Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mudpuppy eating while sleeping

I should offer two disclaimers here: First, I did remove the banana from his mouth right after this clip was done. That, unfortunately, woke him up -- he was MAD! Second, Starling says that, in her opinion, this is not funny. "I just want to pick him up!" she says. We will ask Mudpuppy in another twelve years or so what he thinks. In the meantime, I have to say, I was laughing so hard the first time he started eating the banana with his eyes closed that I'm surprised there's not more camera shake.

If you think it's cute, share it around. The link at YouTube is:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"You're not my real dad..."

You do kind of wonder when your five-year-old opens up with: "You're not my real dad, you know."

"Oh?" (Imagine raised eyebrows.)

"God is my real father. You're just the babysitter."

Demoted! The perils of family catechesis....

Speaking of which, Mouse found out about children dying from hunger yesterday -- Jaybird was refusing to eat her supper but asking for something she liked better and I made a (frustrated) offhand comment about the 24,000 children who die of hunger every day. Mouse really picked up on that and started asking all sorts of questions -- including, why don't people just feed them? (Good question.) So we headed to the computer to do some research and discovered that, actually, 41,000 children die of hunger-related causes every day. We also found a number of good resources on the World Food Program website. Mouse was fascinated to know that she could fill a WFP red cup with food for just a quarter; she calculated that she could feed a child for a month with her savings of $9.

Later, in bed, she looked up at me and said: "Those kids are just like me. They want a lot of things. But I want what I don't need, like a princess tiara that costs $7.99. They want just what they need to live."

We'll see how this develops. It's poignant, because it's hard to introduce kids to such harsh realities; on the other hand, it's good for her to be able to put things in a wider perspective, and it is good that she is so compassionate.

Book! Book!

Mudpuppy has learned a new word: Book! (Alternatively, "ook," or "boo-ah.") In fact, I'd say this is his first word that is definitely attached to a physical object that he can point to. You ask him where the book is, and he goes to get it. Or he will point at a bookshelf and say: "Book!"

Following in the family tradition, I guess. Mouse just announced that she is going to be an author when she grows up.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Silly Dance

"The Silly Dance" is a tradition that I started with Jaybird a few months ago when we first started working on her self-control using the Nurtured Heart approach. After waiting for her to calm down from a tantrum for more than an hour, we celebrated by doing a little dance that somehow came to be known as "The Silly Dance." Now it is one of her favorite things to do, which is unfortunate, since it is quite the aerobic workout. It basically involves lifting her up and swinging her around in ways that makes mothers everywhere gasp. (Starling just doesn't watch.) Of course, Jaybird loves it, as does Mouse, who sometimes gets one. There's a song that goes with the dance. No, I am not going to sing it for you. But here are the words, more or less, for the benefit of posterity:

Oh! Come on all you uncles and aunts!
Put down your sword and lance!
Put on your shoes, put on your pants!
Let's go to France, the land of romance
to do the silly dance!
We'll kick up our heels and prance;
we won't give our home a second glance -- 
why should we, when we're going to France?
It's the land of romance and EL - E - GANCE!
Hey, we're doing the silly dance!

The exact wording varies, since I am making it up on the spot while tossing around my 60-pound daughter, but you get the basic idea. What a bedtime routine we have.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Up the Stairs

This is what passes for excitement in our household these days -- Mudpuppy learning to climb up the stairs:

Yeah, we see that mischievous grin, mister. He eventually made it to the top of the stairs, closely spotted by the entire rest of the family. Now for a gate....

And for good measure, here is the same boy with one of the many grocery store clerks (well, a manager, actually) who knows him by name or calls him "Baby Smiles." Except he isn't so smiley when they pick him up! This woman at HyVee has two young kids of her own, so she loves to come over and say hi to all the babies and little kids. Actually, she was recently recognized at the national level for being the outstanding HyVee employee of the year -- everyone knows her.

We were stuck inside for the entire day due to the Snow-pocalypse, which, as usual, was not nearly as bad as predicted; just about a foot of really wet snow. It's like welcoming March early!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why we are happy

Why are the people in this picture happy, in the middle of subzero temps (on the day this was taken, at least)?

