Friday, January 31, 2014

7 Quick Takes: The Jumble of Thoughts edition

This is true 7 Quick Takes - 7 things you want to know that aren't long enough to warrant their own posts.

How badly you want to know about these things depends on who you are and how interesting you find my musings about random things (like Suzuki violin, car alarms and Random Guys With Fishing Poles).

SuperSam told me today that he loves me as much as 13 million thousand googolplex thousand gajillion Jupiters in a row. And if all the planets' orbits were stretched out in a straight line, end to end, and then fused together and then bent into one enormous ellipse, it would not be big enough to contain God's love for us.


In the world of Suzuki violin at the Dupuy household, things have been bumpy this week. Yesterday, my very stubborn, very articulate son spent two and a half hours trying to argue with me about why he couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't/didn't have time to practice his Twinkle Variations. I sat in a chair the whole time and just kept saying, "I hear what you're saying. Unfortunately, you can't move on to the next thing until you finish your practice." He finally did it.

Once he started, it took him less than 10 minutes to play all the variations and 8 repetitions of the first phrase of "Lightly Row."

Then it was time for lunch. It was time for lunch because he used up our entire morning with his non-practicing, and I let him do it.

I knew about twenty minutes into the whole thing that the approach I was taking wasn't really working. I also knew he wasn't going to back down easily. In a very mature, awesome parent moment, I decided to dig in my heels and be more stubborn than he was.

Although he did eventually finish, it didn't feel like a victory. I hate it when my child's weaknesses are so clearly coming from me.

Today, I gave him a marshmallow for each variation- he got to eat them at the end. The whole process took 12 minutes, and he got an extra marshmallow for being awesome. Maybe things are turning around.

We have been enjoying the new-to-us van. Every time we get into it, Lucy says, "This is really our car now," and Nora says, "Hewwo, new van!" The downside: there are these crazy newfangled electronic keys that only open with buttons, and only one of them works. Somehow, George ended up with the working one.

Only the driver's door has a regular lock. To use it, you have to slide this button on the electronic key thingy over and push another button to pull a valet key out of the top. Then you can put the valet key in the door to unlock it.

When you open the door handle, though, a crazy loud alarm starts, and everyone within a mile looks to see who is trying to steal a van. To stop it, you have to stuff the valet key back into the top of the electronic key thingy and shove it into the ignition and turn it on. Meanwhile, your kids cover their ears and scream at you about how loud the alarm is, and everyone nearby stares as you struggle to stop it as quickly as possible.

George, we have to remember to switch keys.

The Sisters' increasingly crazy nap time situation has resulted in Lucy's temporary relocation to a nap spot in the living room. I have begun removing her to a pack and play by herself for nap time. Without Nora to do her bidding, she gets bored and falls asleep. Without Lucy to keep her awake, Nora also falls asleep. There is, altogether, less trouble and more sleep.

There is also a pack n play in the living room, which (as you might imagine) adds greatly to the decor.

Tomorrow, we are making the questionable choice to go to IKEA. It can be pretty crazy on a Saturday, I know, but this trip really needs to happen. We have to get a wardrobe for the girls' room to have a way to close something up (so that they stop redecorating their bedroom behind closed doors with every article of clothing they own). They also need actual big girl beds, because we need at least one of their cribs for the new baby (and it seems better to make that transition early for many reasons). SuperSam desperately needs a clip on reading lamp that will clamp onto his bed.

Thank goodness we have that van with the stow and go seat...and George's key, so the alarm won't even go off when we open it.

It's 55 degrees here today. Lucy sighed as we passed the Greenway on Wednesday (when the high temp was 16 degrees) and asked if we would ever be able to take a walk there again. "I remember there is a tunnel that I love so much in my heart," she said. After naps today, we headed out there to walk. We needed to take advantage of the bright sunny spot of warmth...they're calling for snow and more super coldness next week.

On our walk, we met another twin mom with a little girl in kindergarten and a set of fraternal 2 year old boys who were born the day after Lucy and Nora. That is an instant friendship. It almost doesn't matter if we have anything else in common. We exchanged phone numbers. I kind of wanted to hug her and buy her one of those BFF necklaces, but I decided to wait.

Also on our Greenway walk, we encountered a Random Guy With Fishing Pole who gestured at The Sisters in their red coats and grunted, "They's twins?" When I told him they were, he pointed his fishing pole at my stomach and said, "You better not be havin' twins again!"

That's one I haven't heard before. I guess I can add it to the list of things you should never say to a mom of multiples. Or anyone, really.

Also, I guess I officially look pregnant enough that Random Guys With Fishing Poles are going to stop their fishing to call me out about it. Good to know.

You know what's almost never boring? Attending ecumenical gatherings with my liturgically-minded Catholic kids. We occasionally go to Mission Friends, a non-denominational gathering of parents and kids at the Baptist church in town. The kids hear a story about a real-life missionary, have a snack, sing songs together, and usually do an art project. Today, there was a tray game (just like at a baby shower). Objects related to the missionaries of the day were arranged on a tray. The tray was covered with a blanket, and an object was removed. The kids had to guess what was missing. SuperSam and his friend Aubrey are the big kids now and confidently supplied the majority of the answers.

At one point, the leader asked, "Why would I put a candle on the tray today?" SuperSam didn't hesitate at all. "Because it's almost Candlemas!"

(I'm pretty sure from my own Baptist upbringing that Ms. Judy has never heard of Candlemas.)

He's right, though. Candlemas is this Sunday. Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas- the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Traditionally, churches bless the candles that will be used for the rest of the year on this day. Although our church doesn't really do that, we still like to mark the day and will probably stock up on new candles at IKEA tomorrow.

St. Brigid's day is coming up tomorrow, too. Here is how we celebrated St. Brigid last year. If you're looking for ideas to celebrate either of these days, check out these great posts:

Overview of Liturgical Living in February from Carrots for Michaelmas
Liturgical Living: Candlemas from Carrots for Michaelmas
Candlemas and St. Blaise from Two O's Plus More
Ideas for Celebrating Candlemas from Catholic Icing

Have a great weekend- and check out more quick takes over at Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

TwinsDay Wednesday: Lucy takes on Google

It's possible that Lucy has been feeling a bit left out lately.

