Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm Chilihead!

I am privileged to count Katrina at Callapidder Days as one of my best friends in real life. I can confidently say that she feels the same way. Our journey together started over ten years ago (really? ten years?). She and I "met" on a board shortly after our eldest children (Amanda and Camden) were born.

Finding support in the scheduling style of parenting (eat, wake, sleep, repeat) as opposed to demand-based feeding proved to be hard on that particular board. So, I started a new thread asking anyone interested in an offline support group to email me. I do believe that Beth was first. Lori is also a member. There are also 7 other non-blogging moms in our group who each have ten-year-old children.

I honestly don't remember much about Katrina in those early months or possibly the first year. She wasn't able to come to our first "reunion get-together" that snowballed from a casual mention one Christmas and ended up with a majority of us meeting up in California in April 2000 (I think?). But she and I did meet at two other get-togethers that the group has had since then. We've been part of smaller groups that did online Bible/book studies together, and in the last four years or so, we've gotten even closer, partly after establishing an intentional accountability relationship to become better wives/mothers/children of God.

I don't know if blogging has intensified our friendship or if our friendship intensified our blogging. It's probably been a bit of both.

Back in the spring of 2006, I mentioned that I had thought of starting a blog (I think I actually had started a secret blog, but abandoned it). She told me that she had recently started a blog and shared the link with me. So I jumped in as well, and it's been fun to see our audiences and opportunities grow over the last three years.

So what's up with the title to this post? Well it's a nod to a powerful pair of bloggers who are also real-life friends: Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer and Melanie/Chilihead at Don't Try This at Home.

Shannon is of course a huge blog-star, and as her star rose the also-talented Chilihead received attention by association.

When Katrina had her first (of many wildly successful) reading challenges I cried, "I'm Chilihead!" meaning, "You're my pal, and I'm hoping to experience any residual bump from your traffic that comes my way."

When I began my affiliation with 5 Minutes for Mom, Katrina cried "I'm Chilihead!"

Regardless -- it's been fun having a friend along for the Bloggy ride. I'm proud to know her personally and also professionally.

She was chosen as a top-ten finalist in the Scholastic Parent and Child Mommy Blogger awards. The nominations were open for a while, and they hand picked the top ten from the 500 entries. This is no popularity contest -- it's a true testament to the quality of her blog. The top five will be featured in their print magazine.

So, I invite you to check out the finalists, but I hope that you'll vote for my friend and favorite blogger Callapidder Days.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Recurrence (and my Reviews)

Last night I was awakened with a plaintive wail, "Mom?"

I stumbled out of bed and found Amanda in the hallway, in the exact spot where she did NOT make it to the bathroom last month. She had her small pillow that she sleeps with it, and her head was pressed to it as she was curled up in Muslim prayer position.

"Are you going to be sick?" I asked. "Get into the bathroom! Do not get sick here on the carpet," I ordered suggested compassionately.

"I don't know if I can make it," she moaned.

"Crawl," I told her, as I began to drag her the four feet to the more-easily-cleaned bathroom tile.

She made it, and I sat with her, and after a bit she did make her deposit.

"I feel a little better now," she said. "Sorry for waking you up."

I assured her that it was okay for her to wake me up when she was sick (and also knew that if she hadn't have awakened me, I might have been cleaning the carpet again). She went back to bed and slept through the night. I turned off my alarm, because of the 30 minute interruption, and knowing that I wouldn't have to be sure she was up and ready for school.

At 6:50am, she came into my room. "I feel better. Should I go to school?"

Terry and I conferred, and decided that she should probably stay home given the activities that occurred only four hours before. Since she seems to be done getting sick, I think that she'll be feeling too well to be at home today, but given the possible contagion and embarrassing potential for public barfing, staying home is obviously the right choice.


Check out my review and posting activity elsewhere:

This week at 5 Minutes for Mom, there's a Mother of the Year gift package. The book is fine (cute if you like little anecdotal compilations), but the little bag I got with it is adorable! So enter to win through Sunday.

And speaking of great mothers, you can still vote for my friend Lee's daughter Margaret's Peanut Butter Waffle Taco at once a day through 2/27.

I reviewed the Long Walk Home in the Books on Screen column. It's a great movie.

I wrote the Les Miserables Preview questions for Classics Bookclub. I hope you'll consider joining in if you've recently read Hugo's epic.

