Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Mama, are you nice?"

A week or two ago Molly began asking me this question, sometimes several times a day: "Mama, are you nice?  Are you nice, Mama?"

At first I was both amused and perplexed by the question.  And should I be, perhaps, offended?  Why does my two year old need to ask me if I'm nice?  How should I answer?  "I mean, I think so, Molly.  I try to be nice.  What do you think?  Am I nice?"

Gradually I came to realize that a reasonable translation of her questions, as she intends it, might be, "Mama, are you in a good mood?"  In other words, "Are you going to be nice right now?"

And when I realized that, it made me stop and realize what a very reasonable question this is for a toddler to ask.  And how very unpredictable the world -- and her family members -- must seem to her at times.

"Mama, are you nice?"  Is this going to be a snuggle on the couch and read books moment, or are you about to start hollering at everyone to put their shoes on because we are late to go somewhere?

"Mama, are you nice?"  Will you swing me up onto the counter and let me rub my hands around in the flour and help you make the bread, or are you going to say it's too messy and you don't have time for that today?

"Mama, are you nice?"  Will you tickle my tummy and blow raspberries when you change my diaper, or get frustrated that I'm not potty trained yet?

"Nell, are you nice?"  Will you invite me into your room to play trains or calico critters with you, or are you about to slam the door and yell to Mom that I'm ruining everything?

"VeeVee {ReeRee}, are you nice?" Will you kiss me and snuggle beside me on the couch, or will you push me away and say I'm getting in your spot?

"Daddy, are you nice?" Will you pull me up into your lap while you work in your study, or send me out because you're stressed about work today?

"Mama, are you nice?"  Will you snuggle with me at bedtime and rock me and sing every song I request and not weary of it for at least half an hour, or will you be in a hurry and have to tuck me in and leave right away?

Come to think of it, there are a lot of things about human beings that can be unpredictable and hard to understand.  How could a toddler understand my underlying state of emotional well-being and how that is likely to influence my responses on a given day?  As much as I'd like to say that I'm consistent with my kids, the reality is that Mama on a relaxed day at home when the house is tidy and the chores are mostly done and the kids are well-behaved is probably a bit different than Mama slightly bothered by a messy house and the underlying stress of undone chores, running late for a gig or behind on work I meant to do.

* * *

Mama, are you nice?

My kids teach me a lot about myself, and this little phrase in particular stops me in my tracks multiple times a day of late.

When they show me their latest artistic endeavors, will I delight in their creativity, or be frustrated by the resulting mess all over the table and floor?

When they scatter their belongings around the house in a massive game of who-knows-what involving all three girls and seemingly every possession they own, will I smile and say, "Play is the essential work of childhood!  Now let's work together and clean up before dinner!" or will I bemoan the resulting disaster zone spread throughout the house?

* * *

I am consoled to know that there is much grace in this, and that I don't have to be a perfect parent or even a perfectly consistent parent to raise these kids.  Children are naturally so very forgiving, and when I occasionally react from a place of stress rather than responding calmly, they are quick to understand if I simply talk to them about it.  "I'm so sorry.  I am feeling worried about this mess because we are having company soon, and I have a headache so I'm not feeling well enough to tackle it all myself right now."  They leap into action, hugging me and promising to be helpful, and scrambling to put their things away or clean up their art projects as needed.

So Molly?  I'm trying to be nice.  Some days it's harder than others, but I'm trying.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reflections on Preschool for Ree

As I recently reflected on a completed year of first grade with Nell, it seems only fitting to look back at pictures and quotes from Ree at the beginning of last year, her "preschool" year.

Q: What do you think people learn in preschool?
A: "I don't know.  I think they do some drawing of pictures of God.  And painting people who was in the world and who died.  And learn to be a grown up.  And how bout learn to do games that are really tricky to do.  Learn to stay in bed at night and be nice while Daddy is at work and don't scribble things."

Q: What do you most want to learn this year?
A: "Games!  And I want to have apple cider.  And learn to fly.  Peter Pan can teach me!"

Q: What are some of your favorite things to do?
A: "Dress up and be a ballerina.  Have a pizza every night.  Play a game.  Get ice cream!  Just be fun.  Play at a park.  Have people over for dinner and have a barbecue.  Be close to the ocean and go to a beach!  I like to go on hikes, and I like to go outside and ride my bike and... nothing else.  And read with Mom."

These pictures kind of crack me up, because they demonstrate how the best laid plans don't always go according to plan.  Exploring Nature with Children is a wonderful book I planned to work through with the girls, specifically as Marie's preschool curriculum.  Guess how far we got with it?!  Ha-ha-ha... not very far.  With that said, we did explore nature a whole lot on our own terms.  We just didn't quite keep up with the book.  So... I think I'll give myself a second chance this coming year for Kindergarten!  And I'm totally fine with the fact that we didn't get to it very often last year.  Instead let's think of all the things we DID do with that fun four-year-old pictured above (who is now FIVE!).

clearly this poor child has no personality to speak of

We hiked with friends in rain, shine, and snow.  We observed the year both seasonally and liturgically and threw ourselves into all the delightful seasonal celebrations we could think of.  Ree likes participating in math conversations she hears Nell and I engaging in, and has begun experimenting with adding numbers.  She can write her name, as well as most of the letters of the alphabet, although I wouldn't say her letter formation is 100% correct yet.  She came alongside Nell for so much of first grade this past year that she learned a lot about trees, seeds, the night sky, the history of Britain, Native Americans, and many of the other things we studied, too.  She easily transitioned from her balance bike to a two-wheeler, she can pump herself on a swing, and she can do a pretty decent cartwheel.  She helps me wash dishes, she chops fruit and veggies quite well with a paring knife, she cracks eggs and helps cook and bake.  She adores ballet and is uncommonly graceful for a five-year-old and enjoyed a six-week class over the summer.  She loves being outside and helping me garden, and holds a particular affinity for weeding as well as watering.  She is quite the artist with her drawings and paintings, which range from heart-warming to hilarious.  She has a connection with nature and a particular love of bugs at the moment, as well as cows, bunnies, and birds.

