Sunday, May 31, 2009

Natural Wonder

My friend called me because her son had seen a baby deer nestled among a neighbor's flowers. Of course we went to check it out. You can't tell in the top picture, but this fawn was the closest to a newborn I've ever seen--it was the size of a cat!
We oohed and aahed, and watched it breathe and open its eyes. Just being that close to something so small (for its species) was amazing enough. None of us touched it, and my friend reported that it was gone by afternoon, hopefully into the trees where belongs. In a month or two it will probably be back, eating my daylilies and hostas along with the rest of its family.Truly wonder-full!
Photo credits: Lauren

Friday, May 29, 2009

Summer Reading

Phases of Womanhood is a non-profit organization that offers spiritual inspiration, practical resources, and a supportive community for Catholic women, aiding us in our search for God--our pursuit of wisdom, purpose, and fulfillment. The website has just been updated, and is a real pleasure to browse. This month I submitted an article about one of our family traditions:

Although our whole family enjoys the end of formal schooling for the summer, I don't want our brains to turn to mush. For years now, we've used summer reading to keep the kids sharp. With page goals for each child, summer’s leisure lets them read their way to prizes galore.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Small Successes: the Daughters' Edition


I've been trying this week to implement my renewed commitment to intentional parenting. I'm not perfect (shocking!), but have had some successes:
  1. Rebecca and I went on a nature hike last week. Yes, the event has already been blogged, but it still belongs on this list.
  2. I helped Marianna create a pop-up card for her dance teacher. We used a Klutz kit that used to belong to her big sister.
  3. In the fall Lauren will begin sharing a house with several other girls. Last night we sat down together to copy recipes she wants to take with her. She recorded the ones that are closest to the book version, while I tackled the ones that have multiple notes or are just lists of ingredients. There are plenty more to go, but progress has been made.
Every week at Faith and Family Live, we inspire and encourage each other with our small successes. Visit for a look at others' good news.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Girly Movies

I took the opportunity while Len was away this weekend to watch some chick-flicks.

First up was A Room With a View (1986), based on the novel by E. M. Forster. Quite slow and very British, it was satisfyingly romantic.

Next, I watched Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008). What a disappointment! It's set in England just before WWII, and stars Amy Adams (of Enchanted). Parts of the plot were fun and sweet, but the high society behavior (lying, cheating, womanizing, partying) which took up almost every minute of screen time was neither. Thumbs down!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


"They grow up so fast."

As a young mother I heard this over and over again--from friends, family, even strangers. I never doubted the concept (just looking at my toddler as each new baby was born was proof enough), but it's time, of course, that really brings the lesson home.

Having spread-out children (14 years from oldest to youngest) also helps make the truth obvious. Watching the toddler take her first steps while the teen is driving a car can seem surreal if one takes the time to think about it. But I don't usually pause to reflect. I tend to get caught up in the logistics, the busy-ness of day-to-day.

When Lauren went off to college, I posted a little tribute here. Gathering the photos was fun--seeeing my fuzzy headed baby transforming into a beautiful young woman. Lauren's back for the summer, and, of course, our relationship is different (I'd like to think better).

So I've been learning anew this year that time with my children is fleeting, but only recently articulated it. In fact, I wrote it down almost without thinking in Thursday's "Small Successes", but have been pondering ever since: one reason I made the effort to cook with David late that night was that I thought to myself that in the blink of an eye he'll be gone, too, and I'll regret then not spending a little more time now.

I want this perspective to inform the parenting I've got left, want to make sure I spend time on what really matters. My youngest is 4, so there are many years ahead, but the time does pass quickly and it's easy to get distracted. And of course my bigger kids will be gone much sooner than Becca.

Epilogue: Rebecca was playing mouse the other day, and wanted a tail. I found the perfect ball of creamy, fuzzy, thick yarn to cut and tape to her shorts. She thought it was great, but I remembered something: that yarn came from a Josephina loom of Lauren's that I had never used with her. I figure there was at least a two year window of interest, but somehow I didn't make the effort to set up the project with her.

