Thursday, September 30, 2010

Flowers In My Guest Room

I really do enjoy having company in my house. I'm willing to host strangers when need be, but having friends is especially nice.

Our friend visited for two nights this past weekend. Sad circumstances brought her to Las Vegas, but I was still glad to see her.

I wanted to have a photo to remember our reunion, but I forgot in all the flurry of activity. So after she left, I went into the guest room and snapped a photo of the flowers I bought to welcome her.

I'm always sad when friends leave. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, it's not an uncommon sentiment.

At least I still have the flowers for a little while...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reading Along

Years ago, waaaaaay before I was Catholic, my friend and fellow Bible Study member Chad Stutz gave me a book, Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton for a Christmas gift exchange. Recently, at a used book sale I saw a 1951 edition of the book The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. I only bought it because it was a hardcover book by an author I recognized and only cost 50 cents. It has been sitting on my shelf ever since.

Since I finished The Chosen and was awaiting shipment of my Amazon order containing all the books on my Thomas Jefferson Education-inspired "syllabus" - I picked up and devoured all 423 pages of The Seven Storey Mountain. It is a well-written autobiography of Merton's life up to and including his conversion to Catholicism and then detailing his entrance into a Trappist monastery.

Listen to all the kooky coincidences that occurred while I was reading:

1) Merton mentions Mortimer Adler. This Adler guy keeps popping up all over the place in my reading, most notably in discussions about Great Books - which he founded.

2) Merton also mentions Aldous Huxley. As I read his mention, my husband was sitting next to me in bed reading Huxley's Brave New World.

3) I was very inspired by Merton's testimony, and shared portions of it with Kevin. One night, he reached over to his nightstand drawer where he had a This Rock magazine with Merton on the cover and including an article about how he went a little wiggy in his later years. I waited til I finished the book this morning to read the article. Kinda depressing.

Put Merton's book, completed, back on my shelf. Maybe one day someone else I know will read it and we can have an enlightening discussion about it.

Began Little Britches by Ralph Moody today. So I am now officially following my syllabus. Happy reading to me!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Difficult Talk #1 of 2 Million

Kevin and I were asked to give a talk at a Church marriage retreat. First, our assigned topic was "Communication in Marriage". I was exultant and Kevin was horrified. Then the leaders changed our topic to "Precepts of the Church". Kevin was exultant and I was horrified. Weeks went by and the topic was changed yet again to "Practical Aspects of Marriage".  This topic amounts to a "lighter" talk chock-full of personal examples and LOTS of talk of feelings. Can you guess who was exultant and who was horrified?

Sunday night, the retreat leaders were coming to our house to hear us give a practice talk at eight o' clock. For several hours before, Kevin and I were extremely angry at each other. I am still unsure why he was so miffed at me, but my problem with him is easy to explain - well, maybe not. Aren't fights stupid? Regardless, we were both really annoyed with each other and I totally grasped the irony of this considering we had to deliver a talk ON MARRIAGE.... TOGETHER... by the end of the night. Talk about pressure!

Around seven o'clock, I had my part of the talk printed and waiting on the kitchen island. As I prepared some before-bed fruit smoothies for the kids, Joseph picked up the pages of my writing and skimmed over them. While I was working with the blender, my nine year-old walks up beside me and asks, "What's this part, Mom? The part that says: 'I came into marriage with divorce heavy in my past - parents, grandparents, and eight years before, I'd even gone through my own divorce after a seven-month marriage.' Is that you?" he asked.

Beyond the noise of the blender, the whole world got quiet. I decided years ago I would be honest with my children about my past. But RIGHT NOW? I'm in the middle of making SMOOTHIES, for crying out loud! Not to mention that I was none too happy with my current spouse at that exact moment. Somehow I collected my thoughts and feelings and turned to my sweet son and said, calmly: "Joe. Yes. That is about me. And it's not a secret, and I will tell you about it. But not right now."

