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Ain’t it funny how time slips away


Here’s the song reference.

After the girls finished their English and math lessons Tuesday, we all headed over to Deedaw’s to sneak in a little play time with Nephew.  The morning was warm, sunny, and beautiful, tailor-made for five small children to cavort in the yard and make their own fun for a couple of hours.

We had to give the midget mob a bit of encouragement to play outside, though, since tiny people kept straying back inside to inquire about the possibility of television, snacks, and sweet drinks.  At last, Deedaw and I shooed them all outside with a reminder that fall is coming, and with it an increasing scarcity of days holding the potential for unlimited outdoor play time.  There was a minor bribe involving Oreos involved.

While five tiny people cavorted in the back yard, Deedaw and I talked about the physical and emotional logistics of our impending household merge.  There is an enormous amount of stuff in both houses that needs to be re-homed, and quite a bit of that stuff has some heavy emotional significance for one or more of us.  In addition to the need to downsize our treasure hoards, though, all of us are attempting to reduce our own egos, to have the humility and grace to defer our own wants to each other’s needs.  The challenge is formidable.  We love each other enough to face it prayerfully and together.

Part of our conversation ranged into the area of what each family member’s actual needs are.  Deedaw was concerned that our household might end up with a net loss of space and privacy, and that a perception might be created among the extended family that she needs help.  Insofar as the latter is concerned, I bluntly told her that the only help she appears to need is someone to talk to after the sun goes down, and an occasional tall person to reach something off a high shelf (which, given her physical stature, has been the case for the entire decade I’ve known her).  There’s certainly nothing amiss with her mental faculties, and she quite emphatically does not need to be told what to do.  Anyone who thinks Deedaw should be, or can be, controlled or managed does both of them a grave and unloving disservice.  We had a good laugh over that.

When we turned back the topic of stuff and privacy, our tone was not so lighthearted.  We talked about the years that had passed, when life had happened and both of us had overlooked, or willingly passed up, so many opportunities to spend time together during Nonno’s final half-decade.  Minutes become hours, which become days, which become months, which become years, and before we knew it, Nonno was gone, and there was no more, “we’ll have time to do more when things settle down.”  It has been a terrible lesson for all of us, learned at an incalculable price.  I told her of our determination not to allow that to happen again, regardless of any inconvenience, and that since she and we prefer that we combine households eventually anyway, we are willing to sacrifice material goods and some of our privacy to make it happen before there is a crisis, while she is still in full command of her faculties, so that we do not lose any more pearls of great price.

Deedaw agreed.  We shed a few tears together over the years that could have been, and a few more because we missed Nonno.

It’s been a tough year.  Deedaw’s been tougher than the year, having borne everyone’s burdens on her broad shoulders.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, before I complain that something has been taken from me, let me first consider whether I have thrown it away willingly in pursuit of something I thought was better.  Please help us teach Your blessings that we are to love one another more than our possessions, more than getting our own way, more than money, more than unrestricted gratification of our desires.  Please grace our hearts with the humility to see the wisdom in eyes that have been open longer than our own, and to recognize just criticisms of our words and deeds instead of using the cop-out that people are judging our hearts when they point out a problem with our behavior.  We would train up Your blessings, Lord, to understand love, compassion, and self-control, and You have granted us many opportunities to do so. Please bless us with the wisdom to use those opportunities as You taught, seeking to gain no advantage for ourselves, but to show Your blessings Your face.

Beauty has her way


Here’s the song reference.

Saturday morning generally brings a cartoon marathon at our house, partly because Manie and I always spent our Saturday mornings watching cartoons when we were children, partly because it’s the only day of the week Manie has a realistic chance to sleep in, and the tribe is generally willing to quietly watch their favorite animated series for a couple of hours.  Bugaboo is generally the first to arise, and when she does, we check the program listings through 10:00 a.m. or so, set reminders for the cable box to change from one show to another at the appropriate times, and wait for her siblings to emerge.  Everyone gets to watch at least one show he or she likes, and Mommy and Daddy get to rest for a bit.

If you’re curious, yesterday’s viewing pleasures included Strawberry Shortcake’s Berry Bitty Adventures, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Justice League, and Super Why.  While we are careful about what the tiny people watch, we do make room for programs that are just silly or entertaining, because not every moment has to be heavy with deeper meaning.  Sometimes it’s just fun to watch one cartoon character whack another with a frying pan.