We may not have utilized that lovely curriculum as well as it deserved to be utilized, but I tend to think we still had a pretty good year last year.

A lot of things have changed over the past year, but one thing remains the same:

She is still quite frustrated that she can't fly, and even seems to believe that she used to know how to, but has forgotten!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reflections on First Grade

A new school year is soon to be underway, and it seems like a good time to reflect on the previous school year.  I found myself going back and looking at pictures we took, book lists, education plans submitted to our school district, documents on my computer, etc.  There's something fun about doing some of our record-keeping retroactively -- a First Grade plan is a very exciting thing, but to actually look back at what First Grade consisted of is even more satisfying, I think.  {I did this in looking back on preschool in this post a couple years ago, and I remember how helpful it was to look back on all we had accomplished even without formal schooling going on at that point!  The days may not feel productive but we really do learn things and get things done in the end!}

Was it really just one year ago those two front teeth were adorably missing?  
All eight front teeth are now grown in adult teeth!

Our plan for first grade was a somewhat modified version of Ambleside Online Year 1.  I modified this somewhat from my early planning stages, and then we modified additionally a bit as we went on (after two terms we were just not that interested in reading any more Aesop so... we didn't!).  We are influenced by the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, so we embrace reading really good, "living" books, spending lots of time outdoors, and using "narration" as a means of remembering the things we read and learn, as well as a means of developing compositional skills.

Look at that proud girl with her stack of books!  It should go without saying that not all of those books are things we read cover to cover; they are resources we used to varying degrees.  The thick dark blue book in the middle of the stack, Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, we did history readings from, and will continue to use this year.  And many other books we read selections from without reading in their entirety.  Others, like Children of Foreign Lands, and Peter Pan, we did read all of, and there are still others we ended up reading that weren't included in these initial First Day of School pictures!

math! hurray!

Here she was holding up her math book, with much excitement -- math was a subject of great interest to Nell prior to beginning first grade, and I'm happy to say she continues to enjoy it... phew!  I feel like that's most of what I'm aiming for at this point, anyway!  We played with money, bundled popsicle sticks and used them as manipulatives, counted buttons, skip-counted, and worked with adding and subtracting one- and two-digit numbers.  Here it is the following August, and I'm still on the fence about what math we will use this year!  Nell liked doing all the word problems in this arithmetic book from Simply Charlotte Mason, and I'm leaning towards going ahead and purchasing the next year's materials from the same series, but I'm considering a few other options as well.  I also bought Mortensen Math block manipulatives off of eBay over the summer to give us another concrete thing to look at and play with... things that will stay stuck together in their tens and hundreds and not end up scattered all over my house, ahem... thanks, Molly.

silly faces are always fun!

* * *

First grade had its up and downs.  Schooling with a toddler crawling and later walking around, requiring frequent interruptions, probably goes about the way you might imagine it does.  Add in my own work schedule to juggle with the home and the kids, and then a brutal winter that had us sick for literally weeks on end with one illness after another... we lost significant ground at times from what my original plans had been.

Still, I can't help looking back on the year and calling it an overall success.  We had fun together.  We spent time together.  We made memories.

We spent hours at beaches on some days.  We hiked on sunny days and even on rainy and snowy days.  We held beetles and frogs and salamanders.  We sang and did folk dances with friends.  We read many, many good books.  We memorized beautiful poetry and learned good hymns.  We studied the night sky and learned to identify constellations, stopping at night on drives home to unload from the van and look up in wonder.  We played with good friends.  We learned all the musical characters in Peter and the Wolf.  We studied violin and picked out melodies on the piano, too.  We slowed down, noticed, observed.  We nature journaled outdoor finds, illustrated tales of history we read, narrated things we read and learned.  We read beautiful summaries of several Shakespeare plays, and Nell fell in love with A Midsummer Night's Dream in particular.   We enjoyed observing and celebrating the seasons and the church year.  We visited the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Science.  We saw an owl in our yard up close and personal.  We participated in a book club with friends that ended up being a really special highlight for our family.  We tended the plants in our yard through the spring and summer.  We took a boat ride through the locks of a canal in Lowell.

Some favorite books we've read over the past year include:
Paddle to the Sea by H. C. Holling
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
Half Magic by E. Eager
The Saturdays by E. Enright
The Penderwicks books by J. Birdsall
Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
Heidi by J. Spyri
The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnett
The Princess and the Goblin by G. MacDonald
The Courage of Sarah Noble by A. Dalgliesh
Favorite Fairy Tales Told In... books by V. Haviland

* * *

In all honesty, I struggled at times with that aptly-named Thief of Joy, comparison.  Why wasn't my own six-year-old reading as well as a friend's six-year-old?  Was I failing her?  Why couldn't I keep my home tidier so I could make better use of our daytime hours to do school?  Why was I falling behind?  Was I overlooking my middle child even as I homeschooled my oldest and tended to my littlest?   It is all too easy to hear that so-and-so's children are doing such-and-such, or see a post on social media, and suddenly begin feeling that you and what you are doing is not enough.  I have a feeling I'm not the only person who struggles with this!  So if you're reading this and feeling that you are not enough right now for your kids -- you are probably doing enough.  Really!  Sit down and write down some of what you did over the past year.  I know for me, it really helps me take stock of all that we did accomplish, even if we never finished a few of the books we meant to, never finished that cross-stitch project, haven't mastered the art of french cooking, and don't have perfectly-behaved children.

Over the past year, one minute we'd be keeping up really well with our history readings, while skipping some of the daily work I meant to do like handwriting and math.  I'd re-assess our goals, and before I knew it we'd have a winning streak of several weeks of consistent math, while skipping over weeks of reading about the Vikings.  It was really hard to balance it all!  So I'm trying to make sure this fast approaching year of second grade is full and adequate, but also achievable for our family.

I'll end with sharing portions of our Term 2 exams from back in the winter time.  I wrote down Nell's answers word-for-word, and when I look back on this I can't help thinking that it encompasses so much strength and success.  This girl sure loves stories, and I think she has the heart and soul of a writer.

