Sunday, December 28, 2008

We must be doing something right

For four days, my boys have been sharing their toys. Without a word from loving husband or me.

When these fine fine young gentlemen have opened multi-piece packs, say a track with several Hot Wheels, they chose which parts--cars, guys, swords--to give to their brothers. Not to play-with-for-now, or give-and-take-back. Give.

"That's mine," has almost always been followed by, "But you can try it when I'm done," or "Do you want a turn?"

I hear a fine young gent reply "Sure, you can have a turn!" or "In a minute I'll be done, then you can try" to a request of "Can I have a turn?"

They're generous with their time, too. "Want to play a game?" or "Will you help me?" has been followed by "Sure!"

Not every single time. After all, they're not perfect. Sometimes they're loud, or naughty, or cross. Sometimes they're even selfish. No one wants to share every thing, always, nor should they be expected to do so. But they're working it out peacefully together.

The desire of my heart for my young gents is that they grow up to love and treasure one another, to share good things and to speak words of peace and kindness. I am raising them not to be perfect in this moment, but to be fine gentle men who speak and live peace. I can see them growing loving hearts. Life is good.

Friday, December 26, 2008

'Twas the night after Christmas...

...and all through the house...

wafts the smell of turkey broth, remnants of Christmas dinner, waiting to cool and go into the freezer. There's half a tin of fudge on the buffet, and there was leftover ham and turkey and sweet potatoes for lunch.

A Hot Wheels track runs across the middle of the living room floor, and Lego creations of all ships and sizes have been gathered from around the house to perch patiently at the ends of the fine young gents' beds, waiting to find out where they'll fly and what they'll be tomorrow. There's a large playground ball on the landing, resting after a day of getting bounced down the stairs and hauled back to the top to go again. A board game and a coloring book and a puzzle neatly stacked on the table, waiting for new homes on the shelf.

A brand-new dictionary (with modern words like email and internet) sits on the bookshelf, next to a new book. And yesterday I discovered that there were indeed a few things, chosen by people who know me and love me, that I needed (garden gloves) and wanted (a handmade ceramic bowl) and would love (a fat chicken for my mantel).

The fine young gents have been bathed and tucked into bed, reading books with crisp pages and that clean new-book smell.

The closets have been cleaned, and neatly labelled boxes and bags--Goodwill, The Relief Nursery, Friends--sit in the hallway. The tree is still blinking, but not for long. Boxes and ribbons and bags have piled up next to the upstairs closet to be organized and put away until next year. Soon Christmas will be packed away into the basement, up in the attic, out at the curb until we do it all again next year.

Love and peace to all, dear friends, to those of you we know and cherish, and to those we've never met.

Life is good.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I can't think of a single thing....

I love this season. The stockings, the lights, the tree. Making cards and decorating cookies and putting together paper bag gifts for our young friends. Christmas carols. Candles and poinsettias and hot chocolate and letters to Santa.

Loving husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. We've already had snow, and the only other thing I could think of is a new dictionary. Nothing else? he asked. Really, nothing else. I got shoes and books for my birthday, and I can't think of anything else that I want or need.

I already have everything I could want or need: Health, happiness, loving friends and family, a warm home, good food to eat. And books to read. Gifts under the tree are icing on the cake.

Life is good. hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Think: Rocks, rocks, rocks

Think! Challenge: Rocks.
Choose 7 rocks of different shapes and sizes, all two inches or larger. Build the tallest tower you can build.

We're a little behind on the Think! challenges, what with snow, and holiday projects and outings, and tummyaches. But this challenge was fabulous, well worth doing just for fun. We weren't able to go outside to choose our rocks. Rocks over two inches in size are in short supply around here, and it's too cold outside to go digging around for rocks anyway. As luck would have it, we'd collected rocks on our last outing to the beach, and the boys had a rock collection in a small box, so we were able to track down nine large rocks. The fine young gents started out measuring all of the rocks to make sure the rocks were larger than two inches, which led to a discussion of how to measure sizes: Does it have to be taller than two inches when sitting on the table? Or does it just have to have a surface longer or taller than two inches? They decided that if they could find two inches of rock, it didn't matter if it was a long flat rock or a round rock. Lovely problem-solving there.

We had some challenging shapes. Knowing nothing about rock-building, it took me quite some time to build the structure above. I didn't measure it, so I have no idea how tall it is, but I dealt with quite a few tumbles before I was able to get a tower that stayed up.

Calvin's first completed structure was about 6-1/2 inches. He continued building, but wasn't interested in measuring his other structures.

