My old sneakers are friends of mine

Here’s the song reference.  If you haven’t had a laugh today, you should give it a listen; you’ll need to scroll down a bit to get to the video player.

Mr. Man and Beanie share a common adoration for sneakers that have been so well-loved and well-worn that they neither fit not are able to maintain structural integrity.  As it happens, Mr. Man’s third pair of Spider-Man kicks completely disintegrated this morning, necessitating a visit to the store I generally avoid at all costs, but cannot live without because that particular store always has light-up Spider-Man sneakers in stock at a price our family’s budget can handle.  Sometimes, we have to give the nod to practicality.

august 2013 004 august 2013 005

The last time we had to replace Mr. Man’s everyday shoes, I had quite the job convincing him the world was not ending and that he would, in fact, survive the retirement of his beloved footwear.  To give the little guy credit, he has yet to outgrow a pair of shoes that have not already been worn to tatters, and his last act before he goes to bed every night is to make sure they are securely tucked under his cozy bed.  There have been nights we’ve overheard him whispering a quiet “goodnight” to them.

The last time we had to replace his shoes, our first effort resulted in a pair of shoes that were actually slightly too small for him.  The rejected size 8s have, nonetheless, been gently tucked under his bed all the while, boon companions to his size 9s, and when the demise of the above-pictured shoes became apparent to Mr. Man, he immediately ran down the stairs, returning at a sprint with the too-small sneakers.  Ever so proudly, he sat on the couch, proclaiming, “Look, Mommy, I found the good shoes!” as he tried to stuff his feet into them.

After about fifteen minutes, he dejectedly slouched into the kitchen, where I was drinking my coffee and quietly checking web sites to see which local store had Spider-Man sneakers in stock in his size, to avoid a wasted trip (and a three-year-old meltdown).

“Mommy, I can’t get these Spidey shoes on.  They won’t cofloperating.  Can you help me, please?”

Baby Guy helpfully chimed in, “Helm you, helm you!”

I pulled Mr. Man, still clutching the little shoes, into my lap.  “I can try, big guy, but do you know what?  I don’t think I’ll be able to get them on, either.  See, let’s look at your old shoes.”  Tugging the tongue of one of the old shoes out, I pointed to the little number that indicated the size.  “See that number there?  What does it say?”

“That’s a nine, Mommy, I know numbers, that’s a nine.”

“Right you are, and that’s a good job.  Now let’s look at these shoes.”  Flipping up the tongue of the smaller shoes, I pointed again.

“That’s an eight, Mommy, that’s not a nine, that’s an eight.”

“Very good, Mr. Man, that’s an eight.  Now I want you to think for a minute.  Which is bigger, which is more, eight or nine.”

Grinning hugely, he clapped his hands together and bellowed, “Nine!  Nine is more!  Nine is BIGGER!”

Can’t laugh . . . not funny . . .

“Exactly right, big guy!  So which shoes are bigger, do you think, the eight shoes or the nine shoes?”

His brow creased, and he scowled at both pairs of shoes for a moment before slowly answering, “The nine shoes, the nine shoes are big enough for my feet, the eight shoes are small and the nine shoes are big, like Baby Guy is small and Mr. Man is big, eight shoes are Baby Guy size and not Mr. Man size.”

“Right, buddy.  You need new shoes.”

“I need new shoes.”

“Uh-huh.  We could go get them now in case you want to run and play outside.”  We have a 100-plus pound Saint Bernard mix who answers to Smudgie.  Running barefoot in our yard is unwise.

august 2013 005

“Baby Guy could have the eight shoes.  He likes Spider-Man, too.”

Baby Guy has had his eye on those shoes for a long, long time.  Every time he gets near them, Mr. Man threatens him with bodily harm.

“That would be a pretty awesome big brother thing to do, to let Baby Guy have those Spidey shoes.  Is that what you want to do?”

Baby Guy had, by now, stationed himself next to the chair where Mr. Man was perched on my lap, hanging on every word of the conversation.  Mr. Man looked magnanimously at his baby brother and declared, “Baby Guy is old enough for Spider-Man shoes.  He can have these.”

Needing no further invitation, Baby Guy scrambled up into an adjacent chair, smiled at his big brother, and excitedly inquired, “Mommy helm you put shoe?”

The small shoes were quickly adjusted to Baby Guy’s feet, and Mr. Man put his tattered kicks on for one last trip to the big box store.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the means to replace shoes for Your little blessings whenever their old ones wear out, for the van that gets us to the store, and for my husband’s job that has kept all of Your blessings from ever knowing what it really means to want for something.  Thank You for gracing their hearts, as they grow, with the desire to share even their most beloved possessions with someone who might need them more.  Please grant us hearts that always love people more than things, and make us good stewards of the rich resources with which You have provided us.