Recall for me one of the stories we read from 50 Famous Stories OR one of the stories about the Romans and the Britons from Our Island Story.

The Coming of Arthur:
“As soon as Uther Pendragon was dead, the British people began to fight with each other about who should be king next.  While they were fighting, along came Merlin with a young boy at his side.  The minute he came, they stopped fighting.  And he said to them in a firm voice, “Before Uther Pendragon was dead, he had a son.”  And the people began to fight with him and said, “He did not have a son! What are you talking about?” And he said again, “Uther Pendragon did have a son!”  And yet again they said, “He did not have a son! What are you saying?”  And yet the young boy at Merlin’s side was the son of Uther Pendragon.  His name was Arthur, and it was said that he would be the best king that had ever ruled in Britain.  And it was true.  Merlin said, “Follow me,” and the people did, even though they were fighting that Uther Pendragon had not had a son.  And with Arthur at his side as before, Merlin led the people of Britain to a cathedral in Britain.  And there was a big stone in front of it that had never been there before, and stuck in it was a sword upright, and underneath it, carved into the stone, was a message, and I will tell you what it said.  It said, ‘Whoever can remove this will yet be the next king.’  And everyone started pulling with all their might at it, but no one could do it, and yet it was held fast firmly in the stone. But at last Arthur went to do it, and he pulled it out as if anyone could have done it; he pulled it out with great ease.  And there was great rejoicing and now they knew Arthur was to be the new king.”

Tell me how the sky helps us know the different directions, both during the day and during the night.  Show me where North and South are in relation to our house.  
{She correctly identified North, South, East, and West in relation to our home, and recalled where we had seen the Big Dipper and where we had seen Orion one night stargazing on our street.}
“Orion rises in the East and sets in the West at night.  If I didn’t know where North was I could go outside and look for the North Star.  And if I found it I would know that’s North.  The North Star is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper so if you find the Little Dipper you can find the North Star.  And if you find the Big Dipper that helps you find the Little Dipper.  The bowl of the Big Dipper, the diagonal line points to the North Star.”  
“During the day the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. So in the morning it’s in the East and that tells us where East is!”

Natural History:
Describe a bird we read about this term, and tell me what you know about it.  
“A mourning dove has some kind of milk in its throat that its body develops.  (Should I say that? Develops?  I think it’s a nice word.) It’s very easy for me to spot them and one time I spotted one on the roof of Trader Joe’s.  I also have seen one on our neighbor’s roof when we were just walking around the circle.  We stood by it and we made its call to it and it called back to us several times.  We see them in our yard also.  They’re rather big and they’re sort of the color of a sparrow but a little lighter brownish.  As I was saying they have sort of a milky thing in their throat and it holds there so when the babies are hungry they have very long beaks so they can put them down their parents’ mouth.  I was wondering if it hurts them to have their babies’ beaks go down their mouth but I don’t think it does.  The parents find grain seeds and swallow them, and it makes a seed cereal for the babies in their own bodies.  When the babies are hungry they spit it back up into their mouths for them.   It’s like bubbling over into someone else’s mouth. Mama showed me a picture of them doing it.
{She accurately imitated the mourning dove call.}

Describe your favorite hike from this winter.  Where did we go? What did you notice / find?
“One day we went in search of amphibians: peepers, salamanders, and wood frogs and amphibians of all kinds.  We went with a group of people, and some of the older kids found things that Marie and I did not find, like salamanders and a peeper.  The peeper was missing one of its front legs! It might have been hurt in some kind of accident.  We went near all kinds of vernal pools.  The man who was leading us had tall boots and could walk into the water.  He broke a branch off and put it in a tub of water. The branch had wood frog eggs on it. We all got to feel them.  One girl felt them and said they felt like jelly and I felt them and she was right, it felt exactly like jelly.  They felt also kind of like water beads.  We also saw salamander eggs from another vernal pool. They were a little bit tinier. They had little tiny black dots inside and they felt like water beads too.  We saw four or five vernal pools on that hike.”

Identify three different constellations in the H.A. Rey book.
{She identified the Lyre, the Scorpion, the Swan, the Bull and the Pleiades, Sirius the big dog, the Charioteer, the Twins, Orion, the Great Bear, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Polaris all in the H.A. Rey book.}

Describe and define the phases of the moon.
“The phases of the moon start with a new moon, which means no moon. As it gets bigger it is called waxing. Then comes a crescent, then comes a half moon, which is also called first quarter, then comes gibbous moon which sounds like “give us moon,” and then comes full moon.  And then it starts waning, which is getting smaller.  Both waxing and waning are new words to me. From the full moon, it goes to gibbous moon, then half moon which is also called third quarter when it’s waning, and then comes crescent and then comes new moon again.” 

Katie has a dime and Abby has a nickel.  How much money do they have together?  How much more does Katie have than Abby?
“15 cents.” / “five more cents.”

How much is a dime, two nickels, and one penny all together? 
“twenty-one cents.”

Aunt Emily needs 15 apples to make an apple pie.  She has 9.  How many more does she need?

What is 30 take away 10?  What is 30 take away 11?
“Twenty.”  / “Nineteen.”

What is 14 + 7?

Skip count by 10’s.
“Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred.”

Recite one of our poems from this term for Mama and Daddy.
{She recited Spring, Almost.}
Describe your favorite Grandma Moses picture.
Taking in the Laundry:
“This Grandma Moses picture is called Taking in the Laundry. It shows clotheslines, three of them. There are beautiful trees waving in the wind, there are three houses, and people taking the laundry down into the houses.  There is beautiful grass and there are people riding in a wagon.  It looks like summer.  The wind and the sun might be drying the clothes for them.”

 ~~ Term 2 exams, Nell, winter 2019, age 6 ~~

Monday, March 11, 2019

grace in these weary days

My children and I have been sick, in alternating days and weeks, for nearly four weeks straight.

