bits & pieces turns into story


Amelie is reading these days.  A lot less sounding out, a lot more easy reading.  Right now we are aiming for reading small, manageable bits, consistently.  This week, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, in two two-page spreads per day.

We are really enjoying Dick and Jane.  For some reason Dick and Jane have been sorely misaligned.  They are just perfect for my early reader and the classic illustrations keep me entertained, too.

Levi caught the sounding out bug early this year and helped himself to letter-learning and letter-writing and letter-typing.  He often refers to himself as “L-E-V-I”, all spelled out.  Kiri and Lia and Devo, likewise.  Those of us with longer names just get called as usual, no spelling.

I had been watching his skill-building from the corner of my mind as I worked with the others on spelling and reading and writing.  I offered him help and new materials when needed, but it was his thing and he was happy and I was happy.  This week he read his first BOB book.  Not too shabby for a little peanut of a three year old.  He has a knack for remembering the sounds he just sounded out and smooshing them quickly into a word.  Helpful knack, that.


:: story

So the other week was communion at church, which means foot-washing.  Which means, in our church, small basins of water and thick paper napkins.

Church day continues to be a rigorous day for me, worthy of marathon status, surely, herding my small flock hither and yon and up and down, to class and muffins and cups of gold fish and the bathroom.   And all in heels.

I really must get flats.  (Side note – don’t think I haven’t tried to get in on this wondrous proliferation of cute flat shoes that fashion has been so kind to bestow on us.  For some reason, my heels slip out of every single ding dang pair of flats, regardless of size.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Target or Nordstrom’s or Clarks.  Pity me.  I do.)

But on communion day, it was cold, so I was wearing my Uggs and tromping around lithely and blithely and warmly.

(Really, you can’t imagine how much extra effort heels and a skirt requires over the course of a morning/afternoon at church.  Or maybe you can.)

I thought we could swing foot washing with three big kids and one toddler and one experienced mother.

Things did proceed fairly smoothly, right until I took off my own shoes (lead by example, right?) and was standing in the church with one sock on and one sock off.  Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John.

It must have been then when Kiri dumped over the basin of water as I vainly grabbed for her, because I distinctly remember that my toes were cold and wet, and I couldn’t figure out if it was more important to put my shoes back on (I know some people have a serious problem with bare feet in church) or make a barefooted dash to the table with all the paper napkins to mop up the water beneath my partially stockinged feet.

And then Kiri took a look at her handiwork and plopped herself down in the middle of the spreading sea.  (How can an inch of water in a small basin make such a large puddle?)

This was a first for me, I realized.  Eight years and no one has ever dumped out the foot-washing water.  With our odds, that’s rather remarkable, I’d say.

Cue out-of-body experience.  I see myself mopping on my hands and knees (in skirt) and trying to keep hold of wet child and coaching the bigger ones through the drying of feet and the donning of (frilly) socks and shiny shoes.  Some hissing of orders to take the other basin, navigate crowd, and empty it. Carefully!

And I see the other people around me, so very very close in proximity.  Are they oblivious to the small but desperate drama happening two feet away?  Or are they politely not seeing?  It’s too bad if they are being polite, it’s definitely worth a chuckle.  And maybe a napkin.

There was no pious post-foot washing prayer that day.  It was more like a rout and dripping retreat.  In bare, wet feet.


Bare Minimum

I am so, so weary of Bare Minimum.

Even with drastic, horrendous cuts to my  To Do List and my Must Do List, I’m still just barely pulling through.  I have dropped more balls in the past few months than I’d like to think about.   Friends, meals, organization, homeschool, teethbrushing, kindness…it’s all gone to pot under the duress.  It’s not you, it’s me.  

Grace and space were good, but I’m ready for a return to normal life, normal productivity.

What duress?  Oh, the snowball effect, I presume, of too many long days, having a toddler + a preschooler, not enough sleep, an everlastingly slow return to normal thyroid levels (going on 17 months here).

It all adds up and equals one Bare Minimum Life.

The quarter is almost over, we have convinced Kiri to sleep through the night, my thyroid is approaching normal for the first time in six months, and Kiri is coming close to the 18 month mark.  (I often reassure first time parents, “Oh, it gets so much easier around 18 months.”  Oh, I hope I am right.)

I hope I survive until Normal gets back from its extended leave of absence.

Bare Minimum has really struck hard in the Christmas department.  I don’t need to simplify our Christmas, I want to complicate things.  I want to actually light the Advent candles (we’ve managed one night so far, I’m not sure whether to keep trying or just try again next year).  I want to make just a few gifts for friends and family.  I want to make us something to eat on Christmas Day.  Like sandwiches.

I’m pretty freaked out that we are going to do absolutely nothing to celebrate our upcoming 10th anniversary.  If I can’t manage dinner, how am I going to manage an anniversary?

