Friday, May 22, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: RISE

Today's Five-Minute Friday prompt is RISE.

I wake up on the sofa, my eyes stuck to the back of my head, yellow light streaming over me through the east-facing windows despite the closed curtains. My skull aches as I remember the 4 AM surrender, passing the playful, biting baby to my husband before creeping to the living room to steal a bit of sleep. I'm already broken, and today hasn't begun yet.


It would be easier if getting up didn't mean an immediate plunge into the day...if there was a way to have a soft start, a few quiet moments, a cup of coffee...but I can already hear the rumblings of sibling rivalry down the hall. Ready or not, this day is happening.

Rise, take up your bed, and walk.

For twelve weeks, I waited in bed for the morning to come to me, waited for twins to grow big enough that they'd be safe if they were born. For twelve weeks, everything was still and silent during the day, an empty house with just me and my thoughts, lying there, waiting for something to happen. Twelve weeks, watching this same morning light highlight the walls and turn into noon's brilliance, afternoon with its slanting rays, evening's slow approach as night finally gobbled up the last bit of light...the longest days I can remember, followed by the longest, most anxious nights.

Twelve weeks- and then I got up, and life hasn't stopped since.

I peel myself off the sofa. There's work to do. The day is waiting, and the people in it need me. I serve them, just as I'd serve Christ...right after I thank Him for waking me. Every single new day is a gift, whether it washes over me gently or crashes down on my head. I stretch out my fingers and toes  and taste the new day tentatively, like that first sip of morning coffee. Then I sit up, arrange the sofa cushions and fold the blankets, and thank God that I'm here, that He's here, that they're here- and that mornings follow nights, no matter how long the nights are.

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Quick springtime fun: Sidewalk Paint

We needed a quick activity this afternoon that would draw all three big kids outside. There was a small window of time before it might rain, and I wanted them to get out and stay out so I could clean up a bit while the baby boy napped.

We decided to make sidewalk paint! Have you ever done it? It's so easy, I will probably do it again tomorrow.

Here's how:

1 cup cornstarch
1 cup warm water
Mix well.
Pour into a muffin tin, dividing evenly.
Add food coloring to each cup and mix well.
This made enough for six muffin cups of paint.

Paint all the things!
The paint works best on stone, blacktop, rocks, and (surprise) sidewalks.
The kids also had fun painting their wooden swingset, but the paint kind of beaded up and didn't stick around long.

This paint is very washable, but food coloring can stain clothes and hands. Wear old clothes just in case.

Have you made homemade sidewalk paint (with this recipe or a different one)? How did it turn out?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: FOLLOW

I'm squeezing in a Five-Minute Friday in the last few minutes of this Friday night, before Saturday shows up and reminds me why I should not stay up so late!


I've watched him read a recipe many times, but this is the first time I let him follow it himself.
(Well, almost.)
I couldn't keep my mouth shut when he almost left out the flour...when he almost put the eggs in the wrong bowl...when he said he planned to use the leftover butter from the butter dish instead of the two sticks needed because he couldn't find any more butter in the refrigerator.
(it was on the shelf)
What should I have done? Let him mess them up? Was I wrong to help him along this time? Could his sensitive, self-critical heart have handled it if his first solo batch of cookies ended up in the trash can?
How humbling it is to see my own faults reflected in someone so young, someone I have the responsibility of guiding and helping to cope with flaws he came by so honestly...
So I reminded him about the flour. I pointed to the right bowl before he dumped the eggs. I opened the refrigerator and got out the butter.
The cookies came out fine- not perfect, but perfectly edible.
He came out fine, too...and he said, "Now I really feel like a big kid."

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ask, Answer, Repeat: Living with the Intensely Curious Child

I live with a child who is the most curious person I have ever met. Being her mother is wonderful and difficult and exhilarating and humbling (often all at the same time). In the grand scheme of things, my daughter and I have known each other only a short time, so I'm certainly not an expert. In the last two years, though, I have developed some coping skills for supporting her inquisitive nature while preserving my own sanity. Today, I'm sharing some of my tips with you (just in case you might have such a child in your family or classroom...and if you do, I'd love if you shared your tips with me, too).

Lucy is Twin A, the only one of my children to have been present to observe the birth of another one.

She lay there, first in the warmer, then in her dad's arms, taking it all in. I watched her blue eyes scanning the room, examining the corners of my eyes, moving all around as she soaked in the scene. She was remarkably alert and seemed to be carefully watching everything.  I briefly wondered if she could somehow be from another planet, using her birth to make notes to send back to her home about what she saw here.

Now she is three years old, and she is my perpetual observer.

Why is the goldfinch's beak so pointy?

Why did dinosaurs become extinct?

Do humpback whales have bellybuttons?

Why did the man in the song say "what"?