A guest contributor did an On Reading column on Book Swapping Sites, and I think I've finally decided to give one a try. Have you had any good or bad experiences with such sites?

And finally -- did you know that a "new" Madeleine L'Engle book was published posthumously? Read my review of The Joys of Love.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Wonder as I Wander

When Amanda was four years old, we got a new family member.

Puppy Wonder was her alter-ego. She was some kind of puppy superhero, and had a somewhat vague and fuzzy backstory. One day I was asking how she got her name.

"It's because she is always wandering around," Amanda answered.

"Ah, so Puppy Wonder is really Puppy Wander," I thought.

Interesting. No matter. She remained Puppy Wonder in name and her role in Amanda's life and that of her friends. As Amanda got older, the lore surrounding Puppy Wonder became more complex, convoluted, and creative.

I am currently working on the Elizabeth George study Loving God with All Your Mind. I'm not really a worrier, which is a prime focus of the book, but I know that God has something for me. Going through some of the scriptures recently, I was reminded of the correlation between wondering and wandering.

We can so easily allow our minds to wander away from God's sovereignty as we wonder about what the future holds. But what does Jesus command?

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).

And as a further command of what to do when we are not worrying:

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24, emphasis mine).
As a mom, it seems like I rarely live in the present. When the kids were babies, I would think, "Soon they'll be able to do thus-and-so," or even, "Soon they will be giving up that nap, and then what will I do?"

Kyle is starting Kindergarten next year, which will be a big change in schedule, and a big milestone for him. I've been thinking and planning for this for over a year! Likewise, Amanda changed schools this year, and will change again in another year, on which I think and speculate. Why, I've even thought about what will happen when she goes to college -- in eight years!!

I've finally come to realize that it's fine. It will all work out. Each day has enough trouble of its own, and each day has enough joy as well. I need to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally present in each day -- starting with today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Nightstand -- February

Whew -- another busy month on the Nightstand. Last month I wrote about some ambitious reading plans for this month. Well, I read most of those books (and a few extras that did end up sneaking into the pile as I anticipated they might), but I didn't read all of them.

I am partway into two that were on last months' list:
Waiting to Score, a YA novel
The Laws of Harmony

One I didn't get to is Why Women Should Rule the World. It's first on my non-fiction list. It just got pushed aside -- but not from lack of interest.

I really enjoyed Madeleine L'Engle's Meet the Austins: The Austin Family Chronicles, Book 1, so I'm hoping to continue with book 2, The Moon by Night. I'll probably do one review at 5 Minutes for Books of the two books together.

You Remind Me of Me -- I read a few pages of this last month, and love the writing, but some other deadlines caused me to put it aside. I look forward to picking it back up.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese -- I had been really looking forward to reading this, but for some reason it hasn't been calling out to me. . . and it's long, so it's quite an investment. We'll see.

My Little Red Book -- an anthology of stories about first periods. Sounds interesting, huh? It makes me smile just thinking about it. This will be posted in early March on 5 Minutes for Mom, with giveaways.

Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth

I also have the opportunity to judge the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, so I have two weeks to read and judge 40 ten-page excerpts. That will be fun, but also work, so I have a feeling I won't read as many other books as I hope to.

However, some that I would like to read if possible are:
Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister's Memoir
The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

I love writing up this post each month. Since I do have deadlines and commitments as far as reviews, it helps focus my reading. I don't write it in stone, because even though I'm a semi-professional reader (HA!), I still read based on mood. However, regardless of what I end up choosing to read, making this list reminds me that there are SO many books out there that I want to read, and reminds me that I'd generally rather read than doing other things.

See what else people are reading the fourth Tuesday of each month at 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Missed Him Again

This year in BSF we've been studying the Life of Moses. It's my second time to tackle this study, and while Leviticus and Numbers can be a bit dry, I prayed that the personal applications would be rich for me, and they have been.

However, I have felt like I was flagging. I wanted to rekindle something in my relationship with God. I have attended two other BSF leaders' retreats, and they have been definite mountaintop experiences, so I was looking forward to this one to hit the spot -- and it did.

We studied Jesus as revealed in Revelation, and about halfway through the weekend, it hit me. These verses reminded me of what was missing:
"In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a)."
And then of course I remembered that I had shared that same revelation here in May 2006.

