Thursday, January 31, 2008

And Again . . .

Today's letter of acceptance was from Drexel University in Philadelphia! Lauren was invited to join the honors program and offered a generous four year scholarship. At this moment, VCU is still her top choice. I'd be glad to have her relatively close to home.

Now it's time to hope she'll be able to concentrate on the rest of senior year... ;-)


Yesterday Lauren received her letter of acceptance into the art program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond (her top choice)! In 2005, it was rated the #1 public art program in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and admissions are highly competitive. She's thrilled and maybe a bit relieved, and we're all extremely proud of her.

I'd offer a picture of her calling the news around complete with gigantic smile, but our photography major prefers to stay behind the camera.

And a final happy quote from yesterday: "I am SO not doing my math homework!"

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fresh and Clean

Marianna made her first Confession on Saturday, so her soul was the cleanest in the house! As a memento we gave her some (cherry blossom) shower gel and a sea sponge.

Her card contains Psalm 51:1-2, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniqity, and cleanse me from my sin!"

We made the connection in writing, too, reminding her that she needs to keep her body clean to be healthy, and that regular cleaning helps keep the soul healthy.

Special bath items make a good gift for a First Penance. I've given some to godchildren, too. Wish I'd thought of it sooner. And this CAN work for boys. I once found some soap made with mud from the Dead Sea!

All the World's a Stage...

...and last week David was a player on it.

His school's acting troupe (the Rhapsodes) performed "Beneath the Visor and the Veil and Other Royal Nonesuch". It's an adaptation of A. A. Milne's "The Ugly Duckling" (shown the day after his birthday!), a humorous tale of true beauty and mistaken identity.

David was Eg the Archer, in a small but well acted part. Best line: "I've got my dignity, I do!"

We had loads of fun at this sweet and funny production.

P.S. Kristin & Dave--The Rhapsodes' official song (for curtain calls, etc.) is "Up Against the Buachalawn" by the Chieftains. :-)

Breakfast is Eclectic When the Larder is Full

For example, this morning's menu included: pasta with clam sauce, bagels, veggie lasagna, navel orange, pumpkin cake, meatloaf, milk, hot chocolate, and oj.

Dinner will actually be simpler: chicken vegetable soup with bread or muffins.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Loveliness of Soup Night

Last year I read an article in Sunset magazine that inspired me to host a neighborhood soup night. In fact, I had three before "soup season" was over. The main idea is to host a casual meal to get neighbors together. It's so easy to lose track of everyone--we're all busy, and not everyone has kids of bonding age.

Here are some guidelines for a successful Soup Night (most are from the Sunset article):

  • Pick a regular day and time, like the 3rd Monday of the month from 6-7:30. Making the time short (with a definite ending) made folks more likely to come on a weeknight, because they weren't commiting to much more than dinner time itself. I also tried to make it clear that drop-ins were welcome--coming from 6:30-7:00 was fine. I even had disposable coffee cups available for "to go" orders. One neighbor came, then drove her son to guitar (leaving another child with us), and came back later. Another dad came with his children then took soup home for his ill wife.
  • Deliver invitations and reminders. I wrote the first invitation explaining the concept (and listing three dates), and delivered them in person. Every month I delivered or dropped off a small reminder slip close to the day.
  • Invite everyone. I invited every family on our court, plus a few very close-by friends.
  • DO NOT REQUIRE AN RSVP. This was a little scary, but I think folks are more likely to come if they don't have to commit far ahead. My initial invitation stated that RSVP's were welcome, but not required. Most of the people who ended up coming did let me know ahead of time. The article says to expect 1/3 to 1/2 of those invited to attend. I added up the possibilities (about 52), and we had about 1/2 that each time.
  • DO NOT REQUIRE FAMILIES TO BRING ANYTHING. I provided soup, garnishes, and drinks (water, lemonade, tea--simple, inexpensive). I wrote that no one had to bring anything, but that they could bring bread or fruit if they wanted to. Almost everyone brought something. This is definitely hospitality rather than entertaining. It's a simple welcome and sharing, and the casualness and simplicity I think made folks more willing to come.
  • I always had 2 soups, but not the same amount of each. For our last evening I made a lot of taco soup (served with chips, cheese, sour cream, and sweet onions) and a smaller amount of cream of fresh asparagus. I love the asparagus soup (my children DO NOT), and I knew some adults would too, so it was a great chance for me to have that treat. I always made one of the soups vegetarian, but that might not be important for your neighborhood. As it turned out, I don't think my neighbors cared. :-) I brainstormed a list of possible soups (some in my repetoire, some from book browsing), and used that to inpire each month's choices.
  • Work ahead. Many soups can be made a day or two early (at least part way) or even made way ahead and frozen. Garnishes can also be prepped ahead. This does not have to be hours of last minute work, and if it were, how would you survive more than one Soup Night?
  • Keep the soups warm on the stove, label them, and let people help themselves. I used disposable paper bowls, but found we needed to double them because soup is hot!

