February Mantel

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Christmas is wonderful, but it always leaves me longing for a clean, bright, and freshly decluttered home. I love decorating for the holiday. I also love how open and clear our home looks after everything’s boxed up again.

Despite all the best advice of decorating magazines, at this point in our lives we have very few “styled” surfaces. I keep a few things out on the fireplace mantel, the piano, and one cupboard. Since having kids I’ve gradually stored or discarded our extra decor. You’ll notice most decorating magazines don’t feature homes with four kids three and under! I believe in house-proofing the kids versus just childproofing the house, but I also like spaces where our little people are free to play without requiring constant vigilance (name that character). I found the best decorating tip for this stage of life on the Dyno-mom blog. She has 11 kids, and lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Keweenaw easily sees 28 feet of snowfall each winter. Frequent storms keep her family cooped up in a relatively small house for many months a year. Her advice for non-practical decorations is just…don’t. If you’re maxed out on childcare you don’t have the mental space for clutter and visual distractions. Not everyone is wired the same, but I’ve found her advice true for this stage of parenting. I try to choose attractive options for the practical things we need like lamps or couch throws, but avoid putting things on a surface just because it’s bare. My three year olds take care of that!

The fireplace used to be dark gray and pink stone with a boxy dark ’80s mantel. I didn’t have the energy or resources to replace it so I did the next best thing and painted it all a clean bright white a few years back. My mantel picks right now:

  • Pillar candles and holders (vases? chimneys? what would you call them?) from Hobby Lobby. My favorite go-to candle option with small kids. I love candles in the winter months or at dinner. These are the basic unscented candles from Hobby Lobby. I pick them up during 50% off sales and they last forever. I lit the last set almost nightly for…four months? six? before they burnt down. The holders make them hard for the kids to tip, prevent wax spills on the furniture or tablecloth, and make it harder for little kids to accidentally lean over into the flame. They also don’t get hot like narrower glass holders would. Also, on that appalling morning when you come downstairs and realize you never blew out the candles last night you’ll be happy to know the holder makes it very hard for anything else to catch fire while you sleep. We have one pair downstairs and one set upstairs.
  • Fisherman’s creel. I love nice baskets and spots of natural material around our home. They’re practical and pretty at the same time. This one contains the remote, matches, or other living room odds n’ ends that would float around the house or get eaten by babies.
  • Flowers. It’s hard to escape your genes. My mother’s flowers seemed so boring as a kid, but flowers in the house make me smile now. They’re beautiful and cheery, but they’re not clutter or permanent. I love a pretty bouquet, but for best return on investment it’s hard to beat a $5 pot of flowers from the grocery store. A good one blooms for weeks before heading out to the compost heap. My only advice is the lesson my Mom taught me when I was six: don’t get the plant with the most flowers – it’s almost done blooming and will die soon. Get the plant with the most buds. Thanks to Christmas checks from relatives I have a pot of hyacinths in the kitchen, another in our bedroom, and a pot of daffodils in the living room right now. They’re sitting in a bowl I’ve had since high school.
  • Painting. My parents had a few paintings inherited from my great grandmother when I was growing up. Because they were always around I barely registered their existence. My husband re-sold me on the value of “real art” and every few years we find something we love at a thrift store, antique shop, or gallery. We ran across this old portrait during an otherwise disastrous trip to Savannah (the Army cancelled our leave and ordered us home). The artist is unknown and it’s not in great condition, but that doesn’t bother us – it made it much cheaper! I’d wanted a portrait for years and I love this one.

What’s making you happy in your home this season? Any decorating tricks that work for you with small kids or many kids in the house?

Books in Review – 2015

In these busy days with many very small children time to write (let alone edit) is precious and rare. I don’t pressure myself to blog regularly but get to it when I can in little snatches and bursts. I enjoy having a written record of anything I’ve managed to blog, even if it’s only a snapshot of one brief season in our lives. Whatever slips through the written cracks is still life fully lived, and there’s nothing to regret in that.

