Thursday, October 5, 2017

Lulu is 6

In our house, not all birthday celebrations are equal. Maria's comes at the end of the school year, when our energies are depleted and the fair weather makes us lazy.  Pippa's birthday festivities suffer from their proximity to Christmas; the ranks of guests are thinned by seasonal commitments and seasonal colds.  For Donnie...well, we'll see what happens for our springtime, almost-Easter baby.  Of all the members of our household, Louisa is most likely to have her birthday feted in a big way.  For Louisa's birthday we are fresh from the summer and all our resolutions to be more hospitable are fresh in our minds.  And around here, the end of September is a beautiful time.  Trees grow tawny, apples ripen, the sky shouts blue.

This year, we were lucky to be able to have Louisa's birthday at Horse Listener's Apple Orchard.    The Orchard gave us a gallon of apple cider, sent a fresh-faced lad with a tractor train to give the kids rides, and saved the day by providing us with plastic forks (I forgot that cake is a fork food).  We got to feed the horses, and many of our guests picked apples.  The orchard didn't charge us a cent except the price of the picked apples.   I'm so grateful to them!

As you can see from all the flushed cheeks in the pictures, it was an oddly hot day.   Yet Louisa's joy was undiminished.  Big celebrations suit our vivacious girl.  She enjoys the attention, enjoys the bringing together of schoolmates, neighbors, church friends, and relatives.  She enjoys the sudden influx of novel little things from the pinata.   Once the party is done, she enjoys giving Pippa permission to play with her presents.  Then she enjoys  revoking that permission and taking control of her booty once again.  That is Lulu, in turns generous and tyrannical.  Happy 6th to our princess.

Things for the pinata.   As time goes by, I squirrel away the assorted tchotchkes that the girls receive into an out-of-reach box.  Then they get washed and put in the pinata at the next birthday.  Baubles in, baubles out.  It sure beats paying for new plastic stuff to give away at parties, and I think the kids enjoy the eclectic mix.

Cousin Cat.

Maria is such a photo ham!  We have about eight pictures where she is wearing this identical, exaggerated grin.

Pip and Cat in the tractor train.  The cars look to be made from old plastic barrels.

Beautiful birthday girl!

Monday, May 1, 2017

First Communion

Many years ago, I attended the first communion party of a little girl who went to our church.  It was a delightful party--house crammed with people, children rolling around on the floors, animated conversation everywhere, excellent food.  There was a pretty, homemade coconut cake, and the dress worn by the first communicant was made of ivory silk and sewn by her mother.  It was what a Catholic party should be--joyful and unfussy, but with plenty of personal touches!

I long hoped that we would make Maria's first communion a similarly well-feted event.   After all, first communion is a pivotal moment in the story of a soul, and it's fitting that it should be celebrated in a big way.   But reality has a way of paring down our plans.  Between having a newborn and having a stomach bug hit our house this past week, I had doubts that we would even make it to the mass.

But we did make it, and so did our very dear friends, James, Dominic, and Imelda.  Having them there meant a great deal to us.  It was a beautiful service. Tears were shed.

We went home for  a festal family meal of baked beans, bacon, blackberries, and cornbread.  Maria requested the cornbread in lieu of cake.  I was happy to comply!

Maria spent her afternoon listening to the audiobook of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict and gave no appearance pining for a party.  Hopefully, we'll have a party later, but today, it was lovely to just have the first communion.
The flower crown was a project of this morning.  The greenery and small flowers came from our yard, and the rest came from a $4 Aldi's bouquet.  I love that our humble yard violets found their way into the crown. Violets remind me of St. Therese.

Evidently, wearing white is contagious.

It's frivolous, but I'm so pleased with Maria's dress!  It came via Amazon from a company in Singapore where they make dresses to order.  The first time she tried it on, Maria complained that having such a high neckline was uncomfortable.  I tried to resign myself to the idea that Maria would wear the "backup" dress that I had found at a thrift store and bought in case the dress from the Orient failed to arrive in time.  But when I asked her which dress she would wear this morning, she said "the long one."  Her initial reaction was probably just nerves and contrariness.  Our biggest girl does not like primping and fussing!  I'm grateful she changed her mind.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

(p,h,f,r) June 11


Here are two small watercolors that I completed this week.