It's really inconvenient that we don't get to choose the moments for difficult conversations. Really, I was in the middle of dessert-making and husband-grumping and pre-talk jitters. NOW is when my past has to come up with my child?

The talk went fine. Considering our dispositions going into the talk practice, we pulled it together remarkably well. Got feedback. Said goodbye to the couple who came to hear. Apologized for being stinkheads to each other. And then I told Kevin what Joseph had discovered and we decided to sit down with him the next night. Which we did.

It went like this: "Joe. I wanted to talk about the fact that I was married before and divorced. I'll tell you whatever you want to know. Do you have any questions?"

Joe: "What was his name?"

I told him his first name. Then he asked for his last name. I'm glad at that point he didn't pull out a clipboard and start writing down the facts. After that he said he had no questions and Kevin and I looked at each other. This seemed unlike the "sex talk" situation where you don't want to launch into a whole speech on the reproductive act when all the kid wants to know is something simple. We both guessed that the kid really had no way of organizing the thoughts in his head about his mom once having had a different husband. So we covered the basics--- young marriage, sinful divorce, years of counseling and trying to reckon with scripture, Catholic conversion and annulment--- all in about two minutes and language suitable for a nine year-old.

I'm glad that's over. At least for now. At least with one out of four kids.

I'm reasonably sure that the next time I'm making smoothies, Cayna's going to ask how babies are made. I think I might avoid my blender for a while.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"One day can you post about the knives dangling in the background on the kitchen wall? I am curious...."

I love when you comment on my blog! And if you ask me a question, or make a request for a post, I'm going to do my best to respond! (With a TON of digressions, most likely.)

The above question was sent in by alert reader Suzie D. from Salem, Oregon.

Here is a photo of the "knives dangling":

And here is the explanation: This is a "knife magnet". I first saw a knife magnet at my brother and sister-in-law's house (in Redmond, Washington). It was a nice house with a cool Y-shaped staircase. But they never got around to changing the powder room wallpaper. (Told you there would be digressions. I am a master of digressions.) Now they live in Rexburg, Idaho. And they have a VERY nice kitchen. I wonder now if they still use their knife magnet... Rachel?

Anyhoo. The knife magnet is inexpensive, easy to hang, and prevents knives from getting nicked in a drawer - AND prevents fingers from getting sliced in that same drawer.

Related story: I have a friend with an anxiety disorder and she told me she could never have her knives out in plain sight hanging on the wall. Let your imagination try to figure out why, as mine did.

Since we're on the subject of interesting things in my kitchen, how about my butter dish?
I love my butter dish. My daughters like to give it "baths" from time to time. The sight of a peaceful cow going under the bubbles in the kitchen sink is quite fun for them. This butter dish was a Target purchase. Nothing like being reminded where your food comes from.

Here are my "Three Housewives", circa 1972:

These are, technically, in the laundry room - but it's right off the kitchen. They were purchased by my grandma Mary when she redecorated her kitchen in 1972. I asked for them when she died in 2004 and have enjoyed them ever since. They totally remind me of her: she was a busy housewife, and weighed all of 90 pounds her entire life. These hung aside and above her stove in her Tucson kitchen for 32 years. We'll see how long they last above my dryer. Previously, they always adorned my kitchen, starting in Murrieta.

Finally, Abe:

What can I say about Abraham Lincoln? The same man that delivered the Gettysburg Address now adorns the top of my frig. Well... what do you have up there? Someday I'll divulge who's under my bed.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cake Story

In an effort to keep things simple at this point in my life, I decided not to do an all-out party for John's birthday. But we still had to have cake, and since I love to decorate them, it sounded fun to try a rocket ship since John is into them right now.

It went okay. It was better than my airplane cake debacle of 2004. (Apologies to Beth Barker since it was her family alone on the guest list.) But only a little bit better.

