Saturday, November 28, 2009

I only have two rules about these

1. No aiming at heads, faces or glass.
2. Don't come to me to say it stings to get shot.

My boys invested some of their money in Nerf guns yesterday. I must say, on the cost-per-use scale these seem to do pretty well. The boys have spent endless hours shooting each other and a decent amount of additional time looking for lost darts and waiting for darts to fall off the ceiling. The guns are reasonably sturdy, manual-loading, and make no electronic noises. They do make a loud click when the trigger is pulled, which almost eliminates the need for the boys to make those shooting-bullet sound effects (p-shew! p-shew!) that drive me nuts.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The table is set...
Even for our guests.
Dinner was good.
Everyone had fun. Except for the turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How long does it take...

for two kids (ages 8 and 5) to clean a bathroom?

Unsupervised, about four hours. With jelly beans as a reward for each completed task, about three. You gain some efficiency on getting the tub scrubbed well if you put the kids in bathing suits and give them buckets. Preps the floor for washing, too!

How long does it take Mom to clean the bathroom after it's 'clean'? Twenty minutes of "Come back and do this part (that you forgot)" plus five minutes to sigh and clean the truly hopeless-to-expect areas.

But if you factor in that Mom got in three hours of work time, it's a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the air

Or at least recording. The interview will air next weekend, at various sites around the country. Not here, though.

Mother Goose meets Kafka

My two youngest are singing this ditty:

It's raining, it's drizzling,
The old man is sizzling
He bumped his head on the frying pan
And he woke up as scrambled eggs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Something I've never done before

Tomorrow Andrew and I are going to record a radio broadcast. It's one of those odd situations which seem to pop up in life from time to time, like finding out that your child's ballet friend's father is a Pulitzer Prize winner, or being given expensive seats for a show because someone you know knows the lead actor and got the tix for free.

We're not famous. We don't move in heady social circles. Thankfully, we've never been on the front page of a tabloid (in my 20s, my acid test for whether or not I should give into a wild temptation was How would this look on the front page of the Post?) However, there are 700,000 or so people who read Andrew's book each year, and every month we get a handful of letters from people telling us we feel like family. That's humbling.

Which is why we are doing this radio interview. Because of the book. Next year is the 35th anniversary of Daily Guideposts, so there's publicity and all that. The radio show is part of it. So tomorrow I get to have a new experience. Sounds fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


True confession: I bake breakfast almost every day. I do it because it's less expensive, because I know what goes into the food, and because it's a lot easier to rouse kids from bed when the house smells like something tasty. But the real reason I do it is because when I was a teenager my dad got up every morning and made me breakfast. He baked cornbread, gingerbread, made real rice cereal (not from a box), or mush of some kind. He rarely said anything in those early hours (my school bus left at 7:05), just sat there with his cup of coffee, quietly, while I ate.

Once I asked him why he got up so early to do it. His reply: "It's the one time of day I know I can be with you. Even if we don't say much, I enjoy that."

It made an impression!

November means clementines and cranberries. Today's breakfast is cranberry-orange muffins, and lemme tell ya, they're good! The bag of clementines that I bought yesterday afternoon was devoured by the evening. I put a limit of three per person, but one was used to create a lunar landing module:

Three guesses who had that idea!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Little Guy is a punster, and lately he's been popping out funny things faster than I can remember to write them down. Two that stick in my mind:

Andrew was telling Little Guy a bedtime story which involved a marsupial elephant. Delighted, Little Guy said, "Oh! A pouchyderm!"

Tonight Little Guy was singing a song that lists the countries of northern Africa. He got to Algeria, paused, and said, "I guess they have a lot of allergies there!"

Sleep studies

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Core beliefs

I was reading a paper today about our core beliefs about ourselves and our world, and how they can affect our lives. It's an offshoot (or variation upon) some of the Seligman Learned Optimism research. The author says there are about a dozen beliefs that tend to get misinterpreted by folks. These include things like:

"I need love and approval from those significant to me -- and I must avoid disapproval from any source"
"Everyone needs to depend on someone stronger than themselves"
"My unhappiness is caused by things outside my control".

Each of these has a kernel of truth (e.g., love and approval are good to get, it's helpful to have strong people as friends), but the problem arises when these kinds of beliefs are turned into 'musts'. There's a difference between recognizing something that's good to have and thinking of that thing as something a law of the universe which cannot be violated.