They are custom illustrations that I made as part of a fundraising effort for Louisa's school.  The buyer wanted something that captured her grandson's favorite toys, these charming and characterful stuffed owls.  It was a fun project and I'm happy that it was also well-received.


It was the week of the practice bus ride for incoming kindergartners---and a most beautiful and joyous bus ride it was.  The driver had the bearing of an ex-military man.  He congratulated the kids on getting big enough to ride the bus and told them the rules.  The drive itself was a fifteen minute loop on a beautiful back road that we've never seen before.   Out the window, all was lush and blooming.  I was pleased to find that the bus was as I remembered them to be from my youth---with the screws visible in the ceiling and the the khaki-coloring seats, repaired with fabric tape.  Louisa and Pippa were radiantly happy, as you can see in the picture.  Having spent their lives traveling buckled into carseats, a humpty-bumpty ride on a school bus was an adventure and a welcome taste of freedom.

It was a good week for hospitality.  Thursday evening we hosted two young friends that we met through church, and Friday we had our friend Patty over for the first time in over half a year.   Lately, we've fallen out of the habit of hospitality.  For us, it is really best if we host regularly.  First and foremost, it helps us to get out of ourselves.  Another benefit, is that it helps us get the house straightened out.  Finally, when we fall out of the habit of hosting, we become rather anxious about it.  I try to remember that hospitality is ultimately about sharing what you have---not about achieving heretofore unachieved heights of cleanliness and culinary excellence.  Really, it's best when we serve soup and let things be  casual.

Our young friends are UConn undergraduates in the pre-med program--"pre-doctors," we call them.  It's a delight to talk to them.  They are more level-headed than we were at that age.  Patty is our neighbor from when we first arrived in Connecticut and lived in a rental house.  She used to have dinner with us once a week,  reading and talking with the girls while I got dinner ready.  We've benefitted from her age and perspective --her forthright approach to living--not to mention that she's helped us find many of the workmen who have helped up keep our house liveable.  She's a bit of an adopted grandmother.  During this last visit, she brought a bunch of treasure to share with the girls---tins of vintage holiday magnets, feather necklaces from a Native American organization, and a real silk cocoon complete with a dead silk worm rattling inside.

One of the girls' favorite standby activities is "playing jinx" or doing "jinx class."  As far as I can tell, it involves Louisa making elaborate rules that Maria often resists.  Then they put on costumes and jump around shouting "jinx."  This was Louisa's jinx costume today:

The girls also played museum this week.  Maria made something like a paper doll, stood it up on a block and labeled it "stachyoo" (statue).  The museum also had a starfish and a stingray and about a thousand little paper clippings. The Louisa is rather fond of turning sheets of paper into small bits of paper at the moment.  Neither she nor Maria could tell me what the paper clippings represented, or why they were in the museum.  They are so very prepared for the world of modern art.


Pippa has been resisting bedtime these days.  Most nights, we gets storms and tears, and hear the back and forth of little feet long after she has been officially "put down" for the night. When we go up to put her back in bed, she makes of pretense of going to the potty and then asks us to rub her belly for the nth time.   The late bedtime makes her a regular grizzly bear in the morning.

Maria lost one of her front teeth on Friday.  It's good to have that tooth out; it was been sitting awry for a few weeks.   At our house, the tooth fairy is a rather unreliable character, who sometimes shows up a day or two late.  She did not show up the night Maria lost the tooth, and since then the tooth has been misplaced.  The fairy will probably come tonight, providing some kind of nursery magic by way of reparation.   She'll probably give some excuse about being blown off course by all the wind we've had, or that her cricket-pulled coach got mired in the mud, or maybe she got herself caught in a mouse trap yet again.  We shall see.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

{p,h,f,r} June 5


We had a small family celebration for Maria's birthday.  Maria woke up to a little tea part  in the  the living room.  A half dozen stuffed animals were in attendance, as were Maria's sisters.  There were eggs and sausage, chocolate banana smoothie, and orange juice served in a tea pot.  Maria loves "nursery magic" and requested it for her birthday.   It was an added bonus that the breakfast was in the living room, where food is normally forbidden.  Maria's main birthday present this year was Seaweed fish and his aquarium, but I had one small present in reserve for her real birthday.  Maria had requested this set of Shrinky Dinks, when we saw them at a toy store.  I initially refused but went back later and bought it.  I take it that Shrinky Dinks have been around for a while, but they were not part of my childhood.  They are so fun!  I've been trying to come up with another occasion to do a Shrinky Dink project!  We spent the morning coloring the little figures, shrinking them in the oven and arranging the "pet store."  Maria was generous in letting her little sisters color and place many of the pieces.  It was a pleasant way to pass the morning.