As usual, Bugaboo was the first one up, and, after handing her a cup of milk, I settled in next to her on the couch to read a few articles online while she soaked up some brain candy.  Beanie followed towards the end of Strawberry Shortcake, and they giggled through Tiny Toon Adventures together.  Shortly before Mr. Man and Baby Guy started making awakening noises downstairs, Beanie finished her cup of juice and decided she’d had enough screen time.  As she rifled one of the bookcases looking for something to read, Bugaboo started bouncing up and down and proclaiming that a set of dolls in the commercial interrupting her program was SO COOL, and she’d really like to have some.  Beanie spared the screen a glance, shrugged her shoulders, and resumed perusing the bookshelf.

I looked up and cringed a little.  The toys in question had canine faces with exaggerated eyes and human female bodies, which, in the world of toys marketed to little girls, is a little unusual, but no big deal.  The outfits, though, were ridiculous, with dolls purporting to be little girls dressed in outfits more appropriate to a nightclub fishing expedition than a play date.  The clothing was, however, sparkly, ruffled, and brightly colored, which guaranteed an interested Bugaboo.  The marketers who designed that particular commercial certainly understood their target audience well.

I put an arm around our oldest daughter and kissed her head.  Bugaboo is, in her mother’s eyes, a thoroughly adorable six-year-old girl, and like many children her age, she is a bit of a magpie, drawn to things that are shiny.  “Bugaboo, what is it that you like about those dolls?”

“Their clothes are so shiny and pretty!”

“They certainly do sparkle, don’t they? What else did you notice about them?”

“Some of the dresses were really short.  You could almost see their heinies!  Do you think maybe they were going swimming in those dresses?”

“Maybe.  Did you notice anything else?”

“They were so sparkly!  I’ll bet lots of people would want to play with them.  They look like fun!”

“Is it fun to play with sparkly things?”

“Yes!”

“What happens to the sparkles over time?”

“Well, they usually fall off and leave holes.  Especially if one of the little kids gets ahold of them.”

“Hm.  That sounds about right.  So they could become something that isn’t pretty very quickly?”

“Yeah, I guess so.  I’m guessing you don’t like those dolls.”

“I didn’t say that, but you’re right.  I like sparkles, too, though.  But I want you to think about something for a minute, about the way those dolls were dressed, and about the way the girls in the commercial were playing with them.”

“They looked like grown-up ladies who want men to pay attention to them look.  And they were really pretty.  And the girls were dressing them up in pretty outfits and the dolls were dancing and posing.”

“Very perceptive, Bugaboo.  So what kind of attention do you think you would get if you were dressed like that, or dancing and posing like that? Do you think they would want to swap knock-knock jokes or talk about cool science or art projects with you?”

“Probably not. I think they’d just want to look at me.  Because I’d be sparkly.”

“Would you like that?”

“Not if they were so busy looking they didn’t want to play tag or tell jokes.”

“Bingo.  Do you think they would pay enough attention to you to see what a good and loving girl you are?”

“Probably not.”

“But it’s okay to wear sparkles.  Now I want you to think about the boys in that other commercial, the ones who were dancing and looked like their pants were getting ready to fall off.  What did you think about them?”

“I was worried their pants were going to fall off.  I wanted to give them a belt.”

“Did you think that those boys might like to talk about books with you?”

“No, I was too worried about their pants.”

“Why?”

“Because some of our parts are private.”

“You’ve been listening, Bugaboo, and I’m proud of you for that.  Now think about the dolls again.”

“Those dresses would probably show a lot of private stuff, too.”

“Yep.  When we meet people, or talk to people, do we want them to think about our private parts, or do we want them to talk to us, so we can get to know who they are and they can get to know who we are?”

“I’d rather make friends than worry about someone’s private parts.”

“Right.  So maybe it’s not such a good idea for anyone to wear clothes that call attention to them.”

“Probably.  But I like sparkly dresses.”

“That’s fine.  I do, too.  But the way those dolls are dressed teaches little girls and little boys that girls should get attention by wearing clothes that show off their private parts.  Those parts, just like your whole body, are your gift from God.  We don’t want to dress in ways that call so much attention to how pretty our pieces parts are that people don’t see Jesus when they talk to us, they only see the sparkles.  We want to be whole people made in the image and likeness of God, not just pretty things.”

“But I am pretty.”

