1. I haven’t done a 7 Quick Takes post since 2013 (not since it moved from Conversion Diary to This Ain’t the Lyceum), but today is the day I decided to jump back into it.
  2. Peter played with the 6th grade band in his school’s spring concert on Wednesday evening.  I love hearing school bands (especially marching bands)–I’m just so proud of all the kids for working together and making beautiful music.  I enjoyed the concert, but I didn’t enjoy the aftermath.  The concert didn’t end until a quarter after eight, and by the time we got ourselves together and got home, it was a quarter to nine.  Clara usually goes to bed between 7 and 7:30 and Simon goes to bed around 8.  Both were very tired and Simon was melting down because we didn’t stay for the reception afterwards; he wanted to eat treats.  Peter was disappointed that we didn’t stay because he wanted to hang out with his friends.Band concert
  3. While Peter was all dressed up for the concert, I insisted that we take some pictures of him.  It was long overdue; we didn’t have any good pictures of him taken since the fall of 2014.Peter April 2017
  4. Yesterday (Thursday), the day after the concert, there was more unpleasant aftermath.  Clara, who usually wakes up around 6-6:30 am, slept until 8:30 because she had been up so late.  That wouldn’t have been a problem except that she had a doctor’s appointment (9 month check-up) at 11, and there wasn’t enough time to squeeze in a morning nap before then.  We had to wait for a ridiculously long time at the doctor’s office, as usual, so she was overtired and not at all impressed with the strange woman trying to put things in her ears and manipulate her legs.  She was in full meltdown mode by the time we got home.  Such fun.  😦
  5. All the paperwork and major organizational details are taken care of for the orphan we’re hosting from Eastern Europe this summer, which is a relief to me, as they have taken up a lot of my time and energy lately.  The application, fees, social worker visit/report, background checks, and flight reservations are all done.  He will be arriving in NYC with a group of children on a Sunday afternoon in June.  Because most airlines don’t allow unaccompanied minors on the last flight of the day to anywhere (so they don’t get stuck overnight if it gets cancelled), the closest we could get him to our house if he flew out Sunday evening was Minneapolis, which is about a 6 1/2 hour drive each way from our house.  Fortunately, the hosting organization was able to put us in touch with a family in NYC who will pick him up from the airport on Sunday afternoon and put him on a plane for us on Tuesday morning (their schedule wouldn’t allow them to take him to the airport Monday before 3 pm, but then we ran into the same problem with the last connecting flights of the day, so Tuesday it is).  He will fly as an unaccompanied minor from NYC to Minneapolis, then to a city that’s about two hours from us, arriving mid-afternoon.  Unfortunately, he can’t fly into the airport that’s 5 minutes from our house because only one commercial airline flies there and they only allow unaccompanied minors on non-stop flights (no changing planes), so the only way we could have done it was if we had someone meet him in Chicago and put him a plane there.  But four hours of driving round-trip sure beats 13 hours of driving to pick him up.
  6. Cinco de Mayo was totally not on my radar when I did meal planning for the week.  Thus, we’re having Indian butter chicken for dinner tonight.
  7. Our snow has finally all melted.  Simon is determined to learn to ride his bike without training wheels.  Despite the temperatures only being in the 40s and 50s, he has been practicing hard the last couple days.  I think he’ll have it down before long.

More 7 Quick Takes here:


The cruelest month

April is the cruelest month.  We’ve had some sunny, warm days here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (it got up to 68° F on Saturday!), but they have been followed by cold, rainy, blustery, and/or dreary weather.  This morning, there was snow on the ground and still falling when I woke up.  I watched out the window as Peter got on his school bus (he is picked up at the end of our driveway), then he got off the bus and it drove away as he walked back to the house.  That had never happened before.  It turns out that they had cancelled school late due to icy road conditions–the bus driver got the call just before he got to our house (Peter is the first one on his bus).

April snow

A current view of my backyard–you can see the wet spots from where the ground is saturated from the spring melt.

It’s hard to believe that two months from now, it will be summer, Peter will be done with school, and the child we’re hosting will be here.

A year ago, I was starting my third trimester of pregnancy and dreading the next year.  Excuse my language, but I knew it was going to suck.  I was already exhausted and perpetually uncomfortable, and I knew it was only going to get worse until the baby was born.  Then there’s that oh-so-fun newborn stage of being woken up every couple hours, followed by the stage of not-quite-as-bad but still constant sleep deprivation.  Plus, we live in a place where winter is really winter, so I’d be carting around a baby and dealing with snow gear for a baby and a preschooler (and myself) every time I wanted to leave the house.  I figured that it would take until spring came this year before life started getting easier.