1. Because Starling threw a party to celebrate the completion of her certificate in spiritual direction, and people came, and the homemade chili was widely deemed worth having thirds, and the chocolate chunk cookies were amazing, and people laughed and had a good time.

2. Because Jackrabbit (me) finally sent his picture book manuscript to a literary agent, and has finally decided to take the plunge and try writing fiction for two years to see what happens, and because so far, it is a decision that feels very right and very overdue. Now, he just has to figure out which of his three potential projects is going to get finished first.

3. Because Mudpuppy is ALWAYS happy!

4. Because Jaybird recently read a whole book all by herself (well, with minimal help from an adult volunteer at school) -- a very simple book, but a book nonetheless.

5. Because those lovely Egyptians, God bless them, did something wonderful for themselves and for the world by bringing more hope to the people of the Middle East through their nonviolent commitment to justice than the West has managed after ten years of war; and because maybe, just maybe, we have witnessed the sowing of seeds that someday will bear the fruit of real peace in the Middle East.

6. Because it is still light at 5 p.m.!!!

7. Because lovely little Tori, the five-year-old girl from Eastern Europe for whom we helped raise funds last fall, finally got to meet her new family, and her many smiles in the pictures of her with her new family make us smile, too.

8. Because Jaybird was invited to two birthday parties this weekend, and what is more fun than a princess party with a piƱata?

9. Because our involvement with the Winona Catholic Worker allows us to rub shoulders with some very good people -- remarkably good, unselfish, holy people; and because we just got to meet a new live-in volunteer (coming here from Detroit) who seems to be another one of those good people.

10. Because there is absolutely nothing better than our homemade pizza to warm our hearts on a cold winter day!

Mudpuppy on the go

Mudpuppy has definitely entered the toddler stage, despite the fact that he doesn't actually toddle. What he does do is:

  • investigate everything within his reach, which is a surprisingly large swath of territory, considering;
  • test everything he can grab to see whether it comes apart, or whether there are things in it that will come out, or whether he can pull it down;
  • protest very loudly if anyone presumes to take anything away from him.
His favorite foods are bananas, yogurt, applesauce, and raisin bread. When he is done eating, he begins throwing all his food on the floor, an annoying habit that all the kids went through. It's a stage I won't be sad to see depart.

He has been enjoying going to ECFE. Here he is with one of the early childhood assistants -- the same one who worked with Mouse and Jaybird when they attended ECFE.

"Who are you, and what do you want with MY stacking cups?"

It has warmed up very suddenly. Just a few days ago, 10 degrees seemed warm; as I write, it is 41 degrees outside. At this rate all the snow will be gone before the President's Day holiday, which would be sad because the kids need something to entertain them on their day off. (Why do we send kids home from school on these major civic holidays? They learn nothing about the presidents or MLK at home!)

An advantage of warmer weather would be -- not having to bundle up the baby three times a day to take kids to and from school, and to run errands. Doesn't he look uncomfortable in his car seat? Actually I guess he doesn't in this picture, but generally he hates getting into it, and I can't blame him. I think it was 0 degrees when I took this picture.

Now here's a better way to travel! Tucked away under dad's coat in a sling. I took him over to Kwik Trip this way. We got quite a few funny looks. And all the employees came over to the counter to say hello to him -- who could resist, with that smile?

Monday, February 07, 2011

No Common Sense

Once Bear gets set on something, he is focused on it like a laser. His latest thing is to earn enough money to buy a Wii gaming system, which costs about $200. He has it all figured out -- and one part of his strategy is to earn $3 by doing extra chores every day. You have never seen a 10-year-old boy more diligent and excited by his chores. The kids earn $2 an hour for extra chores, with the time based on about how long it would take an adult to complete the task.

Today he made everyone's cold lunches for school tomorrow (a 75 cent task). When I checked his work, I noticed he had wrapped the sandwiches in aluminum foil.

"Why didn't you use the plastic sandwich boxes?"