“You absolutely are, and there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s fine to be pretty. But it is significantly more important that you are beautiful, which has nothing to do with your looks. Be beautiful, sweetheart, just like you are now.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for curious little blessings, who love laughter and things that sparkle.  As Your blessings play, and learn, and grow, help us teach them the twin virtues of humility and modesty, and to carry themselves not in a manner that screams for attention, but that speaks of charity towards one’s neighbor.  As we teach them,  Lord, help us to choose our words carefully, so that in teaching humility, we do not humiliate, but raise up our children and all Your other children we are called to encourage and instruct, so that we communicate to them the beauty that is their birthright from being created in Your image and likeness.  Let our actions be our most powerful form of speech as we teach.  Grant us the grace of hearts that look past immediate sensory gratification and seek authentic love, love that is modest, self-sacrificing, and chaste.

Pour some sugar on me


Here’s the song reference.

Nearly every time I set foot in the kitchen, I am immediately beset by the midget mob and their pleas to be allowed to assist with the preparation of whatever food might be on the menu for our next meal or snack.  While I try to accommodate them as often as possible, the mayhem that usually accompanies their participation, particularly the heated arguments among the tiny people over who should be permitted to do what, generally has me shooing them away from the stove and dispatching them to fold napkins or retrieve forks and spoons from the silverware drawer.

Of course, as I type this, I’m struck by the realization that I’ve been missing a wonderful opportunity to teach them patience, humility, and cooperation that has a built-in and highly desirable reinforcer.  Sometimes the efficient way isn’t the best one.

At any rate, I had thawed out a pork roast to cook for last night’s dinner, and, as I removed it from the refrigerator, it occurred to me that the preparation of that particular roast was fairly simple, and something Bugaboo could certainly do.  As I took a pie plate down from the cupboard, I called to her, “Hey, Bugaboo, do you want to help make dinner tonight?”

A faint “Wha-a-at?” wafted up the stairs at me from behind the closed door of the boys’ room, where Bugaboo was into something involving stuffed animals, action figures, and a toy picnic basket with Baby Guy.

“Do you want to help make dinner tonight?”

I heard the distinctive sound of a door crashing into a wall, then the pounding of Bugaboo feet ascending the stairs at a run.

“I can help make dinner?  Yes, I’d love to!  What are we making?”

I showed her the bag with the roast in it.  “What is this?”

“I think it’s pork. Are we making that?”

“Yup.  And you can help, if you want.  Go wash your hands.  When you think they’re really clean, wash them again.  And please don’t slam the bathroom door,” I added, as the bathroom door slammed shut behind her.

Moments later, my able and eager assistant was perched on a kitchen chair, awaiting instructions.  Her first task was to line the pie plate with foil (because Mommy hates scrubbing caramelized sugar and other burnt stuff off the dishes), and she quickly learned that it’s not as easy as it looks to get foil to conform to the contours of a round pan.  Still, she managed to do a decent job of it, and I showed her how to put a finger in the center of the foil and use her other hand to trace the outline of the pan’s bottom in the foil with her finger, which makes it lay flat.  She thought that was pretty cool.

I handed her a can of cooking spray and asked her to spray the foil, so the roast would release when it was done cooking.  She stared dubiously at the can for a few moments, and I reminded her to find the hole in the can top, and point that at the pan, but not at her face.  About a minute later, as I was assembling ingredients for her to mix the crust for the roast, I heard a sound like an angry snake, followed by a great deal of coughing.  Turning to see what had happened, I saw a puddle of pale yellow foam in the middle of the pie plate and a red-faced, coughing, six-year-old.

“You okay, Bugaboo?”

“Yeah (cough), I think (cough) so.”

I handed her a paper towel and a cup of water.  “What happened?”

“I finally got it to spray, but it sprayed at me.  I didn’t point it at my face, see, I pointed it at the pan, but it still sprayed at me.”

Managing not to chuckle, I gently reminded her (she’s used cooking spray before) that she needed to hold the can a little farther above the pan when spraying it, or the mist would ricochet off the pan and into her face.  “Are you okay? Do you want to try to finish it, or do you want me to help you?”

“Can you show me how high to hold the can?

“This, I can do.”  Holding the can about a foot above the pan, I gave the pie plate a quick spritz. “See? Like that.”