I must admit that the past year has not been as bad as I expected.  It hasn’t been a piece of cake, by any means, but it hasn’t been completely miserable.  The main reason has probably been that Clara slept for relatively long stretches (5+ hours at night from about five weeks on) and started sleeping through the night when she was about six and a half months old, so I haven’t been as sleep deprived as I was when Simon was a baby.  (I made a point to promote good sleep habits with her from the start because I remembered how awful I felt for the first year of Simon’s life, until I got him sleeping through the night).

While I never have enough time to do EVERYTHING I should/want to do, and there are plenty of days I’m too tired to do anything productive once all the kids are in bed, I am keeping up with things overall.  In fact, I’m feeling good enough about how things are going that I’m up to taking on a new challenge this summer.  We’re planning to host an orphan from Eastern Europe, a 10-year-old boy.

This is something we’ve talked about doing for several years, but haven’t taken the plunge until now.  There were various reasons we didn’t–planning an international move and expecting a baby were two pretty good reasons, but most years it was just due to the garden-variety lack of funds.  This year, there were no pressing reasons why we shouldn’t, and I have the money.  I’ve been saving for an international adoption, but I decided to use some of my money to host.  It was a difficult decision, because it’s a lot of money to give a kid a fun vacation.  However, it’s not really that much money to give an orphan a real chance at finding a family, which has to be one of the best things you could possibly do for someone.  Many orphans who come for hosting are subsequently adopted, by their host family or by another family.  People are much more likely to adopt an older child that they have met and interacted with, or that someone they know has met and interacted with.  Even if we don’t decide to adopt (and we’re not talking about adoption now), I can advocate for this boy.  Ultimately, I thought it was better to do something real than to keep sitting on the money and waiting for “someday.”  After so many years of being interested in adoption and hosting, I can finally do something, and I’m excited to do it.

I’m not going to share identifying information or photos of the child we’re hosting on my blog, but I will share stories and reflections.

Simon’s writing

One of the best parts of parenting is when your children surprise and amaze you.  I have had that experience lately with Simon (who turned 5 two months ago) spontaneously starting to write.

He knows letter-sound correspondences for the 26 letters of the alphabet (he also knows that some letters can stand for more than one sound and that sometimes two letters stand for one sound, but I haven’t taught him those yet).  He knows how to blend sounds to make a word and has lately been interested in segmenting the sounds in words.  To help him learn the lower-case letters and as a pre-handwriting exercise, I’ve had him trace Montessori sandpaper letters the same way that you write them.  But I’ve never asked him to actually write anything.

Within the last couple weeks, he has starting writing.  From deciding what he wants to write, gathering the materials, sounding out the words, and forming the letters on the paper, he is doing it on his own.  He has taken his knowledge and skills and put them together to do something new, and it’s just so cool.

Considering that he’s only in junior kindergarten, he’s doing well.  He has written, “wut God” (he was going for “What God Made,” the title of a booklet from our religion program), “it iz in du” (he was going for “It is in the living room.”), and “wii bud” (for “Wii board”).  The one that I especially enjoyed, however, was when he told me, “I made a Star Wars book just for you, but it’s not a book you read, it’s a book you sing.”  He then gave me several papers that he had stapled together and filled with “Dun Dun Dun…”  I asked him to sing it and he sang the Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).

Simon Star Wars book March 2017

When I was researching ideas for observing Lent, I came across a website that promoted preparing and eating simple meals (e.g. soups) as a spiritual experience.  I had never considered cooking as a spiritual experience, but I had had a spiritual eating experience, so the idea resonated with me.

I like Ethiopian food.  Don and the boys don’t care for it, but occasionally, I could convince Don to go to an Ethiopian restaurant where we used to live (I chose to eat there to celebrate the day I became a Canadian citizen).  I also went there to eat with Simon when Don and Peter were gone to Scout camp.  I always got a combination plate so I could have some of everything–how could I choose just one thing to eat?  The leftovers were always mine; no one else wanted them.