The challenge he was most interested in was self-imposed: How to make a rock bridge. The two gents worked together on that puzzle for quite a while.
Lovely learning opportunities in this challenge:
Vocabulary--balance, stability, convex, concave, wedge
Engineering--how surfaces fit together, finding ways to stabilize a structure, building different structures with the same materials
Persistence--how to maintain a positive attitude when your structure keeps tumbling
Teamwork--working together, listening to the ideas of others and incorporating them into your own
Look at that smile! Tolly built a 4-1/2 inch structure. He was just interested in building something that would stay up. He also spent a long time building new towers and bridges once he'd measured his first structure.

The challenge for me: Knowing that if only he'd try this or that, he could make his structure taller. But, as with his brother, getting the tallest structure possible wasn't as important to him as it was to his rule-following momma. He enjoyed the building and the measuring. He was happy with his final structure.

A good challenge inspires thought, fun, and variation. We only had one set of large rocks, so while his brother built with rocks larger than one inch, Tolly built with the rejected smaller rocks. He had a grand time measuring and knocking down his small towers.

While these fine young gents worked on their rock structures, their youngest brother built block towers and knocked them down. I'd intended the Think! activity as our morning warm-up, thinking fifteen, twenty minutes. By the time we were all done building, more than an hour had passed, and the rocks were left out for three more days so that the boys had a chance to build and rebuild and rebuild again. Lovely!

Consider trying this week's Holiday Challenge: Build a tree! It looks like fun.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Whom have we, Lord, like you?
The great one who became small,
the wakeful one who slept,
the living one who died,
the king who abased himself to ensure honor for all,
blessed is your honor.

It is right that heavenly beings worship your humanity.
It is right that earthly beings worship your divinity.
The heavenly beings were amazed to see how small you became,
and earthly ones to see how exalted.

(4th century prayer, Ephrem the Syrian)

A late Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Think!: Paper Hats

Think! challenge, Thanksgiving week: Using only three sheets of newspaper, and masking tape, create a hat.

On Thanksgiving Day, I set aside newspaper and tape, thinking that the fine young gents and even the lovely ladies, along with their eight Busy Farm cousins, might enjoy a challenge. Alas, the children disappeared down the stairs to the basement and weren't much seen or heard from until the turkey was served.

Last week, the fine young gents and I finally made hats.
Tolly decorated his hat with masking tape designs.

He was presented with quite a dilemma: How to hold his hat and tape it at the same time, when Mom is saying, "I can't help you right now. How will you solve that problem?" The solution? Ask his brother for help:
I couldn't help because I was trying to make a hat brim, and paper flowers, neither successfully. Levi loved the hat, however, and wore it off and on for the rest of the afternoon.

Cal spent a frustrating fifteen minutes trying to make something, not sure what. He crumpled the paper in disgust, calmed himself down, and started over. I was quite strict about the directions, which stated only masking tape and paper, so he put his scissors away and tore out shapes for decorations (which you can't see well in the picture, bummer) to tape all the way around his hat. Here he is with the final product:

The shape reminds us both of the hats that Grandpa Dick brought back from Morocco.

His newspaper hat is a treasured possession, still hanging on his bedpost.

We're hoping to get back into the swing of Think!ing after the holidays. For now, we'll have to squeeze our Think!ing between making cookies, gingerbread houses, decorating, singing and enjoying this season of lights and music.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Blast from the past

Killing two birds with one stone today. Today's Tuesday Ten brought to you courtesy of an open blogger "tag": Link to seven past posts with the same theme. But it's Tuesday, and "Tuesday Seven" just doesn't have the same ring.

Tuesday Ten: This Good Life Re-Runs

1. Blueberry Cobbler

Choosing perfect days.

Just lately I've realized how quickly the time flies by. The baby I rocked yesterday is tall and beautiful, dancing her way out of girlhood. Tomorrow I'll be rocking my grandbabies thinking "Where did my life go?" I wish I'd learned sooner to choose happiness over regrets, and to choose contentment over resentment. Today I will choose to remember the blueberries and sunshine. I will give the people I value the grace and love they deserve instead of grumping about their faults, and I will extend that grace to myself. I will treasure the wonderful moments of my life and theirs so that when I rock the babies of my babies my stories will be of picking blueberries and running through the sprinkler and reading good books and laughing in the hammock.

That's what this blog is partly about: It allows me to remember and record the sweetness that is my life, to remember just how blessed I really am.

There's a darn good cobbler recipe at the end of that post. Mmmmmmmmmm. Cobbler.

2. Boobies

Nudity in art.

Today's work was this painting, Nude with Hexagonal Quilt, George Bellows...Seven-year-old gent, giggling and pointing: "Look, boobies."