Out of these demands come different types of problematic thinking:
"Awfulizing" -- turning a problem into catastrophic thinking, as if the events are the most horrible things that could happen.
"Can't-stand-it-itis" -- an intolerance of the discomfort caused by things not going according to our 'rules' of how they should, and
"People rating" -- evaluating one's entire worth by extrapolating from a specific trait or incident to the entire person. This is the 'I'm a horrible person' response instead of 'I did something wrong'.

What interests me about this framework is that it helps me pinpoint specific difficulties that various people I know have. For example, I have one child who spirals downward whenever someone is angry, because of (what I assume is) an underlying belief that anger = being unloved. The nugget of truth is that when we are angry we are the opposite of loving. But this bit of truth can easily be twisted about and turned into an intolerance of conflict or into believing that if people get angry at you it must mean you're unloveable.

The entire list of problematic core beliefs -- as well as strategies for helping people who hold them -- are in the link above. I dunno... I find this kind of thing interesting. Maybe you do, too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dancer!

She was the only one of our children born during daylight hours. Her friends always get a holiday from school to celebrate her birthday. She's our extrovert, our giggler, our where-did-that-coordination-come-from child. She likes to cook and bake, and her birthday present today was this:

and these:

She's already made chocolate mousse for her birthday dessert! But I get to make the spaghetti and meatballs for supper.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

End of an Era

Today Eldest took the last SAT she'll ever take. It was an SAT II, physics.

Funny that she's old enough to have a whole stage behind her in life. We've had milestones like the end of diapers, and the last ride in the stroller, so I guess this isn't really a first. Except it is a first.

Am I old enough for this? Mature enough?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Little guy figured out how to whistle yesterday. He can whistle one note. He delights in his new-found skill. He uses it over and over. Hour after hour. I never understood the painting of Whistler's mother in quite the same way before. Look at her face. See her trying to tear up that handkerchief to keep from going mad? Poor woman.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Irritable Child Syndrome

Some days ya just gotta breathe deeply. A lot. You know the days I mean: when it feels like kids who aren't even yours are melting down just because you're nearby. When you wonder if a terrorist spiked the water system with hormones and the city's been stricken with universal PMS. When you're so worn down that you finally blurt to the argumentative child, "My name isn't Butmommy!"

Here are the things that work for me on days like today:
1. Breathe deep, pray often. The key advantage of breathing deeply is that it keeps your mouth occupied so you don't say something you shouldn't. When things get really bad, I pray Holy Spirit, guide my words! before almost everything I say.
2. Speak sparingly. When the kids were little my rule of thumb was five words or less. I find that once my patience has worn thin, I fall into a rant if I don't consciously limit my words.
3. Get the kids to speak sparingly.  I put them 'on silence' for a while. This usually happens when we're in transit, and means no talking until we arrive at a given location. The consequence for disobedience is a yucky household chore (I'm not the world's greatest housekeeper, so I have these in abundance).
4. Listen to the voice in your head. Not the one that shouts "I can't take this!" but the tiny one that counters, "Well yes, actually, you can!"

Of course, none of these things work if I don't remember to do them. And there are days when the problem is me and my meltdowns/hormones/irritability. Thankfully, this wasn't one of them.

I've always thought that the best proof that God exists (and that He's merciful) is that even the worst day comes to an end. This day has almost come to an end. How excellent.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Yes, that's a red Sharpie in his hand. The good news is that he must've fallen asleep before he got to use it.

Monday, November 2, 2009


In the past ten days I have written a newsletter for people with mood disorders, a piece about sustaining Easter joy throughout the year, and a grant proposal for a large air conditioning system. Right now I'm editing articles about  Japanese culture. Fortunately I haven't had to write those; my input is limited to profound questions like, "Uh, is furoshiki the singular or the plural?"

The level of entropy that descends on the house during periods like this is jaw-dropping. Little Guy made some kind of mini-doorway out of dozens of pencils taped together last night while I was gone to take Dancer to Nut rehearsal. He was distraught after I discovered tape on the dining room chairs and confiscated the roll. "How can I survive if I can't invent things with tape?" he wailed.

Tomorrow we'll do our Halloween math, sorting and graphing candy. I forgot about that today, having repressed the whole holiday after enduring hours of overheard candy-swapping negotiations Sunday afternoon.

I logged almost five hours today on mass transit, hauling kids to swimming, ballet, home, and then back to ballet to pick up Dancer. Fortunately I'm reading Dante's Inferno, which is a fine choice for keeping the inconveniences of life in perspective.