Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cloud Dough

Cloud's the wonderful sensory dough you probably haven't tried yet. (Probably. Have you tried it? I hadn't heard of it.)

We found the recipe at Tinkerlab, where Rachelle has a great post about her experience making cloud dough with her two daughters. (She has a lot of other wonderful stuff, too - check it out if you haven't before.)

We used flour and baby oil to make our dough. The original recipe calls for 8 cups of flour. We were smack in the middle of cookie baking season over here (meaning we were going through lots of flour already), so I followed Tinkerlab's suggestion and cut the recipe in half (using 4 cups of flour and half a cup of oil).

Here's what to do if you want to make your own batch of cloud dough:

Put the flour in a container. (We used a large underbed-type storage box with a lid.) Form a mountain out of the flour, then make a crater in the top of the mountain like a volcano.

Pour the oil into the crater.

Use your hands to mix the oil and flour together until the mixture is crumbly.

Then play with it. That's it. The more you handle it, the better the texture will be. It's okay if there are some oily lumps and can work them out as you play. You can mold it into shapes and sift it like powder. The dough has a soft, smooth texture, and it smells nice, too, thanks to the baby oil.

This project was fun. It was easy. And really, it was not bad to clean up. SuperSam made it snow on his dinosaurs. He made "snowballs" from the cloud dough and made the dinosaurs throw them at each other. He made handprints. His dinosaurs made footprints. Then he made footprints...because he wanted to see what the dough would feel like on his feet. And really, why not? The floor was pretty much covered in flour already. (I did put him straight into the tub afterward.)

We have been storing our cloud dough in the box with the lid on it for over a month now. Each time SuperSam has pulled it out to play with it, it has had the same great hasn't dried out or gotten moldy or anything yucky that sometimes happens to these kinds of sensory doughs.

SuperSam's evaluation: "Everybody should make this and play with it. It will work best if you have some dinosaurs or astronauts to put in there. I wouldn't use your best cars or trains with it because they might get a bunch of flour caught in their wheels, and you wouldn't be able to clean them very well because they can't go in the bath. But you can always have a dinosaur wash if your mom will let you."

What makes it home?

I was honored to be able to share a guest post last week at Kelley's blog, Over The Threshold, on why we live where we live. If you missed it, I'd love for you to take a second to check it out here.

Friday, January 18, 2013


The table my grandfather made has two tiny ladderback chairs stained to match, where my sister and I used to share apple juice and handwritten crayon menus and giggly little girl secrets. And this morning, they sat there, my on each side, legs sticking straight out in all their toddler chubbiness, feet nowhere near the floor. The bright plastic tea cups kept turning over as they stirred vigorously with their plastic spoons. "Uh-oh," they said in unison, over and over again. "Uh-oh, mah bup." Then giggles.

How they got this big so quickly I'll never understand. All the long days of diapers and long nights of feedings have led to this, two babies-turned-tiny-sisters sharing tea at a table where another pair of sisters once sat. As I watch their dimpled hands awkwardly stack cups on saucers, I'm delighted. For a second, I consider going to get my camera, but I can't tear myself away. I stay, and I watch, and I drink in the moment...the kind of moment that becomes a forever kind of memory even though I've no picture to show for it.

This post is part of Five-Minute Friday, a kind of free-writing party hosted by Lisa-Jo Baker at her blog, Tales from a Gypsy Mama. The challenge is write for five minutes without backtracking or overthinking, "the way we used to finger paint, for joy in the process," as Lisa-Jo says. Check the link below to see what some other writers had to say this week.

Five Minute Friday

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday morning

From the time I woke up, this day had a verge-of-disaster quality. All three children emerged from their beds with that special Monday morning combination of hyperactivity and crankiness, loudly demanding to be fed and played with and read to and held all at once. The house was a disaster after a busy weekend- how did so many pairs of shoes end up in the living room? (Do we even own that many pairs of shoes? Did they multiply? Why on earth are there so many? And why do three of them seem to be without a mate?) I couldn't seem to do any of the things that needed doing, and with every passing minute, more demands appeared.

Monday has many evil Mondayish characteristics, chief among them the fact that it has fewer hours than the other days. How else could it be that we wake up at the beginning of a new week and are already behind?

The children kept yelling, and I went in search of coffee. Most Mondays (and many other days), I unwillingly abandon my coffee after just a few sips (hot drinks and young children being a poor combination), and I end up sticking it in the microwave.Zap- 30 seconds- ding! sip...get called into the living room, forget about the coffee...find it an hour later, zap again- 30 seconds- ding! sip...hear the dryer buzz, go get the clothes out, fold and put them away...find the cold coffee an hour later...zap...repeat as needed. Often in a mid-afternoon lull when I go to start dinner, I find that sad, lonely, cold cup of coffee still sitting there. Today was no exception.