Did I mention that Kiri now recognizes the Del Taco drive through?

All this Bare Minimum caught up to me last week when I was preparing for our homeschool meeting with the charter school specialist.  It was concrete, irrefutable evidence that this has gone beyond a week or two or three and is going into months now.

Then I <ahem> rejoined the womanly world after a two year hiatus (!!), and all that comes along with that.

Then I melted into a puddle.

Ah, Bare Minimum.  I’m so familiar with you, but you put me through the wringer every time.  I guess the only thing to do is to wait it out.  And buy shares in Del Taco.

Anyhow, if you’re wondering what I’m up to over the next few weeks, I’ll just be here.  Doing what I do.  Doing my best.

How are you managing the Christmas season?  


The morning was pretty terrible.  Mostly me.  Well, almost entirely me.  I was wigged out and freaking out and short on sleep and short on patience.  I finally put everyone in the car and we went for a drive so I could cool off and get a grip.  Then we stopped at the store for fruit leather.

I was so tempted to sink into the misery of self-mortification.  So tempted.  But I’ve been working on that, and the practice is starting to pay off.  As we drove around, I started talking out loud, naming the good things of the day.  It’s so easy to list the bad things, the failures.  But today I chose to lift my eyes up to the goodness that is here and now.  When those good moments come, I make an effort to stop for a moment to acknowledge their goodness.

Here are some of today’s good moments.

:: Waking up with a fragrant, kissable, cuddly baby snuggled in my arms.

:: Playing soccer in the morning sun with Levi.  Wet grass, pink slippers, arms full of baby, sturdy boy legs, twinkly boy eyes.

:: Watching Lia concentrate on her first day of subtraction.  (“It’s easier than addition,” she says).

:: Making Amelie’s braided pigtails stick out like Pippi’s and laughing together in the mirror.

:: Hearing Amelie quote long passages from Jungle Jam (recommend!).

:: Being privileged to offer a listening ear and encouragement to a grieving friend I saw at Costco.

:: Enjoying sister time in the car with a chorus of singing children for background music.

:: Sitting on the couch beside my husband in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday for a (very) few quiet minutes.

:: Hearing Levi sing John Rutter’s Star Carol  in his little boy voice.

:: Buying all the kids and myself a piece of fruit leather, just because.

:: Doing some rearranging in the kitchen to make room for the groceries I bought yesterday.  Ironed out a few more of the organizational wrinkles and got stuff labeled and stowed away, feels good.

:: Bags full of pomegranates and fuyu persimmons from a friend who offered me understanding when I feared censure.

:: Reading an evening message from a cousin far away who is also in the baby days (hello temper tantrums).

A few weeks ago, I was looking photos on Posie Gets Cozy.  They’ve finally adopted their long awaited baby girl, and the newborn miracle of it all just struck me in the heart.  Those newborn days are so so precious.

Too think that four times I have had that newborn miracle, lived it.  So blessed.

Before I could get melancholy over bygone days, I realized that just as I had that, the newborn days, I have this.  This with our new home, our homeschooling days, our so grown up almost 8 year old, deliciously five year old, still small three year old, and one I can still call a baby for a few more months.  This is my now.  This now is as miraculous and fleeting as ever those precious first days were.

It bowled me over.  What on earth have I been doing mired in details?  I have this and I have it now.  Take it, enjoy it, be in it.

All the to-dos, must-dos, should-dos scream at me so loudly sometimes, I get unbalanced (off my rocker?).  I get caught, literally stuck, in a whirl of overwhelm and I can’t fight my way out.  My patience is snappy, my kindness comes out with a sharp edge.

A few months ago, I was saved from the tyranny of feeling unhappy by Sylvia Boorstein with this simple idea: The question is not whether you feel happy, the question is are you able to be kind?

I’d like to add to that now.  In order for me to be kind, and patient, and gentle, I have to be happy.  

The truth is that when I’m locked in stress or overwhelm or unbalance, I cannot muscle my way to gentleness.  I cannot maintain patience.  I turn into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde apparition that mortifies me.

So for all of our sakes, I’ve been asking myself the question, Am I able to be kind?   If the answer is no, I do my best to find a way out of whatever has me all caught up.  What will help me find the space to be kind (to be happy?)?

Sometimes the answer is letting go of the housework.  Looking above the messes so that I can fully engage with the children.

Sometimes the answer is cleaning house.  Putting other things aside so that we can calmly bring order back to our space.

I’ve let go of a lot of things in the past few weeks.  (The to-do list is truly breathtaking.)  At the same time, I have spent more time laughing with my children.  More time listening with my full attention.  More time with a peaceful heart.  More crafts.  More sewing costumes.  More opening pomegranates.  More goofiness.  More soccer.  More singing.  More kindness, more gentleness, more patience.