His middle brother immediately covered his mouth and started giggling. "Boobies. Hehehehe."

Sigh. Really?

I have to decide how to handle nudity in art before I've had my coffee?

Never a dull moment here.

3. Grandpa's Store

The lovely ladies and fine young gents in front of Grandpa's store, 2004-2008.

4. Tuesday Ten: Who'd-a Thunk It? and a companion post, Road Map

Ten Things I Never Thought I'd Forty.

Well logically, of course, I knew in my head that someday I'd turn forty years old. Duh. But do we really believe it in our hearts before we get there? Suddenly thirty-nine rolled around and I panicked: "Oh my gosh, I'm really going to be forty! I still feel twenty-five!" When I was in my twenties, I thought that once I reached my forties my life was pretty much over. I had my whole life mapped out, but somehow the road disappeared into the mists somewhere around my thirty-ninth birthday.

...and am I where I wanted to be at forty? Hell no.

I haven't overcome my many faults. I am still impatient, cross, hasty, impulsive, sentimental, lazy, shy, and not very serious or ambitious. But now I like myself anyway. I've come to terms with the fact that my hair is never going to be glossy and thick and straight. I've decided to take up the guitar just so that I can learn something new. I'd still like to move to the country but it's not going to ruin my life if it never happens. At 40, I wake up grateful for the blessings I've been given instead of feeling unhappy about the things that I don't have.

5. Peace, Peace, Peace
...on earth, Goodwill to men. Music can bring me to tears, as can innocence, and sweetness and beautiful young voices.

...something magical happened. They forgot they were performing and they just sang together. Beautifully. Sweetly. Simply. "Peace, peace, peace on earth...."
The elderly woman next to me stopped talking. The staff stopped to listen. I had tears in my eyes. A woman sitting in the front row quavered "Beautiful. Beautiful," when the girls finished their that moment they sang of peace on earth and meant it. When these children sing "Let us all sing together of peace on earth," they still believe that peace is possible.

More posts about peace and music.

6. Hangin'

Feet in the hammock.

7. What We Need

This child, her presence in my life, our life together and the challenges we face, has given me gifts that cannot be measured. Compassion and patience. A challenging life that requires my active participation every single day. Appreciation of even the smallest steps. Grace. Boundless love. Knowledge that when I get to the very edge, to my limit, I can stretch just a little further. Friendships. Knowing that even when I stumble and fall-- when I yell, when I cry, when I whine-- I will eventually pick myself up and keep walking.


I am in tears. I needed to read this today. Every day. Living with, parenting a teen with autism has been a bit like living atop a live volcano and trying to keep it from erupting.

8. And to think that I saw it.....

My life is like this. Really. It is.

More A Day in the Life posts.

9. You can fart in front of your friends...

Friends love you, farts and all.

They'll laugh at you. They'll remember and poke fun at you for the next twenty years. You may hear for the rest of your life about the weekend we all discovered you were lactose-intolerant, or the time when.... But there's no need to feel awkward, to be embarrassed, to wish to fall through the floor. You can just apologize, or not, and move on because your friends already know you fart. It's not a secret.

10. Fishing with Grandpa.

Pictures and posts from our summer fishing trips.

This is how we create memories for our children. My children will remember Grandpa Ed hooking fish and hollering, "C'mon now! Come and get this one! Reel it in!" They'll remember learning to cast by themselves for the first time. They'll remember holding a slippery fish in their hands.

Life is good.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What We're Reading

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan.

I started The Omnivore's Dilemma an embarrassingly long time ago. I think it was on my list of books to read in 2007. But I bogged down in the beginning section when Pollan discussed corn. I lost the book (several times). I let it sit on my bedside table forever. At swim lessons or choir or gymnastics, I talked instead of reading. My fault. I got sidetracked by school and summer and children and other books. Sometimes you just have to be ready for a book. I picked it up a couple weeks ago and couldn't put it down. Pollan has a lot to say about our food systems, where our food comes from, how it gets to us, and why and how we need to change the way we eat. My favorite part: Mushrooms. They're fascinating organisms.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel Levitin.

This is Your Brain on Music (which I first mentioned in this post) took me forever to finish. Partly because I was reading it mostly at the pool, gymnastics and at the girls' choir practice, partly because there's so much to absorb that I read it in small chunks, and partly because, in all seriousness, I'd get distracted by the songs in my head while I was reading. I'd find myself humming a tune mentioned in the text over and over, thinking about the words of the song rather than the words on the page. Absolute pitch, music and emotion, earworms, attributes of music and how the brain perceives them, possible reasons human beings may have developed musical capabilities. It's a fascinating book.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl.