Why is there a baby sadding*?

What do I smell?

*sadding= LucySpeak for crying. She has a way of creating unique grammatical constructions to suit her needs and whims. Generally, we go with it. 

Lucy's constant task is Noticing. She always notices the tiniest of details, and her observations drive her ongoing barrage of questions. Being with her is like an automatically scrolling social media feed that is curious about everything and driven to master it all.

Life with Lucy is amazing, because she sees things I would never have seen.

It's also kind of exhausting.

I often think about how her days would be different if she were an only child. She wouldn't have to wait as long for me to answer her curious questions or respond to her demands ("Look, Mama. Look. Look. LOOK! No, put your eyes over here where I am!") She would have more books waiting for her on hold at the library that aligned with her interests. (I do such a good job supporting Sam's interest-led reading habits, but I'm not always as on top of following up with Lucy's or Nora's topics of choice.) She would have my full attention.

When we are alone together, I find her completely delightful. She's chatty, funny, and easy to be around. It's fun to take her out someplace and watch her as she watches the world go by...never passive, always taking on every little thing and dissecting it with her eyes and discussing it with me until I think there is nothing left to be said about it.

Of course, she always has something else to say about it.

That man doesn't have any hair on his you think he's bald like Daddy, on purpose, or did his hair just fall out?

Why does that woman not have any babies in her shopping cart with her? Well, why did she take the big cart with the car on it if she wasn't going to put any kids in there?

Why does that boy have a Batman hat on? Do you think if someone offered him a Superman hat instead, he would take it, or keep the Batman one? Do you think he has Batman socks? Batman UNDERWEAR??
If we came back to this store again tonight or tomorrow, would I be able to splash in the puddles in this parking lot in my rain boots? Would those puddles still be there, or would they be ah-vahp-err-ated? Because I forgot to wear my boots right now.

When Lucy is one of the group of children behind me in our van, driving down the road, she is seated directly behind the driver's seat. She keeps up a constant flow of conversation and questions. In this situation, I find her more challenging, as she still expects the same level of attention and response as if we were alone together.

Perhaps she still deserves it, but I just can't keep up.

I want a song. No, not this song. I want Raspberry Beret right now. No! Not that part! I want the part where he says, " through the out door, out door..."

Is someone eating a mint? Why don't I have a mint? I smell a mint, and now I want one, too. Mama? Mama? Can I have a mint, please? If I can't have one RIGHT NOW I will begin to believe that everything is stupid and I will never like anything, ever again!

Why does my bear have this string on his paw?

What happened to the yellow crayon I dropped on the floor at Cracker Barrel last night?

Why is Sam scratching his leg? Does he have a bug bite?

Bite rhymes with Light. BiteLight Bitelight bitelightbitelight

I just saw Father Silvio driving a motorcycle. Yes, I did, Sammy. Yes I did too! Yes yes yes yes!

Sammy said I didn't see Father Silvio! And I did!

Oh, look, there's an inflatable gorilla! I'm going to be a blue gorilla for Halloween!
I just found a graham cracker in my seat. Oh, it's not a graham cracker, it's a french fry. Don't worry, I already ate it so you don't have to take it away from me.
I need a mint, I said! That old french fry tasted gross! I need something to clear the taste out of my mouth!

Sometimes, I want to cover my ears and say, "Ssssshhhh...I'm not answering any more questions until we get home." And sometimes, I do.

Living with someone so intensely curious about everything can wear me down after a while. Here are three ways I've learned to cope with the constant flow of information, questions, and observation that come from my little girl:

1. If I can't currently give her my full attention, I let her know when I will be able to listen.
Three-and-a-half year olds aren't always rational, but this actually works if I am consistent about coming back to her as I promised. She's very perceptive, so she can tell if I'm just stalling her. If I'm truly not available right-now-right-this-minute but will be in ten minutes or so, I can tell her that, and she'll often take a break from her questions.

If I fail to get back to her multiple times (either from forgetfulness or distraction or something else less forgivable), this technique stops working. She stops trusting me and taking me at my word, and that's bad for lots of reasons. I truly do try to follow up if she's been polite enough to wait.

2. If I don't know, I say so.
Lucy asks me a lot of questions that I simply can't answer. Some of them are unanswerable. Others just require research or the input of someone who is an expert in the field. Because we often look up the answers to the kids' questions, Lucy tends to take me at my word when I tell her I just don't know or that there isn't a good way to answer a particular question. I never pretend to know something if I don't. She would either see through it or find out later, and then I'd lose credibility and trust, which are very important to me.   

