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Merrily We Roll Along

September 18, 2014

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Last week Miss P and Annie had there first day of school.  They are at Hand-in-Hand Montessorri again this year, enjoying a one day a week “family preschool” program.  They were most proud to be headed out the door together in uniform.  They look sharp in spite of their mother, who has lost a little steam along the way.  I remember putting great thought into shoeing the twins when they were two…ensuring that they had both fashion and support for their developing stride.  Poor Baby Dear just dug some out of the pile on the way out the door.

The twins are cruising right along in first grade. A focus of Elisabeth’s education seems to be the various means she employs to get seated directly across from Mrs. Watkins at lunch.  Elisabeth has discovered that sitting across from someone, rather than beside them, is the best way to “visit”.  Elisabeth reports that she and Mrs. Watkins just love to visit over lunch.

I sure hope Mrs. Watkins loves it.  If not, I will encourage her to seek the counsel of Elisabeth’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Myra, who last year found herself eating her lunch in the shadow of a little stalker.  There’s nothing like someone who’s been there.

Things are, for the most part, going smoothly for Charlie as well.  He looks quite dapper headed out the door in his stiff-as-a-board dress pants.  He is having a little trouble, in his words, finding his “fly”.  Yesterday, he lost his fly for a whole day, and, unable to pull his stiff pants up and down, he had to “hold it” for eight hours until he got home and I could assist.  Oh, the fly.  One of the many things taken for granted until it is lost.

On Wednesday, Charlie proudly unfolded his self-portrait, drawn with oil pastels.  I could see he remembered  me telling him recently, that the human head is really more egg-shaped than circular.  I did not think to specify that, when drawing a head, the pointy part of the egg goes at the bottom.

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But we love him, just the way he is!

A Call for Help

September 5, 2014

We are rounding the bend and the end of our first year of Moms4Moms is in sight.  Moms4Moms is a place for younger mothers to connect with more seasoned mothers, explained here: Asking for Money.  We are grateful for the relationships formed, and that moms (younger and older) keep coming together for supper, games, and teaching.  A high-light of the year together was a six week cooking class (pictured below).  A low-light was running out of money in approximately January. I guess we underestimated how much we eat. But we got by with a little help from our friends, this whole outer ring of mom-friends we kept rounding up to help with cooking, child-care etc.  Cari (one of ‘em) dubbed them the Moms4Moms4Moms.

In spite of our budget shortfall, we press on by popular demand, and are planning to kick off year two with another weekend retreat.  Last year’s retreat was really an introduction, and now, with deepening relationships and trust we are ready to go a little deeper.

So, here I come again, hat in hand.  If you know ANYONE who might be interesting in sponsoring a young mom to come away for the weekend for 75 dollars, or participate for whole year 200 dollars, (tax deductible) please email me: Thanks for spreading the word.

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First Week Of First Grade

September 1, 2014

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The twins made it through the first week of first grade at Hope Academy with flying colors!  Both are very happy heading into school each morning.  Elisabeth (note that due to a maturing understanding of the letter s which can occasionally make a “z” sound,  she has returned to the original spelling of her name), has had a little case of cold feet at the door, primarily due to her red folder which must each day be placed in the red folder box.  For some reason each morning, just as Mrs. Watkins’s door comes into view Elisabeth experiences red folder amnesia,  convinced that she does not know where to put the red folder.

Being the bearer of a red folder is a whole new level of responsibility, the weight of which cannot be underestimated.  Fortunately, Mrs. Watkins is a paragon of patience and with a smile and, “Let’s see if you can remember where to put the red folder,” Elisabeth’s confidence comes rushing back, and she is good to go.

Both twins have struggled with a little case of not-sure-what-to-do-with-myself on the playground.  (For me it was a chronic condition.) The situation improved when Charlie’s teacher, Mr. Crowl, joined the soccer group inviting Charlie along.

“So now,” Elisabeth explained, “Charlie plays soccer and I am the cheerleader for his team.  I stand on the side and yell, ‘Goooo Cheaters! Goooo Cheaters!'”

“CheeTAHs,” Charlie corrected her, exasperated, “We are the Cheetahs.”

According to Elisabeth, the other team does not have their own cheerleader.  Apparently, they do not have a twin.

The highlight of Elisabeth’s week (other than cheering for the Cheaters) was being asked to demonstrate to the class how to read silently, or, as she corrected me, “Read to self.” I wonder if this demonstration was as exciting for her classmates as it was for her.  As Elisabeth told it, “I read until Mrs. Watkins said, ‘I’m sorry to have to cut you off, Elisabeth, but it is time for us to move on.’ ” I can’t imaging why Mrs. Watkins wouldn’t want the whole class to continue watching Elisabeth sitting silently, staring at the pages of a book, indefinitely.