Part of my seeing what I want to be involves understanding where I've fallen short. I'm not beating myself up over the loom, but the memory is part of this wake-up call or refinement of perspective. It's never to late to reasses and reprioritize, right?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Cool Vernal Pool

Well, Becca and I enjoyed our trip to the nature center, where one of the naturalists led us (off-trail) to a vernal pool. What's that, you ask? A vernal pool is one that is not filled by a spring or stream. It is watered by snowmelt or rain, and dries up at least occasionally, usually for some months every year. Because of this fish do not live or breed in them, which means other species are able to survive there. Wood frogs and some salamanders breed exclusively in vernal (meaning spring) pools.

We had hoped to find eggs. There weren't any visible, but we did see tadpoles of many shapes and sizes. Some were small and dark with round heads, and others were larger, with khaki coloring and more triangular heads. We didn't see any with legs, so we'll try to go back in a week or so to check out their development.

We brought boots along, the better to squelch along the muddy edge and squish through the mushy shallows. We saw multiple footprints: deer, raccoon, human. Becca even found a "stick print" when she moved a branch. (I was wishing I had remembered to bring plaster!)

There was lots more to notice:
  • a bird house with chirping inside
  • ants
  • spiders resting, on webs, wrapping prey, walking in the grass
  • a roly-poly
  • birds
  • birds calling
  • wild strawberries
  • rotting logs
  • branches that looked like backbones
  • a mushroom
  • fungus on a log
  • bees busy at a hive
  • a big, fuzzy bee
  • tadpoles making ripples as they touched the surface of the water from below
  • algae
  • insects at the pool
It was a relaxed morning. Rebecca even called it "special time", which is quite an accolade considering that special time is usually going out to breakfast with Daddy. He's definitely better at the focused one-on-one event than I am.

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Friday Feels Like the Weekend

Len's taken three of the middle children (plus a cousin) on a three day, two night canoeing/camping extravaganza. I'm left with Becca and the older teens. The rest of the world is spinning normally while we're drifting.

I'm planning to take Becca to the nature center to look for salamander and frog eggs in the vernal pools (she learned about them this week) before the day grows hot. Then if I can build some momentum, I'll get some cleaning and school sorting done, free from the urgency of my usual daily responsibilities.

That still leaves plenty of time to relax and enjoy the relative quiet. I've got some girly movies arriving in the mail today. Len will watch one with me now and then, but he's happy enough to miss out. ;-)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Small Successes: the School Edition


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

Well, formal school is winding down, and Mommy's caught spring fever. Some days we don't get much done, usually due to my sluggishness, distraction, or lack of organization. Luckily there's enough of a routine instilled to keep the basics on track. And there have been some highlights to treasure this week. If my wordiness below looks daunting, skip way down to the headline version. ;-)

  1. While Marianna and Joe attended a nature program, I did some "real school" with Rebecca. She's "just" preschool age, but is tuned in to learning as a natural part of the way things are. She considers it a treat for me to devote time to formal lessons. We worked on poetry memorization, a math page (Math-U-See's Primer), and reading. Len's been going through the phonics book with her (and started long vowel sounds yesterday!), so I found some easy readers at the library. At her stage I need to look inside each, since the level one books vary so much in vocabulary. I found several with mostly short-vowel words, and we had fun reading one together.
  2. Shakespeare was introduced more than once in our history book this year (The Story of the World, volume 2), and we're spending some time on his work. A few months ago the children chose from among library books telling the stories of many plays. Last week we watched a short Standard Deviants video that gave an overview of WS and his work (time, topics, iambic pentameter, etc.). What I'm most excited about is that this week we watched two plays: Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Rah-rah, Netflix!). Before each, we read the summary from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children. I sometimes paused during the movies to explain dialogue, but they often just watched the action and got the gist of it. It was fun to let them know when they'd heard an especially famous line. Marianna and I preferred Much Ado. It's wittier and more romantic (without being mushy), and with better acting. I just can't get over how much fun it was to watch real Shakespeare with elementary aged children! Next, we're considering watching two Romeo and Juliets (same language, very different settings) and Henry V, since he came up in this year's history as well. Do note, the movies we watched had "close your eyes" moments, and I'll bet the others will, too. I'll probably have to prescreen R & J.
  3. You know the stereotypical kid who tells his mom at dinner that he needs to bring cupcakes to school the next day? Well, the variation here is that David told me at breakfast that he wanted to bring pesto pasta to Italian class. Of course, I had used the last bag of frozen pesto just last week, and already had a busy day planned. I went back and forth about whether to help out at the last minute, ultimately remembering that I'll miss the chance when he's gone (having a college student gives you perspective like that), and that cooking together would actually be fun. So at 10:10 p.m. (after my book club meeting and his essay writing) I went to the grocery store to buy some overpriced basil (our homegrown is just beginning to sprout). We cooked and cleaned and worked as a pretty good team. He carried a heavy bag of pasta, cheese, bread, and olive oil to school today--yum!

