Veterans Day


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


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…..”


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.



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.”


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.




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.



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?



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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





Picnic Week


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.



Many parents say that girls are harder at two and boys are more volatile at three. Some say boys evict the “Terrible Twos” with the “Histrionic Threes”. We’ve seen that over the last two months as our formerly happy-go-lucky and compliant Jack defies instructions by running away, crying, inching forward like a turtle, or throwing himself on the floor no matter what we ask him to do. Please go to the potty so you don’t have an accident on errands? Fascists! He can’t go to the grocery store in his underpants? Outrage! His baby sister is wearing the same color bib as him? Oh cruel fate! Alas! Alack! Woe! *cue Greek chorus*


Sometimes it is just an outburst of a very little boy still learning self-control. Other times, well… While on vacation a week ago Jack started shrieking angrily in the back row of the minivan. It was painfully loud and Baby Josie let out a plaintive wail. Jack immediately stopped screaming and corrected her for her interuption in a perfectly normal voice “No, [Josie]! I want to scream.” Helpless victim of his emotions, my foot. We are, incidentally, seeing some progress with Kendra’s Bean Jar approach.


That being said, Jack’s also blossoming as a person with new thoughts, words, and abilities unfolding every day. He’s an endless source of creative play, always takes care of his sisters, and loves to help. He begs to vacuum, runs to fetch and carry if our hands are full with a baby, will pick up sticks or rake leaves all day, and especially loves unpacking the groceries with us. We must have once said something like “thanks, little man” when he helped us unload because now every time he carries in groceries, puts them on the counter, and flattens the bags for us he struts around with his chest puffed out announcing “I’m a yittle man! I’m a yittle man!” Thankfully, between the wild developmental swings of defiance three year olds can be awfully sweet. Josie thinks so, at least when Jack’s not shrieking like a banshee…



Currently Reading

The Man is currently charging through a history of Australia’s founding: The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. He says it’s fantastic. He stole it off my to-be-read stack so I’m looking forward to diving into it when he’s done.

He also picked upAugustine’s City of God again. Neither of us has read it since college. It’s excellent but also very long and very dense and he’s currently on call in the ICU so you can expect a post-read review in…2025?

I’m suggesting Freakonomics as his next non-fiction book because it’s such a fun text. I’m currently binge-listening through the Freakonomics podcast so I’m back in the mood for Econ chat and need a victim “conversation partner”.

I’m slowly working my way through Plutarch’s Lives (all volumes). Somehow I managed to skip it in high school and college. I’ve set a very small goal of one “life” a day – about 20 pages – to leave room for other reading. Most of my reading happens when I’m nursing the infant right now, so there’s almost never a long chunk of time. This week being an ICU call week I didn’t even meet that low goal. It’s over a thousand pages of small print so this will take a while. It’s refreshing my memory on Greek and Roman history and covering much new-to-me material as well. For example, my grade school lessons on Lycurgus failed to mention the Spartan norm of loaning your wife out to your respected friends so they can beget extra genetically superior children for you. Ack. Plutarch kicks off the first bio by reviewing, as a tertiary historian, how all the secondary sources argue with each other about the primary records. Historians haven’t changed much in 2000 years.

My other current hefty read is Boswell’s Life of Samual Johnson. Like Plutarch, I’m going through it in little nibbles while sprinkling other lighter reads in at will.

The Martian by Andy Weir was fun and addictive.

The Man and I also both loved Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It combines beautiful writing, a tense compelling plot, and a C.S. Lewis-like allegory of Christianity. Evil and sin, life owed for sin’s place in one’s heart, the Trinity, the incarnation, the second coming…it has it all. I was surprised how very few mainstream reviews mention it because to us the allegory didn’t feel subtle at all. While less macabre than some of Gaiman’s other work, it can still be quite dark and disturbing so it’s not for everyone.

We read a lot of books with the kids each day but a few new library favorites stand out. The Thunderstruck Stork by David J. Olson, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger follows Webster the discombobulated stork on the day he accidentally delivers babies to all the wrong families. The whales get an infant hamster, the lions a gosling,the frogs get an elephant, and so on. The hysterically funny illustrations and rhyming text left The Man and I guffawing. Bonus, it’s also a nice light-hearted adoption story where none of the families “match” but the kids and parents love each other, work together, and support one another’s needs.

Kidogo by Anik McGrory has really lovely watercolor illustrations and simple sweet text ideal for 3-5 year olds. Kidogo the baby elephant has to rely on his adult relatives for help and mournfully believes he’s the smallest creature in the world. Eventually, though, he finds someone even tinier who needs help from him.

Museum ABC from The Metropolitan Museum of Art follows a nice concept for an alphabet book. Each letter (upper case only) is paired with four art images matching the letter. E.g., “D is for Dance” pairs with four paintings of dancers from Indian, Japanese, French, and Colombian art. The art covers a wide variety of eras, styles, geographic regions, and mediums.

What’s on your nightstand these days?