The Night Before The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

Note: I have pictures to add to this, but the camera was malfunctioning. Hope to add them soon...Read now and come back later for the visuals. They're pretty good....

How to begin again...

I had anticipated so much extra time once school was done for the holidays, but then I remembered: That whole magic of Christmas thing? It doesn't all happen by itself. I am the mom now, which means I am the maker of the magic. So I've been busy. And I'm tired and completely lacking any kind of ingenuity or blog enthusiasm, not to mention extraordinarily weepy and sentimental and ridiculous for absolutely no reason.

But I felt like I needed to post something, if it is just a ramble...

For those of you who enjoyed the tales of Duck-Duck and Fringies, I thought you'd like to know that they (Duck-duck and Fringies) are now calling us (Henry's parents) by our first names. It's rather unsettling to have a plush someone say in falsetto, "Traci, my daddy needs you to give him some orange juice."

Also, Duck-Duck uses the cup holder in the back seat of the car as a toilet. He sat there all during church last Sunday and when we got back in the car three hours later, Henry started giggling like mad and said, "Duckie is still sitting on the toilet!" Then, hardly discernible in his gales of escalating laughter, "He musta hadda go baaaaaaad." Then Duckie's falsetto: "Daddy, I need you to wipe my bum."

Just to illustrate a less toilet-oriented bit of the imagination we're working with in Henry, here's a little scenario from today: I was holding on to a box that someone had shipped gifts in so I could fill it with Good Will stuff and the boys wanted to play with it. I told them they could, but to please not smash the sides in and that they could not punch or cut holes in it because I needed to use it when they were done playing.

Not too long after, the box had turned into a Duckie bedroom and it needed a window. Calvin begged to cut a window and I told him no, but that he could draw one with a marker on the outside if he'd like, and just pretend that Duckie could see out. That pleased him, and worked just fine for Henry, too, and they continued playing.

A few minutes later, Henry was looking for some tape because something needed to be attached to the box. When he couldn't find any tape, I heard this conversation from the living room:

"Henry! What are you doing with the marker! We don't need any more windows!"

"It's not a window. We don't have any tape to stick this to the box, so I'm going to draw some tape. That will work."

"Uh, no. It will not work to draw tape, Henry. Drawing can't make anything stick."

"Yes it can! You made a window! I can make tape! It will work!"

Then I had to go referee the fist fight that erupted as once again practicality and fantasy collided in the bodies of Calvin and Henry.

One of my favorite Henry stories of this season is from a conversation I had with him at the toy store when we were looking for something for Calvin's birthday. Henry spotted a doll house with little poseable figures and furniture and - the best thing - a purple SUV. It's all quite irresistible.

He asked me what it was called and I told him in my best, "Come on, you know what it's called" voice that it was a doll house and all the stuff for it. "Noooo, Mom!" he said with an exaperated jab at the little box of mother and baby. "What does it say that they are called?"

So I read the packaging to him: "Fisher Price Loving Family." And then the "I-want-it-I-want-it-I-want-it" started and I told him we were buying a gift for Calvin only and maybe for Christmas he would get the dolls. Which made me a very undesirable mother. And he has now told various people (and me, several times) that he just wants a loving family for Christmas. Nice.

I may seem full of Henry-ness these days. The funny thing about it is that it is definitely not because he is my favorite right now. In fact, he is going. to be. the death. of me. So contrary, so cherubic, so reverting to non-potty-trained-ness, so sassy, so messy, so dang funny, so tantrum-prone, so needy, so loving. Killing me.

I mean, what do you do with a kid whose shoes you have to put back on his feet every time you stop the car to get out and go in somewhere? And it's not only the kicking his shoes off. It's that he knows not to do it, and when you I ask him why he took his shoes off again, he can actually articulate: "Because you wouldn't stop at McDonald's like I wanted you to." Grrrrrr. The death of me.

And what of Calvin and Christmas? He was the front of the camel for the preschool program. One of the more adorable things I've ever seen. And he thinks that the chorus of "Angels We Have Heard on High" is the best music ever. I've never seen a five-year-old belt out so many glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ri-a's in my life. What makes it even more endearing is that he thinks the words are "he is here to replenish you" instead of "in excelsis deo." I have no idea where he got it from or how he even knows the word "replenish," but he insists. It's how he worked out what the words were, and it's not far from the truth, if not the real words, so I let him sing it that way.

On the Santa front, Cal is skeptical. He's always wanted things straight-up, no nonsense, and Santa's more than a little fantastical, so he's not necessarily buying it. For a while when I asked him what he wanted Santa to bring this year, he told me very seriously, "You'll find out when you see it under the Christmas tree." Awesome.

And Charlie? He is one squidgy, lovey, wriggly little guy. He has started diving for me from other people's arms, and he puts both arms around my neck, pulls on my hair in the back and sucks the heck out of my cheek. I'm not even joking. He is so delicious. He rolls front to back to front to back to get everywhere he wants to go, babbling and cooing and drooling all the while. And his thighs are enormous and his feet are round from any viewpoint. Scrumptious little bit of perfection.

Beautopotamus tagged me to do a Christmas Hooplah and since I probably won't get another post up until after the holidays, and because I need a little boost, I'm going to comply. The rules are to list twelve things about me that are related to Christmas, to really truly tag someone to carry on the hooplah, and under no circumstances to refer to it as the dreaded blogosphere "m" word. So here goes...

12. I have never been a gift-shaker or present-peaker. I love surprises and anticipation too much and really consider them part of the gift itself.

11. It deflates me when people shake and peak at things I am trying to surprise and please them with.

10. I mostly enjoy other peoples' family Christmas letters, but there is something in my soul that revolts against writing one myself. I'm not really sure what that something is, and I did write one last year, but I'm pretty sure it'll never happen again.

9. I love ornaments. Ours are like little treasures to me and I love getting them out one by one every year.

8. My favorite Christmas albums are Martina McBride's White Christmas (she sings Silent Night like a lullaby instead of to show off), and Amy Grant's I'll Be Home For Christmas is what makes it feel like Christmas every year to me.

7. My favorite Christmas songs are O Holy Night and Mary, Did You Know. Lump in my throat every time.

6. But some of my most profound and beautiful spiritual insights have come from Handel's Messiah.

5.Yep, music is pretty much what makes it for me.

4. I used to be a white light girl, but my husband has won me over to the fun of colored lights.

3. I look forward to New Year's as much as Christmas. To me, it has just as much hope and excitement and love mixed into it, and I love raucously and passionately ringing in the new year. When I was growing up, we marched on the front porch banging pans with spoons. And in Ukraine, there are all sorts of wonderful traditions wrapped up in the new year. I loved it there.

2. The only two things I don't like about Christmas in the DC area are: (1) the annoyingly cheesy and nasally crooned song Christmas in Washington that all the radio stations think is so wonderful to play (it is serious barf material if you ask me!), and (2) that a white Christmas is rare. I so love snow.

1. Every year I try to figure out what exactly is meant by, "I'm dreaming tonight of a place I love even more than I usually do" - is it the dreaming that is more than usual or the love that is more than usual? It perplexes and befuddles me. Every year.

And now for the tag. This is where it gets dicey because I have read exactly no one's blog in like two weeks. Not even Nobody's or No Cool Story's or Liz's. But I'm going to give them the hooplah tag anyway. Ladies, if you've already done this, forgive me. Leave me a link to it and I'll come read it. Hopefully sometime before Easter, the way life looks right now...And if you don't want to support hooplah, I'm good with that, too.


Duck-Duck and Fringies

Before Henry was born, his Aunt Joeli gave him a super soft little plush duck. And I made him a fleece quilt with fringes on the edges. I don't think either of us had any idea how huge those two things would be in Henry's life.