Every year I record new books I’ve read, not counting books only read partially, books re-read, or picture books read with the kids. At the end of the year I write a review. In 2015 I read 74 new books. I read a lot fewer old classics than usual this year and a lot more 20th century literature. In this brief season of tiny children I lean toward lighter or quicker reading because there just aren’t wide blocks of time to engage deeply and work through heavy topics. I don’t mind. Children are tiny for a very short period, and there are likely many seasons of meatier reading ahead. Memoirs took up a big chunk of my reading list this year, as did gleefully binging on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. The Modern Mrs. Darcy site sparked a lot of my reading choices this year as well. It’s always a bit hard to categorize books, as some cross genres (e.g., many of the parenting or marriage books I read are also Christian, some memoirs are classics, etc.).

MY FAVORITES

  • Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. There’s a lot of food for thought packed into this concise and practical volume. Drucker discusses analyzing strengths and weaknesses, learning and performance styles, ethics and values, relationships, communication, and developing interests and strengths. He speaks from a business viewpoint but his ideas are widely applicable.
  • Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. It is easy to become preoccupied with society’s “big” sins while ignoring or even condoning sins in our own lives or our Christian communities. Bridges briefly tackles “respectable” sins like frustration, discontentment, pride, impatience, irritability, gossip, lack of self-control, and others. So-so writing but meaty ideas.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’m not usually a big Steinbeck fan but, as promised by others, this one completely hooked me. The Hamilton and Trask families’ stories are often dark but they’re also full of tremendous warmth and beauty.
  • Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas. Dumas has a wonderful sense of humor, and her stories will have a special ring of familiarity to anyone who is the child or relative of immigrants. I like that Dumas approaches both Iran and the US with a gently critical eye and with appreciation vs. blanket generalizations. I also like that this book poked fun without humiliating the subjects. The same cannot be said for her first book, Funny in Farsi, which left me cringing for the objects of her jokes.
  • Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books. I discovered this series about a detective in Quebec via Modern Mrs. Darcy. I succumbed to addiction and only emerged after bingeing my way through the entire saga during midnight feedings with the newborn. You know books are fun if you’re happy when the baby wakes you in the wee hours! Beautiful writing, enjoyable characters, and good dialogue. I appreciate that Penny thoughtfully tackles issues of ethics, honor, and virtue. While I don’t always agree with her conclusions or base assumptions, these books are more thought-provoking than your typical mystery. They follow both individual stories in each book as well as a broader story arc so they are best read in order. Not all of the books are equally good (especially toward the end of the series) but overall I loved them.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. My sister-in-law introduced me to Gaiman. This is his newest book. Gaiman’s writing tends to be spooky and macabre but also beautiful and evocative. His writings freely explore evil, but always in contrast to good. The Man and I both loved this book although the ending feels a bit weak. Like the Narnia books it is also an allegory of the central themes of Christianity – someone has evil/darkness placed in his heart and owes his life to dark forces because of it. There is a Christ figure, a trinity, incarnation, the second coming… Frankly the choices surprised me as Gaiman publicly rejects Christianity.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. I picked this up because it was getting such good press, and because I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. For the first chapter or two I had a pretty “meh” reaction, thought it wasn’t for me, and wondered why it got the good reviews. I’m glad I stuck with it though – creative and so much fun, a perfect vacation read!
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I loved this book. Durrell later became a famous naturalist and conservationist. This memoir covers his boyhood on the Greek island of Corfu. Think Cheaper by the Dozen with a splash of P.G. Wodehouse and several hundred animals and bugs shaken in. I laughed like a loon while my husband shot me concerned looks, then passed it on to my Mom. I can’t wait to try Durrell’s other books.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. I never actually read this one as a kid. The twins love Pooh bear so I read them the novel and was surprised by how much fun it is. A lot of the humor is over kids’ heads, but it’s so clever and wry for adult readers.