Found LOTS of suggestions online, after being afraid that my own idea of stacking 4-inch rounds a mile high might prove disastrous.

Here was my model:

Happily, this cake lady said she bought pre-made roll cakes. Pre-made makes things even simpler! And roll cakes happened to be on sale at Smith's this week. Bethanie chose one lemon and one red velvet.

I visited Smith's, Target, WalMart, Michael's, Jo-Anne's, and the location of a now-out-of-business candy store in an effort to find the little silver balls to use for rivets. VERY frustrating. Decided to use M&M's instead and hope for the best.

Here's the cake in its beginning stages:

I used a waffle cone for the nose of the rocket, which turned out to be the dorkiest-looking part, in my opinion. But I couldn't (and still can't) think of anything that might look better.

Here's a photo from the best angle (in other words, where you can't see the underside of the nose that didn't match up):

I wonder if 3 year-olds make wishes. The candles were supposed to stick out the back, ready for blast-off - but that sounded precarious. John didn't complain about the lack of realism.

Proof that it was eaten:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Can you believe my little guy is THREE? Of course you can... you didn't give birth to him seemingly yesterday.  I guess I can, too, really. I mean - these past three years have been filled with nursing and diapering, naps and crawling and then walking followed by running and scootering and being amazed at how adeptly he could throw and catch a ball. All that kinda stuff takes up time.

Well, li'l ol' J.T. is the big 0 - 3. Crazy, eh? Next thing he'll be driving a car and taking out student loans or trying to skate into someplace East of the Mississippi on a basketball scholarship. Or maybe he'll go the artistic-wanderer route and backpack across Europe moments after his eighteenth birthday. You just never know, right?

I just hope he'll remember me, his mama, who made him a rocket ship cake back in 2010 and watched in wonder as he climbed soon afterwards into the top bunk - across the room and several feet higher than his crib.

My only request when he goes to Europe - send me a postcard now and again, will ya? I've never been to Paris. Too happy staying at home watching little people grow into big.

(Tomorrow I'll post pics of the rocket cake.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Twosday

Today is John's last day of being a two year-old.
He is the sweetest, cutest, huggiest, rowdiest, most coordinated little guy.

Just now I took some shots of this momentous last.
Playing with trains
Blurry, but showing his crazy laugh crystal-clear
Mommy can't take my picture if I can't see her
Memories of these John-days:

He calls Bethanie "Meffie" (his version of Bethie).

Two days ago, he turned his pillow around in his crib so it was on the same end as Joe's. He wanted to be like big brother. He's in no rush to move to the bunkbed, though. Wondering when...

He calls vehicles with a siren "Reer-reer cars" (his imitation of the siren noise).

"John, what are you going to be when you grow up?"
"A grown-up."
"Police." (This is interchangeable with firefighter and rocket ship driver. He wants to drive the fire truck along with Cayna and Bethanie.)

At Trader Joe's the other day, they featured coffee at the sample stand. He looked up at me inquisitively and asked, "Is coffee for little guys?"

John loves to swim, play ball of any kind, ride his scooter, shoot rockets, jump on the trampoline, drink juice, wake up in the morning, and hug and kiss.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Our Books Have a Home

After piano lessons this morning, we loaded up the van and trekked across town to Nellis Air Force Base to meet up with some Great Books sellers Kevin found on Craig's List. The whole way there I thought about how excited I was to possibly own such a collection of books, and how sad I would be if they turned out to be in poor condition.

We rendezvoused at the Visitor Center and this nice Air Force couple opened the trunk of their Camry, and there were the books! Gold! Solid gold, and I got them for $150.00! They are in brand-new, perfect condition. Once I got them home, I went through many of them, and some had never been opened, you could tell by the binding.

Here they are in their boxes, just waiting to move onto our shelves, and then be read:

Sixty volumes. I'm totally in love with them, and with all of the challenge and reading and learning I have ahead.