This is it, this is my now.  I’m counting my good moments.

What good moments did you have today?


Garden beds and Shakespeare

:: garden beds

I bought four 4×4 raised garden beds yesterday.  They are on clearance at Lowe’s – great price and good reviews.  Will I regret not getting six?

Ooh, I’m all ready to plant them – kale, swiss chard, more carrots (Amelie picked and ate all of our current crop), broccoli (we want to see it flower).  But first we have to dig up grass, rearrange sprinklers, and save up to buy the dirt to fill them with.  Kind of dampens the enthusiasm.  Where’s that spoonful of sugar?

Or better yet, a twitch of the nose.  Healthier.

:: Shakespeare, etc.

Book recommendations.  Marcia Williams’ Tales From Shakespeare and More Tales From Shakespeare.  Shakespeare plays – comic book style.  Brilliant and hilarious.  We own one and it is dog-eared and tattered from repeated readings.  The other one is at the library – one year we checked it out for three months.

Marcia Williams has a wonderful list of books – Canterbury Tales, Greek Myths, the Iliad and the Odyssey, King Arthur, Oliver Twist, Robin Hood.  We’re adding to our collection slowly but surely.

On a related note, we have discovered the graphic novel (comics) section of the library and they are so much fun.  Benny and Penny, Pigling: A Korean Cinderella Story, The Collected Allison Dare (Little Miss Adventures).  



heart garland, epicness, a recipe, and a surprise

:: heart garland

Today I did something entirely frivolous.  I put something pretty on the wall!

Our walls are still mostly (almost completely) bare.  Part of that is indecision on my part, part of it is because I couldn’t find the box with the things I knew where I wanted them to go.  Found the box a week ago, and today I made our lives a little bitty bit prettier.

This is the girls room, by the way.  The beautiful, long desired headboard, the deal-of-the-year comforter.  I love the blue on the wall.  The chair doesn’t actually belong there.  I have my eye on IKEA Hemnes nightstands (but in what color?).  And I’m on an eternal craigslist quest for a wood chest to put all of our dress up clothes in.

The garland is, of course, a pinterest find.

:: epic happenings

On our way to the UCR botanical gardens, we experienced silence in the van for approximately four minutes.  It was epic.

Also epic were the butterflies.  Monarchs, gulf fritillaries, painted ladies, we saw them all.  Up close.  I’ve never been so close to so many butterflies.  A white-haired volunteer came over to the butterfly garden and taught the girls how to pick up monarch caterpillars and why milkweed is called milkweed.  She couldn’t hear much of the knowledge the girls were showering on her, but she whipped out her iphone and showed them photo after photo of butterflies she has seen.

I have now added milkweed and butterfly bush to my list of desired plants for the back garden.  Imagine,  your own butterfly garden!


:: homemade grapefruit soda syrup

We have made our own Grapefruit Soda several times recently.  It’s like homemade Fresca.  Even the skeptics in the family love it.


:: p.s.

I almost forgot.  Kiri fell prey to an aspiring hair stylist today.  (And we all know that this is just the beginning of the mischief Kiri and Levi are going to get into together).

It’s not tooooo terrible.  She just looks a little shorn, a little bit like something nibbled on her.  I’ll trim it up a tad tomorrow.

Well, now I don’t have to decide whether or not to trim her bangs, Levi did it for me.




Train – girl style


Photo by Amelie

I should start a series – Found on the Camera.

This week it was a photo shoot of the green train (forgive me, I do not know its name).  Green train with a bow.  Girl-style.

Makes me smile.


Trampolines, Fall, Rejuvenation

An unusual still, quiet moment

Levi has been taking all the air space around here.  The rest of the family has pretty much given up on conversation for the time being.  He has so many many things to say.  Usually at full volume.

And wiggles.  Some times I see him just standing there wiggling with all his might.  So much energy, it has to get out somehow.

We are thinking seriously about investing in a Springfree trampoline.  Renee sparked the idea quite some time ago and I have kept it at the back of my mind ever since.

The price tag feels prohibitive, yes.  However, when I priced it out, it’s about the same as putting three kids in gymnastics for a year.  Instead of a couple of hours a week for one year, we would get 15 years of fun and exercise.

Unlike a swing set or playground, you don’t really outgrow a trampoline.  Kids love trampolines, teenagers love trampolines, adults love trampolines.  And, oh my, the exercise.

We get exercise on our weekly adventure, but during the week it’s hard to find activities that everyone can do.  (Taking a walk with four small people does not equal exercise for parents.  A lovely outing, yes.  Accelerated heart rate, no.)  Unless it’s summer and we’re swimming.