3. I go out of my way to show interest when I have the energy to do so. 
With everything that's going on around here and with homeschooling, particularly, I sometimes run out of energy before I run out of tasks. Keeping up with Lucy and her queries could be a full-time job. There are times when I'm just not willing or able to keep pace with her and be enthusiastic about her latest line of questioning. To compensate for these expected periods of inattention (when I say things like, "Oh?" or "I see," or "Isn't that amazing?"), at the times when I have energy to dive in with her, I really do that (and put aside all other distractions and tasks to be present with her). This makes a big difference. She's less persistent and aggressive with her questions, and I think it's because she knows I will be there with her for the big ones and support her process of finding the answers she needs to feel satisfied.

Sometimes, I worry about diminishing her, somehow...that my lack of ability or stamina or precision or attention to her queries will make her feel sad and cause her to stop asking questions, that she'll somehow lose her voracious appetite for knowledge about every single thing she sees or thinks about.

Then I realize she couldn't turn it off, even if she wanted to. It's who she is. God made her that way, and (deep breath of realization) God made me her mother.

If this is true, I must be up to the task, somehow, even on the days when she completely overwhelms me.

So I order some books about birds, put more birdseed in the feeder so she can watch the goldfinches, and hold on tight for what is always an interesting ride.

Pray for Lucy, will you? She has a new baby in her family. While this has certainly provided her with lots of new material for questions, it has also slowed my reaction time even more when answering them.

On second thought, maybe you should pray for me.

Do you have an intensely curious child in your life? How do you balance his or her needs with your own? What joys and challenges have you noticed from living with a child like this? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: MEET

Once upon a time, we shared the backseat and sang along to country radio in the car:

I start walking your way
You start walking mine
We meet in the middle, 'neath that old Georgia pine 

It is 3,758 miles from her house in Nome to my house in Virginia. Sometimes this hurts my when I put the names of our towns into "maps" on my phone and it says it can't find a route between those two places.

Can't find a route. There's no way to get from here to there?

The four hour time difference can be hard, too, especially now when we both have babies that need to nap and sleep at regular times, or she's getting ready for work when my kids need me most, or I get up early and it's still the middle of the night where she is.

When you shared a bathroom and a parent and a piano and a car and your clothes and shoes and friends and breakfast cereal with someone for so long, being this far away from them is hard. I miss her every day. So, every now and then, we meet...not in the middle, exactly, but someplace we both can go. Once, it was Portland, Oregon, when my twins were babies...we put them in slings and walked all over the place, soaking up the scenery and each other's company. Once, it was LA, when my cousin got married. We shared a house in Seal Beach and took my son to the La Brea tar pits and sat on the beach and went to Mass together. Once, it was Dallas, Texas, where we stayed at my aunt's with our newish babies and shopped at Target and drank lots of coffee and pretended for a few days that we were just sisters, instead of sisters separated by a whole continent.

I'm always grateful for the time we have, but I'll always wish there was more of it, too.

Five-Minute Friday is a chance to free the pent-up words we've been accumulating in our brains all week and let them flow freely for five minutes, without over-editing or backtracking. When we're done, we share our work over at Kate Motaung's blog, where a whole community is waiting to encourage each other. You're invited- come join us. You don't even need a blog. You can leave your five minutes' worth of thoughts in the combox.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

I woke up this morning absolutely certain that it must be Friday by now...and it isn't. It's Thursday.

(How does one avoid feeling a tinge of disappointment when it is Thursday instead of Friday?)

This bothers me. One day of the week is not inherently worse than another. I must fight back against my early morning grumpiness with photos of things that are lovely, praiseworthy and excellent.

(Well, mostly.)


This time of year, the sun sets over the mountain directly behind our kitchen and blazes through the window and sliding glass door for an hour beforehand. It means we close the curtains for dinner so no one will be blinded...but just look! Ignore the dirty window, please- that's not the pretty part.


Happy Easter! No, really- it still is Easter for a bit longer. I have trouble sometimes keeping the Easter feeling going strong, so I'm trying this year to do a few concrete things to remind myself and my family that Easter is still in effect. One of those is keeping out the plastic eggs for playtime. Turns out Felix really, really likes the plastic eggs...enough to sit and play with them while we make dinner. This makes me smile! And just look at that leg chub.


We went on a hike this week to check out spring in the valley below. My allergies were crazy from all the pollen covering every surface, and the kids were alternately whiny or shooting each other with blasters made from sticks as they pretended to be Storm Troopers. Then, we discovered this piece of wisdom:

A rock with an important message to share. Pithy, right?

Kids' reactions:
   Lucy: (gasp!) Someone wrote on that rock!
   Nora: (with a gleam in her eye) You can write on rocks??
   Sam: (narrowing his eyes) They should have said "is." People don't think the universe IS the way it IS, but it IS. But I guess that would be a lot of Izzes. (shrugs shoulders)

Ah, yes. Funny.