"Because you said not to put sandwiches in them when they were wet." (From being washed out.)

"Well, you could have dried them!"

"You didn't tell me that!"

"It seemed like common sense...."

"Yeah, but I don't have common sense." A snort at that from me, then an emendation from Bear: "Well, I have it. I just don't use it."

Yes, he was laughing as he said that. So far, he has earned or saved $11. Go, Bear, go!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The glory of naps

Every day around 11 a.m. I say a silent prayer of thanks to God for Mudpuppy's extra-long midday naps. Most days, he naps as long as three hours. Three hours! If I could somehow auction his nap time off to the stay-at-home moms at ECFE, we'd be rich!

Here Mudpuppy is waiting in the doctor's office
to get three shots. Doesn't he look oblivious?
He conked out in the car after that and slept
nearly four hours.

Most days, I lie down with him in my bed. We play a few games,
and then I take a short 20-minute nap. What wakes me up is
the realization that he is no longer kicking my back and making
"aboo!" noises.

Here he is after that doctor's visit. Once he is asleep, I move
himinto his bouncy chair, which goes into the kids' bedroom,
where it is nice and dark.

Once he wakes up, it's about time for the kids to come home --
just in time for a little afternoon snacky!

Yet more fun with snow!

Ah, late January, and the living is easy! All right, so that may be the cabin fever speaking. We are doing our very best to cope with the ongoing absence of light and warmth; fortunately, there are a few silver linings to be found amid all the gray slush.

Last Sunday, we went hiking in the Trempealeau National Wildlife
Refuge. At the end of the trail, we found a dozen or more catfish
congregated in some open water (visible immediately behind
us -- the dark little crack). We also found a dead fish in the snow
that had been eaten by a bird of prey. Jaybird was thrilled, since
she is visiting the National Eagle Center this week.

Hello, Ms. Snowwoman! Jaybird and Mouse
had fun making this creation when the temps
were warmer earlier this week.

And here is Jaybird, practicing her skating after school last week.


It has been a while since I last blogged about our family faith formation efforts. We still participate in GIFT, including the home curriculum, and we still do family prayer almost every night. Usually this involves reading the day's Gospel and then having a very short, impromptu lesson about it. In the past few weeks, we've also had the opportunity to talk a lot about nonviolence.

I suppose a warning is in order here -- we're about to wade into my strongly held opinion, boldly stated. Not so many cute kid photos here, although I will touch on the kids again in a moment.

Nonviolence is a theme we have really emphasized in our family, because nothing (IMHO) is quite as blasphemous as the idolatry of violence -- making violence into a god by depending on it as the solution to our problems. Believing that violence is sometimes a "necessary evil" seems to me to deny the reality of the resurrection. If we really believe that God has conquered sin and death, and if we really believe in eternal life, and if we really believe that our focus should be on becoming good and holy people rather than controlling the time and circumstance of our death, and if we really believe that we should not fear anyone or anything because God is with us, and if we really believe that we become more fully human by loving others and less human when we hate others, then people, why should we believe in violence?

I admit that all of us, me included, sometimes resort to violence out of habit, or because we can see no other solution. There is something to be said for being gentle on ourselves when this happens; just as we don't hold a small child fully responsible for his actions because of his lack of maturity, wisdom, discretion, and self-control, I think there is reason to be patient with ourselves and our society when we resort to violence. In a lot of ways, I don't think most of us are strong enough, smart enough, or mature enough to fully embrace nonviolence. Unfortunately, too often we don't even try. We see the alternatives as "too difficult" or "too complicated" or "too costly," and we wimp out. Violence is always the shortcut solution; as the Church repeatedly tells us, violence is never necessary, even if we're too dunderheaded to see or to pursue the alternatives. And like all shortcut solutions, we're the ones who get cut in the end.

So, as I was saying, the past few weeks have offered several opportunities to talk to the kids about nonviolence. First, obviously, there's the protests in the Middle East, which are a great "live" example of nonviolent resistance in action. Of course, it's been pretty basic nonviolent resistance; the people are unorganized and untrained, and as we have seen, some of them are only committed to nonviolence as a pragmatic tactic as long as it appears to be working, rather than as a principle worth sacrificing for. Still, we have watched the protests on television and talked about the politics of the situation and also talked about the principles of nonviolent resistance.