One time in particular, eating leftover Ethiopian food became a spiritual experience for me.  As I scraped the food from the styrofoam container onto a plate, I thought of how many Ethiopian people were hungry at that very moment and I made sure not to leave a morsel.  The combination of leftover food had more of the foods that weren’t my favorites (because I had eaten more of my favorite foods in the first place), but it wouldn’t do to be picky when people in this world were starving.  I warmed up the plate in the microwave and sat to eat, carefully tearing the injera (spongy sour flatbread) and using the pieces to pick up the soft vegetable stews and remaining pieces of meat.  I ate every last bite of food, feeling myself in solidarity with the poor as I ate.

Peter is on spring break from school this upcoming week.  Don wanted to go on a trip for spring break, but I didn’t want to go.  Clara still naps 2-3 times a day and doesn’t nap well away from home; taking her on vacation would just be stressful.  So Don decided to take the boys to the Twin Cities for a 4-day weekend (Saturday through Tuesday) to do some big-city things while I stay home with Clara and enjoy having free time to do my own thing when she sleeps.  It’s a win-win situation.  I decided that I would eat vegan while they were gone, as a Lenten exercise in intentional simplicity.

I have been re-reading Melissa Fay Greene’s powerful book There is No Me Without You (I originally read it around 2008 or 2009).  This incredibly moving book goes back and forth between telling the story of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia and the story of one remarkable individual’s response to the resulting orphan crisis.  With Ethiopia on my mind, I wanted to eat vegetarian Ethiopian food.  There is no Ethiopian restaurant anywhere near where I live, so I decided to attempt to cook some myself.

Today, during Clara’s morning nap,  I made misir wot, red lentil and carrot stew.  It was a wonderful spiritual experience.  As I chopped carrots and onions, measured and rinsed lentils, inhaled the exotic spicy scent of berbere (which required me to add two new spices to my already-well-stocked spice cabinet), and stirred the stew, my thoughts drifted to Haregewoin Teferra, the orphaned and abandoned children she cared for, their parents and other family members, people who are hungry, children who have been adopted, and children who are now waiting for families, and I prayed for them.

misir wot

Whether it turned out well or not, I would have eaten the misir wot.  I was cooking and eating in solidarity with the poor, and the poor don’t have the luxury of turning up their noses at food that isn’t exactly to their taste.  (I remembered the Bongú can–like a coffee can–in the refrigerator of the volunteer house where I stayed in Haiti, in which we put our leftovers, piled in an unappetizing mélange, for a local family to eat later.)  However, the misir wot turned out to be amazingly good.  Clara and I savored it for lunch (at least, I savored it and she ate it without complaint) and I am eagerly anticipating eating the leftovers.  My first foray into Ethiopian cooking was an unqualified success.

I didn’t attempt to make injera because it looked intimidating, but the misir wot was wonderful to eat all by itself.  If my future attempts at Ethiopian cooking turn out as well as this one, I might spend the money on a griddle and try to make injera too.

Observing Lent

Ever since Epiphany, I’ve been looking forward to observing Lent.  Not that Lent is exactly fun (it’s not supposed to be), but I got a lot out of observing Advent and the Christmas season, so I was looking forward to getting more out of Lent this year.

I have observed Lent in the past, to varying degrees, but this year I stepped it up a notch.  I’m doing more personally for Lent and I’ve made a point to bring Lent into our family life, which I haven’t done before.

Here are the things we’re doing for Lent this year.  It looks like a lot, but most of them don’t take much effort.

  • Before Lent started, we celebrated Mardi Gras.  We have made pancakes for dinner in previous years, but we skipped them this year (we had just had them for breakfast two days before).  Simon and I had Burger King for lunch–a rare treat.  Our totally junky dinner included paczki, root beer, and dirt cake/chocolate pudding cups.
  • I made an Alleluia banner that I put up on Mardi Gras and then we put away for Lent, to return on Easter.  This is a concrete way of showing that we don’t say “Alleluia” during Lent.
Alleluia banner