We've had a beautiful but complicated life this fall and winter, and one of my biggest regrets is that we haven't been able to have Soup Night this season. I know some of my neighbors have missed it, too. A year off is a long time, but I'm hoping to start up again in the fall. It's not too late for you, though. Last year I read about Soup Night in January and hosted my first in February.

I haven't figured out how to upload a word document, so if anyone is interested in samples of my invitations or reminder slips, please send me an email. My address is LRice31 spam at cox dot net (take out the spam).

Tonight on my cooking blog I'm posting two of the simplest recipes I used (beef barley soup and taco soup). If I get ambitious later, I'll add the cream of asparagus and a yummy (and more popular than I expected) creamy clam chowder.

UPDATE (8/09): Some folks are still finding this post. FYI, there's a short follow-up here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Let's Hope the Whole Day Doesn't Look Like This

I wear kayaking pants under sweats for my cold pre-dawn walk with Dusty. This morning:

Attempt #1: Get legs in sweats but somehow miss the inner set of pants.
Attempt #2: Manage to put on both sets, but they are . . . backwards.
Attempt #3: Success!

Enjoy YOUR Friday. ;-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Summer in January

Each child received a "big gift" this Christmas. Lauren got a slim digital camera (for when the one she shares with Len is too big), David got a bike, and Rebecca got her kitchen. The other three got a trip with their lucky mom to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg.

Last Thursday we drove down just ahead of a snowstorm with one of our favorite "easy listening" authors on cd (No Talking). By 2:00 we were in our room and headed for the ginormous indoor waterpark! It was fun to pad around in our swimsuits and watch the cold January rain falling outside. We spent some time all together, but the boys also went off on their own while Marianna and I had our girl time.

We checked out the next morning but stayed at the waterpark until 4:00 p.m. There was so much to do: lazy river, wave pool, body surfing, body slides, tube slides, big raft slides (6 stories!), and hot tubs (one at a family-friendly temperature). Marianna tried everything but the "Howling Tornado". She enjoyed the slides and also the river and pools. The boys spent much of their time on the slides. I enjoyed being there with "just" three children so I could focus my attention a bit more than usual. Our thanks to Len for taking vacation time from work so he could carpool, cook, and supervise Rebecca!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

March for Life

Today is the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in America. Since we live so close to Washington, DC, we often attend the March for Life. This year the logistics are too complicated, so it looks like only our teens are going to make it.

So for the rest of our family and anyone else who can't be there in person to stand up for life (from the beginning to its natural end), here are some ideas for the day:

  • Go to mass.
  • Pray the rosary (sorrowful mysteries today).
  • Go to adoration.
  • Fast.
  • Give up dessert or some other favorite food.
  • Give up screen time (tv, computer, etc.).
  • Pray.
  • Donate money or supplies to a crisis pregnancy center.
  • Visit or call or write to someone sick or old or lonely.

We're planning to do several of these things. How about you?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Me and My House, January 13, 2008

"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

The "Me and My House" blog was created for family and faraway friends to keep up with what's going on with everyone here. As it turns out, I hardly ever post there, so tonight I'm deleting that blog. Everyone once in a while I'll post a "MAMH" entry here. Hopefully it won't bore the thousands of other readers (hee-hee) who aren't already friends.

Rebecca is still uninterested in potty training, but is lots of fun in other ways. She is good at keeping herself busy: painting, "writing", looking at books, playing with dolls and animals, playing in her kitchen, working puzzles, etc. She has to do something none of our other toddlers did: keep all her play out of the dog's reach. Overall success rate: 97%. Consequence of remaining 3%: chewed to oblivion whatever it was.

Marianna is preparing for her First Penance on January 26th. We've been reading King of the Golden City together. She recently went ice skating for the 2nd time and really enjoyed herself.

Joseph (along with Marianna and Daniel) is going to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg with me later this week. We'll stay overnight at this hotel-with-an-indoor-waterpark. This was the "big" Christmas present for the three of them, and I'm looking forward to it, too. Len will be off work, taking care of Rebecca and carpooling responsibilities.

Daniel will probably be going to Trinity for 8th grade next year. We just submitted an application update. He applied and was accepted last year, so there was only a small amount of paperwork to catch up on. He should fit right in, although he'll be ahead in math and behind in Latin (which I'm hoping to remedy this semester!).