If you're wondering what the heck they are, there is a really good explanation HERE on Wikipedia. The article connects the volumes I have with the curriculum/method I've been learning more about (recently in A Thomas Jefferson Education). And once I read it, I finally understood how Classics, Mortimer Adler, and several colleges I'd recently heard mentioned were related. If you do check out the Wikipedia article, read the section under the heading "Series", and you'll know what I bought. I have the 1990 edition.

The rest of my afternoon was spent preparing and then arranging our new book shelves. I had so much fun.

Here are the shelves with the trim painting and dusting done:
And here are the boxes of books piled and waiting to be unpacked:
Finally... the completed project:

Even with our new 60-volume set of Great Books, the encyclopedias we needed for our "classroom", photo albums, and all of our other books - there is still room to grow on these shelves. Not that I think I'll be buying many more new books in the near future!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Homeschooling Myself

Inspired by A Thomas Jefferson Education, I'm going to further my own education. I'm following the steps at the back of the book and here's my rough schedule:

Upon the arrival of my Amazon order, I will first read Little Britches, by Ralph Moody. I already finished The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. I give myself seven days max to finish Little Britches.

Then Laddie, by Jeanne Stratton-Porter within one week.

Finally The Lonesome Gods, by Louis L'Amour. Who knew that would make a list of recommended reading? My grandpa used to devour Louis L'Amour books. It will be a tribute to him to read it. I'm kind of excited about it.

After those three weeks at most, I'll be reading and studying the Declaration of Independence. Following my study, I'll rope some lucky neighbor into listening to my discoveries.

I'll then have two weeks to read The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare) and do some writing in response.

Two weeks after that to finish Walden (Thoreau - probably was supposed to have read this in high school) and do more writing.

Following this two-month program, I'll regroup and plan out the next two months. I plan to use A Thomas Jefferson Education's list combined with information gleaned from this program to develop a personalized reading list. I'm really looking forward to all this, and I like having a little bit of structure but not too much (too much, right now, would look like tests, grades, and institutional deadlines) - I can handle my self-imposed deadlines because I am very nice to myself and I understand that I have a husband and four kids and homeschooling and Cub Scouts and church ministry and soccer practices and meal planning and exercise and Bible study and friends to hang out with and a house to clean and choir and some painting projects and a couple TV shows to keep up on for crying out loud!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Door, Desk, and Dream Come True

My dream of a lifetime would be to own a library like you see in old movies, where the shelves are floor to ceiling (and the ceiling is twenty feet high) complete with one of those rolling ladder thingys to reach the upper volumes. Granted, this dream would have to include an aproned housekeeper to dust the whole setup, as well as floor to ceiling windows looking out on my manicured gardens. Really, once you begin dreaming materialistically, where do you end?

It's all about the books. I love them. I loved them from an early age when the Bookmobile came to my preschool... when Grandma took me to the library in Tucson to gather titles for summer reading... when Dad set me free in the bookstore over by the old Vegas Village... when my book orders would arrive (with free posters! the joy!) in elementary school. What glorious memories! I still smile upon entering libraries and bookstores new and used. (I could happily plan an entire jaunt around the small towns of our country just dropping in on used bookstores. I can't wait til old age when this might be workable.)

Both my father and my husband have spent time and money over many years building bookshelves for me. There were two my father crafted which followed me from apartment to apartment in my college years. And when I saw a bookshelf built near the ceiling around the perimeter of a room in the Steve Martin movie "Roxanne", I requested the same in my condo - and got it! - thanks to Dad. He duplicated it with Kevin's help in our first house as a married couple. And Kevin used his now-professional-level carpentry skills to put one in our school room in the house before this one. It's starting to sound like I am as enamored by the shelves as the books.

This past weekend, Kevin's dad and step-mom visited to help with some important projects. One, a door desk:
It still needs some finishing touches, like a left side. But it is delicious for twenty bucks. And I have room to spread out three grades' worth of lesson plans across the top.