Sam has been astonished by the rocks that have been arriving in our mailbox from all over the place. This box is from California, from Bobbi at Revolution of Love and her sons. They went on a hike, too, and they picked up rocks especially for Sam (and sent pictures of where they found them). It was amazing.

I haven't been astonished, exactly, but I've been so delighted at all the people we have never met face to face who have helped Sam with this project. It's wonderful, this bond among bloggers. We are real friends to each other. These relationships we've made by getting to know one another through our blogs are the real thing. Meeting some of my favorite bloggers last weekend in person at the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Women's Blogging Conference just confirmed that for me. I'm so grateful for all of you.

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter for {pretty, happy, funny, real} today...because it's good to remember that life is beautiful (and occasionally odd, and often funny).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How I almost didn't attend that Catholic Women's Blogging conference...and why I'm so glad I did.

Felix, ready to go...good thing we built in extra time!
Last weekend, I almost didn't attend the Catholic Women's Blogging Network gathering.

I left plenty of time to get ready, but things just kept going wrong. By the time I left home, I was twenty minutes behind schedule and had used up almost all my extra time. I forgot my brownies for the potluck lunch and had to go back home to get them. There wasn't even time to cut them and arrange them on a plate. I just put the whole pan in the car and drove away as quickly as I could.

The trip was not a smooth one!

I finally pulled up with sweaty hands, my back stuck to the seat from the last hour of stressful driving (like twice-lost, going-the-wrong-way-out-of-the-roundabout, I'm-not-from-around-here driving). "Take 340 North to I-70" is one of those deceptively simple directions. I'd been stuck behind a truck since sometime before Harper's Ferry, lost 340 several times by doing what I sincerely thought was staying on 340, and (thanks to the late start I'd gotten) I was now an hour late. Felix had been hollering for the last twenty minutes due to a massively poopy diaper. My relief at arriving was quickly turned to dread of walking into a party in progress with my arms full of poopy baby.

As I drove, I had been reflecting on a friend's comment about the California Catholic Women's Blogging conference regarding another blogger who "perfectly encapsulates" her brand in person. It made me wonder what my brand is and if I even had any business attending a conference of people who talked that way. Would I, by my late arrival with a poopy baby and brownies missing a tiny taste-tested square in the corner, have branded myself as harried, late, and not-entirely together?

Does blogging mean putting yourself out there to be judged on your brand?

If that's what it is, I might be at the wrong party.

Shaky, I gathered myself and my baby boy and the brownies I'd almost forgotten to bring and made my way to the house. The back porch door was open, and before I even got there, I could hear the sound of voices enjoying each other's company.

Once I got inside, Julie, the hostess, took my brownies and said, "Don't worry! We haven't even started yet!" She showed me the changing table for my poopy, wailing boy, and before I even got his diaper off, Rosie appeared to change her baby, too.

I started to relax. We were going to be okay. We were in good company. This was no ordinary blogging conference.

I ended up at a table for lunch with delightful women who, I found, weren't judging my brand. Instead, they were asking all the same questions I was.

Why am I doing this?
Do I belong here?
Do I really need to be worrying about SEO when I can hardly find time to write?
Is anyone even reading my stuff when I DO write?
Do I have to play the self-promotion game to get anyone to notice what I'm doing over here? And do I really want to do that?

We had a wonderful discussion. We might not have really answered any of our own questions, but we made new friends with whom to share this journey, and I found some great new blogs to read.

In her conference talk about prayer, Meg said prayer was about showing up.

I think blogging is that way, too.

I felt a real renewal of energy for the conversation of blogging- the process of putting something out there for discussion and then talking with anyone who shows up. While I might not be ready right now to work on my brand or my SEO or the alt-text on my photos, I am going to try to show up more consistently to chat about whatever is happening.

At Mass on Sunday, back home in my usual pew, I felt the bonds of the new friendships I'd made. I thought about Cristina holding Margaret in a pew somewhere and wondered if things were going smoothly for them. I thought about Nicole and wondered if Lena would allow her to hold her during the homily or if she'd try to crawl under the pew in front of them. I thought about Marie Bernadette and wondered if she was exhausted after the long day of hanging out with extroverts the way I was. I thought about Rosemary and wondered if she was writing a post in her head at that very moment. And I wondered if Jamie's kids were behaving as wildly as mine were after having been away from her for a whole day. We sang the Gloria- glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth- and I thought of these women, my new friends, and how grateful I am to have met them face to face.
Felix and all the other future blogging babies of the CWBN

We do belong here, ladies- we belong because we are making a community for each other and for other women who need what we have. It's a gift to be able to share that with them and with each other. Keep on sharing your stories...with or without pinnable images. They matter. Your voice matters. I'm grateful for each of you and for what you share in your corner of the world...thank you.