Feelin’ hop, hop, hop

Here’s the song reference.

As previously mentioned on this very blog, the girls are studying Latin this year.  They have generous enough to include Mr. Man in their studies, which has led to the uproariously funny happenstance of two first graders having their Latin pronunciation corrected by their three-year-old brother.

One of the great beauties of homeschooling is that, when the weather is favorable, we can carry our lessons outdoors and, occasionally, find some ridiculous way to study something that requires a certain amount of repetition or practice.  Such was the case this morning; since we were blessed with a pleasant morning and some friends who shared our desire to visit one of the local parks, I advised Bugaboo and Beanie that, if they were to finish their English and math lessons in a timely manner, we could head for said park and practice our Latin with something akin to a game of hopscotch.  It’s always good when we can get away from the table and have a little fun with what we’ve learned.

This intrigued both girls greatly, and the lessons were completed in something approaching record time with near-perfect accuracy.  There was a noticeable absence of whining, as well.  After quickly assembling a tub of peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches, some carrot sticks, some gummy fruit snacks, and quite a bit of bottled water in the cooler, we tossed a big bag of sidewalk chalk into our park bag and headed off in search of amusement, with a side order of pronunciation.  Some of our friends awaited us when we arrived, and the tribe scampered off, eager to explore climbing apparatus, bouncers, slides, swings, games of tag and conversation with friends.   Mr. Man was back by my side in an instant, looking for a bag of fruit snacks, as is his custom, and Beanie shortly followed.

After I caught up on chat with my friend who happens to be the mother of the tribe’s friends, I dug around for a piece of sidewalk chalk and began scrawling rough squares containing single letters, phonemes, and the few Latin words we’re studied.  When Bugaboo and Beanie meandered back to the table to see what all I might have tucked into the cooler, they noticed the letters chalked on the cement floor of the picnic pavilion and started to investigate.  Seizing the moment, I called them over to a spot of ground a couple of feet away from where most of the chalk scribbling was and explained the rules of the game.

I would ask a question, such as “what sound does a Latin ‘a’ make,”  or “what Latin vowel makes the ‘oo’ sound,” or “what Latin word means ‘I walk,'” after which they would find the relevant square and jump on it.  Anything that involves jumping is generally big fun for the tribe; Mr. Man saw us gathered off to the side and came to read off what was written on the pavement and join in whatever hijinks were to follow.

Well, we managed a few rounds before the lure of the playground, friends, and a cooler full of goodies diverted their interest.  Beanie, Mr. Man, and Baby Guy cajoled sticks of chalk out of me, and cheerfully set about decorating the pavilion, sidewalk, and, in Baby Guy’s case, teeth, with powdery hues of pink, blue, and yellow.  To my great amusement, some of the other parents who had brought their small people to the park scrutinized the grid on the ground, and set about recalling their own Latin studies.

On the way home, around a bite of sandwich, Beanie burbled, “I liked playing hopscotch with our Latin words and letters.  Can we do that again?”

Yeah, I think we can, little one, and I’ll bet we can come up with a few more applications for that, too!

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for sidewalk chalk, for friends who come to play, for enough food and drink not only to sustain ourselves, but also enough to share with our friends and random passers-by.  Thank You for the laughter and silliness of Your blessings on summer mornings, for their sweaty little heads and hands, for the proofs of Your grace of patience You send us through them. Thank You for those who thought to preserve ancient languages, so that we may study them and learn what our forebears said in their own words, in their tongue, and learn of the rich heritage of Your people.  Please keep us mindful of Your servant’s prayer, that we should seek more to understand than to be understood; inflame us with the desire to understand, and thus grow in our love for You and our reverence for Your creation, with its many landscapes and languages.  Help us to learn and to teach joyfully, and to recall that instruction and correction are equally valuable to those who are wise.

He sees skies of blue

Here’s the song reference.

I went to early Mass yesterday, then scooted home to gather up Mr. Man and Baby Guy, who would be accompanying me on a short trip with Deedaw while Bugaboo and Beanie went to 9:30 Mass with Manie.  You see, yesterday marked exactly 7 months since Nonno left, and Deedaw wanted to take her best guy some flowers.  After a bit of circular driving to purchase flowers and locate Deedaw’s cane, we headed northward to the cemetery where Nonno’s remains rest.

This particular July in Virginia has been very hot and very sticky; walking through the rows of headstones to get to Nonno’s grave somewhat resembled a walk through a vat of unfinished taffy.  Baby Guy was cranky from  being in his car seat and thus unable to run; while he was able to walk around the cemetery, the number of visitors and the overall solemnity of the place precluded his really being able to bust loose in ebullient two-year-old fashion.  He contented himself with helping Mr. Man clean tombstones with the bag of baby wipes that always accompanies us on these trips for a few minutes before pelting off down the row.