I Missed Jesus

Recently I had been feeling a little bit of a spiritual slump. I had been reading the Word, praying, doing Bible study, attending church, but there was something missing. I wasn't feeling devoted when I read my devotionals. I know not to judge my own spiritual conditions by feelings, because God is unchanging, but I did know that something was lacking. I couldn't quite figure it out.

But then one thing hit me. I felt that I had some sort of unconfessed sin that was interfering with my ability to pray. I had a time of confession, mostly confessing my lackadaisical attitude towards my time with God, and felt that helped me feel more connected.

Then on Sunday, my pastor preached from Matthew. Hearing the words and Jesus and the impact of His actions set something else off in mind: I missed Jesus! Being involved in two organized weekly Bible study not only keeps me reading the Word, but also studying and applying it. However, I've been studying Genesis all year, I'm currently studying Philippians, and I had been focusing on a couple of Paul's epistles in any personal Bible reading I was doing.

I realized that even though Jesus is on every page of the Bible, including Genesis, there was something better about hearing it straight from the source. So, this week, I began reading Matthew, and it seems to be filling that void.

Once I realized what had been feeling wrong, it got me to thinking that I probably miss Jesus more than I should. I miss the opportunity to share the work He's done in me; I miss the grace offered by another Christian; I miss the wonder of a new day dawning. What's the most disturbing is when I go about my daily life and don't miss Him for days on end.

I'm thankful that I have God's word to turn to again and again. I'm thankful that even when I don't miss Jesus, He's missing me and will draw my heart back to His.

Thank you, Jesus, for all you've done in me and for me and through me. Keep my eyes open so I don't miss what you are doing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coming or Going?

I've been on the go the last week.

As I mentioned, we were in New Hampshire Friday through Tuesday. We returned at around 4:00pm, and at 1:00pm I left for a quick overnight trip with my husband. We saw South Pacific, and had a great time.

We arrived back home at noon on Thursday, and today I left home at 8:00am for a Bible study retreat.

I'll be home Sunday afternoon, and you might have to pry me out of my house next week.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Last weekend our friends invited us to their vacation home for a family ski trip. It was actually the second time we had been there. Two and a half years ago I wrote about Sharing History* with them (and others). I summed up that trip -- which was only the two couples -- this way:

This weekend we were blessed to be able to get away for a kid-free weekend with some friends. We enjoyed sharing meals, quiet moments on the porch reading and chatting, some game playing, and a standing Spades challenge. We learned more about each other's family histories (and folk lore), some funny stories and some sad memories. But most importantly, we began to collect the stories that we can share with our children and with each other: watching and listening to the loons, swimming in the lake in the rain, warming by the fire in July, canoeing, cooking and eating together, winning and losing games, and being comfortable enough to do absolutely nothing.
This last visit was different. It was not only the two couples, but also our six children. Instead of a quick two-day trip, this was a longer four-day excursion. But reading back over my summary of the last getaway, much was the same: sharing meals, reading quietly together, laughing, and most importantly sharing and creating memories.

We also took the kids skiing. I didn't cry as I've been known to do on the slopes (from fear/frustration/fatigue). Amanda did once, when the "very easy blue slope" that Terry and Geordie had gone on turned out to have a very steep (but short) drop that they didn't remember.

It was fun skiing with the kids, and as a group. We couldn't have asked for better weather. It was sunny and 30 both days. Three different children lost three different gloves (one off the chair lift!), but all three were recovered.

That's success.

You've probably heard the tongue-in-cheek definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

I'm defining this success as taking the risk to do something again, hoping for the same wonderful results.

I'm hoping that we'll get another chance to test the theory.


*You are invited to read the whole post, which is some of the "old good stuff" from my blog.

Another post that I looked up in preparation for this post were the ones I wrote two years ago about my first ski trip after a skiing accident and subsequent surgery. I'm proud of those too (Part 1 and Part 2).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Posted Elsewhere

I've sort of resolved to remind my regular readers here about the posts that I put up elsewhere in the event that you don't regularly check in with 5 Minutes for Mom or 5 Minutes for Books (or wherever I might appear). Since I haven't written such a post for a few weeks, AND since I've not only been reading a lot, but actually writing up some reviews for stuff I read last month, I have a lot to share.

First off is not a book review, but a post at 5 Minutes for Mom about A Good Mommy Moment that paid off. Please click over and read it, and then lend my friend your support and vote for Margaret's Peanut Butter Waffle Taco Sandwich over at jif!

