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.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real - May 1, 2016


Our yard is not a "lawn," but a forest meadow.  A million sprouting acorns will second me on this---this land wants very badly to be woods.  Forest meadows have numerous advantages over lawns.  The best is that you get to rejoice in the dog violets, bluets, and ajuga that appear in the spring.  Second best is that you cut the grass only about twice a year.


Maria finally has the jack-o-lantern grin that you expect in a near-seven-year-old.  She has two adult teeth already, but they grew in behind her baby teeth, so this is the the first time we are seeing a gap.


Popop turned ninety!  The girls made water-color and crayon resist artwork to send him. We are so blessed in Popop! Congratulations and many happy returns of the day! Here's sending you our love via the Inter-waves!


This is a holdover from last week.  We met Jonathan, the UConn mascot, at an Earth Day event at Merrow Meadow park.  He's a beautiful and well-behaved creature.   His colors are so pure that it looks like he was cut from a black and white photograph.


Our literary intake for the week: listening to audio books of My Father's Dragon and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang. Maria brought home Olympig from the school library and the girls have requested it several times.  We have just begun the D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths.  I am so excited!  All the D'Aulaires books that I have come across are wonderful.  So far, the D'Aulaires have managed to present the mysterious and beautiful beautiful aspects of the myths while keeping the grostesque and horrifying from taking center stage.  We are fortunate that my friend Imelda makes a hobby of visiting library book sales and buying up all the children's classics, regardless of whether or not she has them in her collection.  She passes on redundant copies to friends.  We've received so many marvelous books this way! 


There was a morning last week when the girls got themselves up and immediately dressed (for once) and put on an impromptu musical performance.  Maria was a statue of the Roman God Mercury and Louisa was a statue of the Roman God Apollo.  The statues came alive and sang a song with the chorus"we were statues, a long time ago."  Maria is wearing a head ornament with wings and has a paper staff with the Mercury symbol. Louisa had a wad of yellow tissue paper to represent the sun and a box for a chariot.  Maria talked about herself being "the morning star"  and Louisa being the day star.  Louisa sang about "getting the gray off [her] face" and wanting bones made of stone, like a dinosaurs.   Donnie and I thought the whole performance admirably rich---you might say "polyvalent."  Most of all, it was nice to be greeted by a morning musical rather than the sibling squabbles that are our more common faire!



Real Bricks!  The girls unearthed some brick in the back yard.  They had such fun with them that we bought fifty more at a tag sale. The girls have constructed a fort for themselves under the treehouse.  These make games of 3 little pigs way more real.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pretty, Happy - April 23, 2016

The girls were off from school this past week.  We got a lot out of our free days.  On Monday, we had two playdates and adoration.  On Tuesday, Old Sturbridge Village.  Wednesday, Meme came to us. Thursday, we met Auntie C, Uncle Steve and Caitlyn at Kidcity, and later had homemade pizza in our tree house.  Friday was a recuperation morning and our last session of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the year.

{pretty and happy}

When Meme came, she brought three bags of mulch, two bags of potting soil, a Mantauck daisy, two flats of pansies, a small rhododendron and a potted hollyhock.  She brought tools, including a something wonderful called an edger.  We had a lovely morning of raking out the azaleas, putting plants in the ground, laying down mulch and generally tidying. Meme did a lot.  I did what little I could between making sure that Pip wasn't in the tree house, taking care of potty accidents, and trying (and failing) to get Pippa to take a nap. I'm very grateful to Meme and so pleased with the results.  How very helpful it is to have someone come and get you started.  I was worrying about soil testing and researching compatible plants--i.e making things so complex that I couldn't start...but really, it's better to throw a few things in the ground and have a go at it.  It's so good to feel that we're no longer playing chicken with the garden beds!   And now that we've set things out, I'm realizing that we have so much to hope for and anticipate garden-wise--irises and daisies, azaleas, rhododendrons, hollyhocks, peonies, and purple gladiolas.

After Meme headed for home, the girls and I headed to the University Dairy Bar. UConn has an excellent school of agriculture and the cows in the University's herd are happy and pasture-fed.  The Dairy Bar ice cream is made from their milk.   The quality is excellent.  The portions are ample.

We discovered a wonderful magnolia tree near the Dairy Bar; perfect for the littles to climb.

{pretty and happy}

On Tuesday, we went to Old Sturbridge Village.   Every time we visit, I mention to the girls that they may want to have their wedding receptions there some day--it's so lovely.  There's weathered wood, and blossoming trees, wood smoke and pine scent in the air. The village is large---we still haven't seen it in its entirety, despite having visited four or five times.  With each visit, we're happy  to take home just a few tidbits of information and a few impressions.  This time, we arrived just in time to ask questions of a Laura Ingalls Wilder impersonator.   I asked about Laura's relationship with  her mother-in-law.  In Farmer Boy, LIW describes her husband's youth, and goes into extensive detail on all the wonderful things that Mrs. Wilder cooked for her family.  The book leaves the impression that doughnuts, cookies, and apple pie were daily fare---just what they had on hand for snacks.  Then there were the multi-course meals.  I wondered if there  was something a little passive aggressive in this over-the-top account of the the Mrs. Wilder's plentiful kitchen.  Perhaps Laura's husband had praised his mother's cooking a few too many times, and Laura exacted a tender revenge by writing it down in the same hyperbolic terms that her husband described it.   The actress said "no," Mrs. Wilder was just that productive and formidable a cook. Laura admired Mrs. Wilder and aspired to be like her.  So much for my pet theory.

We saw the lambs.   It was the first time that the girls seemed to take an interest in the animals.  Maria was particularly delighted by  a mother chicken and her chicks scratching in their pen.  She thought it was hilarious how the hen bustled about, heedlessly showering her offspring with sawdust.

The replica dress shown aboce was highly adjustable.  It could fit both Pippa and Louisa thanks to it's many drawstrings.  Now, why don't we make clothing like this anymore---a dress that could easily be worn by a child for three years straight!

In the house interiors, there are so many rich colors and patterns.  How very dull is our modern decorating, with our gray and beige and carefully coordinated prints!

{also happy}

This week, we did a fair amount reading and  listening to audiobooks.  We finished listening to  The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Freddy the Detective.  I also finished reading The Trumpet of the Swan aloud to the girls.  That makes three intelligent animal stories!  All of them were great.

I will have to do my funny and real sections later, once I've had a chance to get pictures off Don's camera.  Stay tuned...