We went to try out the trampolines at a showroom nearby this summer.  I  kind of sprung the idea (no pun intended) on the family without much persuading before-hand.  By the time we left the showroom, the entire family had caught the vision.  So now to collect our pennies and dream our dreams.

All this to say, jumping on a trampoline would be an excellent and fun way to help Levi get some of his energy out.

Fall arrived yesterday in all it’s glory and splendor.  It rained.  The kids spent the whole morning out on the covered porch, coming in to say, “Oh, Mommy, the rain is so beautiful!”

Lia and Levi snuggled up on the swing under a blanket.  Amelie was worried Kiri would get cold, so she wrapped a sweater around Kiri’s head, babushka style.  Oh, we were just the happiest little family.  It was raining.

We came home in the rain in the afternoon.  It was so nice to be home, all cozy with warm lights.  I turned on some big band music and we put on a pot of apple cider.  I do love our new home so much, it just inspires homeyness.  It’s going to be a wonderful place this winter.

Devo has been extremely busy the last few weeks, and it caught up with me this week.  This has been a week of scraping bottom, releasing expectations, letting go of must-dos, should-dos, want to dos.

Everybody has been good and fine this week – except me.

I need some white space to help the print come into focus.  

Devo finally has a slow day today, so he has taken everyone to Costco to give me some time.  By myself.  It’s so nice.  I can hear birds singing, and our butterflies that hatched yesterday are flitting around in their enclosure.  Right now I feel that I have a bottomless need for time alone, but a couple of hours over the next few days should bring me back to the land of the even-tempered.

In other news, I found this photo on the camera this morning.  I love it.

Teeth Tales

Kiri was unusually, weirdly fussy on Wednesday evening.  It occurred to me that she and I had been separated for a record-breaking length of time that day.  Between dentist appointments and Children’s Choir, we had been apart for about four hours over the course of the day.

She’s 14 months old and I’ve never been gone from her for four hours in a day before.  I like that.

The dentist  appointment was full of intrigue.  The recent coloration at the bottom of my molars is not receding gums or some disease.  (Am I really so hypochondriacal about this stuff?  I confess.)

Apparently it’s staining.

My hygienist assumed I drink coffee or tea.  But I don’t.  So we’re a bit baffled.  Well, she shrugged.  I baffled.

This summer we saw my mom’s cousin who is an orthodontist and he took a look in everyone’s mouth.  He didn’t bat an eye at Levi’s catawampus mouthful of teeth, but was interested in the extra tooth and the possibility of an extra permanent tooth lurking somewhere.

Lia has two permanent teeth growing well behind her teeth line (is that what it’s called?), all in their own little row.  Uncle Randy told me that those teeth need to be out by the time she starts orthodontia next year.  He mentioned having a dentist pull them, being doubtful that they’d come out on their own.

I told Lia about the upcoming orthodontia (“When I’m eight and a half, I get to have braces!”), but I didn’t want to freak her out with the whole “dentist pulling teeth” bit.

was freaked out.

I’ve been encouraging her to wiggle them and get them out, and she’d been working on it occasionally.

So the dentist takes a look in her mouth on Wednesday and says, just says it right there after all my hushed behind the back conversations, that she needs to get those pulled.  He said it several times.

I maintained Mature Mother Facade and looked sideways to see how Lia was taking it.

Lia?  I was worried about Lia?

Oh, that was just some positive incentive to get working on wiggling those teeth.

A chirpy announcement to her father later, “I have to pull these teeth, otherwise the dentist will pull them!  I have to pull them out before I get braces when I’m eight and a half!”

Wiggle, wiggle.  Wiggle, wiggle.  Wiggle.

Two days later, one of them is almost out.

I encouraged her to wait until tomorrow to pull it out.  I didn’t bother mentioning my motive…the Tooth Fairy is tired and the Tooth Fairy’s money-origami-folding Assistant is down the road in her dorm room.

And I learn yet another lesson that things never really go how you expect them to go.  Kudos to Lia for being an adventurous and courageous girl.  You go, girl, no tooth pulling for us!

And just for some fun, a couple of links.

Chai Spice Snickerdoodles.  I haven’t made these, but I’ve mentioned them to about a gazillion people this week.

Roasted Apple Spice Sheet Cake.  I’ve mentioned this recipe to no one, but it has taken up residence in my subconscious.  Maybe it’s the mention of “soft pillows of apple pie-like puddles” that have so enamored me.  I need a reason to make this.  Actually, I need the time to make this.  Soft pillows of apple pie-like puddles are a good enough reason for me.

40 Things To Say Before You Die.  I was apprehensive that this was going to be one of those sappy lists, but I clicked over because Devo is not known to recommend sap.  Loved the little drawings.  I especially like #21 – “You come from a long line of people who convinced others to sleep with them. Remember that.”  Snicker.  You go, ancestors!   Need to practice #19.