Mr. Man stayed devotedly by his Deedaw while I chased down his errant little brother, alternating between patting her shoulder and patting Nonno’s stone.  When Baby Guy and I returned, the four of us joined in a last prayer for the living and the dead, Baby Guy squirming and complaining in my lap all the while, before we started the sweaty walk back to the van.

On that walk, Mr. Man stopped to get a wipe from our stash, and turned briefly aside to help a widow, a stranger to us, clean her husband’s gravestone.  He patted her arm, too, when he noticed she was crying.  We all stopped to offer her our comfort and understanding, and to assure her of our prayers, before continuing back across the grass.

Baby Guy is still working on the concept of holding hands when he’s let down to walk, so our progress was punctuated by me diverting off to one side or the other to catch him after he slipped his hand free of mine and took off to see the many flowers that decorated graves in that section of the cemetery.  Eventually, I had to scoop him up and carry him, kicking and screaming, back to the van.  The heat and humidity of the day were simply too much for Deedaw, and I fretted that Baby Guy, if he continued sprinting amongst the stones, would either draw the ire of other visitors or drop from heat exhaustion.

As I belted my struggling son back into his car seat, I sighed between his cries, thinking the twenty-five mile ride home was going to be rather a long one.  Deedaw shot me a sympathetic glance, and wordlessly produced a bag of veggie fries from among her belongings.  That seemed to calm our youngest a bit; it’s always struck me as a great mercy that all of our children have responded well to a little snack when they’re grouchy.  After a quick stop at the trash can to dispose of used wipes and water bottles, we headed southwards, intermittent complaints from Baby Guy still punctuating the audio from the movie the boys were watching.

As we drove the curving ramp onto the interstate, Baby Guy’s irritated ejaculations turned to sounds of wonder and happiness, and we heard him repeating, over and over, “I see blue!  I see blue!”  A quick peek into the rear-view mirror showed me that he was pointing out the van window at the sky.

“Yeah, big guy, you see skies of blue, don’t you?  Do you see the clouds of white, too?”

“I see white!  I see white!”

Deedaw gave me a wry smile.  We’d both been so caught up in our sadness, in our missing Nonno, that we’d forgotten the majesty of the heavens, the beauty of a blue sky adorned with billows of puffy cloud.

Our trip home was pretty peaceful, actually.

june 2013 024

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the reminder from the mouth of Your little blessing that when the cares of this life grieve us sorely, we need but look to You and Your promises to find comfort and peace.  Thank You for the opportunity You provided to comfort a mourning stranger, and for the means You have given us to get to the places where strangers need comforting.  Please guard my mind and heart from anxiety over our daily cares, and help me teach Your blessings that You will provide what we need for the day.  We will not be without discomforts, but if we bear in mind that Your service is our priority, we will be able to bear those small crosses joyfully.

Daddy’s hands

Here’s the song reference.

An aside – no, I do not still call my father “Daddy.”  We prefer “Dad” or “Grandpa” these days.

Grandpa – my Dad – will be 68 in a couple of days.  I’m always at a loss for what to do for his birthday, because there really aren’t many material things he needs or wants.  In recent years, we’ve settled on giving him shirts lovingly handprinted by the grandchildren, a couple of books he really wanted, a homemade pizza, things like that.  He delights in our simple gifts.

This year, as it happened, one of his all-time favorite country singers gave a concert here in our little town.  When I saw the concert announcement, I called and asked him if he would like to go to the show for his birthday this year, since the date was only three days off.  He enthusiastically agreed that this would be a wonderful gift indeed.  Plans were made, tickets purchased, and the countdown to the big day began.  We decided that, since Manie loathes country music, and there’s not a single member of the tribe that could handle the heat and experiences that attend a Hank Williams, Jr. concert in Virginia in July, this would be a straight-up father-daughter outing.

He could not, however, resist being Grandpa, and insisted on treating the tribe to a snack at Big Yellow M before the show.  No visit here would be complete for him without hugs from the grandkids, with perhaps a touch of grandparental spoiling thrown in for good measure.

July 2013 028

After our snack, Manie took the tribe over to hang out with Deedaw, while Grandpa and I headed for the concert.  As it happened, the promoters were a little optimistic in their estimation of what time the show would start, so we found ourselves with some time to wander around the grounds and see the vendors and exhibitors who had set up pavilions around the lawn seating area.  After checking out the various food and beverage offerings, we chanced upon a pavilion manned by some fine young members of the United States Marines.

There was a pull-up bar in front of the tent, and a strategically placed placard advertised little prizes to any man who could do certain numbers of pull-ups, or women who could pull-up and do the bent-arm bar hang, chin above the bar, for certain numbers of seconds.  Grandpa eyed the bars speculatively, whereupon the young men began gently teasing him.