The highlight for Charlie is being taught by a man.  According to Charlie, Mr. Crowl is a thrill-a-minute.  Math, for example, is much more suspenseful when your teacher tells you that your math book is a stick of dynamite, primed to explode if you don’t answer the question.  That scenario would never have entered my mind, but for a six-year old boy it takes math to a whole new level.

Dan got an email from Mr. Crowl the second day of school wondering if anyone had suggestions for how he might help a little girl in the classroom, who limps a little, to navigate the long halls.  I didn’t hear any more about it, until Friday when Charlie marveled, “Mom, there’s a girl in my class, I think she has a disability, and Mr. Crowl pulls her around in a little red wagon. And each time we line up, she gets to pick someone to ride along. I hope someday I get to ride with her!”

If that isn’t the the sweetest thing since Pa made that tall shoe for the little girl at Laura Ingall’s birthday party, then I don’t know what is! I have now joined Charlie in the Mr. Crowl fan club. Maybe I will be the cheerleader.

Below, my big kids, sittin’ on ready:

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Potty-Training: The armpit of summer.

August 18, 2014

Everywhere I go, I hear mother’s saying, “The summer has just flown by.”  For some reason, this has not been my experience.  Our summer has crawled by on little turtle feet.  It has been nice, though.  Just sittin’ around eating peaches mostly.



And, unfortunately, potty training.  Potty-training never gets easier.  It is terrible terrible terrible every time.  The method I use is particularly harrowing, as it requires never putting a diaper or pull-up on, once you’ve begun.  (Except during sleep times).  This was not so bad with the first few children, because we were at a stage of life where we could stay home for three or four days.  But with number four, that is just not possible.  I could use pull-ups, but the method has worked every time, and in less than a week, and it is hard to deviate from the plan.

So, we more or less go back and forth between sitting and staring at Annie’s bottom waiting for action, and careening around town in our big van hollering, “Hold on! Hold on! We’re almost to the potty!”

It’s like driving around with a lady in labor.  By the time we arrive we are all exhausted.  And sweaty.

While sitting very still, waiting for potty action, we’ve all had time to reflect on Annie’s appearance.  Charlie commented, “Annie’s head is very large.”

Me: “Yes, it is.”

Charlie: “Would it take a mouse a long time to walk across it?”

Me: “Probably.”

Charlie: “Dad’s head is much bigger.  Imagine how long it would take a mouse to walk aaaall the way around Dad’s head!”

I can’t.  I can’t even imagine. Deep.

Annie has by far been the quickest of my children to catch on.  But she has also been the most unpleasant to train.  For three days, every time I cheerfully announced, “Time to sit on the potty,” I was met with a blood curdling scream, “Noooo!”  I would have considered the possibility that Annie just wasn’t ready, except that, unlike her predecessors, she got the hang of it on day one with nary an accident.  But for three days she continued to scream bloody murder every time; then sit down, quickly take care of business, and turn to me with a nervous laugh, saying, “Now let’s put my diaper back on.”

Historically we have potty trained in the yard.  But I have discovered a new and preferable venue.  The playroom at Children’s hospital, where we spent two days last week on Annie’s ears and Miss P’s speech therapy.

I had forgotten Annie had an appointment at the ear doctor on day two of potty training (follow up from tubes). I was initially concerned, but once we got there I realized that if Annie did have an accident, within minutes a crew would be on the scene to clean it up.  We spent all of Monday and Tuesday afternoon in the playroom, where the other kids were entertained and I could focus on the task at hand.  Not only did I appreciate the thought of a cleanup crew (we didn’t end up needing one), but it is not half bad to potty train with a flock of helpful adults clucking sympathetically. It’s preferable to chickens…who do cluck sympathetically…but do not clean up accidents.

By the end of day three, I took to my bed, crying that I could not potty-train one more day, due to all the screaming, and crazy driving, and lack of getting anything else done. But it is always darkest before the dawn.  On day four I nervously suggested Annie come sit on the potty, and was greeted with a cheerful, “Okay.”  And just like that, potty training was done.  I’m glad we did it.  I’m glad it’s over.  I’m glad to return to purse carrying after a week of potty carrying.

Below: Annie giving it a little try at the park on Thursday.



