Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We're in Pennsylvania with Dwayne. He had to travel for work, so we came along. This morning, Norah swam in the hotel pool.

We left for lunch and as we drove back, we passed a field full of dandelions. It was too tempting, so I pulled over and let Norah run around.

This evening, Norah and Dwayne went to a Phillies game. Avril and I hung out in the room. She slept. I read New Moon, the second book in the Twilight series.

Take me out to the ballgame... buy me some peanuts...

They met up and sat with Dwayne's oldest friend, Dan, and some of his family.

Norah's never met a pillow like this she didn't like. If she finds a U-shaped pillow, she feels compelled to wear it around her head. She did it at Grandma Karen's with a neck pillow (see photo below) and I can remember at least one other occasion, in addition to the one above, where she wore a pillow around during a play date at a friend's house.

She surprised me like this, jumped out of the baby's room with our Boppy on her head the other day and said, "Boo!" I lost it, laughing hysterically, until I thought to grab the camera. Seems a shame to try and explain to her what these pillows are actually designed for.

The shape around her face reminds me of two things.

One: what the OB-GYN, no doubt, sees as I deliver babies: the shape of a big rear with a head poking out.

The other: Queen Elizabeth's collar.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fun with our magnifying glass.

Monday, April 27, 2009

There is much to learn by people-watching. It's one of my favorite pastimes. Dwayne and I could sit at the mall for hours and just watch people go by... What we witness always sparks interesting conversations.

Why do so many teen girls purchase some small, often inexpensive item at Victoria's Secret so they can receive a large, gaudy, glittery, pink bag to carry around on their arm all evening?

I have come up with all sorts of unfortunate theories to explain this observation.

I usually feel uncomfortable making strong judgments about anybody I haven't met based on superficial things like how they are dressed, what bags they carry, etc. But, more and more, I have less and less of a problem coming to conclusions about people based on how they are actually behaving.

Actions, you know, speak louder than words. "Even a young man is known by his actions, whether or not his way is pleasing to the Lord." I like to think, by doing this, I am not actually guilty of "jumping to conclusions," like I've been accused of in the past. But, I like to think that I am rather "connecting the dots" as I watch people and then determine what it is I think I am really seeing.

On our way to the Norman Rockwell Museum the day before yesterday, I saw something that got me thinking. We stopped at a Wendy's for lunch. As we were eating, another family walked in, a young mother and father, an elementary-aged little girl, and a very chubby toddler boy in one of those monstrous car seat-stroller combinations.

The father, Dwayne and I both noticed right away, was very muscular and tan. He was wearing one of those tight, sleeveless shirts nick-named "wife-beaters" and he had a chain-linked tattoo on his arm, setting off his large bicep. Dwayne commented under his breath to me, "I'd like to be that built." Comments like that always set us to talking about how we'll have to work together to get the time and exercise at the gym that we both want, since we have two kids now and one is a tiny infant who won't be allowed in the babysitting room at our YMCA for at least several months...

While we talked, I noticed the man for other reasons. He was carrying a specialty vitamin water and a brown paper bag into the restaurant. He walked directly to find a seat, pulled a healthy looking grilled chicken sandwich out of his bag and started eating it. His wife and two kids went to stand in line directly.

The lady had a hard time maneuvering her son's stroller through the lanes. I hate the lanes at Wendy's... Going through them, I always feel like a head of cattle being herded to the barn. I also noticed that the woman barely kept her older daughter from pulling her pants down as she ordered. The little girl was tugging at her mom's legs affectionately, asking, like kids do, for something particular on the menu. The woman paid for their food, got their tray and... this is when I winced.

She was balancing the tray of drinks, burgers and fries on one of her forearms, barely keeping it from toppling over onto the floor. She had to push and at times, actually shove the large stroller with her other hand, all the while, looking back at her daughter, giving directions. It was very uncomfortable to watch. I almost got out of my seat to help her, more than once, but I remembered... this is New England.

Naturally, I looked at the father, expecting to see that he was coming to help. It was his place. But, he was sitting with his hands crossed, looking out the window, completely finished with his meal, completely unaware of his wife's trouble. All the while, I watched the lady and I was surprised to see that she seemed absolutely pleasant even though she was clearly overwhelmed. She was almost just as unaware and unaffected by her husband as he seemed to be of her. I became aware that I was the only person who thought the man was acting like a louse, so I tried not to get too worked up. At least I wasn't married to him.

