Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joy of Skyping

Skype is software that enables audio and video calls on the internet. After hearing only positive word-of-mouth, we bought a webcam and downloaded Skype (for free!) when Joe's best friend moved to Singapore. The boys have had several conversations, but overall we don't Skype much.

Last night Lauren called to talk to Len and me*. The speaker phone was scratchy so we moved to our webcams, and immediately everything was radically different.

This was mostly a business meeting--the mission trip/social justice/art class she wants to take next semester, a mysterious VCU bill, the status of the 3rd car, etc. But now I could watch my girl twirl her hair and look at her tired eyes. I could see her soft smile, familiar expressions, and (I think) a necklace that used to be mine. She showed us some of the photos she's been developing in class.

It was a better meeting than usual, but by the time it was over I missed Lauren more, not less. I don't think I can articulate why; maybe it's due to the multi-sensory reminder of who I'm missing. A disembodied voice on the phone just isn't the same. So Skype for me is sweet tempered with an edge of bitterness--just like the very best chocolate.

*Yes, "me" my children, not "I" in this case! (They're used to MUCH grammar correction around here...)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Picture This

At our parish church, large paintings (I'd guess 3' x 3') illustrate the Stations of the Cross. When we arrive early enough, our nine- and four-year olds travel the perimeter together, observing closely. Marianna also teaches/quizzes/coaches Rebecca about what happened at each Station.

Today Rebecca was beaming when they arrived back at our pew. For the first time she had identified all fourteen vignettes correctly!

The girls' habit of Station-viewing is beautiful. The bonding and teaching that goes on as they share the experience is a gift to each other and to me. No sibling relationship is smooth all the time (some almost never, it seems!), making this tradition all the sweeter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Successes: School's In


I haven't participated lately as it's taken a few weeks to feel like the (ahem) "challenges" aren't outweighing the successes. Now at least I'm running even.

School is basically going well. We've been behind since Day 1, but as I told Len, it's like being the second place horse while the race is running--we're almost there. Here's some of the good news:

  1. We've used our Friday craft-time for actual crafting two weeks in a row! (I was worried that I would cave and try to catch up on academics instead.) Both sessions were devoted to freezer cooking (pesto, then chicken casserole); tomorrow the children will be making clay dolphins for our ocean box.
  2. Most of us are enjoying homeschool soccer most of the time (3 weeks so far). It is easier to have everyone at the same place at the same time, and during school hours, too.
  3. I've set a new wakeup time (5:00! Gasp!) that works for any kind of day--paperwork before a 6:00 walk, shower before 6:15 mass (only when Joe is serving), 5:15 walk before showering and driving to high school. Although it's an earlier start than my more recent routines, the consistency is helpful. It's also motivating me to get to bed on time!
How's your September going? Read about the successes of other moms here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Slow Growth

At least to me, it feels like these are the slowest growing bangs EVER! They're still too short for an elastic band, and Becca prefers not to wear clips or barrettes. She's persevering, though, and someday victory will be hers. And there will be much rejoicing...
Yes, that's another plum crisp on the stove.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beginning Again

Before signing in to update my blog, I clicked on the daily quote link (in the sidebar). Here's today's wisdom from St. Francis de Sales:

"Be patient with everyone, but above all with yourself."


As I listened for hope and help this weekend, God was speaking.

My sister suggested some verses from Romans 15: "We who are strong in faith should be patient with the scruples of those whose faith is weak; we must not be selfish. Each should please his neighbor so as to do him good by building up his spirit."

A few verses later I found: "May God, the source of all patience and encouragement, enable you to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and voice you may glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Then there were the readings at mass yesterday.

From Saint James (3:16-18) came a reminder of gentleness, among other things: "Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace."

In the gospel (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus speaks about receiving a child in his name and also about being the servant of all, both reminders to me of my need to embrace service rather than expecting to be served/have it all my way.