Beans, Mayo, and a Story (not a recipe)

:: Simple Beans

There was a big pot of black beans on the stove today.  Delicious.  Just cumin and salt.  I’ve dutifully cooked my beans with onion and garlic for years, but recently I’ve been having brilliant, delectable results with only salt.  Simple.

Our weeks go so much better, culinarily speaking, when I start off the week with a big pot of beans.

Today’s lunch was simply black beans and brown rice.  With a squeeze of lime.  I had intended to add to it, but didn’t.  No one complained.  Indeed, Lia complimented me on the delicious lunch.

Now to play how-many-ways-to-eat-black-beans-this-week.  This is a game I like.

:: Mayo, ewwww

The girls’ hair has been fried this summer with sun and chlorine.  They look like wooly sheep.  Wooly sheep with highlights.

Now that the end of swimming is in sight (is this wishful thinking? heat wave, you are not welcome here!), I’ve started being proactive about counteracting the damage.

Yes, I did the mayonnaise rinse.

I was underwhelmed by the results and overwhelmed by the smell.

Mayo and I are not on good terms since someone popped an individual serving of mayonnaise on the couch and didn’t ‘fess up.

I couldn’t figure out where on earth that mayonnaise smell was coming from and it just kept getting stronger and stronger.  And then I found the little foil bag under a couch cushion, deflated, lying in it’s innards.  Whaaaa?

I wrung a confession out of someone, wondering again why I bother with the “why on earth would you doooooo that?” technique, and thanked my lucky stars I had found it quickly.

The smell comes back when there is moisture in the air.  In our old house, humidity brought on a dog smell.  Here, mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise lingers in the nostrils (and in the upholstery) like a stench.

I used to love mayonnaise.  Now I don’t.

I’ve been rubbing small bits of coconut oil in their hair occasionally.  Maybe with some lavender essence.  Much better.

We are currently trying out a swimming cap in order to be better prepared to protect our flowing tresses next summer.

:: Amelie Tells It

Amelie was reminiscing about her first piano recital back in May.  “I was so scared that I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t.”


Play, Hair Woes

bird and dagger, they crack me up

:: Play

There’s been a break in the heat and we’ve been released to the great outdoors.  Our living space has expanded, with the addition of the now inhabitable and hospitable backyard.  The kids have expanded, too.  Many happy hours (happy! hours!) of playing outside, digging in the dirt, watering plants (and siblings), and long sessions of imaginary play.

Yesterday’s play was a fascinating mishmash of Julius Caesar and Little Women.  Frankly, I’m not sure how Cleopatra and Marmee would get along, but there was much bustling about and many reminders as to whether this one or that one was married yet, or if they were just still engaged.

Lia narrates her play as though it is a book.  I catch phrases as she passes by.

“She trudged to the cottage.”

“‘Don’t do it!’, she exclaimed.'”  Or, “she whined”.  Or, my personal favorite, “she gasped”.  And they both gasp.

Levi joins the girls here and there.  I’ve had a bit of a time convincing them that, for the purpose of fun and fairness, it is okay for Levi to cook with them.  Even though it’s the olden days.

Recently I’ve heard them trying to bribe Levi to play with them.  “You can be Roger Federer!” they wheedle.  They know the key to his heart.  Roger Federer is the world’s best tennis player and well-beloved in our family.  In fact, Devo has coached them to refer to him as ‘Uncle Roger’.  I’m still not sure if the big girls understand that we don’t actually know Federer.


:: Hair Woes

I got my hair cut a few weeks ago.  After several weeks of internal debate, I decided to go short again.  Day 1 was fine.  Day 2 was okay.  By Day 3 I knew I’d made a terrible mistake.  (Yes, terrible.  Okay, not terrible.  Aggravating.)

Last time I cut it short, I felt so chic.  Stylish.

This time I feel juvenile.  And bouncy.  Woof.  It is not pleasant feeling juvenile and bouncy.  Young and energetic is cool.  Juvenile and bouncy is not cool.

At least the layers are long so it will grow out faster.  I’m ready for a loose bun on chic days and a rubber band on others.

I’d also like bangs with my pulled back hair.

Unfortunately, I seem to have a problem with anything touching my face in the eye/forehead vicinity – like hair or glasses.  I put on my sunglasses the other day and actually felt my facial muscles twitching, volunteering in their involuntary way, apparently, to hold up the glasses.  They haven’t gotten the memo that I have a nose and two ears to do the job.

Jinx, Need Exercise, the String Bean

:: Jinxed it

Ironically, after last week’s posts on less fear and less mess, I ended the week with a lot of fear (lots of bad news about friends) and gigantic messes (lots of, ahem, mess).

Do you believe in jinxing things?  I think I might.

::Pool closed = bad, very bad

We were unable to swim last week, due to the pool being closed.  It continues to be, as we say around here, stinkin’ hot.