As for reviews, I have some great novels
a couple of great memoirs

an "On Reading" essay about amazon's recommendations,

and another podcast.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kids' Picks -- Magyk and Moose Muffins

Amanda started a new series this month. She read the first two books in the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage (and plans to finish off the third and the fourth soon). She quickly devoured Magyk and Flyte, a sign of her level of enjoyment. In her own words:

"They make me feel like I'm in the book. The characters feel real. They're just really really good. I would recommend them to people who like adventure and magical books."

She's ten and says that they are good for her age (maybe some younger could read them too). Since they both deal with magic, the comparison to Harry Potter is inevitable. Amanda says "It's not a thing like Harry Potter. The story holds together in the same way that they do in Harry Potter. It's just quite different. The magic is different, and the characters are different. You shouldn't compare the two series, but just enjoy each of them."

Recently, Stephanie at Stephanie's Mommy Brain has mentioned the "If You Give" series by Laura Numeroff, reminding me that I should check out more books in the series. The original two have been staples in our home since Amanda was a preschooler, and Kyle has enjoyed them as well.

So we finally got two more from the library. When we brought If You Give a Moose a Muffin home from the library, I think that we read it at least four times in the first three days, a few times back to back -- the sign of his level of enjoyment.

I always enjoy the beautiful illustrations by Felicia Bond, and this story is on par with the others. I love how they encourage creativity -- cooking and sock puppet shows are among the fun ideas that the moose has.

On another trip to the library, the most recent offering If You Give a Cat a Cupcake was available, so we checked it out too (and Kyle refused to turn in the Moose book). This story seems to have evolved, going beyond the creative home activities of some of the earlier books. The cat ends up taking a trip to the beach and the gym, where he works out and does karate.

Find out what more children have enjoyed this month in 5 Minutes for Books' monthly Kids' Picks carnival the third Tuesday of each month.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sometimes Bad Things Happen

Hi -- it's me, Jennifer. I'm a rose-colored glasses-wearing, everything will turn out for the best optimist.

Part of it is my faith -- my faith that God is in control and knows what He's doing. But a lot of it is my genetic makeup, I think. Denial helps a bit too ("Oh, let's not think about that. Let's focus on the positive.").

Recently I've been hit with some really bad things. They haven't happened to me, but to those I know and love, and I think that's worse. You see, I know that I can endure hardship. I know that God has used my trials to strengthen me and to refine me. I know that.

But do others? I don't know. I want to spare them the pain of finding out. Spare them the frequent result of that pain -- bitterness and loss of faith.

Breast cancer. A father's death leaving behind two very very young children. These are the bad things of which I speak.

Sometimes bad things happen. And sometimes it shakes me. I know that I'll endure, and I can only pray that they will too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I think that those instructions on the shampoo bottle apply to housework as well.

Laundry -- Sort. Wash. Fold. Repeat.

Grocery shopping -- Make List. Shop. Consume. Repeat.

Cooking -- Plan. Prepare. Eat. Repeat.

Vacuuming -- Vacuum. Subject to rigors of household. Repeat.

This year I've finally gotten my act together and imposed some daily/weekly chores on Amanda, (unloading the dishwasher, cleaning her bathroom, fixing her lunch and her brother's) and Kyle (setting the table and feeding and watering the dog).

On any given day, I'm likely to hear this refrain from either or both of my children:

"Mom, I don't like doing my chores. I don't want to do them."

Well, as a matter of fact, kid, neither do I, but since there's no one around to do mine for me, I'm sticking with the plan.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Help

I live in Connecticut now, but I grew up in Houston, Texas. It's not really "The South," but one set of grandparents is from Mississippi, and my other grandparents' hometown in East Texas had a very Southern feel complete with the Black side of town over the tracks (and this was in the 80's).

In fact, I couldn't help but think of my Mammaw's last years as I was reading The Help, which is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, telling the story about the relationships between White Junior Leaguers and the African American women they employ as "the help."

After my grandfather died and as she got older, Mammaw had Mary Lou come in and do some housekeeping, including fixing her one hot meal a day. I know that Mammaw enjoyed the food (she never really enjoyed cooking, and certainly not as she got older and more feeble), but I think that she enjoyed Mary Lou's company as well. I remember meeting Mary Lou several times, and one trip that my cousin Stacie and I made from college stands out in my mind.