Headline version:

  1. Did some real school with the preschooler.
  2. Watched two Shakespeare movies with the elementary kids.
  3. Made pesto pasta with the high schooler.
I imagine most of us are looking forward to the summer. Try to enjoy these last weeks of school time. For more encouragement, check out Faith and Family Live.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Random Bits

I don't have a real post for today. Just consider these bits to be my side of a chatty phone call:
  • Today was what I call a "30 degree day", not uncommon in certain seasons here: it was 41* during the morning walk, and hit the low 70's by this afternoon. Weird.
  • Lauren and I went to NY for a baptism this weekend (her third godchild!). Six hours up Saturday morning, six hours back Sunday night, and totally worth it.
  • Joe went camping in Gettysburg with his scout troop this weekend and had fun despite the rain.
  • My surreal weekend moment: someone was talking to me about "getting away", and asked how it was to travel with just one child along. I replied that she was mistaken, it was actually my look-alike sister who had brought her five-year-old. It turns out I was mistaken--L was talking about Lauren!
  • Netflix may be a luxury, but it's one I heartily enjoy. We get family movies, kid movies, grownup movies, and plenty of school movies. Lately we've watched Slumdog Millionaire (which deserves all its accolades), Blues Clues (8 episodes on one disc!), Life in the Undergrowth (up close and personal with spiders, slugs, and insects), The Sixth Sense, and Flubber. I keep meaning to post mini movie reviews, and maybe someday I'll actually get around to it.
  • Speaking of movies, I saw the new Star Trek flick with Dave and Dan last week. It's the best ST movie so far. (Yes, I know that's not saying much...) Pity my poor sister who had to hear my ST comments about a hundred times on our baptism trip; I really need to get out more often. ;-)
  • David's lacrosse team went to the state championships in Richmond on Saturday, and lost in a close battle (13-12, I think).
  • One of Marianna's birthday gifts was special time with her aunt yesterday. They went for a hike, then shoe shopping, then out to lunch. Len's sister is a thoughtful gift-giver, almost always squeezing time out of her busy life for some kind of outing. Next week Daniel is going on a belated trip with her (he was sick during the originally planned time) to the Spy Museum.
  • I got my long overdue haircut today. I don't think anyone noticed, which is just as it should be.
  • School is winding down, but sort of like a whirlpool running down the drain. Tomorrow looks like this: Len driving all the way to school (David) and fine arts dress rehearsal (the rest of the carpool), Kids' Korner at the nature center for Rebecca, a visit by Len to his parents before taking the rehearsalees back to school, then the regular afternoon carpool, scouts for Joe, kayak meeting for Len, and book club for me.
  • Thursday (yes, May 21!) is the last day of classes for David and Daniel! Unbelievable!
God bless YOU and your days.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Small Successes: the Pictorial Edition


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

Another week, and another scramble to find three successes worth recording. Of course, I could count feeding and clothing the family (it IS vital work), but I prefer writing about things that don't happen every day.

1. In that spirit, I'll mention someone else's success first. On Mothers' Day, Len's parents hosted 14 people for lunch at a renowned French restaurant. We enjoyed a delicious meal, and Daniel tried escargots for the first time. They were so tasty that his brothers both mooched samples for themselves.
2. We wondered if this day would ever arrive, but the puzzle is DONE! Since we finished it on Sunday, I was given the honor of placing the last piece. It's big, it's beautiful, it's inspiring, and (did I mention?) it's done. If you're interested in using it next year, let me know. It would make a great Lenten project, especially if you've got a flat surface to spare and no cardboard-chewing dogs at home.
3. Remember the three-tiered hazelnut cake with French buttercream I made recently? Well, it's not always simple elegance here at Barbara's Bakery. Yesterday was Marianna's birthday (9!), and since it's not her "party year", she just invited some neighbors over to share cake and ice cream after dinner. (To make sure no one feels pressured to bring a gift, we don't even call folks until cake-day.)