The winter began with the usual colds and then lingering coughs,  but then about a month ago the kids came down with fevers and deeper coughs, upset tummies, etc.  Soon I too was shivering under piled blankets, sinuses hurting, body aching to the depths of my bones.  Struggling to keep the basic necessities done to care for the kids while fighting a virus of my own.  A {very long} week later we were all on the upswing, only to have the eldest and youngest get fevers again a few days later.  A visit to the doctor's office to rule out secondary infections like pneumonia or ear infections yielded a positive flu swab for Nell.  {If this was the flu what had we had before?!}  Another rough week was underway.  We survived it with lots of snuggles and audiobooks and Mr. Rogers, vitamin C and elderberry syrup and my favorite thing when I'm sick and nothing sounds good - sprouted grain sourdough toast spread with manuka honey and cinnamon.  And just when we thought all that was winding down, that we were finally turning a corner, Molly turned two and got a nasty case of conjunctivitis for her birthday over the past weekend.  And Mama got a bad cold.

My feelings exactly, Molly.  My feelings exactly.
As any parent knows {and I've written about before}, caring for sick children takes what I call the usual "busy monotony" of caring for little ones to new heights.  The days are reduced to blowing noses, washing hands, soothing hot foreheads, doing extra loads of laundry, making meals palatable to sick children to whom nothing sounds very good, refilling water glasses and humidifiers, applying lip balm to cracked lips.  Sometimes emptying bowls filled with the contents of someone's stomach.

It's exhausting, and it's frustrating at times, and it's not very glamorous, but I've been pondering lately that I'm actually--


What a gift it is to me to be able to do these things for my kids.

What could be more important?  It's not just that I'm smoothing their sheets, tidying their rooms for them and providing a moment of company while they rest in bed.  It's not just that I'm making a fruit smoothie or sourdough toast or refilling a glass of water.  I get the incredible responsibility to show them a moment of grace.  To show them... the way grace can seep through every crevice in life when we least expect it.  It's in the extra snuggles and reading chapter and chapter together.  A gentle hand on your brow, a mother bathing you and rubbing lotion into your tired, aching body.  Mama finding it in her weary throat to read another book aloud.  Sharing a soft blanket.  Grace in the midst of misery.  What more do I want my kids to know in their hearts and feel in their bones but this -- that there is grace in the hard moments, beauty to be found even in and through suffering, hope and love and meaning in all of it.  Even when it's hard.  Even when it's miserable.  Even when it feels endless.

So these are my moments, my chances.  Will I show them glimpses of Jesus and love and grace in these mundane and miserable moments?

May it be so, God help me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Reeisms, Vol. 6

Ree is only a few months away from turning five!  How is that possible?

She's uncannily perceptive for a four-year-old, in my {none-too-objective, perhaps} opinion.  Her teachers at church and other adults who spend time with her have sometimes commented on her fine motor skills, her understanding, and her ability with language being surprising for her age.  I don't have another four-year-old in the house to compare her to at the moment, but I can definitively say that sometimes she blows me out of the water simply in the way that nothing seems to get past this girl.  For example, earlier this week she wanted cheerios and milk for breakfast, and was tearfully protesting when I responded that we were having eggs.  Frustrated, she declared,

"Nobody ever gives me what I want!  They give me what they want me to have, and then teach me to be polite about it."

I mean, that's pretty perceptive for a four-year-old, right?!  I had a hard time keeping a straight face!

She calls the Hershey's Kiss Nell brings home from choir rehearsal every week a "Wooshey Kiss," and mis-pronounces the word "handicapped" as "candycapped," which if we're honest, sounds kind of delicious.  She calls armpits "ticklepits," and still calls pistachios "spasmashios."  I'm enjoying these last lingering little mispronounced words while they last.

The queen of silly faces just as she's always been, Ree has been realizing that her facial expressions don't always default to the most appropriate or expected reaction in a given situation.  Recently, as Nell was throwing up during a brief virus, Ree covered her own face with her hands and wailed, "I don't know how to make the right faces because I know it's sad that she's sick but I can't stop smiling!"

And that actually paled in comparison to the time that Nell was coughing, and Ree said sweetly, "Ohhhh Nell, I'm soooooo sorry you're sick!" But then turned to me, mere inches away, and said matter-of-factly, laughing a little, "Of course I'm just saying that.  I don't even love her."

I think I just sat there and blinked at her for a full five seconds at that one.

Boy, does this kid know how to calculate her words for full impact and reaction!  She's really smart!  I mean... Usually I think I'm a step ahead of the game, but sometimes I have moments where I think... what if she's the one who's a step ahead?  What if she's running this whole show?  And if she's like this at four, what will the future bring?!

{Oh, and I've googled for signs that your child might be a sociopath a time or two.  I'm 99% certain we're in the clear.  ;-) }

Ree doesn't love going to bed alone, and is always looking for someone willing to snuggle with her.  She recently told me, "I feel like I'm going to die.  And also I'm worried our house is going to be on fire."  My heart!  Poor sweet girlie.  {See!  She does have feelings.}  So of course, we try to snuggle with her whenever we possibly can.  And hey, the bedtime snuggle times almost always provide some pretty good Reeisms in the course of our conversations!

Pontificating on theology at bedtime:

Ree: "I don’t like dying and sometimes I think about it and I don’t like it."
Me: "Oh darling, you aren’t going to die for a very long time.  You get to be a kid for a very long time first, and then a grown up, and then maybe someday a mom and then a grandma.  And when you do die, you get to be with Jesus."
Ree: "I know but then we'll just be in a world with no food and I don't like that.  There's no food with Jesus really."
Me: "Why don't you think there's food with Jesus?"
Ree: "Because they only had bread and wine remember?  That's all they had at the dinner.  And some kinds of wine I don't really like.  Some kinds of wine I do like though I guess.  And I like bread. So maybe it will be okay."
Me: {explanation of how we don't know what the feast will be like but it will be far grander than the Last Supper, and exceed our imaginations in every way}
Ree {grinning}: "OH so Jesus would have grapes for me?!"
Me: "Yes."
Ree: "Oh yeah!  God can make everything because God made everything.  Well, with Jesus.  Jesus maked things too with God even before he was a baby."