I think that Mammaw had her fix a special meal to please the starving college students. I don't remember what we ate, but I remember that she made fried apple pies. If you aren't a Southerner you may not even know what these half-moon dried-filled tarts are, but they are a treat, and Mary Lou's were great.

She always had a smile on her face. I don't know if that was her natural temperament or if she enjoyed knowing that she was taking care of Mammaw. When I asked my aunt Dianne about her she said, "Oh, she was quite a character!" so I think that was just who she was.

Some of the women in The Help treated their help as second class citizens, not allowing them to use the same restroom or dishes as the rest of the family, but some of them had a more simbiotic relationship based on the fact that each could offer something to the relationship (employment in exchange for skilled labor) -- as did Mammaw and Mary Lou -- forging a friendship in spite of cultural walls built up over decades.

On that visit, Mammaw told Stacie and me, "I'm going to ask Mary Lou to join us for dinner." I could tell that it was unexpected to extend this invitation, but also that Mammaw saw it as the right thing to do.

If you want to read my full review of this book which is easily the best one I've read this year (and will likely keep that distinction even as 2009 rolls on), go on over to 5 Minutes for Books.

Children's Classics -- A.A. Milne

Recently I got a box of books out of a closet that I had culled from Amanda's room when she was too old for them, yet Kyle wasn't old enough, and found The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh. Knowing the theme for this month's carnival, and remembering that I read these to Amanda when she was four or five, I decided to give it a try.

I've written about my four-year-old son's love for all things Thomas, and specifically about the fact that we read through the Complete Collection, story by story. Kyle likes the idea of reading through anthologies, story by story, using a bookmark to keep our place.

What I like about that is it truly exposes the child to stories, not just pictures and rhymes. The text to picture ratio is very similar to the Thomas collection. The page is filled with text and there are one or two small pictures on each page. So mostly he listens, but he also peeks over to see the drawings.

I was reminded that A.A. Milne is pretty sophisticated stuff (and also remembered that though Amanda and I read a lot of it, we didn't finish it). Amanda and Kyle were both present for the reading of "In which we are introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and some bees and the stories begin," (where Pooh enlists Christopher Robin to help him disguise himself as a raincloud to get the bees' honey), and Kyle in particular laughed in all the right places. So, we'll keep chugging along, and we'll see if it ends up on the Kids' Picks list next week or next month!

To find more readers' thoughts on A.A. Milne, check out 5 Minutes for Books Children's Classics carnival.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Now I Wonder Where He Learned That?

Last week I came across this picture from July 4, 2008

There are ways in which my four-year-old son is nothing like me. There is definitely some of his father in him.

His has an amazing sense of direction. He knows when we are going the "right way" or the "wrong way" and depending on which way we head out, he knows we are going to church, to William's house etc. etc. When I leave a store in the mall, I can't remember from which way I came and which way I am going.

He doesn't usually have a problem putting things back away, and definitely has an appreciation for order. I appreciate order, but that's where the similarities end.

So today we sent him to his room to do some tidying up. While he does a good job with these kinds of tasks, he's an extremely social child. He kept asking for help, and a time or two Terry or I would stop into his room and help him by giving him some instruction, "Now put your books in your basket," or whatever. In between visits upstairs, there was a lot of wailing coming from his room (in addition to being social, he also has the dramatic gene). It took a lot of will power for me not to go up and help him, but I stood firm, because I want to Have a New Kid by Friday (see review).

What should have taken 15 minutes took an hour, but when I went up to check on him, his room looked great, and I told him so.

"I sorta put some stuff under the bed" he confessed.

Ah, that's m'boy.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Win Welch's Aquajuice

I recently had the opportunity to try out Welch's Aquajuice (and even better, I can offer one of you the opportunity to win a bottle so that you can try it, too!).

It's been common knowledge for a long time that drinking too much juice is not good for children. The extra calories hinder their appetites and/or can cause weight gain. Welch's set out to create a product that kids like, but has fewer calories.

An 8 ounce serving still has one serving of fruit, no added sugar, but only 80 calories. It also has 20% of their vitamin C recommendation.

Now you might say (as I did), "Can't I just water down my kids' juice myself?" That is what I generally do, but now Kyle is on to me, and if he sees me put a bit of water into his cup before I pour the juice, my previous MO, he complains. Also, my husband doesn't really know this "trick," nor do other caregivers, so having it pre-mixed solves all of those problems.

