When big sister’s away…

…the baby will appropriate her hat:



It may be spring, but most days are still gray and drizzly with a blustery chill that seeps in around the windows. We’re making frequent fires in the fireplace to cozy up the house before the nights become too warm. Last night the Man suggested pushing back the couches and moving the table into the living room for a fireside dinner.

Our vent fan is out of order so dinner itself was all simple oven-friendly or raw foods – salad, roasted chicken thighs, and quick homemade biscuits. Bless whichever previous owner planted daffodils all through our yard and woods. I’m forcing forsythia blossoms on the mantel and keeping cheery daffodil bunches on the table for meals. As soon as the marauders  kids are released after dinner the flowers go back up to a safe high shelf. Decorating magazine dreams and small children are not easy friends.

Our current read-aloud is Charlotte’s Web. I usually try to keep a chapter book going with the kids. Last night we read a bit more after dinner. It’s largely over the little ones’ heads, but the twins are at the age where they can track with chapter books and enjoy stories with fewer pictures. Jack, especially, listens closely and leads his siblings through all kinds of imaginative play scenarios inspired by our reading. Little House on the Prairie led to lots of wagon rides and playing in the cabin. We’re also reading through a children’s Bible with the kids right now. The other week, Jack announced he was going hunting, disappeared into the mudroom, then emerged with an imaginary bowl of soup for me a la Jacob and Esau. I’m not sure what birthright he was trying to trick out of me; he’s already the eldest.

I’m eager for warm weather, hiking, and swimming but I’ll miss cozy evenings cuddling babies by the fire and reading with the Man after the kids are in bed.

The saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” originated in New England and became popular during World War II. In theory I believe in it. However, we live in a disposable culture. Replacements are cheap and easy to obtain. Often, I don’t take the time to fix something myself. Sometimes that’s based on a dollars-time analysis. For example, my kids wear through their pants at a spectacular rate. Do I patch the knees on four pairs of pants for an hour, or do I spend that hour grabbing four more $2 pairs of kids’ jeans from the thrift store? Usually my instinct is to mend more expensive long-term adult clothes, and replace the kids’ clothes I bought for fifty cents with new (used) fifty cent items. The blog Thrift at Home has me rethinking that approach lately. Even if it hadn’t, there are certain things that are irreplaceable. Exhibit A: Annie’s beloved and tattered bear.

We give each of our kids a stuffed Jellycat animal and a board book for their first Christmas. Annie’s bear has led a rough and tumble life since then. She chews on his nose and paws for comfort, drags him from room to room, and pillows her head on him every night and nap. He’s been rolled in the mud, splattered with food and hair products, crammed in small spaces, poked with sharp instruments, and dropped in the tub, toilet, and sink.

One evening last week Annie let loose a howl of despair followed by wails of “Mommy! Mommy! MOMMMMMYYYY!” Bear’s much chewed paw had finally given way, followed by a significant chunk of stuffing. Somewhere between our last home and this house my box of scraps went missing so I let Annie pick between The Man’s ink-stained khaki pants and an old stained and fraying shirt from the outgrown basket. She picked the floral shirt. I restuffed bear with old pantyhose and handstitched a new paw in place. I also grabbed a skein of brown embroidery thread and restitched Bear’s chewed-off nose. I had to make it a little wider than the old nose thanks to the width of the chewed off area.

I haven’t done any significant sewing since the move. It was fun to do a little something with my hands. And, of course, Annie is delighted to have her best buddy back in her arms.



“Did you make a big mess?”


It’s hard to claim plausible deniability when the evidence is still trickling in a steady oatmeal waterfall off your shoulder.

Luckily the floor had just been mopped and oatmeal requires cooking anyhow so we were able to salvage most of it. Also luckily, she’s cute. Less luckily, she’s developing a mullet.

This bad picture thrown in only to demonstrate that we’ve finally found a solution for Little Baby No Pants. Her ditch-the-pants hobby wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t still chilly out. As it is she yanks them off, then starts crying because she’s cold. All. Day. Long. We finally put leggings on under her onesie, then snapped it over them. Let’s just pretend it’s an intentional ballerina in a (mismatched) leotard look. I don’t know what we’ll do if she figures out how to unsnap her onesie – duct tape?

