Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stories by the kids

Well, Day #5 of the kids' spring break saw me break down and invite over some of their friends -- four of them, to be exact -- for a morning playdate followed by lunch. I must have been insane. Other than a tremendous mess, however, things went off fairly well. J is very persistent in demanding playdates these days, so it made her happy to have three other girls to play with for the morning. (B got to play with the visiting girls' brother.)

No pictures of that, sadly; I was too busy fending off the chaos. However, later in the day the kids sat down at the computer to write stories. Here they are, in order from youngest to oldest.

J's story
(dictated to S):

There was a girl named Leah.
She loved to dance in a beautiful dancing dress.
And she had a baby named Dinda.
She used to sing her a song: Dinda, O Dinda.
And she wishes that she was a fairy.


M's story
(M and her friends at school have an "Ant Club" that has been the subject of more than one story):

Ant should be a famous word! There is no reason to harm them. I am writing this because I, Maria Francesca am in the Ant club. Being in the Ant club is LOTS of work. It require,s…(Un) Tag, and ,,HELPING ants.(Can You believe it!) Maybe you will Become a ant lover someday.

B's story
(It is worth noting here that B just saw Star Wars for the first time last weekend, and he is totally enthralled. "It's kind of like Star Wars," he says of his story.):

Get in ships! Get in ships! Get ready to attack! The sirens flared. John got in his cruiser. H1…here H2…we’re ready to attack. Go! John’s engine roared then he saw it. He fired! It hit the beamer off track. Then he used super laser! Then the beamer blew up. But he kept on going. He was going to meet his master chow on Ung. The star\planet. Then they would practice Ick with Yoan (sounds like yone) a Yoan looks like this when expanded:


When he landed on Ung he didn’t see chow. Then he used the Aban to find him when he got there he saw a bad guy then John expanded his Yoan and him. After he noticed it was the guy that tried to attack Ityl (it-ee-l) the planet he lived on now.


Friday, March 20, 2009

St. Patrick's Day celebration

We had green food for St. Patrick's Day: green ravioli in green Alfredo sauce (food coloring), green peas, green salad, and green leprechaun tea (Sprite with green food coloring). Sadly, the girls did not like their green food. Apparently green pasta is pretty unappetizing to the three-year-old palate.

The Saint Patrick's Day celebration at the local Catholic Worker house was more of a hit. The Zephyr Valley String Band played again this year -- I absolutely love that group. There was an excellent turnout from the community, too, as this video shows.

The gardener

B has temporarily shifted his attention from pets to plants. He asked to start his own garden this year, so I obliged by taking him to the garden shop last weekend to buy seeds and a seed starting tray. He went right to work carefully planting those seeds with his usual dose of enthusiasm: "I love gardening! I think I might be a farmer when I grow up."

He chose a hybridized beefsteak that was advertised as compact and container-friendly. I sure hope that's right, because I don't know what we'll do with 12 beefsteak tomato plants otherwise.
He also planted peppers. They're just starting to germinate now. We'll see how they fare over the next eight weeks or so.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Night Owl

Here is our little night owl, in pig tails. With daylight savings time, M has been up late late late -- I gave always joked that she and I are the family night owls, because we stay up reading well past bedtime. She likes to read or play in bed. She has read all the Little House on the Prairie books up through Little Town on the Prairie. She can polish off one of those books in a few days.

Well, itI have spent a lot of time on volunteer work lately. Tonight I had a PTA meeting -- we voted to give $500 to a single parent whose apartment was destroyed in a fire, and who didn't have any renters' insurance. I'm also signed up to talk to the administration about the fact that the heat keeps going off in the building -- resulting in cancelled classes. Apparently they've had a contractor in to repair the thing every day in the past two weeks, which can't be cheap.

Last night I had a meeting here at the house to organize a neighborhood block party with some other folks in the neighborhood. Looks like we're on for May 17, rain or shine. We've still got to obtain a permit, but we have the Zephyr Valley String Band lined up already. Those of us organizing this are way too maxed out to be spending too much time on a block party, but on the other hand, our kids are all getting to the wandering around the neighborhood age, and it would be good to be more connected to the neighbors.