Things started out badly when the doctor's office called to reschedule the Sisters' checkups - the doctor was out sick today. My request for two appointments back to back took much time and effort to arrange. The office staff were really thrown when I told them the girls had the same birthdate and kept asking me to repeat the birthdates. "And what's her birthday again? Ok. And what's the other twin's birthday? And are those both the same year?"

(It was a lengthy phone call.)

Meanwhile, SuperSam was pretending that Jupiter and Saturn were colliding and was throwing himself into the walls, making exploding rocket sounds. Both Sisters were shrieking and pulling each other's hair as they fought over one of two identical child-sized armchairs arranged side by side in the living room. The Belle shoved The Bug, who hit her in the head with a book. Wailing ensued. SuperSam yelled, "The Sisters are fighting on the same chair again! No, Sisters, NO!" More crying.

I couldn't decide whether to pull out my own hair or theirs.

During the Sisters' morning nap, SuperSam was supposed to put away his markers and stack his toys on the bed in his room so I could help him put them away. Instead, he chose to reenact the classic "12" video from Sesame Street, complete with sound effects and music, self-starring as the pinball.

This resulted in chaos, destruction, and self-injury. It also resulted in the Sisters' waking up about ten minutes after falling asleep. Brilliant.

Lunch time eventually came. While preparing the food, I ate leftover cream cheese frosting with a spoon and listened to the Daughters of Mary chant the Angelus in Latin on repeat. (Nuns and frosting...clearly I was in a bad place.) Whenever SuperSam started talking to me, I said, "Sshh!" and pointed at the iPad, which was playing the music. (Don't judge. There are worse things I could have said.) I also spent some time scraping our open-faced tuna sandwiches off the heating element in the oven, where they fell when SuperSam tried to open the oven door and I slammed it shut again. (Fortunately, I had forgotten to turn on the oven, so at least it wasn't a burned mess.) As I salvaged lunch, The Bug consumed a pink magic marker and The Belle destroyed and ate a ball of fuzz that SuperSam had been saving. He was irate. Upon seeing the sandwiches, SuperSam declared, "I strongly dislike everything open-faced, especially sandwiches, and I am not going to eat any of that." The Sisters, for their part, scarfed down the sandwiches and smeared tuna generously into each other's hair.

Then, there was the laundry.

If the amount of peace and goodwill in a person's life was directly proportional to the amount of laundry she washed, dried, and folded, I'd be all set forever. I am surrounded by endless piles of unwashed things. I never thought I would be the kind of person that would have a laundry day...I used to just do a load every other day or so to keep us in clean clothes. With five people in the house (two of whom wear cloth diapers), I've been converted.  I wash everything on Monday. It's done by Tuesday. Then I do not do laundry the rest of the week (except for diapers and sometimes our running clothes). This is a survival skill.

There's always laundry. There's also always SuperSam, who only wears Superman shirts (or, as a second choice, his space shirts). He usually exhausts his supply of five Superman shirts by the end of the day on Tuesday, disappearing randomly into his room to emerge minutes later in a different pair of pants and a different Superman shirt. Once his shirts are gone, he is sad and mopey (and sometimes refuses to get dressed at all). Ever since I instituted Monday laundry day, he has stopped asking every day if his shirts are clean. On Monday, though, he attacks early and often. This morning, he started asking at 6:30 AM if I had washed his Superman shirts yet. If, for any reason, I don't finish the laundry on Monday (or, God forbid, I have to put it off until another day), he kind of freaks out. I'm not sure if this is normal four-year-old stuff or special SuperSam stuff, but it is a weekly event. When he turns 5, I'm going to have him start doing his own laundry. (I am not kidding.)

At afternoon nap time, I put all the children into their beds and closed them in their rooms. None of them were sleeping, but I didn't care. I thought about collapsing onto my bed, but it (and my bedroom floor) was entirely covered with piles of laundry. I lay down in the hallway and stared at the ceiling.

"All it takes for Monday to win is for the mama in this story to lie here and not get up," I thought.
"Admit defeat," Monday said. "I have chewed you up and spit you out."
I narrowed my eyes and sat up. "You don't win, Monday," I said out loud. "I'm still in this fight."

I dug through the piles of laundry until I found my secret weapon - my running shoes - and I headed for the treadmill. Forty minutes later, drenched in sweat and renewed determination, I was inspired.