We had lots of bouncing off of walls and lots of small bodies that were just uncontrollable.  We tried our best to be active, but nothing beats two hours in the pool (scheduled for tomorrow, thank goodness).

Levi saved the week by inventing a tumbling course.  He lined up a chair and the two child-sized tables to make a runway to vault over the edge of the couch.  He does an excellent mid-air somersault.  He spent most of the weekend running and jumping, and the girls have been happy to join him.  And we have been happy to have couch cushions cast hither and yon (or piled up and vaulted over).

I think it’s time to put up our in-house swing again.

And get a trampoline.

:: Kiri, aka String Bean

In other news, Kiri is just about 14 months now.  (When do I stop announcing her age by month and just say “one”?  I forget.)  My pet names for her currently are “Funny Buns” (or would I spell it “funnibunz”?) and “String Bean”.  Her little arms remind me so much of Super Grover.

She wants to be down, she wants to be up.  She doesn’t know what she wants, but she’s pretty sure this isn’t it.  She asks, “Up-ah” in the most darling little baby voice.  So politely.



The Back Porch

:: I have a yellow gingham bunting hanging on my back porch.  I really should bring it in before the elements destroy it.  But it is so pretty, I want to leave it up just a bit longer.

:: There is a black phoebe bird sitting in the lilac tree.  It appears to be teasing the hummingbird.

:: I suggested to the girls that getting muddy is an activity best suited to before dinner, not before bedtime.  I spoke a little sharper than intended, but I can’t help but smile at the streaks of dirt on Lia’s face.

:: We can see the “mountain” from the back porch.

:: I’ve sketched out a general plan for our garden.  The borders planted with flowers and perennial herbs, edged by flat bricks.  Raised vegetable beds on the right side.  The circle on the right (was it for a jacuzzi?) maybe an herb garden.

It’s fine, but it’s boring.  I want something unusual like meandering paths or a grape arbor or a hideaway.

In the meantime, we’ve cleared just enough space along the back wall to put in tomatoes.  Mom and I have big plans for a lemon cucumber.

:: The girls come outside in the evening while waiting for Kiri to cry herself to sleep (boo).  I’ve pegged this time with no small ones to sit and read uninterrupted with the big girls, but the call of the cool evening is stronger than the couch and a book.  I love watching them flit around like little sprites.

:: The little sprites have washed off the mud and are ready now to tiptoe into their room and go to sleep under the flower garden on their bright pink quilt.

Ups and downs

Tuesday was the best best day I’ve had at home in a long, long time. Months, maybe. It took me back to the idyllic days of late spring last year when I was in my second trimester with Kiri. An easy, full day.

Summertime, and the living is easy.

We had moved out the excess furniture and stowed away the things cluttering around. I felt that we were in control of the space, it wasn’t the space (and mess) controlling us. Because we had all of our ducks in a row, we were free to play and create and enjoy. It was so so very nice. I stopped a number of times to enjoy it.

Wednesday, on the other hand, was a study in managing frazzled. A clingy, fussy baby. Everything is an emergency when a baby is crying. Compound that with a current trend of eager (and constant) conversationalists, and you’ve got a formula for frazzled.

Some of my current favorite coping techniques are::

Noticing. I just take a moment and notice what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing. What my senses are noticing. Where my body touches the ground or the chair. I don’t judge any of these things as good or bad, but just notice them. It’s a very grounding practice.

Hold on to the good, let go of the bad. I tend to do the opposite these days, holding on to the bad to either do penance or to try to eke out some good. The truth is that I’m holding on to the bad, while the good slips by uncelebrated. Hold on to the good, let go of the bad. It’s a good mantra, cleansing.

I’ve been noticing recently just how full every day is. Every moment has a task, a need, a demand. That doesn’t even include the “should do’s”, it’s just the barest of basics.

Frankly, I’m hoping that this doesn’t continue. In the large scope of things, I need room for a little more breathing, a few “I want to’s”, more small moments between tasks to catch my breath and center myself. Maybe even, eventually, a real break.

Sometimes I get a little scared that it will never balance out again.

Blessedly, the nights are improving. Kiri is sleeping on her own all night until about 5am when she joins me in my bed (ah, sweet snuggles). Levi has been banished to his own room and we have taken a firm line with his nighttime nonsense. He’s responding well. I think he’s slept all through for about 5 of the last 8 days.

Now that I’m getting good sleep…I’m extra tired. That doesn’t baffle me like it did with the first baby. It’s just my body saying that it’s time to catch up on a year’s worth of broken sleep. Whoever said you can’t catch up on sleep is grievously wrong and I pity them with my whole heart.