With all the major milestones Nora has been achieving (spontaneously stripping off her clothes and diaper, climbing out of her crib, climbing into Lucy's crib, rearranging and upending furniture to use it for her own devious climbing purposes, jumping off chairs, jumping off tables, jumping off stools, jumping off and on her bed), perhaps Lucy was feeling the need to prove herself.

I am, of course, completely aware that Lucy masterminds many of Nora's more outrageous missions, just as she orders her big brother around. I can hear her little voice right now from behind their closed bedroom door commanding, "You do it, No-rah. You go geddit RIGHT NOW."

(I have no idea what she is telling Nora to get, but I am sure it isn't good. They are supposed to be asleep, after all.)

Anyway, since she doesn't get enough glory for being the boss of everyone, she has apparently been pursuing other interests. She had the iPad for about 48 seconds yesterday morning. (Two-year-olds do not have iPad privileges in our family.) I heard the song from the Newton's Apple game playing, so I came over to get it from her. I thought that was the end of it.

Much to my surprise, later in the afternoon, I saw that she had been using Safari to google things. Who knows what kind of nefarious schemes she is cooking up? I can't understand her search terms.

Here's what she entered:

Ippp j,kmokk.llllllhhgggvbhnhnu

Her other search, "gfgfgfgfgfgfgfgf," did actually produce a set of results so weird that I'm not going to duplicate them here. I hope she didn't watch any of those YouTube videos. Weird, weird, weird.

I guess I'll add the iPad to the list of things I thought were out of her reach but really weren't. (It was on top of my dresser.)

On second thought, she probably got Nora or Sam to get it for her.

With Nora's super climbing power and Lucy's scheming mind, nothing is ever going to be out of their reach again. 

On a serious note- where else can I put things? The dresser was the last place that was out of reach for them. Short of building a shelf eight inches from the ceiling that runs around the perimeter of their room, I'm just not sure where else I can move things to keep them from being able to get them. Any ideas?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How I almost forgot that people are more important than (important) stuff

Things aren’t the most important. People are the most important.
Things can be replaced, and people can’t. People matter more than things. Always.

This is supposed to be true.
Mothers, especially, are supposed to know this.

Certainly, when I look hard into my daughters’ faces and at the tiny pearl beads scattered all over the bedroom floor, I’m supposed to remember that people, especially these small people, are more important than things.

But I don’t.

I forget for a minute that I do actually care more about their feelings than about the bracelets they have destroyed.

Aunt Carolyn made the bracelets…my dad’s Aunt Carolyn, the surviving twin sister of his Aunt Marolyn, who died of cancer. They’re the only other twins on either side of my family. When I opened the package containing those bracelets, I wept at how perfectly tiny they were, at how I was going to have two daughters who would wear them, at how Aunt Carolyn had wrapped them lovingly in cotton and mailed them from Louisiana to Virginia for my girls. There were four bracelets altogether- two unimaginably small ones for them to wear right away and two slightly less tiny ones for later on, trimmed with little ribbons.

They are special because with them, Aunt Carolyn was letting me know that my daughters-to-be were special to her.

Now, they’re gone.

I wish it didn't matter so much. I wish I was the kind of mom who could shrug and say, "Oh, honey, it's okay, no big deal." No matter how much I wish it, though, I'm not that mother. Sometimes I think my dad made me the way I am. Not only did he believe that how your things were cared for was a dependable indicator of your character, he went and died when I was just five years old. I loved him so much. I miss him so much. For better or worse, I determined early on to make sure that he would be proud of me for taking such good care of my stuff.

Shortly after his death, when we had moved back from Alaska to Virginia, I had a friend over to play. My little sister and I had a new dollhouse with some tiny animal occupants who were all wearing clothes. I left the room for a moment, and when I returned, my friend and my sister were halfway through undressing all the tiny animals, piling their clothes in a heap.

Fury made my raised voice shaky. “What do you think you’re doing?!”

My friend was astonished. “The clothes are made to come off, so I’m trading them around. I’m being creative.”

Through gritted teeth, I told her to get out. Her mom came to pick her up a while later. I didn’t come down to say goodbye. I was painstakingly dressing the animals again, making sure every one looked just the same as it had when it came out of the box. I knew I had hurt her feelings- I just didn't care.

Through years of living with children, I’ve relaxed a lot about my stuff. It's hard to be too precious about things when there are three little people running about all the time. If I’m honest, though, there are certain things that are much more to me than just things- the china cabinet my grandpa made us as a wedding gift, the wooden giraffe from my childhood missionary friend in Tanzania, the little stained glass dove George gave me when I was received into the Church. I remember where all our Christmas ornaments were bought or who gave them to us as gifts. Things, in my case, are definitely more than just things sometimes, particularly when they represent people who meant a lot to me and are no longer around.

Of course, my two-year-old daughters don’t understand this.

They saw the out-of-reach little box way on top of their shelf as a treasure to be won. They pushed their two toddler armchairs over to the shelf, turned them over like ramps, and scaled them until they reached the upper shelf. They stretched the tiny elastic bands in their hands as they bounced on their beds. I imagine them ripping the bracelets apart with gleeful abandon, giggling at the beads shooting everywhere as the fragile bands snapped.

They didn’t know about Aunt Carolyn. They didn’t know I’d be angry.

I wish they didn’t know now, but they definitely do.

I yelled at them, demanded to know why they had done this, and forcefully removed them from their room so I could recover as many beads as possible. While their dad read to them on the sofa, I scoured the baseboards, squinting, desperate to rescue as many of the tiny pearls as I could, holding them carefully in my cupped palm. Under one of the beds, I found the lid to the box that had held the bracelets. As I turned it over to pour the beads inside, I gasped.

Inside the lid were the tiny hospital bracelets the girls wore after they were born.

I forgot I had put them there for safekeeping…bracelets with bracelets, it made sense at the time…and it had been so long since I’d opened the box that seeing them there shocked me. I held them in my fingers, putting each one back together to form the impossibly tiny ring that once encircled each baby’s wrist.

How can they possibly ever have been that small?