Monday is a tough opponent. Either we are trying to get ourselves to work and are responsible for saving the universe before we go, or we stay home when our parenting partner goes to work and are left in the chaos and muck (and still have to save the universe, too). Monday is a tough day to be a mom, and Monday does not play nice. It will kick you in the teeth and take you down if you let it.

We don't have to let it. We can fight back. We are stronger than Monday. We just need to be prepared for battle, equipped with things like shovels and fire hoses and rolls of paper towels and superhero capes. We need a battle cry, too, some good fighting words. Something like, "Get thee behind me, Monday. You have no power here."

We need a Monday Manifesto.
I offer the following as Rules of Engagement.

1. If it's not bleeding or on fire, it's not an emergency.
Take a deep breath before you deal with it. There's time. Better yet, take two deep breaths, and maybe eat a piece of chocolate for good measure.
2. Never fight Monday on an empty stomach.
Coffee first, saving the universe second.
3. Take a bite out of Monday before it takes a bite out of you.
Find something for yourself in the day...stake out your territory, and defend it with your life. Go for a morning run, drink tea while your baby naps, hide in your closet with your newest Us Weekly. Whatever you have to do, do it. This is survival we're talking about.
4. Remember, someone else's Monday is as bad (or worse) than yours.
In the middle of my lunch mishap, my friend texted to say that while she was fully occupied for thirty seconds with her older two children, her toddler found a raw chicken heart and was chewing on it. My troubles paled in comparison. I bet yours did, too. Blergh.
5. If all else fails, press on, sister.
Every moment you persevere, Monday gets weaker. You are not going to die, even if you feel like it. And Tuesday always comes eventually.

(Hooray for Tuesday!)

Monday may try to crush us, but it's just a day. We get 365 of them every year, and over 50 of those are Mondays. Short of sprinkling holy water on the calendar, I'm not sure we can ever rid Monday of its evil Mondayishness. But we can show it who is boss.

Monday chaos raging around me, I stick my coffee cup back in the microwave, put on some good music***, and face the mess head on. Some moments in motherhood are all about just moving forward.

Get thee behind me, Monday. You have no power here.

**Note: Monday does not want you to read this post and feel empowered to fight back, which is why when I tried to publish it earlier today, the entire thing disappeared. I hope you are emboldened by my refusal to keep quiet. Monday, you lose. **

***For a Monday-survival playlist that always motivates me to keep on keeping on, try this.***

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bless This House

Today is Epiphany Sunday, a day on which Christians celebrate the coming of the Magi (or the Kings, or the Wise Men, depending on your tradition) to visit Baby Jesus and bring him gifts.

As the story goes, there were Three Kings from "The East." (The Biblical narrative never specifies how many there were, but tradition says three.) They were astrologers who noticed the presence of a new star in the sky and headed out to find the new king that its appearance signified. SuperSam and his dad saw a planetarium show recently about the star, and he has been telling us ever since that "actually, it wasn't a star, really, it was most likely Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction."

Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction. Photo by SuperSam.

(Note to my friend Julia: he may end up with that space station chaplain job yet.)

Anyway, they saw the star, and they came (riding camels?) with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These have symbolic significance but seem like less-than-stellar baby gifts, if you ask me. (A friend of mine jokes that if the kings had been mothers themselves, they would have brought diapers and wipes.)

Many people exchange gifts on Epiphany as they remember the legendary gifts of the Kings. In some cultures, children are visited by the Kings, who leave them presents. It's also customary to have a Three Kings cake, with a bean or other small object representing the Baby Jesus hidden inside before baking. (The person who finds the "baby" wins a prize.) Some friends of ours host a party each year on Epiphany at which they dispose of the greens from Christmas (trees, wreaths, etc.) with a big bonfire, serve hot spiced cider, and enjoy time with friends.

Epiphany wasn't a big deal for us growing up. I think I was in high school before I learned that the Kings in the story of the Nativity didn't show up at the same time as the shepherds and everyone else, right on Christmas Night. It has been fun to learn more about the many traditions associated with this day and choose which ones we would like to incorporate into our family's celebration.

This year, we are doing a house blessing for Epiphany. This is an old custom dating back to the Middle Ages. Although today it is more familiar in some European countries than in the United States, I have seen many references to it recently. A friend of ours who is a pastor of two local congregations even posted a picture on facebook of the blessing he did at the volunteer fire department. We decided that blessing our house was a great way to start off the new year.