Before that we attended an Italian dinner at the kids' school. This wouldn't count as volunteering except that the food at this dinner is truly the most awful stuff I have ever tasted. The Erkinder kids (7-8 grade) make the meal, which is spaghetti. As S pointed out, pasta is about the hardest thing to get right when you're feeding a crowd. It has to be served immediately, which, sadly, this stuff wasn't. In fact, they served it directly from a crock pot of hot water. Yes, the noodles were just swimming there in a crock pot, a slow cooker, full of water. Ladled up without being drained first. So now I have a thin paper plate with very overcooked white spaghetti sitting in a pool of hot water that dribbles down my arms. Next comes the sauce, which could be more accurately described as a rather thin tomato soup. This was followed by an offer to sprinkle Italian seasoning on top, and an offer of overcooked green beans (again from a crock pot, undrained). For a spaghetti fanatic like me, it was a sad, sad, sad sight.

On the other hand, the Erkinder kids were very sweet and very cute serving the dinner -- so earnest and hopeful. Who could complain to the seventh-grade boy who shyly asks you whether you would like dry oregeno and basil leaves heaped on your pasty noodles? Also, M and B sang three Italian songs, which made them very happy.

And then yesterday morning I had a two hour meeting at church in our ongoing effort to completely revamp our approach to faith formation.

I actually don't really have time for any of this, but I'm apparently an inveterate volunteerer. If I could volunteer as a profession, I probably would. I have that entrepreneurial spirit, you know, except for the making money part. . . . 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Asparagus soup

• 2 pounds fresh asparagus
• 1-1/2 cups chopped onion
• 1 cup vegetable broth
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 pinches ground black pepper
• 2-1/2 cups vegetable broth
• 2 cups soy milk
• 1 cup yogurt
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Place asparagus and onion in a saucepan with 1/2 cup vegetable broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until the vegetables are tender.
2. Reserve a few asparagus tips for garnish. Place remaining vegetable mixture in an electric blender and puree until smooth.
3. Melt butter in the pan that was used for simmering the asparagus and onions. Stir while sprinkling flour, salt, and pepper into the butter. Do not let the flour brown. Allow the mixture to cook only 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth and increase the heat. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.
4. Stir the vegetable puree and milk into the saucepan. Whisk yogurt into the mixture, followed by lemon juice. Stir until heated through, then ladle into bowls. Garnish with reserved asparagus tips. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Fairy spotting

It was fifty degrees and sunny today, and S came home early, so M and I went for a walk down to the lake. She is very fairy-crazy these days -- she especially likes building fairy houses out of sticks and other natural things she finds laying around. And she likes "fairy-spotting," finding signs of where fairies live. In the photo above, she is pointing out a fairy river that goes to a secret cave. And then today on our walk she collected sticks and made a little fairy house in the hollow of an old oak tree. After she got home she even made a little sign out of paper that said "Home Sweet Home."

While M and I were out walking, J was visiting her new best friend, a three-year-old from her class who lives just a short walk down the street. These two kids play together for hours very happily -- which has been a nice discovery for the boy's mother and me. Whichever house they're playing at, they're so totally absorbed in their pretend play that the adult on the premises is actually able to get tons of work done uninterrupted. Heck, we could probably even take a nap, which would be unthinkable with just one of the kids home alone.

And B was furiously cleaning the house. He cleaned out the car, cleaned the upstairs bathroom, swept the dining room, vacuumed the stairs, vacuumed the living room, straightened the library bookshelves, and put away his clothes. The key to this burst of activity? Our chore chart pays out. Cleaning out the car and cleaning the bathroom are $1 (each); vacuuming the living room is 25 cents; straightening books is 50 cents. And in order to collect these earnings, the kids have to do their regular chores for free -- cleaning up the living room, cleaning their rooms, putting away their clothes, etc. It all gets checked off on the chore chart, which has a space for totalling earnings. At the moment, B has his eyes on a $4 toy that he would like to buy -- hence the burst of activity. So while it's not completely gratuitous, it's gratifying to see that he's capable of working hard when he's motivated.

B does earn the golden halo award, though. We went to a surprise birthday party for a friend who survived a liver transplant, and the kids each got to take home a balloon. (You can see this one coming way down the road . . . . ) Well, M's balloon popped for no apparent reason, which resulted in great, great sadness. (By this point it was late, past their bedtime.) I tried to comfort her as best I could: "You know, maybe your balloon is in balloon heaven?"

"I don't think there IS a balloon heaven!" (You have to imagine this said through many tears and sobs.)

"Well, the Bible says that nothing good is ever lost forever; God catches every good thing and saves it."

"How could that be when my balloon is just lying there on the ground in pieces? I think it's just dead as a doorknob." More sobbing.

