Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Our Noisy Retreat

S is gone on a 9-day, 8-night silent retreat to a cornfield in Iowa; I've been "flying solo," as it were, since Monday morning. (I like to say I'm having a parallel "noisy retreat.") I'm getting lots of sympathy and support--our friend Sister Jerima showed up at the door the other night with a pan of brownies and a batch of cookies. "I felt sorry for you," she said. Numerous friends have offered to babysit. And my Early Childhood Family Education and Parenting with the Spirit groups have been rather incredulous. Maybe just because they don't know that many moms who pop off for a week-long silent, directed retreat.

In any case, it's not that different from the usual routine so far, other than longer days. The kids have been pretty good, overall. Tonight M asked rather sweetly whether I would play with her after supper; when I asked what she wanted to play, she said, "Anything!" Then she suggested, "Tickle monster!" So we played Tickle Monster for a while. This is a really raucous game in which I, the monster, chase them through the house in a monster-ish sort of way (roaring, flailing around) trying to catch them; when I do, I tickle them. They love this game, especially running away screaming at the top of their lungs. Drives S nuts, which is why it's a good activity for our "noisy retreat." We did that for about half an hour, until M got hurt. (These games ALWAYS end in tears.) Then we had a low-key family time, reading the card that S sent, talking about the saint of the day (Thomas Aquinas), and saying prayers.

When I tucked M into bed, she gave me a big smile and hug and whispered, "Thanks for being my dad."

'Jesus lives in our hearts'

So...we're getting out of the car, coming home from the post office, and J pops out of the blue with, "Jesus lives in our hearts." Kind of a show-stopper. We'd mentioned about Jesus being "born" in our hearts at Christmastime, but you never know whether they pick up on that stuff right away. A full month later, it's obvious she picked up on something. She went on to talk about how long it takes for Jesus to be born, because we have to wait for him to be born (Advent).

So when I got home I coaxed her into sort of going back there and sort of repeating what she'd said earlier. Pretty cute stuff.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Makin' PB & J

J loves to make her own peanut butter and jelly, and thanks in part to her Montessori fine-motor skills practice, she does a really good job of it, too. She dabs it on a little at a time, as neatly and carefully as a master craftsman working on a watch. Takes her ten minutes, but hey, that only makes it taste better, right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day

So I kind of watched the inauguration on Tuesday -- kind of because J did her very best to thwart me by continually turning off the tv, sticking her face in front of me, throwing tantrums, etc. My view of the inauguration speech went something like:

". . . it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which -- "

"Daddy, I want snack NOW!"

". . . honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity. . . "


I guess she doesn't approve of the new administration.

On the other hand, the girls must have been impressed by the inaugural parade. "Who's the princess?" J asked. I pointed out Michelle Obama as the closest equivalent. J and M picked up on this and ran with it; a short while later, J came down the stairs in her princess outfit. M walked in front of her shouting, "Make way for her royal highness, the Queen! Make way for her royal highness, the Queen!" The rest of the night, J insisted we call her "her royal highness," which prompted S to make some sarcastic remarks about J's other royal qualities.

The older kids watched the inauguration at school. M said her classmates thought it was boring and too long, but she thought it was interesting. She has been asking bout the election for the better part of the year, and became very upset when she found out about Obama's position on abortion and war and capital punishment. So I suspect that is where her interest came from -- trying to reconcile his policies with all the positive attention. We've tried to explain to her how happy people are to have a new president, to have our Constitution back, and for the historic character of the election. We've tried to explain that we can like some things he does without approving of others, but that kind of ambiguity is not really a six-year-old thing.

B got a book out from the library called "So You Want to Be President?" He's studying up. Let's see, if he is inaugurated at Obama's age, that would be about . . . 2048. Well, the way things are going, he better start raising campaign funds now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A busy Sunday

So today, I got up early (7:39, which qualifies as early for a Sunday in my world) in order to walk a couple miles to church, where I helped present our parish's new approach to faith formation to the family faith formation group. (They were largely receptive and engaged in the idea of family-based faith formation.) Then we had Mass with the new bishop -- a really warm, genial, pastoral guy. The excellent young adult choir sang (shout out to Laurie Z. and her kids), which meant that Mass went an hour and a half.

Then I dropped S off at our friendly, local Catholic Worker house, where she helped facilitate a big community-wide meeting on the future of the house, which is now somewhat understaffed. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I fed the kids lunch and made a cake for our neighbor's birthday. Loaded the kids into the car, went over to the CW for the last part of the meeting, picked up S and came home. Frosted the birthday cake (which morphed into cupcakes) with the girls. They got to put candy sprinkles on top. Sounds like fun, but J kept bursting into tears and going nuclear at the slightest provocation (e.g., a sprinkle fell off a cupcake). Then I set up B with his remote-controlled car

Our neighbor came over, we celebrated her birthday, and then rounded the kids up for bed. I did family catechesis with the older kids. We are working our way through the Nicene Creed. We are up to "I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God." We were discussing the meaning of the words "Jesus" (=Hebrew for "God saves") and "Christ" (= Greek for "the Anointed One."). So B, of course, puts them together and concludes: "So Jesus Christ translates into "God saves the anointed one?" Well, you can't blame him, can you?