Family Vacation

July 21, 2014

For the last six years, our family has travelled almost exclusively to visit with friends and relations.  Until last weekend, we have avoided the proverbial family vacation, because, let’s be honest, would you want to vacation with these clowns?


That’s not to say we haven’t had a vacation. Dan and I got away without the aforementioned clowns for a whole week in February.  And just last week, I flew down to South Carolina to lay by the pool with cousins Kate and Suzanne, for four whole days, ALL BY MYSELF.  Several friends (the kind who take their children with them) asked if I was nervous leaving the little peppers behind. To tell the truth, I was very nervous….nervous that I would be stopped!  I felt like a drug smuggler going through security. I tried so hard to look nonchalant, like I do this all the time, lest TSA stop me and send me back home.

All that to say: last weekend, our first real family vacation, was a major milestone. I am pinching myself, because, who would have thought, we had fun!

We would not have attempted the vacation, but we have friends who have connections at a resort two hours north and they offered us a room for the weekend.


While at the resort, we took the kids on their first boat ride. We all swam. The kids played in the sand. I sat in the sun. And Dan and Charlie hit the competitive sports.

Ping pong was always Charlie’s first choice. He doesn’t make a lot of contact with the ping pong ball, but he would stand there swinging for as long as Dan would keep hitting balls at him. There was a lot of muttering of “Don!” and “Oh Don it!” on Charlie’s end.

(We aren’t sure why he says, “Don”.  Is he confused about “Darn”?  We have no idea where he picked it up, but “Don” has been his go-to word for a couple of months now.)

Dan and Charlie also enjoyed throwing darts in the resort’s pizza parlor.  Charlie’s darts usually did not make contact with the dartboard (“Don it!”), but he loved darts. He did throw one glorious bulls-eye. Elizabeth suggested we call the news.

In addition to ping-pong and darts, there were several close croquet matches. Playing croquet with Miss P was a real exercise in patience for Charlie.


Perhaps the only thing more maddening than playing croquet with Miss P is playing croquet with Annie.


Dan’s own exercise in patience came when he made the mistake of helping Elizabeth to the top of a blow-up water slide.  As soon as she was squarely seated at the top, she panicked and, screaming at the top of her lungs, would not let go of the handles. It was a strange predicament because, although she was not at all high, she could only be reached from the climbing wall side of the slide, which made it impossible to lift her down without letting go of the hand holds and falling off backwards.

Dan, hanging on the climbing wall, made the slide tilt towards him, making it impossible for him to climb onto the top with her without knocking her off.  He held on like an awkward spider man for about twenty minutes, to the amusement of everyone on the beach, until he finally pried her fingers loose and tumbled down with her.  She made her way back to the beach wailing like a siren.

Although she was soon quite happy building sand castles, she would pause periodically for the next few hours, to raise a finger and remind me that, contrary to all appearances, she still had not “recovered from her shock”.


After her shock, Elizabeth wanted nothing to do with the water toys, so Dan stayed with her and Annie, while Charlie, Miss P, and I enjoyed a wild ride around the lake on the “banana taxi”.  The banana taxi is a long yellow tube that you sit on like a horse, with a bunch of people you don’t know, and try not to get thrown off.  The boat driver instructed us to give a thumbs up if we wanted to go faster.  I was terrified, but Miss P kept punching her little fist in the air with a “thumbs up”, while Charlie held on for dear life hollering, “Oh Don! Oh Don!”.  She’s a wild one, that little P.

As thrilling as all this activity was, if you ask the kids, they will probably tell you the high-light of the trip was waking up and watching T.V. in a hotel bed.  It was their first time to experience this joy.  A rite of passage for every traveller.maddensbloghotel


I think it was a bold move, taking these four to a resort like that.  But they did not let us down.

Or at least, these three did not let us down.


We did have some trouble with our Baby Dear.

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It was like she had a sixth sense, always managing to do something weird (like loudly announcing her “poo-poos”, taking her clothes off at the wrong time, or running at top speed into glass) just as our gracious host, in official capacity, was coming into view.  But I can’t be too hard on her.  She skipped her nap both Saturday and Sunday and stayed up extra late with “her kids” (as she calls them) for the bonfire.  I remarked to Dan that she was holding up so well considering she has never, in all her two years of life, skipped a nap.

Dan informed me that, in fact, she has skipped her nap many times.

“I was, shall we say, a little more hands off while you were away,” he explained.

Does this bother me?  Not one bit.  Any man that will let me take off for days at a time, and report that things are “great” every time I call, can do anything he Don well pleases.