The hospital bracelets, also, are just things. Tonight, though, they’re the things I really needed to see- a reminder of how far we’ve come, how many trials we endured just to get these girls here healthy and whole, what a victory it was to bring them home with me from the hospital without any time in the NICU. There was a time we were afraid to imagine them as boisterous toddlers, taking life at full tilt, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. We were once afraid to hope we would make it this far.

They’re miraculous, really, as are all children to their mothers.

Their dad put them to bed to give me time to cool off. With Christmas boxes still sitting on the treadmill, typing ferociously will have to do for now.

In a few minutes, though, I’ll sneak back into their darkened room and brush the hair from their foreheads. I’ll smooth their covers and tuck the ends around their little feet. There will be no doubt in my mind that they are more important than any thing could ever be.

Tomorrow, in the clean light of morning, I’ll be sure to tell them that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

7QT: Answers to those Homeschool Frequently Asked Questions

So, how's it GOING?

I've been getting this question a lot lately, almost as often as I did back in the fall when we first decided NOT to send SuperSam to public school kindergarten and to homeschool instead. I guess it's a new year, halfway through a school year...everyone wants to know if we think we did the right thing.

(Okay, not everyone. That might be overstating it a bit.)

Still, a lot of people want to know what we think of our choice to homeschool this year. I think people are mostly just curious because this is such a different path than the ones George and I traveled as kids. Some people are concerned, too, and their questions reflect their affection for Sam and their wondering about how we are handling things.

So, to put all of your minds at rest, I'm sharing the answers to the 7 Most Frequently Asked Questions about our decision to homeschool this year (with lots of photos of SuperSam's education in progress, for your viewing pleasure).

These takes might be slightly less quick than usual. I do want to be thorough, you know?

Testing to see if this viewer will work as a telescope

Do you think you made the right decision in homeschooling this year?

Absolutely, 100% yes. I have no doubt that we did the right thing.

My son is an interesting kid.
  • He's curious and creative with boundless energy and lots of faith in himself. This can make him a challenging family member. 
  • He is always certain that what he has to say is the most important. 
  • He doesn't have a "lower" volume setting. 
  • He wiggles almost constantly and often falls off his seat at mealtimes or during church. 
  • He gets distracted easily (especially by written material, which he always has to read even when it isn't for him, especially if he's supposed to be doing something else). 
  • He has laser-sharp focus for hours on projects or books that capture his interest, but he can't remember to get his shoes on if you send him to his room for that purpose. 
  • He puts everything in his can immediately recognize his pencils because the erasers are chewed off. 
  • He often makes crazy bad decisions in the name of science because he wants "to see what will happen." 
  • He remembers everything he reads. (Yes, I really mean everything.)
  • He corrects adults when he knows they are wrong and has to be reminded that it's not always polite to do so. 
  • He has no patience for rote tasks or for daily chores, like making the bed. ("Why? I'm just going to unmake it when I sleep in it, anyway...what's the point?")

Basically, he's a high-energy, intelligent five-year-old boy.

He is completely awesome at the following things: making up wildly entertaining stories, creating and performing plays with complicated plots, doing research to answer questions he thinks of while he should be sleeping, climbing things, memorizing poems, baking cookies, reading and retaining information, solving addition and subtraction problems with his whole body, planning menus, building things using multiple types of materials at once, digging in the dirt, remembering both the Greek and Latin names for mythological characters, riding his balance bike, ordering pizza online, composing catchy riffs with inventive use of vocal percussion.

Areas in which he does not excel: sitting quietly, waiting patiently, raising his hand before speaking, using his walking feet, using his library voice, remembering where his coat (pencil, wallet, shoe, sock, favorite stuffed planet) is, doing repetitive tasks, finding things that are right in front of him, being aware of where his body is in space.

I'm pretty sure that if he were one of twenty-something kids in a classroom, his teacher would be pulling her hair out. It's okay for me to say that because I love him dearly and sometimes, I'm pulling my hair out, too.  

The thing is, SuperSam is flourishing in our current arrangement and has learned a lot this year. He's very enthusiastic about it. He's not anxious about school. He has time to explore his interests deeply and has read a lot of books. He's having fun.

I'm free to adjust things to suit his learning style and his need for perpetual motion. I let him chew gum or chew on straws when he needs to sit still to do a task (which is hardly ever). We are putting sensory bands on the bottom of his seat at the table so he'll have extra input for his feet (and maybe won't fall off quite as often during dinner). He has the freedom to work fast, read for hours, and spend lots of time outside poking the roly-poly bugs under the swingset and drawing different kinds of clouds. He can still take an afternoon nap, which he really needs.

Most importantly, he didn't need an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) to get any of these accommodations. I didn't have to advocate for his needs in the classroom or have him tested. We can just do what works for him.

It's pretty amazing, really. Like him.

How does he get to socialize?

This question frustrates me. It assumes that socializing with people born the same year as you were is the most important factor in whether you will grow up "normal." Once we get out of the K-12 setting into the "real world," we are around people of all different ages...for the rest of our lives. It seems like it would be as important a life skill to know how to socialize with all ages of people, right? I'm not even sure what year most of the people I know were born.


He is actually socializing regularly with other people born in 2008, both at church (where they have age-graded classes) and at violin group lessons (where the other kids in his group are generally Kindergartners or first graders). He played on an age-graded soccer team in the fall and might do so again in the spring. We also have a few other homeschooling families with children his age with whom we hang out/paint pumpkins/take field trips/build Legos/ride bicycles/climb trees/catch crayfish/hunt for salamanders.

He also talks to our neighbors (all adults) when he sees them, makes his own requests for materials at the library (even when his favorite librarian isn't there), and volunteers to tell strangers at the grocery store about what constellations are visible this time of year. He politely and competently orders his own food in restaurants.

He's fine.

How can you be serious about school when you have the twins at home to deal with?

I know where this question comes from. Anyone who has ever met a two-year-old can imagine having two of them at once...the noise! the squabbling! the diapers! the constant unrolling of toilet paper!...and legitimately wants to know how I can accomplish anything at all around here. Taking on the serious task of educating my oldest child on top of behavior managing the Sisters seems like a lot to handle.