Last night, I pulled out an old book I have documenting the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines. In that case, the people were both well-organized and (in the case of the leadership) well-trained in how to resist evil nonviolently, thanks in large part to the organizing efforts of the Catholic Church under Cardinal Sin. (Yep, that's his real name.) The kids were fascinated by the story as we flipped through the book. There were lots of pictures of people praying with rosaries in hand, statues of Mary, nuns kneeling in the streets, young people handing flowers and food to the soldiers, and so on, so we were able to discuss the direct connection to our faith. One picture showed a priest kneeling in prayer in front of an armored personnel carrier. I asked: "Do you think that because he's praying he won't get run over?" Bear and Mouse shook their heads solemnly. "That's right. If Jesus was killed, we could be, too. But what is more important is how we live, not how we die." We also talked about the nonviolent revolutions that brought down the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe -- how the United States and the Soviet Union were ready to fight World War III, pouring trillions of dollars into armies and weapons . . . and yet, in the end, it was ordinary people who brought down the wall. The churches were instrumental in that peaceful revolution as well, beginning with Pope John Paul II's famous exhortation to the Polish people: "Be not afraid!" Violence and submission to violence are both rooted in fear. There are many other successful nonviolent revolutions; over time, perhaps we'll discuss more of them.

The other opportunity we've had for discussing nonviolence was the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. We had hoped to shield them from this difficult topic until they were older, but once they started asking questions (prompted by what they were hearing elsewhere), we told them the truth. Boy, kids do not like abortion. It breaks their hearts; in Mouse's case, she was actually quite scared by it. Even before they knew about abortion, we had pulled out the classic book, A Child Is Born to show them pictures of the developing baby. (This was when we were expecting Jaybird and Mudpuppy.) Young children need no prompting to recognize those pictures as a human being. Nor, we're discovering, is it such a logical leap for them to believe that all human beings deserve all the rights of a human person.

An essential part of this discussion is always the larger context for abortion -- especially how we talk about it in public. We're very clear with them that there are issues involved in all this that they are too young to understand, and that we need to be very mindful of the fact that many women have had abortions, including some of our friends (we haven't told them who exactly). We emphasize the need for compassion and understanding. Bear and Mouse wonder why people get abortions, and we have explained some of the reasoning to them. "But that's what adoption is for!" Bear exclaims, throwing up his hands in exasperation.

We have also mentioned the fact that they could make some people very, very angry if they bring the subject up in public. Not that we should avoid hard subjects because someone might get angry, but they're too young to deal with that. This year, we showed them this YouTube video of a young girl who entered a school speech competition on the topic of abortion. Her teacher threatened to disqualify her if she stuck to her planned speech, but she went ahead with it anyway. The panel of judges disqualified her at first, but later reversed its decision, and she ended up winning the contest.

Occasionally we get raised eyebrows from people who think our kids are too young for all this. It would definitely be ideal if they were not exposed to the reality of violence in our world until they were much older. Unfortunately, our society is steeped in it to the point where it is unavoidable. Worse, our society is very aggressive in teaching kids (brainwashing would not be too strong a word, I think) that violence is "sometimes a necessary evil." Just think of the countless hours that our kids spend playing video games in which the only way to win the game is to kill opponents. I don't worry so much about such games conditioning our kids to be violent as much as I worry about them conditioning our kids to accept violence as the only solution. And that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

Why do we teach our kids nonviolence? Because violence -- and the acceptance of violence as a solution to social problems -- is toxic to the human soul. And because our hurting world needs people who are strong, and brave, and clever, and patient enough to follow the difficult path of love and forgiveness.