{I love hearing her little mind work.  And notice how she's got that whole "all things were made through him" thing understood?}

Looking at a map, and studying detached, floating Alaska, set apart from everything else on the U.S. map with particular interest:

"Is that the God area? Is that where God lives?"

* * *

"Mama's big and strong and SO HEAVY!"
{Thank you.  Thank you so much.  #blessed.}

* * *

Half asleep one night, driving home in the dark:
"It’s mine. It’s mine! The moon is mine."

* * *

Playing in her play kitchen:
"I’m gonna have a french fry sandwich!"

* * *

"I’m going to make up a song on my violin about the shepherds of the sky."

* * *

A distinctly unexplainable one:
"Sometimes bugs come into my eyes and they don’t try to bite me they just snuggle in my eyes. They think it’s their couch."

(No, she doesn't really have bugs in her eyes!)

"But Mama, why don’t some families have any girls?  Because... girls are so good and so fun! So why don't some families have any?"

* * *

Uttering a long, dramatic sigh while engaged in the apparently exhausting task of eating dinner:
"I’m tired of feeding myself every day and night!"

* * *

Outside last summer, playing with Nell:
"We like dandelions.  We like to pick them and blow them up to God."

* * *

"When I grow up I’m going to have a feast of chocolate. Chocolate for breakfast, chocolate for lunch, chocolate for dinner."

* * *

Ree: "What’s for breakfast?"
Mama: "Toasted rice cakes, and a smoothie."
Ree: "Wow!  Wow!  I wanted it to be chocolate and gummy bears but it turned out to be something even yummier!"
{I don't even know how she knows what a gummy bear is!  But pretty pleased she knows a smoothie is preferable, ha!}

* * *

After being sick recently, she woke one morning and croaked:
"I’m all better except my voice is a little smudged up."

* * *

Descending the stairs at 9 pm (two hours after she'd gone to bed):
"Mommy, I need to draw a picture. Of a cloud. Right now."

* * *

After giving away a few bags of donations of things we no longer needed:
"YAY!  Now our house is cleaner and their house is gonna be so messy!"

Watching the King's College choir singing, and quite enamored with the sheer number of boys:
"Mama, how do their mom and dad fit so many children in their car?!"

* * *

Running down the stairs from the bathroom, wearing a dress-up scarf and smiling suspiciously:
Me: "Ree, have you done anything naughty?"
Ree: "I just put spit on my eyelids like makeup.  And then I put water on the spit.  Like makeup."
Me: "Of course."

* * *

"God is in my bones, right Mama?"

* * *

Nathan: "Ree, did you ever move any of my records? I can’t find the one I'm looking for."
Ree: "No. I didn't and I know that I didn’t because I was watching myself every day."

* * *

Handing me a lucky penny she found:
"Here Mama.  I was going to keep it for myself but then I thought, I love Mama even more than I love myself, so I want you to have it."

* * *

Running her mouth across a piece of dental floss over and over:
"I like licking all the mint off because it’s yummy."

* * *

In church, after the priest said, "All things are yours, oh Lord, and of your own have we given you," Ree asked a whispered question about that.  I replied, "Yes, all we have belongs to God.  Did you know that?"  And she replied, "Even our poop?  I don't think our poop belongs to God."  Well... maybe God doesn't want our poop.  Valid point.

Looking at the sky one evening:
"One of the colors in the sunset tonight is black. No no no that’s not pretty at all."

* * *

Curiously feeling the perimeter of her eyes with her fingertips:
"Hey, is this thing just a round ball in there??"

* * *

Me: "Did you know you fell asleep in the car?"
Ree: "I wasn't asleep."
Me: "You were!"
Ree: "Oh!  Well, I didn't see myself sleeping so I didn't know!"

* * *

Singing a hymn together at bedtime:
"God set the stars to give light to the world..."
Ree: "Can we sing the word 'earth' instead of 'world' because I can't say 'world' very well but I can say 'earth' really well."

{both she and Nell sort of pronounce 'world' like... 'wouwd'.  That rl sound together is tricky!}

* * *

Out of the blue, at 5:34 one evening:
"It’s eleven o’clock! Time for me to clean up!"

* * *

In the bathtub:
Ree: "I can hold my breath for maybe thirty-nine-twenty-six minutes."
Nell: "Ok, go."
Ree: "No, Nell, I can't do it because it would take too long! It would take every single day until we die!"
Nell: "Yeah, see, you couldn't do it."
Ree {sighing exasperatedly}: No, Nell, I can do it but I don't have time to do it."

Describing someone to me: "She had a crumbled face."

* * *

"Oh Mama, I love your necklace. Can you get me a fancy necklace? Or just take somebody else’s to give me?"

* * *

Ree: "Mama, when you were a little kid what did you call Daddy?"
Me: "Well, I didn’t even know Daddy yet."
Ree: "Ohhhhh. And Nell and me weren’t even born. We weren’t even in your tummy. I was still a tincey little drop of rain."

{where does she come up with this stuff?!}

* * *

Singing an elaborate and very long improvisation recently, she concluded with this bit of made-up lyrics:
"Get that axis out of your head! Get that axis out of your head!  And leave that special ice.... cream..... iiiiiiiiinnnnnnn!"

* * *

Ree: "When is the person gonna die who is really old like maybe 20 or 69? The lady with a crumbled face. She goes to our church."

Me: "I don’t know. Only God really knows when someone is going to die."
Ree {matter-of-factly}: "I guess when we don’t see her anymore then she’ll be dead."

{I don't think young children are very good at tact.  Or subtlety.  Or social niceties.  But I remember Nell going through a big phase of talking about death a lot too around this age, so maybe it's normal?}

* * *

We were watching a YouTube video of a violin song Nell is working on over lunch one day, and Ree just kept shaking her head.  Finally she said, "It’s so weird because a girl is playing the piano and a boy is playing the violin. Isn't that so weird?!"

{In our household, the boy plays the piano and all the girls play the violin!  How could it be otherwise?!}

* * *

"I want to be the bestest of all the entire world.  That's what I want to be when I grow up."