“Oh.”  Bugaboo glanced up at me sheepishly.  “I guess that was pretty silly.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.  Everybody forgets things, especially things they don’t do that often.  Ready to try again?”

“Sure.”  This time, she succeeded in coating the pan instead of herself, and went on to finish the rest of the steps to prepare the pork for roasting, while her envious sister watched.  I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but I will include the recipe after today’s prayer.

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Dinner was delicious.

Beanie extracted a promise from me that she would get to help make dinner tonight.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the abundance of nourishing food You provide for our family, for the home with its kitchen table where we all gather for meals, for a family that believes that meals should be eaten together, without distractions, for the means to pay for electricity to run the appliances to prepare them, for a place to store our daily bread safely.  Thank You for Your blessings who want to learn about and help with everything that goes into making those family dinners.  Please grant us the grace to give sincere thanks to You for all Your gifts, instead of rushing through a prayer before meals, patient hearts that yearn to teach the right lessons to Your blessings, and gentle tongues when we instruct.  Remind us, as we enjoy Your bounty, to recall and refresh Your children with whom we should share it, and inflame us with the desire to minister to them.

**********

Pork roast even picky two-year-olds will eat:

Pork loin
1/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp (or more) ginger
salt for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking pan with foil, then oil, butter, or spray the foil.  Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt on the greased foil.  Lay the pork loin on top of the salt, fat side up.  Mix the brown sugar with the remaining seasonings (if you have maple sugar, this recipe benefits hugely from a dash of that as well) and pat it onto the pork loin, forming a crust.  Roast for 30 minutes per pound.  Slice thickly, and lay the slices in the pan juices for serving.  If you have kids, be prepared for fights to break out over pieces of the crust.

This is Captain America calling


Here’s the song reference.

I live in a house full of Avengers fanatics.  This works out well, since my husband and I are both big, big fans of the Marvel Universe.  Through the miracle of DVDs and Netflix, we have introduced the tribe to the animated Avengers and X-Men series.  It’s good to be geeky parents with appreciative children.  One adorable side effect of this is Baby Guy’s recently-developed habit of, when he wishes to call his siblings to him, pointing his wee index finger in the air and loudly proclaiming, “Avengews!  Assemboo!”

Since the first part of our day had been a scene from Chaos, and none of the tiny people believed in the restorative power of naps yesterday, I was charitably inclined towards Baby Guy when he pointed to the remote control and used his new catchphrase in the interrogative sense.  His cause was quickly adopted by Mr. Man and Bugaboo, so, with a laugh, I turned on Netflix and the television, started an episode of Avengers:  Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and joined the tumble of bodies squirming for a spot on the couch.

Before the opening song had finished, Bugaboo had decided that all the Avengers action figures needed to emerge from their hiding places, partly that they might be used to act out what was happening in the episode, partly that the toys might “watch” their onscreen counterparts.  Her idea was likely inspired by Baby Guy tromping around the living room, waving his little arms and growling, “HUWK SMASH!”  One major upside to our kids’ superhero obsession is that I get to point out – regularly – that the Avengers are make-believe, and we do not go around smashing things in real life.  Children scattered to every corner of the house to retrieve their superhero dolls, and we quickly had quite the impressive assemblage in the middle of the rug.

I had my usual fun playing dumb with the tribe, asking silly questions like, “Why is he dressed in red, white, and blue?”  It’s a habit I picked up from playing the videos in the van where, of course, I can’t see what’s happening on the screen, because I’m driving.  Bugaboo, Beanie, and now Mr. Man have developed the skill of attending to detail from this little game, since I’m likely to ask a question about something that supports the plot of the episode, but isn’t an integral part of the story (for instance, “What was the building Hulk just smashed?”).  We’ll use anything as a teaching tool around here.

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Every episode of every good superhero show or movie has its villains, and the Avengers shows usually have a team of them.  As the first episode wound to a close, Bugaboo and Beanie were singing the praises of Captain America (the first Avenger, don’t you know), who had vanquished the evildoers with the help of the Avengers and was contemplating joining their team, and Iron Man, who is just freakin’ COOL.  As they excitedly discussed the virtues of the first Avenger and the wealthiest one, their conversation took a vicious turn towards the villains, particularly Modoc.

You might need to watch an episode or two to follow this, if you’re unfamiliar with the dramatis personae of the Avengers universe.

At any rate, Beanie began to refer to Modoc as “stupid,” and Bugaboo proclaimed that she would like to kick Modoc in the face.