Finally, I’ve begun a practice of trying to name good things about myself. (More of holding on to the good and letting go of the bad). It was very hard at first (which both surprised me and made it clear that this is an important thing to do), but I’m getting a little better. Case in point, I didn’t have to cogitate for too many minutes to come up with something tonight.

I have an expressive face and utilize it often.

It’s not profound, but it is something good.

Anybody else have a good thing about yourself to share? (And was it easy or hard to come up with?)

Singing Rounds with Children, Part Two

Confession :: Ever since reading The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, I’ve wanted to, you know, be the Trapp Family Singers.

A passel of kids.  Adventure.  Singing.

And the real von Trapps didn’t sing Do, Re, Mi, they sang Bach, Palestrina, des Prez. Real stuff.

And they had a farm.

So we have our passel of kids and a widening sense of adventure.  Now for the singing.  (Apparently the farm will have to wait).

We like to sing.  I was a vocal major, for pete’s sake.  Devo sang in a quartet/quintet through college.  In fact, my husband likes to sing so much that I’ve almost lost my ability to sing harmony.  Being a baritone (neither tenor, nor bass), he likes to sing a little of the alto line and a little of the tenor line.  And besides, someone has to sing the melody.

And our kids like to sing.  In fact, we often drive down the road with three children singing three different songs.  I should say four children, being that Kiri can drown us out with her own singing when she feels inspired.  (Baby singing, so darling.  So loud.)

Over Christmas, my Trapp Family Singer Dream suddenly came to life.  Suddenly we had three children who all loved to sing.  So we began to expand our Christmas repertoire, and for the first time our Advent tradition of singing O Come, O Come, Immanuel didn’t consist of two parents singing with several children looking on.

Last Christmas, two voices.  This Christmas, five.

Our time has come.

Time to get out the rounds again.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Singing Rounds with Children.  It is one of my most popular posts.  And you can see from the publish date (April 2008) that we’ve been singing for years.

This spring, however, brought a magical leap in interest and ability and now we are on a higher plane in the Quest for Harmony.

For a couple of weeks, we spent hours singing rounds.  Hours.

The little girls would lie in bed and practice Jubilate Deo (often while Levi was singing something else entirely), until they could each sing their own part.

Meal times we would sing “For health and strength and daily bread…”, two to a part.

Every few days we would learn a new round, and then have the fun of trying to piece it together.  Amelie starts, then Lia, then Levi and I together.

Driving, waiting for friends to show up, any time that wasn’t filled with something else, we would sing.  Each person gets to pick which round they want to sing, until we’ve sung all we know.

Bach and Palestrina got a whole lot closer.

It really is magic to hear the voices of small children singing rounds, one to a part.  Not only the knowledge of the skill that takes, but also the beauty of hearing the individual voices inside the harmonies.

Rounds are the best way to learn the skills needed to sing harmony: singing your own part when everyone else is singing something different.  But because you’re singing a “song” (vs. a kind of tuneless “harmony”), it is easier to get the hang of holding your own.

Another favorite literary mention of round singing is in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Happy Golden Years where she and Almanzo go to singing school.  Laura could sing Three Blind Mice the longest because she had grown up singing it with Pa and Carrie and Grace.  {smile}

I wanted to update my list of Round Resources, namely adding the two books we love the most.

The Round Book: Rounds Kids Love to Sing.  We got this from our local library (it’s on my must-own list).  The title is not misleading: kids love to sing the rounds in this book.  I think we had this book checked out for three months out of the last twelve.  Lia will sit and sing through the book (making her own melodies for the ones she doesn’t know).  Amelie and Levi love the little pictures.  And the selection of rounds is just fantastic.  Get this one first.

The King’s Singers Book of Rounds, Canons, and Partsongs.  This book has many of the rounds featured in The Round Book.  It also has more difficult partsongs and songs that lean more heavily on the ‘classical’ side.  I own this one (the library didn’t have it).  This is the book that is going to carry us into the future.  But in the meantime, it also has many of the simpler songs we already know and love.  If you are only going to get one book for the duration, get this one.

And now for a list of the rounds we currently know (that I can remember).

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • Are You Sleeping?
  • For Health and Strength and Daily Bread
  • Sing, Sing Together
  • I Love the Flowers (this is a favorite)
  • White Coral Bells
  • Sweetly Sings the Donkey
  • Make New Friends
  • Kookaburra (another favorite)
  • Three Blind Mice
  • Jubilate Deo
  • There Was a Little Girl Who Had a Little Curl
  • Father, I Adore You
  • Come Into His Presence Singing Alleluia
  • Gaudeamus Hodie (Natalie Sleeth)
The intense learning period has ended and our new ability has become part of the normal. I tried to teach them a new round the other day, but Kiri was so inspired by the singing that no one could hear the melody over her voice.
We’ll keep singing and adding to our repertoire for the sheer joy and satisfaction of it.  Maria von Trapp paints lovely pictures of a family singing together and we’d like to create our own lovely pictures.
Next up :: Sight singing.  Some time next school year.

in which…

:: in which I am useless

My prediction about Five Minutes was spot on.