* * *

"I'm gonna be the goodest and nicest violinist in the whole entire world.  Well, earth.  Because I can't say world.  Can you teach me to say world?"

{because, as mentioned above, world comes out "wouwd" every time, which is actually pretty cute.}

On a day when Nathan took Nell in to work with him for a bit, and Ree was quite sad to be home without Nell to play with, we found that we could watch footage of the Prix de Lausanne online thanks to a tip from a friend, and this cheered Ree up immensely.  Watching the skilled dancers, she kept proclaiming confidently, "I can do that.   I can do that too.  I can do all the things that dancer is doing."

* * *

Watching a male dancer compete:
"This one is not so fancy. I mean I do like boys but... I like fancy boys."

* * *

"How can I stop my toots from coming so I can be a real ballerina?"

And maybe my favorite one ever:

Molly went up the stairs, and I called up after her to check on things:
Me: "Ree? What’s Molly doing up there?"

Ree: "She’s just coming into my room and happying me."


"It means she makes me feel happy."

You'll never stop happying us around here, Ree.  We love you!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Kids' Book Club: Heidi

Towards the beginning of this school year {this school year!  oh yes!  we are homeschooling and I've been meaning to post something here for posterity about it for months now but haven't done so!} my friend Jackie spearheaded putting together a children's literature club which has turned into a tremendous success already and has been such fun for kids and parents alike.  Jackie hosted the first two meetings, for which we read first The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald and then The King of the Golden River by John Ruskin.  

We had offered to host this month's meeting, and the book was Heidi, which is a great favorite of Nell's already.  She had been eagerly anticipating this day for several weeks now. I think about nine families participated this time in reading Heidi by Johanna Spyri and coming to today's book club meeting.  So many people brought a little something to add to the festivities and altogether we had quite a luncheon spread followed by some fun activities.  

First, the girls wanted to dress for the occasion.  We are tremendously lucky to already have in our possession two beautiful dirndls that fit them nicely and seemed eminently appropriate for the occasion.  These were a thoughtful gift from a woman who knows my love of vintage and classic girls' clothing; they used to be her girls' dresses and my girls are quite lucky to be their new owners.  Molly's little dress was a thrift store find from years ago which seemed to fit the occasion.  And Ree's hat, made in Switzerland, was another thrift store find from some time ago.

And they were not the only ones in costume -- quite a few other Heidis soon arrived, as well as several Peters, a Brigida (Peter's mother), a baby goat, and even the dreaded Miss Rottenmeier!  

I put on a youtube playlist of Alpine music with accordions and yodeling -- it is perhaps a little-known fact about me that I have a disturbing obsession with yodeling, so this was sort of a highlight of the experience for me.  Any excuse to listen to yodeling!  

If you've read Heidi, you know that the main meals consist of bread, and cheese, and goat's milk, and more cheese, and more goat's milk, and more bread.  So naturally, we needed to have these things in abundance.

I baked some fresh loaves of sourdough bread.

{And then Rebekah brought some of hers too, so there was plenty to go around!}

And thanks to Trader Joe's, we had a variety of cheeses in abundance.  I looked for raclette but failing to find it went with a Swiss gruyere, a goat's milk gouda, and a raw goat's milk cheddar.  {The gouda even had this cute rind!}

We sliced up sourdough and topped it with cheese slices and broiled them like an open-faced grilled cheese of sorts.  I was inspired by Heidi's grandfather toasting cheese over an open fire on a fork and then spreading it on bread.  I figured with 24 small children in the house we'd do well to avoid open flames but a bit of broiled melty cheese on bread could lend a similar experience.

A couple of families brought delicious salamis to add to the spread, and we had dried apricots and fresh clementines and fresh strawberries, too, which didn't make it into the picture but were quickly devoured.  Did I mention there were {if I recall correctly} 24 children here?  Did you know that 24 children can pack away a lot of food at an unbelievably fast pace?  Another mom brought Swedish sweet rolls with raisins in them as well -- delicious!  And yet another brought goat's milk for all the children to try.  

Kerrie brought a butter churn and cream and the kids went to work on that -- I only got a very blurry picture but a good time was had.

Quite a few of the kids did illustrations of their own to bring and share, and we went around and shared some of our favorite moments from the story.

Christina brought a little hymn to sing all together, in keeping with Peter's grandmother's beloved hymn book and with the theme of flocks {of goats}!

Charity brought a bouquet of flowers so the children could "pick" a wildflower {despite it being January} and take it home with them.  Some of the little girls tucked them straight into their braids today, and my girls put theirs into a glass of water on my kitchen windowsill. 

And finally, although Heidi doesn't make mention of any chocolate even in the "glittering cage" of her time in Frankfurt, it seemed fitting to hand out bits of Swiss chocolate as the book club gathering drew to a close.  

What a fun gathering it was.  I thought of the grandmother's hymn, with a verse that reads:

God's handiwork
Is seen around,
Things great and small
To His praise abound-
Where are the signs of His love not found?

And indeed, in this little gathering of friends with a shared love for a good book, there was many a sign in the things great and small we enjoyed together.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dreams of a Kitchen Renovation

The other day I found myself with an exceptionally rare late afternoon entirely to myself, as Nathan took the kids on an extensive errand -- his method of compensating for outings ranging from the bizarre to the ridiculous is, naturally, to offer to take the children with him for a nice "outing" with Daddy.  And of course, it works.  Not only because what child doesn't want to drive over an hour so that Daddy can acquire for himself a new power tool he found on Craigslist for a mere song, but moreso, because what mother doesn't relish the idea of curling up on her couch with a soft blanket by the light of the Christmas tree to the blissful sound of silence?

I told Nathan I'd either use the time to look at ideas for a kitchen remodel, or to clean our master bedroom.  He admonished me to most definitely sit on the couch and look at kitchen ideas on my laptop, and so I did so out of a sense of duty.

We are tossing around the idea, rather seriously actually, of re-doing our kitchen during the coming year.