“Come on, give it a try, if you can do just one I’ll give you a lanyard!”

Grandpa gave the young fellow the “you gotta be kidding me look” that I have known well for 42 years, confidently approached the apparatus, and climbed up.

July 2013 030

The young men were grinning, somewhat incredulously, and while their words were encouraging, they seemed to doubt his prospects.

July 2013 031

They’ve never met my Dad before.  Their facial expressions were quite different a moment later.

July 2013 032

Alas, I lack the photographic evidence that I earned my own lanyard.  I guess I always have been kind of a Daddy’s girl.

July 2013 033

My Dad taught me the same lesson he has taught, consistently and gently, for all forty-two years of my life, in a time of my life when I needed the reminder that along with the science, math, and English lesson plans, there’s something my kids need to know that they’ll learn from my life, not from their textbooks.  Sometimes, things are hard.  Sometimes, people will laugh at you, either to your face or behind your back, at even daring to try.  But you do try.  You take the challenge in your hands, hold fast and hold tight, call on the Lord to help you, and use every ounce of strength you’ve been given.  Sometimes you fall flat on your backside, as Grandpa did on his first attempt at the pull-up.  Instead of sitting around complaining about how the bar is too high or the people around you aren’t responding the way you think they ought, you get up, brush the dirt off your pants, and try it again.  If you make it, you make it.  If you don’t, at least you know you gave it everything you had, and you walk away with your head held high and a prayer in your heart that you will listen to the Lord  when He leads you where He wanted you to go in the first place.  You don’t blame the people who scoffed, you don’t blame the bar, you don’t blame the ground – really, you don’t blame anyone or anything.  You either do it, or you don’t, and you keep living and eagerly anticipating the next opportunity you’ll have to accomplish something.  You choose joy.

Today’s prayer:

Lord, thank You for my Dad, who even in his darkest hours, has loved me.  Thank You for using him as Your instrument to teach me that I am nobody’s victim, that I am beloved by You even when the world ridicules or despises me.  Thank You for the young men whose faces reminded me that I should approach the worthy endeavors of others, no matter how trivial or foolish they may seem at the moment, with an encouraging word and, perhaps, a silent prayer to You.  Please help me teach Your blessings that You are our strength and our hope, and that when some worldly endeavor ends badly, we should take the time to listen for Your wisdom, and that instead of clinging bitterly to past slights, injuries, and failures, Your will for us is that we move forward, shining Your joyful light upon whatever we do.

If I could save teeth in a bottle

Here’s the song reference.

For the past several days, Bugaboo has been working on her second loose tooth, adjacent to the first tooth she lost (on the bottom – as it happens, she was born with that particular tooth).  She has tried everything short of raiding Daddy’s toolbox to get that tooth out; fortunately, this has given me a lovely opportunity to feed her more apples and carrots for snacks, the tooth-removing properties of both produce items being well-known among the six-year-old set.

We stopped at our local Walgreens en route to Deedaw’s yesterday to pick up a snack for the midget mob,  and a soda for me, as I was slightly undercaffeinated.  All the way through the store (we wandered around a bit to take advantage of the deliciously cold air conditioning), Bugaboo worried at her loose tooth, so focused on her labor that I nearly misplaced her twice.

Having selected appropriate snacks and drinks, along with several new flashing balls and the package of highlighters I’d forgotten on my regular shopping trip earlier in the week, we headed for the checkout to purchase our goods.  Mr. Man and Beanie enthusiastically leaned into the cart to retrieve the items and put them on the counter, to the great amusement of the young fellow at the register (who they greeted very politely as “Mr. Ben” after spying his name tag), dodging buffets from Baby Guy’s sippy cup, which he was flailing at their heads to express his frustration at being firmly belted into the cart seat.  He managed to connect with Beanie’s cranium, which caused her to wail and drop the bag of popcorn she was retrieving from the cart, which Mr. Man eagerly seized, which caused Beanie to alternate the direction of her wails between Baby Guy for bonking her in the head and Mr. Man for “stealing” the bag of popcorn, when Bugaboo started jumping up and down and crying, “Look, look!”

Bugaboo’s amateur dental efforts had finally borne fruit, and she held a tiny tooth in her hand.  Fortunately, this had the effect of temporarily quelling the riot, as Mr. Man and Beanie rushed over to see both the newly-enlarged gap in their eldest sister’s grin and the tooth; chaos threatened again when Bugaboo had to clench her prize in her little fist, which she then raised high above her head, to keep her siblings from running off with it.  Beanie was diverted by the need to get the last items out of the cart, while Mr. Man suddenly decided the keypad of the ATM adjacent to the cash register was far more interesting than his sister’s dentition.

