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.)