David recently attended a winter training weekend with his "ship" (Sea Scout crewmates). It was mostly book learning, but real boat work is coming up soon. Today he auditioned for a one-act play being put on by a local church youth group.

Lauren has almost finished submitting her college applications and portfolios. Now comes the waiting game... She is starting a painting class soon. It won't affect her portfolios, but she is looking forward to learning more about oil and acrylic work.

Len went kayaking yesterday. Some kids are surprised he goes boating in the cold, but not me--he loves the physicality of boating and the beauty of the water. There's always a list of home projects to distract him from work and paperwork and Daniel's confirmation training. The latest chore was yesterday's garage door repair. Not exciting, but useful.

I'm teaching in the art co-op this week. I'll have to post about this co-op later--it's been great! I'm trying to make time to read for two book clubs, one in the neighborhood (on Wednesday!) and one November 21 with some women on-line (In This House of Brede). Now it's time to plan a few days of school work before I get too sleepy.

The post below (Me and My House "archives") contains the 4 posts from the soon-to-be-deleted blog.

Me and My House "archives"

From November 18, 2007:

We've had several busy weeks here. Rebecca and Marianna dressed up as angels for Halloween. Joseph was a monk, Daniel a secret agent, and Lauren a fairy (at school). David carved the pumpkin and gave out candy while I trick-or-treated with the girls and friends. Now everyone's got a big bag of candy [November 1 sale shopping by those to old to go door to door! ;)], even Mom and Dad (who got lots of donations).

Rebecca turned 3 this week! This is only the second time we've had a three-year-old without also having a baby. Becca went to "Kids' Korner" at the local park (she's old enough now) and learned about turkey vultures.

Marianna also went to a vulture program at the park. She's becoming quite a reader. Right now she's reading the 4th Laura Ingalls Wilder book, On the Banks of Plum Creek. She also volunteers to read to Rebecca.

Joe's baseball season is over. His team was 3rd (out of 8), and his skills really improved. He's also had his first group violin lesson (once a month). It's nice to have his cousin in the same group.

Daniel and Joseph have both been serving some 6:15 (A.M.!) masses lately. There is of course spiritual consolation for the early rising. The physical reward is a trip to Dunkin' Donuts after mass. :-) Daniel and I made dinner together last night. We prepared homemade pizza (3), lettuce and tomato salad, winter fruit salad, and apple crisp.

David is in the Rhapsodes drama group at school. On Mondays after rehearsal he spends the night at Grammy and Grandpop's house. It saves us a rush hour pick up, and makes for some great spoiling/bonding time for him.

Lauren is busy working on her portfolio and college applications. Today was her last day at Target, at least until January. Her college prep and high school load (some honors and AP classes) take up too much time to make a paying job worthwhile right now. Lauren is also busy with Action, a service outreach of People of Praise. On most weekends, they're helping those in need of home maintenance, repairs, etc.

Len's actually been kayaking a few times lately. It's getting colder but there's more water now than there was most of the summer. He and his job partner have started clocking in and out to get an idea of how much time they're spending at work--he says the staff enjoys teasing him when he forgets.

Len and I went to the Divine Mercy Care gala last week. It was fun to dress up for a great cause. I attended the Phases of Womanhood Conference, too. It was a wonderful, spiritual day, with Imaculee Ilibagiza as one of the main speakers (on forgiveness). Tuesday night we'll be heading to NY for Thanksgiving with Mimi, Granddad, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Yay!

From November 5, 2007:

Caroline's Labor!
Tomorrow morning Lauren and I will be out the door as dawn is breaking. We're driving to Arlington to support Caroline as her labor is induced. Please pray for this sweet young woman and her baby (Angel Shae is her name).Thanks!

Saturday, October 27
Today Daniel and Joseph competed in a tae kwon do tournament. They each earned third place in forms, the only category they competed in.

Marianna and Rebecca came along and brought Christine. In addition to forms and sparring, we saw some exciting self-defense demonstrations.

Lauren took her ACT today. She thinks she did very well on the English section, but says the math and science sections were harder and time consuming. Tomorrow she and Caroline and Sarah are going with the youth group to see Bella, which is supposed to be a great secular and Catholic film (it won at the Toronto Film Festival).

David is going to a Halloween party with some O'Connell friends tonight. He's probably resurrecting last year's hobo costume. PAM: The host is a son of Heidi Brennan, one of the founders of Mothers at Home and Welcome Home magazine!!