Blake and Christina visited us over Memorial day weekend.  Blake is a dear friend from our Princeton and Pittsburgh days.  We attended Blake and Christina's wedding last August, but didn't  get a chance to spend time with Christina until this weekend.  She's perfectly lovely, and we are so blessed to know them!   We went with them to the Dairy Bar and played Settlers of Catan late into the night.  We hope that it won't be long before we get to see them again.

Another source of enjoyment this week was the Hundred Cupboards trilogy by N.D Wilson.   This week, I listened to the audiobook of the final installment.  N.D Wilson is an acolyte of Tolkein and C.S Lewis, and his writing is just wonderful.  I love and am continually drawn to fantasy---but the genre is bedeviled by escapism.    N.D Wilson's writing shows a reverence for the details of everyday life that unlocks the magic of the here and now.  The books have certainly unlocked my appreciation of baseball and dandelions!  There's a great measure of wisdom in the books.  Frank, the main character's uncle, is one of my favorite characters--not just in the trilogy, but in all literature! 


Pippa, at two and a half, has a tremendous drive to communicate.  She's the most outgoing of our children, and actively seeks out strangers. This has adds humor to our weekly Aldi runs.  She will run down the length of an isle to inform an unknown shopper of the Very Important Thing that is happening in her life.  Thank goodness that Aldi is small, and that ours is frequented largely by retirees who are happy to hear Pippa's news.  This week, Pippa told everyone  about her "spookito" bites, and how the "boy put cream on spookito bite."   Pippa had complained of the bite to the school nurse during Louisa's kindergarten orientation, and the nurse kindly applied hydrocortisol to her arm.  This act of mercy made a big impression.  (The nurse was a woman, but Pippa calls everyone she doesn't know "boy.")  When she's speaking in earnest, Pippa's voice gets very chesty, and she makes big gestures.   Pippa has also been frequently using the word "actually" as a way of launching into an explanation.  "Actually, have spookito bite on my arm.  It hurrrt."

Meanwhile, Louisa has a few funny new tropes.  Lately she has been using the word "longing."  As in, "Mommy!  I've been longing to eat watermelon in big pieces! Thank you for cutting them in big pieces!"  She has also devised her own point system.  She awards points when she is pleased with you and take them away when she is displeased.  It's really quite helpful, because, Louisa, being Louisa, has a tremendous desire to mete out consequences.  Historically, if you have done something that makes her happy, she will offer you the moon out of the fullness of her gratitude.  She promises to throw you parties with no end of cake and paint you a hundred works or art, and give you a necklace of sparkling jewels.   If you cross her, she will threaten you with wholesale destruction.    This new point system gives her a way of registering her opinion without the same level of hyperbole.  "Mami, if you make me eat this [vegetable that I don't want to eat], I'm going to take away your point!"  To which, I can respond, "alright, if you feel you have to, you can take away my point.  But, you still have to eat your vegetable."   And, yes, I believe I earned a point when I cut the watermelon into big pieces.  That felt good too.

Donnie faced down the mold and re-caulked the shower, bathroom sink, and kitchen sink yesterday.   He had to replace a piece of wood that frames our shower.  (Really, it's not a good idea to frame a shower with wood, but short of a remodel, we're stuck with it.) I would say this achievement shows that he is a real man.

We had several school meetings this week.  Louisa had her kindergarten screening and there was a planning and placement team meeting for Maria.  During these meetings, I feel of two very different minds.  On one had, I am so impressed by the kindness and professionalism of the staff at our local public school.  To a one, they are lovely, friendly ladies, who seem whole-heartedly dedicated to helping the children and creating a caring environment.  I'm grateful for their expertise and all the help and attention they give to my children.   On the other hand, the modern public school is just a very complex place, and I find myself baulking at that complexity.  In the kindergarten screening, we met the two kindergarten teachers, the classroom para-educators, the school psychologist, the speech therapist, the special education teacher, and the literacy coach.  In addition to that cast, there are the specials teachers (art, music, gym) who were not present.  It's a far cry from Louisa's Montessori school where there are two teachers and each has one assistant.  Because Maria has some special needs she has interacted with an even wider array of people.