There is a whole other world in our house, occupied by Henry, Duck-duck (aka Duckie) and Fringies. They have quite a range of fantastic imaginary abilities and voices of their own. (These voices are created by Henry in the octave higher than his own voice, but he NEVER breaks out of character once he decides that only Duckie or only Fringies is going to respond to you.)

Duck-duck and Fringies are Henry's closest friends and fellow tormentors of Calvin (who alternately gets really irritated with the irrationality of their world and then can't help but join in with his own plushinator, Kookie the Elephant).

Duck-duck and Fringies are members of the family. When we had to send pictures of the important members of Henry's family for a collage at preschool, he insisted that we must take a picture of Duck-duck and Fringies to include.

And they are not just any random members of the family, vaguely referred to as cousins or brothers - oh, no. Henry is Duck-duck's daddy. I discovered this one day when I was congratulating (and thanking) Henry for stopping what he was doing to go to the bathroom instead of wetting his pants. Apparently my positive reinforcement wasn't enough because Duck-duck's falsetto chimed in: "Good job, Daddy!"

And Henry is a good parent, often going to great lengths to ensure that Duckie gets his nap.

But even better than that is that Fringies...? SHE is Duck-duck's mommy.

True to their characters, Fringies is the adult in given situations, and Duckie is definitely the naughty little baby. Fringies is the one who snuggles and comforts. Henry is always careful to let her rest when she needs it. He makes sure her "head" has a comfortable pillow and that she can see the TV from where she is propped up. Because moms do that. Ever so often.

Despite her mild-mannered motherly image, Fringies has all kinds of interesting super powers. She drinks from straws. She sprays all manner of imaginary liquid - toxic and non - at any moment from any of her fringes. She turns into a myriad of creatures for Henry's playtime enjoyment - from a baby to a tent to a beach towel to a super cape or flag. At Halloween time she was a ghost capable of sucking blood (through her fringies, of course). Yeah, and my three-year-old sleeps with her every night. (I guess that's how we got Duckie, huh?)

Duck-duck does more childish things, like inserting the word, "Poopy," in songs about Jesus. He also enjoys hosting sleepovers, even though none of his little friends have as much personality as he does.

More and more, Duckie gets blamed for all manner of misbehavior - there is no end to the things that miscreant talking plush can do around here. David has learned that saying, "Henry, don't throw your duck" doesn't work at all. He has actually been heard saying things like, "Well, tell Duckie that if he flies across the room into the window again, he will have to sit on the highest book shelf for the rest of the night." Henry passes the message along.

I'll also admit that we have allowed Duckie to give the family prayer a time or two when Henry wasn't feeling in the mood or else emphatically felt that Duckie needed a turn, like everyone else in the family. And Henry is sure to remind us to tell Duckie that he did a good job.

It is always interesting how well Duckie can use words to tell us when he needs a drink or when he feels scared or needs someone to hold him or help him or give him a kiss. He is actually much better at communicating about his needs than Henry is about his, so whenever Duckie needs something like this, we're sure to give it to Henry at the same time.

A master choreographer, Henry creates all kinds of adventures for Duck-duck. The other day I was washing dishes when I heard Henry muttering behind me, rummaging in the cupboard:"Now, what in the world could I use for a train car for Duckie?" The pasta strainer was apparently ideal.

My favorite all time derivation of the Duck-duck and Fringies world, however, was this: Henry spent a good half hour one day trying to get Duckie to sit right and arranging Fringies' fringies, then came and got me from the laundry room to tell me, "Look Mom! This is a sculpchoh of a man on a horse.

Yeah, the sculpture thing ranks right up there with the times when Henry insists that he needs someone to snuggle with at night and I tell him that he has Fringies and Duck-duck. To which he responds, "But Mom, I need someone hugh mund to snuggle with!"


Charlie And the Silent Boo

First, here's a clip especially for Jen at Amazing Trips, who so kindly requested a Charlie update, and for the Lizness, who has fabulous little boyishness of her own coming right up!

A word of explanation: I was playing peekaboo with him but didn't want my voice recorded, so I was silently covering and uncovering my eyes and flashing big smiles. I think you can see exactly when his eyes met mine, and how cute he is starting to gurgle, and the couple of times that I actually kinda alarmed him when I took my hands off my face. (The background noise of the other boys' nighttime flood the bathroom while screaming at each other bath is not so silent.)

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I am head over heels over this baby. Not that I didn't love Calvin and Henry as infants, but I think I am more relaxed and more engaged all at the same time than I was with the other two. I've got it bad this time, for sure. David teases me that he knows I'm in love because even in the middle of the night I'm goo-gooing and happy to see the little guy.

Charlie is a snugg.ler. It is precious how round and cuddly he is and how he scoots to be closer and nuzzles cheeks like there's no tomorrow. He loves skin-to-skin - both of the other boys have a pretty intense desire for personal space, and have had since they were very small, but Charlie wants contact. Recently he's started to touch my face really soft and wrap his fat little arms around my neck or over my shoulder when I pick him up.

And, I am not even exaggerating - the baby does not cry. I know I'm taking a huge risk of jinxing myself by making that statement on the blogosphere, but aside from the couple day fussy jag he had at about six weeks of age, and a couple little mishaps where he was physically hurt, he does not get riled up. He has other little signs for being tired or hungry, but very rarely shouts about it. Even for vaccinations, he lets out a little "waaa!" and maybe squeezes one little tear out, but if mama is there to pick him up and put her cheek on his, he's fine.

I even have it on Auntie S's six-children-of-her-own-good-authority that he has an extraordinarily sweet disposition. She even went as far as to say that none of her kids were ever as totally pleasant as he is. It's truly amazing what a little sunshine he is.

He is also very social, which I'm not sure exactly what I'll do with when he is older because I am so not social, but it is adorable to see a five-month-old scan a group of faces, and when he meets someone's eyes and they smile at him, his whole body goes crazy, his eyes twinkle and his smile lights up the room.

I do have some other stuff to post about...Thanksgiving and free pianos and funnies from the other boys...I hope to punch out a bunch tomorrow...I promise, no more 2 minute videos of pure gurgle. Unless you liked it. Because he is pretty stinkin' adorable. If I do say so myself.


Good to Know

David just opened a frozen bag labeled SHRIMP STIRFRY for dinner and noticed the directions on back said: "CAUTION: Contains crustaceans."

I really appreciate things like that. Especially knowing that they actually aren't trying to protect me from a severe allergic reaction. They're trying to protect themselves from a lawsuit. It is just a great feeling, living in a highly litigious society. It's like we've transcended common sense.

Speaking of allergies, Henry has developed a very serious one:

Me: In just a little while we get to go over to your school. They have a farmer who's visting and he's bringing all kinds of animals with him that you can touch and look at!

Henry: Chickens?

Me: Yep, I think there will be chickens.

Henry: Cows?

Me: Yep.

Henry: Well, but I can't go if he brings lions, though. I'm allohgic to lions.

Me: You're allergic? To lions? How do you know that?

Henry: Because they can swallow my whole body. So I'm allohgic.


And today I stumbled upon a fringe benefit of having a 5-year-old. He can have intelligent conversations with his dad. Indeed, he is infinitely more impressed and finds his dad's trove of random knowledge useful and wonderful, without fail. His eyes don't glaze over when Dad shares factoids. He responds appropriately with expressions of wonder and confusion over things Dad shares.

In short, Calvin saves me from having to be interested in the whale that swam 1,000 miles up the Amazon River. He responds reasonably with, "But how could he do that? The river is fresh water!" (As opposed to my adept observation, "Whales don't go in rivers.") And he smiles at the accompanying joke Dad makes: "Talk about a wrong turn." Heh. It's a beautiful thing.

(BTW, David knows that one of the things I love about him is his ability not only to gather tons of info, but to synthesize it and apply it in very useful ways. Like entertaining our children while I read, and talking during parties so I don't have to. Oh, yeah, and making a living.)