Here’s the full list for this year:

BUSINESS/LEADERSHIP

Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life by Donald Rumsfeld

 

PARENTING/MARRIAGE/HOUSEHOLD/HABITS

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World by Marguerite A. Wright

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

Beyond Ordinary by Justin and Trisha Davis (could also file under memoir)

The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner

The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman

The House that Cleans Itself by Mindy Starns Clark

How to Really Love Your Child by D. Ross Campbell

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson

 

CLASSICS

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

A Legacy by Sybille Bedford

Here is New York by E.B. White

 

CHRISTIAN

Talking with God by Francois Fenelon

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp

A Homemade Year by Jerusalem Greer – a tough one to categorize

 

MODERN FICTION

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Martian by Andy Weir

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY/MEMOIR

The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Boy by Roald Dahl

Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

 

CHILDREN’S NOVELS

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (read with the kids)

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Garnett (read with the kids)

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (read with the kids)

 

MYSTERY

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

Still Life by Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

 

CHILDBIRTH

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer

Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way: Revised Edition by Susan McCutcheon

 

What did you read this year? Any favorites? Do you have a preferred way of tracking books like Goodreads? I used to record everything in a notebook, but prefer Pinterest these days.

Veterans Day

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Veterans Day came as a pleasant surprise since we’d forgotten the Man had a work holiday. We woke up to a perfect fall morning, hiked and hit the playground, then built a backyard fire in the afternoon with our very own veteran. We used to make bonfires a lot before kids but haven’t lit many in recent years. It’s just a lot of work to get everything set up and herd staggering toddlers away from tempting flames. Now the twins are finally old enough to have a (small) sense of self-preservation. They loved the fire. Jack and Annie wanted to help break up sticks; I spent half an hour feeding the fire with tiny one-inch twig fragments they proudly supplied. We headed in smoky and happy as dusk fell for a dinner of corn chowder and cornbread followed by bed for all the little folks.

I think one of the things you learn as kids grow is the balance between too little and too much. It is, frankly, a lot of work to do anything with small children. That can keep you from attempting something fun. On the other end of the spectrum you can easily go overboard setting your hopes high for hours of idyllic family time with roasted hot dogs and s’mores and kumbayas ’round the campfire. We try not to let the work keep us from trying things, but also try not to spend an eternity preparing elaborate events that the toddlers just won’t appreciate. Everyone stays happier when those two extremes are in balance.

Incidentally, did you ever wonder why the British commonwealth memorializes the war dead on November 11th, while in the U.S. we commemorate those who died in wars on Memorial Day in May and honor all war veterans on Veterans Day? When Armistice Day observances began after WWI the US already had an existing spring war memorial thanks to the Civil War fifty years before. Dates and their exact meaning wobbled around for a few decades, but Memorial Day eventually won out as the day to memorialize the dead while all war veterans receive recognition on Veterans Day.

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Seven Quick Takes: Life Notes

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One of life’s little pleasures: having a son who loves the old 1950’s Chordette’s song “Lollipop” but can’t pronounce his L’s.”Yoyipop yoyipop oh yoyi yoyi yoyi yoyipop yoyipop…..”

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The littlest baby turned four months old last week. As Josie develops predictable sleep we’re back to enjoying the occasional grown-ups’ movie date in the evenings. We can only watch something once or twice a month so we select our movies carefully, make hot drinks, and savor our distraction-free relaxation. We appreciate the intentional time so much more now compared to the half-hearted attention we sometimes wasted on mediocre viewing before small kids. It’s a big treat and we milk it for all the pleasure it’s worth. Over the last two months we’ve enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, the new Far from the Madding Crowd, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Pixar’s Inside Out. Cinderella was excellent. Madding Crowd and Avengers were both decent. We really enjoyed Inside Out, especially the first and last third. While not perfect, we felt like it was a step back toward’s Pixar’s old pre-Brave creativity, humor, and warmth.

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I’ll be lazy and pull this one straight from facebook except for the switch to blog names: “We just got back from a week in the mountains. During that time Jenny (17.5 months) started crawling, pulled herself to a stand for the first time, said her first word (“Mama”), and cut five new teeth. Jenny left the NICU a year ago unwilling to even turn her head to the left due to an unknown combination of crib placement, skull malformation, a possible undetected brain bleed, or some other side effect of being born 3.5 months premature. She’s been in physical therapy for the last year working through her strong right side preference, reflux, helmeting, inability to roll, bracing and arching instincts, inability to tolerate pressure on her hands and knees and numerous other issues. The obvious conclusion is that we need to go on vacation more often. Sure, it COULD be a correlation/causation confusion, but I’m willing to repeatedly test the hypothesis for better data.”