As I sat there, something occurred to me that I had no reason to even consider as the man and his family entered the restaurant to begin with. I had admired his physic, at first. But, now I wondered, if the obvious time he spent at the gym and tanning booth were not just an extension of his now-somewhat-apparent selfishness? After all, I know from experience that it is difficult for a man with a family (Dwayne) to find time at the gym...

unless he goes to great measures to ensure his workouts won't cost him precious time with his wife and kids, getting up at 5am...

or unless he doesn't even care if they do.

Our family went about our day together, got to the museum and viewed the rooms full of artwork. The last room we toured showed every single cover Rockwell painted for the Saturday Evening Post during his lifetime. That's when I noticed the cover at the top of this blog post on one of the August editions in 1946. It was one of many covers that struck me, but this one stood out even more because of what I told you I witnessed at Wendy's earlier that day.

Please take a second to click on the image above and study it as closely as possible. Rockwell said he watched people, said he painted the things that he saw, things that others might not have noticed. He claimed that each of his paintings told a complete story.

In the painting, there is a plump man lying in a chair on the porch of his shack. He is watching two ladies change their flat tire with interest, even humor. The man in the painting reminded me of the father I'd seen earlier that day, since both men seemed completely unaware that they could or even should do anything to help.

A passage in Proverbs 7 says, "At the window of my house, I looked out through my lattice and I saw among the naive and discerned among the youths a young man lacking sense, passing through the street near her corner; and he takes the way to her house..." The passage goes on to describe how the writer witnessed the seductive woman lead this fool away to his ruin.

I think it is interesting that even a Biblical writer was a people-watcher. In this case, he was watching a man ruined by sexual immorality. But, perhaps other, more celebrated passages in this book of wisdom like "Charm is deceptive, beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" came from the fact that someone simply watched those around him and drew conclusions that taught him how best to behave.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.


Norah has been helping me measure, add and mix ingredients for dinner. It always means more trouble and mess for me to let her help, but if I I keep her out of the kitchen because that's convenient for me, she may likely end up married, with a family to care for, asking her husband how to fry an egg... I know I did.

She's also helping fold and put away her own clean clothes. Letting her do this takes more time than just doing it myself or at least it does for now, because she is still learning, often gets distracted and has to make half a dozen trips to my one.

But, I see no better way to teach her these kinds of things than by letting her actually do them. If more parents would let kids help at home, there would be no need for formal school classes in subjects like home economics anyway.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Norah posed by the flower bed before we left home this afternoon.

The tulips are in full bloom.

On our way!
The drive was so scenic, if I'd have asked Dwayne to stop the Jeep for every picturesque place, we'd have never gotten there.

We visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Avril slept in her sling, as usual.

Norah ran around on the museum grounds.

The weather was heavenly.
Nothing beats New England on a warm, spring day.
Norah's learning to wink.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Norah, making the face she drew.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Norah, sitting on the cobbler's bench Grandma Gerda gave us.
So, now we have a bench, a little monkey... all we need is a weasel to chase!

My husband just read me this hilarious review of the book Twilight.

What this guy says about the book is true, but that doesn't change the fact that I am under its spell and enjoying every page.

If Twilight were food, it would be nutritionally equivalent to a box of Peeps. But, who plows through a box of Peeps because they are good for you?!

This review reminds me of a health food critic who, after going to the county fair, complains that all the fresh fruits were skewered and covered with caramel.

My opinion, revisited:

For the first time, I am leaving a Beverly Lewis novel half read to read something else. I never do this. I love Beverly Lewis. When a new book comes out, my husband knows to pull my oldest daughter back and keep her and everyone else in my life at a safe distance from me until I am finished with it.

But, I just couldn't wait to start reading Twilight. My husband got it for two bucks at a huge book warehouse and almost giggled his whole way through the whole thing. I couldn't ask him to do something without his saying, "Just let me finish this chapter" and then he'd hunch over the book again with a big smirk on his face. It really is so good. I am nursing an infant and usually desperate for sleep, but I couldn't bring myself to put the book down until well into the early hours of this morning.

Bella's my new hero... or heroine, rather. She's so much more interesting than those boring Amish girls. But, please don't tell Beverly I said so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You can make these plain or add fresh or frozen blueberries.

Crumb Top Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk

Optional: 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Crumb topping:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, soft and cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper liners.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, combine vegetable oil, egg and milk.

Mix this with the flour mixture. (Fold in any blueberries now). Fill muffin cups to the top and then sprinkle them with the crumb topping mixture.

To Make Crumb Topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork and sprinkle over muffins before baking. Option: Add a 1/4 cup chipped walnuts to this topping.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Homemade Cookies and Cream Ice Cream

V is for Vermin

I used to let Norah fill the bird feeders on the porch.