AND (it just keeps on going...) there was How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist by Michael Dubruiel. Joe was serving, so we arrived at church 30 minutes early and I started reading. I didn't get far, but early on Mr. Dubruiel suggests that one way to participate more fully in the sacrifice of the mass is to, "...give up the desire to be in charge and adopt an attitude of service."

So I'm once again inspired (unlike you, kind reader, who are probably bored senseless by now) to start again, ready to serve with patience and gentleness. Feel free to pray for me. Thanks!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Who's the Grownup Anyway?

I can be so selfish. That's no surprise, but sometimes it's more obvious than others.

By yesterday afternoon I was downright MEAN, using that angry, irritated (and loud) tone of voice--you know the one--and saying things to my children that they'd get in trouble for. Here's one gem I remember offering, while "helping" a child with school: "Don't you even THINK?!" Wonderful, supportive parenting, that.

This sounds like an issue with patience (and the lack thereof) or anger, but I think selfishness is at the root here. If things aren't going my way, or I'm behind schedule, or I'm getting interrupted or inconvenienced, I can start losing control of myself. I want life to go my way.

Being tired doesn't help my attempts at self-control, either, but lack of sleep can be caused by selfishness, too. I rarely have trouble sleeping (Just ask my kids about couch time!), so exhaustion is usually caused by staying up too late, almost always for no good reason. It's a bad habit that fosters other bad behaviors.

I'm not blaming yesterday on sleepiness. I think it was much more about not dealing with the imperfection of real life, of wanting everything and everyone to dance to my beat. It's not as if the kids were behaving outrageously and I finally snapped--more like I wanted everyone to fit in with my (probably not even realistic) plan for the moment, and then reacting like a spoiled brat when they didn't.

God has a lot of work left to do with me, if I'll let Him!

Does anyone have a good quote (from a saint or the Bible) to inspire me with? Something about selfishness or selflessness or struggling with charity, maybe. I'll bet St. Francis de Sales has a jewel or two...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

In the end we did feed folks, but it was actually more of a cooking frenzy!

Our first Soup Night of the season was tonight. We served two soups--onion and chicken noodle--and due to a lack of I'm-not-sure-what (not planning--I knew this was coming and had all the ingredients), I found myself after soccer with TWO HOURS to make soup 1 and soup 2 and garlic-cheese-baguette toppers. The ONLY thing that had been prepared ahead was the batch of slow-cooked onions.

I usually take care of Soup Night mostly on my own, especially the food preparation. That didn't last long today.

Soon enough Len was in the kitchen, stripping tendons from 6 pounds of chicken tenders (no, we didn't use them all). Then I called David in to slice and toast baguettes. Next Rebecca was peeling garlic, Joe was rubbing it on the toast, and Marianna and her friend were peeling carrots. The pace picked up, and while Len drove to soccer, the four children took care of task after task as we raced to get finished. There was more washing and baking and gathering and cleaning, and they were dismissed with just a few minutes to spare.

Dinner was tasty, the company was great, and I was able to relax a bit, too. I usually enjoy taking care of this night myself, but it is a relief to know I have my wonderful family to count on when the going gets tough!

Some fun photos:
21 cups of sliced onionsbecame 3 cups! (I scraped a hole in the onions below so you can see how close to the bottom of the pot they are.)Three cheers for my mandoline!The recipe for onion soup is here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Care Package

Lauren's grandmother and aunt are the cookie-senders. Much as I enjoy baking, I've not been "together" enough to undertake that project yet.

We'll be seeing our girl for a few hours this weekend, however, so I'm gathering goodies for her to take back to school. (It is such a blessing to have Lauren just a short drive away!)
  1. The warehouse store finally had her favorite soup in stock again, so there's a box of clam chowder.
  2. I'm picking up the special rice needed for making sticky rice. She's checked two stores (consulting me by phone) so far, to no avail. (I'm impressed that one employee was willing to give up a sale by telling her that a possibility we were considering would NOT work.)
  3. Lauren shares a tiny refrigerator/freezer (smaller than the one in her dorm last year!) with three other young women, so the last time I packed chicken for my freezer, I made some marinade bags for hers. They'll take up hardly any space, and she can pull them out any time. I used quart-size bags so she can slip some chicken in, keep it in the fridge for a day, and have something a little different ready to go. Obviously not mailable, the bags have been waiting in my freezer for the right "moment of transfer."
I haven't figured out what else to add yet, but I've still got a few more days...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fiddle Lesson