Mr. Ben, the cashier, let slip a chuckle before warmly congratulating Bugaboo on her accomplishment.  My immediate concern was that Bugaboo not lose her tooth in the van, so after thanking him for his kindness and patience towards our tribe, I asked if he might have a small bag or box in which we could preserve it.  He did not, but suggested that the pharmacist might, so after piling our bags back into the cart, we headed for the back of the store, much to the chagrin of one Baby Guy, who was ready for his cart ride to end (Baby Guy cannot be trusted in a store that sells candy at this point, especially if there is any chance my attention will be diverted from him).

We waited patiently in a short line at the pharmacy counter; when our turn came, Bugaboo confidently walked up to the clerk before I could say a word, and pleasantly asked, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I lost my tooth just now.  Do you have a little box or bag I could keep it in until I get home?”  I quickly added an offer to pay for it, which the lady just as quickly waved off.  She disappeared for a moment, then returned with a small pill bottle and two broadly grinning pharmacists, who insisted on seeing Bugaboo’s treasure and telling her how adorable she was with her gap-toothed grin.

She thanked everyone profusely and giggled, I thanked everyone profusely and started herding the tribe back towards the exit.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the reminder that sometimes, the things that served us when we were very small have to fall away so that we can grow and mature.  Thank you for the kindness of strangers with generous hearts, and for the simple grace of a little orange plastic bottle.  Thank you for Your little blessings, who have their own voices, strong bodies, nimble minds, and exuberant hearts.  Thank you for a day on which our visit to the pharmacy was only to get a container for a lost baby tooth.  Please help me teach your blessings that each little pain we experience is an indication that You are preparing us to grow in some way, and open our hearts and minds to the wonder of what You will have us become.

Oh, ho, what I want to know, is are you kind

Here’s the song reference.

While I have not posted any additional lesson plans (yet), rest assured that lesson planning for the new school year continues at a frenetic pace.  The “First Americans” unit of this year’s study of American history has taken on a life of its own, and may well encompass an entire year of study by the time we’re done; Bugaboo and Beanie keep finding new and fascinating nuggets in the books I’ve checked out from the library, which has led to more field trips being added, more projects being planned, and . . . well, you get the idea.

I am mindful, however, that our children learn from us whether school is officially in session or not.  One lesson my husband and I have endeavored to teach our children is that when there are terrible things in the news, it is better to simply turn off the television, the radio, and the computer, and go find something constructive to do.  It is rarely useful to sit around, gawking, while people who have more opinions than facts attempt to increase advertising revenues for their stations or sites by provoking responses of intense anger or fear.

There was a recent decision by a certain jury in a certain criminal trial in a certain city in the state of Florida that has greatly upset, according to all media reports and my Facebook news feed, quite a number of people.  It seems as though the overwhelming response to the verdict is to look for someone to blame, someone to accuse, someone to find loathsome or frightening or hateful.

We have chosen differently.

This morning, as on many summer mornings, we headed to the park with a cooler full of snacks and water, hoping to meet our usual group of friends in spite of the oppressive heat and humidity.  While we did not see any of “our crowd” there, we did meet up with a group of gentlemen who live in a group home for people with intellectual disabilities, a lady training a puppy, and about a dozen children (with their mothers) whom we had not previously met.  There were also a couple of fellows who work for the Parks and Recreation department taking care of some playground maintenance.  We had plenty of company, in other words, of all ages, abilities, and skin tones.

Our cooler was full of snacks and water, as I mentioned before, and the gentlemen from the group home were sitting, along with their assistants, a couple of tables away from our base camp.  As members of my tribe returned to the table for something to eat or drink, I asked them if they would like to share anything from our cooler with the other occupants of the picnic shelter.  Bugaboo offered water to the girls with whom she’d been playing tag, Mr. Man offered marshmallows to the Parks and Recreation employees, and Baby Guy scrunched up his face and hollered, “NO!  MY SNACK! MY CUPPY! NO!”

We’re still working on that one.  Hey, he just turned two, after all.

After a moment of sober consideration, Beanie took the bag of pretzel Goldfish from our cooler and walked over to the other group occupying the shelter.  She looked up into the face of the first man she came to, smiled, and inquired, “Would you like to share my snack?  I have plenty, and it’s really yummy.”  The fellow beamed, and eagerly reached for the bag.  One of the assistants with the group quickly offered a cup to hold some of the little crackers, then started laughing when he realized that Beanie intended to go around to each and every member of the group, offering to share her bag of fishies.  She also offered them to the aides, and told them, “You were so kind to give everybody cups for their snacks.  Wouldn’t you like to have a snack, too?”