What's the point of blessing our house? Well, we believe that God is present in all things. As I wrote earlier this Christmas season, the holy happens right in the middle of the mundane. Our home is the center of our life together. We are blessing our home to remind ourselves that the ordinary things that happen here are ways of expressing love, serving each other, and serving God. Asking God's blessing on our home and family reminds us that we should keep Christ in the middle of all of it...the toddler tantrums, the piles of laundry, the meals we share at our table, the guests we receive, and the conversations we share. (And the sweeping, of course.) Blessing the house at Epiphany is especially appropriate. Since this feast celebrates the coming of the Light (and the star that the Kings followed to find Jesus), we ask the Light to fill our home and our hearts in the coming year so that we can share the Light with others around us.

The particular words used in a house blessing are not set in stone- you can borrow a blessing that has already been written or create your own. Traditionally, the blessing is said as you mark the lintels of your door with this inscription: 20 + C + M + B + 13. The 2013 is the year, which enfolds the initials of the traditional names of the Three Kings: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. (For a fun musical explanation about who each of these guys were, check out this song by the De Paur Singers. The video isn't great, but you can't beat the song.) The "CMB" also stands for the Latin phrase "Christus Mansionem Benedicat," which means, "Christ Bless This House."

Here is the blessing we used...we decided to combine some resources.

Leader: We ask your blessing upon this house. Fill it and each of us who live here with your light.
(Here, someone should write the inscription above the door.)
Other family member: Christus mansionem benedicat...may Christ bless this house.
Leader: May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is Lord, forever and ever. Amen. *
All together: Christ, in our coming and in our leaving, the Door and the Keeper; for us and our dear ones, this day and every day, blessing for always. Amen. **
We closed by marking the door with the sign of the cross.

If this practice is new to you, you might be interested to know that it is found in many different Christian traditions. (Read: This is not just for Catholics.) It seems to be more common in the "high church" traditions, but there's no reason why any of you can't bless a house for the new year if you want. Liturgy and ancient Christian practices belong to all Christians, regardless of denomination.

As we mark our door with this inscription this year, I am thinking of God commanding his people to mark their doorposts with the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Michael K. Marsh, an Episcopal priest in West Texas who writes at Interrupting the Silence, mentions this in his blog (which, incidentally, makes me feel great for having thought of it!). He also says:

"Chalking the door" is a way to celebrate and literally mark the occasion of the Epiphany and God’s blessing of our lives and home. With time the chalk will fade. As it does we let the meaning of the symbols written sink into the depths of our heart and be manifest in our words and actions.

Blessing a house (or anything, really) is not superstitious. We don't expect our chalk markings and spoken words to protect us from anything. Instead, it is a practice of setting our home (and our life inside it) apart for a special purpose. It's a recognition of the truth that God is already here. It is a choice to be intentional about seeking Love by inviting its presence in our daily lives. Do you have to bless your house? Of course not. We choose to bless our home this year to remind ourselves and each other that God is in our midst, that the ordinary times and activities we share are sacred, and that we should treat each other as we would treat Christ.

Here are some resources about house blessings from around the internet, several with blessings that you can use if you don't want to come up with your own words:

Epiphany House Blessing with chalk from Interrupting the Silence
Epiphany House Blessing from Catholic Icing
Blessing the Home on Epiphany from Catholic Culture
Epiphany Chalk House Blessing from Liturgy (an ecumenical resource)
Blessing of the Home and Household on Epiphany from US Conference of Catholic Bishops

Many people bless the chalk they use to write the inscription (to set it apart for this purpose) or ask their priest to do it for them. Apparently, this is more common in some communities than others. If you ask your priest to bless your chalk and he looks at you oddly, you can feel free to share this post with him.

Have you ever heard of this tradition? Do you observe it in your family? If you do, I'd love to know about other variations or ways of doing it...and if you decide to try it,  please let me know how it goes!


**from Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community (p. 150, Blessing At a Door) 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy Twelfth Night.

Tonight is Twelfth Night, the last night of Christmas. Tomorrow we will celebrate Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the Magi or The Kings (depending on your preference, I guess) to visit the Baby Jesus and bring him gifts. 

I'm feeling a little reluctant to be done with Christmas. I'll miss the new traditions we have started and the rituals we have been celebrating. (I'm also going to miss the cookies...we finished them up today.) It has been so much fun to do Christmas this year, with our children old enough to enjoy so much of what is happening. There were some things we never got around to doing, obviously. There is always more you can cram into your family celebrations, especially at this time of year. We observed Christmas fully and well, though- we enjoyed each other, created new traditions as a family, and celebrated the birth of Christ. As my grandma would say, we done good.