This is true. It is a lot to handle, but it's not as bad as you might think.

First, school is only so serious at this point. It's Kindergarten, and he already knows how to read, so the biggest hurdle was crossed before we started. Before school in general became as test-driven as it is today, Kindergartners used to play a lot more than they do now. They had dress up and blocks and lots more free play.  They got to focus on things like dealing with their frustration when there aren't enough red square Legos to make the airplane they designed, or working out how to share one wheelbarrow between three eager gardeners. I have absolutely no problem with going back to that model around here. He has his whole life to get serious about academics...he's only 5.

Second, the Sisters like to do what SuperSam does. If he's at the table working, they want to do "school," too. They each have a composition book that they like to make lines in while he is practicing handwriting. When that gets boring, there is a bag of special things that they can only use during "school" time. It keeps them busy for a while most days. Sometimes, they play with magnet letters on the refrigerator or play with the kitchen toys and make pretend food for us while we are working. If all else fails, I put a dishpan of water out for them and let them wash their babies or their dishes (which really just means that they get water all over the floor and each other). It usually buys us 30 extra minutes. Most days, that's all we need.

Some days, we finish school while they are napping.

On the days when nothing else works, we go outside or build a fort in the living room with blankets or set up a grocery store with the toy cash register and all the canned food from our pantry, and everyone plays. If you ask me, this is a perfect use of time- they're all together, they're working out their problems, they're being creative and doing dramatic play. We'll call it the best-case scenario for our mixed-age classroom.

Aren't you worried that he's missing out on what the other kids are learning at school?


We are covering the basics with lots of extra time left over to explore various interests. SuperSam is a voracious reader, and he chooses books on all kinds of topics. This fall, he worked on dinosaurs, Greek mythology, Ancient Rome, and space. He also had a brief fling with Russian culture.

He has learned to add, subtract, count money and tell time because he wanted to know how to do those things. Math is his favorite subject, he says.

Finally, he's studying Latin. (This was his choice. Most people start later, I know, but he can do the reading just fine and has a real knack for picking up the vocabulary. I see no harm in allowing him to accumulate lots of Latin vocab now as it will only make later language study easier. As a bonus, he's learned some Latin prayers that we use at church sometimes, and that helps him feel he can participate more fully.)

Violin practice also takes place as part of our school time.

I know he'd be learning different stuff at school, but I'm not concerned about gaps in his knowledge. If he needs to know something, he asks or finds out somehow. Even if he somehow made it to adulthood without some key piece of information he should have learned in Kindergarten, I'm confident he would be able to find out what he needed to know.

Also, I'm sure there are things he's not learning from his would-be schoolmates that I'm just as glad he doesn't know yet.

So no. Not worried.

How long do you think you can keep this up? Are you putting him in first grade in public school this fall?

I expect we will keep this up as long as it works well for everyone.

We are not planning to put him in public school first grade next fall.

Things are working out great, and we see no reason to change the plan unless there is a reason to change the plan.

What curriculum are you using?

We are not using an "out of the box" curriculum at all. I'm piecing things together based on SuperSam's needs and interests. One of the biggest advantages of doing school at home is that I can personalize things for him without needing to label him "ahead of grade level" in one area or "at grade level" in another or "needs extra work" in a third. We can just work on things he needs to work on.

We are using Saxon Math 1, but kind of loosely so need to rush into things (after all, he's just 5). Saxon has a placement test on their web site, which is handy for determining which book you need. We've enjoyed finding some great deals on gently used books through cathswap, a yahoo list where you can post items for sale and look for items you need. It's been great (even if the volume of e-mails is slightly overwhelming at just means there is a robust used book market for homeschoolers!).

We try to visit the library every week for new books to read (although we got off schedule a bit over the holidays). SuperSam generally selects his own reading material with occasional guidance from me. I figure if he gets something too difficult, he'll figure that out when he starts reading it. I do try to encourage at least one more challenging book for every two or three picture books (which he still reads and enjoys a lot).

We are using Prima Latina from Memoria Press for Latin, and we love it.

We use Zane-Bloser for handwriting, and it's fine- he really likes doing handwriting, for some reason.

Finally, we spend a lot of time doing hands-on experiments and working on SuperSam's various projects. Since these are interest-driven, we don't need a curriculum for them. He finds books at the library when he needs to research something or looks things up online with supervision.

Next year, we'll add more stuff, but this is plenty for now. Again- Kindergarten. Not inherently stressful unless I make it that way, right?

Is there anything you wish you'd done differently so far?

I wish we spent more time outside. It's tough with the cold weather, but I expect as spring weather arrives, we will be doing lots more hikes and nature walks again. Almost all learning is portable, so there's no reason to stay cooped up indoors all the time. Being outdoors seems to calm everyone down, and SuperSam's boundless energy is less noticeable when there aren't walls for him to bounce between.

I also wish I had worried slightly less about whether I was doing the right thing by choosing to homeschool. I lost a lot of sleep over it. I guess the upside of having worried so much is that I'm now confident that we are doing what's best for our son and our family at this stage.

So, there you have it...the not-so-quick answers to your 7 most common questions about our homeschooling life so far. If you made it all the way to the end, thanks! 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Theme Thursday: Catching People Unawares

"Oh. Good morning."

That's what Lucy said when I opened the door.

Nora added, "We made a little mess."

I think I need a new strategy for putting their things away at night. Clearly closets, shelves and baskets aren't going to get us through this stage of dumping out all the things as soon as the door is closed.

So yes, I caught them unawares...they just didn't seem particularly concerned.

If anyone needs me, I'll be filling bags with their stuff and putting a bunch of it in the shed. While they are in Full-On Dumping Mode, I think we can do with fewer toys. And shoes. And clothes. And tiny hair bows.

For more surprise photo moments, head over to Clan Donaldson

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

TwinsDay Wednesday: Just don't say Double Trouble. Please.

Double Trouble.

We hear it at Costco a lot. (Costco, that heavenly buy-in-bulk place with the super giant double-wide carts, perfectly designed to hold your Double Trouble, should you happen to be blessed with it.)

It's one of my least favorite phrases.