We smiled together.  We ate pretzel goldfish under a picnic shelter together, while some of the other moms at the park looked on incredulously.  Mr. Man came back, helped himself to a couple of the remaining crackers, and sat down amongst the men, introducing himself and asking if their favorite snack was fishies.  When we left for the library about a quarter of an hour later, we exchanged farewells and hopes we would meet again with our new friends.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that sharing pretzel goldfish at the park will solve any of the world’s problems.

I do have faith enough to teach my children that if we seek common ground with everyone we meet, even if it’s something as simple as the need for shade on a hot day, and practice kindness with everyone we meet, and share the gifts we have to give freely, without conditions, categories, or condescension, then we will be following the Great Commandment:  “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul, and all thy strength, and love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the kindness of the people who accepted the small gift offered by a little girl and the companionship of a little boy, without hesitation or fear.  Thank You for Your little blessings who see Your face in every person they meet, and for always putting people in our path with whom we can share Your bountiful gifts.  Please, Lord, keep my heart simple, that I may recognize Your image and likeness in every human being and offer to them the love I bear towards You, and grant me the grace to train up the children with whose care You have entrusted me that this is the way they should go, that when they are grown, they shall not depart from it.  Please infuse our every thought, word, and deed with such love that we shall be a beacon to all people, pointing them to You and away from all divisions sown by Your adversary.

They blinded me with science

Here’s the song reference.

I could relate a thousand pieces of news about the recent adventures of our little tribe, but for now, let me assure all of you that they are all well and happy.  Beanie turns five tomorrow, which should not surprise me nearly as much as it does, and Baby Guy will be two on Saturday.  For obvious reasons, life is a little hectic right now.

My husband and I recently made the momentous (for us) decision to forego the boxed curriculum approach to homeschooling for the upcoming school year.  Because of this, I am busily engaged in lesson and unit planning.  For the next couple of weeks, at the request of a couple of friends (one of whom is not a homeschooler but is intensely curious about exactly what it is that we do), I’ll be posting those lesson and unit plans.  Comments and suggestions are, as always, welcomed; there is great love in pointing our error before it becomes disastrous!

At the enthusiastic request of Bugaboo and Beanie, I started my unit planning with science.  Both girls (and Mr. Man, for that matter) are possessed of an intense and joyful curiosity about the world around them, how things work, and why things are.  It is my great privilege to provide them with enough answers that they know how to ask more probing questions, and to look for their own answers both in books and in experimentation, the latter where appropriate for their ages.  In our family, we instruct always in the context of fostering a sense of awe and wonder at the boundlessness of the Lord’s creation, and with an eye towards Christian stewardship of that creation, including stewardship of our own bodies.  Please pray for us as we create the structure within which we will train up our children!

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You have favored us with a bounty of blessings, including four who are flatly refusing to sleep at the moment because they are too excited about tomorrow’s birthday celebration.  Please grant us the grace and wisdom to regard even the smallest moments as miracles, worthy of joy, and deserving of a prayer of thanksgiving to You.  As we plan for a new school year, Lord, with new knowledge and experiences, please help us keep love for You foremost in our hearts, and grant that we may teach Your blessings truly always and in all things.

Throwing roses at her feet

Here’s the song reference.  The lyrics to this particular tune become particularly poignant when you consider the context.  Many of the songs I post only have one line that’s actually relevant to the post, but this one made me cry when I stopped to consider it in its entirety.

Beanie has an uncommon, for her age, understanding of certain social customs, one of which is the bringing of flowers to funeral homes.  She was very affected by this when Nonno died in December; she and Bugaboo both insisted on bringing their own flower arrangements, both of which were lovingly dried and preserved by Deedaw.

Wednesday, as I was busily packing for our trip to Pittsburgh for Great-Grandma’s funeral, a solemn Beanie approached and advised me, “Mommy, I need to get a flower for Great-Grandma.  She gave me my name.  She gave me my Deedaw.  I want to bring her the prettiest flower in the whole world.”

Beanie is, in fact, named for Great-Grandma.  I had to take a very deep breath before I answered her.  “Okay, Beanie.  What flower would you like to bring her?”

She replied, “I want to bring her rainbow flowers.”

rainbow roses

Photo credit:

Beanie discovered rainbow roses at Wegmans, and has long since decided that they are the most gorgeous things in the world.  I liked the idea of roses that bear the symbol of God’s promises, and, of course, I would have moved mountains to honor her request, coming as it did from the little one who reminded me that we should be happy for Great-Grandma because she went to Heaven.

Thursday morning, on our way out of town, we stopped for Beanie’s flowers.  I have prayed for many blessings upon the kind ladies in the flower shop at Wegmans, because they noted out attire, inquired as to the occasion, and promptly offered to trim the roses and put water tubes on them for Beanie, so her flowers would be beautiful.

