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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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Sisters, Sisters

June 29, 2014

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Charlie Lately

June 24, 2014

It has been a big month for Charlie.  He lost another tooth and (true to form) swallowed it.  His new teeth are growing in, as pictured in his self portrait below, drawn while looking at his teeth in the mirror:


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He also started school at Hope Academy.  Hope has a four week, half day, summer session.  We thought this would be a nice introduction for the twins before diving into first grade, so off they went.   Charlie has made many new friends.  He knows none of their names.  He refers to them by the shape of their eyebrows.  As in: “You know the guy with the angry eyebrows.”

Or “The one with the eyebrows that go up like this: / \ . “

Or ” I know they are brothers because both their eyebrows do this: ~ ~.

Besides the twins, I think there is one other Caucasian child in the class.  The rest are African American, Bi-Racial, and Latino.  In a group this beautifully diverse, I would think other features, like skin color, hair color, language spoken, or even racial identity would stand out in his mind.  But nope.  It’s all in the eyebrows.

Charlie says his favorite thing to do at school is work on his handwriting.  Last week, he brought home this writing assignment.  I would like to save it, but I will probably lose it, so here it is, (where I can’t lose it):

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Translationg: I am good at:

Teleeing tiim (Telling Time)

riting (writing)

frend (friend)

monoplee (monopoly)

nis (nice)

Charlie is good at so many things!  And, yes, he is so nice.


Danger Where We Least Expected It!

June 17, 2014

Sunday we attended Dan’s family reunion. The reunion was held in the large party room of a senior living center and was hosted by Uncle Ross and Aunt Karen. The little boys played baseball on the Wii and Aunt Diane facilitated a craft time for the little girls. Into this dangerous situation we naively walked. Elizabeth and Miss P and Annie were delighted to decorate their own flower pots with markers. Decorating flower pots may at first glance seem like a harmless activity for young girls, but have you ever noticed that little finger sized hole in the bottom of the flower pot? While flower pot makers may claim that little hole allows for drainage of the soil, it in fact poses a great risk to little fingers everywhere.

We were driving happily home from the reunion when we heard a wail beginning in the back seat:

“My finger is stuck in a flower pot!” Elizabeth sobbed.

One second later:

“My finger is also stuck in a flower pot!” Miss P joined in the wailing.

We zoomed home to apply lotions and oils in an attempt to remove the offending pots.

We managed to remove Miss P’s pot in the privacy of our own home, but Elizabeth’s finger had begun swelling and turning purple and no amount of pulling and twisting gained us even an inch.

Dan and Charlie stood around scratching their heads and strategizing about the best tools to shatter the pot without shattering the finger (Dan was thinking drill. Charlie was thinking hammer), while I ran her two doors down to consult neighbor Sarah, a nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital, for a second opinion.

Neighbors Cam and Sarah live in a duplex. They enjoy the comfort of two living rooms and the convenience of an upper and lower kitchen. If I need to borrow a cup of sugar, and neighbor Sarah doesn’t have it in her lower kitchen, she runs upstairs to check her upper kitchen.

Unfortunately neighbor Sarah has a permanently broken doorbell. Fortunately she also has a permanently broken lock. Since I never know if she is living up or down, I usually just barge right in and run around in her house until I find her. I am usually accompanied by a crying child who announces our presence.

On Sunday, Elizabeth and I barged in and to my relief I heard Sarah in her upper kitchen, who heard Elizabeth crying in the lower living room, yell, “Uh oh!” and come running down the stairs to our aid.

She took one look at the finger and said, “Change of color means straight to the E.R. Best not to break the pot at home. “

So away we flew to the E.R.

As we ran through the waiting room, we were received in triage by my neighbor Michael: backyard chicken farmer by day, E.R. nurse by night.

I met Michael when Tonja and I were scoping out other peoples chicken coops. He was a wealth of information on chickens and other things, and even though we had just met, gifted Tonja with a beautiful baby sweater he knit himself with organic cotton, replete with buttons he carved from nuts he harvested down by the Mississippi River. Very South Minneapolis. (See what you have to look forward to Melissa.)

It was a brief but joyful reunion for Michael and me, as we bypassed all paper work and raced at top speed down the hall with Michael calling for help to save the finger.

The finger was saved. It was saved by a couple of men in scrubs standing around scratching their heads and discussing at length the best tools to use to break the pot without breaking the finger. There was also a lot of rummaging around in the tool drawer. At the end of the day folks are just folks making their best guess. Except some folks go to medical school and then get paid a little more for their best guess.

I think we could have managed it at home.

Each time the hospital staff commented on how rare it is to have a patient present with a flower pot on her finger, I thought to myself how close we came to bringing them two patients with identical flower pots on their fingers. How narrowly we escaped that unfortunate reality.

Just a minute more of swelling would have done it. What a spectacle we would have been. Even more than we already are.

Below: 1. Attempting removal at home with Charlie’s help.


2. Tools men use for flower pot removal.


3. Elizabeth relaxing post-removal.





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