First of all, it doesn't make sense. Does the person saying it believe all children are trouble to begin with? Can she tell that my children, in particular, are full of trouble? Do they look more deviant than other kids she's seen?

Second, saying Double Trouble shows a lack of creativity and a lack of experience. No parent of twins would ever say "Double Trouble" to a fellow parent of twins. In fact, only someone with no twin experience at all would use this phrase.

Why? How can I be so sure?

Because Double Trouble doesn't begin to explain the kind of havoc that is wreaked on your life as a parent when your twins are two years old.

There has to be some kind of other mathematical formula that can better explain what happens when a pair of two year olds are coming into their own at the same time in the same household.  It's more like Perpetually Multiplying Trouble, or Trouble with Lots of Exponents.

Double Trouble doesn't even begin to cover it.

Let me show you my bathroom earlier this afternoon.

This is my bathroom. No, it doesn't usually look like that.

My husband called and asked me to measure the TV cabinet. I walked to my bedroom and got a tape measure off the dresser. The Sisters were playing quietly in their room with their dolls. I walked to the living room, still on the phone, and provided the measurements...length...width. I reminded him what time I taught piano this evening. I told him goodbye. I started back to the laundry room to put the tape measure away.

Then, SuperSam yelled from down the hall. "You've got to come NOW and see what the Sisters are doing! Oh, no! Oh, no, this is a real crisis!"

I followed his voice down the hall to my bathroom and found both girls on the floor, apparently having sisterly bonding time over mouthfuls of Chapstick and deodorant. Bottles of travel shampoo were open and smeared everywhere. Artistically applied eyeliner covered the side of the tub and part of the floor. Tampons had been unwrapped and dropped into a mostly-empty cup. One roll of toilet paper had been completely unrolled into the bathtub and was soaking wet.  There was an open bottle of sunscreen, a new tube of concealer and handfuls of Q-Tips in the toilet. Lucy was brandishing a can of shaving cream.

I stared at them, speechless.

Nora finally broke the silence. "This Chapstick tastes like candy canes."

So much for childproof cabinet locks.

I should point out that Lucy has a history of defeating cabinet locks, and the one on this particular cabinet had already been replaced with a different model. I also close the bathroom door every time I leave it for extra security.

They can open doorknobs now? and childproof locks that are different than that other kind they figured out how to open?

Considering the earlier events of this week, I really shouldn't be surprised.

This is how I found them after "nap time." And no, they don't share a bed. And yes, those toys were all put away before nap. Nora climbed out of her crib. After she had pulled out every toy and book (and, inexplicably, all the sweaters from their closet), she flipped over Lucy's toddler chair, propped it against her crib like a ramp, and used it to climb inside with her where they both took off their pants and diapers.

Their diapers. Thankfully, one of them was only wet. The other one needed some heavy-duty cleaning (she could have used a bath, really, but there wasn't time).

I found them this way about twenty minutes before my piano student was due to arrive for a lesson.

We cleaned the walls, changed the sheets and took the sides off their cribs that day to convert them to toddler beds, worried that in all the climbing in and out someone would get hurt. This is a little earlier than I'd hoped to be dealing with the bed issue. Sam was quite a bit older before he managed to climb out of his bed, and since they walked so late, I hoped the girls would follow his example.

It seems they prefer to set their own standards.

Our last two days and nights have not been exactly restful.

I have to admit that I had been enjoying their very alert, but content to play in their cribs for a few minutes and keep each other company stage. I could fit in a shower or get a load of laundry folded before I got them up. They could chat to each other and hang out for a while before they got antsy.

They could. Until this week.

Now it's all broken loose and it's running all over the place. This evening, while they are supposed to be sleeping, they have pulled out all the baby wipes from the container on the shelf and gotten all their clothes out of the closet. They have every toy and book scattered all over the floor. Again. They were both wearing cloth diaper covers as hats the last time I checked on them.

Most importantly, they are not sleeping. They are cranky and tired, so they torment each other (and their brother) during the day.

Somehow, when it's time to rest their exhausted little bodies and minds, they suddenly become the best of friends and decide to play all night long. They kept turning the lights on, so I moved the stool they used to reach the switch. It's totally dark, but they just don't care. I can hear them running around as actively as if they had night vision goggles. As my grandmother Horton would say, "they are having a big time in there," under the cover of darkness.

Come daylight, we'll be cleaning it up. I can only pray there isn't poop involved this time.

If I survive this stage of my double blessing, I promise to come up with a better term than Double Trouble.

And the next time someone says that to me, I'm going to have a response ready:

"You have no idea."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: the Kyrie Eleison edition

SuperSam has been avidly reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz since he bought it with his Christmas gift card at Barnes and Noble week before last. It is a nice hardback copy, and it has a label in the front.

I think he was almost as excited about the label as the book itself.

We have also been reading it out loud with him before bed each night (although he keeps telling us what's going to happen, since he's read far ahead). George hasn't read the book before and is surprised at how different it is from the movie. I have read the book before and am still surprised at how different it is from the movie.

Sometimes, I think I shouldn't watch movies that are made from books at all. I feel like the movie producer has taken over my brain with his choices. Even if his choices aren't bad, my brain likes to make its own decisions, you know?

My children have been playing "Nativity" since the first week of Advent. I suppose we can't expect them to stop their favorite game just because the liturgical year is moving on without them. Still, I'm starting to tire of hearing them address each other only as "Joseph," "Mary" (or sometimes "Blessed Virgin" with a hard "g") and "Baby Jesus."

Sam is always, always Mary. He puts a blue blanket on his head and directs all the action. Nora (Joseph) waits upon him hand and foot, fetches things, and generally does whatever he tells her. Lucy (Baby Jesus) is more likely to go rogue and refuse to follow his directives, at which point he always tells her she'll need to take a break and think about how she's getting along with the rest of the group.

He's obviously identified Mary's important role in the Incarnation (and claimed it for himself), but I'm not sure he has the group dynamics down quite yet. I did try to talk with him about it, reminding him that Jesus is really the reason for the whole story. He retorted that Jesus wouldn't have gotten very far without a mama to change his poopy diapers.

Incarnational theology, five-year-old style.