I pulled this off the shelf because I liked the title. I opened it because I liked the cover. I bought it, not because of the synopsis on the back (boo-ooring, I thought) but because I read the first page and thought it was funny.

I was riveted. It's a big book and I am usually too busy to drop life and just read, but I read Calamity Physics in three days. Intelligent, dark, original, funny at times, heartbreaking at others. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is part coming of age, part mystery, part conspiracy, part something else entirely. The story, in other other words?...could have degenerated into a melodramatic teen tragedy, but instead it became something else entirely. I found myself thumbing back to previous events as new revelations came to light, a sure sign of a good read. It's a bit wordy at times, but even the wordy bits are worth reading for the writing. A few of my favorite things: The way Pessl (through her protagonist, Blue) describes people, Blue's brilliant and eccentric father, and the unfolding mystery.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

A birthday buy. My Irie sis gave me a gift certificate for books(!) for my birthday. What an amazing story, all the more incredible because it's true. In a nutshell, a mountain climber, Greg Mortenson, lost his way after an arduous climb, wanders into the wrong village, sees the village children attending school out of doors (no building) and scratching their math problems in the dirt (no books, paper, pencils) and promises to build them a school. I'm assuming from the book's pictures that the promised school, and many others, have been built, but where I'm reading right now, even the first school is in doubt.

I'm sure most of the English-reading world has read Three Cups of Tea already, by the way. I'm usually a little behind on these things. When I see the book to read, you know, the one that's stacked all over the bookstore with glowing handwritten recommendations and "Bestseller!!" signs, I usually walk on by. Not out of some perverse "I don't follow the crowd" mentality, just because I know it will probably be around for a while until I finally buy it. Or forget about it. Either way.

Green Housekeeping, Ellen Sandbeck.

Hooray for birthdays! This is the on-deck book, next to be read as soon as I finish or (more likely) lose the book I'm reading right now.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1), Stephenie Meyer.

I'm not reading Twilight myself. The eldest of the lovely ladies is reading through the Twilight series. I've been tempted by all the buzz and by the movie, but after I went through a mercifully brief Anne Rice vampire phase, I shy away from all things vampire.

And the fine young gents are reading....

Where Are You Going? To See My Friend!, Eric Carle and Kazuo Iwamura.

English books are read front to back; Japanese books are read from back to front. In this charming story, the two meet in the middle, the English half written and illustrated by Eric Carle, the same story in Japanese written and illustrated by Kazuo Iwamura. The fine young gents have been studying Japanese under the guidance of their eldest sister, with the result that many of the young folk in our house (and our lovely next door neighbor girl, who sits in on the Wednesday Poohsticks Japanese class) are slightly obsessed with all things Japan. On of the sure signs that a library book is a hit is finding it all over the house. This one is going in Santa's book basket.

A Hole Is to Dig, Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

A Hole is to Dig has been a Poohsticks favorite for years. The top pick of the youngest gent, who is sleeping with the book as I type, so that I can't type out any of the charming definitions of holes and hugs and toes and the many other small things that fill childhood.

The Essential Calvin And Hobbes, Bill Watterson. (And the Indispensible and the Authoritative and the Lazy Sunday and Attack of the Deranged Killer Mutant Monster Homicidal Jungle Weirdos Go Boink...)

The reading fine young gents are going through a Calvin and Hobbes phase. Middle gent keeps starting stories that begin with, "Mom, Calvin just..." and I find myself holding my breath in case he's actually telling me a story about his older brother. Usually, to my relief, the shenanigans he's relating involve a stuffed tiger or a sled, neither of which we own.

Dial-a-Ghost, Eva Ibbotson.

Second-grade gent's reading book. I haven't read this one, though I've read and enjoyed other Ibbotson stories. The back coverreads (in a nutshell) something about wicked relatives trying to hire scary ghosts to frighten their young cousin (nephew?) to death in order to get his inheritance. There's a mix-up at the ghost agency and a friendly ghost family is assigned instead, and they try to help the poor young man. "It's good," says fine young gent. When pressed, "It's funny. I like the story." This kid should write book reviews, eh?

Oh well. He's reading and enjoying it.

Froggy Goes to the Doctor, Jonathan London.

I have a confession. I hate reading the Froggy books. They're cute and walk Froggy through many of the challenges of life like a doctor's visit or learning to swim. The gents think they're hysterically funny and kindergarten gent is willing to read it to me instead of the other way around. My review, then? They love it. They're willing to read it. It makes them laugh, which makes me laugh, so I love Froggy. Just don't ask me to read him.