Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I'm joining in the link party from Like Mother, Like Daughter


We have had an unusual warm spell this week. The temperature climbed to nearly 50 degrees. I imagine that this is what winter is like in a lot of the country. I forget that winter isn't the frigid, six months of constant snow and ice we have here in Minnesota or the sunny, non-winter we had in Southern California in most places. I wasn't cut out for that. To a Northerner, sunshine is an obligation.  When it's warm enough to do stuff, you do stuff. That's exhausting when the sun is always shining. 

I decided to go for a walk by the pond. It was glorious. It wasn't even jacket weather. I listened to the audio of a class I had missed when we were sick and I got lost in the quiet. Heaven.


Our Knights of Columbus group had its first annual St Lucy Day party. Our friends, who hosted, had moved into the house the week before. A week after I move, I'm usually hiding from my unpacked boxes and overstimulated kids in the bathroom with a glass of wine. Hosting a lovely party with homemade cinnamon and saffron rolls wouldn't even be on my radar screen. My friend Arika is a superhero. Speaking of superheroes....


Yes, that is a batman costume, and yes, it is hanging from my bedroom chandelier. 


I always feel like a kid explaining myself to a parent when I take the kids to the ER for an injury. "Well, you see, doctor, there was this handbell and this toddler..." Poor Cheyenne got beaned in the face by her two year old sister and had to get stitches. Zach couldn't come for about an hour and a half, so I took all six kids to the emergency room. Travis tried bravely to save his sister from the evil doctor's needles by shooting him with fake hand lasers, but the doctor won out. Apparently, Travis has inherited his dad's sensitive stomach. The sight of the stitches caused him to get sick, all over Charlotte, and partially on James.

Turns out the only spare clothes I had with me were some clothes I was dropping off at the Goodwill for my 90 year old grandma. Whatever. It's warm. We made a quick stop at Costco for dinner before I got the entire evening off for my class. We all lived. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Real Math

Fifth grade math has gone well, but we have been hitting a bit of a dry spell lately.   Staring at fractions and decimals, factors and least common multiples was starting to seem, to the eldest child, like a sea of useless drudgery that brought up the timeless question, "what do you use this for?"

It's a fair question. It does seem to me that we like to divorce arithmetic from its context in real life applications. It's easy for kids to see the purpose of learning language, because they use it everyday for their own purposes. Math seems, from their perspective, less relevent. 

Cheyenne and Bella have expressed an interest lately in learning more about cooking and budgeting, so I decided to suspend my planned curriculum for the month and refocus on some practical life skills. 

We started with price comparisons. The night we began this study we were making tacos, so we decided to start by having the girls compare the cost of the individual packets of taco mix with the cost of the Costco bottle and, once we get the prices on the bulk spices, the cost of the mix recipe from The Tightwad Gazette. It's some good, solid mathematical thinking. How do we find the price per unit using the information printed on the package? What is the basic unit, for our purposes? If we use 3 T per pound of hamburger with one mix, and 4 with another, do we compare by teaspoon, or by one pound batch? What makes the most sense? If the amount on the package is given in in teaspoons, how can I convert that to Tablespoons? How about cups? If I'm making the homemade mix, how do I scale the recipe up or down? Does any of this look familiar? Fractions? Decimals? Factoring? 

Next up, I'm having them make a price book comparing prices of our most used items at different grocery stores, again taking into account units in a package. When it's all done we will have a taste test of some recipes using different products in which quality might make a difference because, after all, price is not the only factor to be considered in evaluating a decision. There are other, non-quantitative factors that make a difference too. 

This "break" from their math homework seems to be putting a little more steam in their learning engines. Suddenly the math problems have purpose and context. They are a language that expresses something meaningful. If nothing else, they'll leave home someday knowing how to make good use of their money and evaluate data for decision making. You could do worse. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A 50th anniversary

I live in a really lovely place. This is the view from my kitchen right now. It's winter, so it's not as nice at the moment, but wait a second. Let me show you. 

Some of our gardens in summer

The walk by the lake

The dock in summer

One of our pools

I could go on all day. My neighbourhood was designed as an experiment in landscape design to enhance the building of community, and it has worked pretty well. We have our conflicts, to be sure, but it's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and people take pride in their neighbourhood. We have cooking groups, book clubs, groups that get together at ethnic restaurants and potlucks. We have a group that keeps an eye on older neighbours who might need help, and a group that brings meals, flowers, cards, etc. to the sick, post-partum and grieving. This year we are reviving the community 4H group for the kids, and will be working on creating a monarch sanctuary in among our many shared gardens. This is a place where things are happening. 