As previously noted, we’ll use anything as a teaching tool around here.

Since the credits were starting to roll, I called the girls over to where I was relaxing on the couch, and snuggled one of them in under each of my arms.  “Hey, ladies, I take it you don’t like Modoc.”

Beanie brightly replied, “Nope!  He’s stupid!”

“Hm.  I see.  Doesn’t someone in the show call him that?”

Bugaboo helpfully advised, “Uh-huh.  Zemo calls him that.”

“I see.  Is that something good to say about someone else?”

Silence.

“And what about kicking someone in the face?”

Bugaboo hotly fired back, “Hey, Captain America kicked Modoc in the face!”

“I see.  Was he doing it because he liked Modoc, or was he doing it to protect himself?”

Beanie clarified, “He was doing it because Modoc is a bad guy, and he was trying to destroy the planet.  Captain America was trying to protect the planet and the other Avengers.”

“That sounds about right.  Did he call Modoc names while he was fighting him?”

Beanie uttered a multisyllabic, “No-o-o-o-o-o.  Captain America doesn’t call people names.”

“Right.  Why do you think that is?”

A pause before Bugaboo hesitantly offered, “Because that would be a mean thing to do.  Captain America isn’t mean, he just wants to help people and protect them.”

“Right.  Does he just go around kicking people in the face because he doesn’t like them?”

Beanie looked horrified, and gasped out, “NO!  Captain America would never do that!  He’s a hero!”

“Right.  So do you think it’s a good thing to go around calling people, even people who do bad things, mean words, or wanting to kick them in the face?”

Two very, very quiet, answers, delivered in unison, “No.”

“But is it okay to cheer for the good guys when they’re taking down the bad guys?”  I grinned as I looked down into two troubled pairs of eyes.  “Ladies, it’s always okay to cheer for the good guys when they’re taking down the bad guys.  We want the good guys to win.”

Bugaboo flashed me her best smile and said, “Since it’s okay to cheer for the good guys, can we have another episode of Avengers so we can practice?”

“You bet.  Who do you think will be in this one?”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the writers and artists who created superheroes, those larger-than life fictional characters who remind children and adults alike of Your promise that Your side wins in the end.  Thank you for the many marvelous tools You have provided to help us lead Your blessings closer to You.  Thank You for little blessings whose heroes are the good guys in the Avengers and in Your book of love letters to us, who love truth and justice even though their understanding of both is that of children.  Please help us cultivate their desire to protect the weak, to live lives of heroic virtue, to sacrifice their time, talent, and treasure for the good of their neighbors, and kindle in our hearts a desire to set an example of that life that would rival the cartoons they enjoy. Help us teach them that even when we must counter those with bad intentions, we do so with loving hearts that desire to protect, to preserve, and to instruct, forsaking malice, wrath, and hatred.  Let us always remember and teach that Paul, Zacchaeus, and the Incredible Hulk were all bad guys once.

Look a little bit closer, it’s easy to trace


Here’s the song reference.

Mr. Man has recently started to join in our schoolwork time at the kitchen table in earnest, showing up while the girls are working on their math and English assignments and requesting work of his own.  At the moment, I’m casually trying to teach him how to hold a pencil properly; as was the case with his sisters, he refuses to use fat pencils or triangular crayons.  He also appears to be left-handed, which runs in both Manie and my families, so we have to be careful to teach him the correct grip without making him curl his hand around.

Also of late, our printer ran out of ink, and I’ve been disinclined to spend the money on a new cartridge.  In all honesty, we have enough workbooks that I shouldn’t need to print as many things as I do, and not having pre-printed stuff gives me a good excuse to have Beanie and Bugaboo practice their penmanship, along with other fine motor skills involving their hands, by copying and tracing.  It’s also a moment for me to stop and consider a stewardship question:  how much paper and ink do we really need to use?

One delightful side effect of not making copies are that the ladybugs are producing some neat artwork these days, because instead of copying a picture for them to color, I tape a piece of white paper over the pattern in whatever book we’re using (okay, that really doesn’t reduce the amount of paper, I suppose), and have them trace the picture before coloring it in.  Since the lines made by their pencils are lighter, they have had to learn to put less pressure on their crayons to produce lighter use, in order that the outlines may be more clearly seen.  It’s also helpful for Mr. Man, who is at the tracing letters and numbers stage of learning to write, to see his sisters tracing, too; he delightedly explained to me yesterday morning, “I make writing and numbers and letters and pictures just like Bugaboo and Beanie!”  The girls cheer him on, and he cheers them on, too, and it’s a beautiful thing to see them learning to encourage and uplift each other in what could be very drudging work.

