Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sunny Day

Sun. Warmth. Magnolia buds, ready to burst open.

Oh, happy, happy day.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Round Up, Late-March Edition

Elisabeth has been requesting a lot of books lately. I have to say, it's somewhat heartwarming to note that two of her current go-to books are Beatrix Potter books that were mine when I was a child. Her favorite stories of Potter's right now are The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Two Bad Mice.

Another heartwarming favorite of Elisabeth's is The Little Red Hen out of a storybook called The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook, which belonged to my mom when she was a girl. I remember her reading it to me when I was Elisabeth's age and having her tell me about how she remembered her mom reading it to her. I wonder if someday Elisabeth will read the tattered copy of The Little Red Hen to her daughter?

Joe and I are about this close to hiding Elisabeth's copy of P.B. Bear's Christmas; we are that sick of her pulling it out and asking us to read it. For Pete's sake; there really isn't any story, just a bunch of--admittedly cute-- pictures. Argh!

As a family we are reading Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. It's slow going because Joe has been working a lot lately and when he has been home we've been playing lots of games; the kids are really into Charades and Guesstures. But on the nights when we've all settled in with blankets and pillows, we've enjoyed it.

To correspond to our history readings, the kids and I have read, or will read shortly, Peter the Great by Diane Stanley about Peter the Great of Russia, which is a great, easy to read book with engaging text and pictures about one of Russia's most important tsars. This week, we'll read another picture book called The First Tulips in Holland which is a fictionalized account of how the first tulips were taken from the Middle East into Holland. This book is only loosely related to this week's study of the Ottoman Empire. Next week we'll work through a couple of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories.

With the warm weather, Hank has given up reading for fun. (Argh! Someday he'll realize reading is fun... right?!) He read Tippy Lemmey by Patricia C. McKissack for school and Hank said he thought it was really good. Now he's reading Tornado by Betsy Byars which he also says he really likes. But, like usual, no matter how much he's enjoying his book, once he's finished with what I've suggested he read that day, he closes the book up and announces, "I finished my reading!" (Argh! Someday he'll realize reading is fun... right?!)

Joe's been busy the past few weeks. Madeleine insisted months ago that he read The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and he finally acquiesced. He enjoyed the adventure, just as Madeleine and I did. Now he is working through The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul and before that it was American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by Joan Biskupic, which he enjoyed.

I remember days when I could finish a book in under a week. Heck, I remember days when I could keep my eyes open at night for more than twenty minutes at a time. Bob introduced my to these DK Illustrated Biographies at Christmas and I just love them. Madeleine read the one about Helen Keller awhile back and I just finished it. How fun to get a brief glimpse into such an extraordinary life with all those wonderful photographs interspersed. Now I am reading Emma by Jane Austen. It's been years since I first read it and I can't remember it much at all so I am enjoying it almost as if I had never read it before.

I also did finish up Out Stealing Horses shortly after my last book post. *Sigh* I really, really loved it. The story and all its subplots were engaging and the writing was just so lovely. I wish I hadn't finished it and could have stretched it out.

Madeleine is still working through Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. She loves it but I've noticed she'll read a large chunk and then take a break for a day or two from it, almost as if she needs to let Anne's words settle in so that she truly understands what is going on. When she's not reading about Anne, she's been tearing through the American Girl dolls books for the 147th time, Betsy Tacy (third time through? Fourth?) and one of the Jake Drake books that Hank checked out of the library. And, finally, for school she's almost done with The Seventeenth Swap, which she still says is dumb.

I'm struggling with what to read next. Everyone under the sun tells me how much they loved The Help so I requested it from the library but I didn't realize it was still new enough to only be a seven-day loan. Pathetically, there's no way I can finish a book in seven days anymore, so I'm going to return it and wait until I can keep it the full three weeks. I am thinking of starting David Copperfield by Dickens since I've never read it, but gee whiz, at the rate I've been reading lately, I won't finish it until 2011! We'll see.

What have your must-reads been these past few weeks?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Seven Months

I just have to say, I am really not OK with this. This baby-- this ridiculously cute baby-- is too distracting. She keeps rolling around and smiling and cooing and, really, who can get anything done besides take pictures when she's acting that way?

I mean, really. Come on!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dashed Dreams

Is this not the very picture of sadness?