Inevitably, while she was doing this, some of the seeds would fall out of the feeders and onto the porch. No big thing, I thought. The birds will still eat it off the ground.

In fact, we began to notice that some of the littlest birds seemed to prefer to eat the seeds off the porch, so we actually started "spilling" seeds on the porch on purpose.

But, it turns out that the squirrels noticed these seeds, too. And, even though they can empty our bird feeders in a day, they are, apparently, still starving to death, because you can see from the close-up photo above, that the little vermin dug out the mortar between the pieces of slate on our front porch to get to the littlest seeds stuck in the cracks.

Hence, Norah fills the bird feeders only in the grass now.

Lesson learned.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Norah and Avril this morning.
Norah had yogurt for breakfast this morning. When she was done she asked her Grandmom, who is visiting from Florida, for cookies. Grandmom told her, "Cookies are for after lunch."

Norah thought about this for a second, then she asked if she could have her "lunch now?" Grandmom went along with this, seeing where it would go, and asked Norah what she wanted for lunch.

"Grilled cheese," she answered.

After eating an entire sandwich in addition to her yogurt, Norah got her cookies. What else could Grandmom do?!

About this time I stroll into the kitchen wondering why she is having cookies at breakfast and I get the whole story.

You can tell by the look on Norah's face that she is pleased with herself.
We had a great time outside yesterday. The weather was beautiful. While Dwayne and his dad cleaned out the garage, Norah drew on the front walk with her chalk. In an effort to protect her clothes, I gave her an apron, but you can see from one of the pictures below that she still wiped her hands on her bum.

I also hid plastic Easter eggs in the yard, flower beds and vegetable garden for Norah to find. Dwayne's mom helped her locate the not-so-obvious ones by hinting, "You're getting warm... warmer... hot!"

All of a sudden, Norah looks huge to us. And, all at once, I've found that I don't fret about her like I did before Avril was born. She started coughing on an apple skin the other day, something that would have caused my heart to race and would have made me jump out of my seat just a few weeks ago. I barely noticed. And, then, I noticed that I barely noticed and realized: she's not my baby anymore. She's my big girl now.

Avril spent most of the afternoon fast asleep in her baby sling tight against my chest, getting some of the gentle sunlight and spring breezes on her sweet little face.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Today, I am thankful for:

...Runny eggs over buttered toast.
Dwayne made me breakfast.

Don't knock runny eggs till you've tried them this way.

...Enough milk to feed a village.

I had a hard time nursing Norah,
but things are going very different with Avril.
Do you think I could sell this stuff on Ebay?!

...The princess who condescends to live with us.

Norah's vivid colors and imagination are a blessing to all of us,
especially Avril, who stops any fussing and stares when Norah comes near.

Norah, from where I sat in my glider earlier this morning, coaching me through the correct 3-step process for swaddling an infant.

"The dishes are done, man."

-I say this to myself every time I finish hand washing the dishes that can't go into the machine. It's the only line I remember from the movie "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead." This proves to me that even the dumbest movies really do influence us in subtle, often unfortunate ways for years and years after we watch them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"When I see bad guys doing bad things,
I use my wand and turn them into stone.

So, be careful around this!
But, I know you aren't bad, Mom."

-Norah, playing dress up and pretending after hearing
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on CD.

I do plan to teach her that witchcraft is "bad, very bad," but for now, I am focusing on the fact that Norah has an uncompromising sense of justice and an understanding of her responsibility to try and right the wrongs she sees.

I also realize that this fuzzy wand is the only pretend weapon she has right now.
Those dumb dress up kits at the toy stores get it all wrong, you know. Maybe I'll try and find her a plastic bow and arrow set, so she can model herself after Susan or a plastic knife and a container of "healing juice," so she can be more like Lucy. Her dad would, no doubt, prefer that I get her a set of toy pistols and hip holsters. But, she'd really have no idea what to do with those right now, since we haven't read any stories about the heroes of the wild west or at least, we haven't yet.

Like I've said before, young children will use whatever they are provided to fuel their imaginations. So, even before they can read the stories for themselves, as soon as they can enjoy them, why not let them listen to the best, most timeless, most celebrated, most magical, most inspirational tales ever told? The heroes and morals in these stories will, no doubt, shape who they are today and who they will become tomorrow.

And, maybe one day, I will be thrilled to see the grown up version of my little girl using her "magic" to care for the broken or free the oppressed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The views from where I sat earlier today:

Avril, asleep in her sling.