And just for fun, I thought I'd throw in this bit as the epitome of parenting boys:

H:Calvin just scabbed me in the lip with a stick!

C: It was an accident! I meant to stab him in the cheek!


Pre-Blog: Candy-Tasting 2004

In combing through some old photo files, I came across this little moment with Calvin at age 2. Made me laugh and I thought I'd share since the holiday season is approaching. (And also because I apparently can't manage to formulate a post about my current doings.)

I realized tonight that Calvin's never been a fan of dum-dums, and he's always been pretty good at taking the Forrest Gump school of thought one crucial step further: You may never know what yer gonna get, but you should at least try every single piece. And leave it there, licked, if you don't want it after all.

What I remember the most about taking these pictures was thinking how he had opened and tested that volume of candy - licked every. one. of those lollipops.(Not to mention climbed on top of the chair that is under the ledge that he's leaning on.) In mere seconds. (Did I mention that the kitchen itself was gated, precisely so that he could no longer climb up the drawers to the counters when I wasn't in the room?) It was incredibly disconcerting. It stressed me out. And I was seriously worried about the amount of energy and getinto-itiveness the child had.

I decided to take a picture but it wasn't because I thought it was funny or clever. It was to document what kind of stress I was dealing with - I was so sure that no one could possibly understand how busy this (one!) little boy was keeping me. I know I definitely did not think it was as funny (and ingenious) as I think it is now. I was overwhelmed because I took myself - and having a clean house and non-sugared up children and time to do my own thing - way too seriously.

Cal will be five years old in three weeks. I've been a mom that long and I still can't keep up. Times three. But thankfully, I do laugh a lot more. Looking at these little pictures made me realize I have come a little way since then - my boys have made me more joyful, more "present," more soft, and more patient. They've made me really look at what's important and what's not. Really, they are the making of me.

Having said that, right now I'm trying to meet a bunch of deadlines and keep our home simply running (not clean or organized!)and to not go crazy before the end of the semester, so I'm on blog vacation until I can get my schoolwork and housework down to manageable proportions again. I hope that will be soon after Thanksgiving. Have a wonderful rest of November.


Happy Halloween!!!

A big BOO from us to you!

Calvin and Henry both drew the faces on their Jack-o-lanterns. Henry's needed a little reworking with the carving knife since what he drew didn't have any connected lines to begin with, but he is thrilled with how it turned out. He likes most of all to fit the triangles back into the eyes. I love, love, love the smile on Cal's - it reminds me of him.

Calvin watched the white pumpkin grow all summer in our neighbors garden, and when it was time, she let him cut it off the vine. I've never seen (or carved) a white pumpkin before - I think it's quite lovely.

I have a horrendously busy week this week, but I hope to be back at the blog sometime soon - I've got some stories...:)

Happy trick-or-treating!


We Got a Package Today

And it had a big ol' sheet of bubble wrap in it. I'm sure Nobody knows what that means...

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Cal came up with the stomping and jumping all by himself...It is the call of plastic bubbles...It was a good half hour of entertainment for the boy...And then, true to my inherited traits, I added the rolling pin for a whole new level of fun...You really gotta try it sometime...

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The rest of the story is that the pops were echoing in our house and the baby and Henry were both napping and David was trying to get Cal to quit, because he knows I am at the edge of my sanity about the baby getting woken up (yeah, I know grammar real good).

And what do I do? Whip out the camera.

Maybe that means I'm getting my blog on again. When I can take a video of loudness and blissful defiance. And be giggling about it the whole time.

Or maybe it just means that the edge of my sanity (and English skills) has done been reached.


Dejunking Again

I threw a bridal shower for my cousin on Saturday and wrote a paper that was due yesterday, and have been busy and weighed down with other things in between, so I've been a really lame blog reader for the last couple of weeks and really sketchy in my posting until tonight. So, "lucky" you - so many posts in one day. Feel free to spread them out over the week, since I don't know when I'll make it back to the blog world again. That whole real-life thing - it can really get ya down, you know?

But anyway - the real point of this post is I've had these post fragments floating around for a while and just had to get them out there. (My minor OCD getting the better of me, I guess.) Please read. It's cheap therapy for me, and I could use the high from seeing my internet friends come around.

I got free stuff, my boy's thinking about the girls in his life, I've read some good books, I'm learning more about heartaches, and school's in session...Linkity, linkity...what do you thinkity?

What Can Boys Be?

Here's a gem of a conversation from my little thinking boy, Calvin:

Cal: Dad, can boys be doctors?

David: Well, yeah. Why do you ask?

Cal: Well, is your doctor a boy?

David: Actually, no.

Cal: And is mom's doctor a boy?

David: No, her doctors are all women.

Cal: And me and Henry and Charlie's doctors are all girls, too. So I thought boys couldn't be doctors, since no one in our family has a boy doctor.

David: Oh. Hmm. Well, boys can be doctors.

Cal: What about bosses? Can boys be bosses?

David: Yeah. Lots of bosses are men.

Cal: But your boss isn't a boy. She's a girl.

David: Hmmm. I guess you're right. But boys can be bosses, too.

Cal: OK. Well, I knew that boys could be firefighters, policemen, and workers [i.e., construction], but I didn't know if doctors and bosses were only girls.

Yeah, a not quite five-year-old put all the stats of his experience with doctors and bosses together and came up with this, when it had never occurred to David or me that all of our doctors and his boss were women, let alone that it might cause a child to wonder if these were exclusively female professions.

Of course, this isn't the first time that he has felt that men don't get to do the really cool stuff in life, and he does think blogging is for girls...

But really, I'm thinking, how cool is it to live in a world (or at least a nation) where girls can be doctors and bosses?

And also, how great it is to be able to tell your boy that he can be anything he wants to be, and know that it's true.

My Heart Hurts: The Low-down

I grapple from time to time with what I should / should not post here, mostly as it relates to what people want to read, but also as it relates to what should remain private and what might incriminate (for lack of a better word) or alienate people who are involved. And, of course, how much of my soul do I really want to bare?

So I'm just going to give this disclaimer right now: if you want fun or heartwarming or hilarious or profound or inspirational, this isn't it. This post is mostly for me. It's kinda like my falling tree. No one is around to hear it, but it makes a noise, believe me.

Among other things, my parents' marriage is perpetually coming to an end. I say perpetually because this is not a new thing - it's been threatening ever since I can remember. It's just that there's been a new eruption and now that I am an adult, I see and understand so much more. Every new crisis brings up so much anger frustration, and a lot of the hurt and confusion from being a child at home resurfaces at the same time. Plus worry about my little brothers who are still there.

There are so many other aspects and parts of this story, but it all just hurts. And at the same time, here I am in my nice little home with a functional marriage and a clear perspective and can go through each day relatively untouched by the ugliness in my parents' home, so I feel this strange sense of (for lack of a better word) survivor's guilt or something. Like I need to be involved and try to fix or do something, but I can't. No one really wants me to, anyway. But I remain torn between love for the people in the home I grew up in and trying to function happily in the home that I have to build with my own children.

I think that's what weighs me down - I have some answers, I have so much joy in my life, I can see what could be and what should be changed, and I have this painful kind of hope, even as I see hearts broken and expectations ruined and potential squandered in codependency and moot issues and selfishness.

And then there is the supreme frustration of trying to communicate with two people who should know better than they are acting, who don't care about anyone else's hurt, and then ending up somehow becoming the enemy because I won't choose sides.

Last year sometime, I read this little verse, and it actually describes some of what I feel quite well:

My feet, so deep in the earth!
My wings, so far into the heavens!
—And so much pain
in the heart torn between!
- Juan Ramon Jimenez

There really is so much heavenly about my life, but wow - I'm about knee-deep in mire from the past and present and that's all I can say: My heart hurts.