You have to appreciate that, besides the fact that it was past her bedtime, she had named this balloon and had been playing with it happily. Also, it was a very pretty deep purple.

Well, B very somberly and nobly carried his own yellow balloon across the hall from his room and gave it to M, offering words of consolation and comfort as he did so.

(Earlier, I had been trying to sympathize with M; she said she';d only had the balloon for half a night, and I said, well, and it wasn't even half a night, and B chimed in from the next room, "Dad, stop putting an extra weight on her soul!")

B even tied the balloon to her bookcases so it wouldn't pop on the ceiling like the other one had. This didn't completely comfort M, but it comforted me, and I lay down in bed with M until she fell asleep.

Baby announcement

Well, the cat's out of the bag . . . we finally told the kids that we're expecting child number four. We had been holding off because once we told the kids, everyone would know. (Ever try to have a three-year-old keep a secret?) And given S's age and the high chance of miscarriage in the first trimester, we just didn't want to risk having to "un-tell" too many people, especially casual acquaintances.

So S told the kids she had a "big announcement about a surprise" that we wanted to tell them -- after they cleaned up the living room, which they did in a hurry. Speculation was rampant; there were suggestions that perhaps we would be going to the Wisconsin Dells again. (Not a bad idea, if we could afford it.) Once they were seated at the table, S started out by giving some hints. "What have you been praying for during the past few months?" she asked B. He looked completely puzzled for a while and made a couple guesses ("World peace?" "No, honey, we're not getting world peace.") Finally she just came out with it: "There's a new baby growing inside of me. You are going to have a new brother or sister in a few months." It took a second for that to sink in, and then B got a delighted look on his face: "I have been praying for a baby brother! Yipee! We're going to have a baby brother!" M smiled, very pleased, but then added: "I sure hope President Obama isn't around" -- because ever since she found out about his position on abortion, she's been afraid of him. (Which we do not encourage.) J also acted pretty excited, but it seemed obvious that she was looking to the older kids for her cue on how to react. She wanted to know where the baby was, could she see it, and would someone be delivering it from the store?

And then we had strawberry ice cream to celebrate, since J started wailing plaintively: "I didn't want a baby! I wanted ice cream!"

S refused to allow me to document the moment, but here is a picture from earlier in the evening; we had two of the kids' friends over for the afternoon, and then they made their own personal pizzas.

I should mention how I found out about this happy news. S was four days into her legendary nine-day silent retreat (a Thursday) when she called me from a Wal-Mart pay phone twenty miles from the retreat center. (It's very remote.) "Are you sitting down?" Right away I knew what it was. I mean, what are the possibilities, four days into a silent retreat? So I was silent for a moment while my world tilted ever so slightly underneath my feet. "Um, is this going to make me more stressed out about the presentation I have to give tonight?"

"Uh, I don't know. I don't think so."

"Well, is it good news or bad news?"

"I think it's good news . . . ."

"You've won enough money to get us out of debt?"


"You've had a deep insight into your spiritual life -- like realizing that we're called to be missionaries?"

"No! Do you want me to just tell you?"

"Um . . . you're pregnant?"

And so I was a little bit out of it over the next few days. On the one hand, I had been wishing and praying for another baby -- it's hard to be done with them, isn't it? On the other hand, I was also looking forward to, and really counting on, having time for "me" and my career. You know, switching butt-and-nose-wiping duty for professional work. (I know, I know, in some jobs it's hard to tell the difference. . . .) Now I am looking at another three years of long days with a small child, trying to squeeze in some time for myself and/or my work after everyone else is asleep.

Of course, the key here is to keep the big picture in perspective. Each of our children has been a wonderful blessing. There is no doubt which way the balance scales tip: I benefit far more than I receive. I am convinced that parenting is like gardening; those long, sweaty hours spent working and preparing the soil in the spring are abundantly rewarded by the autumn harvest.

Thank you, God, for the gift of our new child! Give us the grace to be good parents!!!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Welcome, Baby Sloth!

So, "Baby Sloth" was born a little more than a week ago, and we paid a visit this past weekend. J, who has spent the past few weeks repeatedly saying, "I want to be a baby FOREVER!" was most excited about the new baby. I think the older kids know enough to know babies are basically unsociable for the first few months. But J was right in there with him, obviously fascinated. Finally, my brother offered to let her "hold" the baby on the couch, which just about made her week, as you can see in this video:

You can read the whole birth story at their family blog, The Whine Cellar.