Len is on his way home from work with cat litter and dog food. An exciting life, eh? I'm now recovered from the morning scramble, so I guess it's time to get up and get going on those Saturday chores...We're trying to decide whether or not to go to church tonight. It would mean missing David's pick up, but tomorrow is quite full: Mass (or not), kayaking, working at the library book sale, lacrosse, youth group, work at Target, baseball team party... And that's just what I remember without looking at the calendar. There's probably something else, too!

From October 23, 2007:

The First Quick Update
Well, if I don't start sometime, this blog will be empty forever! Here's a little bit about everyone: Stripes (the guinea pig) still squeaks in welcome when we walk in the room, but I think he could use more time out of the cage. If only he didn't have that unfortunate habit of chewing Daniel's handmade (by Len) desk...

Emma (the cat) would LOVE to get back outside. She used to be an indoor-outdoor cat, until she stopped coming home for many days at a time. She hangs out a neighborhood over, but is grounded for now.

Dusty (the new dog!) is a 7 month old corgi-shelty-? mix that Len, Joe, and Marianna picked out at the shelter a few weeks ago. He still needs training, but has a wonderful temperament--perky, friendly, and affectionate. He's learning to behave.

Rebecca will be 3 on November 14, so today she had "special time" with Aunt Mary Alice. They went out to eat and then to MA's house for concentrated play and cookie baking. We may have one cookie left by now, but I'm not counting on it.

Marianna went to "Explorers" at Walney Pond yesterday. She learned about beavers and walked into the woods to see a lodge. It was a glorious, sunny, windy day, and she was happy to see some brothers she had met at camp this summer.

Joseph's baseball team won tonight's playoff game. I only saw the second half (Len was there from the beginning.), but it was a great show. There is a LOT of base stealing in this age group, which can make for some excitement. Unfortunately, Joe will probably miss the final game due to a tae kwon do tournament on Saturday.

Daniel went on a retreat/campout this weekend with the boy's club from church. I hear there were 50 boys and 20 dads! Daniel said he was freezing even with underarmor, tshirt, jacket, and sleeping bag. We're all glad he came back without poison ivy, which flourishes out there despite the best efforts of the brothers.

David recently joined a newly forming Sea Scout crew. This is a division/off shoot of Boy Scouts. He's already been on a weekend sail with another crew. His group will be refurbishing a donated sailboat. David was also elected boatswain (the senior youth position, I think).

Lauren is busy with college visits and applications. Her top choices (photography major) as of now are VCU, Drexel, NYU, and Pratt. She's been working hard on creating art in various media for her portfolio. The latest piece is a pencil self portrait. I'll see if I can get her to take a picture that I can put up here.

Caroline is having a birthday party (18!) here on Thursday, so she and Lauren and I are in the midst of the expected discussions: How many pizzas? Helium or air in the balloons? What's the best way to make black on a penguin cake?

Len is of course busy at work. I'm so glad he has a business partner--otherwise I think it would harder for his mind to be home even when his body is. He recently went to Atlantic City for continuing education (surgery techniques, etc.). The classes were good, but he said the hotel atmosphere was over the top with gambling, shopping, etc.

The newest things in my life are Dusty and the blogs. I've been thinking about blogging for months now, every once in a while saying to myself, "I'd like to share this with somebody." Dusty takes some care and training, but the biggest impact is that I take him for a walk nearly every morning. MWF I walk for almost an hour with Patty. Other days it's more like half that. Patty and I both enjoy the new, 26' retractable lead--much less stopping, tripping, and waiting for every little sniffing opportunity.That's all for now!

An Encouraging Word

I have to do something for four hours today that I really don't want to do. There are many productive or relaxing things I could spend that time on.

Yesterday morning as I walked Dusty, the hard-core complaining began. Why me? Can't/won't someone else do it? But I DON'T WANT TO! (What a baby, I know...) I offered a rosary for my attitude. I asked Mary to help me follow her example, but I was still grumpy with all signs that this situation was going to be allowed to ruin my whole weekend.

Then I went to my #1 sounding board. I needed to say my ugly thoughts aloud and complain to someone who wouldn't think less of me because of them. Len did listen and told me mostly what I'd already told myself: I needed to do this; I could offer it as a prayer; etc. He had several true, rational things to say, which didn't help my attitude, but I hadn't expected more than empathy anyway.

But wait--he had even more to offer! Yes, the encouraging word. Something like, "When you persevere graciously, I see how good it is for the whole family." And, "If one of the kids broke an arm right now, you'd drop everything and go to the hospital and deal with it and not be upset about wasted time."