Now we're off to watch a fun movie with B before collapsing into bed. When's the day of rest???

Home-made videos about Mary

S has spent the past six months or so photographing her college campus in order to make a couple of videos featuring images of Mary on campus, accompanied by text from the saints and the voices of some students who recorded an album about Mary. Here they are:

And the second, longer one:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Black bean soup recipe

Here is an old standby that we learned from the Catholic Workers. (We still refer to the recipe, which is why it is going onto our blog).


3 cups dried black beans
2 quarts water
1/8 tsp baking soda
½ tsp oregano
2 tsp cumin
1 green pepper, quartered
½ onion, chopped
2 tablespns garlic
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cumin
6 cups cooked white rice

I also add a jar of salsa,
corn (preferably cut off the cob),
3-4 tablespoons of minced garlic (sautéed with the onions),
and sometimes...
a stick of butter!
Pinto beans can also be substituted for the black beans.
Vegetable broth can be added to or substituted for the water for better flavor.

Rinse beans and discard any stones or debris. In a large pot, soak beans overnight in 2 quarts water (or vegetable broth) with baking soda, oregano, 2 tsp cumin, and green pepper.

The next day cook beans in the same water on med low heat for about three hrs or until the beans are very tender and liquid is reduced, and somewhat thickened. (Or start them in a crock pot about eight hours before serving.)

Make sure the liquid in the pot does not boil away; to prevent beans from burning, add more water when necessary. In a small pan, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is translucent and begins to brown. Add several large spoonfuls of the black beans to this mixture and stir, simmering several minutes. (Optionally, also sauté the garlic at this point.)

Return this mixture to the large pot of beans. Mix well and add vinegar, wine, salt, and remaining cumin. (Optionally: corn, butter, salsa.) Cook another 20 minutes. Serve over white rice on individual plates in individual side bowls. Serves 6.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Snow days, baby books, and journaling

We had a "snow day" today -- no school due to the extreme cold. This is the third or fourth snow day this month, so it's getting a bit old. I coped by pulling out a project I've been neglecting for a few years -- J's baby book. (That's J as a baby in the picture . . . first time eating solid food.)

The other two kids have baby books that go through their second birthday; they pull them out and look at them every few months. J can't read yet, so when she sees her older siblings looking over their books, she pulls out one of our family journals that has her in it, and pretends it's her baby book. Every time I see that, I think . . . heh, heh . . . better get her baby book done before she can read!

So I worked on that while the kids went about the grim task of dismantling the house; I responded to injuries as necessary. Looking over all those old journal entries was actually heartening, since I generally only record the highlights. Here are a couple that made me smile; both of these are told by S. The first is from Easter two years ago:

I told (M and B) the story of Good Friday (basically a short version of the stations of the cross).  This made them very sad; B actually began crying (although he said he was crying because his throat hurt).  Unusual kid comments this time:  When I was explaining the flogging, B said “Do you know what Jesus should have done?”  “Okay, what B?”  “He should have grabbed the whip and starting whipping them back!”  “Well, B, that would have been tempting, but Jesus knew that would be wrong, and he knew if was important for him to suffer.  I’ll explain that in a minute.”  “Okay, but maybe Jesus should have grabbed the whip, threw it away, and run away!”  “Well, that's a good idea if that ever happens to you, but Jesus knew he had to suffer and die, so he didn’t run away….”  At the end of the story, a sad B said that the story of God creating the world was a better (read: happier) story.  They both thought the crown of thorns was the meanest thing they had ever heard.
And from a few days later:

While taking B to school this morning:

Ben: Mom, I know why we had snow yesterday.

Me: Because it was cold?  (I'm pretty literal at 7am)

Ben: It has to do with Easter.  It's still Easter, right?

Me: Right, for 50 days.  But what does snow have to do with Easter?

Ben: Welllll, snow reflects the light, and you say Jesus is the light of the world, so God sent the snow to celebrate Easter because now the world is full of light!

Me: (stunned, thinking...are you sure you're 6?)
And then there's one that I can't locate at the moment, but it's about how B game M a big hug and said, "We're best friends, and we'll be best friends forever!" And M said, "Yeah!"

Creating these journals is a lot of work, but they're a gold mine once they're done.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sea monkey mania

The Sea Monkeys apparently hatched today, and there was much rejoicing. (That M looking amazed at tiny floating dots which may or may not be sea monkeys. Her Virgin Mary night light looks on in the background.) B ran around the house jumping up and down, shouting, "We're rich, we're rich, we're rich with sea monkeys!" And then M and B started cleaning their rooms so that the Sea Monkeys would have a clean and healthy environment.

Boy, if I'd only known that's all it would take to get them to clean their rooms, I would have bought them goldfish months ago.

Rice Krispie smiles

"I like my marshmallows two ways: gooey or not gooey."

J and I made Rice Krispies today; she always likes helping to cook, even if she doesn't eat the finished product. (A kid who won't touch Rice Krispie bars!)