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Since I posted that Jenny’s added “Dada” as well as nanana and bababa sounds. She’s also doing a little furniture cruising. It’s tough for a kid who doesn’t like pressure on her extremities to crawl. At first she looked more like a prancing horse than a baby; every time a limb touched the ground she’d jerk it comically high in the air. Things have smoothed out now. Her new nickname is “Apex” as in “Apex Predator”. Hold still for a moment and she pounces, pulling up on our pant legs and pinning us in place. She usually times this for when our hands are covered in raw chicken or loaded with laundry so we can’t pry her loose. Now that she’s on the move Jenny is at the top of Josie’s food chain. Those bright little baby eyes and wiggly fingers and toes are so tempting! Jenny understands what we mean when we tell her “No” or “don’t touch” or “gentle”, but that doesn’t mean she likes it. Jenny has a “tell” when she’s about to be naughty. If she looks at us and thoughtfully smacks her lips a disobedient little finger reaching for the electrical outlet is sure to follow.

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It’s been a year since our last trip. The twins were really excited to head to the mountains. A little too excited. After we’d packed the car, loaded up the kids, and locked the house we made it exactly four blocks before Jack looked out the van window and asked “Where are the mountains?”

As we got closer to our destination and entered the foothills the kids were happy to finally see mountains ahead of us…except that every time Annie lost sight of the mountains she’d collapse into hysterical tears wailing “Mountains? Mountains? MOUNTAINS?!?!?!” The fact that it was three hours past her naptime and she still hadn’t fallen asleep in the car might have had something to do with it. The road was very curvy. There were many valleys. She lost sight of the mountains a lot. We were very grateful when she finally fell asleep.

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I usually plan our meals out a week at a time. The system works well but occasionally my weekly restock trip is delayed. I know it’s a luxury for “we need groceries” to simply mean we’re out of a lot of fresh veggies, milk, or bread but still have a full pantry, sale meat stocked in the freezer, and maybe some longer-lasting produce like apples or carrots. Sometimes the most fulfilling cooking happens when I’m cooking from scarcity and forced into creativity. It’s fun to scan our ingredients and cobble together an unplanned meal that’s nourishing and flavorful. This week we opted for a backyard bonfire on Veterans’ Day instead of a grocery run. During naptime I chopped up and fried our last two strips of bacon, half of the last onion, and a few stalks of celery. A few peeled and diced potatoes and some chicken stock, plus half a bag of leftover corn from the freezer and a splash of milk with seasonings made a big pot of savory corn chowder for a chilly fall evening. I also threw together a quick cornbread from pantry ingredients. What kinds of things do you stock for backup meals?

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Annie’s language skills are inching forward with speech therapy. She still has a hard time stringing words together into two or three word sentences. She’s also prone to echolalia, which means she typically repeats the last word anyone says to her rather than answering questions or coming up with spontaneous speech. However, her vocabulary of individual words grows every day. As you’d expect from a three year old, she’s not always perfectly accurate. We were out on a walk the other day and passed one of those decorated mailboxes covered with a fall scene of deer. She examined it closely, turned to me with a delighted smile, and bellowed “CAMELS!”

Her twin Jack, meanwhile, is a chatterbox with fairly advanced speech. He’s still quite literal, though:

The Man: “What color are your eyes?”

Jack: “I can’t see my eyes”

Later the Man was helping Jack with his shoes:

The Man: “Okay bud, have a seat”

Jack, confused: “I don’t have a seat…”

One of his favorite games is running to hide when we’re getting the kids ready for naps and we leave the room to put Annie down in her pack n’ play (if they nap in the same room during the day they keep each other awake). We come back in and make an exaggerated search of the room looking under the beds, behind the dresser, or in the closet while he giggles from his hiding place. Last week I put Annie down and came back to collect Jack:

Me, loudly to the “empty” room: “Wheeeeere’s Jack?”

Jack, from behind the curtains: “….I don’t know! I’m hiding!”

Jack also hasn’t quite caught on to being sneaky. I’d just settled in to read for a few minutes downstairs after putting the kids down for naps when I heard a soft voice from upstairs. I walked over to the foot of the stairs and heard “…yellow duck, yellow duck, what do you see?………………black sheep, black sheep, what do you see?….” He was shocked when I came in and took away his book. How did I know that he was reading in bed? Parents are psychic, I tell ya’, kid.