One thing that was left undone as of this evening was the finding of our special ornament. The year we were married, George and I acquired a glass pickle and have taken turns hiding it in the tree for each other to find every year since then. The finder of the pickle is entitled to a treat of his or her choice. This is the first year that SuperSam is old enough to participate. I hid the pickle when we put up our tree weeks ago, but it had not yet been discovered. 

We told SuperSam at dinner that tonight was his last chance to find the pickle before the tree comes down tomorrow. 

Announcing that he planned to eat a candy cane as soon as he located the pickle, SuperSam stuck his head into the tree branches and started looking. It took a boost up from his dad for him to be able to see the pickle...but eventually, he found it!

(And yes, he ate a candy cane, even though he was about to go to bed. We did brush his teeth very well.)

Merry Christmas to each of you and a happy new year. May this coming year be full of light and goodness for you and your families. Thanks for sharing this past year with us. 

Friday, January 4, 2013


This is my first go at Five Minute Friday, where you have five minutes to write in response to a prompt without backtracking or editing. Five minutes feels really, really short...and pushing "publish" feels a bit scary. Please be kind.

Living with a four year old is an opportunity. There are other words for it, too...brought to mind by things like the timer on my phone, which is set to 4 minutes on default unless I change it. (We need to take a lot of four minute breaks these days, when younger sisters are whopped upside their heads with blocks or bowled over by a bicycling boy in a superhero cape as he careens wildly down the hall.) Recently, he's learned to "toot" on command, which means he can produce "toots" on sisters' faces, on mother's lap, at inopportune moments with great-grandparents. Once an adventurous eater, he currently shuns most foods that are mixed together with anything, preferring plain cheeseburgers without buns or every four-year-old's favorite, the chicken nugget. We don't even eat chicken nuggets, but he somehow knows they exist and would prefer them to be the sole component of his diet.

Most of the time, I feel lost where he is I'm in over my head, like my years of training in early childhood and working with other people's children are useless in the face of his four years. He challenges me in ways I didn't know were possible. And yet, sometimes, when I look at him, I'm the one who is bowled over- by a sudden jab of love in my heart, by a stabbing realization that he is so much more than the sum of his annoying parts, by the reminder that my unrelenting love for this strange creature, my firstborn, pales in comparison to God's love for me.

Five Minute Friday

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas, ongoing...Recycled Paper Tube Nativity

Despite the growing number of Christmas trees lying in gutters across America (and a Cadbury egg display sighting by George this weekend at a local convenience store), Christmas is still in effect. Today's the ninth day, and SuperSam and I finished up a project we started a couple of weeks ago.

Now that he's discovered how much fun it can be to play with art materials and glue things together, SuperSam is kind of unstoppable. One of my favorite things is just to give him a pile of recycled stuff and say, "Hey, what do you think we could make with this?" and see what he does.

It was his idea to make a nativity scene out of paper tubes. I had been saving them for his rocket making, and when he asked for them, I assumed a string of rockets would soon appear. I was surprised when he suggested we make an angel instead. The angel turned out great, and then we were on a roll.

We worked together since hot glue was involved - he picked out all the pieces for each character, and I helped with the cutting and the assembly as needed. The pipe cleaner arms were entirely his idea- he said that Mary ought to have arms "so she can rock her baby in case he gets upset." (I love that.) 
Yes, those are airplanes on the angel's robe. And clouds. SuperSam definitely knew what he wanted in the costume department. (You can see how he got there, though.)

This isn't one of those lovely tutorials about how you can make your own nativity out of cardboard tubes. Come on, you don't need a tutorial. It's easy and fun, and you should definitely do it - you have three whole days of Christmas left, so get busy!

We used toilet paper tubes or gift wrap tubes for most of the people, cutting them to appropriate lengths and adding pipe cleaner arms and clothes from scraps of fabric. We cut really small sections of tube for the sheep and covered them with quilt batting using Elmer's glue. It was a sticky mess.

SuperSam did all the faces with magic marker. Most are smiling, and one king has a goatee. 

Baby Jesus is made from an empty spool I had been saving. He's also purple...wait for it..."because he is the newborn king, and purple is the color of royalty." My son, ladies and gentlemen...the liturgical sponge (who somehow managed to absorb something in church even though he was lying on the floor making drum machine noises during part of the homily).

Here is one of the kings bringing the baby a present. (Notice the sticky, half-bald sheep looking on...and Mary, for whom we emptied out the fabric scrap bag searching for the perfect piece of blue flannel.) 
After we completed the kings today, SuperSam played with the whole group for quite a while (until The Sisters got up from nap and threatened to eat some of the sheep). The kings ended up flying in from the end of the hallway on a spaceship "because we forgot to make some camels...we have, basically, none camels at this nativity".

It was awesome.