Sometimes God smiles at us through the faces of our children. In this case, with a somewhat goofy grin.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Learning to cook

The past few Sundays, B has been receiving cooking lessons -- at his insistence. He's constantly checking out cooking books from the library. We think it may be genetic.

So two Sundays ago he made pizza (from scratch, including the dough). This Sunday he made pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Yes, it took twice as long, and it was a bit messier (we got some interestingly shaped pancakes), but his pride of accomplishment is more than worth it. Plus, cooking is such a great skill to learn -- it falls into that family of things kids should know how to do before they leave home. And someday, he might just be able to cook some of the meals for us around here.

As the kids sat down to eat, B was rewarded by J saying, "This is the best breakfast ever!"

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What does God sound like?

Sometimes when we pray with the kids we have them practice silence by asking them to "listen for angel wings," or to "listen for God." Last night, M looked back at me with those big brown eyes and asked, "What does God sound like?"

I said, "Hmm." Long pause. "Go ask your mother." Hey,  she's a theologian, so she has all the answers. (He says with a straight face.) It's a good question for pondering, but perhaps tonight we will read 1 Kings 19:11-12, in which Elijah hears God in "a tiny whispering noise." Might be a good discussion-starter.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Epiphany Party at the Catholic Worker

The annual Epiphany party at our local Catholic Worker house was, as usual, packed with lots of good food and good cheer. Click on the video to sample some of our holiday caroling, accompanied by piano, guitar, and -- this must be a first -- banjo.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday afternoon tea party

We celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany with a lazy Sunday afternoon. M and J created a cafe in their bedroom using an old table and a plastic tea set that J got for Christmas. S and I were the first customers. We chose from a customized "Menu for grownups." Lunch was cheap (11 cents!), although the food was somewhat plastic-tasting.

B, meanwhile, did some real cooking, making a pizza from scratch. He even lit the candle on the dinner table. He was very proud of his accomplishment -- the best pizza ever, he says. We got the pizza recipe from Farmgirl Fare.

The kids celebrated Epiphany by trying to pronounce it three times fast and by marching around the living room while we sang. "We Three Kings," ending, of course, at the manger scene. For a while we could only find two of the kings, so it was, "We two kings of orient are..." but then M found the other king hiding behind the manger. I can imagine the scene now:

Kings 1 and 2: We just spent three months trekking across the desert, braving sandstorms, thirst, bandits, and belching camels, and you're already here? How'd you get here so fast?

King 3: Southwest was running a special.

A few days ago we constructed a gingerbread house from a kit we got from relatives. The kids enjoyed putting it together (picture below), especially putting the candy on. "That's one for the house, one for me, one for the house, one for me."

Learning to ice skate

Well, the kids tried out their new (used) ice skates on January 1 at a nearby outdoor ice rink. The weather wasn't ideal -- cold and windy -- but they stayed out on the ice for nearly two hours. As the video of B shows (below), they're still honing their skating technique.

Teaching children to skate is good practice for raising them. We hold onto their hands, providing them steadying support, moving alongside them. But our ultimate goal is not to hold on, but to let go, so they can glide along under their own power.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Do all sea monkeys go to heaven?

So B’s sea monkeys died today . . . a day after he got them started . . . and at his own hand. He was pretty inconsolable.   

You have to understand that we have been putting him off about getting a pet for, oh, about three years now. . . . Mostly on the grounds that a) I already have three little mess-makers to clean up after without voluntarily introducing a fourth, thank you very much, and b) allergies. We are working on the allergies issue to see whether we might be able to get a cat (cats are reportedly very fastidious). For three whole years he has been begging for a dog, a cat, a frog, anything at all, really.   And then he got the sea monkeys for Christmas (from a relative, not from us), and such jubilation and expectation you have never seen. He sat there watching the bowl of tap water on his dresser for a good chunk of the evening yesterday. He even set up lamp nearby “to give them more heat.” And he fussed over them most of the day today, which is how he ended up dropping the container on the floor, spilling all the water and the nearly invisible sea monkey eggs.   

Great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. “I wish I could go back in time,” he moaned. I let him curl up with me in bed while he worked it out. Then we went online and bought replacement sea monkeys for $13. (We could order replacements by mail for $7 if we were willing to wait up to six weeks.)   That made him feel better, although he was still upset about “killing” the sea monkeys. He was somewhat consoled by the idea that they are with God now—“playing and having fun in heaven.” Still, after our evening prayer, he wanted to have a memorial service with a song and everything.   

Now, I am not big on brine shrimp in the first place, but I’m all for supporting his budding sense of the sacredness of all creation (no matter how small). So we talked a little bit about how every creature is part of God’s creation, and how the Book of Revelation suggests that all of creation will participate in Christ’s salvation (if not in the same privileged way that humans do). Then we sang “All the Ends of the Earth.” You know, that’s the song that goes: “All you ends of the earth, all you creatures of the sea, lift up your eyes to the wonders of the Lord . . . .” Perfect for sea monkeys.