We did get the keys to our new house.  We did buy paint.

(Dear geometry teacher, Why didn’t we just calculate how much paint a house needs, including hallways, in geometry class?  That would have been so useful.  Oh, I never took geometry.  Right.  And this is why my children are playing with pattern blocks and tangrams.)

And over the course of two full days “working” on the new house, I “worked” for approximately 35 minutes.  It took four separate tries to sweep up the smallest room in the house.  And I did a lovely job of priming a two foot section of wall down near the molding.

It was funny.

But at the end of the weekend, I decided that enough was enough and I would return with the children to our regularly scheduled life and get out of the way of progress.

Personally, I think Kiri likes to fuss at the new house because her voice echoes in the empty space.

We love our little house and I’m getting anxious to move in.  We had planned to do X, Y, and Z before moving in, but now I’m getting antsy and wondering what things on that list we can postpone to a “Sunday project”.

:: in which I tell a story

So we brought some friends over to show them our new house.  It was a summery evening.  The kids were playing, the adults were chatting, the babies were enjoying the echoes.

A wail arose from the backyard.

And I said to Marni as we rushed out the back door, “I wonder if we’re going to the hospital.”  (I’m always wondering if we’re going to the hospital when I hear a wail.)

We were.

Levi had been running on the grass when he tripped and his mouth landed on the raised patio.  Chipped front teeth, with one pushed back out of place.

As we left Urgent Care that evening (with only a dose of tylenol and a tetanus shot), I just couldn’t help but be terribly relieved.  We’ve been to the ER in life-threatening situations, and chipped teeth just seem so…comparatively easy.  Like we’ve escaped tragedy once again.  Worthy of a little skip and a jump on the way out.

Poor little fella, all banged up.  But he’s on the mend and I think that tooth is moving forward again, yay.

Thus we have baptized our house.  It is now a home.

And somewhere in the grass are two little pieces of teeth.

:: in which I make a shift

I was mulling over my life recently and the image that came to mind was a ship.  A ship on a stormy sea, being battered and beaten, blown off course, tossed with the waves, deluged.  But the ship still struggles on.  The ship Must. Keep. Moving. Forward. or risk sinking.

I’m tired of being that ship.

In an effort to find some new methods of coping, I would go back to a particularly trying point of the day and see if, hours removed, I could formulate a better way of handling it, a more peaceful and less wild-eyed way of existing in its midst.  But just thinking about said part of the day would raise my hackles and I would find no workable alternatives that didn’t start and end with something that sounded very much like, “failing again, oh yes you are.”

I treated myself to a copy of Jamie Martin’s Mindset for Moms (less than $5 with Mother’s Day coming right up!) and have been working my way through it, using her chapter titles as mantras.

Talk less.

Fake it.

This week, I’ve been working REALLY HARD on my self-talk.  Stopping anything remotely negative in its tracks.  Stopping that annoying and currently useless habit of analyzing stuff (is this good or bad?  do I feel good or bad about this?  oh no! I feel bad!  why do I feel bad?  what can I do to feel good?…it hasn’t been helping at all).

Instead I’ve been visualizing another ship.  (What’s with the ships?)

This ship is also moving forward towards a destination.  But it’s sunny, and the sky is blue, and the sea is wide and calm, and the breeze is light.  And the ship is smiling.  (Because, obviously, I’m supposed to be the ship.  And I like to smile.)

This ship on it’s open sea has been enormously helpful to me.  When in the midst of what I would previously experience as that Stormy Ship, I think about that other ship on it’s sunny sea.  I like that ship.

:: in which I seek advice or commiseration

Bedtime around these parts is 7ish.  Everyone is asleep by 8 usually.  And then between bedtime and about 11:30, Levi and Kiri play tag.

First Kiri wakes up (she’s up right now, as a matter of fact) and I nurse her back to sleep.

Then Levi wakes up and either wants water, his diaper changed, or goes non-verbal and just cries and cries.

Get him back to sleep and pretty soon Kiri wakes up.

And so on and so forth.

I suspect that Levi is generally overtired on these nights.  He has recently gotten rid of naps (and if he has even a short one, he won’t fall asleep until about 9 and wake up the next day even more tired).

Kiri, though, I don’t know why she does this.  After about 11, she wakes up her ‘normal’ amount – every two or so hours.

But during the evenings I only have segments of about 20 to 45 minutes when everyone is sleeping at the same time.  And they’re pushing it so late I’m losing sleep and am getting really tired.  More than usual.

Dish up, friends.  Advice or commiseration desired.