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I’ve been on a bit of a memoir kick since running across Modern Mrs. Darcy’s post about her favorite memoirs. I made my selections based on the elaborate decision-making algorithm of a) what’s free at the library and b) which books are cheapest on Amazon. The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris was not really my style. For a book in a similar genre that I really loved I’d suggest Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson instead. I never read Blue Like Jazz despite its raging popularity during my late teens so I didn’t know what to expect from Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The author works very hard to convince you of how boring his life is for the first 40% of the book. It works. The first 40% of the book is very boring. That said, while the writing style isn’t exactly my preference he made great points about choosing a better story for your life and doing hard things rather than settling for the easy and mundane. I enjoyed Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin. The memoir follows touchpoints of love and coziness despite a rough childhood involving abandonment, dysfuntion, foster care, and death in Martin’s family. After a childhood adrift the author begins to construct an adult life of warmth, challenge, and community. I enjoyed the book and can’t wait to try some of the recipes. After seeing another recommendation I’m currently reading A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford, the story of a British woman who worked as a nanny for over sixty years. It’s enjoyable so far.

For more Seven Quick Takes please visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Halloween 2015

 

Advance apologies to all the grandparents for the low-quality photos. We were trying not to lose four kids in the crowds, and everybody pasted on a stoic look every time a camera appeared.

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Our town hosts a downtown Trick-or-Treat the day before Halloween during the afternoon. It’s ideal if you have young children. We took the kids out then so we wouldn’t have to juggle walking the neighborhood, handing out candy, and getting over-sugared kids to bed in one evening. Annie kept politely trying to give a piece of candy to each person who offered her one. Jack literally started shaking in terror when he saw a preschooler dressed as Spiderman; it never occured to me until then that he hasn’t seen a mask before and didn’t know what had happened to that kid’s head. After a couple stops they got the idea and started having fun. On Halloween proper I baked oatmeal-raisin cookies to make things a little special. The Man and the twins raked up the maple leaves in the front yard (or rather, the Man raked and the twins “raked”). We handed out candy and the kids loved standing at our door watching the Trick-or-Treaters after dark. Once we’d packed everyone off to bed the adults sipped hot cider and read while the last of the candy hunters headed home outside. We never did carve the pumpkin, but there was just enough special in the weekend to make it fun for everyone.

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This year the twins were old enough to get that something special was in the wings. A huge part of my childhood pleasure in holidays was the anticipation, not just the actual day. As a child your birthday party may only last two hours but you revel in the weeks of buildup planning games or food or picking party plates and cups at the store with Mom. Advent and weeks of making and baking build up to Christmas. Lent and Holy Week set the scene for Easter. Grocery shopping, pie baking, and washing the best dishes precede Thanksgiving. Trick-or-Treating is over in an hour or two but as a kid I spent weeks brainstorming, sketching, and pulling together Halloween costumes.

Did you make your own Halloween costumes when you were growing up or did you buy them? It feels like Halloween costumes have shifted a lot in the last couple decades. In my kindergarten class’s pictures almost every kid wore a homemade costume – some handsewn just for the holiday, some in a sports uniforms or odds n’ ends from the dress up box. This year about 95% of the kids who came to our door wore store-bought outfits.My husband tells me he always had premade costumes back in the 1980s, though, so perhaps it’s just a regional difference. We very nearly joined the storebought ranks this year because I thought about costumes but took no action until the day before Halloween. At that point the only ones left in the twins’ size at Walmart were superheroes (they have no idea what those are yet), Disney princess costumes (also no idea), or devil temptress outfits (FOR TODDLERS?). I grabbed $6 in supplies from Walmart’s tiny sewing section and threw together simple costumes with an hour of quick snipping and hand sewing; that homeschooled childhood spent in quilting circles finally came in handy! In the end it was surprisingly fun to use the creative part of my brain again and the twins had fun watching the process and loved wearing their costumes.