Today at the Audubon this,

the fire tower, was closed, making it impossible for the Hankster to climb to the top. It was closed the last time we were there. And the time before that.

Let's just say that Hank was looking forward to that part of the day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

School: Hank Style

Hank is a creature of habit. Change his routine and, believe me, you'll hear about it. Who knows, maybe even the whole neighborhood will hear about it, depending on his mood.

He likes to make Elisabeth's oatmeal in the morning.

He prefers non-traditional spots for reading and schoolwork.

When he finally moves up to the dining room table so that he can spread out his math materials,

it takes him about half a second to realize his big sister is at the other end of the table, trying to concentrate.

So, the booger starts singing. Loudly. He starts singing very, very loudly.

"Hank!" Madeleine yells. "I'm trying to concentrate! MOM! MAKE HIM BE QUIET!!!"

He goes back to work. Smirking though. He's still totally singing in his head and imagining his aggravated sister, I can tell.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hear, Hear!

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I feel completely empty-headed right now, and instead of trying to force words that are not there to come, I am going to luxuriate in the comfort of a peaceful mind. It's a rare moment that I don't have about fifty conflicting thoughts that I was to spit out, either verbally or on paper (or on a computer screen), but it's a rather enjoyable feeling, actually.

So, there you are. Nothing. *exhale*

Monday, March 22, 2010

Distressed, but not in totality

I am at a crossroads today, blogging-wise. Since yesterday, most of my time has been consumed with the health care bill that just passed in Washington. The time that I haven't spent actively reading about the bill, or watching debate, I've been thinking about the bill and, more deeply, where this country and its population is heading (or arrived?), philosophically-speaking.

But I don't want to talk about that on my blog. It's not that I want to ignore important events, it's just that it's hard to discuss politics in any type of text-based forum; people become their internet handles and the breathing person, the one with real feelings and varying, nuanced opinions, is forgotten.

So, today, I offer this. I had a friend over for coffee this morning. Sadly, I don't see this friend much these days; I home-school, she does not and, as life travels along, our paths do not cross as much as they once did. My children cooperated, completing school work they're able to do on their own while she and I talked. We, as friends so often do, relied on comfortable rhythms of conversations past: politics, theology, literature and our children, all topics that have interested us in the past and offer varying conversations.

After a few cups of coffee she left. She drove back into her world of PTO meetings and work related obligations and I went back to fractions, Peter the Great, predicate pronouns and the health care bill fallout.

But talking to her made me appreciate the beautiful things in life: well-written blogs, good books, pretty clothes, appealing architecture and other things that stimulate our hearts and minds.

It would be easy for me to let myself become another conservative blogger who is somewhat frantic about yesterday's health care vote and to champion a small-government philosophy that I passionately embrace; I am that blogger. But I am not only that blogger, and in a digital world that creates caricatures based on electronic musings, I will not let myself become that blogger, even on days when when political thoughts are what consumes me for the day.

Distressed I am, but not it totality. Who could be on a day when the sun is shining? On a day when I was given time to verbally appreciate some of the many beautiful things life has to offer, not the least of which is, for a home-schooling mother, a silly four-year-old dressing her baby doll in a swimsuit in March?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Friday

Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you.-- Edward Payson Rod

Comforted I am. Happy flowers, along with a lazy weekend on the horizon and good friends on their way here bring comfort and happiness. Happy Friday it is indeed. Enjoy, everyone!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Early Spring

Spring in Wisconsin is sunshine and playing outside without coats.

It means rakes and yard waste bags and preparation for the new growth that's down beneath the soil, waiting for summer to entice it to grow.

It means fresh, new buds, peeking up seeing if maybe-- just maybe-- spring is near.

Today it meant a whimsically tossing two bunches of daffodil buds (Two for $4!, the placard screamed) in my cart while in the check-out line at the grocery store with the hope that maybe, they too, would feel spring in the air and treat us to some of their cheerful warmth in days to come or, as it was to be, later the same afternoon.

Early spring in Wisconsin is a fickle beast. Today it means this.

And this weekend, just like that, spring changes its mind and predicts this.

Temporary warmth. A reprieve from winter, that is what early spring offers us. On a day like today, who can complain?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Elisabeth as Madeleine

Some little girls prefer to play dress up in high heels and sparkly dresses. Others dress up as doctors, cowboys or Cinderella.