Neighborhood Walk

Yesterday I bundled the still-sick babies into the stroller and took all four sniffling kids out for a long walk in the fresh air. We found this beauty down the back lane to the forest preserve ponds. Forsythia is my favorite spring bloom. I love how it bursts into jubilant sunny sprays when most scenery is still gray and dreary.

We live in a semi-rural area surrounded by woods and farms. Our neighborhood has larger lots with patches of forest preserve land, marshes, creeks, and ponds intermixed. Deer, coyotes, foxes, possums, raccoons, and smaller wildlife hide out in the timber and prairies. Yesterday, though, the wildlife was less dramatic but very plentiful. After five months of no worms the earthworm hordes suddenly emerged by the hundreds. Slugs, too. In other words, little kid heaven. Everyone except the baby got to hold earthworms but I denied the request to keep them as pets. When I pulled out the phone to catch a picture of the first worm Jenny helpfully leaned in and told the worm “Cheeeeeeese!” All this led to an afternoon rabbit trail on Google learning about earthworm habits and slug identification. We also heard the first mourning dove of the year. We couldn’t spot it so I showed the kids pictures of one at lunch.

I know it’s a standard gripe now – “O tempora! O mores! O technology!” – and I spend my fair share of hours in front of a screen. However, we’re also watching the effects of excessive technology in our new neighborhood and they’re dramatic. Earlier this week I read another doom-and-gloom article stating that the average child aged 8-18 now spends 1/3 of their hours sleeping, 1/3 of their hours in school, and 1/3 of their time in front of a screen. I’d have rolled my eyes except that, sadly, it’s true here. You would never guess that half the houses in our neighborhood have children in them. We try to get our kids outside daily, often a couple times a day. We’re still limited by the fact that they’re not old yet enough to go outside without our supervision. Whenever the weather allows we’re out with bikes and scooters on the driveway, taking walks, playing baseball in the yard, hitting a park, or hiking nearby trails. In our nine months in this home I have literally never seen any children other than ours out on a walk with their parents. I didn’t even realize any small children lived in several of the houses near us until other neighbors told me. Most have large yards and woods. Many have trampolines, long driveways perfect for bikes, and elaborate swing sets. A few even have pools. And yet, it’s a ghost town out there.

The Man and I recently slipped out for an evening hour at a coffee shop together. Three teen girls sat at a table near us sharing a delicious-looking chocolate fondue in the cozy shop. It looked like it would have been so much fun as a teen…except that two spent the entire time staring at their phones. The third tried to strike up a conversation but all they talked about were various friends being bullied on social media (that, and the need to diet, despite all being Size 0 or 2 from the look of them). They barely cracked a smile and almost never looked at one another. After an hour they shuffled out. We left feeling so sorry for those poor glum girls and the pressures they face, and a bit depressed ourselves. So, on that cheery note, get outside with your kids! Teach them to interact with the world without an electronic device always in hand. Look at some slugs! (On second thought, perhaps that’s not the best motiviation…).

Spring and the Infectious Diseases Ward

We’ve been sick a lot this winter thanks to a combination of preschool germs, four kids who still put things in their mouths, lots of indoor time due to nasty weather, and finally coming out of our preemie-with-immature-lungs cocoon and spending time in public places now that Jenny is over two. Among multiple other illnesses the entire family caught RSV (Josie developed croup to boot). We’ve had three rounds of the stomach flu in the last month. The poor Man, bless his heart, had to spend the night on call in the ICU in a nauseous haze. Just as half the family got over the stomach flu we traded with the other half and caught a nasty cold that involves four days of high fevers and general misery before mellowing out to a week of hacking, runny noses, and sneezing. The baby cried for a good four hours today, and the kids spent half of yesterday slumped on the couch watching Daniel Tiger as their brains leaked out their ears. Basically, you would not want us as party guests right now. In fact, you don’t want us out on your driveway, and it’s probably best if we don’t even glance your direction while passing by.