We've gently started back to school again, and we're getting lots of questions from friends and family about how things are going. In fact, I think the questions are frequent enough that they (and the answers to them) deserve their own post. Next week, look for a homeschool FAQ from me. (Just don't expect me to dispense any advice after just one semester of homeschooling).

Afternoon nap time here is sacred. I've been battling the fatigue and sickness of first trimester pregnancy these last couple of months, so an afternoon nap has become even more critical for me. The twins have always been good sleepers, so it was usually just Sam I had to convince to respect "quiet rest time."

Last week, with no warning at all, the Sisters began a series of Twin Naptime Fiascos. They've taken to throwing their stuffed animals out of the cribs and then shouting for them, dropping their blankies on the floor and then crying for those, jumping on their mattresses like trampolines, beating on the walls, etc. Yesterday, they both pulled their baptismal crosses off their walls above their beds and pointed them at each other while yelling, "Kyrie Eleison! Blam, Blam-o!" and making shooting noises.

Clearly this is a spinoff of the earlier game this week.

Anyway, it's not conducive to rest.

I haven't figured out what to do yet (other than moving the crosses, of course). They usually go to sleep eventually, about the time Sam is getting up...and since Sam doesn't really have a low volume setting, the girls' afternoon nap is often short-lived.

Adding another baby to the mix ought to help straighten things out, don't you think?

I got one of those fun corporate parenting emails last week advising me that obedient children have parents who consistently enforce rules. "If you want your child to obey, be less wishy-washy," it said. "Be sure to have consequences for behavior and apply them consistently."

I'm not sure exactly what they think I'm doing all day if not enforcing consequences and applying them consistently. I'm certainly not doing housework, cooking, writing or running. Sometimes it feels like the whole day is just passing from one child to another and dealing with three categories of behavior:
  • Sibling-on-Sibling Violence ("Your sister's hand is not food, please do not bite it." "We do not use our hands to strangle people." "She had that first; you need to ask for a turn before you take it out of her hand and smack her with it." "Please don't wipe your nose on her hair; get a tissue instead.") 
  • Social Boundary Stuff ("Please make sure you are wearing underwear when you sit on the couch." "It's important to flush after you use the toilet." "We don't yell 'Kyrie Eleison' at our neighbors- they don't understand that game.")
  • General Parental Testing ("We have already tucked you in, given you more water, moved your nightlight so it doesn't make the shadow on the wall look like the Cowardly Lion is eating Toto, and found your stuffed Spinosaurus. Now GO TO BED.")

The idea that having and enforcing consequences would automatically result in well-mannered, obedient children seemed perfectly logical to me...before I had any children.

Oh, well. If they grow up to be delinquents, I'll comfort myself with the knowledge that they are super-smart and just like to push limits ("to see what will happen").

It sounds like the dreaded "polar vortex" is on its way back. We've had little spurts of snow (not enough to play in, but enough to make it cold and slick and muddy outside). My philosophy about cold, rain and other "yucky" weather is that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. As long as we have the right stuff to wear, we can still go out.

Philosophy-schmilosophy. I just haven't felt up to it, so we haven't gone outside much recently.

Happily, the folks at Imagination Tree came up with some great ideas of things to do inside to pass the time. I have my own favorite stuck-inside activities, and I'm sure you do, too...but if it's going to be freezing again, we could probably all use some new ideas for our lists.

Ever since we reluctantly joined the ranks of minivan drivers last year, I've had a love-hate relationship with our van. I firmly believe that once you buy something it should never break, ever. Unfortunately, our van has some issues. Most of them are minor, but lately, the transmission has been slipping. One minute, all is well, and the next minute, the van won't shift into the next gear (and we have to pull off on the side of the road, turn it off, wait a few minutes, and turn it on again while praying that it will work).

We don't have a great history with vans. We borrowed one from a family friend to go home for Christmas when the girls were three months old. On the way down (on Christmas Eve), the engine started making a funny noise. We pulled off in an empty Barnes and Noble parking lot, where the van promptly caught on fire. Sam was delighted when the fire trucks came, but the rest of us were less enthusiastic.

I was brought up to believe that Hondas and Toyotas are superior to all other cars, yet it's a Honda whose transmission is threatening to leave me (the pregnant lady with three little kids) stranded on the side of a highway someplace. Not ideal.

George is meeting with the man who sold us the van last year to see what can be done...replace the transmission with a used one? Trade it for another van?

Got a van you love or hate? Tell me about it. I'm about to be done with this one, I think.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Open Letter to the Catholics in the Combox

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I'm calling you brothers and sisters because that's exactly what you are. You are my siblings in Christ. You are also each others' siblings in Christ. We are lucky, aren't we, to have so many siblings?

Siblings are for life. They can love, uplift and support each other in the darkest of times.

They also know exactly how to tear each other down.

Being brothers and sisters means that we know each others' weaknesses. We know what buttons to push. We know what we can say to get each other really worked up. 

Usually, in polite society, people refrain from hitting those buttons. We try not to make each other really angry on purpose. We try, generally, to be considerate of others' needs and opinions. We try to be respectful of each others' weaknesses. We certainly don't expose those weaknesses for everyone else to see. We're brothers and sisters, after all.

Lately, we have forgotten to act like brothers and sisters who support each other, because we're focused on something way more important.

We're too busy trying to prove we are RIGHT. 

I know. We all have things about which we're passionate.

You think people should be more tolerant of families with young (potentially distracting, noisy or wiggly) children at Mass? Or maybe you need Mass to be quiet and prayerful, and you find the noise of children sitting near you unforgivably irreverent?

You need to breastfeed your hungry baby to keep him from crying during Mass and feel you shouldn't have to leave the church to do it? Or maybe you find the sight of someone breastfeeding in public distracting and awkward (at best) or completely scandalous (at worst) and think it's completely inappropriate?

You think Pope Francis doesn't focus enough on abortion and isn't doing enough to speak out against sin? Or you think Pope Francis should be working more to help women exercise a bigger leadership role in the church? Or you think Pope Francis is the first Pope ever to really care about or speak on behalf of the poor? Or you think Pope Francis is trying to destroy the relationships between the Church and Catholic-owned businesses in the US? You love Pope Francis and think he is saving the Church? You really dislike his style and think he's ruining the Church?