But Elisabeth?

Left alone in the living room with her sister's riding clothes, she chooses to become an equestrian.

Madeleine soon realizes what her little sister is up to and supervises. See her there, just behind Elisabeth, hovering?

Madeleine is there, not as a jealous overseer of possessions, but as a happy older sister who thinks her little sister is sweet and cute in her too-big riding helmet and sagging half-chaps.

Elisabeth is strong of mind and will. She admires her big sister, but does not want to become her for more than short snippets of time. For a moment. After dinner, maybe, in the living room. But later? Madeleine's interests are discarded in favor of her own.

Here Elisabeth is dressed as her big sister, but underneath Elisabeth remains. What sorts of clothes she will put on as she pursues her own interests and activities have yet to be determined. And I pray Madeleine will still be there, hovering, with a smile on her face.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Round Up, Mid-March Edition

Please, indulge me. Allow me to jot down random thoughts about books here and there and, if you're so inclined, respond. Tell me what you're reading. Tell me if you've read what I have read or am reading, and if your thoughts are the same as mine. I don't belong to any book clubs, so favor me, if you will, with your thoughts and recommendations.

Jane Ray's edition of Snow White is enchanting and Elisabeth has been requesting it be read to her a lot lately. The illustrations are lovely and Ray's adaptation is much more faithful to the original than the Disney-fied versions of late.

Madeleine is reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and it has spurred a lot of interesting discussion in our home. And, to show how pathetic my memory is these days, I can't even remember if I toured the Anne Frank museum when I was in Amsterdam many moons ago. Madeleine wants me to dig out my pictures of that trip so we can we can see what, if anything, I saw. Is it possible I visited Amsterdam without visiting the museum? It seems unlikely; I read and was moved by Frank's diary as a young girl myself. How, then, can I not remember. Frustrating.

Ballet Shoes is my read and it's for our next Mother/Daughter book club meeting. I wish I could say I was loving it, but I am persevering. On the other hand, Madeleine enjoyed it immensely.

Joe bought himself a copy of William F. Buckley's book The Reagan I Knew with some Christmas gift cards. I hear him chuckling a bit when he's reading it. I suppose it would be difficult for a Reagan fan to not enjoy reading his personal letters and exchanges with a friend.

The Saddle Club book is (was?) Madeleine's late-night, my-mom-and-dad-think-I'm-asleep-but-I'm-really-reading book. She tears through this trash at light speed and I think this is the one she's on right now. She has other Saddle Club and Nancy Drew (the old, original ones) waiting in the wings.

We read The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo as a family and uttered the final word just last night. This one was a heart-wrenching, emotional journey versus an adventure sort of journey and it gave our family a lot to talk about when it concluded. I do love the stories DiCamillo weaves, but I am thankful we read this story out loud so that I could edit language I would rather not have included in children's books. I'm no prude and I know my children have heard me mumble an expletive or two under my breath, but I don't understand why they're ever necessary in children's literature.

We're thinking of The Jungle Book as our next family read aloud. We'll try a chapter or two out and see if it grabs us. I suspect from previewing the first few pages that it will.

Out Stealing Horses. What can I say about this book? Oh, is it ever lovely. The story is building slowly, but the writing is captivating. The book is so engrossing and so haunting that I have been forcing myself to read more slowly, to treasure every moment and ensure that it not end too soon. I am only halfway through, but so far I adore this book.

The Seventeenth Swap and McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm are what Madeleine and Hank are reading for their assigned, school reading. Madeleine says the The Seventeenth Swap is horrible and boring and dull. Hank is ambivalent about McBroom's Farm, but I suspect he's enjoying it more than he's letting on based on his guffaws while reading and how he becomes so engrossed while reading it that he reads more than assigned.

Save Hank, we all like to read. And, well, Hank doesn't know it yet, but he likes to read too. I am convinced he could not possibly enjoy being read to as much as he does without one day growing in affection for the activity itself. So, the Hankster doesn't read for fun. But lately, as he has been staying up later, we've been insisting on some quiet time before bed. Sometimes we read aloud as a family, sometimes Madeleine or Hank will read a book to Elisabeth or sometimes we all sit together but read independently and, because of that, Hank does have a book he's reading right now that is not an assigned school book. He chose Jake Drake, Know it All. While I don't find Clements' writing to be all that challenging, his plots to be all that sophisticated or his characters very layered, there is no denying the fact that kids enjoy his books. Hank is reading a book. For fun. I'm counting this as a win.