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Robin Hood: Jack has been pretending he’s Robin Hood (“Wobin Hood”) since we watched the old animated Disney Robin Hood movie for a family movie night. I folded a piece of green cloth in half, cut it to his width, snipped a neckhole at the fold, and cut the bottom edges in a zig zag. We wrapped it with a brown belt. He wore a green shirt, his sister’s green leggings, and his brown church boots. I quickly handstitched a simple Robin Hood hat out of two sheets of green felt and added a red feather from construction paper. I stitched together a quiver out of a sheet of brown felt and some twine, but decided against a bow since I wanted his hands free while we walked around.

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Bear: Annie loves bears but does not like being bogged down by extras and accessories so I kept her outfit simple. She wore brown pants and a brown shirt from her dresser. I painted a bear nose on her face with one of the $1 Halloween makeup kits. I looked at a couple pictures of bears for ear shape and spacing, folded a piece of brown felt in half, and cut out the right shape for ears at the fold so I could bend it over a pipe cleaner and sew each ear together for double-thickness and stability (too long and floppy and the ears would say “puppy”, too big and round and they’d broadcast “mouse”) ). In retrospect I should’ve just sewn them over a headband. My original plan to twist the pipe cleaner into her hair didn’t hold, so I ended up just wrapping it around a headband anyhow.

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Cowgirl: We weren’t going to dress Jenny up but realized at the last minute that her birthmom might like a costume photo. Jeans, a handmedown shirt, pink cowboy boots we’d received as a baby gift, and a fabric scrap for a bandana did the trick. No hat, but she hates hats anyhow.

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Baby: This one was complicated. We dressed the baby as a baby.

 

 

 

 

Picnic Week

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When The Man works an ICU rotation the kids feel like he’s out of town for a week. He leaves long before they’re awake and comes home long after they’re in bed. As any parent can tell you, young kids tend to act out and test boundaries when the household dynamic shifts. Maintaining familiar routines when Daddy is gone provides stability and comfort for our crew, but they also benefit from a bit of novelty thrown into the week. Our kids are always calmed by good outdoor play so I cringed when the weather forecast predicted heavy rain for four of the first five days this week. We take the kids out to play in all weather, but it’s just harder to pull off hours splashing in the mud when there are two shivering wet babies in tow and only one parent to handle the necessary post-mud cleanup and drying. Instead, every day this week during the kids’ nap I’ve prepared a simple tray with their snack and sippy cups, a few books, and a picnic tablecloth. When I get the twins up from their naps I announced that it’s special day. Instead of having snack time in their booster chairs as usual, we’ll be having a picnic in the living room! (/library/porch/bedroom…). To add to the novelty I picked up Cheez It crackers, a favorite treat the kids rarely get. We spread the picnic blanket in the room of the day, set out the snacks (deliberately low-crumble/smear food items like hard crackers and apples), put on some classical music, and settle in for some read-alouds while they eat. It’s turned into a surprisingly sweet and calm time that I enjoy myself.

As a kid we always had meals at the table. Snacking around the house wasn’t allowed, so it felt very special when my Mom would call us to a Sunday afternoon tea with scones in the living room, or when we ate dinner around the fire on a cold winter evening. My kids are no different; though they always have an afternoon snack and we often read them books and listen to music the novelty of all three with a “picnic” clears their mood and puts them on their best behavior.

As a side note, our in-home picnics are definitely easier with a few minutes quiet preparation and thought. It always amazes me that tasks that take five minutes (like prepping the snack and selecting books) turn into half hour jobs when the kids are on the move. I also make sure in advance that there’s a place to put each baby if I need to set them down. Jenny’s crawling now, and would love nothing better than a marauding romp through the twins’ plates of food on the floor. Extra baby seats help me juggle the two babies and their feedings while I read. Books and the internet are full of ideas for ways to entertain your kids, but they’re often not a good fit for us. Indoor picnics are one of those activities that just wouldn’t have worked with our kids six months ago. At two and a half they’d still likely have stepped in the plates, been jumping up and down through the meal, or crumbled their food into the rug for the joy of it. At three, it suddenly works well and provides a daily bright spot in long days with one Mom and four small children.

Mixed feelings

Sometimes you’re just hangin’ out after a sponge bath…IMG_9218.JPG

…while the paparazzi snap blurry phone photos…IMG_9214.JPG…when you decide to roll for the first time…IMG_9220.JPG…and you’re just not sure what to think about that.
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