When we arrived at the funeral home, Beanie was her usual exuberant self, and I helped her put her flowers in the casket with Great-Grandma, at her feet, along with a little paper heart she had cut and inscribed, “LOVE DOTS,” before she headed off to have something to eat and play with a horde of cousins she seldom sees.

may 2013 003

The next day, we all gathered again at the funeral home before heading to the church for Great-Grandma’s funeral Mass.  After the priest had led us all in prayer, everyone had the opportunity to see Great-Grandma and offer a last goodbye before her casket was closed.  Once the room had cleared except for Deedaw and her brother and sister, I settled Beanie on my hip so we could say goodbye and offer a prayer together.

We did pray a traditional prayer, and, before we left, I related to Beanie the tale of the last time Manie and I stayed at Great-Grandma’s house.  Great-Grandma had quite the sweet tooth, although she denied it, and Manie and I had a stash of Snickers bars in our gear.  We were staying with her on the occasion of the marriage of two dear friends (who happen to be Mr. Man’s godparents, and who had so much love in their hearts that they invited Great-Grandma to their wedding – in person – on the spur of the moment), and when we returned from the wedding, our Snickers bars had gone missing.  Manie and I had a good laugh over it.  After I related the tale to Beanie, I said to her, “Now let’s offer a special prayer that Jesus will help Great-Grandma find the Snickers bars.”

“Jesus, please help Great-Grandma find the Snickers bars.  She likes them a lot.”

At the church, the priest offered a homily that perfectly explained why Great-Grandma is one of the most important people any of us will ever know.  There were no reporters covering her funeral, no news obituary trumpeting her impact on national or international affairs, but there was a large gathering of family, of the people she had fed and clothed, loved and prayed for, encouraged and, yes, disciplined.  There is great nobility in a life devoted to building and maintaining a family that is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, in offering prayers of thanksgiving for those who have chosen His path, in offering prayers of intercession for those who have gone astray.  Great-Grandma’s life was a life spent in love, a life spent as an anchor for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, an example of how we are to love and serve one another — an example, that, in the end, that same family needed so that they could love and serve her when her physical and mental faculties withered away, so that we would know that while authentic love doesn’t always look pretty,  it is real, and true, and of God.

may 2013 004

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for Great-Grandma, without whom there would have been no Deedaw, no Manie, no Beanie.  Thank You for the lesson You taught through her life, that every vocation lived truly is holy and worthy of respect, whether this world lauds it or not.  Thank You for Your promise that those who earnestly live according to Your Word will be raised up to a joyful eternity with You, and thank You for the rainbow that reminds us of Your vow that You will save.  Please help us teach Your blessings, Lord, that whatever profession they choose, if they offer each day, each little act, to You, the world’s opinion of them will not matter, because You will be their reward.  And thank You, Lord, for a little Beanie who has the wisdom to answer beauty with beauty, and to appreciate Your most priceless gifts.

If you want to, you can cream on me

Here’s the (utterly inappropriate) song reference.

Whipped cream, the kind that comes in a can, is a very big deal to the kids on my husband’s side of the family.  I remember one of the first family dinners I attended featured a dessert that involved the yummy stuff, and Niece, who was not quite four years old at the time, rushed over to Zio to get a little “spruff” (Italian for froth) sprayed directly into her mouth.  Having received the coveted treat, she scampered off, giggling, only to return for another helping a few minutes later.

Niece was greatly delighted when Bugaboo reached an age where she was permitted to have a little whipped cream of her own.  Whenever there is dinner at Deedaw’s, and whipped cream is present, there appears a line of little opened mouths (and one no longer so little, as Niece is now thirteen), anxiously awaiting their spray.  The smaller they are, the messier this enterprise becomes, but it is always conducted with great good humor and no small amount of laughter from the children and adults alike.

Deedaw decided to come over to our house for dinner this evening, and, in spite of my usual insistence that she didn’t need to bring anything but her beautiful self, she arrived bearing a bag with the makings of strawberry shortcakes.  We had a chuckle as we realized that, given the family sweet tooth, there was a pretty strong possibility that all four members of the tribe would find some way to finagle not only one of the chocolate-filled, chocolate-frosted cupcakes we’d baked that afternoon, but also a decent helping of sugared strawberries and spruff.

It was one of those rare and blessed evenings where not one child decided to argue about the necessity of eating everything on his or her plate, and thus, when the dishes were cleared away, everyone was deemed eligible for dessert.  Out came the pan of cupcakes, the angel food cake, the tub of sugared strawberries, and, wonder of wonders, the tall metal can of whipped cream.  Before Manie could even get the cap off the can, he was surrounded by what looked like a convention of the world’s largest, featherless baby birds, all vocalizing wordlessly their desires for the contents of said can.