You think that. Your well-formed Catholic conscience tells you it is so. You are sure you are RIGHT.

Unfortunately, you know that person in the pew across the aisle from you, the one who arrived at the opposite opinion with his well-formed Catholic conscience? He's sure he is RIGHT, too.

Everyone likes to be RIGHT...and while most of us are probably not going to start wrestling out our differences in the aisles after Mass, we have decided it's okay to rip people to shreds in the comment box anytime they say something with which we disagree.

I get it. These issues are important. You see it as your job to correct the error of your brothers and sisters in Christ. You can't stand that people are misrepresenting Church teaching. You find it arrogant that people who hold a different opinion than yours also believe that they are speaking the truth. You have to advocate for what is correct, or what's just, or what's RIGHT.

I am no moral relativist. I don't think everyone is equally right. I don't think that whatever you believe is totally okay, no matter what it is. I believe in truth.

I also believe that we, as Catholics, have bigger problems than worrying about who among us is most correct.

There is a whole world out there that is not in love with God. There are people who have never been introduced to Jesus. There are people who got a very unpleasant introduction to Christianity and will never give it another chance. There are people starving. There are people dying in civil wars. There are sad people, lonely people, suffering people. There's work to do.

Jesus told us that we are the light of the world.

Unfortunately, some of the darkest places on the internet right now are the comboxes on Catholic blogs.

Please, please, please- for the sake of good manners (or if not for that, for the sake of appearances), can we stop attacking each other for having the WRONG positions? If you need to privately tell yourself hundreds of times a day that those people are WRONG, that's fine. If you need to yell at your computer screen that those people are misrepresenting Church teaching, that's fine. If you need to talk to your priest about how blankety-blank angry it makes you when those people constantly bring up their pet issues, that's fine, too.

What isn't fine is forgetting that those people are your brothers and sisters. 

Guess what the mainstream media loves even more than telling people that Pope Francis is completely changing everything about the Catholic Church?

A bunch of Catholics who seem intent on tearing each other apart.

At the end of the day, no matter how much we might disagree, we still go to the same table for dinner. We are the Body of Christ. We're united in the Eucharist. We're family. There are plenty of disapproving comments and disparaging remarks made about our family by the rest of the world. Do we have to make it so easy for them by exposing each others' weaknesses?

It is important to be passionate about the pursuit of truth, but not one of us has it all figured out yet.

We don't have to agree on everything.
We don't even have to like each other.

Even so, brothers and sisters, we don't need to tear each other apart.

Enough already.

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.    

 Colossians 3:13-15

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book post- what I read in 2013


It is easy to say I don't have time to read. It is only true, though, if I don't choose to use some of my time for that so-worth-it pursuit. Nothing but running feels as luxuriously self-oriented to me as reading. So this year, I tried to do more of it.

I was helped greatly in my efforts by two things. The first was our decision to homeschool SuperSam (which promptly led to my decision that I knew less than enough about all the possibilities and needed to read every book out there). While I didn't read every book on homeschooling, I did manage to finish a number of them, which helped me figure out my homeschooling identity a little (and narrowed my focus for choosing more books to read!).

The second thing that helped me read more was my decision to host a Well-Read Mom group at my house once each month. Since I am the host, there's extra pressure to have actually finished the book before the meeting, even if I didn't love it.

(Oh, and the fact that my twins turned two, started sleeping on a regular schedule and are no longer completely dependent infants helped a bit, too.)

This was my to-read pile back in the summer:

I'm pleased to say I finished all of those except Seven-Storey Mountain. I think that book requires more focus than I was able to muster.

I'm also disappointed that I didn't find enough time to finish this one:

I fully intend to get to the end of it (and I really do like it! It's just so long!). Let's call it a work in progress.

As for what I actually did finish? Here's a list:

The Homeschooling Stuff:

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert

Honestly, this book changed my life. It is the book that made me believe we could homeschool. Lori has a way of making things seem really doable, and reading this was like seeing a way forward where there had previously just been a brick wall. Also be sure to check out the forums on the Project-Based Homeschooling site, where lots of really amazing and knowledgeable people are sharing ideas all the time. Inspiring stuff.

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson

This is a whole-child approach to homeschooling. The Clarksons have lots of experience and advice to offer. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but I'm glad I read it.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Richard Louv hypothesizes that many of the disorders and dysfunctions so prevalent in children today are due to a lack of free time outdoors in nature to explore and take controlled risks. It could have ventured into "back in my day, kids played outside all the time and their parents never checked on them and they were fine!" territory, but it really didn't. I'm not sure how all the research holds up, but I enjoyed the book, and it inspired me to renew my efforts to get us outside at least a little every day for unstructured play.

The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers

This is a classic. I think it's like required reading for homeschoolers, so I read it.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

This book is so full of information that I have to keep going back and looking things up. I like that reading it made me feel that homeschooling is doable for our family (and that I'm not risking gaps in our children's education by taking it on myself without some boxed curriculum). I like that Ms. Bauer's approach leaves room to tailor classical education to fit my children's needs, and although I'm still not a fully classical-approach homeschooler, this book almost convinced me I was.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock

This is a quick read. There are lots of practical activities here for incorporating Montessori-style teaching in your own home.

Teach Your Own:A Hopeful Path for Education by John Holt

Again, I think this is one that homeschoolers are supposed to read. I appreciated Mr. Holt's focus on empowering parents. I didn't love all the negative stories and examples about public school failings (we all know public schools aren't perfect, but that's not why we are choosing to homeschool). The legal advice is (thankfully!) outdated in the edition I read. Mostly, I felt glad that homeschool legislation and support has come so far since he wrote this book.

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education by Laura Berquist

This is a helpful source for classical resources for homeschooling from a Catholic perspective. She also includes schedules to help you structure your school day. While I'm much less structured than she is, I appreciated seeing how little time she spent on formal academics for young children (Kindergarten and first grade). 