She decided she wanted a tent cake (Who knows why?), and we found a picture online. I finally got around to baking it after lunch. After arriving home from lacrosse at 6:00 p.m., I proceeded to make dinner and assemble and decorate the cake. It's not the prettiest one I've ever made, and it wasn't ready until 7:30, but the birthday girl was pleased nonetheless. It was on display for barely a minute before cutting and so did not undergo much scrutiny. In fact, the most common reaction was, "Junior Mint ice cream!!"In case you're interested, the top is a square cake cut into four triangles. They're held together with drinking straws, which can also hold up wedding cakes.
Find more encourangement at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Almost a Disaster

Remember my belated Christmas trip to Clay Cafe with the little girls? Part of their designs included ladybugs inspired by the perky, friendly lady at the store. She showed the girls how to make red thumbprints which she then turned into bugs with detail paint.

We spent two hours working, and when we left, Miss G was helping someone else. She made one ladybug on Marianna's plate so as to remember the preferred direction, but decided to transform the rest during a quieter moment at the store.

Fast forward a week or so, to Len's pickup of the girls' treasures. He brought them home, they were unwrapped, and then the weeping began: red thumbprints (NOT ladybugs!) on both plates. Even my heart sank when I saw them. All that effort, wasted.

I emailed Miss G (she wasn't in when I called), but the best I could hope for was a refund or free redo, neither of which would be truly satisfying. Imagine my delight when she told me (for you real artists, this is no surprise) that she COULD paint the details and refire the plates!

We've had them back for awhile now, and the girls use them almost daily:
I'm sure you can imagine how pitiful the heart plate looked with one ladybug and a zillion red thumbprints:Yes, Rebecca painted the rainbow herself, although I did tidy it up with additional coats. The colors are even in the correct order, although she didn't have room for indigo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sorrowful Mysteries

I say a rosary almost every day, but sometimes more automatically than thoughtfully. The mysteries can provide points for reflection or focus of intention (praying especially to the Holy Spirit during the decade devoted to Pentecost, for example) when I pay attention.

The sorrowful mysteries are traditionally recited on Tuesdays and Fridays. Last week I stumbled across a reflection by Erin about the Agony in the Garden. She wondered how our all-knowing, all-powerful God could experience fear, especially with the intensity described in Scripture. Her thoughtful response (I won't call it the answer, because, really, who knows?) was amazing--you should really go read it now!

Meanwhile, I've been praying for so many intentions lately: an uncle with cancer, a cousin who needs a transplant, a family with major difficulties, a friend of a friend having cancer surgery, and on and on. Today will be another candle-lighting day (We burn one on the island as a reminder--see flame, say a prayer.).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Joe's Din(n)er

At last, some special cooking time! Joe and I prepared last night's dinner. It was an eclectic menu: Watershrimp and Hotroot Soup (Redwall-style, complete with fresh mussels), homemade baguettes, corn pudding, green beans, and frozen chocolate covered bananas.

We fit the cooking (and multiple clean up periods) into a day with a few errands, but it wasn't busy enough to make us crazy. Cleaning the mussels (scrubbing all and de-bearding some) was simple but time consuming. The soup is a lot like clam chowder--leeks, potatoes, milk, seafood.

The bread was attractive AND delicious.The corn pudding was not popular enough to be made again; I think we'll have trouble consuming even the leftovers. It turned out the way it was supposed to, but just isn't to our taste.
The chef:Another happy customer:The pops were exactly right, and easy to make (based on the recipe from Emeril Legasses's There's a Chef in My Soup!). Joe froze four bananas (8 halves) with skewer handles (Craft/popsicle sticks would be safer, but we didn't have any on hand.). The next day we combined 1/2 cup of hot whipping cream with 1 cup of chocolate to make a thick ganache. The frozen bananas were covered with chocolate and returned to the freezer. Delightful!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sounds Like He's Seen My Desk

It is far better to do a few things well than undertake many good works and leave them half-done.

