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.


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.


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.”


The power of the imagination

The girls navigate most of their days as shifting characters in shifting scenarios.  Mother, daughter, wife, sister.  Recently they’ve both developed an aversion to being the “boy”, so we haven’t had quite as many regular weddings…mostly double weddings with imaginary grooms.  Splendid veils, however (provided by Mommy’s scarf collection).

Their stories are all relational.  I’m the mother, you’re the daughter.  I’m the this, you’re the that.  Amelie pops in fifteen times a day to ask me if I would be her grandma.  I’m always answering to “Mommy!!!” only to be reminded that I’m not the mommy, I’m the grandma. Right.

They seem to really enjoy killing people off.  Their parents are always dead.  If not both, then at least one reaches his or her demise during the course of an imaginary day.  That particular plot turn is helpful when you’re wanting another wedding.

The other day, Lia’s first husband needed to die because she wanted to marry a new husband (a new father for Amelie), Bronco.  (Which, by the way, has made it on to their list of prospective baby names…along with Marquis from Die Fledermaus, and other likewise unsuitable suggestions).

But her old husband was still alive, traveling the world.  So she decided that someone would kill him.  I reminded her that we don’t kill even in pretend play.  She thought about that for a moment, and then announced that he got a disease.  And died.


Sometimes I get a little…leery of their habit of killing off their imaginary parents.  Particularly when they kill off the mother figure too many times in a row.  My pregnant self can’t handle that.

But looking at all great children’s literature and films, what other scenario is there?  The child is always minus at least one parent…that’s where the plot gets its impetus and pizzazz.  That’s what allows the child to step out of the confined life of a parented child and become a hero.  Or, at least, increasingly independent. Or increases the chance for adventure.

So in my book, as long as they don’t kill off the mother too many times in a row and refrain from imaginary war or murder, they’re good to go in their little imaginary world of independence, heros, adventures…and weddings.

Lia-isms, Lost and Found

A few months ago I did the unforgivable and dumped my pile of “in transit” papers in a baby wipes box and put it in my closet. This was probably in October, judging from the contents.  I finally got up the nerve to clean out the box today.

There’s a reason why these papers lie around…so many of them can’t be thrown away and yet defy filing.

Among other things (like now defunct tax papers -oops- and a $100 cash gift -score!-), I found a couple of scraps of papers with notes of things Lia had said.

Lia, peeking around the corner :: Stay clear so no folks see you.

Amelie, incredulously :: What???!

Lia explains :: Folks are people.
Or back when we had been reading books about St. Francis.  And Lia was assigned to learn the song “O When the Saints” for piano.  St. Francis will be one of those!

Christmas Carols, unplugged

Some of the Christmas carols have acquired new lyrics, here in our wintry household.  (Okay, so it was 85 earlier this week, but we still pretend it’s wintry).

I don’t have any desire to correct the alternate lyrics.  These days are short and sweet.

Jingle Bells…apparently I haven’t explained that we’re a temperance family…because bells on cocktails ring. (To be  honest, I don’t know what a bobtail is either).

Feliz Navidad … Devo should like this … becomes feliz naughty-dad.

But my personal favorite at the moment, the one I can’t help laughing at every single time, though it draws puzzled looks from Lia, is ::

Angels we have heard on high,

Sweetly singing o’er the pie;

And the mountains in reply, (see, pie rhymes with high and reply, so it makes perfect sense)

Echoing their joyous strings.
And I’ve got the PIE recorded on the Christmas carol recording we’re making for our families.  Score! 

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

I’m sorry I missed your call the other day.  I’m surprised I could even find the message, it was sandwiched in between about thirty five campaign calls.  I don’t know who they think they’re going to convince to vote for them by leaving those annoying messages.  I don’t think it shows good fiscal management to spend that much money to call people up, irritate them, and leave a recorded message.

We did indeed have piano lessons on Thursday.  And Mrs. Linette said the kindest things about Lia and her progress.  You know we had that Fall Recital on Sunday.  Lia dressed up as the Sugar Plum Fairy and played her little piece.  She didn’t play it as well as she usually did, but that didn’t seem to phase her.  It was a grand social event for her, making friends with the kids she was sitting next to, and then having a glorious post-recital romp with Ali and Micah and Amelie.  She informed me that she talked to her new friends during the whole recital.  At least, until she went to sit with Micah, who was ‘lonely’.

She got two new pieces at her lesson, Jingle Bells and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  I’m excited for both.  We’ve been working on her playing less tentatively and deeper in the keys, and I think she’ll get right into the spirit of things with Jingle Bells.  And then the Sugar Plum Fairy is pretty ‘difficult’ – for sure the most difficult piece she’s played yet.  She’s sight-reading so well now that the pieces she is assigned are not challenging…at least to read and get the basic idea.

Lia’s stretched up the last week or so.  Today she went around and showed me how tall she was – she could reach this or that.  Her head touches the roof of the car when she stands (not when she sits, she clarified).

And when she opened her mouth and peered inside this week, she discovered that she is getting molars, too!  Just like Levi!

So now Amelie’s mealtime prayers go thus ::

Dear Jesus, Thank You for the wonderful day!  Thank you for Lia’s teeth and Lia’s molars and Levi’s molars.  Amen.

