that I do and the kids aren't involved. Yes, it might be about them, but it is not theirs. Blogging is my thing I do most days that challenges me to think and create something that doesn't get destroyed like food or a clean house or clean laundry.

Mom, can I go over to so-and-so's house? Mom, I'm going outside! Mom, can you help me tape this picture? Mom, can you tie this? Mom, Mom, MOM!

One of these days the children will understand that it takes peace and calm to connect one thought to the next. And they will realize that the unimportant task of creating another post in the vast ocean of the blogosphere matters to me and they will let me at it.

But, for now, those interrupted thoughts is the single greatest annoyance I have on a daily basis. Am I alone?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Birthday Dinner

Since marrying, I have realized not every family celebrates birthdays the way my family has always celebrated birthdays. We have always recognized and celebrated everyone's birthday, whether child or adult. Each birthday honoree gets a meal of their choice, a birthday cake and a dinner dedicated to celebrating their special day. Of course, the more our families expand with marriages and children the greater difficulties our family has synchronizing busy schedules and, so, the more liberties we take with dates and sometimes birthday celebrants are forced to consolidate parties.

Yesterday we celebrated Dad's birthday (actual birthdate: January 21) and Diana's birthday (actual birthdate: February 21).

My sister made the cake...

and Dad and Diana shared blowing out the candles duty.