Maria enjoys her school---I'd even say she loves it--and does not seem burdened by the large scale of the organization.  Still, I have reservations.  I cannot help but think that in in this complex society, with it's highly structured schedules, the child loses agency and freedom.  And being concerned with creating a sense of internal cohesion, the school loses contact with the greater culture---specifically, our historical and cultural heritage.  (Perhaps, I missed them, but I didn't see any portraits of Lincoln, or the artwork of great masters, or those other visual reminders of our cultural patrimony that I expected to see.)   I'm comforted to know that while it may not be ideal, it is very good.   The kids have kind, smart people teaching and guiding them.  That's a great blessing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Last Two Weeks: In which we hear opera, paint faces, and become pet owners

It has been a busy string of weeks.  The more eventful a period of time, the less likely I am to sit down and  blog about it. 

Highlights of the past two weeks included a solo trip to Madison, CT, to watch my friend perform in a production of Solome. The performance was in a converted barn—the most intimate venue for an Opera that you can imagine.   The acting and musicianship were splendid.   It is a gripping opera! The modern interpretation and framing were not splendid—confusing and in poor taste—but could do little to detract from the overall experience.  Indeed, for a curmudgeon such as myself, the only thing more enjoyable than seeing a truly wonderful performance is to see a strong performance that has some flaw that offers the opportunity to nitpick.  And nitpick we did!  My friend and I went to a diner after the show and spent a couple hours “unpacking” the production over sweet potato fries.

 The following day was the spring fair at Louisa’s school.  I volunteered to paint faces.  Here are my practice faces from the day before. 

And here are a few from the day of the fair.

Then came the baptism of our little twin nephews, Stephen and Michael.  Donnie and I became Michael’s godparents. The two boys entered the Church with great aplomb and cuteness.  It was a beautiful day, and it was lovely day and was wonderful to see the extended family.   

From the baptism party, Donnie departed on a week-long trip to Ohio. During his absence, we introduced this little fellow to our household.

This is Seaweed.  Seaweed was a birthday present for Maria—he—or rather the accoutrement that sustain him, were Maria’s big present this year.  This was a classic case of gift-escalation.  I went to Petco with the vague idea of buying a small tank—or possibly just a bowl—and surveilling the fish choices so that I could offer Maria a curated set of options.   In the process, I learned that fish ownership is more complicated than I realized.   Wanting to stave off premature lessons on mortality and provide the room for additional fish, I decided to get a whole aquarium set-up.  The very knowledgable girl at the store advised that we go with bettas.  Betta fish have a special organ that allows them to breath atmospheric air.  It makes them able to survive in small containers.  They are also quite lovely.  But all their lovely fins are like banners of war—they will fight each other for territory, so you have to be careful about adding additional fish.

Now we have our handsome Seaweed, living in a spacious 5 gallon tank with two garishly colored silk plants.  The aquarium gravel that we thought would be a subdued dark blue glows cobalt under the aquarium lights.  

As much as I warned myself and the girls not to get too attached, it is easy to be fond of Seaweed.  I'm convinced that Maria found the best fish in the store.  He seems unusually responsive and alert for a fish—and oddly sympathetic.  Indeed, Maria told her father the other day, “Seaweed understand all my feelings.”  All of us enjoy watching him curve through the water, his veil-fins trailing.  He blends in with the purple and red plants.  Every viewing becomes a game of “hunt for Seaweed.”   Pippa thanks God for “Seaweed Fish” practically every night, and has given the check-out woman at Aldi’s the full run down.  

This past weekend, the older girls spent a day and  night with Meme and Grandpa.  They went to the Children’s Caberet Theatre and saw The Princess and the Pea.   After meeting up with Grandpa for the handoff in Cromwell, Pippa and I took advantage of being so far to the West, and visited Kidcity.  Kidcity is my favorite children's attraction. It is an artfully designed interactive play experience.  During this visit, Pippa and I spent all our time at the Toddler Seacaves—an area specially designed for the under three set.  I love that the wall murals feature an infant mermaid, as well as a pregnant mermaid, and a nursing mermaid.  Though fantastic, it is still a truthful celebration of family life. 