My rainbow Alleluia banner

  • Simon, Clara, and I went to Mass on Ash Wednesday and received the imposition of ashes.  (Peter and Don were out of town because Peter was having oral surgery first thing in the morning on Thursday.)
  • I put a purple cloth on the side table in our dining room (the one where we had our Advent wreath)–purple being the liturgical color for Lent.
  • The boys are using Lenten countdown calendars, putting a sticker on each day to keep track of where we are in the Lenten season.  I printed an English calendar for Simon and a French one for Peter.
  • We are saying the traditional Catholic table grace at dinner (“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts…”).  This is different from what we usually do; most of the time, we each thank God for three things, which I started as a way to get us to reflect on what we are grateful for instead of just reciting a prayer from memory.
  • The boys are watching the Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure videos.  We are listening to some of the audio selections and doing the online quizzes.  We’re skipping the printables, with the exception of the Mass quizzes, which are useful in helping Peter pay attention.
  • We are observing meatless Fridays.  So far, we’ve had spaghetti and lasagna for dinner on Fridays (and mac & cheese for Simon and a bean burrito for me on Ash Wednesday).  The Lenten countdown calendar has little fish on the Fridays, and Simon has gotten into the idea of eating fish on Fridays during Lent–he insisted on having fish sticks for breakfast this past Friday.
  • The boys and I have been going to Saturday evening Mass, followed by a soup and bread meal.  (We usually go on Sunday mornings, but the Saturday soup/bread is a Lenten thing at our parish.)
  • As a family, we have given up playing on the Wii for Lent.
  • After seeing the Holy Heroes video about using a bean jar for sacrifices, Simon wanted to do it, so I set one up on the side table with the purple cloth.  There’s a bowl of dried beans, and when the boys do little sacrifices (like entertaining Clara or cleaning up without complaining), they drop a bean into the Mason jar.  On Easter, the dried beans will be exchanged for jelly beans.  At first, I didn’t like the idea of rewarding good behavior with the promise of candy (extrinsic motivation has its pitfalls), but then I thought that the delayed gratification and the concreteness of seeing the sacrifices add up would be good for kids.  In any case, I don’t think it will do them irreparable harm, and Simon likes putting beans in the jar.
Lenten table

Our side table with the purple cloth, bean jar, and Lenten countdown calendars (and a poinsettia)

  • I signed up to get daily Lenten e-mails from Flocknote.  I already get their Catechism in a Year and Popes in a Year e-mails (the Popes in a Year is much more entertaining than you might think).  These e-mails are short, but I have learned things from them.
  • For my own personal observance of Lent, I chose three things:  I’ve given up Facebook, I’m limiting myself to eating one sweet thing per day, and I am reading the Bible daily.  (I started a one-year Bible reading plan–not the whole Bible, but selected verses and stories–almost two years ago.  I will read every day for weeks, and then fall off the bandwagon and not touch it for a couple months.  When Lent started, I had 12 weeks left.)
  • I plan to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Week services, when the time comes.

We are a quarter of the way through Lent.  It’s going well; I don’t feel that I was overly ambitious in my plans.  I must say that sacrificing during Lent is much more tolerable now that I understand that we can take Sundays off.  It’s a lot easier to face six days of sacrificing than six consecutive weeks.  I’m not sure that I could have survived the displeasure of my kids (and husband) if they didn’t get to binge on playing the Wii on Sundays, and I appreciate being able to catch up with my friends’ and family’s kid pictures, puppy pictures, and general news on Facebook once a week.

Here is a list of the books that have been most influential or useful in my parenting journey.  Some are popular books, others are not exactly mainstream.  They don’t cover everything you need to know, but they will get you thinking about a lot of things and give you lots of useful information.  I put them roughly in order by the age of the child they would influence your parenting of (in other words, stuff that helps you with a newborn is near the top of the list and stuff for older kids is near the end).

  • The Lull-A-Baby Sleep Plan: The soothing, superfast way to help your new baby sleep through the night…and prevent sleep problems before they develop by Cathryn Tobin
  • The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle proven solutions to help your child sleep well and wake up happy by Kim West
  • Infant Potty Training: A gentle and primeval method adapted to modern living by Laurie Boucke
  • Our Babies, Ourselves: How biology and culture shape the way we parent by Meredith F. Small
  • Baby-led Weaning: The essential guide to introducing solid foods and helping your baby to grow up a happy and confident eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
  • Growing a Reader from Birth: Your child’s path from language to literacy by Diane McGuinness
  • BabyTalk: Strengthen your child’s ability to listen, understand, and communicate by Sally Ward
  • Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding kids right by Joel Fuhrman
  • No-Drama Discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • Unconditional Parenting: Moving from rewards and punishments to love and reason by Alfie Kohn
  • Raising a Thinking Child: Help your young child resolve everyday conflicts and get along with others by Myrna Shure and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo
  • Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It: A scientific revolution in reading by Diane McGuinness
  • The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family by Karyn B. Purvis and David R. Cross
  • Hold On to Your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate

Please leave me a comment and let me know what books you have found most influential in parenting!