Mothering and Other Great Works Redux

(The italicized portion of this post is a reprint from May 17, 2006.)

I have a BA in History and a half a Master's in Liberal Arts from St. John's College. It is a fabulous program, but I only have half a mind to finish it. It taps into my talents and interests, but my first semester being 6-9 months pregnant and the second semester having a newborn and no capacity to really discuss the Books that Have Shaped Western Civilization left me a little overwhelmed, and I have put it on hold again and again.

The thing is, I yearn for academic learning, I have a fear of my brain turning to mush before I am out of the diaper-changing years (I religiously avoid soaps operas and talk shows because of this fear), and yet to sit down and read great literature and then take several hours a week to have interesting, thought-provoking discussions with other adults who have been reading, too, seems selfish and actually a bit unimportant right now.

There is a big part of me that wants the degree because if I had it, I would actually be something, there would be actual documentation that I accomplished something, I finished something.

I waffle between what I know is most important in the long run and what I crave right now; between book knowledge and life knowledge; between the thought that the best mom is the one who's satisfied with herself and the thought that the best mom is the one who gives everything she has to her children.

I tell myself I can read all the Great Works and then some just on my own, but the real me knows that I won't unless I have to answer to someone. The decision to go back for the last year is one that dogs me at unexpected moments every day, and I know there is no one who can really tell me the right thing to do, but I just had to put it out there.

Maybe it's just a question of timing, but it always feels like a question of priorities, and it's one of my innermost struggles.

So how about now, in October 2007? School is going well. I just wrote my first paper - on an aspect of Euclid's geometry. I've discovered that I do love geometry and now consider it one of the more intellectually delicious things in life. However, as I am enrolled in the Mathematics and Science segment this term, I have a preceptorial on Einstein's Relativity that is kicking my butt. Overall, though, I'm loving the stretch and I feel good.

Some of you have e-mailed and asked both about the program and why I am going back, and many of you have in fact expressed a little incredulity that I would choose to do so right now. I thought I'd "splain" myself:

I did the first year of the program five years ago. According to college policy, I have eight years to finish it. That means I have to enroll for my last year no later than Fall of 2009 (to be finished by Summer/Fall of 2010). Um, we're going to be in Ukraine. So it was basically do it now or the money I spent for the first year might as well have been made into a bonfire. Bad timing, both times around, but I've got to finish what I've started.

But more than that, it is good for me to be there. I've grown into motherhood a lot since the first year and even since posting the above over a year ago. When I leave for school now, I don't feel that I am deserting my boys or choosing something less honorable anymore. It feels great to let go of that guilt and worry over priorities.

More importantly, I've come to really feel like I'm someone, without a degree. I'm smart and capable (albeit clumsy), and I love to learn. To three little boys, and one awesome man, I am the most valuable woman in the world. My work with them and the life we have to share with each other is just what I would have it be, and it's not secondary or menial or less important based on whether I accomplish things outside of my home.

I'm also learning to create my own structure, which is something I think I depended on school for, so now that I go to school, I'm totally there to learn, rather than kinda using it as a crutch to fill my life with deadlines or to-do's.

So, yes, it's a crazy time to go back to school. It's a serious balancing act and I'm not sure if I'm really doing that great at it. But I do know that my boys are well taken care of (they spend two hours with Auntie S and the rest of the two nights I go to school with their dad at home), that I am learning and exploring stuff I might never have otherwise, and that my heart can be in both places at once, and all I have to do it trust it to lead me in the daily choices of priorities and balance.

Brighter Minds: A Product Review

A few months ago, a representative from Brighter Minds Media sent me two of their learning products to play with and review. And what with having a new baby and starting a new school year, I haven't yet written what we thought about the free things we got in the mail, and I'd be a real bum if I didn't, right? So here we go:

Making Letters - Love this little board book. Henry loves to "read" it and trace the shapes (which are cut out on each page) with his fingers. Calvin started his first word recognition going through this book. The geometric shapes and simple illustrations that coordinate with them are well-done and sparked conversations away from the book as the boys look at things in the world around us. Even three months later, Henry wants to look through it almost every day. I'd give it two thumbs up for being so appealing to the three-year-old set.

Alphabet Train - I loved the packaging and the concept of this set of flashcards, but felt it was probably better suited for a preschool setting where a teacher could provide focused guidance for properly learning from it. My boys wanted to pull all the letter circles off the cards and didn't really care about matching them with their appropriate letter space. And since the puzzle pieces were all identical circles, it didn't really teach them when they tried to put a letter in the wrong place. The circles weren't as durable as I'd like, either, and they were hard to contain. Having said all that from a parent's point of view, I do have to say that Calvin and Henry wanted to get out the cards and line them up all the time, and they liked the idea of the train and the bright colored pictures. And this is a great toy for sitting down and interacting with your kids, although it is also one that they'd prefer to play with on their own, and not in the way it was intended. Overall, I'd give it one thumb up and one thumb down.

Brighter Minds has some other great products and would definitely be worth a look for educational products for your kids. Thanks for letting us "test-drive" a couple!


Woman to Woman: Book Review

I'm two days late on this one, I know. And I have to confess that it's because I didn't realize what day of the week it was...And in fact, if you've been wondering about the lack of blog posting, it's to do with my head coming unscrewed, or the house disintegrating. Or something very like it. I'm in a general funk but also very busy. Chasing my tail, I think.

But I've been wanting to do this Woman to Woman since it was announced, because I've done some really good reading in the past few months. So, better late than never, right?

Does anyone else ever get into reading themes, like you read one book and it leads to another - not in a series, or by the same author, but a topic or a place or a historic era or whatever? I get into things that way sometimes. It happened in the last few months with books about China - something I have NEVER taken a very strong interest in and knew very little about.

But these three books are each very beautifully written, provocative, and tell so much not just about China, but have amazing universal themes of friendship, love, tradition, change, womanhood and motherhood. They are very different stories from one another, and yet very similar. If you'd like a little trip to China, I'd recommend all three in a row...

Snowflower and The Secret Fan, by Lisa See - In retrospect, I liked this book the least of the three, but at the time I read it, I was immediately drawn in by the writing style and the description of foot binding. The story itself is not necessarily dramatically climactic, but it is poignant and beautiful in its description of a lifelong friendship of two girls in 19th century China. The most touching aspect of the story was an idea that we might have friends that are our ideals, kind-of our Sunday best type friends, and then there are the friends who we need every day, to see us and accept us in our lowest lows. But we love deeply and need desperately both kinds of friends.

Spring Moon, by Bette Bao Lord - Billed as the "Gone With the Wind" of China, this novel is epic in its scope and offers a primer in Chinese history leading up to the social and cultural revolutions of the first part of the 20th century. It follows Spring Moon from her childhood to being an elderly matriarch and, just like Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, there are times that she might not be the most admirable person, but she is formidable and somehow sympathetic. I liked the contrasts in this book between ancient tradition and modernization, between fidelity and patriotism. And I was also shaken by the ways in which revolution changed not only an ancient way of life, but the individulas caught up in it - both those people who started it, and those who resisted it. This is a fascinating historical read but also a great story of fiction.

The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck - The literary classic of my three China books, this one, of course, is poetic and rich. It's a story of a simple man, Wang Lung, and a simple way of life, the ebbs and flows of nature and farming and politics and society. The images of the earth and the seasons, the contrast of the dirty, bustling city are riveting and touching. But more than anything, I love O-lan, his wife. The book is written in such a way as to make you feel like she is almost a side character, and yet she is not only central to the book, she is central to Wang Lung's life. Somehow, Buck wrote it so masterfully that Wang Lung, the other characters, and finally the reader, don't fully realize her strength and value as a woman, wife and mother, even as the last page is turned: It was a day or two later that I really wept for her, and a day or two later that I knew I'd like to be at least a little bit like her.