Because my formica countertops are peeling and cracking, my recently re-caulked old drop-in sink is already black around the edges and gross again, the faux brick on the walls is chipping off {and was ugly to begin with}, the windowsill above the sink needs to be repainted yet again at the very least, the footprint is all wrong for a family that cooks and bakes as much as we do, and also, why not?  We like nice things.  As it turns out, we like things far nicer than we deserve to like or can afford to like, but so it goes.  We can also be quite happy with less-than-nice things if necessary.


What would you expect of a musician employed by a church married to another musician?  Over-the-top-wealth is what you get.  Okay, that was a joke, but we do think if we finagle things just right we could manage to renovate our kitchen sooner rather than later, and thus have more years ahead of us to enjoy it with our children rather than waiting until everyone is grown and gone and we are sad and lonely // calm and happy {depending how that all plays out}.


Soon.  But not too soon.  Not before we have a plan in place.  Because whereas Nathan thrives on mental planning ahead without actually putting things into place too much, I think I would thrive if the kitchen didn't turn into a two-year project that involved myself cooking over a camping stove for that length of time.  {Two-year project?!  I'm looking at you, downstairs bathroom.}

So, when?

Oh, yeah, we should finish the downstairs bathroom first.  So, soon, but not too soon, but after we finish the bathroom.

What will it look like?

I mean, it will probably look pretty much like this:

Image result for officine gullo

Ha.  Ha.  Okay, that was a joke because we aren't independently wealthy.

Anyway, here's where it gets tricky.

Too much large stainless steel in a small-ish space just sort of looks grim to me.  And/or industrial rather than home-y.  But have you noticed it's hard to find alternatives in a reasonable price range?  Black?  No thank you.  White?  Well, maybe.  Some white I like.  But don't try to narrow it down by going to look at appliances in person, because they only have stainless steel options in showrooms.  Very un-helpful, if you ask me.

Now, if you know us at all you know that Nathan and I love nothing more than to marinate in ideas of perfection and then allow ourselves to sink slowly into a depressive state of misery when we cannot achieve said perfection.  I mean, we don't actually love it but it does appear to be our calling card.  We like nicer things than we can afford, I guess.  We have good taste?  But a bank account considerably smaller than our taste.  It's not even that we like extravagant things or McMansions {we don't}; it's just that we like classic things and enduring things and beautiful things over say, formica and pre-fabbed things that all look the same and IKEA {but nothing against IKEA; we actually love IKEA in the right time and place}.

But in all seriousness--

I am really excited about this whole process.  And while it probably looks easy enough to find some images of perfection, and sit around looking at pretty pictures while waiting for Nathan to do the work, this is only partly true.

Did you know it's weirdly hard to find pictures of beautifully-simple-yet-fancy-and-perfect kitchens that strike the perfect balance of all things good, true, and beautiful in my convoluted mind?  If you do a google image search for "the fanciest kitchen in the world," you have to scroll for a shockingly long time before you find a single image that is even remotely acceptable.  Modify the search to "the nicest kitchen in the world" and the results are similarly disappointing.  If you try "the most perfect kitchen in the world" you will at least get some decent results within the first page.  Like, one or two decent ones.  I can only conclude that Google has poor taste, or the entire world does, except for myself and Nathan.

So, in the process of dreaming about redesigning your kitchen, here's a little step-by-step tutorial from a pro interior designer possibly insane individual:

ONE) The very first thing you must do is to read John Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture.  It's available online for free, so you have no excuse not to read it.  It is unparalleled.  Well, actually, I haven't finished it yet.  It's a slow read.  But read this paragraph {regarding the building of churches} and tell me you don't want to go read it all!  Marinate in it!
I have said for every town: I do not want a marble[Pg 25] church for every village; nay, I do not want marble churches at all for their own sake, but for the sake of the spirit that would build them. The church has no need of any visible splendors; her power is independent of them, her purity is in some degree opposed to them. The simplicity of a pastoral sanctuary is lovelier than the majesty of an urban temple; and it may be more than questioned whether, to the people, such majesty has ever been the source of any increase of effective piety; but to the builders it has been, and must ever be. It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice; not the emotion of admiration, but the act of adoration: not the gift, but the giving. 
TWO) The very next thing to do, after giving considerably towards the building of a church you love, is to use what is left over to build a kitchen that looks like this.  Here I will share two pictures that sum up my long-time dream kitchen of all time, which I have drooled over for literally years. Somewhere between these two pictures lies perfection incarnate, probably.

Planning our DIY kitchen remodel… here is the explanation of how we chose cabinets; I wanted custom, inset cabinets! But we are choosing overlay, semi custom.

Martha Stewart Living editor in chief Pilar Guzman; her husband, Chris Mitchell; and their two boys, Willem and Henry, gather in the kitchen of their Brooklyn brownstone. "We spend about 80 percent of our time here," Pilar says. The couple retrofitted the room, which was originally a formal parlor, as a kitchen; former closets house appliances and dishes, and a marble-top island was built by designer Tyler Hays.

THREE) The next thing you must do is to look at other beautiful possibilities until your eyes nearly glaze over.  For example, while the above kitchens are the perfect kitchens, also acceptable in lieu of the open shelving in the first picture would be something like this:

Or this:

Luigi Fragola Architects:  S. Monaca townhouse, Florence, Italy

Nathan, can you photo-shop the above images together and then build me a kitchen that looks like that?  Yes?  Thank you.

It is also very important that it contain some element of this timeless beauty, this utmost perfection:

Inspiration for our old-house, DIY kitchen remodel… I love the idea of using salvaged or repurposed materials in place of a traditional kitchen cabinets.

I can find very few objections to this:

light blue kitchen cabinets, black countertop, tile floor, brass flush fixtures + range

While we're at it, I would like one of these:

And something kind of like this.
Image result for antique butler's pantry

Basically, I told Nathan, I've been wanting you to buy me The Crane Estate and you haven't done it, but this is your chance for redemption.  As long as I can have all the things in this theoretically renovated kitchen, with ample space for sourdough bread baking and kombucha fizzing and doing all the other things Nathan hates {like making food that contains vegetables}, I will be happy, no purchase of the entire Crane Estate necessary.  I would, however, like library ladders that slide along the walls and lead to my highest cabinets.  Our kitchen ceilings are only about eight feet tall, but never mind that, because maybe we can just borrow the space from the second floor bathroom, and like, raise the floor a little higher.  Or drop the kitchen floor lower and lower the basement ceiling.  I'm flexible with the options like that.