I was very excited to be asked to be part of the group putting together our 50th anniversary celebration. It's going to be amazing. We are going to have an entire year of events; food events, art shows, wine tastings with poetry readings, music from our own musicians, family events, a photo gallery of our neighbourhood's history, a tennis tournament, a book... again, I could go on all day. In a world where people are often very disconnected from their neighbours, we have somehow managed to    preserve, or perhaps create, a fun and supportive environment. I am so, so grateful to have grown up here, and to have the chance to raise my kids here. I have been blessed, since I moved here on my first birthday, to get to know people of all ages, races, nationalities and backgrounds, that are more like family than friends. I've been blessed by their wide range of knowledge, talents and experiences. I've been blessed by their love and their support. Where else do your neighbours read about your bad day on Facebook and bring you over a bottle of wine? That is what it means to love your neighbour. I am really hopeful that this 50th anniversary year can be a year where we pull together even more, and invest in the future of our community. 

As this is my Year of Poverty and Simplicity, I'm reflecting on all of this abundance. I think this is the key, this abundance of blessing, beauty and love instead of an abundance of things. These are the real riches. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Toddlers and Trees

The last couple of years, I have not put up my Christmas tree. When I was a kid, Christmas was a huge thing. My mom is the self proclaimed Queen of Christmas. The house was decorated to the nines, the food was plentiful and lovely, there was Christmas music and the gifts! They were also plentiful and perfectly wrapped. It was glorious. Then I became the mom and oh. my. word. That is a lot of work. For her, it was a labour of love, and she greatly enjoyed it. She is an amazingly creative person, and it was one of her outlets. 

We all have different talents and gift wrapping just isn't one of mine. Mailing Christmas cards, it turns out, isn't either. I have three times as many kids as she did, so gifts have been a simpler affair. No, that's not true. 

Last year's Christmas gift. 
Simpler is the wrong word to use, here. Some of the gifts have been pretty stinking complex. But the gift giving is, at least, different, than it was when I was a kid. 

Anyway, in my quest to make Christmas my own I have totally slacked on the decorating. The battle between toddler and Christmas tree seemed like too much to take on, and my awesome ornaments, made by my grandmother and sent to me by my world-traveling great-aunt from the far corners of the globe, seemed too precious to be put in the hands of tiny people who would mistake them for food. 

But, you know what? I think I've gone too far. I miss my tree. I miss my wreaths and my garland. I want things to be pretty. So this year, we are doing the tree, but making our own ornaments, at least for the toddler accessible areas. I've looked on Pinterest and decided, after some consideration, to mainly stick to origami ornaments. Stuff with glitter, stuff with sequins or stuff with any kind of paint seems like a bad idea with a 9 month old around. Two-year old Charlotte managed, the other day, to cover herself in glitter while she was napping in her glitter-free brothers' room. They have a gift for mess making, these monkeys.

Veronica's head, covered in marker as I wrote this. 

I've started with the globes because I have known how to make them since the 3rd grade (thanks Robin Sorenson!) and they are cute and festive. I needed a brief refresher, but I was able to make a dozen of them while eating cookies in the McDonald's play land. If they last through the season, so much the better, but if they don't, they cost me a few cents each and my priceless memories will be safe for a day when inedible objects are no longer anyone's favourite food group. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday. Who am I?

I don't know what came over me. In 36 years of life, I have never gone Black Friday shopping, and I have never wanted to. In fact, I used to rail against the commercialism of it all. I was better than that, right? 

And then, I decided, out of the blue, to hit up Target on Black Friday and buy myself a TV. That's right. I didn't even buy something altruistic like presents for the poor, or even presents for my kids. I bought a TV for my laundry room. Who am I? It's like I don't even know myself anymore. (I also bought some yarn, but I feel much less guilty about that.) 

In my defense, I've been cooped up in the house for two weeks with sick kids and I was feeling pretty restless. Also, ever since the old laundry room tv broke, the laundry has been a ridiculous mess. My husband used to go down there for his introvert alone time and watch Chuck Norris movies and fold laundry. Come to think of it, he has been crabbier since that TV broke too. 

Mostly, though, I think I am rebelling. I still like reading better than TV. I still like quiet, simple holidays. I still like long, laborious, home cooked meals. I still think that, overall, we have some cultural bad habits that we would do well to change.  But you know what? Sometimes I also like to watch Netflix and fold some laundry. 