Of course, all three books contain a theme that I revel in: Mothers of boys are the creme de la creme. ::wink::

If you should decide to read any or all of these books, I'd love it if you'd e-mail me and we could have a quasi-book-club e-mail discussion about them - they are really so rich and enjoyable, and more so I think if you can talk about them with someone who has also read them.

I'd also like to know if you have or have had little genre fests - three or four books you've read right in a row (not by the same author) just because they piqued your interest in a certain era or place or subject. What books were they?

If you would like to see other participants' book reviews, you can visit Morning Glory or Lei, the hosts of Woman to Woman - they have Mr. Linky to send you on your way. A nice way to start or add to a fall and winter reading list, eh?


My New Job as QC Officer

We woke up late the other morning (if you don't count the 4 a.m. waking) and were in a fog getting Cal ready for Auntie S to pick him up for preschool.

He picked out his clothes (a fool-proof process since I bought mix and match shorts and shirts earlier in the summer so the boys could dress themselves without going too wrong) and came downstairs to get his shoes and socks on while I poured some Honeycombs into a ziploc made him breakfast.

Then I made sure his hair was combed down - he has opposing cowlicks on the crown of his head and gets embarrassed when people touch or pull the resulting sticking up hair, which they always do if it's not combed.

Auntie S arrived and he grabbed his bag and ran out to hop in her van and was off. I felt all efficient knowing that the morning routine really was a streamlined, no-problem-even-if-we-wake-up-late affair.

Then this afternoon, well after school, when Henry and Charlie were both napping (miracle of miracles), I noticed Cal's shorts were on backwards. And they're not even plain ol' elastic waisted shorts, either - they have a fly, and it was on his bum.

I asked him if he had taken his pants completely off to go to the bathroom again. He got all offended that I would dare suggest such a thing, since he's been over that necessity for, um, several weeks now. Only little boys take their pants off to go potty. He only takes them off to take a bath or put pajamas on. Hmmm.

So it would appear that I need to polish the morning routine a bit after all.

Breakfast. Check.
Cowlicks smoothed. Check.
Knowing not to take your pants completely off at all during the day. Check.
Making sure your shorts are on frontwise to begin with. - Needs work.


The Muck

I've had a nasty head cold / sinus problem for the last week...I can't concentrate and I can't sleep...I have so much work to do...And I just can't seem to be able to articulate any bloggishness in my life...No sense of humor, no ingenuity...blah, blah, blah...Usually I have the most to say when things are the most coocoo in my life, but not this time...I'm going to try to catch up with myself and shake off the muck that has attacked me, and I'll be along shortly, all Code Yellowish and semi-interesting again soon...I hope.

(Don't worry - the boys continue to be adorable and precocious and busy and sassy - it's just that I am Tired. Yep, with a capital T.)



Silly Putty and its not-really-liquid-not-really-solid property is really cool. In theory.

Silly Putty and its not-really-liquid-not-really-solid property is evil when it is left accidentally lodged between a baby blanket and the couch cushion.

Silly Putty and its stretch-it-infinitely-or-break-it-in-a-snap property is also really cool. In theory.

Silly Putty and its stretch-it-infinitely-or-break-it-in-a-snap property is evil when it is left in sinewy, nearly invisible stretched threads in the shag carpet.

Silly Putty is really cool. It thrills my boys and keeps them happy for lengths of time that would otherwise be unfathomable. Unfortunately, it is also discreetly portable - making it more difficult to enforce the "only at the table" rule that I can with less diabolical things like Play-doh - and it begs to be molded around household items, stuck to a variety of surfaces to see what imprint it makes, etc.

And Silly Putty - for lack of a better word - melts into whatever surface it spends any time on.

Therefore, without the plastic egg that is conveniently packaged with the Silly Putty, it is a very bad choice for a game of hide-and-find. (The three-year-old's activity of choice recently.)

BUT - and here's what you really need to know, if you have or ever will have small children - rubbing alcohol gets Silly Putty out of favorite baby blankets, upholstery and carpet. Without a trace. Awesome. Truly.

Rubbing alcohol would probably get Silly Putty out of the back shoulder of Mom's shirt, too.

It would have been super awesome if Mom would have noticed the Silly Putty before wearing it, in all of it's green, globular (and only slightly glittering) glory. All day.

And of course, this does call into serious question the value of Silly Putty as a bribe reward for being reverent in Primary.

I mean, it's a good one, since the 4-year-old does behave in order to earn a go at the prize box, and he thinks his teacher is the best thing since Silly Putty for including it in the loot options, but it makes Mom have to make rules about what bribes rewards he can choose for being sooooo good during class.

And how can I in good conscience expect him to resist the little plastic egg when I know I have an icey Sunday coke in the fridge waiting for me if I can just make it through three hours without a total meltdown?


A Conversation

On the way to preschool this morning:

Henry: Mom! Tsarlie is talking up a stohm!

Me: He is! I can hear him. He sure is cooing a lot, isn't he? Sounds like he has something important to say to you.

Henry: (big smile in the rearview mirror) Yep.

Calvin: What storm? There's no storm. The sun is shining right on my face.

Henry: Not a weal stohm, Calvin. A puh-ten one!

Calvin: I know, Henry. Uggghhh. It's just a uhspression.


Random Is As Random Does

Yay! Here's an article to explain all my problems. I knew it was true and am so happy to find actual scientific proof. Not to mention an excuse for complete idiocy for about the next three months, until my brain cells have recouped. It could also explain why I can start a post at 9:50 a.m. and not actually finish it until 7:58 p.m.


If you have google mail, you may have noticed at the top of your spam inbox that there is always a new recipe for using SPAM - not the crap e-mail kind, but the crap processed meat kind. Today's featured recipe? Spam Vegetable Strudel. Yum, yum, no? It's cookies (the computer kind) gone awry, I'd say. And yet somehow I feel this bizarre compulsion to try it out. Dare me?


Here's a bit of a grumble - I'm counting on those of you who do music to hear what I'm saying, here...

Over the course of the last few months, I've had to find people to stand in for me in leading the children's music at church, and occasionally I've had to also find someone who would play the piano. It has amazed and perplexed me how many people say, "I can't do it for you, because, well, I play the piano, but I don't know any of the children's songs," or even, "I can only play two hymns from the hymnbook."

I'll be the first to admit that I lived through eight years of piano lessons by sight-reading - I didn't practice, but could pull it off well enough each week. I could probably play really well if I had ever applied myself. But I've never thought to use the excuse that I only know a few songs to get out of helping someone out.

It was just always my understanding that once you know how to read music, you can pretty much figure out any music, particularly simplified arrangements for church. It's not like I'm asking people who have only rarely played the piano to suddenly stand in for me and do a full-blown Rachmaninov concert at Carnegie Hall or something, which I could understand being nervous about. It's not performing solo, it's accompanying. For a very forgiving audience/congregation.

Do these people really only learn to read two or three songs? I don't get it. What do you take piano lessons for, if not to learn to read music, any music? I mean, wouldn't it be silly to say, "I can read English, but only Hop on Pop or (if they're really accomplished) War and Peace?"


My previously pleasant baby has been irritable and pretty much sucking on me around the clock (that's the only thing that soothes him) since Monday night. Which makes me irritable and pretty much sucking at everything I would like to do.

I am tired and frustrated because I can't figure out what is wrong. Maybe just a crying jag/growth spurt, I know that happens. It's just exhausting.

And I'm about to give up breastfeeding because I feel like he's not getting enough or he wouldn't need to eat all the blessed time and I am HURTING at this point. And when Mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

But then I feel incompetency and guilt, even though I know I absolutely should not...So I'm in one of those happy self-whipping cycles that begins with, "If I was a really good mom, I would..."