If you are curious about how this looks, here’s a short video of yesterday morning.  There are two others.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for four little blessings who are learning to encourage one another, and so encourage me.  On the days marked by defiance and disobedience, please help me remember they are still learning, and I will teach them either to build up or tear down by the example of my response to them.  We are trying to instruct them, Lord, in the value of doing small things with great love, in taking pains to make even the smallest thing beautiful, to use the gifts you have given them to create and to think instead of relying on machines to do it for them, to use their eyes to perceive, appreciate, and render small details.   Please draw my eyes to the small details, that I may show them how to honor You in the performance of tedious tasks, and please grant us days filled with joyful songs.

Knock, knock, knockin’


Here’s the song reference.

After some of our educational misadventures earlier in the week, my level of enthusiasm for homeschooling was somewhat diminished at the beginning of yesterday.  Being greeted by the sounds of breakfast-related whining coming from the kitchen upon my emergence from the shower didn’t do much to increase my level of enthusiasm, either.  Bugaboo and Beanie were having trouble making up their minds about what would constitute acceptable breakfast fare in terms of both food and drink, and were letting Daddy know in no uncertain terms that they found the options he was presenting unacceptable.  As I dressed, I used mental prayer to drown out the unhappy noises emanating from the next room, and managed to exit our bedroom with a semblance of a smile on my face.

My heroic husband had managed to convince our daughters that cereal is, in fact, an appropriate thing to eat first thing in the morning, and was downstairs making Mr. Man and Baby Guy presentable.  Prayer results, sometimes, in miracles that seem like ordinary things, but that can become great reservoirs of joy in what at first appeared to be a lost morning.  My smile became more genuine as the boys tumbled up the stairs and into the kitchen, their grinningly hopeful pleas for waffles washing away the last of the whiny miasma that had permeated our upstairs earlier.

Once the breakfast paraphernalia had landed in the sink, the girls headed off to dress and wash up, the boys wandered into the living room to inventory the household supply of toy vehicles, and I started the morning round of check-in calls.  As I caught up on the latest news from Grandma, the commemoration of Our Lady of Knock jumped out at me from our book of Catholic customs and traditions (a wonderful gift from my oldest brother, which sees almost daily use around here), and it occurred to me that a school day that begins with construction paper, colored pencils, and glue sticks is usually a happier one.  The girls re-emerged from their morning ablutions as Grandma and I were finishing our chat, and eagerly watched as I snipped fascinating shapes from green and white paper.

The project was pretty simple, honestly, and was something of an amalgamation of two other projects from our spiffy idea book.  We used a sheet of blue construction paper as the background for a green shamrock topped with three white hearts; each heart bore a single word (love, hope, and joy) on a wee green banner, with enough space left over inside each heart for the girls to draw a little picture showing what the word meant to them.  I did the cutting and writing parts, which left them the simpler and cheerier gluing and drawing.

Bugaboo and Beanie wrapped up their project while I was on the phone with Deedaw (and nephew, who, to my delight, always wants to say hello when his crazy aunt calls).  As I described the project to her (Deedaw loves to hear about what’s occupying the tribe in the mornings), she mentioned that she would very much like to have one of the girls’ little posters for her fridge.  Bugaboo joyfully volunteered her project for Deedaw happifying detail.

Remarkably, our English and math lessons were a breeze.

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for four little blessings who love You and look to Your mother as an example of how we mere humans can find joy simply by saying “yes” to You at all times and in all things, no matter how intimidating those times and things may be.  Thank You also for the gentle reminders that if we start our days by asking You to be with us, by remembering Your love and miracles, we will be more able to recognize You in each other, and recognize Your will instead of our own.  Lord, when I get so focused on arithmetic and grammar I forget to put You first, grant me the grace of eyes that see Your miracles at our kitchen table, and a heart that sings with joy at the wonder of them.  Please remind me that the needs of Your little blessings include bright colors and glue when I get too wrapped up in textbooks and pencils, and that most of Your miracles when You walked among us involved the most ordinary things, made holy by the work of Your loving hands.  Please imbue my hands with that same love, Lord, that I may be Your face.