Ah, Duck on a Bike. All of my kids have gone through a Duck on a Bike phase, and I suspect Caroline will too. Something about the barnyard animals and the repetition... I don't know, but my kids have all loved it.

That's it, for now. I don't know what I am going to tackle next; I suspect I'll make my decision as things come with my holds at the library. What are you reading?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

Busy. Busy, busy, busy. Run here, run there.

And now, home, glass of wine in hand.

Tuesday night was hockey. Wednesday night was our midweek Lenten church service and dinner. Last night horseback riding, hockey and a pizza party. Today a home-school field trip. Tomorrow hockey upon hockey. And then, like that, it's over; no more hockey until the fall. It's consumed our lives, to be sure, but in some ways, after the final puck is dropped this weekend, I think I will be very sad. I'll miss all my hockey mom buddies and all the little siblings and all the cold ice rinks and hotel swimming pools and all the wild little boys and girls swinging hockey sticks around.

Tonight. The calm before the storm. A glass of wine, a warm house and happy children. Peace. Or as peaceful as a home can be with four kids, anyway.

Cheers, and happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Madeleine

This girl, this nine-year-old girl blows me away. This girl, grown-up in so many ways (Mom! Why can't I wear make-up!) yet still so innocent and young (she loves that doll she's holding).

Of all my kids, she reminds me of me the most. Her interests (horses, reading), her personality (stubborn, always in a rush to get to the next thing, self-confident, independent) and her talents (she loves to write as much as I do, though my hope is she will far, far surpass me in talent and ability).

In other ways, though, she reminds me of me the least. Her interests (fashion), her talents (she's fairly artistic).

These combinations scare me as much as they delight me. How many times in my life did I stick to some entrenched opinion only to learn, the hard way-- always the hard way!-- that I was wrong? What choices will she make as her life progresses that would be made easier if she didn't have my stubborn personality? Will her self-confidence remain and will she be confident enough to make decisions for herself even when others are encouraging her otherwise?

It's fun to speculate. She and her best friend already have it all figured out; she says she wants to be a large animal veterinarian. Her friend will also be a veterinarian, only she will be a small animal vet. They plan on living on one big farm with two, separate houses. Their husbands are going to stay home with their kids.

I smile and encourage Madeleine, of course. But inwardly I chuckle at the idea of my little girl, my nine-year-old Madeleine, delivering calves and foals when, right now, she runs and shrieks at the sight of a worm.

I do not know what she will do or what she will become. But I do know that this girl, this sweet little girl that I held for the first time only a few short moments ago in a hospital room in Janesville, Wisconsin, is halfway through her childhood. I want her to remain small, to remain mine, but eventually I will have to share her with the world. Halfway through. Soon speculation will become reality. I hope I am ready.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Workbook Funny

Madeleine and Hank's Latin text often parallels their grammar lessons; it is impossible to learn conjugation unless certain parts of speech are understood.

The other day their text was making sure the students knew what an adjective was. To practice the concept the kids were told to write three adjectives that described them and three adjectives that described their house. Following are their answers and, I think, some insight into the psyche of my two older children.


Three adjectives that describe her: pink (huh?), happy and smart (clearly confident might also be applicable here).

Three adjectives that describe her house: small, busy and cozy (all very true).


Three adjectives that describe him: big, tuff (his spelling, not mine and, it's also worth noting, not true at ALL) and kind (very true).

Three adjectives that describe his house: huge (again, only true in fantasy land), fun and cold (oh, true, true, true--BRRR!!).

Needless to say, while going over their assignments from last week this morning, I laughed a fair bit.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Differing Personalities

My kids are different. Really different.

Upon arriving at our hotel in Appleton last weekend, Hank and Elisabeth chucked their bags wherever they could find floor space and immediately began to pester Joe about going down to the pool.

Not Madeleine.