The boys are loving preschool and I am glad now that I went ahead and enrolled them. However, I come home after dropping them off in the morning and instead of using the undistracted time to clean my house or run my errands or do my reading or take a private shower, I just sit still. In the quiet. Wasting time and thoroughly enjoying it.

At least that was until my baby started crying 24/7...

At any rate, my hope is that the baby will return to his pleasant, cooing, lovey self soon and that sometime shortly after that the novelty of three "free" hours every day will wear off and I'll get down to productivity. But I doubt it. (More guilt.)

Interestingly enough, I was so overwhelmed with school when I just had Calvin (that's why I took a four year hiatus and have waffled about going back every day for four years) and now that I "just" have one baby two mornings a week and "just" a baby and a 3yo the rest of the mornings, I feel like school for me is totally possible since I have all this "free time."

Which probably means that I have officially crossed the line into crazy land. I guess that remains to be seen. Only having half my brain cells and all...


Speaking of preschool, it appears that my Henry has a little inside joke with his teacher already. Kinda sad. She tickled his knee as she put him in the car and said, "Have a good day, Puddin' Pop." To which he grinned from ear to ear and giggled.

I asked him about it at home and apparently they played a name game that they had to guess what their funny name was (on their back) and his was Puddin' Pop, which he apparently thinks is hilarious (the alliteration, maybe?).

So I was trying to ellicit the same wonderful grin from him that Ms. Casey got by calling him Puddin' Pop a little later. To which he bristled and exclaimed, "My name is NOT Puddin' Pop! It's HEN-OH-WEE!"

Well, OK then. I guess I'm not the funniest woman in his world anymore. That's not so bad. Maybe he'll reserve his knock-knock jokes exclusively for Ms. Casey.

(I do love how his name has evolved over the last few years: When Calvin told people what his baby brother was named, it was "Hemmy." When Henry first learned to say his own name, it was "Hen-nay." And now, "Hen-oh-wee." Very sweet. Hope he doesn't learn to say his "r"s for a while yet.)


Just to round off the randomness of this post and keep myself from completely belly-aching about ev.er.y.thing (which is what I'm inclined to do today), here's a sweet little video that my sister e-mailed me a week or so ago. It was entirely new to me and thought y'all might like it:


And now I must say that between sleepiness, busy-ness, soreness, grumpiness, and laziness, I am going to be scarce here at the blog. I've got to get my feet under me better and organize my time. Oh, and feed my children, maybe pay a little bit of attention to them. Just don't be alarmed if posts are few and far between for a bit. I'll be back. And no doubt sooner than I should be.


Bruised Alter-Ego

As soon as Calvin became a toddler, it became apparent that I would never be able to go through a day without tripping over something - frequently, the toddler himself. Neither would I be able to walk a straight line without obstruction. It became even more fun when I was hugely pregnant and the obstacles would come up beneath me, unseen.

By now, four years later, I am quite used to small toys, small piles of laundry or books or stuffed animals, and small boys being beneath my feet or behind my legs at any given moment. I am becoming more adept, but no less annoyed, at having to readjust my path or catch myself in a stumble or console the boy over whom I tumbled. It's part of my life as mom.

But now I have a second life - my super identity as Master's Student At A Really Smart Historic Liberal Arts College.

By the time I drive the hour it takes to get there - listening to my music and thinking my own thoughts without having to referee backseat affairs or ask that someone please give the baby his pacifier because I can't reach from the driver's seat - I have changed from my mild-mannered yet slightly flustered mother self to my smart and savvy back-at-school-to-discuss-great-literature self. I'm almost cool, and definitely mostly have it together.

By the time I step out onto the old cobblestone sidewalks of campus and walk through the thick stone walls of a building built in the late 18th century, I feel entirely different, thinking deep thoughts about western civilization, and completely forgetting that there's a place where most of the time I can't walk a straight line, let alone accomplish anything that resembles any kind of civilization.

Yep, I feel good. A Budding Intellectual. Sophisticated, even. (And in such an elevated state of mind that I'm totally able to ignore the panel pants I'm still wearing because I refuse to buy jeans one size larger but can't fit into the pants I wore pre-preg even though I weigh what I did pre-preg...)

I buy my dinner at the charming basement coffee shop, prop it on top of my stack of books, grab my fountain drink in the other hand and head outside and up the charming historic cobbled steps to the common area where the rest of the student body is settling in at tables and benches to enjoy dinner al fresco.

Then I, Code Yellow the super student, trip on the second step going up. No, OK, it's not just a trip. It's a certified fall that started with a trip. Genuine clutz all over it.

My books go flying up the stairs, but not before the top of my drink pops off and the bottom of the cup bursts out and splashes Pepsi all over the books. And my face. My knee hits the next step up and then my arm gets pinned beneath the books and my dinner.

I vaguely hear a voice, one that must be coming from the person who owns the feet that I can see rushing toward me at my eye level on the top step..."Oh my gosh! Is she OK?!"

I stand up and he gives me my topless and bottomless Pepsi cup and helps me gather my books while I say thanks and try not to think about the Pepsi dripping from the end of my nose or look at my extremely painful elbow, which I know must be gushing blood onto my panel pants that now have a cobblestone scrape on the outside and a very bruised knee on the inside.

I shuffle across the common area, through the rest of the students, toward the building I was headed to in the first place and spend my dinner hour wiping sticky soda from my face and books and trying to get my elbow to stop bleeding before my next class starts. And yes, I cry a little because I'm not sure what is more painful - the elbow and knee, or my wounded pride.

Wouldn't you know that my mom self decided at the last minute to take the band-aids out of her purse since she wasn't taking any accident prone children along today? And doesn't it just figure that the guy who helped me up is in my next class, so I get to see him every school day now?

The next day, Henry kisses my still oozing elbow after asking with genuine alarm what happened. My little boy is sincerely concerned when I tell him I fell down at school, and he's using the only super power he knows to make me feel better.

And I realize, with some relief, that luckily, I'm not fooling anyone.


WTW: Gratitude

Today's Woman to Woman is a list of eleven things I feel particularly thankful for. I have lots of day-to-day things that I could list - of course, my family and life and health and home and friends. Not to mention 600-thread-count sheets, Nature's Valley Sweet and Salty Almond Granola Bars, and how happy "light-up shoes" make my boys.

But as I thought more about things that I am profoundly thankful for, I realized that there are fundamental aspects of my life that I don't necessarily take for granted, but maybe I don't articulate my gratitude for them often enough.

This actually prompted a more spiritual train of thought than I usually blog, but I felt that I could share it anyway. So here are a few of those kind of things:

1. Agency. How remarkable to know that I am not a victim of chance or fate, but that I have a say in the decisions - large and small - that I make every day. That I can act on what I believe, I can do what I feel is right, or that I can let go or hold on to anything I want. That I can choose to be a force for good or peace, that the things I do aren't predetermined by anyone or anything. That I am the captain of my soul. What a powerful and really amazing thing!

2. Faith. I feel like I have a gift in my life to just be sure of certain things, so I never have total uncertainty or fear, and I can find answers to a lot of really troubling things based on the things I feel sure of in my heart. This is not to say that I don't question or wonder or doubt or analyze or rethink my attitudes or philosophies at different times in my life, but it means that deep down, I know there is a God, that he is my father and He has a plan for this world and a plan specifically for me. I'm thankful for that anchor in my life.

3. Literacy. There's no way I could express what books have done in my life. They have added to my faith, broadened my horizons, deepened my understanding of the world, helped me escape from reality long enough to be able to come back and face it better, exposed me to cultures and ideas that I may never have otherwise experienced, instructed and informed me, and generally reached my heart with beautiful ways of saying things or showing images that I could never have articulated myself. Reading is such a simple thing, but it is a window to the world, and a door to myself.