We don’t need no education


Here’s the song reference.

Bugaboo greatly dislikes math, although she is, in fact, very good at it.  This causes the occasional conflict at our house, as her disdain for things numerical tends to take the form of pretending she doesn’t know what the numbers mean, or which number is which.  Since she has been correctly identifying digits since before her second birthday, her lament that she doesn’t recognize them holds very little water.

While we do add in fun math stuff, like using brightly colored gems and pompons as manipulatives, the reality is that Bugaboo is at a point where our main goal for her with math is that she commits the basic addition and subtraction facts to memory, and the most effective way for her to do this is to practice.  I’d love to let her design her own problems using multihedral dice, which would definitely amp up the fun factor, but she’d rather not use the dice for their intended purpose  For now, for purposes of both practice and assessment (because she does like to see a page covered with rainbow checkmarks showing all of her correct answers, it’s textbook time.

Yesterday was one of those, “I hate math,” days for Bugaboo.  Her regular math book has gone suspiciously missing, so we resorted to a couple of workbooks I keep around for extra practice problems.  For the record, as of this writing, I have still not located the missing tome, so whoever moved it has done a pretty decent job of hiding it.  As it happens, the book she was given had some slightly easier problems in it than the regular text, so I handed it over, assuming today would be a nice, easy, numbers day, since she could breeze right through the problems and be on to English and science, which she greatly prefers to math, in a matter of a few minutes.

There is a somewhat profane saying about the word, “assume.”  If you’re not familiar with it, do click the link.

It’s not all that unusual for one or more members of the tribe to revolt during our school time; sometimes the rebellion has to do with the work, sometimes it has to do with Baby Guy or Mr. Man being highly annoyed that the kitchen table is not available for car racing, play cooking, or finger painting.  Generally, the offended party settles down in a matter of minutes, sometimes because I’m able to say the magic, soothing words that restore balance to the tiny person’s universe, sometimes because I do my best drill sergeant imitation.  As I mentioned yesterday, I’m trying to minimize the drill sergeant voice, because it really bothers me that I’m hearing so much of it coming from Bugaboo (and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Man).

Apparently, Bugaboo and I have both become a little too accustomed to me barking orders in the face of defiance.  For four hours, I kept my tone mild and calmly explained, redirected, encouraged, and ignored, by turns.  For four hours, the math remained undone, or was filled in with random numbers by my oldest child.  By the time she finally got around to completing the work, most of her toys were securely locked in Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom, with the promise that she would earn one object back for each task she completed throughout the day, including, but not limited to, her assignments.

This earned me several rounds of a Bugaboo wailing, “You don’t love me!  If you loved me, you would let me have my stuff back!  I can’t live without my stuff!  I have to have my stuff back in my room if I’m going to do work!  I won’t do it unless you put all of my things back from where you stole them!”

She was, in fact, able to reclaim all of her belongings, with the exception of a couple of small, broken toys she didn’t notice failed to make the return trip to her room, but it was almost dinnertime before she did.  Her math assignment was completed after I finally lost my temper and raised my voice, about an hour past lunch time.  After she finished it, I sent her off to her bed to take a nap, for both of our sakes, and, as I tucked her in, we had a little conversation about the importance of doing our daily, routine tasks gladly, even if they’re not exactly what we’d like to be doing at that moment.  I gave her examples of the tasks I dislike (regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to learn that most of them are in the housecleaning domain), and explain that even though I’d rather be reading a book, playing a game, or doing stuff with her and her siblings, I still do them, because they’re necessary.  Once the work is done, I can play.  We talked about why math is important, about the times she’s sat next to me while I worked out a shopping list that worked with our grocery budget, and how she would be allowed to help with it if she could only remember the basics of addition and subtraction.

We also talked about how “stuff” is not a good measure of one person’s love for another, which turned into a discussion of people we know who have decided that when material largesse stops flowing, love must stop flowing as well, and how terrible is the hurt that decision has caused.  Bugaboo is six years old, so I’m not sure how clearly she understands the concept that toys, money, and expensive outings don’t constitute the most important part of love, but she did bless me with a glimpse of her comprehension after she’d had a nap.  I offered her a cookie, and she looked at me and said, “Mommy, you don’t need to give me a cookie.  I already know you love me.”

Alrighty, then.