Next they hung a door between the master bedroom and bathroom. It still needs paint, and we're waiting for matching door hardware to arrive - but it's up!

And, finally, the piece de resistance --- the bookshelf! Here is the bare wall, screaming with potential:
And in a matter of a few hours...
Friday night, Kevin and his dad started with a clipboard, drew up the bookshelf plan, headed to Lowe's an hour before it closed, and twenty-four hours later all three projects were done. (The doors were ordered and bought ahead of time.) I have a gold mine in a father-in-law who builds custom homes. I felt like an episode of something on HGTV when the compressor hummed away and the nail gun shot off a hundred times.

Once I finish painting the rough trim and pull all my treasured books out of their boxes to arrange them in their new home, I'll post a photo of the completed project. I know I sound overly romantic about my books, but this really is a dream come true.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Ramble on Homeschooling and Alcatraz

Remember the scene in "So I Married An Axe Murderer" when Phil Hartman's character was giving tours of Alcatraz? And his line, "Here's something the other tour guides won't tell you..."?

I love that line. I think of it often. Like now. As I'm sitting here being an imperfect homeschooling mom. Many women are perfect homeschooling moms, but I'm not one of them. And I'm here to share with you the lesser-known facts about Alcatraz (homeschooling). Uh-oh, I just compared homeschooling to a prison. I swear I didn't mean to do that.

Anyway... when you do something a little out of the ordinary in this life, you find out many folks have a common response whenever they find out.

Take homebirth: "You have your babies at HOME? Isn't that incredibly messy?"
Honestly, without a doubt that's the most common question I get. (For the record, I don't think it's any messier than having the baby at a hospital. Of course, the real issue is that the mess is in your bedroom instead of a hospital room which has its own custodian/janitor/orderly. There are ways to deal with this, however, and if a midwife wants to stay in business, she usually doesn't make the new mom clean up her own placenta. Now you know.)

Or convert to Catholicism in your adulthood: "What? Now you worship MARY? Isn't that unbiblical?"
Yep, Mary and Confession (which most non-Catholics have only seen in the movies) are the biggest hangups many people have. I don't worship Mary any more than I clean up my own placenta.

Or homeschool your children: "Ohmygod! I could never spend all day every day with my kid(s)!"
Well, here's the honest truth. It IS horribly difficult some days. But as I realized today, the issues that make the 24/7 problem a problem wouldn't be remedied by sending them to school out of my house. They would just be swept under the rug, easier to ignore or deal with in smaller increments.

My issues, friends, are that I am too permissive with my children and I have a pretty gnarly anger problem. Can you see how this combination could be ugly? It is. And it's heartbreaking and despair-inducing. But now, since I've decided to spend all day every day with my kids, I gotta work on being a better, more disciplined disciplinarian while simultaneously praying my booty off that Jesus will heal my anger. It's gonna take a miracle. Anger seems to be my default trait. Beneath the surface on any given day at any given time is a really mad woman. But I'm dealing with her (me) and I am hopeful that I will see some improvement any day now. The struggle is huge these past couple weeks so I know something is going to change.  It has to.

Getting back to my Alcatraz allusion/analogy, I have given my last tour and am now riding in the boat back across the shark-infested waters toward the mainland. I've shown the people what they came to see. Yes, it's often tremendously difficult to be with my children all day every day. But, as with homebirth and becoming Catholic, it has been revealed to be the best thing for my family. Even with the messes and the misunderstanding and the mayhem.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Top O' The Mornin'!

I tiptoed out to the mailbox this morning in my pajamas to mail my long-overdue birthday thank-yous. Happily I was wearing modest enough pajamas that aren't too silly since I saw not just one but BOTH of my neighbors (the husband half of the neighbors). One is Australian, and we love to listen to him talk - from him I got a "Top o' the mornin'!" The other called a greeting and gave a wave and I slipped back into the house resolved to get dressed quick before anyone else sees me. The pajamas are cute enough - I just bought them at Dillard's on my Mom's Day Out - but I'm not sure how much mascara is smeared under my eyes and how much of my hair is sticking out all over the place.