I think it is possible to take things that are  good ideas and try to turn them into virtues. For me, at least, shopping at Target on Black Friday is generally not a good idea, but I have friends who carefully plan their purchases and have a fantastic time with their sisters getting ready for Christmas. Their holiday doesn't center around gifts, but gifts are a part of it, and, for them, it is a bonding experience and an exercise in prudent spending. We do this about many things. Eating. Exercise. Spending. 

I think the complimentary temptation to the temptation to be imprudent and excessive is the temptation to pride. If I am sitting home on Black Friday, pleased with myself that I am not "that sort of person" I have successfully turned virtue into vice. So this year, I am grateful, not just for the TV that will probably bring my laundry back into some semblance of order, but for the opportunity to be humbled. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Things I shouldn't have to say

-Glue is not a cracker dip. 
-Do you seriously expect me to believe that you just fell asleep on the floor right now before I could discipline you? I'm not as dumb as I look, kid. 
-Can you get me a popcorn-free glass of water? 
-When I said you could collect money from around the house, I meant change from the laundry. Not my purse. 
-That sounds like a great dinner suggestion, honey, but just an FYI, it's "chicken pot pie," not "chicken butt pie."
-And that is why we don't use dinosaurs as spoons. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Midlife Crisis

About a month ago I decided to have myself a midlife crisis. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is something like 78, so I suppose, at 36 I am a hair on the young side, but a few years early won't hurt anything. I've never been the sort of person who was bothered by aging. That is really almost a silly thing to say in your mid thirties, but I didn't panic when I hit 30 and five years I was thrilled to finally be old enough to be president (not that I would actually want the job). When I feel stuck in the 30-something doldrums I don't usually daydream about my lost youth, I daydream about getting older. Your 20s are confusing and filled with all this pressure to become somebody. No thank you. 

I look at my parents, my aunts and my friend's moms and I think, "that's where it's at." I want to take up beading and photography, volunteer large amounts of my time for good causes, spoil my grand kids, have extended happy hours with my friends (or kids!) and travel to Italy. I look forward to the day that I can be my kids friends and not The Meanest Mom Ever. Oh sure, you can do some of those things when you are young, but then they come with pressure. "This is the best time of your life. Enjoy it now before the real world gets to you." "Find out who you are." That is for the birds. Those things sound like so much more fun when you already know who you are. 

Because of that, I kind of thought that the fabled midlife crisis would pass me by. Lately, though, I think some shaking up might be helpful. I'm finding myself feeling a little get-off-my-lawn, a little cynical even. My patience is a little stretched, and I can see, that if I don't take steps to change, I may not like who I grow into. 

I already have a younger man (my husband) and a tattoo, so this is the plan I have come up with. 

1. Stop dressing like I just got out of bed. Even though, many days, I still feel like I just got out of bed at 3:00 in the afternoon, there is no reason I need to look like it. 10 years of baby making has meant a lot of shift in sizes, and I have completely fallen into the yoga-pants and t-shirts, or on a good day, jeans and t-shirts trap. 

"Mom, is black your favourite colour?" "No." "Then why is it all you wear?" "Because not having to change my shirt by noon is my favourite colour." I have had that conversation with my colour-conscious eldest daughter many times. She is right, though, it's a cheap excuse. I have solved the dirt on the clothes problem by wearing an apron. Yes, it makes me look like a '50s housewife, but better a '50's housewife than a depressed, overgrown college student. Body image issues used to contribute to my lack of dress sense, but, happily, my newfound cynicism is manifesting itself in a lack of concern about what anyone might think of my body and how I dress it. I've made six people. My body is just fine. Besides, when I was a kid and imagined what I wanted to look like as an adult, the image in my head was always more funky-librarian than Disney Princess. 

2. Devote more time to my own hobbies, learning and other pursuits. This one has been a little harder, and not for the reasons you might think, namely, six reasons that are, as I type this, sleeping in their beds. It's more that I am suspicious of the sort of Oprah-ish idea that what I want is the most important thing in the world. Wants are a fickle master. While I do think that mindset is hogwash, the opposite idea, that using and developing my gifts and talents and cultivating my own joy is somehow injurious to the world, is, at best, silly and unhelpful. Studying at the Catechetical Institute and blogging are the first steps in this effort, but I mean them to be only the beginning. There is nothing wrong with being well-rounded.