Grocery challenge update

A number of people have asked about how our strategic shopping is going. Yes, a year later, we're still clipping coupons and shopping as strategically as we can. As I suspected, it required a large investment up front in terms of learning all the ins and outs. Figuring out coupons, which local stores have the best regular prices, which have the best sale items, memorizing what a "good" price is for every item we routinely buy (with my poor eyesight, I used to just grab what we needed off the shelf without considering the price too often) . . . and then working out an efficient system for our particular family all took time, probably about three to five months. Now, a lot of that knowledge and research has become second nature, which really cuts down on the time we've had to invest in this. The other thing that took a long time to ramp up was our stockpile of deeply discounted sale items. That took about four months to top off.

But in the interest of accountability, and also out of curiosity, I decided to do an audit of last month's grocery bill. We kept every single receipt and added them up at the end of the month. In January, we spent $597 on groceries, and saved $42.06 using coupons. That compares to our average grocery bill of $850 when we started this project a year ago, and $567 when I last checked on this in April. Not bad, considering food prices rose by 1.7 percent last year . . . and also considering that I'm investing much less time in strategic shopping these days. Here's what we're doing:

  • I shop at five different stores in order to get the best prices. We use the Holsum/Sara Lee bakery outlet to buy bread (the multigrain type) for $1 - $1.50 a loaf. We go to Rochester Fruit (another discount operation) for our very large fruit purchase. In terms of the "big" grocery shopping, I start at Target, because they are most likely to have the lowest prices on non-sale items -- sometimes dramatically lower than the grocery stores. Unfortunately, we do not have a Super Target in town, or I could probably do all my shopping in one place/ Instead, I head over to Midtown Foods (the local IGA) to pick up a handful of sale items every week. Everyone thinks they have high prices, but their sale items frequently beat Target and HyVee (example: Hormel turkey pepperoni for $2, or 50% off). Then I hit Hyvee, focusing on sale items and whatever stray items we might still need.
  • As far as coupons go, we finally broke down and got a subscription to the StarTribune, because we were consistently finding the value of the coupons to be worth the price of the paper. Of course, I waited until they begged us with a discounted deal. When I began doing this, I started sorting coupons into little baggies according to their type. THAT was too time-consuming, as were several other methods I tried. Now, I sit down and quickly flip through the coupon papers every week, clipping only those coupons I know we will use, or that we might use if the item is also really on sale. All of these go into a big plastic bag along with the store coupons that print out with the receipt and the many coupons Target offers online. Yes, I'm forced to wade through all the coupons to find what I need -- but this also helps me keep on top of weeding out the ones that have expired, and it reminds me of ones that we need to use before they expire (for items we routinely buy anyway). I will be so glad for the day when paper coupons go the way of the paper newspaper -- extinct. Cell phone couponing is going to be so much easier.
  • I still use for weekly matchups between sale items and coupons. It's nice because you can sort by percentage saved. Back when we started this, the Coupon Lady told us that she never even bothered with anything less than 30% off, and I laughed at her. Now I see what she means. We really focus on stocking up on items that are 40 percent off or more.
  • This means that our "pantry" (really the space on top of our cupboards) has exploded. We currently have about 25 bags of shredded cheese (for pizza) -- hey, they were going for 99 cents a piece, which is 67% off, or a savings of about $50. We also had guests over the other day and one said, "Wow, I have never seen so much peanut butter!" We do not buy peanut butter for more than $1.00 a jar (usually Skippy or Peter Pan). We also have a lot of cereal on hand, which we never pay more than $2 a box for.

We have our limits, of course. This family is big on sweets and snacks, and although I limit them as much as possible, that adds up. Also, someone in this family who shall go unnamed consumes an amazing quantity of pop. Also, we try to buy healthy food (multigrain, high-fiber bread and lots of fruits and veggies), and we try to buy responsibly (like cage-free eggs, because who wants eggs from a chicken that has spent its life in a cage that it can't turn around in???). Also, sometimes I am just too darn tired to deal with it all.

It's not "fun." I actually hate grocery shopping (and shopping in general) -- although grocery shopping with little Mudpuppy along is more enjoyable, both for his own sweet self and for all the reactions he gets. But we need that extra $200 - $300 a month, so until theologians start getting paid like lobbyists, we're going to be clipping coupons and stocking up.