No, she methodically got the lay of the land, organized who was sleeping in which rooms and which beds and, once she had staked out her spot, carefully unpacked her things and arranged them on the ledge behind her bed. When she realized Elisabeth had no interest in doing the same, Madeleine, muttering under her breath all the while, carefully unpacked Elisabeth's doll and arranged her things on her half of the ledge behind their bed.

Madeleine also set out her diary and a pen on the desk in her room and then, when she realized Joe was still figuring out that evening's hockey schedule and Hank and Elisabeth were still whining about possibly not being able to swim until later in the evening, Madeleine promptly kicked back and relaxed in her newly organized room.

Madeleine is a girl after my own heart. That's all I'm sayin'.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Piano Competition, 2010

The dreaded annual piano competition is behind us for another year. I say dreaded because as much as Madeleine likes the accolades she receives when playing for people, she also detests playing for two strangers, knowing that one is listening intently and grading every move she makes.

Still, though, she gritted her teeth and smiled before she and I left the house.

As always, she was intrigued by the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee's campus and looked around a bit when we walked up the stairs from the underground parking garage.

And, as usual, we arrived too early. This hallway where we waited was silent. And I mean s-i-l-e-n-t. We waited for Madeleine's turn, speaking in hushed tones about things she wasn't terribly interested in, as anxious people tend to do in situations like those.

Afterwards, sweet relief. It took Madeleine awhile to stop shaking. I am certain the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream stop we made on our way home helped calm her a bit.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Book Round Up

Here is what we are all reading right now.

Joe seems to be enjoying Marine Sniper quite a bit. I think it sounds horrifically dull, but my dad enjoyed it too, so what do I know.

I am barely into On Gold Mountain, but I anticipate liking it since I have enjoyed Lisa See's work in the past, and I am always drawn to memiors. And, yes, I am still slogging through The Well-Adjusted Child. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it covers a lot that I already know. I've been reading a chapter here and there, and I am sure I'll finish it eventually.

Hank is the first fan of Beverly Clearly in our home. I adored all of her Ramona Quimby books as a kid and it has always pained me that Madeleine has turned her nose up at Cleary's books. Hank, however, is really enjoying Henry and Ribsy and thinks Madeleine is silly for not liking Cleary's books. Of course, this is his assigned reading for school; Hank still thinks he doesn't enjoy reading in his free time. Baby steps. I figure if he is enjoying the books he's reading for school, eventually that will turn him into a reader.

Madeleine is reading The Goose Girl for fun. She says it's really sad, but really good. For school, Madeleine is reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson and she loves this book. It's about a little girl that moves from China to America. She doesn't speak English and has a tough time adjusting to her new home until she starts playing stickball and following Jackie Robinson as he leads the Brooklyn Dodgers to victory after victory.

Last week, Madeleine finished the book Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright and words cannot possibly convey how much Madeleine adored this book. She wants to tell anyone who will listen that they should read this book.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Knowing We'll Forget

The other night I sat in Caroline's room nursing her to sleep. The house was quiet, its inhabitants engaged in silent activities like sleeping and reading. Caroline's nightlight gave the room a warm, soft glow and as I gazed down at Caroline's perfect, small form suckling away, she, as she so often does, looked up at me and smiled and, as she did so, tiny, tear-shaped little droplets of milk dribbled out the side of her mouth. She then took her tiny hand and clutched my finger, and I said to myself, in that perfect moment, "I am going to make a point of remembering this moment forever."

And then I felt sad.

Because I can remember telling myself that exact same thing with Madeleine and with Hank and with Elisabeth. And yet, despite my intentions to remember those special moments with my older kids, I don't. Those memories have faded away and have long been replaced by new, equally wonderful moments of cuteness and togetherness. Equally wonderful, but different moments that evoke different feelings.

And I sat there, staring at Caroline, knowing I wanted to remember this, but knowing too, that I will forget; those memories will be replaced by some goofy comment, or a spontaneous hug or-- heaven help me-- hearing her recite her wedding vows or singing to her own child.

There is no answer. No trite summation or theme. Forgive the overused expression, but it is what it is. Life goes on. Children grow up. They get bigger. Our memories fade or are forgotten.

Still, though, knowing that we will forget, despite every intention not to, when we're in those perfect moments, is impossibly hard.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Six Months

Caroline. Half a year old. How in the world did these months go so fast?