We concluded our momentous family vacation with an extended session at the raspberry patch. Where the kids, who love berries, enjoyed all the raspberries they could possibly eat.


Betsy happened to call  while we were picking.  When I told her what the kids were doing, she predicted, “You’ll be seeing those raspberries again.”

And, in fact,  we did see those raspberries again, sooner than we had hoped, at a gas station on the way home. Annie was undisturbed by the emergency stop.  She got all settled in with her coloring book for the return trip, but was snoring, marker in hand about five minutes into the drive.


All told, the trip was a big success, one we hope to repeat annually.  We are now happily back at home, where we will spend the next several days resting and recovering. Vacationing really takes it out of you!

The End.

Elizabeth Lately

July 4, 2014

Elizabeth has been happy as a clam these first few weeks at Hope Academy.  I, on the other hand, have been so nervous.  It’s like dropping a shrinky-dink off at school.  Upon waking in the morning, she appears to be of normal size, but as soon as she hops out of the van and walks into that huge building she begins to shrink, shrink, shrink before my very eyes.

To my relief, she is undisturbed by the shrinky phenomenon.  At the end of the first day when I asked her how her day was and she punched her shrunken fist into the air and shouted, “GREAT!”  Only the next morning, when we were drinking coffee together, she casually mentioned that she had gotten lost that first day.

“My group was supposed to walk to Mr. Watkins’s class, and the group began to run.  I knew we weren’t supposed to run, so I kept walking, but then they turned the corner and I couldn’t find the group.  So I just stood still and cried until another teacher found me and returned me to Mr. Watkins, ” She explained calmly.

“Well, I am proud of you for being brave and having a great day, even though you got lost,” I replied.

To which she sat straight up, pointing her finger to the ceiling, and called out  in a surprising Brittish accent, “I will find Mr. Watkins’s class if I have to walk to the end of the world!”

I think the British accent and the bravery are probably both little gifts from C.S. Lewis. Dan is three books into Narnia, having deviated from the bedtime reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder due to his inability to stay awake through his own reading.

Kathy Harty  (cousin on my neighbor Patty’s side), knowing of my recent failed Middlemarch attempt (my second), brought me an encouraging article by David Brooks in which he confesses it took him three attempts to finish Middlemarch.  At the end of the article he says: “Books give you vocabularies and frameworks to help you understand and decide…”  Not to mention a British accent!

Narnia….first grade…both grand adventures featuring a little girl going bravely into the unknown.

Below: Elizabeth’s self-portrait, drawn as a gift for Miss P.  When I saw it I felt very glad that I commissioned our four foot by four foot family portrait, when Elizabeth was in, shall we say, a more primitive state of art.  I just don’t know if I could cook supper with six sets of googly eyes staring sideways at me.

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The Chute of Life

July 3, 2014

Well, the specter of death continues to hang over our animal endeavors.  This year we have lost: three hens, two rabbits, a bird, and, most recently, three more hens.  Some to natural causes.  Most to foul play.  Two were on their way out from the beginning (the baby rabbit we found in the shed and the broken little bird delivered by the Sears men with our new dishwasher).  I am beginning to wonder.  Is our home a place that animals come to die?  I would like to think it is the circle of life, but it feels more like a one-way chute.

But I am fighting back!  Last Sunday I came outside just in time to see our neighbor’s dog, Staniel, running through the yard with one of the Ellas in his mouth!  She was squawking so pitifully.  I chased him down and, screaming at Staniel, scared him into dropping the poor chicken.  She lay motionless, but breathing, in the grass.  A brief examination revealed a deep hole in her back and distinct lack of tail.

Thinking all was probably lost, I recalled Cousin Kate telling me that most wounds are super-glued together in the emergency room and you can use super-glue at home in a medical pinch.  So I squirted her off with Dan’s contact solution, and began to superglue, topping it off with big globs of Neosporin for good measure.

Would ya’ll believe SHE LIVED! Life is circling back.

She was only available to Staniel in the first place, because, during our trip to Birmingham our next door neighbors, who were caring for our chickens decided they would be happier “free ranging” in the neighborhood rather than living within the confines of a coop.  When we got home, our chickens seemed so happy frolicking around the various yards, that I was reluctant to re-coop them.  But after a racoon attack killed three of them, and Staniel nearly killed Ella, in the interest of our investment they have returned to coop life.  I feel so sad for them, but Dan assures me they would be much sadder being dead than living in our luxurious three story coop.

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Below, Elizabeth, burying her little bird, Shiny, and placing petunias on his grave.  Shiny lived just one hour in her care.  But what a glorious hour it was!

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