We received the apple juice, and it was surprisingly good -- not overly watery. Neither I nor my children are huge apple juice fans, so I think that we would prefer the fruit punch flavor, but the end goal is achieved -- sweet juice that kids like and which contains fewer calories than regular juice. Kyle likes the taste, and didn't complain at all.

(FYI, at first they accidentally sent me Welch's Light mixed berry flavor which is sweetened with Splenda and has only 50 calories. I wasn't sure what I would think about that, but the kids and I loved it).

If you'd like to win, leave a comment here, and make sure I have a way to reach you (via blog or email). I will draw a winner on lucky Friday 13th. In the meantime while supplies last, you can also print a buy one get one free coupon.

Edited 2/13: The winner is #5 Francine!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Above All Else to Thy Nap Be True

If there's something about parenting that I'm not wishy-washy on, it's naps. My children both started out on a eat-wake-sleep schedule that continued throughout their first year. They both napped easily and for a long long time. Kyle is 4 1/2 and still takes a two-hour nap at least three days a week (and goes to bed at 8:15 and sleeps until 6:30). Amanda was doing the same at his age.

Now I know that some children sleep more than others by nature, so I am in no way claiming superior child-raising ability because my children nap well, but there were some things that I have learned that I would love to pass on to those of you trying to figure out how to handle toddler or preschool naps.

  1. Don't give up. When I thought that Amanda's napping days were over because she seemed as if she didn't need it, I kept her in the routine with her "resting" in her room, and within a week, she was usually surprising me by napping again.
  2. Don't listen to their words -- judge their actions. Whether he seems tired or not, or claim not to be, if he is an emotional basketcase after missing a nap, I know that it should still be a part of the routine.
  3. Routine is the key. Whether your child is one or four, if you want her to nap, provide the opportunity to nap. I was never hyper-vigilant about missing one day for a fun outing or a family gathering, but if I knew that they were going to miss one day, I made sure that there would be an opportunity to nap the next day (up through their third year -- after that I considered anything I got to be "gravy," but fortunately my kids like gravy).
  4. Weigh your options. Because Kyle still naps, he wakes up a bit earlier, but for me I'm willing to sacrifice an hour in the morning for the afternoon break (and the opportunity fr him to have an afternoon mood reset). If you really hate mornings, when they start waking earlier, cut out or reduce their naps.
  5. That's right -- reduce. The fourth principle is that it's not all or nothing. After age three or three and a half (for my long-napping kids), when their nighttime sleep was affected, or morning came earlier than even I could handle, I started reducing their naps (in length and/or frequency -- I often have to wake Kyle out of a hard sleep after two hours). That's what I've been doing with Kyle now. Last week, he missed Thursday and Friday, but it was apparent on Sunday and Monday that he needed to nap. So now I make sure that he has at least a couple of naps a week and play the rest by ear.

Preschool naptime Works for Me! For more household tips, visit Rocks in My Dryer each Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Classics Bookclub

I don't usually go with the questions for the Classics Bookclub, but I think that I will for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The main reason is that Lauren, Melissa and I had a little book chat for our first 5 Minutes for Books podcast (which will be available later this week), so I sort of feel like I weighed in already. But the other reason is that for a difficult book such as this it's easier to have guidelines.

So, I'll address a few of the questions from the preview. We discussed 1, 2 and 6, so I'll focus on some of the others:

3. In spite of the differences between her life and yours, what common themes resonated with you?

4. How do you think Maya was shaped by each home she lived in while she was growing up?

5. Which female in Maya's life do you think had the most influence (good or bad) over her? Explain your response.

Maya Angelou lived an isolated life, marked with abandonment and disappointment from the adults in her life, which obviously shaped her life. Unfortunately, because of the detached way the story is told -- more like a biography from a third-party than her own thoughts -- I don't know how it shaped her life. I just know the horrible things that happened, and because I know of her achievements now, I know that she did somehow overcome the sad and horrible circumstances that she endured.

Maya Angelou is most known as a poet, and that comes through in the lyrical and descriptive writing:

The wind blew over the roof and ruffled the shingles. It whistled sharp under the closed door. The chimney made fearful sounds of protest as it was invaded by the urgent gusts (page 153).

That language resonates with me. Some of the common themes I see include that juxtaposition between confidence and doubt that most of us remember feeling as we grew up.