4. Artistry. I love how rich my life is because of the talents of poets and dancers and painters and scultpors and musicians. There is in art and performance to me something very near to perfection - those moments when you can just be still and understand beauty and truth without words.

5. Grandeur. I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and have always been inspired by their rugged beauty, their vastness, their treacherous roads and trails and their peace and quiet. And in the last few years I have been able to spend holidays by the ocean and appreciate it like never before. I love to contemplate the heights and depths and numbers - the grains of sand, the neverending waves, the bulk of the rocks, the thousands of years of building and erosion and underground tulmults that created what we see. I love the feeling of being so small compared to it all, and yet knowing that it's there for me to enjoy.

6. Tender Loving Care. Gentle caresses, kind words, small acts that make my day-to-day life easier and more comfortable. My grandparents so consistently offered this to me my whole life. And now my husband is really good at it. I also feel grateful for the opportunity to offer it to my children. I am often amazed at how much my love for them grows even through the sometimes mundane tasks of caring for them and meeting their needs. I am thankful for human companionship and tenderness, and for the times I've been called on to tend to someone with kindness and compassion. I am convinced that kind of service has enriched my life much more than the service or love I gave enriched the person I was serving.

7. Childhood. There is nothing like the bliss and carefree days of being a child. I am thankful I experienced a childhood and doubly grateful for the chance I have to watch my children find joy and abandon as they play and learn and grow. It goes by so quickly and I hope they can always retain some of the innocence and hope and pure joy that makes up their young lives.

8. Heroes and Role Models. There are some people who have most definitely made me who I am and I am thankful that life and families exist in such a way that we have people to follow, people who will lead us and teach us and love us and inspire us.

9. Renewal. Every sunrise and sunset - it happens just the same as it did the day before, but it never looks the same. The ocean waves on the sand - whatever you etch or dig or build in the sand, it washes away and leaves a clean smooth surface. I am grateful for all the things in life that offer refreshment and a new beginning - sleep, music, a good read. I am grateful for the things that indicate that there is always a fresh start to take, every moment is new, and that I have endless opportunities to leave behind the old and begin again.

10.The Good and the Bad. I'm grateful for the whole gamut of emotion that I can experience in life. I am slowly starting to understand and really appreciate the idea that our deepest joys are that much more joyous because they are juxtaposed with our deepest sorrows. To be able to know and learn from pain and grief allows me to experience greater happiness and to value it more: happiness would be indistinguishable if there wasn't something to contrast it with. I'm not exactly grateful for the hard or terrible things in life, but I am thankful for the heavenly and most happy moments in life that help me make it through the hellish and most despairing ones. I'm glad that I've been given both.

11. The Present. I'm learning to enjoy the moment I'm in and have recently become really aware, especially with my boys, how important it is to just drink it in and love where I am - these years won't last forever and thinking too much about the past or worrying over the future squanders what I have with them now. I'm thankful to be their mom, to be a wife, to just be present. It is a gift that I'm working on enjoying more fully.

For more Woman to Woman participants and the things they are thankful for, click on over to Seeds From My Garden and/or My Many Colored Days. (And thanks, Morning Glory and Lei, for hosting this great forum!)


They'll Forgive Me Someday


How Marketing Works

Calvin: "Mom! I just saw that transformatron again on TV. And, well, the more I see it on the commercials, the more I want it!!"


It Just Sounds Like an Expletive

Cal's spots are folliculitis. Fancy word meaning that his skin (namely the follicles) got a little irritated by sand, hot tubbing, sunscreen and the accompanying bacteria last week. Phew. A few scrubs with antibacterial soap and a litle bit of time oughtta clear it right up.

It was a fun time at the doctor's office, though. The nurse looked at him first and said, "Don't let him out of this room or let him play with the toys in the lobby" and left. The second nurse came in and said, "I'm pretty sure it's chicken pox. Don't leave this room."

So we were feeling like carriers of the bubonic plague and getting really annoyed that Cal was vaccinated for a common childhood illness that he ended up getting anyway. (Incidentally, I have no problem with vaccines, but I did find out that the one for chicken pox is mostly for parental convenience, not health endangerment - to prevent missed work, school, etc. AND it's only about 90% effective.)

Luckily, the doctor came in and asked lots of questions and looked really closely at every single spot and said, "Folliculitis." And I thought, "You don't have to get all rude about it, we did't let him out of this room."

In other news...

I just got a pretty short haircut and have been feeling all peppy and edgy and whatever - just nice to have the hair out of my face, mostly, but I do feel cute. Then I pulled through McDonald's yesterday and the guy called me, "Sir."

I felt so deflated. Less than a week before I turn 33 and I have officially reached frumphood. Or some derivative of it where not only do I not look young, I no longer even look like a girl.

Maybe I should have sat up straighter in my car. Not for posture's sake, but to show him that I am most definitely a lactating woman. Because it would have been obvious and I'm sure I could have gotten a "yes, ma'am" out of him then.

But I couldn't muster the confidence even to do that. So I just grabbed my Coke, almost muttered, "Well, folliculitis," and drove away.

A Most Important Decision

Some friends of ours (who have boys a couple years older than ours with the same age difference between them) handed down some Halloween costumes. They are the authentic Disney store Tigger and Pooh, in fabulous condition and fit Calvin and Henry perfectly. What's more is that Calvin and Henry LOVE them, so they're set for Halloween this year, without any expense or hassle on my part. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

My dilemma is this: Who should Charlie be? My first instinct was Piglet, because he's the littlest Pooh character. How adorable would that be? Only drawback, the costume is all pink. On my all boy. Of course, the pictures could make for good blackmail in his adolescence...

David suggested Eeyore, who is by far my favorite Pooh character. ("Thanks fer noticin' me...") Only drawback, the cutest part of the costume - the tail with the pink ribbon - would probably not be seen much in the carseat or Baby Bjorn.

I can get either costume on E*bay for less than $10, but cannot make up my mind.

So what do YOU say, should Charlie be a little Piglet or a little Eeyore?


The Least - and Most - I Can Do

We went to the boys' first day of preschool yesterday which included orientation for the parents. Henry cried all the way there saying that he hated his school (having never been there) and then didn't even look up from the play-doh table when I said I had to go. Calvin was over the top excited when I picked him up from his classroom, and couldn't wait to go back today.

Then we noticed that what I thought were a couple bug bites right by Cal's collar turned into about thirty or forty "bug bites" all over his back and chest. Yeah. I'm a little concerned that they are chicken pox and a little perplexed because he has no other symptoms whatsoever AND was vaccinated. But I can't send him to school if he is contagious, of course. And we need to visit a doctor to be sure he's not.

So, no school AND a doctor's visit, instead of getting to go use scissors (that was to be the highlight today)? I've got a not-so-happy four-year-old on my hands.

And a not-so-potty-trained three-year-old.

And a not sleeping almost three-month-old. He teases me with a seven or eight hour stretch every once in a while, then BAM! A couple nights of partying until the sun comes up. And fuss, fuss, fussing all day long. It's what I get for bragging about his pleasantness, I think.

So how 'bout we just post some pictures and go back to the beach? It's about all I can manage today.

First off at the beach house we learned that there's more than one way to skin a watermelon. Namely, with three sppons:

The weather was perfect the whole time we were there - never much hotter than about 85 degrees. That was wonderful because I didn't have to worry as much about Charlie overheating. He enjoyed several beach baby naps in the shade of our canopy.

He also got to dip his feet in the ocean and feel warm sand on his toes for the first time in his life. (Lucky little man - I didn't do that until I was almost thirty!)

And when he wasn't relaxing, he was chatting.

Henry was more about the sand than anything. It is a marvel to note how many hours can be spent digging holes and building towers that continually get washed away.

He loved every minute of it.