Nursing mermaid

Baby mermaid, sucking on fins

Mother mermaid, talking on shell-phone with three kids

Maria’s birthday party was Sunday afternoon.  It was understandably subdued.  The kids were tired, and the number of children was small—at Maria’s behest, we had only three kids over for the party.   Still, we had fun romping in the backyard, playing with hoola hoops and bean bags.  Our friend David demonstrated how to lasso a stump.  Donnie and I pulled out our musical instruments.  Poor Louisa was a bit moody.  She finds it most comfortable to be in the center of attention; other people’s birthday parties are difficult.   Maria loved her presents—a paintable teaset and a set of knitting looms.  She has already painted the teaset, and used a loom to knit her own version of a cozy for the teapot.  She has scheduled a fish-themed tea party for this afternoon (thus bringing together all her presents).

Meanwhile, the yellow irises that I planted two falls ago are preparing to bloom.  The rhododendum blossoms have burst out of their magenta lipstick buds, to show crinkly star faces.  The robin babies that were born in a nest in the Rhododendrum, have grown feathers and left the nest.   Donnie just spotted one on the ground--maybe they are in flight training.   Oh, profusion of life.  Oh, May!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

{p,h,f,r} Catch Up Post for Week of May 1st

As we climbed into the car to go to church on May 1st, Maria asked, "how can it be raining on May day?"  It was a cold and rainy week, and I forgot to take pictures during most of it. Our chief occupations were getting over our collective family head cold and getting used to Louisa being back on a half day schedule at school.

Finally, on Sunday, as a special gift to the mothers of New England, the sun appeared.  That was just when I was getting ready to sit down to do a weekly blog post.  The blog post had to be postponed in favor of a family walk.


 Here are the crab apple blossoms from outside St. Mary's, where we attend mass and adoration.  Shortly after I took this photo, Louisa slipped while trying to climb one of these pink trees.


 The girls love to play dress up, and we've collected a lovely wardrobe over the years.  I've been daydreaming of some sort of organizational scheme that would get their costumes off the floor and save them from being tangled up in bins.  Most of the schemes involved advanced wood working skills and at least fifty dollars in materials.  Last week I spotted this adjustable clothing wrack at Aldi's for ten dollars.  The girls have been very good about hanging up their finery since its arrival.  This is one of those little pieces of happy that is very specific to this era and this time of life.

These pictures were taken on Sunday, after the sun came out.  The flowers glowed and princesses exited their dungeon and went out to survey the transformed world.

Children love a path!  These slates were salvaged from various roof renovations at West Point. They were hanging out in our garage until I brought out a few to serve as stepping stones over the mulch in  the front garden bed.  Louisa added more to make a little path.  Now the girls walk the path every time they exit the front door.  


A highlight of the week was having our friends the Bogues over for a communal meal on Friday.  Imelda called me the day before to say that she had a brisket that needed cooking and a recipe she was eager to try, and would it be acceptable if she brought it over and made it at my house?  It was indeed acceptable, and turned out to be a lovely format for a dinner party.  One cook takes on the responsibility of preparing The Large Piece O' Meat while the other cook pulls together the sides; a pleasant and equitable devision of labor.

Imelda is in the throws of rehearsing an opera which will be opening this weekend.  I got to see her again Sunday night, after she discovered that her husband had, with the very best of intentions, polished their kitchen hardwood floor while she was away at rehearsal.  Fearing that the polish fumes would endanger her voice, Imelda came and used our guest room that night.  It was so fun to have my friend at my house in the late evening.  We had a good, long talk while Donnie caught up on basketball.  It's nice to have another night owl for a friend.


I'm not sure why, but Louisa and Pippa have been dramatizing every stumble, bump, and hang nail this week.    One or the other of them seems to be crying or announcing a hurt every five minutes or so.  Donnie and I have difficultly maintaining empathy, and often find ourselves saying "that's what happens when you do x."   They fetch each other ice packs and put band aids on each other, which is quite sweet, but leaves the house in a whirl of bandaid wrappers and melting bags of blue chemicals.   Perhaps we just a had a particularly uncoordinated week.