She ate the cookie anyway, because cookies are tasty, and she was a little hungry.  I had one, too, and then we finished her phonics lesson.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for the four intelligent and strong blessings You have entrusted to our care.  We have made mistakes in raising them, Lord, in that we succumbed to the temptation to use a wrathful voice instead of a reasonable one too often.  Please grant us the grace of patient and penitent hearts as we seek to unlearn the easy path of anger and thereby teach your blessings the narrower way of patient teaching.  We pray that you will use us as Your instruments to teach Your blessings, and anyone else in need of instruction, Your definition of love, which involves neither money nor possessions, unless it is in sharing those with those who direly need them.  Please bless our household with the grace of loving people more than things.

Just call her angel of the morning


Here’s the song reference.

I had advised the tribe on Thursday night that I intended to make an early morning, light-speed grocery run at about 6 a.m. on Friday, and that should anyway be awakened by the sound of the front door closing, the correct course of action would be to nestle more comfortably into their pillows and blankets and resume sleep operations, and that under no circumstances was anyone to go into Mommy and Daddy’s room, or wake Daddy.

At 5:49 a.m. yesterday morning, as I was working on the blog post, I heard Bugaboo’s characteristic “I’m going to get away with something” tiptoeing sprint down the short hallway and into the bathroom, then the soft sound of our bedroom door opening and closing.  Bugaboo is a pillow thief, and mine is her target of choice.  If it happens to be unoccupied, and she thinks she can manage to not get in trouble for it, she will immediately climb into our bed and wrap herself around it.

On very rare occasions, she even goes back to sleep.

You may have already surmised that yesterday morning was not one of those rare occasions.  I did not make the pre-dawn grocery run for fear of waking the rest of the tribe.

When I shuffled into the bathroom around 7:00 to shower, my saggy-eyed husband was tying his shoes and Bugaboo, dressed in her Thor costume, was merrily chattering, and bouncing on her Tinkerbell pillow.  I rather gruffly informed her that I was highly displeased that she had chosen to disregard the previous night’s instructions, and asked her if she remembered what I had told her the night before.  With some trepidation, she replied that she did remember she wasn’t supposed to wake Daddy, but that when she came in to give him a hug after she used the potty, he was already awake, so she stayed around.

“I tried to go back to sleep, Mommy, but I really wasn’t sleepy, and I have my Thor girl costume on, and . . .”

“So you did remember what the right thing to do was, and you deliberately chose not to do it?”

“Well, kind of.”

I breathed in, ready to deliver quite the lecture about how Daddy works very hard for us and it’s important for us to let him get his sleep, about how deliberate disobedience is a poor way to say “I love you.”  Manie quietly said, “I was awake.  She’s okay.”

Great, I thought, now he’s ENCOURAGING her to be disobedient.  I scowled and prepared to include my husband in the lecture.

Ordinarily, I try to listen for “the still, small voice” that, when I listen to it, tends to guide me in the right direction. The Lord, in His omniscience, understands that the coffee doesn’t fully kick in until after I’ve showered, so the intracranial voice of wisdom boomed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

I paused and exhaled.  Then I thought about the time and energy we have spent teaching our children to love people and not things.  I thought about the nights I have consoled a tired Manie when he feels wretched that his work schedule keeps him from spending as much time with the tiny people as he’d like.  I thought about all the times I’ve remonstrated with Bugaboo for pouting because she had to spend time with family instead of going on a shopping trip.  I realized that Manie had not sent her back to her room.  And I realized that I was angry with a six-year-old girl because she wanted to spend an extra hour with her Daddy, and with a father for wanting to spend time with his daughter.

And I saw the look of trepidation on Bugaboo’s face, wondering if Mommy was going to hold this against her and be angry all day.

I hugged her, and kissed her, and said, “Love you, big girl.”

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Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for understanding that I am thick-headed, and loving me anyway.  Many times in the past year, You have given me the opportunity to learn that we are not given to know the length of our lives, and we therefore should spend every possible moment loving one another as You have loved us.  Many times, I have explained to Your blessings that we must value the needs of others above our own selfish desires.  Lord, I am sorry for being angry with Your blessings for heeding the lesson.  Please change my heart; please fill me with Your grace so that Your blessings may learn from me sometimes, instead of the other way around.  Thank You for blessing me with so many and such wonderful teachers, and help us all, together, seek to serve You instead of ourselves in all things.

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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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.