Every eight to twelve months, I inherit my husband's old cell phone. He'll get a new one, so I'll get the one he just finished with. This little switch of ours is something Dwayne anticipates with great joy. I know this. It's the main reason I agree to switch phones with him in the first place.

Dwayne talks about the new phone he'll get for weeks leading up to the exchange. When the time comes, he brings home his new gadget with boyish delight, never seeming to have any trouble adjusting to the new technology.

I, on the other hand, look forward to this switch like one anticipates getting her teeth cleaned. New phones always present me with a serious learning curve. It's days before I return calls, since I can't figure out how to check my voice mail. It's months before I program necessary phone numbers into my phone's memory. I can't seem to find time to sit and type in names and numbers. It's about a year before I realize how to take pictures with my phone and then, inevitably, by that time, it's time to switch phones again.

In the picture above, Dwayne is programming his number into my phone's favorite five, whatever that is. He chose an icon that looks nothing like himself, so I get to laugh hysterically when he calls me and this man's face pops up on the screen.

Listen to a good book with your preschooler.

I confess. I grow tired of reading out loud. Gasp!

But, I've found a terrific way to get around this. I have started borrowing books on CD from the library. We snuggle up in my bed before naps or a night time and use the cheap boom box I've had for ages to listen to a chapter or two at a time from a good book.

Dwayne will often agree to listen with us, giving up some of his precious sleep time. More than anything, I think he does it because the back-scratchers are always handy on the bedside tables (you can see part of one in the top right-hand corner of the photo above) and Norah will scratch his back while we all listen. Side note: Dwayne's "trained" her to scratch his back since she could stand behind him on the couch or next to him as he lays on the floor. Here's proof:

Norah's two years old, if that, and she's scratching his back. In Dwayne's defense, Norah has never expressed a desire not to do this, so I think it is pretty sweet.

Originally, I got the idea for this from The Well Trained Mind, but I was a little hesitant to introduce yet another story to Norah in addition to the Laura Ingalls Wilder book we read out loud almost everyday and any other little books we read here and there. I honestly wondered if Norah could remember two different novels, chapter after chapter, without getting confused or tangling the plots. I waited a little, giving it some thought, until one afternoon when Norah begged to watch a movie after just finishing an entirely different one earlier that day. It occurred to me that she is obviously very capable of following and remembering two story lines in one day; she does it all the time with movies!

If you are interested in what books to listen to with your preschoolers, there are suggestions in The Well Trained Mind. That list includes unabridged recordings of books like Peter Pan, The Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte's Web and Alice in Wonderland. It was easy for me to find The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, so that is where we began. I've already put in a request for the next book in that series, so we can begin listening to it when we finish this book on CD.

I've also been using The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease for more ideas. He says something interesting about young children and their ability to listen to stories. He explains that an average first grader may only be able to read 350 words, but that same child's "listening vocabulary" actually "approaches 10,000 words." Trelease asserts that parents who do "Frequent reading aloud of 'controlled vocabulary'...insult to the listening vocabulary of your child."

So, children's story books, like the famous Dr. Suess titles, are most ideal for kids to read when they are practicing reading out loud for themselves, but parents can feel free to chose a book the whole family is more likely to enjoy when it is time for those preschool kids to listen. And, parents can do this without fearing that their little ones kids won't "get it."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Norah and her baby Annabelle

May she have daughters
of her own to care
when she is old
and I am gone.
I should have loved
to care for her once more
as I did then
long years before.
I was a mother young
and she- my child.
Caring was joy. So when
she is old and I am There,
may she have daughters
of her own
to care.

-Ruth Bell Graham

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Save your bottle caps.

I've been saving our bottle caps for over a year in a gallon ziplock I keep in a deep kitchen drawer. We've used these for several sorting, estimating and counting exercises. Today, we made a list of the types of caps and their totals. We plan to use the information to make and color a simple bar graph.

Very Easy Beef Stroganoff

1 lb ground beef
1 small onion
1 can cream of mushroom
½ cup of milk
2 cup cooked noodles
2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup sour cream

Brown beef with onions, drain the fat. Stir in milk, noodles, butter, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Uncover and simmer for approx. 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Heat through but do not bring to boil. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Dwayne.

Dwayne and I were married on April 14, 2001. Today is our 8th wedding anniversary.

Train our love
that it may grow
till our hearts will overflow
unrestrained and readily.

Discipline it, too,
dear God;
strength of steel
throughout the whole.
Teach us patience,
tenderness, and
self control.

Deepen it
throughout the years,
age and mellow it
until, time that finds us
old without,
will find us
lovers still.

-Ruth Bell Graham, Wife of the famous evangelist Billy Graham