In deference to Deedaw, we did make an effort to ascertain who wanted which type of dessert before we went wild with the spruff.  Since Deedaw had expressed a preference for strawberry shortcake, we made sure she had a plate properly piled with cake, berries, and whipped cream before we risked touching the nozzle to any tiny mouths.  As they waited, Baby Guy, Mr. Man, and Beanie tucked into cupcakes, while Bugaboo daintily nibbled at some berries and cake.

Baby Guy’s manual dexterity still has considerable room for improvement, but, at almost 22 months of age, he has concluded that the absolute best part of any cake is the frosting.  If there is frosting inside and outside (as is the case with filled cupcakes), so much the better, and every fleck of frosting must needs be enjoyed by as many of his five senses as possible.

april 2013 003

And why, yes, we did have spaghetti for dinner.

He also managed to score a couple of strawberries to accompany his chocolate, all the while madly flailing his chubby little arms, trying to attract the attention of the holder of the whipped cream can — in this instance, Manie.  He finally succeeding in convincing Manie to circumnavigate the kitchen table (no mean feat when there are seven people seated thereat), and opened his mouth wide in anticipation.  He actually got a couple of mouthfuls, because we were trying to get a good picture.  Fortunate son.  Of course, Manie being the fair-minded Dad that he is, he made it a point to even up the whipped cream distribution after the camera had been put away.

april 2013 007

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for little blessings who derive great joy from the simplest of things when delivered by loving hearts and loving hands.  Thank You for the opportunity for Manie to bottle the very last batch of Nonno’s wine with Bugaboo, just as he and his brother bottled it with Nonno when they were little children.  Please help us teach Your blessings that Your bounty is endless, and that it is far better to exult in a can of whipped cream and the company of family than to complain about those worldly goods or experiences we wish we had.  We would show them the joy in our humble, everyday life, Lord; please inflame our hearts with the grace to revel in Your bounty, instead of wishing we had the bounty of another.  Grant, we pray, that we may always find joy and a stronger faith in the little things.

She can see clearly now

Here’s the song reference.

pittsburgh june 2012 073

Very early this morning, our phone rang with sad, although not unexpected, news.  Great-Grandma, after 97 years on this earth, had left us, and there was an urgent need for someone to get over to Deedaw’s house, so that she would not be alone when her sister called with the sorrowful tidings.  Manie quickly bolted out of bed and threw on the nearest available clothes.  While he was washing his face, a sleepy-eyed Bugaboo wandered out into the hallway to ascertain the cause of the commotion.  Upon being informed, she declared that she would like to help comfort her Deedaw, and actually managed to get dressed while Manie was still tying his shoes.

I made a couple of phone calls in the short interlude before the rest of the tribe awoke.  Beanie was our next riser; she shambled out to the kitchen and inquired as to the availability of hard-boiled eggs.  While the eggs were cooking, and after she had consumed enough juice to brighten her eyes a bit, I snuggled her in my lap and told her Great-Grandma was gone.

Beanie blinked slowly, then cocked her head to the side before slowly asking, “So that means Deedaw lost her husband AND her mommy?”

“Yes, sweetheart.  And she’s sad.”

“I would be sad.  I am sad for Deedaw.  I love Deedaw.”

“I know you do, noodle.  Daddy and Bugaboo and Zio and Nephew are with her now to make sure she has lots of hugs and kisses.  We’ll go over there, too, but a little later.”


april 2013 001

I called Deedaw a few minutes later, just to say, “I love you,” and see if there was anything I could do from across the river.  She demurred, but said she’d be very happy to see the rest of the tribe once everyone was feeling civilized.  As we were saying goodbye, Beanie stretched out her hand for the phone, and I asked Deedaw if she had a quick moment to talk to her youngest granddaughter.

Beanie took the phone and said her good mornings, then calmly stated, “You lost your mommy.”

Deedaw said that indeed, she had, and that Great-Grandma had gone to Heaven.

Beanie replied.  “Yes.  I’m happy for her.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the blessing of Your faithful servant, Dorothy, without whom our little family would not exist.  Thank You for welcoming her to a joyful eternity and a beautiful reunion with her husband, Daniel, and for releasing her from all suffering and pain.  Thank You for the quiet childish wisdom of her namesake, Beanie, who so perfectly clarified our faith when she explained that she was sad for her Deedaw and happy for her Great-Grandma.  As we bear each other’s burdens in the days and months to come, please grant us the grace to see Your love in all the gifts You send, and to recognize them AS gifts, even when it’s hard to see them through worldly eyes.  Please, Lord, bestow upon us the wisdom to use this time to teach Your blessings how to persevere, how to show compassion, how to say “I love you” without using those words or giving material goods.  Keep us mindful of Your assurance that those who mourn are blessed, and let us love one another as You have loved us.