I'm flexible on the details, like I said.  But I definitively must have a butler's pantry.  

Don't you have a butler pining for a pantry?  {We don't yet, but I'm planning to get one when we remodel the kitchen.}

Yes, I realize that my taste for the finer things far exceeds our station in life, and I'm more likely to BE the butler than to have one.  Nevertheless, this knowledge does little to curtail my enthusiasm for all things beautiful and kitchen-related.  What can I say? Coastal elitism.  It's a thing, and it appears to have seeped into my veins after living in New England for over a decade.

FOUR) Eventually you will have to un-glaze your eyes and begin to consider the practical, nitty-gritty stuff like appliances.

I will now confess that I have an appliance problem.   But {don't hate me} I think most appliances are ugly.  And as Victoria Elizabeth Barnes would say, "Bring me fancy or get out!"  I know -- most people have appliances.  So by saying that I find them unattractive I am likely offending approximately 100% of the people I know.  But there you have it.  I do not love the look of most of them.  And while I understand that their primary function isn't to be looked at, I also find it hard to cook with my eyes closed.

As standard appliances go, I have so far found one option that could be a possibility in terms of aesthetic.  They are highly reviewed for function, too!  These are the GE Cafe line of appliances, which offers various styles of slide in ranges, standalone ranges, and even a wall oven that opens with french doors!  You get to customize your trim metal, which of course is everything.

Cafe 36 Inch Freestanding Gas Range Matte White CGY366P4MW2

GE Cafe 30" Built-In Double Convection Wall Oven with Top French Door in Matte White and Brushed Bronze Handles

Now, if you have a small fortune lying around, the thing to do is to go immediately and acquire one of these ranges:

Image result for lacanche range

Oh my. Copper pots and white Lacanche range .

Why are you still here reading this blog?  Go get a Lacanche range already!  These thing are beauties and in my opinion it's just undeniable that I should have one.  I would sacrifice buying groceries for a year to justify the cost.  I would consider selling a kidney on the black market.  I would love it and cherish it and design my whole kitchen around it as a thing of beauty.

The other main appliance to be considered is, of course, the refrigerator.  I asked Nathan if we could just keep ours in the basement, and he laughed at me.  I asked him if he could build me a pantry-like cabinet to put it inside, and he laughed at me again.  "You mean like a panel-front refrigerator?" he asked.  "No, because those look weird and imposing and slightly awkward sometimes.  It needs to be better than that."  At which point he immediately promised to procure for me a panel-front or integrated refrigerator and then make sure it was not ugly or awkward looking.  Yay!  Victoria Elizabeth Barnes, of course, has some good ideas.

This could work:

As could this:

Custom panels help this built-in refrigerator melt into the surrounding all-white kitchen.

And this!  This! I mean, I'm assuming one of those is a fridge but it's anybody's guess.  All of them fridges for a very large family?  A fridge beside a pantry?  Who knows?  Either way, they look like cabinets instead of mortuary coolers so I'm willing to consider it.
Amy Zantziger's #farmhouse kitchen.  When the refrigerator and the cookbook cabinet doors are closed, the room appears elegant and uncluttered.

FIVE) Track down other tidbits of finery:

Have you seen the Rev-a-Shelf website?  There is a bread drawer option.  Need I say more?

...And without too much effort you can go way down that rabbit hole.

For example: We should obviously have a hot water tap to eliminate the need to ever boil water again.  And maybe a filtered drinking water faucet water beside the main kitchen tap.

And furthermore: Not even optional but absolutely required is an ice machine that makes that soft kind of nugget-sized ice because I love it more than anything, so much so that I periodically consider getting myself hospitalized so that I can have cupfuls of it because that's the main place I know of that has it - the hospital.  But what if I could have it in my own kitchen?  Then I wouldn't need to be hospitalized.  Problem solved!

Also!  We could turn an antique piece of furniture into a kitchen island for some historic charm in this old house of ours {but naturally topped with a reclaimed marble slab for all my makings of pie crusts and quiche crusts and other necessities}.

Love all of these unique kitchen island ideas including this antique chest of drawers!

SIX) Try to agree on at least one element so you have a valid starting point that lies somewhere within the realm of reality. Nathan thinks that 50% of what I say {at a minimum} lies within the realm of the ridiculous, but we have both agreed for several years now that when and if we redo the kitchen, we would love to do soapstone for the counters!  

Honed Virginia Jet Mist Granite.  The look of soapstone but not the maintenance or price

The cabinets are still undecided - white or maybe a light blue or gray?  But we have a starting point of agreement.

Except that as of yesterday Nathan is thinking about scrapping the whole project, selling the house, and buying a fixer upper of incomparable proportions (both in terms of current dismal-ness and future potential).  So instead of doing a kitchen renovation we could dream of renovating a{nother} entire house, while living in a ... tent?  The details of the hare-brained scheme are fuzzy at this point.  

In conclusion:

Nell was listening to me blather on about kitchens the other day, and this conversation transpired--

Nell: Mama, wouldn't you like to have a kitchen with a marble countertop?
Me: Yes, I suppose I would.
Nell: Well then you shall have one for Christmas!
Me: This Christmas, or next Christmas?
Nell: Well, probably next Christmas.  Because it's going to take some time.

Okay, then!  If time is all it takes, I've got time!

* * *

Want to live vicariously through me as I live vicariously through others?  Check out my pinterest board on kitchens!  And check out my other kitchen pinterest board here, where I specifically saved some things pertaining to the particular vintage of our 1917 house.  This is also a good way to track down all these image sources, since clearly I've been way too lazy to link them for you -- but most of them are on my pinterest somewhere!  If not, you can do a reverse image search and then pat yourself on the back for being less lazy than I am.