The Fun Stuff I Read on Vacation:
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz

Basically, living vicariously. The chocolate. The city. The wearing nice clothes to take out the trash. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

The Age of Miracles: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker

This is a young adult novel about the slowing of Earth's rotation and how it affects one girl's life. I couldn't put it down. 

The One I Listened to on While Folding Laundry:

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans

This book pretty much convinced me that Rachel Held Evans and I would be best friends...and that if I hadn't become Catholic, I could have become...well, a lot like her, actually. It's really good. Listening to her read her own work is a treat, and I immediately started stalking her on Twitter after finishing this.

The Well-Read Mom Selections I Probably Wouldn't Have Read Otherwise (But Was Mostly Glad I Did):

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

This is an amazing little book that you can read very quickly but chew on for many years afterward. It's just as valuable in little two or three line snippets as it is read all at once.

A fictional account of a woman and her family settling on the prairie. I thought it was okay. It reminded me somewhat of the Little House books, but I didn't like it nearly as much.

The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor

I reread these after we discussed two of them (Revelation and A Good Man Is Hard to Find) at our book club meeting. I love Flannery more and more every time I read her. If you don't love her, we can still be friends, but I will probably try to convince you that she is wonderful, anyway.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

I just don't think I'm ever going to like this book. I read it in high school and again this fall. Mostly, I was just frustrated by what I felt was missing from the characters' personal lives and by the absence of redemption or grace in the story. Maybe that's the point.

The One I Wish I Hadn't Had A Reason To Read:

After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman's Companion to Healing & Hope by Karen Edmisten

I got this after we lost our baby in October. I wish I had never needed to read it, but it was enormously comforting. I'd highly recommend it- I've reread it several times since then.

The Bestest Running Training Plan Book Ever:

This book is really, really good. If you are thinking about starting to run, you should get it. If you already run but want to start racing, you should get it. If you already race and are completely and totally satisfied with your training plan, you should still get it. I followed the "Finish It" marathon training plan laid out in this book, and I cut 37 minutes off my marathon PR. (Also, I was pregnant at the time and didn't know it.) That obviously means the training plan is really good, right?

That does it for me, I think. (There is probably something I left off this list, but I think the list is long enough.)

How about you? What did you read? Anything you're particularly excited about reading in 2014?

Linking up with Haley at Carrots for can go there to see lots of other people's lists and get inspired to read more this year.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Planning to plan...why I love/hate new calendars

Blank calendars, like new marathon training plans, are so exciting and filled with possibility.

They're also a little terrifying.

When I open a new calendar and see all those lovely, uniform boxes, so clear and clean and full of promise, I get a little giddy.

(It's possible I have an overactive gene or something that makes me love office supplies as much as I do...blank calendars included.)

30 Rock Wedding
At least I know I'm not alone.

Filling those open boxes with my life plans is exciting. Hand in hand with the excitement, though, is anxiety. I love planning, but I don't love when life gets in the way of my plans. As I'm carefully writing in boxes, I know that life's messes, its joys and sorrows, its disappointments and everyday pleasures are going to flow in to fill those days, weeks, and months. Life always happens whether or not I plan it, no matter what I write in the box.

This January, planning my calendar feels more complicated than usual:

  • Although I'm not running an actual marathon this year (so no long training runs to schedule), I have the joy of expecting a new baby this summer- an entirely different kind of marathon. I'm quickly learning that pregnancy with three small balls of energy running around (aka my children) is not for the faint of heart. Babies are amazing blessings, but they don't care what the calendar says. They arrive when they mean to, they eat when they want to, and sometimes they sleep at times that work for their parents. (Often, not!)
  • This is the second half of our first year of homeschooling. While we're not being especially rigid about SuperSam's homeschool kindergarten schedule, there are certain goals and things we hope to accomplish by year's end.
  • We have some household projects we'd like to complete, too- getting the office/utility/laundry/treadmill space better set up and rearranging the girls' room to accommodate another child- so I need to allow time for those things.
  • Add in some music lessons (the ones I teach and the ones SuperSam takes), rehearsals for our various musical groups, church activities and feast days, and play dates with friends, and things start to look a bit full.
  • Finally, I have some new writing projects this year (more about those later) which will take dedicated time.

Suddenly, my brand-new, formerly-blank calendar looks more intimidating than exciting.

Does this happen to you, too? Am I the only crazy person who loves to make lists and plan things out, but then feels stressed about her own plans? I usually try to compensate for the anxiety by making more lists. (After SuperSam was born, I once made a list organized by quadrants in a misguided attempt to feel in control of something.)

The thing is, being too controlling about time and the calendar only produces stress over what I can't control (which is a lot, as it turns out). Making lists and filling in boxes gives me the illusion that I am in charge of what happens, but it's not true. I need to be flexible about those plans to leave room for life's surprises.

On the other hand, being too laid-back sometimes means that opportunities and moments pass by me. If I don't plan our time at all, I find myself wondering where all of it went (and why we didn't manage to do the things we meant to do).

Most people are either Planners or Go-With-The-Flow Types, and most of us probably know which one describes us. Sometimes, though, I feel like these two categories are battling it out inside me.

This January, in an attempt to balance these impulses (control all the things! No, don't plan anything so you won't screw it up!), I'm trying a new strategy as I make my calendar. It's four steps...would you like to see them?

  1. Choose one main goal for this month.
  2. Each day, try to do one small thing toward that goal.
  3. Ask each family member for one experience they want to have or one thing they'd like to do/accomplish this month and make space for those.
  4. Leave plenty of room for the unexpected.

Other than school, music, and church, things will be pretty free. I'll end up with a lot of unstructured time this month, but that's on purpose. I crave routine, and coming off the unstructured weeks we have had in December, it's easy for me to get overzealous and fill in every blank space with activity. When I overplan in January, I often burn out by February.

I'm focusing this month on taking things slowly and remembering to breathe.

What's your planning strategy? Are you a calendar-loving listmaker or a go-with-the-flow soul?
The cover page of Amanda's 2014 planner- lovely!

If you don't have a calendar yet for this year, Amanda from Planning on It has a great free printable planner (with vertical days! excellent!) available on her blog. Go check it out if you get a minute- it looks beautiful (and all the Church's feast days are already written down for you).