Outside, though, things are looking up. There’s a new spring “first” every way we turn:

That first short-lived crocus was quickly followed by six more. Two days ago I spotted the first daffodil blooming up on the wooded ridge between our house and the neighbors. That afternoon, driving Annie home from an appointment, I glanced at the prairie to my right; overnight every scrub bush had produced a delicate haze of newborn green leaves. Just before dinner yesterday we loaded our sick kids in the car for a drive and passed new rain-dotted snowdrops. The yards around us are starting to green up. On a damp drizzly walk this afternoon we heard the first woodpecker of the year drumming away in the woods, and the first frogs calling in the marsh as deer ran away from us through the chest-high grass.

(I turned around after photographing flowers and spotted an audience)

Two days ago we enjoyed a random temperature spike into the 70s. Nobody felt great but the twins joined me for a bit as we cleared out dead leaves and old tomato vines from the kitchen garden. Eventually they ran off to climb their favorite backyard tree and told me they were Winnie the Pooh trying to reach some honey. In the afternoon I loaded sick babies in the stroller and we headed off on a gloriously sunny walk.

It’s not all grim inside. The twins are pulling out of their colds, Jenny is close behind, and hopefully Josie will follow soon. I found this set of magnetic wooden people for $2 at a consignment sale and it’s bought us some sick days breathing room. I was excited that it’s a racially diverse set. Annie loves them and keeps begging to play with “the Maggot People.” 

Hair day needs to happen, sick or well.. My skills need work but I liked this part line pattern.

Jenny has joined Josie in her ditch-the-pants obsession. We turned around from folding laundry this afternoon to proud little girl giggles and this sight:

Nature Notes

1) Our first flower of the year bloomed two days ago. I found a tiny white crocus wavering in the chilly breeze under the tree by the mailbox. Then Jack asked for it, ran to give it to The Man, and accidentally sent Jenny off in a howling fit of flower-induced terror in the stroller. Goodbye little crocus, and apologies for your short rude life.

2) There are many more hawks here than there were by Fort Bragg. I rarely drive anywhere without spotting one perched on a telephone pole or hopping after prey in a ditch. They stick around through the winter which added nice variety in the frozen landscape. Starting this week I’ve been seeing them in pairs instead of alone. Mating season must have started. Do hawks stay together until their fledglings leave the nest? Is there a specific name for baby hawks? Something to research.

3) I didn’t really notice the absence of bird song in the winter but suddenly it’s back. The morning chorus swelled to a chirping roar outside my window at 6:15 this morning. I only know a small handful of bird calls so I don’t know what visitors we had. I never really thought about the purpose of the dawn chorus beyond the fact that birds wake up and start talking. Funnily enough, I learned about it while reading our nature study book with the twins. The dawn chorus is most noticeable in spring after migrating birds reach their breeding territory. The low light of early morning is not a great time for foraging, and wind currents for flight and migration generally pick up later in the day. However, calls travel clearly in the still morning air to warn off competitors and attract the attention of a mate. When I researched it I found a few other fun details. The same species tend to kick off their chorus together at the same time each day. Different species each have their own time. It’s thought the chorus is triggered by light; a study in Ecuador found that birds species who congregate higher in trees and those with bigger eyes tended to kick off the chorus first due to earlier perception of light.

4) It’s fun when the massive flocks of migrating birds pass through. One moment the trees are bare and the next our yard is covered with thousands of birds. The kids love it, although Jenny, who has only seen Canadian Geese all winter now calls every bird from robin to cardinal a goose. I’m not positive but think we’ve been seeing starlings with their murmuration flight pattern. YouTube it if that’s unfamiliar – it’s mesmerizing. Do other species of birds share that flight pattern? While googling starlings I found this funny tidbit from Wikipedia

“After two failed attempts, about 60 common starlings were released in 1890 into New York’s Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin. He was president of the American Acclimatization Society, which tried to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare into North America.”

Who up and decides to modify the ecology of a continent based on Shakespeare?

5) Many of our trees and bushes have been covered in buds for a month but none have started to leaf or bloom. We need to follow up on our crabapples. Supposedly they have some kind of fungal tree disease that kills off most of the leaves and flowers. We’d hate to lose the trees, and I’m afraid my cheapness and procrastination could result in that.