This might sound funny, but it was a big help. First of all, he made it sound like there are times when I actually do graciously persevere. So he offered hope. (It's so easy to lose sight of the good times when I'm in a funk.) And the bit about the broken arm might sound overblown to you, but it did make me realize that I can prioritize and be less possessive of my time, more giving. I knew it was true, and that makes it easier to see that I can make someone else a priority in smaller things, too. Like the other night when Becca was feverish and upset and I got up from dinner to change and settle her in bed. I wasn't mad or resentful--I did what needed doing, and was glad to help my girl. So it is possible for me to spend my time today with a good attitude. Maybe no one will even realize I'd rather not be there. That would actually make it a better gift to "offer up"--cheerfullness instead of resentment.

I'm no goody-goody. My talk with Len was the beginning of an attitude adjustment. But I'm so grateful that in addition to listening, he was able to offer encouragement, and make me believe that I can (because I have before, so there!) do this thing with grace. Prayer is helpful, but so is a friend who understands me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Morning Magic

It started like an ordinary day: get out of bed, make sure the teens are up, walk the dog.

Then came the call from Len (Yes, I always bring my phone along.): Becca had awakened, VERY upset (like, screaming) that I was not home, because I was supposed to be taking her to the pool. Right now (6:45 a.m.). Okay, then...

As I hurried home, I racked my brain for a way to cheer up my deluded child. Hot chocolate? No, I don't want to use food for solace. Go to the pool? Don't think so! Then it came to me. I unleashed the dog and put some water in the microwave.

By the time I got upstairs, she was quiet but still upset. I suggested we go have some "real tea" at the little table in her kitchen. She said no several times, but consented after I told her it was for me, too, and asked, "please."

The teens were gone and Daddy was still upstairs, so we had the main level all to ourselves. I gave her plates and spoons and we started setting the table. She opened the tea bags. The best moment was when I got down the real creamer and sugar bowl. She breathed, "Oh..." with satisfaction. We sat down to tea and Waverly "candy" and had a lovely time. Marianna found and joined us. It was a peaceful conclusion to a crazy scary waking up.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Field Trip!

We've been doing "school lite" for a few days, just trying to catch up on things left undone before the Christmas break.

Today the homeschoolers and I drove in to DC to see two temporary exhibits at the National Gallery of Art. Yesterday, to get ready, I reviewed the styles and works of JMW Turner and Edward Hopper with the children. I have found that advance preparation always makes an art visit better: there is less need to read and explain on site, and there are usually some, "Oh! I remember this!" moments.

We arrived at 10:15, which meant 2 hour parking at a meter instead of unlimited time in front of the museum (those spaces are snatched up at 10:00). The parking enforced a speedy visit.

First we saw Turner's work. He started out as an English landscape painter in watercolor and oil. As time went on, he became more interested in light itself than in objects. As usual, Mom spent too much time reading the captions and staring, so we had just 30-40 minutes left for the Edward Hopper exhibit. He was an American realist painter who liked to paint light on buildings. He made cities, structures, and ordinary things special. You've probably seen Nighthawks or one of his lighthouse paintings.

It was good to spend time with my "young four" doing something enriching and fun, especially because I am usually too chicken to drive into the big city without a convoy or another grownup. After today (and two trips in November), I'm hoping to enjoy the awesome resources of DC more often.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Helpful Hint for a Happy Home

Actually, it's a hint for marriages, but I couldn't pass up all that alliteration. ;-)

My husband and I are well matched and love each other deeply, but once in a great while we have a big disagreement. Or a misunderstanding. Or one of hurts the other's feelings. One or both of us can be too angry or sad or confused to talk about and resolve the issue. That's when our secret weapon is unleashed: letters!

We've only needed letters a few times in 21 years, but they can be a big help. I can write down why I'm mad or sad or confused. I can write without attacking him. I can organize my thoughts and articulate what I see as the issue--sometimes I even understand my point of view better after thinking it through. I have a chance to explain myself. This process is especially helpful for me because I don't think well "on my feet". During an intense discussion I'm likely to get off track or forget a point or miss something important he's trying to say.

The recipient of letter #1 then has time to respond thoughtfully. Meanwhile we can function on a superficial level and remain cordial. The intensity is under the surface, which I think is good. We pray for each other and our relationship. Letters go back and forth as needed, until we're ready to talk in real time.

As I said, we've only used letters a few times. And those times are not fun to go through. If we must write rather than speak, something very upsetting is going on in our relationship. But I think we've resolved issues better and more quickly by taking some of the passion out of the discussion.

So there's my advice; take it or leave it. :-) I'm praying for all our marriages tonight. God bless you.