And Amelie, of course, is sure that she is getting some new teeth, too.  Or perhaps has some wiggly teeth.

The girls have decided to study The Nutcracker Suite (hence the Sugar Plum Fairy stuff).  Interlibrary loans are the bomb.  (Did I just say “the bomb”?  I thought I swore in highschool that I would never say those two words in colloquial usage.  Well, as my Grandma always says, one shouldn’t swear.)  But our library system apparently doesn’t have a recording of the original score.  The closest I’ve found uses synthesizers behind the orchestra.  Very 90s.  Very disturbring.  I’m a purist.

But we also got an album from Beethoven’s Wig. I had seen the group mentioned on some blog some where some time in the recent past and snatched it up when I saw it in the online catalog.  It’s so fun – “sing a long symphonies” and other classics, all with singing words.  We have album 3 and the opening number is Carmen’s Toreador, entitled Bull in a China Shop. Hahahaha.

I finally, finally ordered and received the Math U See.  But Devo keeps thinking we’re talking about Matthew C.  (Who is that? he wonders.) Amelie loves to play with the manipulatives.  But maybe that is because all of their toys have been confiscated.

Yes, our first toy confiscation has occurred.

Friday we were working upstairs in the loft and the girls were playing with the kitchen toys, the dolls, and the doll clothes.  And when it was time to come downstairs, I asked them to clean up.  And then I asked them again.  And then, that was it. That was the end of this era of toy-picking-up-patterns.

Toy clean up has recently gone like this :

Me : Time to clean up the toys.

Me, five minutes later : Girls, it’s time to clean up the toys.

Me : Amelie, you clean up the books.  Lia, you clean up the dolls.

Lia, whining : Amelie isn’t helping.

Me : Amelie, please help.

Amelie : non-verbal declaration that she is NOT going to pick up the toys now.

Me : cajole, cajole

Lia : whine, whine (although, she does pick up the toys)

Amelie : lays on floor, possibly weeping and wailing

So I told them that they needed to clean up their toys without me saying any more about it.  And if they didn’t pick them up, Pappie and I would box up the toys and put them where they were not allowed to play with them.  And then I set a timer … they needed to start picking up before the timer went off.

And they both soberly and deliberately came downstairs, sat on the couch, and read books.  I would love to know if they had a conversation about this, or if it was an unspoken agreement on a selected course of action.

The timer went off, Devo and I picked up all the toys in the house, stowed them in the front room and closed the door.

And they haven’t said a word about it since.

Well, I take that back.  Amelie did mention the next morning that she missed having a snuggie.  And Lia told our friend Marni who came to babysit them Saturday night that their toys had been confiscated because they didn’t pick them up.

But that’s it.


Ironically, the house is still the same amount of messy and cluttered.  So I guess I can’t blame it on the toys.  We didn’t give a timeline…I think we’ll wait until they ask for them and then sit down and talk about the privilege of playing with toys.  And the responsibilities that come with the privilege. And the expectations that exist in this home.

And in the meantime, I’m going to work on figuring out what on earth is making the mess if it isn’t the toys, and eliminating it.





I opened my baking utensil drawer to find a ping pong ball in the 1/3 cup measure.  The pair had last been seen going on a tour of the front hall with a small boy for a tour guide.

Amelie was dancing the “Chinese Tango” this evening.  I think this is what comes from studying the Nutcracker and watching Dancing with the Stars on the same afternoon.

Found in garden this afternoon :: the last missing Easter egg.  It had a plastic parachute man in it.  If it had had candy in it it would have been sniffed out long ago.

I joined a choir – seasonal, just now until a Christmas concert early in December.  It’s the first time I’ve warbled in public in YEARS.  Devo hired a babysitter and practically pushed me out the door, and I’m so glad he did.

It’s finally cooled off enough to do things outside.  We went for a bike ride and were so happy to get rained on on our return trip.

I’ve been thinking that there is a difference between gentleness and tenderness.  Semantics, I’m sure, but it seems that tenderness requires a deeper and truer commitment.

Squash toys

Why play with toys when you have…squash?

Incidentally, I noticed at dinner that my squash basket was empty.  Apparently the squashes had been squirreled away upstairs in the loft.  Perhaps squirreled isn’t the most accurate descriptor…I’m sure that “lugged” would be more fitting…these babies are heavy!

Soap and climbing

I bought a few bars of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.  Good thing I wasn’t planning on using them right away, because they have achieved the illustrious status of Favorite Toys of the Week.

I have seen the bars of soap used this week as babies.  As cellphones.  And, this afternoon, as “skaters”.  (That would be skates).  Very handy things, soap bars.

(Tell me again why we buy our children toys?  It’s so funny what they pick up to spark their imaginations.)

Levi has mastered the skill of climbing up into chairs.  So it’s not uncommon to see him perched somewhere, swinging his legs.

Now that we’ve gotten smart enough to pull the chairs away from the tables, that is.  Before that, we’d find him perched on the table.

Perhaps eating a tube of toothpaste.  In his birthday suit.  Sopping wet from the shower.  Escapee!