The recital video of the quartet playing an Irish medley is still unplayable, so I recorded Joe and his teacher at Thursday's lesson. They're playing Swallowtail Jig, Lannigan's Ball, and Morrison's Jig, complete with an interruption by Rebecca and "harmony" by Max the dog. Enjoy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Homeschool Crafts

I love the idea of crafting with my children, but let's be real--it's not a priority for me and hardly ever happens.

This year I'm going to try again, and to that end have blocked out a few hours on Friday afternoons. Hopefully it won't become "make-up-our-unfinished-work" time!

Our science book features swimming creatures, and at the author's suggestion we've painted an "ocean box." We made varying shades of blue for different depths, and glued sand to the bottom. For each chapter the children will make clay animals to install in our box.
That means I've already got about 13 weeks of crafts scheduled, and they're ones that need to be done as part of the science curriculum. Either that will MAKE me do it, or I'll feel even worse when I slack off. Stay tuned...

Today's "craft" was a little more up my alley: we made pesto for the freezer. The four of us worked together, harvesting, washing, spinning, peeling, pressing, measuring, pouring, etc. etc. etc. Call it edible art. As part of my "it's really going to happen this time" campaign, I'm trying to plan specific crafts weeks ahead. There are the sea creatures. I've also scheduled four weeks to make and freeze Christmas cookies, and some dates to work on Jesus Tree cutouts for Lent (which I bought last year but--no surprise--didn't use). We'll see. Hope springs eternal, at least at the beginnning of the school year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dragging Her Heels

I'm sure there's a lesson here somewhere.

After Joseph expressed interest, I registered the youngest three for our first season of homeschool soccer. We have many friends who participate, and the program is low-key and family friendly, meeting once a week for ten weeks, 1-3 p.m.

When I announced our sports plan, Marianna was not pleased, partly because she was afraid soccer would replace Irish dance. Her mood was easily improved. Unfortunately, tenacious Rebecca had picked up on the negative vibe. Over the past few weeks I've responded seemingly innumerable times to "Why?" or "I don't want to" or some variation thereof.

Today was the worst yet, with long bouts of weeping and screaming before lunch. I managed to calm the child, but then came the final straw...the shin guards. Apparently, they were, "ITCHY, ITCHY, ITCHY!" and brought on the kind of passion that looks like it could lead to vomitting. Yes, THAT intense about kicking a ball around for a few hours--good grief!

My one hope was that she'd be too embarrassed to create a similar scene in public, so on we went. Lo and behold, she was just fine. While not exactly perky, she was quiet and cooperative. By the end of the session, Becca was even smiling, and now she is totally on board.

So what's the lesson? While I don't create that level of drama, I DO resist doing what I ought, especially if it's something new or just a bit discomfiting. I kept wanting to tell Rebecca to just calm down and do what was required and open herself up to at least the POSSIBILITY of enjoying it. Wise words. Maybe I'll try them on myself sometime.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Fiddler in the House

Last week, Joe played in a short recital at his teacher's house. She's been teaching him some fiddle tunes, which are a lot of fun to listen to.

I've been wanting to post the videos ever since, but we've had one technical difficulty after another. At first we couldn't find any movies on our new computer after downloading them from the camera. Then blogger wouldn't upload them. David managed to post one on YouTube for me, but the other won't even play on our machine any more. Argh!

Anyway, this is Joe and a fellow student playing "Soldier's Joy", an American Fiddle tune, with Mr. M, his teacher's husband, accompanying them on guitar. I will keep trying to put up the other movie, because it's a medley of three Irish songs which I enjoy even more.

Thursday, September 3, 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."