- St. Francis de Sales

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sh/We Did It!

Our first first year (got that?) of college is over! Lauren will be home later tonight (not that far from now, actually) and (mostly) home for the summer.

Marianna spontaneously made the "Welcome Home!" banner.* I've prepared one of Lauren's favorite treats--coconut sticky rice. I just hope my aged self is still awake when she arrives. ;-)

*Yes, I know it's a crummy picture. During the day it was too bright, now it's dark, or the flash is too bright, etc. I'll bet Lauren could get a nice image...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Small Successes


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

A happy consequence of knowing that I want to write this post each week is that it has kept me on the lookout for the bright side of daily life. Even if you're not typing it up, try remembering three golden moments from the past week--they're there somewhere!

  • The children and I sorted through our VHS/DVD collection and disposed of enough to fill a department store shopping bag. Most were just outgrown, but some were movies I never really liked--glad to have them outta here! We passed the bag to a friend, and the rest will be freecycled. Have you heard of this? You can join an online group in your local area and give or receive stuff to keep it out of landfills. And I do mean "stuff"--I've seen everything from paper towel tubes (My friend who wanted them for her rodents to chew lost out to another taker!) to vacuums and dining room chairs.
  • I take a good walk with Dusty ninety-nine days out of a hundred, but Monday I bathed him for the first time. His long undercoating of fur gets embedded with tiny, gravelly dirt when we take the trails, even if it's dewy rather than rainy. I'm not sure whether my small success is giving that first bath or avoiding it for over a year! ;-)
  • Also on the walking front, my perspective has changed. I've enjoyed walking, and keep to a minimum of 20 minutes (rosary length), with a 40 minute average. Distance and pace vary, and I have had a tendency to cut down on a "regular" route if I got a late start. Anyway, this week I noticed a real reluctance to cut back. A few mornings I told myself I would cut out this or that loop, only to change my mind once outside and take the whole route, figuring that this was my time and I wouldn't get any other real exercise in the day and what did it matter if I got home a few minutes later... The point is that this is an attitude change, this feeling ENTITLED to a brisk walk of a certain length. In the past my sense of entitlement usually led to another cookie or some midmorning chocolate.

Find more inspiration and encouragement at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sign of the Times

Yes, we've got another 16 year-old in the house! When those white-knuckle sessions began, I ordered "student driver" magnets to keep in each car. Our area isn't known for excessively courteous drivers, (grin) so I'm hoping that marking the vehicle will provide warning for them and patience for (with) us.

David's coming along well in his technical skills and he does seem to be thinking about what he's doing--we can discuss the merits of lane changes, appropriate speeds, etc. In fact, as we neared Occoquan in the drizzly dusk yesterday, I dozed on and off. That may have just been exhaustion, but my son has decided to accept it as a compliment!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Let There Be Light

For years I've been wistfully wishing (the truth? grumpily griping) for better lighting in our bedroom. We have a nice, bright floor lamp, but the bedside lights were small, low, and too dim for my aging eyes. We've discussed solutions and Len has even shopped in the past, to no avail.

We concluded a recent date night with a trip to Lowe's, determined to spend some anniversary money (thanks, Mom and Dad!) on bedroom lighting. There were surprisingly few choices that met our needs for brightness, wall mounting, etc. We finally settled on this four-bulb fixture; it's a little more modern than our room, but that's okay.Originally all four bulbs were linked, but my clever husband fiddled with the wires to create two light zones. Now one of us can read while the other slumbers peacefully...The attic over the garage is behind the wall, so Len was able to install the lighting without any unsightly cords showing. (Talk about the bonus round--when I married him, I had no idea he is so HANDY!) But check out the photo below for my favorite feature:Look, look, look! My own lightswitch for my lights, and it's within reach of my pillow! Oh, happy day (night?)!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sharp Dressed Man

I was wrong--we do have a few photos from David's school prom! Then this past Saturday he attended the local homeschool prom, and tweaked his outfit to include a black bowtie and mirrored shades.