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.