I can definitely relate to the way she loved books. Along those lines, I think that the woman who affected her most was Mrs. Flowers, the woman who treated her like a young lady and introduced her to books. I think that those books truly opened the door to possibilities for Maya, and because they provided an escape, they may have saved her sanity -- giving her something to turn to in her times of trouble.

It was a hard book to read -- not only to process the racial wrongs that she experienced (along with all those who didn't write about it) --but the horrible things that she endured that had nothing to do with race.

One of the reasons I read memoir is to be able to experience and thus better understand what someone else went through, so in that vein I'm glad I read "Caged Bird" for the most part.

Monday, February 02, 2009

This is Not a Test

I have a love/hate relationship with my smoke detector.

It goes off a fair bit, usually in response to smoke created from burned on food in my oven, as a result of spills or excesses that weren't cleaned off. The hallway of my colonial home right outside my kitchen creates some sort of tunnel making small amounts of heat or smoke a cause for alarm (pun not intended, but still clever, no?).


When it happens, I fight my urges to rip it out of the ceiling, and have learned to just wait it out. My husband hasn't learned the art of patiently waiting it out, which is why it hangs inches from the ceiling by the wires. Apparently he became so enraged by the piercing beeping that he tried to dismantle it, but instead broke the things that are meant to attach it to the ceiling, so there's no going back. It functions, but it hangs in reminder of the battle. I'm not sure who the victor of that battle was. Did the man beat the machine by ripping it from its moorings, or does the machine mock the man as it hangs by its wires -- battered but still functioning?

What's worse is when the battery is dying, and we get the intermittent beep. . . beep. . . beep. . . beep. . . beep. Why does this always happen in the middle of the night, just as I'm going to bed, or early in the morning right before I need to wake up?

Perhaps the worst "this is a test; this is only a test" beeping came one night last winter when we were experiencing power surges that caused the alarms to sound continuously for at least ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time when you are aroused in the middle of the night and it's very dark, and the flashlight isn't where it's supposed to be, and you aren't sure what's going on.

This happened after midnight, and we were a bit confused as to whether or not this was a real alarm or some sort of electronic glitch. We took a risk that it was the latter (but I have to admit that I did call the fire department). I did learn a couple of things from that experience: my children need me, and they are even better sleepers than I give them credit for being. They both slept right through it, so had it been an "actual emergency" it would have been up to us to rouse them. As it was, two addled parents was disarming enough and I am thankful that my children enjoyed undisturbed slumber as we frantically stumbled around and made decisions about their safety.

But today the little white circular objects worked as they are supposed to, making me feel the love. We were doing the morning routine thing when we heard the intrusive sounds. Amanda came out of her bathroom, and I came out of mine.

"Oh, Kyle was making a Pop Tart," she said.

Our hit-and-miss toaster had apparently decided that several minutes was the proper amount of time to toast a Pop Tart. The Pop Tart disagreed and was angry, black, and smoky. As I was upstairs innocently applying mascara, my toaster oven was apparently inches away from a total meltdown. The four-year-old offender was innocently watching TV (apparently unaffected by the smoke and horrible smell).

So thank you, smoke detector. The one time that you've performed a useful service makes up for the tens of times that you've irritated me, but let's not schedule any more dates for trial runs or real alerts, 'kay?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Speaking of Potties

Well, I wasn't technically speaking of potties, but I think that being the mother of a four-year-old son means that I could be talking about it or thinking about it or cleaning it up at any given time.

Kyle and I picked Amanda up at school last week, and Kyle thought I parked too far away. He pointed to the empty spaces closer to the school, and I told him that I couldn't park there.

"Oh, the ones with the person on the potty is only for Grandmommies?"

When my grandmother came to visit in September, she had her handicapped tag, so we did indeed use those spaces. I have no idea why he would remember that, but it reminded me of something Amanda said when she was about his age.

Someone was talking about being handicapped, or maybe we were with someone who had a walker or wheelchair or something, and Amanda said, "My mom used to be handicapped."

She was referring to the few months that I had a handicapped tag because I was recovering from my ACL surgery. Parking that extra fifty feet closer made a huge difference, being on crutches and having a preschooler to keep up with.

And one more Kyle-related potty comment before I go:

The other day as he was running to the powder room (he still always runs everywhere), he said, "Babies say 'I have to go potty,' but big kids say, 'I have to go to the lavatory,' or 'I have to go to the bathroom.'"

The lavatory? Apparently the preschool teachers are getting them ready for Kindergarten English boarding school.