He also liked going on walks and looking for shells.

Calvin fell in love with the water this time. And I kept looking at him and seeing how much he has grown up since last summer. He's a lanky tan little man now. He came up once from driving his truck into the surf and said to me, "Welp, Mom, it was really hard work getting that truck through that wet sand...but I did it."

He also got really brave about going out to swim in a little deeper water...

...And running into the "crashers." I had to call him back from running in the ocean right before we pulled out of the driveway to come home. We both cried to leave. There are just so few places to just run, unconfined and happy like that.

One of the best parts of the beach week was sharing the house with Uncle Glade and Aunt Wendy and their three children. Aunt Wendy is a great photographer and took some great shots of everyone playing, so I may have more to post later of the cousins and the beach.

Now we're home and here are a couple more things that make me smile:

I'm not really a baby gear fanatic - in fact I find most of it bulky and annoying and often nonsensical - but the bumbo sitter is one of the best things ever. For one, it makes a cute baby look even more cute. Don't you think?

And for another, it allows for a half-way decent group shot of three boys, two of whom can rarely sit still and one of whom can't sit at all. Brilliant, I say.

And last, but not least: Charlie's "back-to-school" outfit. I found this three-piece on sale for $9.88 when I was pregnant, right after I found out we were having a boy. Could I NOT buy it? And now that he has grown into it, it KILLS me. Who knew a teeny tiny blue blazer could make a woman giddy?

And now I just hope we don't have chicken pox at our house. And that I can get a shower today.


Hitting the Ground

We're back from Topsail Island and now off to the races...I have lots to show and tell - the beach was everything magnificent and beautiful, there are very few things that make me feel as satisfied as watching my little boys play and enjoy perfect bliss in the sand and water.

The road trips there and back were our first of the constant "Are we there yet?" variety, so we feel we have officially arrived at parenthood.

But my absolute personal favorite part was hearing David tell Henry at one of our frequent stops: "Aw, Henry! Come on, man! If you're not going to eat it, you don't need to rub it all over your body."

Does that not make anyone else just start giggling and not be able to stop or complete a coherent sentence for the next ten minutes?

Maybe you had to be there. And really tired. And understand that David was soooo not trying to be funny. But it still makes me laugh, the things you could never imagine actually saying in your life. It all comes out when you have kids.

We're getting settled back into real life and I have school tonight (yes, even on Labor Day), so I've got to pull myself together and get serious now. But I'll be back.

Happy September!


Soaking Up The Sun

We're headed to the beach tomorrow!!!!

I'm gonna be playing with my babies and probably not near a computer until Saturday or Sunday.

Hopefully I'll have lots of pictures and maybe some stories then, and I'm mulling over some thinkity thoughts even now, so come back next week.

And enjoy your last few days of August!


Taking Care of Each Other

We have an ongoing campaign to end brotherly violence in our home, so when I saw Calvin full-on slap Henry for no apparent reason while they were chalking the sidewalk, I was on my way out there to administer some serious retribution.

Just then, to my bewilderment, Henry looked up at Calvin and smiled in adoration, and Calvin headed in to tell on himself:

"Mom! I smacked Henry" - with a clap of his hands for the appropriate sound effect - "to kill a mosquito on his forehead!"

And Henry added happily: "Yeah, he made it so the skeeto couldn't bite me!"

I muttered a little bit of an, "Oh, good...Uh, thanks," then took a look at Henry's face. Based on the smear of blood and remains of wings, etc. right above his eyebrow, I'd say it was a large bug that definitely won't have the guts to mess with Calvin's brother ever again.

And instead of retribution, I administered some bug spray.


Charlie's Closet

We played around a bit with the layout of our house to have a place for Charlie to sleep. We do have three bedrooms, and the boys share one, but the extra room is quite large, right next to the boys, and all the way down the hall from me. OK, so the hall isn't that long, but in the middle of the night, it might as well have the dimensions of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors.

Fortunately, we have a largish closet in our room (about 8 feet by 7) with a little window. It was poorly set up as a closet and we were looking into getting new rods, shelves, etc., when it occurred to me that it could be a nice little baby room. Right next to ours, and not close to the boys where the baby could wake them (or they could wake the baby) at inappropriate times.

And there's a large closet in the hall with rods and shelves that works quite well for a master closet. So we did the switcheroo, bought some paint, and Charlie (since he is already too large for his cradle - waaaa!) is now nicely installed in the closet.

I did take before pictures, but am afraid they were replaced with other files (I was having camera/computer/3-year-old-helper problems a couple weeks ago), so you only get to see the after. But trust me, it's an improvement - David did a wonderful job humoring me. And patching and sanding.

About the time I was trying to decide how to paint the room, Auntie S gave us this quilt, which my grandmother made. My grandma has made such a quilt for most of her 27 grandchildren, and Calvin and Henry also have quilts with her trademark points on the edges. Auntie S also handed down a set of red and white gingham bedding that tied into the little gingham squares in the quilt.

I matched the red color then chose a ccomplimentary blue color with the color selector at Home Depot, and that's where I got the colors for the stripes on the walls.

Then I did a gingham treatment on the dresser drawers (which needs some serious touch-up, but I'll get to it later...)

My favorite part of it is this poster for a book festival David and I went to right after he came home from Iraq. I am going to have it matted and framed for the wall. It has the light blue and dark blue colors (which, in real life, match the walls), and wonderful red and white accents. Plus it's by a Russian artist, Gennady Spirin, whose whimsical and beautiful illustrations I love. (He has a children's alphabet book that I am currently dreaming of and drooling over...)

David says the room reminds him of the Hotel Monaco, a boutique hotel where we've stayed a couple of times. That makes me happy because I like the style - kinda eclectic, with modern and traditional elements and lots of color and bold patterns. I'm going to get a soft rug for the floor and maybe paint some library book shelves for baby board books, but I'm really liking the little space.

Perhaps it will even be boutique enough to be forgiven for keeping my baby in a closet.


More Than I Can Chew

My first day of school is Thursday. I have a huge chunk of Einstein, Euclid and Lucretius to gnaw my way through and hopefully be able to articulate (regurgitate?) before then.

David is bogged down right now with projects that must be finished this week, so he worked part of the weekend and will be home late all week.

Next Tuesday, we are leaving for a long-anticipated trip to Topsail Island to play with David's brother's family - their two little girls are the same ages as Calvin and Henry. I can't wait for a week at the beach, but I'm having a hard time getting my head around the packing and thinking through logistics that has to happen beforehand.

The week after that is the boys' first day of preschool - pending potty training success for Henry.

My house is a mess. I got spoiled for the month David was home, and have come to the hard realization that things will no longer get magically picked up, straightened, or cleaned at night after I retire. Or during the day while I nurse, change, and love on the baby.

Plus, the list of Summer To-Do's? The one that I so ambitiously outlined during my last two months of pregnancy, thinking that once I wasn't lumbering around with a huge belly, I could whip through them, no problem? Not feeling quite so ambitious now.

Meanwhile the boys paint, build, draw, cut, paste, wrestle, throw, and pull stuff apart in very creative but nonetheless quite messy bursts of energy. And raid the refrigerator periodically if I'm not feeding them promptly enough.

It's been hot, hot, hot - too hot to spend a significant time outdoors with little tiny people. And now it's raining like crazy, so we are yet home-bound, and going a little berserk.

Of course I have that nagging guilt that it should not be so hard to keep it together. Nothing that I have to do is THAT huge or difficult, but somehow I feel like everything on my plate is spinning around me at an outrageous speed, and little pieces are flying off the outside edge in every direction.

Why is order so difficult to maintain? How do other people do it? Why can I not concentrate or just apply myself? Why can't everyone and everything just STOP for a minute, so I can get caught up?

Or perhaps, the better question: Why can I not go take a three-day long nap?