This week, the habit of posting small successes actually led directly to one of my accomplishments (see #1 below)! I even jumped out of bed one night to make sure I would finish what I had started. Enough suspense, here's my list:
  1. I lifted weights every single day. As I mentioned last week, Len developed a short (7 exercises, 20 reps each) routine for me. The amount I'm lifting is miniscule, but it's enough work (I can feel it) that I know I'm going to get stronger. I've only increased the weight for one set, but more will come in time.
  2. Marianna and I set up and hosted her latest tea party. It made for some mother-daughter bonding time as well as hospitality training.
  3. I survived the first full week of school carpooling in northern Virginia, complete with soccer, violin, tae kwon do, and an orthodontist appointment. I don't think I complained, either. Now next week, when our homeschooling starts up in earnest, I'll likely need a little more self-control. :-)
Be inspired by the accomplishments of other moms at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Morning Tea

It seems like years ago, but Marianna's "Morning Tea" was just yesterday. Nine girls chatted and nibbled, then experimented with lemons and cream in the tea. :-)

Here's how we planned and carried out a fun event:

One week ahead: Printed and colored invitations, made envelopes, and delivered. One week is usually not enough time, but all the guests live within walking distance, it is still summer, and this was to be a casual event. The invitations included the two-course menu and suggested casual attire (pajamas or play clothes for 9:30 a.m.). Unlike for soup night, we requested RSVP's (and got them!).

Two days ahead: Cooked, mashed, and strained the raspberries for punch. We found this recipe and a few others in Tea and Cake with the Saints.One day ahead:
Baked the spice cake (and glazed it), boiled eggs, made (but didn't cut) ham and cheese roll-ups.
After dinner: Tidied the main level and set the table. This was a big time saver! Since it was to be a casual event (some girls did wear pj's), we used daily dishes and flatware instead of fancy china (unlike for Marianna's 8th birthday tea party).It looked a bit blah at this stage, but with flowers, punch, and food (yes, and daylight!), everything brightened right up:In case you're wondering, yes, punch was spilled on the cloth. I washed it in very warm water (proper for all red fruit stains), and no traces are left.

Morning of the event:

Cleaned powder room sink and mirror.

Cut the roll-ups, devilled the eggs, made the cucumber sandwiches. We set the plates and put second helpings on platters on the table.

We poured and garnished the punch.The second course was set ready on the island.After a short blessing, the girls shyly began. They relaxed quickly. I puttered around the kitchen (where the table is), washing up, making tea, serving water, etc. I didn't interact much with the girls until it was time to clear away the plates and serve the tea and cake.

All told, we were done by 10:40 a.m., and sent the young ladies home. I wanted Marianna to see that you can host a lovely event and then have it be OVER, not morph into an all day playdate. Several of the girls did continue playing outside and at various homes, but the tea party itself was finished, and beautifully.

A final note, regarding cooking mishaps: We had some trouble with the cake sticking to the baking pan. I scraped the bottom out in sections, put the pieces back in their rightful places,and flipped it over again to finish cooling. A transfer to the cake plate, a generous glazing, some flowers, and voila! What mess?Even after cutting, it looked just fine.Okay, my second final note: Len saw my post and thinks a typical reader would react with either, "This woman has too much time on her hands," or "Wow, she's so together! How does she do it?" Neither is true! This is my kind of fun, that's all. I haven't sewn on a button in years, my shower looks gross, and I'm not really ready for school to start on Tuesday. But our family eats good dinners, has a mostly tidy house, and throws the occasional tea party. It's all about where one's talents and interests lie...

And third: Joe and Marianna started reading over my shoulder and said, "That was YESTERDAY??" I'm not the only one who thinks it was forever ago!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Plum Delicious

Italian prune plums are back in the stores here for their short season. If you haven't tried cooking with them yet, this might be your year. They'd probably be good roasted or grilled with chicken, or you could go the sweet route.

I've got some recipes on my cooking blog, for plum kuchen(more bread than sweet, really)