Top o' the morning, indeed!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Years ago in our little hamlet in Yucaipa, my dare-to-be-different friend Rachel and her husband Adam were visiting and oh-so-casually mentioned "Thomas Jefferson Education." I remember them saying something about a "list of classics" and "parents should read the books before the kids do" but it was all a blur because on the same trip I believe we celebrated the New Year AND one of their daughters broke her arm AND in our usual manner we covered ninety-four-thousand other topics too.

Innocently, my lovely friend Beth mentioned this same book on the phone the other day. So I ordered it. And ever since, my life has been in a turmoil. Over the past six years, I have become a fan of Classical Education. It makes sense, it sounds good, and all the best stuff I read supports it. When I put it into practice last year with Laura Berquist's book and her private school - it went okay, but it seemed a little dry for us. So I ordered something "jazzier" this year. And jazzy does not equal Classic. It's not on the opposite end of the spectrum, but it's still not Classic(al). We had a great first three days, but by day four, I received my copy of A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver DeMille, from Amazon and was diving in head first.

In this diving analogy, let's just say I bonked my head on the bottom of the pool and paralyzed myself. Not permanently, praise God, but I had to take Tuesday off of homeschool altogether because I was a dizzy mess.

I'm going to spare you the entire tale of all I'm thinking about educational philosophy and my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher/tutor/mentor and tell you that we picked up today where we left off last Thursday (we have Fridays off already, Monday was Labor Day, and Tuesday was the dizzy day). However,  I'm looking into attending a local seminar on mentoring, putting together a discussion group on Black Beauty, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Junior Classics set we ordered on e-Bay.


Okay, facetious bitterness aside, I'm actually excited about doing some pretty serious studying myself. To start with, I am following DeMille's recommendations at the end of the book and am now nearly half through The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. Better go read!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I just noticed on my dashboard that I have 500 posts! Whoa!

So this is 501.

501 reminds me of Levi's.

On Saturday, I had my Mom's Day Out and bought myself a pair of real Levi's. I haven't had Levi's in ages. I like them.

One of my friends has a kid named Levi. I kinda like that for a name. Names. Kids. I'm not sure I can handle any more kids. Then again, it's good I can't do anything permanent, because I seem to change my mind on this about every other day.

Never made sweet and sour chicken before, but it's simmering in the crock pot right now. It's Kirsten's recipe. Kirsten, who is married to Mike. Mike who yesterday gave me a bright red t-shirt that says, "40 Isn't Old If You're a Tree."

Do you know they sell tequila with a scorpion in the bottle? This is foolish.

I'm back to running, now that the temps are staying mostly in the double digits. And we've got another addition to our running group! That makes five of us - we're a force to be reckoned with on the streets of Henderson. And in a road race coming soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

First Week... Done!


This time last week I was getting nervous. I know, it sounds silly that I would be nervous about teaching my own kids --- but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't picture how it was going to work (three kids at once!) -- and I am all about imagining things beforehand.

Here I was, with three vast displays of books fanned out before me, trying to figure out how three kids, three grades, and eighteen-ish subjects were going to "come together". I think Kevin took the photo hoping one day I'd look back on this and laugh.

The first day came, and my new fourth grader, second grader, and Kindergartener were happy to pose for photos. Joe wore the same shirt for his first day of third grade, too. I think I ought to be flattered.

Really, the first week went smoothly, and I think it's working well. In the weeks leading up to school starting, many people asked how I was going to juggle all three. It's just that: juggling. But I've learned a few things from last year that make it easier - or at least more manageable. After four days, I can honestly say I'm enjoying it and this curriculum is a better fit for us than last year's.

All that being said, I'd appreciate prayer! I've got a big job ahead.